..First Glyph

February 6
8:15 a.m.

An interview now with the president of Venezuela. He is in a Mexico City radio studio as I sit in my Veracruz hotel room listening to the host of the news program quiz him respectfully. A morning broadcast. He will meet soon with the Mexican president. Since arriving here I've spent the first minutes of each day seeking the right FM frequency for my favorite news program, Antenna Radio . But this is not Antenna Radio . This is Para Comenzar . I listened to Antenna Radio religiously when living in El Paso and San Diego. But I can't locate it. Para Comenzar has a similar format-- thorough political coverage, interviews. But the tone for me is unappealing. Antenna Radio suits me better. More detached. I'll keep looking.

I scribble these notes now before I go out into the day because it may be my only opportunity to scribble these notes. I have to visit the Museo de la Ciudad for a last study of Domingo's museum scene. From there on to La Plaza de la República for a short sketch of a monument. Then I break for the bus station to check tomorrow's departure times for Jalapa. Finally, this evening, a few impressions of Zaragosa's pedestrian mall. But before all of this--first-- Eloisa. I met the young woman last night in a small plaza off the malecón. I'm supposed to meet her again, right now, on the Zócalo.

A microcosm is the whole represented in the part. A metaphor is a broad meaning condensed into a spare image or word. A symbol is an abstraction given concrete form. Each distills. Each is something very big represented in something very much smaller. Finding these, these metaphors, microcosms, these symbols, and expressing them naturally, almost invisibly, seems to me one aspect of great art.

The greats always hoodwink me here. They tell me or show to me a story and I think "O what a pleasant story." And then I think a little more and I realize that the story was not about the story at all. The story was metaphor, or a microcosm, or was driven by symbols. And so the story was something very small representing something very much bigger. They always do this. And their metaphors and their symbols and their microcosms are always so natural, so deceptively simple, even invisible. Invisible, maybe, because the greats seem never to contrive to mean anything. Instead they just present real stories that in themselves are metaphorical, symbolic or microcosmic. I think finding this naturalness, this invisibility is the only way to convey the universal. For if you try to express a universal explicitly, it loses its universality. Universals are universal in their application to humanity, but particular in their application to humans. If I extract a meaning from such a story and tell it to you explicitly then I am telling you how the universal in that story applies to me particularly. As soon as I do this the story loses its universality. If I present it to you as metaphor, however, as a symbol, in microcosm, it retains its universality. It may indeed be more difficult to extract the meaning, but when you do extract it it will be your own particular meaning, how that universal applies to you yourself, not to me.

There is something to this. They all do it. Maybe seeing the metaphorical stories about me, those microcosms and symbols, is part of what I'm looking for.

A girl last night perched on the threshold of an ice cream parlor. As I approached her striding she called, "Pásale, güero." The girl's job was to coax me off the sidewalk and into the parlor for an ice cream cone. Not uncommon. Bars on busy avenues in any of Mexico's large cities sometimes have such barkers. And occasionally restaurants, too. As I continued to approach she again sang, "Pásale, güero." And then, as the distance between us narrowed and it became evident I would not enter the parlor, she erupted suddenly, artillery-like: "Pase güero, pase güero, pase güero" and then burst into a ringing laughter as I looked directly into the mirth of her youthful eyes. I chuckled back. I bowed to her sweepingly.

Last night the streets here were electric with people celebrating Carnival. The girl solicited Mexicans, too, of course. Of course, she did not call them güero. This is a nickname for people with fairer hair and complexion. Ten or twenty steps further along another girl called me güero, soliciting tortas, I think.

The ice cream cone was of strawberry-vanilla.

One of my fellow hotel inmates takes a shower. I hear the water splashing to the tiles like regulus. Not much privacy here. No television. No telephone. But a ceiling fan, yes. A nice framed portrait of the Virgin Mary. And the walls reflect a dull peach. My view from the window is of another peach wall. That wall is an exterior one with shards of broken glass mortared across its copings. I can't imagine an intruder clambering over that. Also from my window I can glimpse half a car length of the parking area directly beneath the hotel. Fumes from it last night seeped into my room to waken me about midnight. The hotel runs hot water in the mornings and at night--but not between. And it's a long fifteen-minute hike from here to the Zócalo. But I paid twenty percent less than I budgeted. I'll probably spend the pesos I saved on Eloísa.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers