Week 6: Tidbits

page 298: Guadalupe Roncal mentions that she drinks a Sonoran drink called bacanora. This is essentially mezcal made from the agave plants in the state of Sonora. The distillation process is slightly different since the drink was exclusively made by bootleggers until 1992 when it was legalized in Mexico. The main difference involves the way the agave heads (or pinas) are roasted. Sounds much better than pulque!

page 303: Fate and the hotel clerk have an intense discussion about clouds. It just so happens that Fate knows the Greek root of the word cirrus? I thought briefly that this this hotel clerk reminded me of Tim Roth as the hotel clerk in Four Rooms.

page 307: Fate is watching the undercard: a fighter in white shorts versus a fighter wearing “black, purple, and red striped” shorts. This is when he hears his name being called, but can’t see who’s talking to him. Two pages earlier, Fate is at a restaurant that includes a foosball table at the back. One team of the players/figures on the foosball table wear white shorts and the other team wears black/red outfits. The black/red team has small devil horns on their foreheads. When Oscar first heard his name being called in the crowded arena, I was still thinking of Oscar-as-Jonah and that this voice calling him was maybe the devil, tempting him to stay in Santa Teresa. Fate is called over to Chucho and Rosa and Rosita and Charly Cruz and his meandering journey through the underbelly of Santa Teresa takes off from there. (As a side note, we all know that the color red is traditionally associated with representations of the devil, but did you know that so are stripes? Stripes are the devil’s cloth!)

page 317: It someone’s birthday and the Mexicans start to sing Las Mañanitas (Little Mornings), the traditional Mexican birthday song. Fate asks Rosa Amalfitano what’s the connection between King David and birthdays. She doesn’t know because she’s from Spain. The first line of the song is Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David (roughly: This is the morning song that King David used to sing). David was the psalmist and is known for those psalms as songs, so that part’s not that unusual (especially in a mostly Catholic country). But what’s interesting is that Las Mañanitas is also sung at novenas celebrating patron saints—and is traditionally sung to meet the Virgin of Guadalupe on the morning of her feast day:

page 333: Amalfitano mentions “Professor Plateau.” Some googling reveals him to be an interesting character, but I can’t gather much information together about him. Anyone have a historical sketch or more details about him? The “rapid succession of fixed images” described in relation to the zoetrope/moving image calls to mind the dreamer back on page 300 who’s “dreaming at great speed” and thus a connection between dreams and movies.

page 335: Rosa Amalfitano is in the coffee shop reading a book on Mexican painting in the twentieth century and begins to read a chapter on Paalen. This is Wolfgang Paalen, who was born in Austria and grew up in Germany, Italy, and Paris and later moved to Mexico (at the invitation of Frida Kahlo). He’s associated with the surrealists of the period (including Marcel Duchamp). I think a Paalen would make a fine cover image for 2666:

Week 6: More than Meets the Eye

by Maria Bustillos

Here’s a rundown of the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, via Wikipedia.

According to official Catholic accounts of the Guadalupan apparitions, during a walk from his home village to Mexico City early on the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego saw a vision of a young girl of fifteen to sixteen, surrounded by light. This event occurred on the slopes of the Hill of Tepeyac. Speaking in the local language of Nahuatl, the Lady asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. From her words, Juan Diego recognized her as the Virgin Mary. When he told his story to the Spanish bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, the bishop asked him to return and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her claim. The Virgin then asked Juan Diego to gather some flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, even though it was winter when no flowers bloomed. There, he found Castilian roses (which were of the Bishop’s native home, but not indigenous to Tepeyac). He gathered them, and the Virgin herself re-arranged them in his tilma, or peasant cloak. When Juan Diego presented the roses to Zumárraga, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe miraculously appeared imprinted on the cloth of Diego’s tilma.

This same alleged tilma is still on view in the Basilica of Guadalupe, and over five million people make a pilgrimage and/or attend the festival there every year.  It’s the most visited Catholic  shrine in the world, according to the Vatican (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/ZSHRINE.HTM).

One of the weirdest aspects of the cult of Guadalupe is the idea that images of people appear in her eyes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhScF5BBHzE Most commonly, it seems, these images are thought to reflect the scene at the moment the image appeared on the tilma in 1531. Even ordinary people’s eyes exhibit such reflections, which are called Purkinje images. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purkinje_images Difficult though it is for gringos to believe, Mexico is chockablock with people who literally believe this tilma to be a supernatural object, made from unearthly materials and pigments, literally not painted by human hands, its subject literally containing the reflections of 16th-century personages in her eyes. Attempts to force the object and the story to yield to scientific and/or historical inquiry have been many, and futile. That people see what they wish to see in the image of Guadalupe speaks directly to the mysterious, multifarious nature of Mexico itself.

Bolaño transposes this supernatural image, Mexico’s most durable and iconic image, onto the cement wall of Charly Cruz’s garage. It’s not at all surprising that such an image would appear in such a lowly place, by the bye. Those of us who live in L.A. or other places with a large Mexican population will be familiar with this image, which appears on everything from t-shirts to pencils to murals on a thousand restaurants here in Los Angeles alone. But the image has been distorted in Charly Cruz’s garage:  one eye is open, and one closed.  I don’t doubt that this is of major significance to our narrative, but I’m not convinced of any of my own ideas about it, which are as follows:

1. “One eye open and one closed” is a figure of speech in Spanish, indicating something along the lines of, “more aware than I appear to be.”

2. Or it’s a deliberately blasphemous image, in which the Virgin is winking at what is going on here.

3. Maybe the Virgin doesn’t like what she sees, and is closing at least one eye against it.

4. Given that Charly Cruz and his pals are up to a lot of questionable things, maybe he doesn’t want the Virgin seeing him, and that’s why he caused the picture to be painted this way. Or he’s painted it shut, in order to conceal his own reflection.

5. Since we are getting closer to the truth, but can’t see it completely yet, and since the Virgin is a redemptive figure, a figure symbolizing Mexico itself, maybe she’s just starting to open her eyes on our behalf, or Mexico is starting to open its eyes.

In any case, the whole passage is full of mirrors, and reflections, and eyes, and cinema—“optical illusions,” if you like.  Much of it is about mistrusting what we see with our own eyes.  Amalfitano points out to Charly Cruz that “images linger on the retina for a fraction of a second.”  We carry the impress of what we see with us; it’s recorded in our eyes, but our eyes can also deceive, and we can willfully blind ourselves, “refuse to believe our own eyes.”

Then we have the story of the “borrachito” or “little old drunk,” a description of a different kind of optical illusion, one in which a spinning disk convinces us that the laughing little old drunk is behind bars, although the bars of the prison are drawn on the opposite side of the disk; Amalfitano concludes that the little old drunk is laughing at our credulity, because he’s not really in jail at all. Or we could say, we don’t know what side the bars are on. Charly Cruz seems to be suggesting, I think, that Amalfitano himself is in jail. But Amalfitano isn’t going down so easily.  Maybe he is less clueless than he seemed at first.

And indeed, so he turns out to be. But I’m really worried about what happens to him after Fate and Rosa take off.

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