Saturday, February 24, 2007

Borderlines


I have returned to revisit my old haunts in Mexico, where I once painted behind these crumbling walls, made love, swapped stories, and faced demons. Much has changed here, but the sabor remains the same.
I am staying at the Casa de la Turca, named after the Turkish Madame that reportedly ran a bordello here many years ago, now converted to a charming guesthouse by a friend of mine. The other day I met a man whose aunt had actually worked here during it’s heyday and in fact just passed away at age 101, taking with her the sordid memories of whatever went on behind these doors now housing pampered gringo travelers like myself.
San Miguel de Allende. So much busier and and bigger than before, bustling with retired gringos and Mexicans alike, each inhabiting entirely different worlds in the same place. Texan and California retirees, giddy with the charm of the Spanish colonial architecture, the novelty of cobblestone streets, clutching their Frida Kahlo shopping bags and swapping tips on remedies for various Mexican illnesses, and methods to keep high tech devices working and connected. Artists, writers and wannabees abound, but not like the old days when real live bohemians like yours truly wandered the cafes and art galleries. They are now conspicuously missing. Where have they gone? In a doorway near the jardin a blind man squats, holding out a plastic cup. I swear I recognize him from twenty years ago. A platinum blonde woman in a hot pink tee shirt with a poodle I her arms squeezes by on the narrow stone sidewalk, navigating the uneven pavement in high heeled sandals. Children in plaid uniforms on their way to school, maids on their way to the market, tourists on their way to the internet caf├ęs all winding their way through the ancient stone streets while cars and busses and taxis rumble by. Colorful and alive and noisy as hell.
I feel as if I have made a 180-degree turn from the quiet grey world of Whidbey Island.
I eat gorditas in the marketplace, chicken mole in terraced restaurants, roasted corn on the streets, smothered in mayo and chili. I am invincible, alive and in my element. Until, of course, the last day.
It has to happen. It always does. It only takes a few bites of a fatal flan and I’m a goner, hugging the toilet for a long and woeful night under a slice of yellow moon, stripped down to the bare bones, cursing my own arrogance, once again.

Mexico is a brujo, a grinning mask, a broken carnival ride. A clown with fangs, a clanging, squawking, laughing, sobbing demon of delight.
Mexico is a mistress in black lace and tacones, her long fingernails painted as red a blood. It is a dancing skeleton forever grinning, clackety clack through your dreams, opening up the chambers where you keep your deepest secrets, reaching inside to pull them out like a beating heart and offering them up to a god who cares less. And what you thought was so precious becomes dust, what you held onto so tightly becomes a flock of white birds that disappear into a white sky.
Mexico is a rooftop dog pacing back and forth over the streets below; it’s gravelly bark sending red cinders into the black night and into the restless dreams of sleeping blind men. You may create your fragile web of safety, build it out of dollar bills and promises, but Mexico will get you through the water that you drink and the air you breathe. It will turn your insides to mush and spit them out, purging you of anyone you remotely even thought you were.

Doves coo from the rafters, a sad and lonely song above the clanging church bells and the grind of traffic. The heart of Mexico beats like a deep drum, you can feel it vibrating in your veins. The only way to survive is to let your blood pulse with it as it beats out a cacophony of sound that you cannot decipher. And after a while, you just stop trying.