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Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’

Letter from Casa Dracula

October 31, 2014 | by

A haunted house for writers on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

Photo: Billy Sheahan

The writers are coming.

But first, we must get our house in order, because, ay carajo, Hurricane Odile’s rude visit left the place in a shambles—muy malo, as our property manager Paula told us by e-mail a few days later, after Odile’s wrath had passed and the Internet had been restored to our dusty little town on the Tropic of Cancer. The Day of the Dead approaches, and while so many are mourning their losses and celebrating their miraculous survival, we have much to do.

Our house, the house in question, is known as the Casa Dracula, an ancient two-story, adobe-brick landmark in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur. Odile was a category-four hurricane and she made a direct hit on the southern Baja peninsula last month.

The writers are the attendees of the 2015 Todos Santos Writers Workshop, taking place for the second year at Casa Dracula at the end of January. They’ll draw inspiration from the old haunted house, a noble structure built around a courtyard in 1852 by a local sugar baron. Legend has it the Casa was given its name by the barrio children in awe of the imposing, long-vacant, bat-infested structure, and it was later officially designated such by the town—a town with, in fact, its own official designation as a Pueblo Mágico by the Mexican government. Nobody is sure what that means exactly, a “pueblo mágico,” but in Mexico the exact meaning of anything is not necessarily the point. The poetry is what matters, and Todos Santos is known for its lyrical beauty—a lush oasis bounded by mountains to the north, an oddly verdant desert, and a Pacific Ocean coastline alive with whales spawning, with baby sea turtles emerging from sandy nests on certain moonlit nights to begin their tireless journey to the sea, and with surfers skimming the waves by day. Read More »

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Very Trustworthy Witnesses

October 17, 2014 | by

The many deaths of Ambrose Bierce.

Ambrose_Bierce

A portrait of Bierce by John Herbert Evelyn Partington.

Ambrose Bierce’s old house in St. Helena, California, surrounded by the vineyards of Napa Valley, is in good repair. Eight stout sequoia trunks flare outward from a fused base in the front yard. An hour and a half drive to the south, in San Francisco, is a short knife-thrust of an alley in North Beach named Ambrose Bierce. It runs behind the old San Francisco Examiner building, where Bierce worked as a columnist for the young William Randolph Hearst.

This year marks the centennial of the presumed death of Bierce, Civil War soldier, journalist, and author of The Devil’s Dictionary, a wickedly witty book of social commentary disguised as definitions. He’s still best known for his fiction: his fastidiously plotted horror tales and the dark, vivid stories—including the often anthologized “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”—that drew from his early war experiences at Chickamauga, Shiloh, and Kennesaw Mountain, where he was wounded. In 1913, at the age of seventy-one, the famous writer saddled up a horse and rode into Mexico, not speaking any Spanish, in order to cover the Mexican Revolutionary War, perhaps to participate in it, perhaps to interview Pancho Villa. As newspaper accounts of his time reported, he disappeared without a trace.

More accurately, there were too many traces to follow and World War I soon broke out, so a thorough search for Bierce was postponed. In his disappearing act—and some thought it was an act meant to cloak his suicide or his removal to a sanitorium—Bierce becomes a bit like one of the ghostly characters in Mexico’s most celebrated novel, Pedro Paramo, which is narrated by a man who doesn’t realize he’s dead. Or like the protagonist in Bierce’s own story “An Inhabitant of Carcosa,” who stumbles across his own tombstone. According to witnesses, Bierce died over and over again, all over Mexico. There is even a cenotaph for him in the sleepy mining town of Sierra Mojada, in the Chihuahua Desert. Curiously, although his body doesn’t lie under it, it is the most distinguished marker for any of Bierce’s immediate family. Back in St. Helena, his two sons and his wife are buried in unmarked graves. Read More »

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Without Compunction

May 20, 2014 | by

Doing verbal battle at the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships.

800px-38-svaghi_C_lotta_Taccuino_Sanitatis_Casanatense_4182._detail

An illustration from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, from the late fourteenth century. (No pun included.)

The only thing harder than crafting a good pun is finding someone to appreciate it. It’s not that puns are universally reviled—though their critics make it seem that way. It’s just that for every person who loves a clever play on words, there exists another who absolutely despises them; in mixed company, puns are, along with politics and religion, best left alone. If only there were an app that could match people by their senses of humor. Tinder? I barely know ’er!

If it’s difficult to pun profitably in the United States, it’s all but impossible in Mexico, where I’ve been living for the past year. Here I’m limited somewhat by my imperfect Spanish, but also by a lack of fellow punning linguists. There’s not even a word for pun in Spanish, which made it difficult to explain to friends here that after ten months of wasting my presumably hilarious wordplay on their apparently deaf ears, I’d bought myself a ticket to Austin, Texas, to compete in the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships. Despite its grandiose name, there is no qualifying round ahead of this “championship,” and, with the exception of a lanky Englishman in a chicken suit, all the participants were American.

“So a pun is like a play on words?” a Mexican friend asked before I set out, using the Spanish phrase juego de palabras, that most dictionaries list as the translation for “pun.”

Well, yes, I said, but it’s a specific kind of play on words. I tried to find an example, but I hadn’t realized until that moment just how difficult it is to come up with puns on the spot. The example I offered, which defined the exchange of sex for spaghetti as pasta-tution, didn’t translate as well as I’d hoped. Read More »

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Francisco Goldman, Mexico City

June 1, 2012 | by

A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.

My desk is snugly ensconced in a front corner of the living room, facing wall and bookshelves, a wide window overlooking a park in Colonia Roma to the right and, on my left, the narrow side window drawn by Matteo. I’m sharing the apartment with my friend Jon Lee, who is almost always traveling, but he needed a Latin American base for his work. We only moved in a month ago. It’s the biggest apartment I’ve ever lived in. The living room is so immense that I bought a football (not a futbol) just to prove you can play catch in it, and now I am looking for a wiffleball batting machine, which I think would be a great way to manage the persistent physical restlessness that often makes it so hard for me to sit still at a desk. In the mornings I go down to a café facing the park for breakfast. They have terrific coffee. I usually have the waitress tell me about the chilaquiles, the enfrijoladas, molletes, and omelettes just so that I can savor her descriptions, and then I order the fruit and granola, and she makes fun of me for that. I work in the café for two or three hours and then go back to the desk in my apartment. Apart from a break for lunch, I try to work until seven in the evening, and then usually head to the gym. We’re right around the corner from one of Mexico City’s greatest cantinas, one I’d been coming to for years from more distant neighborhoods. They have a funny ritual there. A waiter will ring a bell to catch everyone’s attention, shout out a name, and then the cavernous room will resound with raucous shouts of ¡Pendejo! (it means, more or less, “asshole!”). You have to pay the waiter to do that. Once a good friend, a writer from Ireland, was visiting, and he paid the waiter to shout out the name of another Irish writer who’d given him a nasty review, and the waiter, though he could barely pronounce the name, shouted it out, and everyone in the cantina, the old men playing dominoes, the Mexican and foreign hipsters, and literary types who also hang out there, et cetera, joyously shouted “¡Pendejo!” —Francisco Goldman

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Carlos Fuentes, 1928–2012

May 15, 2012 | by

“When your life is half over, I think you have to see the face of death in order to start writing seriously. There are people who see the end quickly, like Rimbaud. When you start seeing it, you feel you have to rescue these things. Death is the great Maecenas, Death is the great angel of writing. You must write because you are not going to live any more.”

—Carlos Fuentes, The Art of Fiction No. 68

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Gabriel Orozco

December 7, 2011 | by

When Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco opens the back doors leading out onto his garden, it seems so serene that you would be hard-pressed to believe you were in the middle of downtown Manhattan. Inside, the walls are covered with boomerangs, his laptop is decorated with superhero stickers, and his painting palette is filled with cigarette butts. Recently, the artist invited me to his combined studio, kitchenette, and office space on the basement floor of his brownstone to talk about his working process, how he started out as an artist, and why it’s important to habituate your audience to disappointment. Orozco’s “Corplegados” work was recently exhibited at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. It is his first exhibition following his two-year museum retrospective, which traveled to the Kunstmuseum in Basel, MoMA in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and Tate Modern in London.

I always wanted to be an artist. At some point my father asked me whether I might instead want to be an architect or something like that, but I didn’t. I thought about it for maybe a month. My father was an artist. He was a painter and he knew how hard it is to make a living out of it. My mother was also a kind of artist—she was a pianist. All of my school friends, all their parents were artists, whether writers or photographers or sculptors. I was surrounded.

I started with painting. Painting as an activity is wonderful. You are standing up and you have the freedom to apply colors to a white surface starting almost from nothing. You feel free when you are painting. You feel that you are concentrating on something very particular that is very difficult, but that you enjoy doing it, even though you know that you are probably going to fail, because it’s very difficult to make a good painting. Read More »

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