Mornings in Mexico — Travel Writing Reviews
Hello Medium readers,
It is I, Diana, a Comp Lit/Spanish major from NYU, who spent the last two years living and traveling in South America. I’m back stateside working as a content writer in Philadelphia with a long train commute to-fro the ‘burbs everyday. Since I’m unable to travel for the time (while I replenish my depleted bank account), I will travel in my mind via travelogues that I will review/react to here on Medium. First is Mornings in Mexico by D.H. Lawrence.
Overview: Mornings in Mexico is a collection of 8 essays written by literary heavyweight D.H. Lawrence while living in Mexico and New Mexico from 1924-1925. The main focus is on the Indians Lawrence and his wife Freida encounter in Oaxaca and Taos (including his servant Rosalino) and his notions about their consciousness vs. the European or "white" consciousness as Lawrence calls it. Though considered the "New World", it is clear that Lawrence feels that he is encountering an ancient world that is incompatible with his own, one that is primeval and almost beastly in nature.
The Indians are dark, not just physically with their “dark coffee-red” skin and their “saurian black eyes” and the “blue-blackness” of their hair — they are dark in their spirituality, as they give, “themselves again to the pulsing, incalculable fall of the blood, which forever seeks to fall to the centre of the earth”. The words “blood”, “dark”, “mystery” and “fall” abound.
This edition has a forward by Michael Squires who rightly sums up the tone as "acerbic", as Lawrence flits in and out of descriptive observational passages and moments in which he tries to understand "the Indian way of consciousness" which is "different from and fatal to our way of consciousness" while maintaining a sense of bemusement at the expense of the natives who he feels hate him and his “white monkey ways”. It is not written with "sentimentality", something Lawrence staunchly avoided in favor of what he imagined to be a more honest, if not accurate, depiction of the arid, alien land and the dark, charmless American Indians.
These essays recall those written by the Cuban revolutionary, Jose Marti, upon visiting the U.S. in the late 19th century when he was in parts amused, in parts awe-stricken and in parts horrified by the grotesque spectacle of American materialism, overabundance and technology. Of note that only one essay actually talks about a morning in Mexico.
Worth reading?: Sure, if you like a heavy dose of imagery and are looking to pick up some fresh vocab (ever heard of 'soughing’?).
I mean, it’s D.H. Lawrence, capable of poetic passages that catch in your throat like, "In a cold like this, the stars snap like distant coyotes, beyond the moon. And you’ll see the shadows of real coyotes, going across the alfalfa field. And the pine-trees make little noises as if they were walking about. And the place heaves with ghosts."
Also great if you are not easily put-off by frequently insensitive, often patronizing observations of an educated white man unhindered by political correctness (i.e.: "The common healthy vulgar white usually feels a certain native dislike for these drumming aboriginals"...or "Three thousand people came to see the little snake dance this year....Three thousand, of all sorts, cultured people from New York...Navajo Indians, even negroes...").
Rating: A good commute read though at times the lengthy, repetitive imagery felt as slow and methodical as the train.
Have you read it? What do you think? Comments welcome!
Title: Mornings in Mexico Author: D H Lawrrence * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0900391h.html Language: English Date first posted: June 2009 Date most recently updated: June 2011 Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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Mornings in Mexico
D H Lawrrence
first published 1927
CONTENTS1. Corasmin and the Parrots 2. Walk to Huayapa 3. The Mozo 4. Market Day 5. Indians and Entertainment 6. Dance of the Sprouting Corn 7. The Hopi Snake Dance 8. A Little Moonshine with Lemon
1 - CORASMIN AND THE PARROTS
One says Mexico: one means, after all, one little town away South in the Republic: and in this little town, one rather crumbly adobe house built round two sides of a garden patio: and of this house, one spot on the deep, shady veranda facing inwards to the trees, where there are an onyx table and three rocking-chairs and one little wooden chair, a pot with carnations, and a person with a pen. We talk so grandly, in capital letters, about Morning in Mexico. All it amounts to is one little individual looking at a bit of sky and trees, then looking down at the page of his exercise book.
It is a pity we don't always remember this. When books come out with grand titles, like The Future of America, or The European Situation, it's a pity we don't immediately visualize a thin or a fat person, in a chair or in bed, dictating to a bob-haired stenographer or making little marks on paper with a fountain pen.
Still, it is morning, and it is Mexico. The sun shines. But then, during the winter, it always shines. It is pleasant to sit out of doors and write, just fresh enough and just warm enough. But then it is Christmas next week, so it ought to be just right.
There is a little smell of carnations, because they are the nearest thing. And there is a resinous smell of ocote wood, and a smell of coffee, and a faint smell of leaves, and of Morning, and even of Mexico. Because when all is said and done, Mexico has a faint, physical scent of her own, as each human being has. And this is a curious, inexplicable scent, in which there are resin and perspiration and sunburned earth and urine among other things.
And cocks are still crowing. The little mill where the natives have their own corn ground is puffing rather languidly. And because some women are talking in the entrance-way, the two tame parrots in the trees have started to whistle.
The parrots, even when I don't listen to them, have an extraordinary effect on me. They make my diaphragm convulse with little laughs, almost mechanically. They are a quite commonplace pair of green birds, with bits of bluey red, and round, disillusioned eyes, and heavy, overhanging noses. But they listen intently. And they reproduce. The pair whistle now like Rosalino, who is sweeping the patio with a twig broom; and yet it is so unlike him, to be whistling full vent, when any of us is around, that one looks at him to see. And the moment one sees him, with his black head bent rather drooping and hidden as he sweeps, one laughs.
The parrots whistle exactly like Rosalino, only a little more so. And this little-more-so is extremely sardonically funny. With their sad old long-jowled faces and their flat disillusioned eyes, they reproduce Rosalino and a little-more-so without moving a muscle. And Rosalino, sweeping the patio with his twig broom, scraping and tittering leaves into little heaps, covers himself more and more with the cloud of his own obscurity. He doesn't rebel. He is powerless. Up goes the wild, sliding Indian whistle into the morning, very powerful, with an immense energy seeming to drive behind it. And always, always a little more than life-like.
Then they break off into a cackling chatter, and one knows they are shifting their clumsy legs, perhaps hanging on with their beaks and clutching with their cold, slow claws, to climb to a higher bough, like rather raggedy green buds climbing to the sun. And suddenly the penetrating, demonish mocking voices:
'Perro! Oh, Perro! Perr-rro! Oh, Perr-rro! Perro!'
They are imitating somebody calling the dog. Perro means dog. But that any creature should be able to pour such a suave, prussic-acid sarcasm over the voice of a human being calling a dog, is incredible. One's diaphragm chuckles involuntarily. And one thinks: Is it possible? Is it possible that we are so absolutely, so innocently, so ab ovo ridiculous?
And not only is it possible, it is patent. We cover our heads in confusion.
Now they are yapping like a dog: exactly like Corasmin. Corasmin is a little fat, curly white dog who was lying in the sun a minute ago, and has now come into the veranda shade, walking with slow resignation, to lie against the wall near-by my chair. 'Yap-yap-yap! Wouf! Wouf! Yapyapyapyap!' go the parrots, exactly like Corasmin when some stranger comes into the zaguán, Corasmin and a little-more-so.
With a grin on my face I look down at Corasmin. And with a silent, abashed resignation in his yellow eyes, Corasmin looks up at me, with a touch of reproach. His little white nose is sharp, and under his eyes there are dark marks, as under the eyes of one who has known much trouble. All day he does nothing but walk resignedly out of the sun, when the sun gets too hot, and out of the shade, when the shade gets too cool. And bite ineffectually in the region of his fleas.
Poor old Corasmin: he is only about six, but resigned, unspeakably resigned. Only not humble. He does not kiss the rod. He rises in spirit above it, letting his body lie.
'Perro! Oh, Perr-rro! Perr-rro! Perr-rr-rro!!' shriek the parrots, with that strange penetrating, antediluvian malevolence that seems to make even the trees prick their ears. It is a sound that penetrates one straight at the diaphragm, belonging to the ages before brains were invented. And Corasmin pushes his sharp little nose into his bushy tail, closes his eyes because I am grinning, feigns to sleep and then, in an orgasm of self-consciousness, starts up to bite in the region of his fleas.
'Perr-rro! Perr-rro!' And then a restrained, withheld sort of yapping. The fiendish rolling of the Spanish 'r', malevolence rippling out of all the vanished spiteful aeons. And following it, the small, little-curly-dog sort of yapping. They can make their voices so devilishly small and futile, like a little curly dog. And follow it up with that ringing malevolence that swoops up the ladders of the sunbeams right to the stars, rolling the Spanish 'r'.
Corasmin slowly walks away from the veranda, his head drooped, and flings himself down in the sun. No! He gets up again, in an agony of self-control, and scratches the earth loose a little, to soften his lie. Then flings himself down again.
Invictus! The still-unconquered Corasmin! The sad little white curly pendulum oscillating ever slower between the shadow and the sun.
In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud, Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.
But that is human bombast, and a little too ridiculous even for Corasmin. Poor old Corasmin's clear yellow eyes! He is going to be master of his own soul, under all the vitriol those parrots pour over him. But he's not going to throw out his chest in a real lust of self-pity. That belongs to the next cycle of evolution.
I wait for the day when the parrots will start throwing English at us, in the pit of our stomachs. They cock their heads and listen to our gabble. But so far they haven't got it. It puzzles them. Castilian, and Corasmin, and Rosalino come more natural.
Myself, I don't believe in evolution, like a long string hooked on to a First Cause, and being slowly twisted in unbroken continuity through the ages. I prefer to believe in what the Aztecs called Suns: that is, Worlds successively created and destroyed. The sun itself convulses, and the worlds go out like so many candles when somebody coughs in the middle of them. Then subtly, mysteriously, the sun convulses again, and a new set of worlds begins to flicker alight.
This pleases my fancy better than the long and weary twisting of the rope of Time and Evolution, hitched on to the revolving hook of a First Cause. I like to think of the whole show going bust, bang!--and nothing but bits of chaos flying about. Then out of the dark, new little twinklings reviving from nowhere, nohow.
I like to think of the world going pop! when the lizards had grown too unwieldy, and it was time they were taken down a peg or two. Then the little humming birds beginning to spark in the darkness, and a whole succession of birds shaking themselves clean of the dark matrix, flamingoes rising upon one leg like dawn commencing, parrots shrieking about at midday, almost able to talk, then peacocks unfolding at evening like the night with stars. And apart from these little pure birds, a lot of unwieldy skinny-necked monsters bigger than crocodiles, barging through the mosses; till it was time to put a stop to them. When someone mysteriously touched the button, and the sun went bang, with smithereens of birds bursting in all directions. On a few parrots' eggs and peacocks' eggs and eggs of flamingoes smuggling in some safe nook, to hatch on the next Day, when the animals arose.
Up reared the elephant, and shook the mud off his back. The birds watched him in sheer stupefaction. What? What in heaven's name is this wingless, beakless old perambulator?
No good, oh birds! Curly, little white Corasmin ran yapping out of the undergrowth, the new undergrowth, till parrots, going white at the gills, flew off into the ancientest recesses. Then the terrific neighing of the wild horse was heard in the twilight for the first time, and the bellowing of lions through the night.
And the birds were sad. What is this? they said. A whole vast gamut of new noises. A universe of new voices.
Then the birds under the leaves hung their heads and were dumb. No good our making a sound, they said. We are superseded.
The great big, booming, half-naked birds were blown to smithereens. Only the real little feathery individuals hatched out again and remained. This was a consolation. The larks and warblers cheered up, and began to say their little say, out of the old 'Sun', to the new sun. But the peacock, and the turkey, and the raven, and the parrot above all, they could not get over it. Because, in the old days of the Sun of Birds, they had been the big guns. The parrot had been the old boss of the flock. He was so clever.
Now he was, so to speak, up a tree. Nor dare he come down, because of the toddling little curly white Corasmin, and such-like, down below. He felt absolutely bitter. That wingless, beakless, featherless, curly, misshapen bird's nest of a Corasmin had usurped the face of the earth, waddling about, whereas his Grace, the heavy-nosed old Duke of a parrot, was forced to sit out of reach up a tree, dispossessed.
So, like the riff-raff up in the gallery at the theatre, aloft in the Paradiso of the vanished Sun, he began to whistle and jeer. 'Yap-yap!' said his new little lordship of a Corasmin. 'Ye Gods!' cried the parrot. 'Hear him forsooth! Yap-yap! he says! Could anything be more imbecile? Yap-yap! Oh, Sun of the Birds, hark at that! Yap-yap-yap! Perro! Perro! Perr-rro! Oh, Perr-rr-rro!'
The parrot had found his cue. Stiff-nosed, heavy-nosed old duke of the birds, he wasn't going to give in and sing a new song, like those fool brown thrushes and nightingales. Let, them twitter and warble. The parrot was a gentleman of the old school. He was going to jeer now! Like an ineffectual old aristocrat.
'Oh, Perr-rro! Perr-rro-o-o-!'
The Aztecs say there have been four Suns and ours is the fifth. The first Sun, a tiger, or a jaguar, a night-spotted monster of rage, rose out of nowhere and swallowed it, with all its huge, mercifully forgotten insects along with it. The second Sun blew up in a great wind: that was when the big lizards must have collapsed. The third Sun burst in water, and drowned all the animals that were considered unnecessary, together with the first attempts at animal men.
Out of the floods rose our own Sun, and little naked man. 'Hello!' said the old elephant. 'What's that noise?' And he pricked his ears, listening to a new voice on the face of the earth. The sound of man, and words for the first time. Terrible, unheard-of sound. The elephant dropped his tail and ran into the deep jungle, and there stood looking down his nose.
But little white curly Corasmin was fascinated. 'Come on! Perro! Perro!' called the naked two-legged one. And Corasmin, fascinated, said to himself: 'Can't stand out against that name. Shall have to go!' so off he trotted, at the heels of the naked one. Then came the horse, then the elephant, spell-bound at being given a name. The other animals ran for their lives and stood quaking.
In the dust, however, the snake, the oldest dethroned king of all, bit his tail once more and said to himself: 'Here's another! No end to these new lords of creation! But I'll bruise his heel! Just as I swallow the eggs of the parrot, and lick to the little Corasmin pups.'
And in the branches, the parrot said to himself: 'Hello! What's this new sort of half-bird? Why, he's got Corasmin trotting at his heels! Must be a new sort of boss! Let's listen to him, and see if I can't take him off.'
Perr-rro! Perr-rr-rro-oo! Oh, Perro!
The parrot had hit it.
And the monkey, cleverest of creatures, cried with rage when he heard men speaking. 'Oh, why couldn't I do it!' he chattered. But no good, he belonged to the old Sun. So he sat and gibbered across the invisible gulf in time, which is the 'other dimension' that clever people gas about: calling it 'fourth dimension', as if you could measure it with a foot-rule, the same as the obedient other three dimensions.
If you come to think of it, when you look at the monkey, you are looking straight into the other dimension. He's got length and breadth and height all right, and he's in the same universe of Space and Time as you are. But there's another dimension. He's different, There's no rope of evolution linking him to you, like a navel string. No! Between you and him there's a cataclysm and another dimension. It's no good. You can't link him up. Never will. It's the other dimension.
He mocks at you and gibes at you and imitates you.
Sometimes he is even more like you than you are yourself. It's funny, and you laugh just a bit on wrong your face. It's the other dimension.
He stands in one Sun, you in another. He whisks his tail in one Day, you scratch your head in another. He jeers at you, and is afraid of you. You laugh at him and are frightened of him.
What's the length and the breadth, what's the height and the depths between you and me? says monkey.
You get out a tape-measure, and he flies into an obscene mockery of you.
It's the other dimension, put the tape-measure away, it won't serve.
'Perro! Oh, Perr-rro!' shrieks the parrot.
Corasmin looks up at me, as much as to say:
'It's the other dimension. There's no help for it. Let us agree about it.'
And I look down into his yellow eyes, and say:
'You're quite right, Corasmin, it's the other dimension. You and I, we admit it. But the parrot won't, and the monkey won't, and the crocodile won't, neither the earwig. They all wind themselves up and wriggle inside the cage of the other dimension, hating it. And those that have voices jeer, and those that have mouths bite, and the insects that haven't even mouths, they turn up their tails and nip with them, or sting, Just behaving according to their own dimension: which, for me, is the other dimension.'
And Corasmin wags his tail mildly, and looks at me with real wisdom in his eyes. He and I, we understand each other in the wisdom of the other dimension.
But the flat, saucer-eyed parrot won't have it. Just won't have it.
'Oh, Perro! Perr-rro! Perr-rro-o-o-o! Yap-yap-yap!'
And Rosalino, the Indian mozo, looks up at me with his eyes veiled by their own blackness. We won't have it either: he is hiding and repudiating. Between us also is the gulf of the other dimension, and he wants to bridge it with the foot-rule of the three-dimensional space. He knows it can't be done. So do I. Each of us knows the other knows.
But he can imitate me, even more than life-like. As the parrot can him. And I have to laugh at his me, a bit on the wrong side of my face, as he has to grin on the wrong side of his face when I catch his eye as the parrot is whistling him, With a grin, with a laugh we pay tribute to the other dimension. But Corasmin is wiser. In his clear, yellow eyes is the self-possession of full admission.
The Aztecs said this world, our Sun, would blow up from inside, in earthquakes. Then what will come, in the other dimension, when we are superseded?
2 - WALK TO HUAYAPA
Curious is the psychology of Sunday. Humanity enjoying itself is on the whole a dreary spectacle, and holidays are more disheartening than drudgery. One makes up one's mind: On Sundays and on fiestas I will stay at home, in the hermitage of the patio, with the parrots and Corasmin and the reddening coffee-berries. I will avoid the sight of people enjoying themselves'--or try to, without much success.
Then comes Sunday morning, with the peculiar looseness of its sunshine. And even if you keep mum, the better-half says: Let's go somewhere.
But, thank God, in Mexico at least one can't set off in the 'machine'. It is a question of a meagre horse and a wooden saddle; on a donkey; or what we called, as children, 'Shanks' pony'--the shanks referring discourteously to one's own legs.
We will go out of the town. Rosalino, we are going for a walk to San Felipe de las Aguas. Do you want to go, and carry the basket?'
'C?mo no, Señor?'
It is Rosalino's inevitable answer, as inevitable as the parrot's 'Perro?' 'Cone no, Señor?'--'How not, Señor?'
The Norte, the north-wind, was blowing last night, rattling the worm-chewed window-frames.
'Rosalino, I am afraid you will be cold in the night.'
'C?mo no, Señor?'
'Would you like a blanket?'
'C?mo no, Señor?'
'With this you will be warm?'
'C?mo no, Señor?'
But the morning is perfect; in a moment we are clear out of the town. Most towns in Mexico, saving the capital, end in themselves, at once. As if they had been lowered from heaven in a napkin, and deposited, rather foreign, upon the wild plain. So we walk round the wall of the church and the huge old monastery enclosure that is now barracks for the scrap-heap soldiery, and at once there are the hills.
'I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my strength.' At least one can always do that, in Mexico. In a stride, the town passes away. Before us lies the gleaming, pinkish-ochre of the valley flat, wild and exalted with sunshine. On the left, quite near, bank the stiffly pleated mountains, all the foot-hills, that press savannah-coloured into the savannah of the valley. The mountains are clothed smokily with pine, ocote, and, like a woman in a gauze rebozo, they rear in a rich blue fume that is almost cornflower-blue in the clefts. It is their characteristic that they are darkest blue at the top. Like some splendid lizard with a wavering, royal-blue crest down the ridge of his back, and pale belly, and soft, pinky-fawn claws, no the plain.
Between the pallor of the claws, a dark spot of trees, and white dots of a church with twin towers. Further away, along the foot-hills, a few scattered trees, white dot and stroke of .a hacienda, and a green, green square of sugar-cane. Further off still, at the mouth of a cleft of a canyon, a dense little green patch of trees, and two spots of proud church.
'Rosalino, which is San Felipe?'
'Quien sabe, Señor?' says Rosalino, looking at the villages; beyond the sun of the savannah with black, visionless eyes. In his voice is the inevitable flat resonance of aloofness, touched with resignation, as if to say: It is not becoming to a man to know these things.--Among the Indians it is not becoming to know anything, not even one's own name.
Rosalino is a mountain boy, an Indian from a village two days' walk away. But he has been two years in the little city, and has learnt his modicum of Spanish.
'Have you never been to any of these villages?'
'No, Señor, I never went.'
'Didn't you want to?'
'C?mo no, Señor?'
The Americans would call him a dumb-bell.
We decide for the farthest speck of a village in a dark spot of trees. It lies so magical, alone, tilted in the fawn-pink slope, again as if the dark-green napkin with a few white tiny buildings had been lowered from heaven and left, there at the foot of the mountains, with the deep groove of a canyon slanting in behind. So alone and, as it were, detached from the world in which it lies, a spot.
Nowhere more than in Mexico does human life become isolated, external to its surroundings, and cut off tinily from the environment. Even as you come across the plain to a big city like Guadalajara, and see the twin towers of the cathedral peering around in loneliness like two lost birds side by side on a moor, lifting their white heads to look around in the wilderness, your heart gives a clutch, feeling the pathos, the isolated tininess of human effort. As for building a church with one tower only, it is unthinkable. There must be two towers, to keep each other company in this wilderness world.
The morning is still early, the brilliant sun does not burn too much. Tomorrow is the shortest day. The savannah valley is shadeless, spotted only with the thorny ravel of mesquite bushes. Down the trail that has worn grooves in the turf--the rock is near the surface--occasional donkeys with a blue-hooded woman perched on top come tripping in silence, twinkling, a shadow. Just occasional women taking a few vegetables to market. Practically no men. It is Sunday.
Rosalino, prancing behind with the basket, plucks up his courage to speak to one of the women passing on a donkey. 'Is that San Felipe where we are going?'--'No, that is not San Felipe.'--'What, then, is it called?'--'It is called Huayapa.'--'Which, then, is San Felipe?'--That one'--and she points to her right.
They have spoken to each other in half-audible, crushed tones, as they always do, the woman on the donkey and the woman with her on foot swerving away from the basket-carrying Rosalino. They all swerve away from us, as if we were potential bold brigands. It really gets one's pecker up. The presence of the Señora only half reassures them. For the Señora, in a plain hat of bluey-green woven grass, and a dress of white cotton with black squares on it, is almost a monster of unusualness. Prophet art thou, bird, or devil? the women seem to say, as they look at her with keen black eyes. I think they choose to decide she is more of the last.
The women look at the woman, the men look at the man. And always with that same suspicious, inquiring, wondering look, the same with which Edgar Allan Poe must have looked at his momentous raven:
'Prophet art thou, bird, or devil?'
Devil, then, to please you! one longs to answer, in a tone of Nevermore.
Ten o'clock, and the sun getting hot. Not a spot of shade, apparently, from here to Huayapa. The blue getting thinner on the mountains, and an indiscernible vagueness, of too much light, descending on the plain.
The road suddenly dips into a little crack, where runs a creek. This again is characteristic of these parts of America. Water keeps out of sight. Even the biggest rivers, even the tiny brooks. You look across a plain on which the light sinks down, and you think: Dry! Dry! Absolutely dry! You travel along, and suddenly come to a crack in the earth, and a little stream is running in a little walled-in valley bed, where is a half-yard of green turf, and bushes, the palo-blanco with leaves, and with big white flowers like pure white, crumpled cambric. Or you may come to a river a thousand feet below, sheer below you. But not in this valley. Only the stream.
'Shade!' says the Señora, subsiding under a steep bank.
'Mucho calor!' says Rosalino, taking off his extra-jaunty straw hat, and subsiding with the basket.
Down the slope are coming two women on donkeys. Seeing the terrible array of three people sitting under a bank, they pull up.
'Adios!' I say, with firm resonance.
'Adios!' says the Señora, with diffidence.
'Adios!' says the reticent Rosalino, his voice the shadow of ours.
'Adios! Adios! Adios!' say the women, in suppressed voices, swerving, neutral, past us on their self-contained, sway-eared asses.
When they have passed, Rosalino looks at me to see if I shall laugh. I give a little grin, and he gives me back a great explosive grin, throwing back his head in silence, opening his wide mouth and showing his soft pink tongue, looking along his cheeks with his saurian black eyes, in an access of farouche derision.
A great hawk, like an eagle, with white bars at the end of its wings, sweeps low over us, looking for snakes. One can hear the hiss of its pinions.
'Gabilán,' says Rosalino.
'What is it called in the idioma?'
'Psia!'--He makes the consonants explode and hiss.
'Ah!' says the Señora. 'One hears it in the wings. Psia!'
'Yes,' says Rosalino, with black eyes of incomprehension.
Down the creek, two native boys, little herdsmen, are bathing, stooping with knees together and throwing water over themselves, rising, gleaming dark coffee-red in the sun, wetly. They are very dark, and their wet heads are so black, they seem to give off a bluish light, like dark electricity.
The great cattle they are tending slowly plunge through the bushes, coming up-stream. At the place where the path fords the stream, a great ox stoops to drink. Comes a cow after him, and a calf, and a young bull. They all drink a little at the stream, their noses delicately touching the water. And then the young bull, horns abranch, stares fixedly, with some f the same Indian wonder-and-suspicion stare, at us sitting under the bank.
Up jumps the Señora, proceeds uphill, trying to save her dignity. The bull, slowly leaning into motion, moves across-stream like a ship unmoored. The bathing lad on the bank is hastily fastening his calico pantaloons round his ruddy-dark waist. The Indians have a certain rich physique, even this lad. He comes running short-step down the bank, uttering a birdlike whoop, his dark hair gleaming bluish. Stooping for a moment to select a stone, he runs athwart the hull, and aims the stone sideways at him. There is a thud, the ponderous, adventurous young animal swerves docilely round towards the stream. 'Becerro!' cries the boy, in his bird-like, piping tone, selecting a stone to throw at the calf.
We proceed in the blazing sun up the slope. There is a white line at the foot of the trees. It looks like water running white over a weir. The supply of the town water comes this way. Perhaps this is a reservoir. A sheet of water I How lovely it would be, in this country, if there was a sheet of water with a stream running out of it! And those dense trees of Huayapa behind.
'What is that white, Rosalino? Is it water?'
'El Blanco? Si, aqua, Señora,' says that dumb-bell.
Probably, if the Señora had said: Is it milk? he would have replied in exactly the same way: Si es leche, Señora!--Yes, it's milk.
Hot, silent, walking only amidst a weight of light, out of which one hardly sees, we climb the spurs towards the dark trees. And as we draw nearer, the white slowly resolves into a broken, whitewashed wall.
'Oh!' exclaims the Señora, in real disappointment. 'It isn't water! it's a wall!'
'Si, Señora. Es panteón.' (They call a cemetery a panteón, down here.)
'It is a cemetery,' announces Rosalino, with a certain ponderous, pleased assurance, and without afterthought. But when I suddenly laugh at the absurdity, he also gives a sudden broken yelp of laughter.--They laugh as if it were against their will, as if it hurt them, giving themselves away.
It was nearing midday. At last we got into a shady lane, in which were puddles of escaped irrigation-water. The ragged semi-squalor of a half-tropical lane, with naked trees sprouting into spiky scarlet flowers, and bushes with biggish yellow flowers, sitting rather wearily on their stems, led to the village.
We were entering Huayapa. Ia Calle de las Minas, said an old notice. Ia Calle de las Minas, said a new, brand-new notice, as if in confirmation. First Street of the Mines. And every street had the same old and brand-new notice: 1st Street of the Magnolia: 4th Street of Enriquez Gonzalez: very fine!
But the First Street of the Mines was just a track between the stiff living fence of organ cactus, with poinsettia trees holding up scarlet mops of flowers, and mango trees, tall and black, stonily drooping the strings of unripe fruit. The Street of the Magnolia was a rocky stream-gutter, disappearing to nowhere from nowhere, between cactus and bushes. The Street of the Vasquez was a stony stream-bed, emerging out of tall, wildly tall reeds.
Not a soul anywhere. Through the fences, half deserted gardens of trees and banana plants, each enclosure with a half-hidden hut of black adobe bricks crowned with a few old tiles for a roof, and perhaps a new wing made of twigs. Everything hidden, secret, silent. A sense of darkness among the silent mango trees, a sense of lurking, of unwillingness. Then actually some half-bold curs barking at us across the stile of one garden, a forked bough over which one must step to enter the chicken-bitten enclosure. And actually a man crossing the proudly labelled: Fifth Street of the Independence.
If there were no churches to mark a point in these villages, there would be nowhere at all to make for. The sense of nowhere is intense, between the dumb and repellent living fence of cactus. But the Spaniards, in the midst of these black, mud-brick huts, have inevitably reared the white twin-towered magnificence of a big and lonely, hopeless church; and where there is a church there will be a plaza. And a plaza is a zócalo, a hub. Even though the wheel does not go round, a hub is still a hub. Like the old Forum.
So we stray diffidently on, in the maze of streets which are only straight tracks between cactuses, till we see Reforma, and at the end of Reforma, the great church.
In front of the church is a rocky plaza leaking with grass, with water rushing into two big, oblong stone basins. The great church stands rather ragged, in a dense forlornness, for all the world like some big white human being, in rags, held captive in a world of ants.
On the uphill side of the plaza, a long low white building with a shed in front, and under the shed crowding, all the short-statured men of the pueblo, in their white cotton clothes and big hats. They are listening to something: but the silence is heavy, furtive, secretive. They stir like white-clad insects.
Rosalino looks sideways at them, and sheers away. Even we lower our voices to ask what is going on. Rosalino replies, sotto voce, that they are making asuntos. But what business? we insist. The dark faces of the little men under the big hats look round at us suspiciously, like dark gaps in the atmosphere. Our alien presence in this vacuous village, is like the sound of a drum in a churchyard. Rosalino mumbles unintelligibly. We stray across the forlorn yard into the church.
Thursday was the day of the Virgin of the Soledad, so the church is littered with flowers, sprays of wild yellow flowers trailing on the floor. There is a great Gulliver's Travels fresco picture of an angel having a joy-ride on the back of a Goliath. On the left, near the altar steps, is seated a life-size Christ--undersized; seated upon a little table, wearing a pair of woman's frilled knickers, a little mantle of purple silk dangling from His back, and His face bent forward gazing fatuously at His naked knee, which emerges from the needlework frill of the drawers. Across from Him a living woman is half-hidden behind a buttress, mending something, sewing.
We sit silent, motionless, in the whitewashed church ornamented with royal blue and bits of gilt. A barefoot Indian with a high-domed head comes in and kneels with his legs close together, his back stiff, at once very humble and resistant. His cotton jacket and trousers are long-unwashed rag, the colour of dry earth, and torn, so that one sees smooth pieces of brown thigh, and brown back. He kneels in a sort of intense fervour for a minute, then gets up and childishly, almost idiotically, begins to take the pieces of candle from the candlesticks. He is the Verger.
Outside, the gang of men is still pressing under the shed. We insist on knowing what is going on. Rosalino, looking sideways at them, plucks up courage to say plainly that the two men at the table are canvassing for votes: for the Government, for the State, for a new governor, whatever it may be. Votes! Votes! Votes! The farce of it! Already on the wall of the low building, on which one sees, in blue letters, the word Justizia, there are pasted the late political posters, with the loud announcement: Vote For This Mark (+). Or another: Vote For This Mark (-).
My dear fellow, this is when democracy becomes real fun. You vote for one red ring inside another red ring and you get a Julio Echegaray. You vote for a blue dot inside a blue ring, and you get a Socrate Ezequiel Tos. Heaven knows what you get for the two little red circles on top of one another Suppose we vote, and try. There's all sorts in the lucky bag. There might come a name like Peregrino Zenon Cocotilla.
Independence I Government by the People, of the People, for the People! We all live in the Calle de la Reforma, in Mexico.
On the bottom of the plaza is a shop. We want some fruit. 'Hay frutas? Oranges or bananas?'--'No, Señor.'--'No fruits?'--'No hay!'--'Can I buy a cup?'--'No hay.'--'Can I buy a jicara, a gourd-shell that we might drink from?' 'No hay.'.
No hay means there isn't any, and it's the most regular sound made by the dumb-bells of the land.
'What is there, then?' A sickly grin. There are, as a matter of fact, candles, soap, dead and withered chiles, a few dried grasshoppers, dust, and stark, bare wooden pigeon-holes. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Next-door is another little hole of a shop. Hay frutas?--No hay.--Qué hay?--Hay tepache!
'Para borracharse,' says Rosalino, with a great grin.
Tepache is a fermented drink of pineapple rinds and brown sugar: to get drunk on, as Rosalino says. But mildly drunk. There is probably mescal too, to get brutally drunk on.
The village is exhausted in resource. But we insist on fruit. Where, where can I buy oranges and bananas? I see oranges on the trees, I see banana plants.
'Up there!' The woman waves with her hand as if she were cutting the air upwards.
We go up the Street of Independence. They have got rid of us from the plaza.
Another black hut with a yard, and orange-trees beyond.
'Not an orange, nor a banana?'
We go on. She has got rid of us. We descend the black rocky steps to the stream, and up the other side, past the high reeds. There is a yard with heaps of maize in a shed, and tethered bullocks: and a bare-bosom, black-browed girl.
'But Yes I There are oranges--there!'
She turns and looks at the oranges on the trees at the back, and imbecilely answers:
It is a choice between killing her and hurrying away.
We hear a drum and a whistle. It is down a rocky black track that calls itself The Street of Benito Juarez: the same old gent who stands for all this obvious Reform, and Vote for (o).
A yard with shade round. Women kneading the maize dough, masa, for tortillas. A man lounging. And a little boy beating a kettledrum sideways, and a big man playing a little reedy wooden whistle, rapidly, endlessly, disguising the tune of La Cucuracha. They won't play a tune unless they can render it almost unrecognizable.
'Then what is happening here?'
A sheepish look, and no answer.
'Why are you playing music?'
'It is a fiesta.'
My God, a feast! That weary masa, a millstone in the belly. And for the rest, the blank, heavy, dark-grey barrenness, like an adobe brick. The drum-boy rolls his big Indian eyes at us, and beats on, though filled with consternation. The flute man glances, is half appalled and half resentful, so he blows harder. The lounging man comes and mutters to Rosalino, and Rosalino mutters back, four words.
Four words in the idioma, the Zapotec language. We retire, pushed silently away.
'What language do they speak here, Rosalino?'
'You understand them? It is Zapoteca, same as your language ?'
'Then why do you always speak in Spanish to them?'
'Because they don't speak the idioma of my village.'
He means, presumably, that there are dialect differences. Anyhow, he asserts his bit of Spanish, and says Hay frutas?
It was like a posada. It was like the Holy Virgin on Christmas Eve, wandering from door to door looking for a lodging in which to bear her child: Is there a room here? No hay!
The same with us. Hay frutas? No hay! We went down every straight ant-run of that blessed village. But at last we pinned a good-natured woman. 'Now tell us, where can we buy oranges? We see them on the trees. We want them to eat.
'Go,' she said, to Valentino Ruiz. He has oranges. Yes, he has oranges, and he sells them.' And she cut the air upwards with her hand.
From black hut to black hut went we, till at last we got to the house of Valentino Ruiz. And to I it was the yard with the fiesta. The lounging man was peeping out of the gateless gateway, as we came, at us.
It is the same place!' cried Rosalino, with a laugh of bashful agony.
But we don't belong to the ruling race for nothing. Into the yard we march.
'Is this the house of Valentino Ruiz? Hay naranjas? Are there oranges?'
We had wandered so long, and asked so often, that the masa was made into tortillas, the tortillas were baked, and a group of people were sitting in a ring on the ground, eating them. It was the fiesta.
At my question up jumped a youngish man, and a woman as if they had been sitting on a scorpion each.
'Oh, Señor,' said the woman, there are few oranges, and they are not ripe, as the Señor would want them. But pass this way.'
We pass up to the garden, past the pink roses, to a little orange-tree, with a few yellowish-green oranges.
You see; they are not ripe as you will want them,' says the youngish man.
'They will do.' Tropical oranges are always green. These, we found later, were almost insipidly sweet.
Even then, I can only get three of the big, thick-skinned, greenish oranges. But I spy sweet limes, and insist on having five or six of these.
He charges me three cents apiece for the oranges: the market price is two for five cents: and one cent each for the limas.
'In my village,' mutters Rosalino when we get away, 'oranges are five for one cent.'
Never mind! It is one o'clock. Let us get out of the village, where the water will be safe, and eat lunch.
In the plaza, the men are just dispersing, one gang coming down the hill. They watch us as if we were a coyote, a zopilote, and a white she-bear walking together in the street.
'Adios!' comes the low roll of reply, like a roll of cannon shot.
The water rushes downhill in a stone gutter beside the road. We climb up the hill, up the Street of the Camomile, alongside the rushing water. At one point it crosses the road unchannelled, and we wade through it. It is the village drinking supply.
At the juncture of the roads, where the water crosses, another silent white gang of men. Again: Adios! and again the low, musical, deep volley of Adios!
Up, up wearily. We must get above the village to be able to drink the water without developing typhoid.
At last, the last house, the naked hills. We follow the water across a dry maize-field, then up along a bank. Below is a quite deep gully. Across is an orchard, and some women with baskets of fruit.
'Hay frutas?' calls Rosalino, in a half-voice. He is getting bold.
'Hay,' says an old woman, in the curious half-voice. 'But not ripe.'
Shall we go clown into the gully into the shade? No; someone is bathing among the reeds below, and the aqueduct water rushes along in the gutter here above. On, on, till we spy a wild guava tree over the channel of water. At last we can sit down and eat and drink, on a bank of dry grass, under the wild guava tree.
We put the bottle of lemonade in the aqueduct to cool. I scoop out a big half-orange, the thick rind of which makes a cup.
'Look, Rosalino! The cup!'
'La taza!' he cries, soft-tongued, with a bark of laughter and delight.
And one drinks the soft, rather lifeless, warmish Mexican water. But it is pure.
Over the brink of the water-channel is the gully, and a noise--chock, chock! I go to look. It is a woman, naked to the hips, standing washing her other garments upon a stone. She has a beautiful full back, of a deep orange colour, and her wet hair is divided and piled. In the water a few yards up-stream two men are sitting naked, their brown-orange giving off a glow in the shadow, also washing their clothes. Their wet hair seems to steam blue-blackness. Just above them is a sort of bridge, where the water divides, the channel-water taken from the little river, and led along the top of the bank.
We sit under the wild guava tree in silence, and eat. The old woman of the fruit, with naked breast and coffee-brown naked arms, her under-garment fastened on one shoulder, round her waist an old striped sarape for a skirt, and on her head a blue rebozo piled against the sun, comes marching down the aqueduct with black bare feet, holding three or four chirimoyas to her bosom. Chirimoyas are green custard-apples.
She lectures us, in slow, heavy Spanish:
'This water, here, is for drinking. The other, below, is for washing. This, you drink, and you don't wash in it. The other, you wash in, and you don't drink it.' And she looked inquisitively at the bottle of lemonade, cooling.
'Very good. We understand.'
Then she gave us the chirimoyas. I asked her to change the peso: I had no change.
'No, Señor,' she said. 'No, Señor. You don't pay me. I bring you these, and may you eat well. But the chirimoyas are not ripe: in two or three days they will be ripe. Now, they are not. In two or three days they will be. Now, they are not.
You can't eat them yet. But I make a gift of them to you, and may you eat well. Farewell. Remain with God.'
She marched impatiently off along the aqueduct.
Rosalino waited to catch my eye. Then he opened his mouth and showed his pink tongue and swelled out his throat like a cobra, in a silent laugh after the old woman.
'But,' he said in a low tone, 'the chirimoyas are not good ones.'
And again he swelled in the silent, delighted, derisive laugh.
He was right. When we carne to eat them, three days later, the custard-apples all had worms in them, and hardly any white meat.
'The old woman of Huayapa,' said Rosalino, reminiscent.
However, she had got her bottle. When we had drunk the lemonade, we sent Rosalino to give her the empty wine-bottle, and she made him another sententious little speech. But to her the bottle was a treasure.
And I, going round the little hummock behind the wild guava tree to throw away the papers of the picnic, came upon a golden-brown young man with his shirt just coming down over his head, but over no more of him. Hastily retreating, I thought again what beautiful, suave, rich skins these people have; a sort of richness of the flesh. It goes, perhaps, with the complete absence of what we call 'spirit'.
We lay still for a time, looking at the tiny guavas and the perfect, soft, high blue sky overhead, where the hawks and the ragged-winged zopilotes sway and diminish. A long, hot way home. But mañana es otro dia. Tomorrow is another day. And even the next five minutes are far enough away, in Mexico, on a Sunday afternoon.
3 - THE MOZO
Rosalino really goes with the house, though he has been in service here only two months. When we went to look at the place, we saw him lurking in the patio, and glancing furtively under his brows. He is not one of the erect, bantam little Indians that stare with a black, incomprehensible, but somewhat defiant stare. It may be Rosalino has a distant strain of other Indian blood, not Zapotec. Or it may be he is only a bit different. The difference lies in a certain sensitiveness and aloneness, as if he were a mother's boy. The way he drops his head and looks sideways under his black lashes, apprehensive, apprehending, feeling his way, as it were. Not the bold male glare of most of the Indians, who seem as if they had never, never had mothers at all.
The Aztec gods and goddesses are, as far as we have known anything about them, an unlovely and unlovable lot. In their myths there is no grace or charm, no poetry. Only this perpetual grudge, grudge, grudging, one god grudging another, the gods grudging men their existence, and men grudging the animals. The goddess of love is a goddess of dirt and prostitution, a dirt-eater, a horror, without a touch of tenderness. If the god wants to make love to her, she has to sprawl down in front of him, blatant and accessible.
And then, after all, when she conceives and brings forth, what is it she produces? What is the infant-god she tenderly bears? Guess, all ye people, joyful and triumphant!
You never could.
It is a stone knife.
It is a razor-edged knife of blackish-green flint, the knife of all knives, the veritable Paraclete of knives. It is the sacrificial knife with which the priest makes a gash in his victim's breast, before he tears out the heart, to hold it smoking to the sun.
And the Sun, the Sun behind the sun, is supposed to suck the smoking heart greedily with insatiable appetite.
This, then, is a pretty Christmas Eve. Lo, the goddess is gone to bed, to bring forth her child. Lo! ye people, await the birth of the saviour, the wife of a god is about to become a mother.
Tarumm-tarah! Tarumm-tarah! blow the trumpets. The child is born. Unto us a son is given. Bring him forth, lay him on a tender cushion. Show him, then, to all the people. See! See! See him upon the cushion, tenderly new-born and reposing! Ah, qué bonito! Oh, what a nice, blackish, smooth, keen stone knife!
And to this day, most of the Mexican Indian women seem to bring forth stone knives. Look at them, these sons of incomprehensible mothers, with their black eyes like flints, and their stiff little bodies as taut and as keen as knives of obsidian. Take care they don't rip you up.
Our Rosalino is an exception. He drops his shoulders just a little. He is a bit bigger, also, than the average Indian down here. He must be about five feet four inches. And he hasn't got the big, obsidian, glaring eyes. His eyes are smaller, blacker, like the quick black eyes of the lizard. They don't look at one with the obsidian stare. They are just a bit aware that there is another being, unknown, at the other end of the glance. Hence he drops his head with a little apprehension, screening himself as if he were vulnerable.
Usually, these people have no correspondence with one at all. To them a white man or white woman is a sort of phenomenon; just as a monkey is a sort of phenomenon; something to watch, and wonder at, and laugh at, but not to be taken on one's own plane.
Now the white man is a sort of extraordinary white monkey that, by cunning, has learnt lots of semi-magical secrets of the universe, and made himself boss of the show. Imagine a race of big white monkeys got up in fantastic clothes, and able to kill a man by hissing at him; able to leap through the air in great hops, covering a mile in each leap; able to transmit his thoughts by a moment's effort of concentration to some great white monkey or monkeyess, a thousand miles away: and you have, from our point of view, something of the picture that the Indian has of us.
The white monkey has curious tricks. He knows, for example, the time. Now to a Mexican, and an Indian, time is a vague, foggy reality. There are only three times: en la mañana, en la tarde, en la troche, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the night. There is even no midday, and no evening.
But to the white monkey, horrible to relate, there are exact spots of time, such as five o'clock, half past nine. The day is a horrible puzzle of exact spots of time.
The same with distance: horrible invisible distances called two miles, ten miles. To the Indians, there is near and far, and very near and very far. There is two days or one day. But two miles are as good as twenty to him, for he goes entirely by his feeling. If a certain two miles feels far to him, then it is far, it is muy lejos! But if a certain twenty miles feels near and familiar, then it is not far. Oh, no, it is just a little distance. And he will let you set off in the evening, for night to overtake you in the wilderness, without a qualm. It is not far.
But the white man has a horrible, truly horrible, monkey-like passion for invisible exactitudes. Mañana, to the native, may mean tomorrow, three days hence, six months hence, and never. There are no fixed points in life, save birth, and death, and the fiestas. The fixed points of birth and death evaporate spontaneously into vagueness. And the priests fix the fiestas. From time immemorial priests have fixed the fiestas, the festivals of the gods, and men have had no more to do with time. What should men have to do with time?
The same with money. These centavos and these pesos, what do they mean, after all? Little discs that have no charm. The natives insist on reckoning in invisible coins, coins that don't exist here, like reales or pesetas. If you buy two eggs for a real, you have to pay twelve and a half centavos. Since also half a centavo doesn't exist, you or the vendor forfeit the non-existent.
The same with honesty, the meum and the tuum. The white man has a horrible way of remembering, even to a centavo, even to a thimbleful of mescal. Horrible! The Indian, it seems to me, is not naturally dishonest. He is not naturally avaricious, has not even any innate cupidity. In this he is unlike the old people of the Mediterranean, to whom possessions have a mystic meaning, and a silver coin a mystic white halo, a lueur of magic.
To the real Mexican, no! He doesn't care. He doesn't even like keeping money. His deep instinct is to spend it at once, so that he needn't have it. He doesn't really want to keep anything, not even his wife and children. Nothing that he has to be responsible for. Strip, strip, strip away the past and the future, leave the naked moment of the present disentangled. Strip away memory, strip away forethought and care; leave the moment, stark and sharp and without consciousness, like the obsidian knife. The before and the after are the stuff of consciousness. The instant moment is for ever keen with a razor-edge of oblivion, like the knife of sacrifice.
But the great white monkey has got hold of the keys of the world, and the black-eyed Mexican has to serve the great white monkey, in order to live. He has to learn the tricks of the white monkey-show: time of the day, coin of money, machines that start at a second, work that is meaningless and yet is paid for with exactitude, in exact coin. A whole existence of monkey-tricks and monkey-virtues. The strange monkey-virtue of charity, the white monkeys nosing round to help, to save! Could any trick be more unnatural? Yet it is one of the tricks of the great white monkey.
If an Indian is poor, he says to another: I have no food; give me to eat. Then the other hands the hungry one a couple of tortillas. That is natural. But when the white monkey comes round, they peer at the house, at the woman, at the children. They say: Your child is sick. Si, Señor. What have you done for it--Nothing. What is to be done?--You must make a poultice. I will show you how.
Well, it was very amusing, this making hot dough to dab on the baby. Like plastering a house with mud. But why do it twice? Twice is not amusing. The child will die. Well, then, it will be in Paradise. How nice for it! That's just what God wants of it, that it shall be a cheerful little angel among the roses of Paradise. What could be better?
How tedious of the white monkey coming with the trick of salvation, to rub oil on the baby, and put poultices on it, and make you give it medicine in a spoon at morning, noon, and night. Why morning and noon and night? Why not just anytime, anywhen? It will die tomorrow if you don't do these things today! But tomorrow is another day, and it is not dead now, so if it dies at another time, it must be because the other times are out of hand.
Oh, the tedious, exacting white monkeys, with their yesterdays and todays and tomorrows! Tomorrow is always another day, and yesterday is part of the encircling never. Why think outside the moment? And inside the moment one does not think. So why pretend to think? It is one of the white-monkey-tricks. He is a clever monkey. But he is ugly, and he has nasty, white flesh. We are not ugly, with screwed-up faces, and we have good warm-brown flesh. If we have to work for the white monkey, we don't care. His tricks are half-amusing. And one may as well amuse oneself that way as any other. So long as one is amused.
So long as the devil does not rouse in us, seeing the white monkeys for ever mechanically bossing, with their incessant tick-tack of work. Seeing them get the work out of us, the sweat, the money, and then taking the very land from us, the very oil and metal out of our soil.
They do it! They do it all the time. Because they can't help it. Because grasshoppers can but hop, and ants can carry little sticks, and white monkeys can go tick-tack, tick-tack, do this, do that, time to work, time to eat, time to drink, time to sleep, time to walk, time to ride, time to wash, time to look dirty, tick-tack, tick-tack, time, time, time! time! Oh, cut off his nose and make him swallow it.
For the moment is as changeless as an obsidian knife, and the heart of the Indian is keen as the moment that divides past from future, and sacrifices them both.
To Rosalino, too, the white monkey-tricks are amusing. He is ready to work for the white monkeys, to learn some of their tricks, their monkey-speech of Spanish, their tick-tack ways. He works for four pesos a month, and his food: a few tortillas. Four pesos are two American dollars: about nine shillings. He owns two cotton shirts, two pairs of calico pantaloons, two blouses, one of pink cotton, one of darkish flannelette, and a pair of sandals. Also, his straw hat that he has curled up to look very jaunty, and a rather old, factory-made, rather cheap shawl, or plaid rug with fringe. Et praeterea nihil.
His duty is to rise in the morning and sweep the street in front of the house, and water it. Then he sweeps and waters the broad, brick-tiled verandas, and flicks the chairs with a sort of duster made of fluffy reeds. After which he walks behind the cook--she is very superior, had a Spanish grandfather, and Rosalino must address her as Señora--carrying the basket to market. Returned from the market, he sweeps the whole of the patio, gathers up the leaves and refuse, fills the pannier-basket, hitches it up on to his shoulders, and holds it by a band across his forehead, and thus, a beast of burden, goes out to deposit the garbage at the side of one of the little roads leading out of the city. Every little road leaves the town between heaps of garbage, an avenue of garbage blistering in the sun.
Returning, Rosalino waters the whole of the garden and sprinkles the whole of the patio. This takes most of the morning. In the afternoon, he sits without much to do. If the wind has blown or the day is hot, he starts again at about three o'clock, sweeping up leaves, and sprinkling everywhere with an old watering-can.
Then he retreats to the entrance-way, the zaguán, which, with its big doors and its cobbled track, is big enough to admit an ox-wagon. The zaguán is his home: just the doorway. In one corner is a low wooden bench about four feet long and eighteen inches wide. On this he screws up and sleeps, in his clothes as he is, wrapped in the old sarape.
But this is anticipating. In the obscurity of the zaguán he sits and pores, pores, pores over a school-book, learning to read and write. He can read a bit, and write a bit. He filled a large sheet of foolscap with writing: quite nice. But I found out that what he had written was a Spanish poem, a love-poem, with no puedo olvidar and voy a cortar--the rose, of course. He had written the thing straight ahead, without verse-lines or capitals or punctuation at all, just a vast string of words, a whole foolscap sheet full. When I read a few lines aloud, he writhed and laughed in an agony of confused feelings. And of what he had written he understood a small, small amount, parrot-wise, from the top of his head. Actually, it meant just words, sound, noise, to him: noise called Castellano, Castilian. Exactly like a parrot.
From seven to eight he goes to the night-school, to cover a bit more of the foolscap. He has been going for two years. If he goes two years more he will perhaps really be able to read and write six intelligible sentences: but only Spanish, which is as foreign to him as Hindustani would be to an English farm-boy. Then if he can speak his quantum of Spanish, and read it and write it to a very uncertain extent, he will return to his village two days' journey on foot into the hills, and then, in time, he may even rise to be an alcalde, or headman of the village, responsible to the Government. If he were alcalde he would get a little salary. But far more important to him is the glory: being able to boss.
He has a paisano, a fellow-countryman, to sleep with him in the zaguán, to guard the doors. Whoever gets into the house or patio must get through these big doors. There is no other entrance, not even a needle's eye. The windows to the street are heavily barred. Each house is its own small fortress. Ours is a double square, the trees and flowers in the first square, with the two wings of the house. And in the second patio, the chickens, pigeons, guinea-pigs, and the big heavy earthenware dish or tub, called an apaxtle, in which all the servants can bathe themselves, like chickens in a saucer.
By half past nine at night Rosalino is lying on his little bench, screwed up, wrapped in his shawl, his sandals, called huaraches, on the floor. Usually he takes off his huaraches when he goes to bed. That is all his preparation. In another corner, wrapped up, head and all, like a mummy in his thin old blanket, the paisano, another lad of about twenty, lies asleep on the cold stones. And at an altitude of five thousand feet, the nights can be cold.
Usually everybody is in by half past nine in our very quiet house. If not, you may thunder at the big doors. It is hard to wake Rosalino. You have to go close to him, and call. That will wake him. But don't touch him. That would startle him terribly. No one is touched unawares, except to be robbed or murdered.
'Rosalino! están tocando!'--'Rosalino! they are knocking!'
At last there starts up a strange, glaring, utterly lost Rosa-lino. Perhaps he just has enough wit to pull the door-catch. One wonders where he was, and what he was, in his sleep, he starts up so strange and wild and lost.
The first time he had anything to do for me was when the van was come to carry the bit of furniture to the house. There was Aurelio, the dwarf mozo of our friends and Rosalino, and the man who drove the wagon. But there should have been also a cargador--a porter. 'Help them,' said I to Rosalino. 'You give a hand to help.' But he winced away, muttering, 'No quiero!--I don't want to.'
The fellow, I thought to myself, is a fool. He thinks it's not his job, and perhaps he is afraid of smashing the furniture. Nothing to be done but to leave him alone.
We settled in, and Rosalino seemed to like doing things for us. He liked learning his monkey-tricks from the white monkeys. And since we started feeding him from our own meals, and for the first time in his life he had real soups, meat-stews, or a fried egg, he loved to do things in the kitchen. He would come with sparkling black eyes: 'Hé comido el caldo. Grazias!' (I have eaten the soup. Thank you.')--And he would give a strange, excited little yelp of a laugh.
Came the day when we walked to Huayapa, on the Sunday, and he was very thrilled. But at night, in the evening when we got home, he lay mute on his bench--not that he was really tired. The Indian gloom, which settles on them like a black marsh-fog, had settled on him. He did not bring in the water--let me carry it by myself.
Monday morning, the same black, reptilian gloom, and a sense of hatred. He hated us. This was a bit flabbergasting, because he had been so thrilled and happy the day before. But the revulsion had come. He didn't forgive himself for having felt free and happy with us. He had eaten what we had eaten, hard-boiled eggs and sardine sandwiches and cheese; he had drunk out of the orange-peel taza, which delighted him so much. He had had a bottle of gaseosa, fizz, with us, on the way home, in San Felipe.
And now, the reaction. The flint knife. He had been happy, therefore we were scheming to take another advantage of him. We had some devilish white monkey-trick up our sleeve; we wanted to get at his soul, no doubt, and do it the white monkey's damage. We wanted to get at his heart, did we? But his heart was an obsidian knife.
He hated us, and gave off a black steam of hate, that filled the patio and made one feel sick. He did not come to the kitchen, he did not carry the water. Leave him alone.
At lunch-time on Monday he said he wanted to leave. Why? He said he wanted to go back to his village.
Very well. He was to wait just a few days, till another mozo was found.
At this a glance of pure, reptilian hate from his black eyes.
He sat motionless on his bench all the afternoon, in the Indian stupor of gloom and profound hate. In the evening, he cheered up a little and said he would stay on, at least till Easter.
Tuesday morning. More stupor and gloom and hate. He wanted to go back to his village at once. All right! No one wanted to keep him against his will. Another mozo would be found at once.
He went off in the numb stupor of gloom and hate, a very potent hate that could affect one in the pit of one's stomach with nausea.
Tuesday afternoon, and he thought he would stay.
Wednesday morning, and he wanted to go.
Very good. Inquiries made; another mozo was coming on Friday morning. It was settled.
Thursday was fiesta. Wednesday, therefore, we would go to market, the Nina--that is the mistress--myself, and Rosalino with the basket. He loved to go to market with the patrones. We would give him money and send him off to bargain for oranges, pitahayas, potatoes, eggs, a chicken, and so forth. This he simply loved to do. It put him into a temper to see us buying without bargaining, and paying ghastly prices.
He bargained away, silent almost, muttering darkly. It took him a long time, but he had far greater success than even Natividad, the cook. And he came back in triumph, with much stuff and little money spent.
So again that afternoon, he was staying on. The spell was wearing off.
The Indians of the hills have a heavy, intense sort of attachment to their villages; Rosalino had not been out of the little city for two years. Suddenly finding himself in Huayapa, a real Indian hill-village, the black Indian gloom of nostalgia must have made a crack in his spirits. But he had been perfectly cheerful--perhaps too cheerful--till we got home.
Again, the Señorita had taken a photograph of him. They are all crazy to have their photographs taken. I had given him an envelope and a stamp, to send a photograph to his mother. Because in his village he had a widow mother, a brother, and a married sister. The family owned a bit of land, with orange-trees. The best oranges come from the hills, where it is cooler. Seeing the photographs, the mother, who had completely forgotten her son, as far as any keen remembering goes, suddenly, like a cracker going off inside her, wanted him: at that very moment. So she sent an urgent message.
But already it was Wednesday afternoon. Arrived a little fellow in white clothes, smiling hard. It was the brother from the hills. Now, we thought, Rosalino will have someone to walk back with. On Friday, after the fiesta, he would go.
Thursday, he escorted us with the basket to the fiesta. He bargained for flowers, and for a sarape which he didn't get, for a carved jicara which he did get, and for a number of toys. He and the Nina and the Señorita ate a great wafer of a pancake with sweet stuff on it. The basket grew heavy. The brother appeared, to carry the hen and the extra things. Bliss.
He was perfectly happy again. He didn't want to go on Friday; he didn't want to go at all. He wanted to stay with us and come with us to England when we went home.
So, another trip to the friend, the Mexican, who had found us the other mozo. Now to put off the other boy again: but then, they are like that.
And the Mexican, who had known Rosalino when he first carne down from the hills and could speak no Spanish, told us another thing about him.
In the last revolution--a year ago--the revolutionaries of the winning side wanted more soldiers from the hills. The alcalde of the hill-village was told to pick out young men and send them down to the barracks in the city. Rosalino was among the chosen.
But Rosalino refused, said again No quiero! He is one of those, like myself, who have a horror of serving in a mass of men, or even f being mixed up with a mass of men. He obstinately refused, Whereupon the recruiting soldiers heat him with the butts of their rifles till he lay unconscious, apparently dead.
Then, because they wanted him at once, and he would now be no good for some time, with his injured back, they left him, to get the revolution over without him.
This explains his fear of furniture-carrying, and his fear of being 'caught'.
Yet that little Aurelio, the friend's mozo, who is not above four feet six in height, a tiny fellow, fared even worse, He, too, is from the hills. In this village, a cousin of his gave some information to the losing side in the revolution. The cousin wisely disappeared.
But in the city, the winning side seized Aurelio, since he was the cousin of the delinquent. In spite of the fact that he was the faithful mozo of a foreign resident, he was flung into prison. Prisoners in prison are not fed. Either friends or relatives bring them food, or they go very, very thin. Aurelio had a married sister in town, but she was afraid to go to the prison lest she and her husband should be seized. The master, then, sent his new mozo twice a day to the prison with a basket; the huge, huge prison, for this little town of a few thousands.
Meanwhile the master struggled and struggled with the 'authorities'--friends of the people--for Aurelio's release. Nothing to be done.
One day the new mozo arrived at the prison with the basket, to find no Aurelio. A friendly soldier gave the message Aurelio had left. 'Adios a mi patrón. Me llevan.' Oh, fatal words: 'Me llevan.'--They are taking me off. The master rushed to the train: it had gone, with the dwarf, plucky little mozo, into the void.
Months later, Aurelio reappeared. He was in rags, haggard, and his dark throat was swollen up to the ears. He had been taken off, two hundred miles into Vera Cruz State. He had been hung up by the neck, with a fixed knot, and left hanging for hours. Why? To make the cousin come and save his relative: put his own neck into a running noose. To make the absolutely innocent fellow confess: what? Everybody knew he was innocent. At any rate, to teach everybody better next time. Oh, brotherly teaching!
Aurelio escaped, and took to the mountains. Sturdy little dwarf of a fellow, he made his way back, begging tortillas at the villages, and arrived, haggard, with a great swollen neck, to find his master waiting, and another 'party' in power. More friends of the people.
Tomorrow is another day. The master nursed Aurelio well, and Aurelio is a strong, if tiny, fellow, with big, brilliant black eyes that for the moment will trust a foreigner, but none of his own people. A dwarf in stature, but perfectly made, and very strong. And very intelligent, far more quick and intelligent than Rosalino.
Is it any wonder that Aurelio and Rosalino, when they see the soldiers with guns on their shoulders marching towards the prison with some blanched prisoner between them--and one sees it every few days--stand and gaze in a blank kind of horror, and look at the patrón, to see if there is any refuge?
Not to be caught! Not to be caught! It must have been the prevailing motive of Indian-Mexico life since long before Montezuma marched his prisoners to sacrifice.
4 - MARKET DAY
This is the last Saturday before Christmas. The next year will be momentous, one feels. This year is nearly gone. Dawn was windy, shaking the leaves, and the rising sun shone under a gap of yellow cloud. But at once it touched the yellow flowers that rise above the patio wall, and the swaying, glowing magenta of the bougainvillea, and the fierce red outbursts of the poinsettia. The poinsettia is very splendid, the flowers very big, and of a sure stainless red. They call them Noche Buenas, flowers of Christmas Eve. These tufts throw out their scarlet sharply, like red birds ruffling in the wind of dawn as if going to bathe, all their feathers alert. This for Christmas, instead of holly-berries. Christmas seems to need a red herald.
The yucca is tall, higher than the house. It is, too, in flower, hanging an arm's-length of soft creamy bells, like a yard-long grape-cluster of foam. And the waxy bells break on their stems in the wind, fall noiselessly from the long creamy bunch, that hardly sways.
The coffee-berries are turning red. The hibiscus flowers, rose-coloured, sway at the tips of the thin branches, in rosettes of soft red.
In the second patio, there is a tall tree of the flimsy acacia sort. Above itself it puts up whitish fingers of flowers, naked on the blue sky. And in the wind these fingers of flowers in the bare blue sky, sway, sway with the reeling, roundward motion of tree-tips in a wind.
A restless morning, with clouds lower down, moving also with a larger roundward motion. Everything moving. Best to go out in motion too, the slow roundward motion like the hawks.
Everything seems slowly to circle and hover towards a central point, the clouds, the mountains round the valley, the dust that rises, the big, beautiful, white-barred hawks, gabilanes, and even the snow-white flakes of flowers upon the dim palo-blanco tree. Even the organ cactus, rising in stock-straight clumps, and the candelabrum cactus, seem to be slowly wheeling and pivoting upon a centre, close upon it.
Strange that we should think in straight lines, when there are none, and talk of straight courses, when every course, sooner or later, is seen to be making the sweep round, swooping upon the centre. When space is curved, and the cosmos is sphere within sphere, and the way from any point to any other point is round the bend of the inevitable, that turns as the tips of the broad wings of the hawk turn upwards, leaning upon the air like the invisible half of the ellipse. If I have a way to go, it will be round the swoop of a bend impinging centripetal towards the centre. The straight course is hacked out in wounds, against the will of the world.
Yet the dust advances like a ghost along the road, down the valley plain. The dry turf of the valley-bed gleams like soft skin, sunlit and pinkish ochre, spreading wide between the mountains that seem to emit their own darkness, a dark-blue vapour translucent, sombring them from the humped crests downwards. The many-pleated, noiseless mountains of Mexico.
And away on the footslope lie the white specks of Huayapa, among its lake of trees. It is Saturday, and the white dots of men are threading down the trail over the bare humps to the plain, following the dark twinkle-movement of asses, the dark nodding of the woman's head as she rides between the baskets. Saturday and market-day, and morning, so the white specks of men, like sea-gulls on plough-land, come ebbing like sparks from the palo-blanco, over the fawn undulating of the valley slope.
They are dressed in snow-white cotton, and they lift their knees in the Indian trot, following the ass where the woman sits perched between the huge baskets, her child tight in the rebozo, at the brown breast. And girls in long, full, soiled cotton skirts running, trotting, ebbing along after the twinkle-movement of the ass. Down they come in families, in clusters, in solitary ones, threading with ebbing, running, barefoot movement noiseless towards the town, that blows the bubbles of its church-domes above the stagnant green of trees, away under the opposite fawn-skin hills.
But down the valley middle comes the big road, almost straight. You will know it by the tall walking of the dust, that hastens also towards the town, overtaking, overpassing everybody. Overpassing all the dark little figures and the white specks that thread tinily, in a sort of underworld, to the town.
From the valley villages and from the mountains the peasants and the Indians are coming in with supplies, the road is like a pilgrimage, with the dust in greatest haste, dashing for town. Dark-eared asses and running men, running women, running girls, running lads, twinkling donkeys ambling on fine little feet, under twin baskets with tomatoes and gourds, twin great nets of bubble-shaped jars, twin bundles of neat-cut faggots of wood, neat as bunches of cigarettes, and twin net-sacks of charcoal. Donkeys, mules, on they come, pannier baskets making a rhythm under the perched woman, great bundles bouncing against the sides of the slim-footed animals. A baby donkey trotting naked after its piled-up dam, a white, sandal-footed man following with the silent Indian haste, and a girl running again on light feet.
Onwards, on a strange current of haste. And slowly rowing among the, foot-travel, the ox-wagons rolling solid wheels below the high net of the body. Slow oxen, with heads pressed down nosing to the earth, swaying, swaying their great horns as a snake sways itself, the shovel-shaped collar of solid wood pressing down on their necks like a scoop. On, on between the burnt-up turf and the solid, monumental green of the organ cactus. Past the rocks and the floating palo-blanco flowers, past the towsled dust of the mesquite bushes. While the dust once more, in a greater haste than anyone, comes tall and rapid down the road, overpowering and obscuring all the little people, as in a cataclysm.
They are mostly small people, of the Zapotec race: small men with lifted chests and quick, lifted knees, advancing with heavy energy in the midst of dust. And quiet, small, round-headed women running barefoot, tightening their blue rebozos round their shoulders, so often with a baby in the fold. The white cotton clothes of the men so white that their faces are invisible places of darkness under their big hats. Clothed darkness, faces of night, quickly, silently, with inexhaustible energy advancing to the town.
And many of the serranos, the Indians from the hills, wearing their little conical black felt hats, seem capped with night, above the straight white shoulders. Some have come far, walking all yesterday in their little black hats and black-sheathed sandals. Tomorrow they will walk .back. And their eyes will be just the same, black and bright and wild, in the dark faces. They have no goal, any more than the hawks in the air, and no course to run, any more than the clouds.
The market is a huge roofed-in place. Most extraordinary is the noise that comes out, as you pass along the adjacent street. It is a huge noise, yet you may never notice it. It sounds as if all the ghosts in the world were talking to one another, in ghost-voices, within the darkness of the market structure. It is a noise something like rain, or banana leaves in a wind. The market, full of Indians, dark-faced, silent-footed, hush-spoken, but pressing in in countless numbers. The queer hissing murmurs of the Zapotec idioma, among the sounds of Spanish, the quiet, aside, voices of the Mixtecas.
To buy and to sell, but above all, to commingle. In the old world, men make themselves two great excuses for coming together to a centre, and commingling freely in a mixed, unsuspicious host. Market and religion. These alone bring men, unarmed, together since time began. A little load of firewood, a woven blanket, a few eggs and tomatoes are excuse enough for men, women, and children to cross the foot-weary miles of valley and mountain. To buy, to sell, to barter, to exchange. To exchange, above all things, human contact.
That is why they like you to bargain, even if it's only the difference of a centavo. Round the centre of the covered market where there is a basin of water, are the flowers: red, white, pink roses in heaps, many-coloured little carnations, poppies, bits of larkspur, lemon and orange marigolds, buds of madonna lilies, pansies, a few forget-me-nots. They don't bring the tropical flowers. Only the lilies come wild from the hills, and the mauve red orchids.
'How much this bunch of cherry-pie heliotrope?' 'Fifteen centavos.'
You put back the cherry-pie, and depart. But the woman is quite content. The contact, so short even, brisked her up. 'Pinks?'
'The red one, Señorita? Thirty centavos.'
'No. I don't want red ones. The mixed.'
'Ah!' The woman seizes a handful of little carnations of all colours, carefully puts them together. 'Look, Señorita! No more?'
'No, no more. How much?'
'The same. Thirty centavos.'
'It is much.'
'No, Señorita, it is not much. Look at this little bunch. It is eight centavos.'--Displays a scrappy little bunch. Come then, twenty-five.'
'Look!' She gathers up three or four more flowers, and claps them to the bunch. 'Two reales, Señorita.'
It is a bargain. Off you go with multicoloured pinks, and the woman has had one more moment of contact, with a stranger, a perfect stranger. An intermingling of voices, a threading together of different wills. It is life. The centavos are an excuse.
The stalls go off in straight lines, to the right, brilliant vegetables, to the left, bread and sweet buns. Away at the one end, cheese, butter, eggs, chicken, turkeys, meat. At the other, the native-woven blankets and rebozos, skirts, shirts, handkerchiefs. Down the far-side, sandals and leather things.
The sarape men spy you, and whistle to you like ferocious birds, and call 'Señor! Señor! Look!' Then with violence one flings open a dazzling blanket, while another whistles more ear-piercingly still, to make you look at his blanket. It is the veritable den of lions and tigers, that spot where the sarape men have their blankets piled on the ground. You shake your head, and flee.
To find yourself in the leather avenue.
'Señor! Señora Look! Huaraches! Very fine, very finely made! Look, Señor!'
The fat leather man jumps up and holds a pair of sandals at one's breast. They are of narrow woven strips of leather, in the newest Paris style, but a style ancient to these natives. You take them in your hand, and look at them quizzically, while the fat wife of the huarache man reiterates, 'Very fine work. Very fine. Much work!'
Leather men usually seem to have their wives with them. 'How much?'
'Twenty!'--in a voice of surprise and pained indignation. 'How much do you give?'
You refuse to answer. Instead you put the huaraches to your nose. The huarache man looks at his wife, and they laugh aloud.
'They smell,' you say.
'No, Señor, they don't smell!'--and the two go off into fits of laughter.
'Yes, they smell. It is not American leather.'
'Yes, Señor, it is American leather. They don't smell, Señor. No, they don't smell.' He coaxes you till you wouldn't believe your own nose.
'Yes, they smell.'
'How much do you give?'
'Nothing, because they smell.'
And you give another sniff, though it is painfully unnecessary. And in spite of your refusal to bid, the man and wife go into fits of laughter to see you painfully sniffing.
You lay down the sandals and shake your head.
'How much do you offer?' reiterates the man, gaily.
You shake your head mournfully, and move away. The leather man and his wife look at one another and go off into another fit of laughter, because you smelt the huaraches, and said they stank.
They did. The natives use human excrement for tanning leather. When Bernal Diaz came with Cortés to the great market-place of Mexico City, in Montezuma's day, he saw the little pots of human excrement in rows for sale, and the leather-makers going round sniffing to see which was the best, before they paid for it. It staggered even a fifteenth-century Spaniard. Yet my leather man and his wife think it screamingly funny that I smell the huaraches before buying them. Everything has its own smell, and the natural smell of huaraches is what it is. You might as well quarrel with an onion for smelling like an onion.
The great press of the quiet natives, some of them bright and clean, many in old rags, the brown flesh showing through the rents in the dirty cotton. Many wild hillmen, in their little hats of conical black felt, with their wild, staring eyes. And as they cluster round the hat-stall, in a long, long suspense of indecision before they can commit themselves, trying on a new hat, their black hair gleams blue-black, and falls thick and rich over their foreheads, like gleaming bluey-black feathers.
And one is reminded again of the blue-haired Buddha, with the lotus at his navel.
But already the fleas are travelling under one's clothing.
Market lasts all day. The native inns are great dreary yards with little sheds, and little rooms around. Some men and families who have come from far, will sleep in one or other of the little stall-like rooms. Many will sleep on the stones, on the earth, round the market, anywhere. But the asses are there by the hundred, crowded in the inn-yards, drooping their ears with the eternal patience of the beast that knows better than any other beast that every road curves round to the same centre of rest, and hither and thither means nothing.
And towards nightfall the dusty road will be thronged with shadowy people and unladen asses and new-laden mules, urging silently into the country again, their backs to the town, glad to get away from the town, to see the cactus and the pleated hills, and the trees that mean a village. In some village they will lie under a tree, or under a wall, and sleep. Then the next day, home.
It is fulfilled, what they came to market for. They have sold and bought. But more than that, they have had their moment of contact and centripetal flow. They have been part of a great stream of men flowing to a centre, to the vortex of the marketplace. And here they have felt life concentrate upon them, they have been jammed between the soft hot bodies of strange men come from afar, they have had the sound of strangers' voices in their ears, they have asked and been answered in unaccustomed ways.
There is no goal, and no abiding-place, and nothing is fixed, not even the cathedral towers. The cathedral towers are slowly leaning, seeking the curve of return. As the natives curved in a strong swirl, towards the vortex of the market. Then on a strong swerve of repulsion, curved out and away again, into space.
Nothing but the touch, the spark of contact. That, no more. That, which is most elusive, still the only treasure. Come, and gone, and yet the clue itself.
True, folded up in the handkerchief inside the shirt, are the copper centavos, and maybe a few silver pesos. But these too will disappear as the stars disappear at daybreak, as they are meant to disappear. Everything is meant to disappear. Every curve plunges into the vortex and is lost, re-emerges with a certain relief and takes to the open, and there is lost again.
Only that which is utterly intangible, matters. The contact, the spark of exchange. That which can never be fastened upon, for ever gone, for ever coming, never to be detained: the spark of contact.
Like the evening star, when it is neither night nor day. Like the evening star, between the sun and the moon, and swayed by neither of them. The flashing intermediary, the evening star that is seen only at the dividing of the day and night, but then is more wonderful than either.
5 - INDIANS AND ENTERTAINMENT
We go to the theatre to be entertained. It may be The Potters, it may be Max Reinhardt, King Lear, or Electra. All entertainment.
We want to be taken out of ourselves. Or not entirely that. We want to become spectators at our own show. We lean down from the plush seats like little gods in a democratic heaven, and see ourselves away below there, on the world of the stage, in a brilliant artificial sunlight, behaving comically absurdly, like Pa Potter, yet getting away with it, or behaving tragically absurdly, like King Lear, and not getting away with it: rather proud of not getting away with it.
We see ourselves: we survey ourselves: we laugh at ourselves: we weep over ourselves: we are the gods above of our own destinies. Which is very entertaining.
The secret of it all, is that we detach ourselves from the painful and always sordid trammels of actual existence, and become creatures of memory and of spirit-like consciousness. We are the gods and there's the machine, down below us. Down below, on the stage, our mechanical or earth-bound self stutters or raves, Pa Potter or King Lear. But however Potterish or Learian we may be, while we sit aloft in plush seats we are creatures of pure consciousness, pure spirit, surveying those selves of clay who are so absurd or so tragic, below.
Even a little girl trailing a long skirt and playing at being Mrs Paradiso next door, is enjoying the same sensation. From her childish little consciousness she is making Mrs Paradiso, creating her according to her own fancy. It is the little individual consciousness lording it, for the moment, over the actually tiresome and inflexible world of actuality. Mrs Paradiso in the flesh is a thing to fear. But if I can play at being Mrs Paradiso, why, then I am a little Lord Almighty, and Mrs Paradiso is but a creation from my consciousness:
The audience in the theatre is a little democracy of the ideal consciousness. They all sit there, gods of the ideal mind, and survey with laughter or tears the realm of actuality.
Which is very soothing and satisfying so long as you believe that the ideal mind is the actual arbiter. So long as you instinctively feel that there is some supreme, universal Ideal Consciousness swaying all destiny.
When you begin to have misgivings, you sit rather uneasily on your plush seat.
Nobody really believes that destiny is an accident. The very fact that day keeps on following night, and summer winter, establishes the belief in universal law, and from this to a belief in some great hidden mind in the universe is an inevitable step for us.
A few people, the so-called advanced, have grown uneasy in their bones about the Universal Mind. But the mass are absolutely convinced. And every member of the mass is absolutely convinced that he is part and parcel of this Universal Mind. Hence his joy at the theatre. His even greater joy at the cinematograph.
In the moving pictures he has detached himself even further from the solid stuff of earth. There, the people are truly shadows: the shadow-pictures are thinkings of his mind. They live in the rapid and kaleidoscopic realm of the abstract. And the individual watching the shadow-spectacle sits a very god, in an orgy of abstraction, actually dissolved into delighted, watchful spirit. And if his best girl sits beside him, she vibrates in the same ether, and triumphs in the same orgy of abstraction. No wonder this passion of dramatic abstraction becomes a lust.
That is our idea of entertainment.
You come to the Indian and ask him about his. He hasn't got one.
The Indians dance around the drum, singing. They have their great spectacular dances, Eagle dance, Corn dance. They have the dancing, singing procession between the fires at Christmas. They have their sacred races, down the long track.
White people always, or nearly always, write sentimentally about the Indians. Even a man like Adolf Bandelier. He was not a sentimental man. On the contrary. Yet the sentimentality creeps in, when he writes about the thing he knows best, the Indian.
So it is with all of them, anthropologists and myth-transcribers and all. There is that creeping note of sentimentality through it all, which makes one shrug one's shoulders and wish the Indians to hell, along with a lot of other bunk.
You've got to de-bunk the Indians, as you've got to debunk the Cowboy. When you've de-bunked the Cowboy, there's not much left. But the Indian bunk is not the Indian's invention. It is ours.
It is almost impossible for the white people to approach the Indian without either sentimentality or dislike. The common healthy vulgar white usually feels a certain native dislike of these drumming aboriginals. The highbrow invariably lapses into sentimentalism like the smell of bad eggs.
Why?--Both the reactions are due to the same feeling in the white man. The Indian is not in line with us. He's not coming our way. His whole being is going a different way from ours. And the minute you set eyes on him you know it.
And then, there's only two things you can do. You can detest the insidious devil for having an utterly different way from our own great way. Or you can perform the mental trick, and fool yourself and others into believing that the befeathered and bedaubed darling is nearer to the true ideal gods than we are.
This last is just bunk, and a lie. But it saves our appearances. The former feeling, of instinctive but tolerant repulsion, the feeling of most ordinary farmers and ranchers and mere individuals in the west, is quite natural, it is only honesty to admit it.
The Indian way of consciousness is different from and fatal to our way of consciousness. Our way of consciousness is different from and fatal to the Indian. The two ways, the two streams are never to be united. They are not even to be reconciled. There is no bridge, no canal of connexion.
The sooner we realize, and accept, this, the better, and leave off trying, with fulsome sentimentalism, to render the Indian in our own terms.
The acceptance of the great paradox of human consciousness is the first step to a new accomplishment.
The consciousness of one branch of humanity is the annihilation of the consciousness of another branch. That is, the life of the Indian, his stream of conscious being, is just death to the white man. And we can understand the consciousness of the Indian only in terms of the death of our consciousness.
And let not this be turned into another sentimentalism. Because the same paradox exists between the consciousness of white men and Hindoos or Polynesians or Bantu. It is the eternal paradox of human consciousness. To pretend that all is one stream is to cause chaos and nullity. To pretend to express one stream in terms of another, so as to identify the two, is false and sentimental. The only thing you can do is to have a little Ghost inside you which sees both ways, or even many ways. But a man cannot belong to both ways, or to many ways. One man can belong to one great way of consciousness only. He may even change from one way to another. But he cannot go both ways at once. Can't be done.
So that, to understand the Indian conception of entertainment, we have to destroy our own conception.
Perhaps the commonest entertainment among the Indians is singing round the drum, at evening, when the day is over. European peasants will sit round the fire' and sing. But they sing ballads or lyrics, tales about individuals or individual, personal experience. And each individual identifies the emotion of the song with his own emotion.
Or the wild fishermen of the Outer Hebrides will sing in their intense, concentrated way, by the fire. And again, usually, the songs have words. Yet sometimes not. Sometimes the song has merely sounds, and a marvellous melody. It is the seal drifting in to shore on the wave, or the seal-woman, singing low and secret, departing back from the shores of men, through the surf, back to the realm of the outer beasts that rock on the waters and stare through glistening, vivid, mindless eyes.
This is approaching the Indian song. But even this is pictorial, conceptual far beyond the Indian point. The Hebridean still sees himself human, and outside the great naturalistic influences, which are the dramatic circumstances of his life.
The Indian, singing, sings without words or vision. Face lifted and sightless, eyes half closed and visionless, mouth open and speechless, the sounds arise in his chest, from the consciousness in the abdomen. He will tell you it is a song of a man coming home from the bear-hunt: or a song to make rain: or a song to make the corn grow: or even, quite modern, the song of the church bell on Sunday morning.