Catching up

We’re running a little behind in posting this week. I’ve been traveling. But we will catch up. Onward.

Week 8: The Ventriloquist

by Maria Bustillos

A number of readers aren’t quite on board with Florita Almada, order it seems.  A consensus has developed on Infinite Zombies around the idea that the legitimacy of her views can be called into question.  I’m posting most of my response here, generic because I’d like to know what others think on this point.

If you are afflicted by e.g. what you are reading in this book, cialis 40mg what you see in the news, then Florita is saying that you can begin to address your own grief, guilt, shame etc. by looking to the quality of your own conduct toward others. It’s a matter of focus. What it’s saying is that human kindness IS fairness and justice. Something you have to think about specifically and put into action. That this is a real and practical way out for each individual man who can’t stand the horror.

There is, however, something in what you say about the author’s distance from this slightly maudlin-sounding prescription–that it’s “a piece of naïveté for our affectionate amusement.”

You’ll recall that right before before Florita first goes on TV, there’s been a ventriloquist on. That ventriloquist’s name is, I believe, Roberto Bolaño. He is “an autodidact who had made a name for himself” in various places, and “who thought his dummy was a living creature.” This ventriloquist is really annoyed with, almost panicked by his dummy; the dummy has actually tried to kill him but is very weak, and could never manage it. This dummy (among others, of course, but this one right now) is Florita Almada, who is about to speak, right after the ventriloquist … that’s how it always goes, first the ventriloquist and then the dummy. Florita really likes the ventriloquist, though. And even to him, she shows a great deal of sympathy, she gives him advice, even though she’s not saying the stuff she’s supposed to be saying, just like a dummy who won’t behave.  (Pretty much any fictionalist will tell you how a character comes to life pretty much on his own, and comes to have his own agenda.)

The thing is, Florita really is a saint, with a strong and fixed moral position, with real comfort and advice for the afflicted. The ventriloquist doesn’t care for this! He finds her dangerous … she’s dangerous “for people like him, hypersensitive, of artistic temperament, their wounds still open.”

She lets him have it, for sure.


There is an excellent summary of this week’s reading over on Ijustreadaboutthat:

There were seven killings in August 1995–one of whom was killed by her stepfather.  The rest were unsolved.

Epifanio returns briefly to bemoan that judiciales never find a case.  And he reveals that he swiped an address book that no one even bothered to ask about or to use for evidence.  Of course, information pills he didn’t do anything with it either.

And next Sergio González returns briefly. I loved the joke that arts reports were considered faggots “(assthetes, they called them)” (464) and I wonder if that was original in the Spanish or of that is just an awesome translation.

[Our library has a copy of 2666 in Spanish, so I’m delighted to have been able to look up this word.  The page numbering is different (of course) and I’m delighted that even with my minimal Spanish, I was able to track down this section with relative ease.  I would never bother working on any other translation in the book, but this word really stood out.  And so, in the original, we get “(periodistas <<pulturales>>, los llamaban)” (581).  Using Google translate I’m getting the “pul” part to mean neatness/fastdiousness and the “ultrales” means culture.  It’s a funny joke in Spanish but I love that Natasha Wimmer came up with “assthetes.”  What a great translation.]

Excellent! Go read it!

Week 8: Speaking words of wisdom: Let it Be

by Maria Bustillos

[…] she wasn’t ashamed of being what she was, erectile because what God takes away the Virgin restores, approved and when that’s the way it is, it’s impossible not to be at peace with the world.

The extraordinary person of Florita Almada appears right after the terrible murder and burning of Silvana Perez Arjona by Carlos Llonas.  This Llonas is, “according to his friends,”:

a good-natured man, a drinker but not a drunk, and a person who read books in his spare time, which was unusual and gave him the aura of someone exceptional.

Though the jealous Llonas’s “exceptional” cultivation didn’t prevent him from stabbing Silvana Arjona in the chest and setting fire to her dead body any more than their elevated nid-nodding over Archimboldi prevented Pelletier and Espinoza from beating a Pakistani cab driver half to death.  Llonas observes, after he is arrested and confesses to the crime, that “Silvana was a good kid, and she didn’t deserve to be treated like that.”  Oh yes?!  Very astute.  I really wanted to throw the book across the room at this point in a rage, but it also seemed absolutely like what some drunken macho murdering fool would really say.  How “exceptional” was Llonas?  Not much.  He is par for the course, just like every other raping, murdering beast in this horrible place.

So right on the heels of this unbelievably sordid story there appears another reader, the first person with whom I believe the author must have felt a strong identification:  Florita Almada, a/k/a La Santa.  I certainly find that the two are very much alike (“the miraculous laws of symmetry.”)  Florita Almada is a polymath, an almost incredible autodidact whose voluminous stores of information pour out in all directions, voluble expressions like songs or poems, altogether unpredictable, full of tantalizing, half-hidden connections, and delivered in a discursive, dreamy style peculiar to herself and to her creator.  Florita, however, is stuffed to the gills with what I believe is called “marianismo,” meaning the feminine opposite of “machismo” in gender-theoretical circles:  a doctrine of the superiority of women, or an idealization of the feminine principle.  Pious, passive, maternal, giving, chaste.  Life-oriented, pure, noble, selfless.  Someone to show us that reading has its uses, provided you pay attention.

One guy who made no use of his reading, whose reading didn’t enable him to escape this misdeed.  And then this old woman!!

And what use did she make of her learning?  She’s talking about Santa Teresa.

I would say that Florita has got her ear closely attuned to the goings-on in the mine we heard tell of, earlier in this book.

Week 8: Deaths

by Nicole Perrin

23 — p.406 — Lucy Anne Sander — 26 yrs — spring 1994 — American tourist who disappeared from a plaza, stabbed, page raped, mutilated, dumped near border fence; her death instigates an unofficial investigation by Harry Magaña
24 — p.411 — América García Cifuentes — 24 yrs — spring 1994 — strangled, no signs of rape, dumped near Hermosillo highway
25 — p.412 — Mónica Durán Reyes — 12 yrs — May 1994 — kidnapped from school in a black Peregrino or MasterRoad, strangled, raped, dumped near highway
26 — p.412 — Rebeca Fernández de Hoyos — 33 yrs — June 1994 — strangled, “probably not” raped, found in her own bathroom
27 — p.417 — Isabel “La Vaca” — around 30 — August 1994 — beaten to death by two friends
28 — p.423 — unidentified — 15-17 yrs — October 1994 — strangled, raped, found at the new city dump
29 — p.424 — unidentified — around 30 — November 1994 — strangled, raped, dumped on the second floor of a construction site
30 — p.425 — Silvana Pérez Arjona — 15 — November 1994 — stabbed, raped, burned; her lover confesses to the crime
31 — p.449 — unidentified — unknown — January 5, 1995 — skeleton found in a field; impossible to determine cause or time of death without sending the remains to Hermisillo or Mexico City
32 — p.449 — Claudia Pérez Millán — 31 yrs — January 15, 1995 — strangled, raped, left in a white blanket in a dumpster; her husband strongly suspected
33 — p.450 — María de la Luz Romero — 14 yrs — February 1995 — stabbed, raped, beaten and dumped by the highway after being kidnapped on her way home from a nightclub
34 — p.451 — Sofia Serrano — around 35 — April 1995 — cocaine overdose, found in hotel room registered to Alejandro Peñalva Brown
35 — p.452 — Olga Paredes Pacheco — 25 yrs — April 1995 — strangled, raped, found next to a trash can with her skirt on backwards
36 — p.454 — Paula García Zapatero — 19 yrs — July 1995 — strangled, raped, found in the yard of an auto repair shop
37 — p.454 — Rosaura López Santana — 19 yrs — July 1995 — raped repeatedly, found along the highway
38 — p.459 — Aurora Muñoz Álvarez — 28 yrs — August 1995 — strangled, beaten and whipped, found on the pavement of the highway; had been seen getting into a black Peregrino
39 — p.460 — Emilia Escalante Sanjuán — 33 yrs — August 1995 — death due to strangulation or alcohol poisoning, with multiple hematomas on the chest and neck, found in an intersection
40 — p.460 — Estrella Ruiz Sandoval — 17 yrs — August 1995 — strangled, raped, found next to the highway
41 — p.460 — Mónica Posadas — 20 yrs — August 1995 — strangled, possibly “raped three ways,” mutilated; found in a vacant lot; her stepfather confesses to the crime
42 — p.462 — unidentified — 16-23 yrs — August 1995 — shot, found on the highway
43 — p.462 — unidentified — unknown — August 1995 — state of decomposition made it impossible to determine cause of death without sending the remains to Hermosillo or Mexico City; found near victim 41
44 — p.462 — Jacqueline Ríos — 25 yrs — August 1995 — shot in the chest and abdomen, found next to the highway
45 — p.463 — Marisa Hernández Silva — 17 yrs — September 1995 — had vanished in July on her way to school; strangled, raped and mutilated

Other deaths:

Harry Magaña, the sheriff from Huntsville, Arizona who goes to Santa Teresa on an unofficial mission to investigate the death of Lucy Anne Sander, disappears, most likely murdered. Miguel Montes, whom Lucy
Anne met when she was visiting Santa Teresa, is also likely dead, and Magaña likely walked in on his killers disposing of his body.

Also, at the end of this section Epifanio tells Lalo Cura about the notebook he stole from the evidence related to the case of Isabel Urrea (death #4 in week 7), noting several things in it that were “a mystery,” but saying, “I could have done something. I could’ve called some of the names I’d found and asked for money. But money doesn’t do it for me. So I kept the notebook, fuck it, and didn’t do anything.” Another sign of the “do nothing” attitude of several of the (male) characters in the novel.

Week 7: Vocabulary

by Meaghan Doyle

to decrease in force or intensity

lacking order, tadalafil regularity, or definiteness

opposition of a conflicting force, tendency, or principle

a feeling of repugnance toward something with a desire to avoid or turn from it

frenzied, crazed

a close-fitting ankle-length garment worn especially in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches by the clergy and by laypersons assisting in services

Mexico, slang, from Mexico City. Often used derogatorily by those living outside the capital

neighborhoods in Mexican cities, which have no jurisdictional autonomy or representation

a close friend

involving both cranium and brain

vine-like Central and South American, and West Indian climbing plants, reputed to have curative powers

a U-shaped bone or complex of bones that is situated between the base of the tongue and the larynx and that supports the tongue, the larynx, and their muscles

insultingly contemptuous in speech or conduct

a resonant or repetitive chant

having death as a subject

of or relating to a church parish

a retaliatory act

a room in a church where sacred vessels and vestments are kept and where the clergy vests

a cause of wide or great affliction

an action or process of swelling or becoming tumorous

Week 7: Locations

by Sara Corona Goldstein

pp. 353-404

Colonia Las Flores – the body of Esperanza Gómaz Saldaña is found here in January 1993; the first of the victims to be counted. (p. 353)

Colonia Mancera – Luisa Celina Vázquez is killed here at the end of January, ampoule 1993. (p. 354)

Calle El Arroyo (between Colinia Cuidad Nueva and Colonia Morelos) – in April 1993, information pills a knife sharpener discovers a badly beaten woman and calls the police. She dies before they can help her. (p.356)

A dump between Colonia Las Flores and General Sepúlveda industrial park – another woman’s body is found in May 1993. (p. 358)

Calle Jazmín in Colonia Carranza – Guadalupe Rojas is killed outside her apartment here in May 1993. (p. 359)

Cerro Estrella – the body of the last dead woman in May 1993 is found here. Police Chief Pedro Negrete visits the site alone. (p. 360)

The church of San Rafael on Calle Patriotas Mexicanos – the church desecrator appears here at the end of May 1993. (p. 361)

The church of San Tadeo in Colonia Kino – the church desecrator appears again here. (p. 365)

The church of Santa Catalina in Colonia Lomas del Toro – another church desecration happens here. (p. 367)

The church of Nuestro Señor Jesucristo in Colonia Reforma – the Penitent goes beserk here a few days later. (p. 368)

El Chile (illegal dump) – the body of Emilia Mena Mena is found here. (p. 372)

Ciudad Guzmán – Emilia Mena Mena’s boyfriend was suspected of fleeing to his uncle’s house here. (p. 373)

Morelos Preparatory School – the janitor finds another woman’s body here. (p. 373)

Colonia Maytorena – Margarita López Santos’ body is found here in June 1993 after being missing for 40 days. (p. 375).

Mexico City – Sergio Gonzáles writes for La Razón, order a newspaper based here. (p. 376)

Colonia Michoacán – Elvira Campos lives here. (p. 383)

Villaviciosa – Pedro Negrete travels here to hire someone (Lalo Cura) for his friend Pedro Rengifo. (p. 384)

Colonia Lindavista – another dead woman is found in September 1993. (p. 389)

Lomas de Poniente – Feliciano José Sandoval, alleged killer of Gabriela Morón, was from here. (p. 390)

Arsenio Farrell industrial park – Marta Navales Gómez was found here in October 1993. (p. 391)

Francisco I School, near Colonia Álamos – a Salvadorean immigrant finds the body of Andrea Pacheco Martínez here in November. (p. 392)

Colonia Morelos – Ernesto Luis Castillo Jiménez is found wandering here after he murders his mother on December 20, 1993. (p. 393)

Colonia Madero – while Pedro Rengifo’s wife is visiting a friend here, Lalo Cura is involved in a shoot-out with two gunmen. (p. 394)

El Ajo, a bar off the Nogales highway – the first dead woman of 1994 is found here. (p. 399)

Paquita Avendaño in Hermosilla – Nati Gordillo and Rubí Campos are locked up here after being accused of the muder of Leticia Contreras Zamudio. (p. 401)

Colonia Veracruz – Penélope Méndez Becerra’s family lived here. (p. 403)

Week 7: Tidbits

Sometimes the only way to digest this book is in tiny chunks.

Throughout this section we get mentions of many of the colonias in Santa Teresa. Colonias usually have their own postal code, mind but are in not involved in municipal governance. The term barrio is more prevalent in the U.S. than in Mexico.

page 360: “He remembered that his son, who was studying in Phoenix, had once told him that plastic bags took hundreds, maybe thousands of years to disintegrate.” If this is May, 1993, then maybe those bags will be mostly disintegrated by say 2666?

page 372:

The dump didn’t have a formal name, because it wasn’t supposed to be there, but it had an informal name: it was called El Chile. During the day there wasn’t a soul to be seen in El Chile or the surrounding fields soon to be swallowed up by the dump. At night those who had nothing or less than nothing ventured out. In Mexico City they call them teporochos, but a teporocho is a survivor, a cynic and a humorist, compared to the human beings who swarmed alone or in pairs around El Chile.

Another name for these trash-pickers, unique to Mexico, is pepenadores. Teporocho is much more derogatory: it implies a homeless alcoholic, or a drunk layabout. What do you think?

This is really the first section where we start to see talk of “Indians” or native culture in and around the city of Santa Teresa. None of the critics are Mexicans, Amalfitano is from Spain, Fate is from the US, Archimboldi is not Mexican, only the crimes and the criminals are native to the land. Perhaps this section of the novel finally gives us a look at the “real” Santa Teresa. Here are a few of the mentions:
– Page 361: “a young woman with Indian features went in to confess.”
– Page 366: “There used to be an Indian settlement here, remembered the inspector.”
– Page 368: “Three priests and two young Pápago Indian seminarians who where studying anthropology and history at the University of Santa Teresa slept in an adjacent building.
– Page 394: “a Yaqui Indian who almost never talked.”

The most famous Yaqui Indian has got to be Don Juan.

Week 7: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

386: The Santa Teresa police chief dreams about his twin brother. They’ve gone out to roam the scrub hills and hunt for lizards, buy and upon their return at dusk, advice they see lots of trucks with cutesy phrases painted on them. The brothers, discount of different heights but of otherwise like appearance, have identical movements as they walk back into town. The dream “vanishe[s] little by little in a comfortable yellow haze.”

387: Epifanio dreams of the female coyote left by the side of the road. He just listens to her pain and doesn’t help her or put her out of her misery. Next, he’s driving Peter Negrete’s car along a long track into the mountains. When he accelerates, he hears a noise under the car, as if something is jumping. A huge dust plume (“like the tail of a hallucinogenic coyote”) rises behind him. He stops the car to check and see what’s making the noise and discovers a body tied up in the trunk, still alive. He closes the trunk without removing the cloth from the person’s head to see who it is and drives toward the mountains, though they appear to be burning or crumbling.

Week 7: Big Black Car

by Maria Bustillos

There’s a feeling of having arrived at a destination when the book begins to describe the crimes.  I’d somehow gotten the impression, medicine having read about 2666 off and on before I tried it myself, viagra that this section was an even drier kind of catalogue, almost without narrative.  It’s not really like that.  There is a catalogue of murders here, and it’s as numbing as advertised, but here’s the thing.  The layering-up and rewriting and twisted, doubled-over reportage mirrors Bolaño’s treatment of other phenomena like books and authors (some of the victims described being real ones, and others, I think, fictional, though I have not looked up every single victim, and perhaps all their names wouldn’t appear on the Internet?  I should welcome intelligence on this point, if we’ve got any.)  In any case, it appears that some of what is being described is real, and some not.  The nature of 2666 invites us to investigate these things for ourselves, gets us thinking about how much of what we’re being told in other writings, other media, is likewise being distorted, exaggerated, invented or just left out completely.

Clearly, we’re meant to be numbed here before we are shocked into consciousness.  The clinical nature of these multiple accounts deadens the attention, too, and deliberately so.  This mirrors the way we are numbed and deadened by all the other real horrors we hear about every day, in faraway places we’ve never been like Baghdad and Mosul and Kabul, or even in places we may have been, like Washington D.C. or Fort Hood or New Orleans.

We might become so numb that we even miss the elusive patterns in the flood of similar horrors described in this novel; many but not all of the victims are tall, are young, have been multiply violated and strangled—but some have been stabbed, or not raped, and sometimes the perpetrator is caught, and turns out to have been involved with the victim for a long time.  There is an evil truth underneath all these incoherent, jumbled accounts, however.  A mass murderer who drives or is driven in a black Peregrino—I’ve never heard of such a make, and Google offers no enlightenment—but I guess it is the same one waiting outside Amalfitano’s house when Fate and Rosa make their escape.

I never met Lily Burk, the 17-year-old girl who was abducted and killed last summer here in Los Angeles, but she was an acquaintance of my daughter’s.  This murder was more along the lines of a botched robbery; the murderer was a recently paroled drug addict who was found just a few hours after killing Lily, high as a kite, we heard, and in possession of her keys and other effects.  Practically everyone I know has some connection with the Burk family through temple, school or work, and for many months we were all laser-focused on this disaster, talked about it constantly, read about it in the papers, learned everything we didn’t already know about the victim and her family.  This is just one lovely child who was killed, the tenderly-raised daughter of a professional family, raised in an atmosphere where all the moms are very concerned together about such things as planning school fundraising events, and we also know how each kid is doing, because we’ve known them all since they were little, and we also have firm ideas about what the “in” appetizer is to bring to a party, and where the best Pilates studio is, and where to buy good dessert wine.  All of which seems simply obscene, or crazy, or both, in the face of the unbelievable shit that goes on.

It will be impossible for any of the victims in Santa Teresa to receive anything like the   kind of attention accorded to the murder of Lily Burk (for what that’s worth, if anything,) or for the perpetrator to be caught and put away so quickly (which is worth something.)  The murder of a young girl doesn’t really shock anyone in Santa Teresa, because it happens once every few days.  They’re even number than we are; they have to be.  The community has no resources for preventing the next murder.  At this stage of the novel, they haven’t really even figured out yet that there is a pattern; the police, even if they are willing, are operating in an absolute circus of disorder, corruption and mismanagement; they are powerless.

I am having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the idea that this is a real thing, that it started in the early 90s, and that it’s still going on right this minute.

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