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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Life is amazing (Heavenly City)


Accident scene, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 20 January 2014

When did it all begin? he thought. When did I go under? A dark, vaguely familiar Aztec lake. The nightmare. How do I get away? How do I take control? And the questions kept coming. Was getting away what he really wanted? Did he really want to leave it all behind? And he also thought: the pain doesn't matter anymore. And also: maybe it all began with my mother's death. And also the pain doesn't matter, as long as it doesn't get any worse, as long as it isn't unbearable. And also: fuck, it hurts, fuck, it hurts. Pay it no mind, pay it no mind. And all around him, ghosts.
He could see hills on the horizon. The hills were dark yellow and black. Past the hills, he guessed, was the desert. He felt the urge to leave and drive into the hills, but when he got back to his table the woman had brought him a beer and a very thick kind of sandwich. He took a bite and it was good. The taste was strange, spicy. Out of curiosity, he lifted the piece of bread on top: the sandwich was full of all kinds of things. He took a long drink of beer and stretched in his chair. Through the vine leaves he saw a bee, perched motionless. Two slender rays of sun fell vertically on the dirt floor. When the man came back he asked how to get to the hills. The man laughed. He spoke a few words Fate didn’t understand and then he said not pretty, several times.
“Not pretty?”
“Not pretty,” said the man, and he laughed again.
Then he took Fate by the arm and dragged him into a room that served as a kitchen and that looked very tidy to Fate, each thing in its place, not a spot of grease on the white-tiled wall, and he pointed to the garbage can.
“Hills not pretty?” asked Fate.
The man laughed again.
“Hills are garbage?”
The man couldn’t stop laughing. He had a bird tattooed on his left forearm. Not a bird in flight, like most tattoos of birds, but a bird perched on a branch, a little bird, possibly a swallow.
“Hills a garbage dump?”
The man laughed even more and nodded his head.
One day, for reasons that are beside the point, I went with a doctor friend of mine to the university morgue. I doubt you’ve ever been there. The morgue is underground and it’s a long room with white-tiled walls and a wooden ceiling. In the middle there’s a stage where autopsies, dissections, and other scientific atrocities are performed. Then there are two small offices, one for the dean of forensic studies and the other for another professor. At each end are the refrigerated rooms where the corpses are stored, the bodies of the destitute or people without papers visited by death in cheap hotel rooms.
“In those days I showed a doubtless morbid interest in these facilities and my doctor friend kindly took it upon himself to give me a detailed tour. We even attended the last autopsy of the day. Then my friend went into the dean’s office and I was left alone outside in the corridor, waiting for him, as the students left and a kind of crepuscular lethargy crept from under the doors like poison gas. After ten minutes of waiting I was startled by a noise from one of the refrigerated rooms. In those days, I promise you, that was enough to frighten anyone, but I’ve never been particularly cowardly and I went to see what it was.
“When I opened the door a gust of cold air hit me in the face. At the back of the room, by a stretcher, a man was trying to open one of the lockers to stow away a corpse, but no matter how hard he struggled, the door to the locker or cell wouldn’t budge. Without moving from the threshold, I asked whether he needed help. The man straightened up, he was very tall, and gave me what seemed to me a despairing look. Perhaps it was because I sensed despair in his gaze that I was emboldened to approach him. As I did, flanked by corpses, I lit a cigarette to calm my nerves and when I reached him the first thing I did was offer him another cigarette, perhaps forcing a false camaraderie.
“Only then did the morgue worker look at me and it was as if I had gone back in time. His eyes were exactly like the eyes of the great writer whose Cologne lectures I had devoutly attended. I confess that just then, for a few seconds, I even thought I was going mad. It was the morgue worker’s voice, nothing like the warm voice of the great writer, that rescued me from my panic. He said: smoking isn’t allowed here.
“I didn’t know what to answer. He added: smoke is harmful to the dead. I laughed. He supplied an explanatory note: smoke interferes with the process of preservation. I made a noncommittal gesture. He tried a last time: he spoke about filters, he spoke about moisture levels, he uttered the word purity. I offered him a cigarette again and he announced with resignation that he didn’t smoke. I asked whether he had worked there for a long time. In an impersonal and somewhat shrill voice, he said he had worked at the university since long before the 1914 war.
“‘Always at the morgue?’ I asked.
“‘Here and nowhere else,’ he answered.
“‘It’s funny,’ I said, ‘but your face, and especially your eyes, remind me of a great German writer.’ At this point I mentioned the writer’s name.
“‘I’ve never heard of him,’ was his response.
“In earlier days this reply would have outraged me, but thanks God I was living a new life. I remarked that working at the morgue must surely prompt wise or at least original reflections on human fate. He looked at me as if I were mocking him or speaking French. I insisted. These surroundings, I said, with a gesture that encompassed the whole morgue, are in a certain way the ideal place to contemplate the brevity of life, the unfathomable fate of mankind, the futility of earthly strife.
“With a shudder of horror, I was suddenly aware that I was talking to him as if he were the great German writer and this was the conversation we’d never had. I don’t have much time, he said. I looked him in the eye again. There could be no doubt about it: he had the eyes of my idol. And his reply: I don’t have much time. How many doors it opened! How many paths were suddenly cleared, revealed to me!
“I don’t have much time, I have to haul corpses. I don’t have much time, I have to breathe, eat, drink, sleep. I don’t have much time, I have to keep the gears meshing. I don’t have much time, I’m busy living. I don’t have much time, I’m busy dying. As you can imagine, there were no more questions. I helped him open the locker. I wanted to help him slide the corpse in, but my clumsiness was such that the sheet slipped and then I saw the face of the corpse and I closed my eyes and bowed my head and let him work in peace.
“When my friend came out he watched me from the door in silence. Everything all right? he asked. I couldn’t answer, or didn’t know how to answer. Maybe I said: everything’s wrong. But that wasn’t what I meant to say.”
Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003): from The Part About Fate and The Part About Archimboldi, in 2666, published posthumously 2004, English translation by Natasha Wimmer, 2008

Police helicopter, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 30 June 2009

Monterrey, Nuevo Leon: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 22 January 2014

Execution, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 8 March 2014

Life is amazing (Mexico City): photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 7 March 2014

Street, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 18 March 2014

Murder victim, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 26 March 2014

 Execution victim, Valle de Chalco: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 10 March 2014

Execution victim, Tlalnepantla: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 6 March 2014

Murder victim, Iztapalapa: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 18 July 2013

 The world's most wanted drug kingpin, Joaquin Loera Guzman, known as El Chapo, is captured, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 22 February 2014

Street, Iztapalapa: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 5 March 2014

Heavenly city (Tenochtitlan), Mexico: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 28 January 2014

Accident scene, Iztapalapa: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 26 December 2013

Accident scene, Iztapalapa: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 26 September 2013

Accident scene, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 17 July 2013

Fatal accident scene, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 11 October 2013

 Hurricane, Acapulco, Guerrero: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 20 September 2013

Slide area, Cuajimalpa: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 26 September 2013

 Tlalpan, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 24 November 2013

Iztapalapa: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 15 September 2012

Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 20 January 2013

Metro, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 4 February 2013

St. Jude the Protector, Mexico City: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 28 July 2012

St. Jude the Protector, Iztapalapa: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 17 March 2012

Soul brothers, Iztapalapa: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 15 October 2012

Durango: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 4 May 2013

Santa Anita, Iztacalco: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 1 June 2013

 Durango: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 26 April 2012

Durango: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 1 May 2013

Durango: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 9 May 2012

Exit, Gomez Palacio, Durango: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 1 June 2012

Durango: photo by Jair Cabrera Torres (rastamaniaco), 27 April 2012


Hazen said...

Bolaño writes about death with absolute authority. That surely must come from his first-hand acquaintance with fascism, which was present to some degree or other in just about every country he lived in. That tuba player in Durango reminds me for some strange reason of the scene in Fellini’s Amarcord, when the fascist town militia shoots at a group of defiant schoolboys in the bell tower, one of whom is playing a tuba.

Some world, where the difference between life and death gets so narrowed down, where mortal danger and death are as common as the polluted air we breathe. Can we speak of everyday death as we would of everyday life?

TC said...


In some ways that "streets of Durango" shot encapsulates the series.

The diminishing perspective, the half-shaded narrowness of the street, the bars on the windows, the eerie shadows of the overhead wires, the endarkened visages of the celebrants, turning to look at us as if unpleasantly surprised, the dark glasses and suspicious expression of the tuba player, and above all the great black hole of the bell of his instrument, gaping open as if about to engulf us.

Arresting, the image might be termed. Disturbing. An uneasy moment. The discomfort immediate and palpable. Enjoy the fiesta!

"Bolaño writes about death with absolute authority" -- yes, almost as one intimate, prescient.

In this extremely dark book he has no other subject.

Hazen said...

It was a lovers’ quarrel involving two men and a woman. The woman was married to one of the men and screwing the other, her husband’s friend and co-worker, on his day off, while her husband was away working his construction job. When the cuckold found out he came to work one day with a .22 revolver and shot lover boy six times in front of a lot of witnesses. The “friend” was a big guy, but six bullets, even small-caliber bullets, at close range are enough to kill a man. After he had pulled the trigger for the last time, the husband sat down and smoked a cigarette and talked with other workers while he waited for the cops to arrive, so he could give himself up. At the hospital, I interviewed the coroner while he performed the autopsy on the erstwhile lover, probing the fat, now-grey flesh and dictating his findings in a dull voice to the nurse standing at his side. He was counting and describing the places on the body where the bullets had entered and exited. There were few exit wounds.

TC said...

This sounds like it could be a case for the Greek.

Hazen said...

Quizás . . . !

TC said...

Y así pasan los días...