..First Glyph

February 11
8:30 p.m.

Hotspur describes this tension, this tension of imminent conflict, this tightening within, this coiling for effort, for action. "And here draw I a sword," he says, "whose temper I intend to stain with the best blood that I can meet withal in the adventure of this perilous day." I finished that scene, appropriately--that one of Hotspur's preparation for battle with King Henry--just as my bus rolled over the last shoulder of the surrounding volcanoes and began winding its way down into the Valley of Anahuác, down into Mexico City. By no means do I face an adventure akin to war here. But I did feel a tension, a tightening, a coiling as I advanced. It is energizing to have this vast urban site grow up around you, electrifying. You cannot be but stimulated. Once the stimulation cowed me. After repeated exposure, however, and one three-month stay, the stimulation now invigors. It is giddy jitters I feel: for reacquaintanceship with a place so forbidding, so daunting, so awful as this place. The tension comes from having to weather it, having to weather its labyrinth of pitfalls and dangers, to weather its crush of bodies, its crush of humans, to weather its teeming wriggling crush of humans.

The taxi from the bus station delivered me to the second seediest hotel I've ever rented. The only seedier was one in San Luis Potosí, one with a single bare light bulb, with no shower, with prostitutes loitering in the courtyard. But in San Luis Potosí I stayed only one night. Here, if the street noise permits, I will reside fifteen nights. I dropped my green bag at entering my room to find a vial of genital lubrication on the orange chair. I turned on the television hanging from the ceiling to find non-stop pornographic movies for free on channel 10. The largest furnishing in the room is an immense mirror above the bed. And though cliche, it is true, I opened the drapes to find that the hotel's neon sign bathes my room in a pink glow. When I paid for my key at the counter the girl behind the counter stood behind bullet proof glass. That girl behind that counter had no front teeth. But even sordid, this hotel is much more comfortable than many places I've stayed. Full firm bed. Window. A television. And I would endure much seamier surroundings for the hotel's price and location. It charges substantially less than I budgeted, and lies within walking distance of most of the settings I need to examine. Buenavista, it's on. Very near the Monument to the Revolution. I arrived just after dark.

I dine now in a Sanborns. Walking north from my hotel, I hung to the left at the Monument to the Revolution, continued on a noisy couple of kilometers, and planted myself finally before a splendid entrée: Wedges of tortilla fried with chicken under green chile sauce, white cheese and cream. Chilaquiles verdes, it's called. This restaurant prepares it like no other. So liberal they are with their cheese! And the coffee! Excellent! Since last night I've consumed only half a kilo of tortillas. Famished, I was. And this my favorite Mexican dish. There is no better way to enjoy your favorite Mexican dish than after a long day's fast.

When I lived in San Antonio I once took a three-day trip to Monterrey. There, in a Sanborns, from a round table, I ordered chilaquiles verdes with coffee. When I lived in El Paso I often bicycled across the Bridge of the Americas to the Ciudad Juárez Sanborns. There, too, at a round table, I would consume this dish with a coffee. And from San Diego I regularly made my way to one of several Tijuana Sanborns. Always coffee in them, sometimes chilaquiles verdes, sometimes molletes. Sanborns is an upscale family restaurant, a family restaurant with succulent food, with rich coffee, with willing service. It is truly a Mexican institution. They are ubiquitous.

I will not work tomorrow. I need a break. I have not taken a break since I left San Antonio. I do not want to burn out early. I wonder if I can go without scribbling one of these entries tomorrow. I've grown accustomed to them. I'm contemplating a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe, or to Teotihuacán, or to that showing of the Old Masters.

So, stepping out of the Puebla bus terminal, I promptly stepped onto the wrong city bus. I don't know why. How simple it is to take a bus to the center of any town from its bus station! Always there is a bus that says "Centro." All you do is board that bus that says "Centro" and wait for the steeples of the central square to rise. I even suspected my mistake. For the bus did not say "Centro" on it. But, as an engine near me fired up, as the driver was about to gas away, I quite spontaneously leaned through the folded door and asked the driver, "Do you go to the centro?" His heavy mustache acknowledged that he did go to the centro; and so, ignoring my suspicions to the contrary, I boarded. Why would a driver mislead me? I was confident he knew better than I.

As we rumbled through the Cholula centro, and I realized my mistake, I could have deboarded. I could have deboarded there and bussed back to the main terminal, or to the Puebla centro from Cholula. Or, I might even have checked into a hotel room there in Cholula. It is nearby Puebla, you know, a very suburb. But the bus was tight to the rivets with standing passengers and I had my cumbrous green bag and I did not feel like banging my way through. So I just sat. I sat and I sat and I rode the bus until the paved roads were behind us, until we were a good thirty minutes beyond the paved roads behind us. Acuexcomác, I think, was the name of the few country shacks, the graveyard, the church where the bus finally stopped. The driver killed the engine. Only three passengers remained. He turned to me laughingly: "Did you fall asleep?"

"I was just watching things," I answered. I had already passed through my stage of fury. I had already arrived at my comfortable resignation.

The other two passengers, a middle-aged couple, smiled big-eyed at me as doorward they moved. They chuckled.

As I stood then between the graveyard and the church, as the mustachioed driver smoked then his cigarette and watched a mangy dog, I suddenly realized I did not really need to tour Puebla. I had envisioned a Puebla neighborhood I know as a model for another in the north of the country. I was going to gauge my unfinished novel against this model because I do not think I can get to that northern neighborhood. It's too remote. I decided to give up on Puebla. I decided then to simply add a day to my stay in Hermosillo. I will try to get to the actual neighborhood, to the town of San Miguel de Horcasitas.

By the time the driver finished his cigarette, turned the bus round and accepted my fare, the answer to his question of, "Cholula?" was "No, el CAPO."

"La CAPO?" he asked, surprised by my answer, correcting the gender I had given the bus station.

"," I said without explanation.

If I continued on right away, I thought, I could still get to Mexico City by dark, which I did. And continuing on right away, I calculated, bought me two days that I could utilize elsewhere. I will add one of these days to my stay in Hermosillo, of course. The other I will add either to my time in Mazatlán, or to these days here in Mexico City.

So, stepping out of the Puebla bus terminal, I promptly stepped into a tour of its most distant purlieus. I never even set foot in the city itself. I saw a lot of churches though. Big pretty ones. If I were a painter or a photographer I think I might live in that backwater awhile.

As I leaned out of the window of my hotel room earlier, before walking to this Sanborns, I recognized suddenly the grandness of Mexico City. Geographically it covers a virtually inconceivable expanse. And its churches are monumental. And its monuments dwarf everything within sight. Even its art is big, in murals. And its poverty, of course. Its wealth. The noise. You behold the city and you get the feeling that it has grown beyond the control of the those managing it; or, that it has been allowed by those managing it the freedom to grow beyond their control. Is allowing such a freedom advisable? And would such a loose grip come from confidence? From philosophy? From inattentiveness? From fate? Where else will you find a nine-lane one way street? No stripes are painted on that street. No median for the scurrying pedestrians. Mexico City is like an overflowing river, or a volcanic eruption. Its monstrousness suggests an act of god. I thought all of this as I leaned out of my window into the pink neon glow of the hotel sign and looked down Buenavista to the Monument to the Revolution. What role does control play in the growth of something so awesome, so voluminous? Or maybe the question is: When does control transform itself from a healthy guiding of something into an unhealthy confining of something? In other words, when is it best to restrain, and when is it best to allow? Where is the balance? For I really think there had to be some point where Wagner stopped leading the operas and let the operas lead him. But there also had to be a point where he drew the operas back into his control, where he curtailed their tendency to grow and flourish outward and on like some arrant tendril of vine. There is a point, I think, where it is best to let a thing be as it will and grow on without interference. But there is also a point where this weakens the thing growing. Where are these points? Are they the same point? There is no making of great art without finding that balance, I think.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers