Week 6: pages 291-349

“So what are we going to do? What can we do?”—Rosa Amalfitano

Fate is often the answer to the question Why me? For the women of Santa Teresa (and Juarez), the question might be more “Why us?” but the answer is the same: it just is, it’s fate, what can you do? No one knows how to stop the killings—they barely even receive press coverage anymore—they have become part of the landscape. “A sketch of the industrial landscape in the third world,” Fate calls his proposed piece of reportage. “The problem is bad luck,” said Rosa. From the stands of the arena, Fate can her them singing “the battle hymn of a lost war sung in the dark.” The fate of the city and the fate of the women are intertwined. Maria Bustillos asked earlier about why Amalfitano allows Rosa to go out into the city alone at night. What motivates a woman living in Santa Teresa to keep living there and venture out alone at night? Part of it must be the surreal nature of murder and kidnapping. They are such grand, cinematic concepts that they seemingly don’t apply to real world people—until they do. The difference between living in the shadow of constant murder and death is a pale illusion, a dream of never awaking. “You have to listen to women. You should never ignore a woman’s fears.”

The issue of machismo also arises in this section—not just because it is based around the boxing match, but because Fate is in some ways an intruder. His masculinity operates on a different frequency. He is aware that he can be easily perceived as a big black American dude, a scary presence to the shorter, somewhat homogeneous Mexicans, but the only time he tries on that persona, it doesn’t work on the form of machismo he encounters. What he perceives as sexual jealousy on the part of Chucho Flores and Corona (towards Rosa Amalfitano) turns out to be indifference on Chucho’s part (“I’m not jealous, amigo”) and sheer violence on Corona’s part (a gun? a murder? what did Fate do besides barge in on your little cocaine session?). Bolano shows us how bizarre interactions between people can escalate into violence and then not fit neatly into explainable categories. If Corona does shoot Fate in that situation, how would you summarize it? A group of friends (former lovers?) were having a “party” at a house and the foreigner threatened a woman? Is it classified as a “domestic” situation? Of course, Chucho’s indifference in the house is contrasted by his violent jealousy earlier in the coffee shop when he calls Rosa a whore for kissing a classmate. Is his “indifference” in the house really just cowardice? Chucho comes off looking like the weakest sort of macho man. Are women in Santa Teresa being killed not because of predators but because of the weakness of men? As Amalfitano says, “They’re all mixed up in it.”

The instant that Rosa Amalfitano takes Fate’s hand and chooses him over the Mexicans, it saves Fate’s life. It is the end of his three days and nights in the belly of the whale. It is the sign that the two of them both have been granted a reprieve. So much of this section reminded me of Pulp Fiction (the boxing match, the girl doing drugs, the gun, the rush to leave the motel, etc.) that I thought that moment of Fate and Rosa finally connecting was the equivalent of Vincent Vega giving Mia Wallace an adrenaline shot to the heart.

Other topics we need to discuss: the end of the sacred (Daryl mentions it here), the end of the old-style movie theaters, the history of film in general, hexagons, the murals (Daryl has a great post on the Virgin here), TV shows.

“We all know things we think nobody else knows,” said Fate.

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11 Responses to “Week 6: pages 291-349”

  • Comment from Dan Summers

    Man, if you can wring any meaning out of those hexagons, you’re a better man than I. The best I could come up with was that they were the nadir of Amalfitano’s ineffectual, overly intellectual relationship with his imperiled daughter. It was absurd, and Rosa was in no situation that called for a sense of the absurd, thanks.

    I think the conversation about movie theaters, with their architectural beauty and sense of the grand and numinous, serve as kind of a counterpoint to the plastic, ghoulish restaraunt where Fate ends up with his reluctant hosts. We lose the sacred and content ourselves with the profane.

    I am eager to read everyone’s thoughts on this section. My thoughts here, for the interested:

    • Comment from Matt

      Dan, the first thing I thought of was that stop signs are hexagons octagons.

      • Comment from Daryl

        Stop signs are actually octagons. Hexagons are somewhat interesting in that they’re composed of other regular polygons. Six triangles (isosceles, I believe) or two trapezoids, which themselves can be constructed using a square and two triangles. I suppose plenty of other shapes can be created out of other regular polygons, though. But there’s something pleasing about that nested structure of triangles within trapezoids within hexagons, shapes increasing in resolution toward that most perfect of forms, the circle. I guess it’s just Amalfitano’s way of trying to impose structure on things, not necessarily something you can impose outside order or meaning on.

      • Comment from Matt

        Dammit, you’d think I’d fact-check my own comments. I feel about 3 years old right now.

        • Comment from Daryl

          Sorry, Matt — was trying to find a way to not come off as pedantic or like correcting for the sake of making you look bad (not that I think you looked bad — it’s a simple/reasonable enough mistake, a simple word exchange).

          • Comment from Matt

            Well, I should know better. I googled Borges and hexagons and found a ton of stuff. I really need to beef up on Borges. From a description of the story The Library of Babel:

            Borges’s narrator describes how his universe consists of an endless expanse of interlocking hexagonal rooms, each of which contains the bare necessities for human survival—and four walls of bookshelves. Though the order and content of the books is random and apparently completely meaningless, the inhabitants believe that the books contain every possible ordering of just a few basic characters (letters, spaces and punctuation marks). Though the majority of the books in this universe are pure gibberish, the library also must contain, somewhere, every coherent book ever written, or that might ever be written, and every possible permutation or slightly erroneous version of every one of those books. The narrator notes that the library must contain all useful information, including predictions of the future, biographies of any person, and translations of every book in all languages. Conversely, for many of the texts some language could be devised that would make it readable with any of a vast number of different contents.

            Despite — indeed, because of — this glut of information, all books are totally useless to the reader, leaving the librarians in a state of suicidal despair. This leads some librarians to superstitions and cult-like behavior, such as the “Purifiers”, who arbitrarily destroy books they deem nonsense as they move through the library seeking the “Crimson Hexagon” and its illustrated, magical books.

            So now I think that maybe Amalfitano’s question of Fate shows that Amalfitano has been thinking about survival and death and geometry and these grand ideas in his own weird way. Like you say, his concept of geometry is just one way of trying to impose order on chaos and he has (maybe) distilled it down to this question about hexagons.

  • Comment from Maria Bustillos

    Wow, there’s a lot to discuss here … I love this post. Okay though first, I didn’t believe Chucho or even think that he was exhibiting weakness in saying that he wasn’t jealous. I more get the feeling that these guys are sociopaths, that one second they would be saying how they’re going to die, I’m nothing without you, etc. and the next they are just stoned and stupid and would just as soon shoot you as look at you. If you saw The Sopranos you will recall that they acted the same way. The mild regret they felt after Adriana’s murder! Christopher Moltisanti! Eek. “She couldn’t do five years for me?! I thought she loved me!”

    Great call about Pulp Fiction, too.

    As for the danger that Fate was in: it was pretty crazy to go into this drug den and go mooching around from room to room like that. Maybe Corona meant to terrorize Fate, not to kill him. But it’s the combination of Rosa agreeing to leave with him, and Fate’s getting hold of the gun, that saves their lives.

  • Comment from Trent Crable

    About why women would still go out alone: Not to downplay the horribleness of the murders… but (using the numbers from Juarez) we’re talking about an average of about 40 murders a year. That’s a bad thing, but in a city of nearly 1.5 million (again using Juarez numbers) I imagine there’s a fair amount of “it won’t happen to me” and “I’m not going to stop living my life because of fear.” I have no idea how to calculate the odds here (or even if it can be done properly) but figure maybe 100,000 women in the right age range? Figure most of them leave the house most days (say 300 a year) and we’re looking at 30 million discrete instances a year of women in the age range leaving their homes and out of that we have about 40 murders. (Again, I’m not claiming my math or methodology here is great, but even with vastly smaller numbers my point remains). This, of course, is ignoring the other murders in the city that are not included in the femicide numbers, and there are a shocking number of those.

    About Chucho: I don’t think it was indifference or cowardice. I’d call it prudence. He just watched Fate KO the dude with a gun, and now Fate is holding the gun and asking Chucho if he has a problem. I think Chucho said what he needed to, regardless of what he felt. Also, Rosa was right there, and she left him because she said she hates jealous men, so maybe it was an attempt to make a show of his (presumably faked) lack of jealousy. And whether it was prudence or an attempt to impress (that’s not the best word, but whatever) Rosa, he also knew that he could come after them with reinforcements. So he could avoid a confrontation with Fate that he’d surely lose and impress Rosa, while still thinking after he gets away from them he can call in his troops.

    I also found the presence of the silent, smiling guy (I’m too lazy to look up his name) to be odd. I suspect he was some sort of strongman or “muscle.” When you factor in Corona with his gun, I had a slight feeling they had nefarious plans before Fate made his move. In line with this, I also think what Fate interrupted was more than a just a cocaine session.

    • Comment from Maria Bustillos

      Excellent points all. The scene at Charly Cruz’s house is super evocative of a Tarantino movie. The guy with the gun is the one whom everyone quietly obeys, all of a sudden.

    • Comment from Matt

      Trent, one thing to consider is that now Juarez is plagued with even more violence and murder. The numbers are much worse in the past few years: 2600 murders in 2009, 4600 in the past two years. Not all of these are women–most are related to the drug cartel, but Juarez is worse than living in some war zones. And yet the city is growing. People move there to work in these assembly plants. Also, the number femicides is estimated to be as high as 600 or 700 with up to 3000 missing (bodies not yet recovered).

      • Comment from Trent Crable

        Matt: As I acknowledged, my figuring “of course, is ignoring the other murders in the city that are not included in the femicide numbers, and there are a shocking number of those.”

        If you think it is unfair to ignore those (and I don’t really “ignore” them, it’s just that I have no idea how to try to factor them in to what I was trying to figure), I’d agree. But I don’t know enough about the Juarez crime situation to say anything more definitive. I don’t know if it’s like Chicago (my current city) in the way that there are neighborhoods where murders are extremely rare (sometimes zero in a year) and there are others where they are extremely common (where it’s notable if a week goes murder free). Maybe it is, I have no idea. Another thing about Chicago is that most of the murders tend to involve drug or gang violence, and those murdered tend to be people involved in those dealings or occasionally people caught in the crossfire. And, as you wrote, the 2600 murders in Juarez that we’ve been hearing about in the news are widely reported to be almost all related to gang (drug cartel) violence. So if you aren’t involved in the drug trade, they tend to ignore you, or so it seems. This may not assuage everyone’s fears, and I’m sure there are plenty of scared people who won’t go out at night, and such. But I’m also confident that there are plenty of people who figure that if aren’t involved in drug trafficking, stay out of the more dangerous areas, and mind themselves, that they’re willing to risk going out so they aren’t held captive by fear.

        Again, I’m not trying to down play the extent to which Juarez is a dangerous place. It is. It makes the murder rates in America’s most dangerous cities (NOLA, Baltimore, etc) seem like nothing.

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