Archive for April, 2012

How to Leave a City

This could be any other city. Great clots of traffic muddy up the roadways. There is smog and people, lights and buildings, roundabouts and buses. Everyone is busy going somewhere, weaving their way though everyone else going somewhere else.

At the bus station, taxi drivers at the rank push their cabs forward manually when the line moves, leaning their weight into their open doors, one hand in the steering wheel, engine off until a passenger climbs in. Local buses drip in and I ask the drivers one by one if they’re going to where I am. It’s dark, I’m on my own. I use what Spanish I’ve learnt.

“Voy a La Normal,” and “Va a La Normal?”

Dad spent three years of his adolescence in this city. I’ve arrived the day after his birthday.

About two thirds of the way to the centre, an American in a cowboy hat gets on and sits next to me. I’m the only other white person on the bus. He is old, pasty and hairless and his hat sits on his head like an umbrella on a cream cake. Although I have headphones in and am looking out the window, conversation is immediate and unprompted. He tells me where he’s going and how he’s going to get there. He lists a few bus numbers and street names. He tells me he works for a mining company and he travels a lot, but he lives here in Guadalajara. I ask him how long he’s been in Mexico for. “Too long,” he says. “Too fuckin’ long. Not good fer a man to spend too much time in Mexico. Man can go crazy down here,” he says. And then he suddenly starts reeling off drug war stats: how many people have died and how, the way its been covered up, the way the media won’t report on it anymore in case they get killed, how the different cartels operate. I want to tell him that the media reports on the violence plenty, and how I feel safer in most places in Mexico than I did when I was travelling through his United States, but I’ve already decided that he’s probably not worth arguing with. He smells milky and slightly sour and he holds his face too close to mine as he speaks.

I find Hermano at an all-you-can-eat buffet called Sirloin with the two crudest, most obnoxious girls of the La Manzanilla group. I’m not hungry, but I spend too much money on a buffet plate and the food is shiny and fake, the texture of glue. The girls wolf-whistle at the waiters, write down their phone numbers on napkins and leave them in prominent positions on their empty plates, threaten repeatedly to puke they’re so full. On the bus back to Hermano’s, they blast their little stereo and talk over it and one another, about sex and boys and bodily functions.

Hermano the dentist has spent too long in Guadalajara. He has been six years here, six years in this same little apartment; fours years studying things he hated studying and two years practicing them. In La Manzinilla, he kept trying to extend his holiday, finding reasons to stay a few extra days, an extra night even. The change in him – the Hermano I knew in La Manzinilla and the Hermano I’m getting to know in the city – is startling. He is restless and strange. His movements are quicker but less focused, more fraught. In the mornings he gets up for work, irons his shirt and trousers on his mattress and is gone from the house. When he comes home he sits smokes and watches stupid TV with his feet propped up on a stool.

The girls leave the next day, though it takes them most of the day to do it. They pack and repack, pace the small apartment, fill it with their noise. When they do finally go, I wait tensely for them to come back – they forgot something or aren’t going for some reason – but they don’t and eventually I relax.

I stay four days. Travel is the effort of filling days outside of a routine, when you have no function or position, so your only purpose is detached exploration and maybe learning. Hermano’s apartment is all noise – I wake up to the water man shouting “Ag-gua! Ag-gua!” over his incessantly ringing bell, to the bread boys honking their horns, to the knife-sharpening man’s whistles. Neighbours play music or blast TVs through the thin walls, dogs bark, people call to each other over balconies and the traffic rumbles and grunts overtop of everything else. I wake without much reason to get up but I do it anyway, study some Spanish, take the bus into the centre and walk up and down streets, read my book. The city is smog and density and sound. The city is everything too close to everything else.

“I don’t like music,” Hermano tells me one evening, when I ask him what I should put on. “People think I am crazy, or broken or however they think. They think it’s something wrong, not to like music.”
“You don’t like music?” I say. “How can you not like music?”
“See! You are the same. Everyone thinks it is such a weird thing. I don’t know why not. I just don’t like it.”
“You’re crazy,” I tell him.
“When there is music on, and I have listened to that music before or something like that, so the music carries the place I heard it before. I don’t like it that it is feeling like something else. Music. It is… I don’t know how to explain. It is not real feelings.”
“Yes. Really.”
“Alright then. I won’t put anything on.”
“No. You can play something. You just don’t ask me questions.”
“Is there any music you like more than other music maybe? Like, do you like quieter music, or electonic stuff, or rock?”
“I don’t like any music.”

On his day off, Hermano takes me exploring. We wander through the centre for a while, to the markets and a few other places, then he takes me to Parque Mirador at the end of one of the bus lines. Parque Mirador is a park with a lookout over a huge canyon, a fine green sliver of river way down the bottom of it, tracing this sudden, uneven interruption in the landscape. The city has been built right up against it but over the other side, there’s nothing but empty plains. Density butted up against pure distance, like a dry shoreline. Hermano tells me he’s never been here before. “This is how you get out of the city,” I tell him. “You come to places like this.”

On my last night in Guadalajara, Hermano sticks a torch into my mouth and tells me how many cavities I have. He tells me I have a lot. I’ll need to come back and he’ll need to fix them.  I tell him later. I’ll come back later. And the next day I’m on a bus.


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