journal at the limit of the sea

In the essay, The Writer on Holiday, Barthes uses a picture of Gide reading Bossuet while floating down the Congo as the point of departure for a reflection on the mythology of the ´writer´ as an essence: ¨one is a writer as Louis XIV was a king, even on the toilet.¨ Barthes, of course, always had a shrewd sense for the connotations of the image, and surely Gide, serene amidst a landscape alien but chosen by himself, and yet so wrapped in the third life of reading that he doesn´t see it, is acting out the master. On the other hand, what can Gide tell us about the Congo? Or LI tell us about Mexico? Myself, I think that noticing does have an end, especially as the references unfold into a jungle darkness one has neither the will nor the strength to explore – say the 17 square inches of cortex inside the head of the woman traipsing up and down the beach here at Playa de la Cuesta, selling slices of mango on a stick to lounging tourists.

I´m told the beach here is treacherous. While it bears the plausible appearance of the usual vast extent of water running up eternally against the sandy marge, the swimmer who would plunge into those waves would soon find himself struggling with cold currents that would draw him, beyond his human strength, out so far into the Pacific that he would disappear from human kind. A sort of dream of suicide comes over me at the very idea. The husband in A star is born had the right idea. Ophelia and Virginia Woolf are all very well, but give me no riverine drowning.

Of course, I have an incredibly movie addled view of the Pacific coast from Tijuana down to Porta Vallerta. I´m fifteen minutes by bus – on a good, non-trafficy morning – from Acapulco, where Orson Welles has that wonderful exchange with Grisby, Rita Hayworth´s husband´s partner, who is sounding Welles out about a potential murder. Porta Vallerta is where Ava Gardner runs a hostel for American alcoholics, and where was it exactly that Monty Cliff ended up torn apart by Mexican boys, the way Orpheus was slain by jealous nymphs? Driving through the streets that brought us to the hotel, we passed by several other hotels that bore the aspects of places that some character from a Raymond Chandler novel would chose to hide out in.

For two days, we had the beach practically to ourselves. Or at least we were not competing with other tourists, although vendors relentlessly patrolled the beach by day, offering jewelry, fruit, horse back rides, cloth, and by night, when the hotel gate is locked and the armed guard patrols the seaward aspect, the beach swarms, apparently, with offers of sex, cocaine, and violence. Gunshots are sometimes heard, but more often the boom boom boom of Mexican hip hop. The latter seems to drive the owner of the hotel crazy. In the morning, I run along the beach with M., up to the point where the military outpost faces the sea, and down to the cliffs upon which assemble, every morning, the waiters, maids, and discrete supervisors of hammocks and pools, recruited from the colonias which extend back into the mountains.

Guerrero, the state where Acapulco is located, has long hosted low level conflicts between peasant guerillas and the State. Lately, the narcos have joined the brawl, most spectacularly by hewing off the head of the chief of police of Acapulco and sticking it on the gate before the police station. When I finally take the bus into town – alone, as M.´s family has seen enough of Acapulco – it is disappointingly unglamourous. The zocalo of the old part of town is much smaller than I expected. I came to see the divers, but miss my chance to see them in the afternoon and don´t want to wait to see them again in the evening. Instead, I tour the Fuerte de San Diego. The connoisseur of forts soon recognizes the smallness of the repertory of his object: after all, forts are simply walls with cannons emplaced in them, enclosing a parade ground that is devoid of anything that would interupt the monotony of drills. Living quarters inside the fort are converted into exhibits made up of antique looking furniture, chests, cloths and arms. Signage refers to imperial splendors past. TVs show five minute educational films to fill the visitor in on geography, dates, and prominent names. Still, the grounds around the Fuerte give one an amazing overview of the bay. I gaze at it, jot down some notes, and then set out to feed myself.

The children, Constanza and Julian, fall utterly into the embrace of the beach. They love to wade out and be buffetted shorewards. Bobbing, Constanza, in her French accented English, calls it. ¨Mamma, I want to go bopping in the waves!¨ Eight and six, little thin bodies that look as precarious as any seabird by the side of the ocean. Black haired Julian tans immediately, while fair haired Constanza must have sun screen more lavishly daubed over her. Julian has brilliant comic talents, and comes up with routines that I would suspect he stole from Harpo Marx if he hadn´t shown such boredom the one time I showed him a Marx brothers film. He is an incredibly physical child, who can´t walk twenty feet without bounding up at least once. Constanza, on the other hand, is a daydreamer. Captured by some idea – a sleepover party, bopping in the waves – she will harp on it for days. Myself, I´ve been trained to take my ideas seriously, but talking to Constanza makes me realize how slightly ridiculous that is, how close daydream is to reflection, explanation to myth. What I have learned is not how to unfold my ideas according to the rules of logic, but how to mistreat my daydreams until they look like ideas.


Anonymous said…
Hi Roger,
Beautiful descriptions of Mexico and M's family. Give my regards to all of them. Bernat