..First Glyph

March 1
12:50 p.m.

Many trees populate this Irapuato plaza. They cast round islets of blue across many occupied park benches. Tall flowers purple and white droop in square concrete beds over smaller florets red, yellow and pink. A large impressive church slumbers across from the plaza. A bright dome, the church shoulders, a tall spire and cross, ornately carved doors, a bell that chimes the hour. The bell chimes now. The bell is tolling worshipers to mass. A large marketplace throngs and bustles beside the plaza. It swarms with offerings of tomatoes and plums, of chickens and tulips, of toys and sweets and liquor and honey and t-shirts and watches. Many temporary stands crowd the wide arcades surrounding it. Bracelets and earrings of silver are on offer, ball caps, cassette tapes of Norteño, salsa and American rock. There are colorful scarves, too, and the barking of hawkers, and bargaining and discussion. This, a Sunday. The market sways with strolling families, therefore. The central plaza sways with strolling families, therefore. And in the plaza kiosk a brass band in cowboy hats blows Souza and other marches. The church bell has stopped chiming now. It tolls for mass at 8, at 9, at 10, at 11, at 12, at 1 and 2. Later at 6 it tolls again for evening worship. Families come and go from the church. Little girls in pastel print dresses come. Little boys in miniature big-collared suits go. Parents with expressions content and devout watch, guide, follow. Sunday. Lent. The market brimming. Street vendors spill from the market onto the plaza. Automobiles circle the plaza slowly. And circle it. And circle it. A half-empty public bus bounces. A woman in flat heels crosses the street. And then, as an old man slouches over a pushcart of paletas and ices and ice creams, as a young woman near him peddles roasted peanuts in tiny paper bags, a rag-haired man comes a-saunter, some sixty balloons tethered to his hand. Parti-colored they are, the balloons. He jerks at them, making them bounce, teasing the gog-eyed children. "'Amá," a stretching boy cries. And a balloon is then paid for.

I observe all this from a small restaurant called La Mancha. La Mancha sits just across from Irapuato's central plaza. I tripped through that central plaza earlier, and through that church and through that marketplace. I tripped through them all only to realize, even as I tripped, that though I had never before seen them, they were still very familiar to me. The sounds and smells of the Irapuato market seemed to me less a novelty than a memory. It was the Ciudad Juárez market suddenly. The Veracruz market. And the plaza, too. The plaza was that of San Juan del Río of yesterday, or of Celaya of the day before, or of Hermosillo of a year ago, or of Mazatlán of some years back. They describe a pattern, these centros. Almost genetically linked they seem, so similar--In body type, in gesture, in temperament.

The pattern is elastic, of course. The marketplace, for example, abuts the central plaza only part of the time. What is sold in these markets, however, and the style of its merchandizing is relatively constant. The raw meat. The hawkish eyes. The sacks of flour. The boredom eyes. In terms of church and plaza, it's really only positioning that varies. Sometimes from the west side the church will face, sometimes from the north. But always they are coupled. If there is a central plaza, there is a church. And then the Sunday mood of the centro. This must be the one aspect that is the true constant of all Mexican centros. Mexicans come up for air on Sundays in the centro. They take a relaxed and complaisant breath there before plunging back into workaday life. A sparkling contentment you see in them then. A genuine acceptance and embracing of the state of things. A collective sigh of satisfaction. This Sunday mood of the centro, I think, defines uniquely even the soul of Mexico. It has been said that Mexico survives its many economic crises because of two things: because of the strength of its family, and because of its faith in God. On a Sunday, in any centro, even a foreigner can sit and observe these very private aspects of Mexican culture played out in an unguardedly public way. The centro popples with bonhomie.

I came to Irapuato to describe Irapuato. As the bus arrived, as first I beheld Irapuato, and felt from its beholding my nervous stomach, I thought, "industrial." But I've heard Irapuato hung with that word before so I'm not sure that word is my word. It is an uncertain exercise, really, to come to a place looking for something but not knowing exactly what you are looking for. You nurse a kind of directionless focus. It's like waking in the dark in an unfamiliar bedroom and groping for the lightswitch. Where is my hook, my guide? Where do I begin? Yesterday in San Juan del Río I felt the same way. I just wandered through the little town. Finally, after an extended wandering, I noticed some pretty ceramic tiles embedded in the sidewalk. A few sentences came to me then. A couple of images I had noted before that. The images were unrelated to the ceramic tiles. I jotted them down. My work was finished. It was incomplete, unfortunately, but it was finished. That was not a great day's work. Without that drafting for The Sandra Texts, in fact, it would have been a complete loss.

I've finished my grail of coffee. I lazily now watch the goings on of the plaza. A woman dices fat green chiles near the restaurant door. Her co-worker polishes the top of the antique cash register with a lavender towel. They murmur to each other.

When I arrived in Irapuato I strode out of its bus terminal to catch a local bus to the centro. A pesero driver, one with a warm white smile under a bushy black moustache deterred me. He explained that it was not necessary to take a bus to the centro. "Just take that pedestrian bridge there and go straight," he pointed, grinning. He said I would pass through two smaller plazas and then find myself in the centro. A more pleasant walk than ride, he opined. I thanked him. His warm white smile under that bushy black moustache added then--and genuinely--"That all goes well for you, amigo!" It was following his advice; it was treading through those plazas and to the centro that triggered my observations on the pattern of the Mexican centro. I would not call those observations profound. But before today I had never articulated them for myself.

Tomorrow I continue on to Guadalajara, I think.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers