Tag: Mexican

A Huevo

Only a fool would choose the desert entrance to Real de Catorce, when they could take the 2-kilometer long wormhole through the bedrock instead. I’m talking about the one-lane tunnel that was unlit on a recent weekday, when even cell phones weren’t working. Events triggered, according to superstitious locals, by up-coming tectonic clashes or political upheavals. Or both.

And so now you had to take the baton from the man at the entrance. And if, God willing, you came out the other out the other side, as most people did, you handed the baton to someone else. A rational system, and democratic like the tope, where even the President of the Republic has to observe the laws of physics. If not necessarily any others.

The Governor of an unspecified state arrived on that Wednesday. The poorly paid tunnel attendant greeted the first car, a bodyguard with a bull neck and expensive dark glasses, and explained that the tunnel was in use and, after that, it was the other side’s turn to come through. The bodyguard checked with the Governor, a man of ample girth, who was hungry and had been looking forward to a long meal at the little Swiss-run hotel at the other end of the tunnel, renowned for its thick steaks and fine wines. And afterwards, to a nap in the usual charming, top-floor bedroom along with his adoring, young, light-skinned secretary.

“Aren’t I the Governor,” he asked. And gave the signal to proceed.

His security men were Mexican ex-Marines, but not all-knowing. Because, with about the same frequency, the odd narco warlord also liked to eat thick steaks in the little Swiss-run hotel—and to wash them down with 100-Euro Spanish Riojas, which he brought along in his black Ford Expedition—while his bodyguards, in their SUVs, carried equally generous supplies of lightly greased 7.62 x 39 mm rounds for their Chinese-made AK47s.

The difference was that the Governor, though married, was hungry and in love, and “Chuy,” our narco warlord of the Soft Waist, was already full of steak and premium Rioja and drowsy with satisfaction—when the lead car of each party spotted approaching headlights and had to come to a stop. The guards got out. The Governor ordered that the citizens blocking his way should reverse direction and clear the tunnel. And so his Marines, holding all kinds of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, approached Chuy’s group. While the latter’s sicarios kept their AK-47s out of sight, so as not to alarm any citizens who might run out the other end and phone the Army which would then happily descend on the Chuy from both the East and West with their nopal-green HumVees and mounted Browning heavy machineguns that fired .50 rounds as long as your hand.

In the meantime, the poorly paid attendant on the Swiss hotel side, who had stood back as Chuy’s group entered the tunnel, decided to seek invisibility among his goats higher on the inner canyon wall. And so he was not present when the Butane truck from the Sonigas rumbled up to the tunnel. Its driver—the father of four hungry children under the age of ten—was eager to get out of Real de Catorce and away from the pinche tourists and their fat wallets. With no one to warn him otherwise, he entered the tunnel, and used his powerful headlights to fill the darkness with Butane-generated brightness.

By that time, the gunmen from both caravans were brandishing their weapons, and the Governor and Chuy, from behind their over-sized SUVs, were screaming obscenities at each other, forgetting that they had cooperated with each other over the last three years and belonged to the same moño-waitressed country club. Their respective lieutenants begged for calm. A significant current of mountain air was sucking through from the Swiss hotel side, they said, and would serve as God’s own bellows, if their military-grade bullets hit any of the eight, nearly full gas tanks and ignited the white fire that would cook them to termino medio in the singe of an eyelash.

That was when word spread that a Butane truck had pulled up behind Chuy—upwind from all of them, with enough explosive power to blow them all out the Governor’s end of the the tunnel, along with their SUVs and what remained of Chuy’s 100-Euro Riojas and the Governor’s unfulfilled condoms, Sico brand, Ultra Sensitive, “designed to let you feel the warmth of your partner,” in a bursting grand finale to the sound of a soprano’s wavering high C and an impressive short-lived roaring between the ears.

Chuy had just screamed something like “A huevo y, si no, a balazos!”

Which was something like “You’ll back the fuck up, or I’ll blow your heads off!” Only stronger. A getting-to-yes formula perfected during the Mexican Revolution—just as he began to understand what the Butane truck meant, and remembered that he had the Governor’s number under Contacts on his new iPhone. Which he smashed against the tunnel floor, when it didn’t work under the one thousand meters of peña above him. Instead, in the light of his headlights, and though his hands shook and affected both his syntax and spelling, he scribbled a note to the Governor—in which he apologized for being a pendejo. And ordered the bodyguard he trusted the least to deliver it, hoping some good might come of the attempted negotiation. But that man returned without bullet holes in him, and delivered the reply, in which the Governor also apologized and said they should have drinks at the Country Club and discuss what they could do to make sure that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, that corrupt Communist shit, didn’t win the Presidential election in July and legalize drugs and grant a general amnesty to narcos everywhere.

Whereupon, both parties switched their assault weapons onto Safety and slowly backed out of the tunnel the way they had come in, bashing fenders as they went. A fifteen-minute operation, with headlight blinding everyone. Twenty minutes for Chuy’s group, because the Butane truck driver was nervous—given the extra dimensions of his truck—and because one of Chuy’s men, the one with half an ear missing, sat too close to him, holding a 9mm Beretta automatic up against his own perfectly in tact right ear.

Once outside, the Governor, his jowls sagging with resentment, repaired with his secretary to a modern, characterless Motel with a poolside bar on the main trucking route in Matehuala.

And Chuy, in a better mood than before, descended the lovely dirt road to the West, where it is said you can buy peyote buttons for meditative experiences and where small inns with nothing to offer still managed to get fruit to grow to maturity in clear glass wine bottles affixed to the pear trees that grow there in quiet courtyards. And where Chuy could linger a while, sip a lukewarm Coke by himself and breathe in the smoky scents of the Potosí desert and dream of the young, dark-skin beauty he would marry someday—and make as happy as he could.

Spotting the Mugger First

Living here, I have learned to be alert. Each lesson where I have not done that has been costly. We were held up at knife point a couple of years ago, maybe more. You can read about it in The Knives of Mexico in this blog. In that case, a young man ran up the stairs past us—203 to our house from the old city center—twice, and the last time planted himself in front of us, brandishing his knife, a few yard from our garden gate. The missed clue? The lack of awareness? No one runs up the stairs in this city. Unless they’re high on something and/or have robbery on their mind.

At the beach a year ago, staying in a converted trailer, I followed the landlord’s advice and did not turn on the air conditioning. Instead, I kept a window opened (with screen) and turned on the fan. At 07:45 the next morning, I was aware that a man was standing a foot from where I slept. He darted out with my iPhone, a book, my one pair of trousers and other items that came to a tidy sum. I ran after him, without success. I had my money and credit cards in plain sight, tucked into a small Indian-woven purse. He missed it for some reason, or I’d have really been jodido. The lesson: keep windows locked and the air conditioner on, regardless of what any landlord says. He had taken off the screen and come in the window under the cover of the noise from the fan.

Yesterday, a Saturday, I started home wearing my expensive Ridge Runner’s 25 LLBean day pack. Nothing wrong with that, except that it signals you have enough money for that and for what’s probably inside it. I fell in behind a woman in her thirties. She was wearing medium-length high heels and very short black shorts barely covered by a black skirt, with black straps crisscrossing her mostly bare back. Every once in a while, she would reach back and adjust her shorts to a more modest length. Mexican women dress carefully and rarely, if ever, adjust as they walk along. There was something not ordinary about her and her progress through my neighborhood. Plus, I had never seen her before.

At the first alley, a good-sized man came up behind her. He was leering at her, which was also out of the ordinary. How do I know that? Because one notices those thing. We got to the stairs where I have to begin climbing. She turned into the darkness there—there was plenty of daylight left. The stairs are always in shadow. Something I have never done before: I sat down on a low wall on the other side of the road and waited, to spare her me climbing up behind her, if she was so worried about her modesty.

The man had not followed her. She had distracted me from thinking about him. I only knew this in retrospect. After a while, I started up the stairs. At the top, at the level of the higher road, there was no sign of her. Which seemed a little odd. So I started up the next flights of stairs. Half way up, I decided not to rest. The same man was coming up behind me, and I had already decided there was something making me uncomfortable with that. After all, where had he been before? Why was he still around? Why hadn’t he climbed up behind her, or continued on the road below?

At the very top, I sat down on a low wall, as if taking in the extraordinary view of the various church towers, the university and the rich cluster of old colonial buildings in the city center. And I watched the approaching man. Ten feet away, he glanced at me three times, and looked away. Out of the ordinary. Ordinary would have been holding my gaze long enough after the second glance to add a greeting. That is how it works here. But he looked away each time, his face in neutral. Then he sat down on the opposite low wall and looked at his phone.

But my wife and I had been stalked before by a couple of thugs in Guadalajara, and that was what they did: keep referring to their phones. To show their disinterest. Plus, what was keeping him there? There is ordinary behavior, which includes sitting for some reason. You’re old, your children are tired, you’re tired from lugging a heavy bag of groceries up to your house, you’re making a call, or you’re visiting with someone. But no one sits without one of these reasons. I could also tell he wasn’t delighting in the view and wasn’t reading anything on his phone. He and his face were blank, empty of activity. And I wasn’t going to let him get me isolated from that public spot, where five narrow alleys came together, six, if you include the stairs. So, I got up and went back down the stairs, as if, as a tourist, I had taken in the sight and was now retracing my steps. Which I did, all the way down to the center of the city, where I hailed a taxi and went up the side of the canyon and home that way.

I looked back a few times to see if he was following me. But he wasn’t. And today I climbed home, taking a different path, just to throw off anyone bothering to be watching for me.

These things happen here every once in a while. A social predator or two roll in to town and try their luck. That was what the knife holdup was. A chance spotting by someone passing through in a car, who got out and ran up after us. In this case, this series of little things out of the ordinary, is probably a one-off occasion. But I am still curious to know whether the man in this story was working together with the woman so concerned  by the length of her shorts and so successful in distracting me from the man who was tracking me.

The Murder of Mexican Journalists. With Impunity.

Taken from the CPJ:

Mexican journalist found dead with bullet wounds in San Luis Potosí
October 6, 2017 5:29 PM ET
Mexico City, October 6, 2017–Authorities in Mexico must undertake a swift and credible investigation into the murder of photographer Edgar Daniel Esqueda Castro, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
A spokesperson from the state attorney general’s office today told CPJ that state authorities found Esqueda Castro’s body this morning, near the airport in the city of San Luis Potosí. His body had three gunshot wounds, the office said.
The journalist’s wife, who CPJ has not named for safety reasons, told CPJ that armed men in police uniform who identified themselves as local police yesterday abducted Esqueda Castro from their home in San Luis Potosí.
She said the group of men, armed with pistols and at least one automatic rifle, broke the window of the front door of the couple’s home and stormed into the room where she and her husband were asleep. The attackers then collected the couple’s cellphones, and took Esqueda Castro away at gunpoint, Esqueda Castro’s wife said.
“Mexican authorities must swiftly investigate the abduction and murder of Edgar Daniel Esqueda Castro, and bring all of those responsible to justice,” said Alexandra Ellerbeck, CPJ’s program coordinator for North America, from New York. “Criminals, sometimes connected with state actors, know that they can get away with killing journalists in Mexico because of chronic impunity for these crimes. Until that changes, the violence will continue.”
The state’s general prosecutor said yesterday in a statement made on social media that the prosecutor’s office is investigating, and denied that state police were involved in the abduction. The prosecutor also said there was no arrest warrant against Esqueda Castro.
Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, the Federal Special Prosecutor for Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression, told CPJ yesterday that his agency had opened a separate investigation.
Esqueda Castro worked as a freelance photographer for the local news websites Metropoli San Luis and Vox Populi, and edited a personal website, Infórmate San Luis. According to Esqueda Castro’s editor at Vox Populi, Gerardo Guillermo Almendariz, Esqueda mostly covered society events, but would sometimes work on crime stories.
Over the past few months, local police had threatened Esqueda Castro while he was reporting, according to both the journalist’s wife and Guillermo Almendariz. On July 13, policemen threatened Esqueda Castro verbally, took pictures of his identification card, which included his address, and told him they were watching his home. Separately, several policemen on July 4 beat Esqueda Castro and threatened to take his camera while the journalist was photographing a shootout scene.
Esqueda Castro reported both incidents to the state authorities, and filed a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission, according to Guillermo Almendariz.
In a statement released this afternoon, the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, a government body that provides protective measures to reporters under threat of violence, confirmed the threats, and stated that it had offered protective measures to Esqueda Castro. According to the protective group, Esqueda Castro refused protection, and said that he received no other threats after the two July incidents.
The journalist’s wife and Guillermo Almendariz confirmed to CPJ on Thursday that Esqueda had not been enrolled in a protection scheme.
Mexico is one the deadliest countries in the Western hemisphere for journalists. In 2017, at least four journalists have been murdered in direct retaliation for their work, according to CPJ research, and CPJ is investigating the circumstances of another killing. CPJ has documented the disappearances of 14 journalists in Mexico, excluding Esqueda Castro. In May, journalist Salvador Adame Pardo was abducted from his home in the Mexican state of Michoacán.

An Interview with the Filmmaker Ludwig Carnival

Guanajuato, Mexico, Oct.5, 2017

George Bunyan Interviews the filmmaker Ludwig Carnival on the health of Mexican film.*

GB: From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of very good films everywhere that don’t make it to the big screen. Is there anything we citizens can do about that?

LC: Yes. Stop watching mindless television. Demand art and thoughtful content.

GB: Isn’t that the argument of the artistic elite?

LC: It certainly isn’t the argument of the commercial elite. For them money, not art, is what is important.

GB: But without money, your films won’t reach the public.

LC: It depends on what you mean by public. People huddled in the flickering, blue light of their televisions, alone, hypnotized, without any questions forming in their brains as to what things mean. It’s a kind of self-selected numbing, distraction, excitement without insight, where you don’t remember what you’ve seen.

I recently went to a small movie house in Dahlem, an area in Berlin. I wanted to see whether it was still there fifty years after I had been a student there. My wife and I were the only people sitting in the theater. The movie was about raising salmon in desert in a Middle East country. That was the gimmick. That’s why it got picked up and distributed.

The movie house had endured because a series of owners loved film. There was nothing elite about the place or its activities. The billboard indicated that thoughtful films were the large part of the offering. In particular: The Thirty-Nine Steps, directed by Hitchcock. The Grande Illusion, with Erik von Stroheim. The Bicycle Thief. And the Mexican film Heli, by Amat Escalante. Criticized in some places for its violence.

GB: Violence sells, so does sex, so does white.

LC: That’s the sad part. The whiteness. So many films without cultural diversity, but revealing the racial assumptions that give cohesion to the dominant ethnicity. That is what characterizes blockbusters. Violence as the manifestation of strength and, usually, of male dominance, as in constant war and sex, as in the enticing postures of women that show thighs and breast, as if that were mainly what they are about.

I grew up in a whiteness, just south of Boston. My adolescent friends and I heard about the film Bitter Rice being played in a nearby seaport. We didn’t tell our parents what we were about to do, the three of us stealing away like plotting murderers , and hitchhiked to the town, praying the ticket booth would let us in, although we were years under-age. The crime we got to commit? We got to see nineteen-year old movie actress Silvana Mangano’s thighs and breasts. And violence. I remember thinking there must be something dirty about the whole thing because it was also Italian, and Italians, I knew, ate innocent people alive in East Boston. So many prejudices already growing like permanent cultural fungus in my young soul. At least it was international. But it had made it to the big American screen because of breasts and thighs. And probably also because of its dirtiness. Some critics called it Marxist because it dealt with labor issues.

GB: What about violence in Mexican films? Take the film Heli that you mentioned.

LC: I’ve seen the film. There is violence. But it’s not gratuitous violence. It shows unspeakable cruelty and torture, but it’s there for a reason. That is what goes on in a country with a long history of the absence of the rule of law; where educational and job-training opportunities tend to be out of the range of humble people; where the elite gather wealth and power, in their own way stealing from the rest of us with their monopolies. Anyone can join the drug cartels and become the cannon fodder for the incredibly bloody wars to control shipping and markets. The violence shows the depravity of a part of a desperate society where the only protection is neighbors looking our for neighbors.  Escalante rubs your face in it. Not to titillate and entertain, but to make you incensed that the powers at the top have allowed such a society to evolve. A society that we all in some ways help perpetuate every day. And in that way it is about Everyman and Every Country.

GB: What are you working on now?

LC: I’m writing a screen play about a corrupt federal policeman in Tampico in 1938, who looks for his angry, missing son in a city wracked by petroleum workers’ strikes. Where brutal counter measures produce limbless bodies floating in the Pánuco River, chewed on by oversized crocodiles and bumped against at night by submerged German U-boats, inching upstream. Where everything points to the coming slaughters of the Second World War, some of which is already beginning in that oil port.

GB: So the same old problems continue?

LC: The same problems exist. What sells is youth, young sexuality, young thighs and breasts, bulging muscles, guns, killing bad guys, winning the usually white beauties as if they were circus prizes.

What’s missing are the small joys, the small courtesies, I want to say, sweetness that strangers share, the fragility of unusual love. What sells is war, weapons, feats of unreal courage, blowing up things, car chases, high-tech crime fighting. A hip hollowness. Heroes wrapped in invincibility. The abundance of clichés.

Heli, the film by Amat Escalante, is slow, unrelenting. At one point, if I remember correctly, an Army pickup drives right up to the door of an innocent protagonist’s modest house, with its mounted, manned, heavy machine gun pointed right at the protagonist, what seems like centimeters away. It is a scene about menace. About the power of the State to threaten or run amok with impunity. A metaphor for what good people are up against in this country of ours. It is but one of countless brilliant scenes. Escalante’s films should be supported by patrons of the arts everywhere. As should those of countless other young filmmakers in this old and noble country.

GB: Thank you for your time.

LC: You’re very welcome.

*A reminder that this was a fictitious interview.

 

 

The Cry of Independence

IMG_0072_1024Ninety- nine years ago today, September 15, 1916, the bandit-general of the Mexican Revolution Pancho Villa pulled off a daring attack against Carrancista forces in Chihuahua City, in state of Chihuahua, with 2,000 Villista irregular troops against 9,000 government soldiers—the opposing revolutionary faction recognized and supported by the U.S. At the same time, 10,000 American troops under General Pershing were not that far away, looking for Villa for his attack on Columbus, New Mexico earlier that year on March 8 – 9, in which eighteen Americans died.

September 15, at midnight, is when Mexicans traditionally give the Grito, the Cry of Independence, re-enacting the cry Hidalgo gave in 1810 in Dolores Hidalgo, a town forty-five minutes from here, Guanajuato, declaring war against Spanish control.

Villa’s troops entered Chihuahua at midnight without challenge because they blended in with people coming into town for the celebration. Much of the citizenry was sympathetic to Villa. The Cry for Independence—”Viva, viva México!” soon turned into “Viva Villa!” as sympathizers realized what was happening. Villa freed potential allies from the Penitentiary and occupied the Presidential Palace, then withdrew.

This is the scene then in my novel, Playing for Pancho Villa, when Frank Holloway and his friend Juan Carlos, a young doctor, captives, find themselves forced to join Villa’s attack on Chihuahua. Frank survives, Juan Carlos does not.

Because the latter believed in the civilizing power of horses, that night still outside Chihuahua, Frank and friends build an immense fire beside the river Chuviscar and burn Juan Carlos on top of his horse’s side—both killed by Carrancista machinegun fire.

“Dawn was coming and the stars faded. A river of sparks curved up and away. The fire crackled and spit. River stones exploded from the heat. A slight breeze came up. The three of us stood upwind, so we would not have to smell the roasting horse, which was acceptable, or Juan Carlos, which was foreign and troubling.”

Available

Before my father died, he had a nurse call the house in Boston where I was staying. I caught the phone so that my brother and mother would not be disturbed. It was two thirty in the morning, April 30th, my mother’s birthday, a warm spring night with light rain. The nurse said my father wanted me to come back to the hospital, he had something he wanted to tell me. I asked which name he had used, mine or my brother’s. She said my name. I said, okay I’d come.

I drove to the hospital. It was three when I arrived. I was already exhausted from a long day of visiting, waiting—watching my father fight for his life. His heart was giving up.

The nurse on duty was Nora. The one I had a crush on. A dark-haired Irish beauty, tall, charming, a warm smile, dark eyes—prettier than you could imagine.

She asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. I said that would be fine, I was exhausted and needed a boost.

“Cream?” she asked, and I said yes.

“It’s just a plastic holder and a paper cup,” she said.

“That’s fine,” I said.

She handed it to me with her elegant, brown, I imagined Galway–Lisbon fingers. I saw the gold ring. She was not available. And because I was so weary and she was being so kind, I said: “Ah, you’re not available—I see the ring.”

And she, who may have been just as batty from being on the night shift so long, said, “Available for what?”

I was too tired from everything that had happened to fall victim to my usual shyness, and I just grinned at her–lovingly, I’d have to say.

After a moment I said, “My father wants to talk to me.”

“I know, “she said. “You’re not available.”

At which we both laughed, and I turned away and went down the corridor over the shiny linoleum into my father’s room.

He lay on his back with oxygen at his nose and tubes in his arms. He was small, shriveled, white-haired, unshaven—and bright-eyed in the way I imagined people were when they were possessed.

He croaked something–dark, indistinct words. I asked him to repeat it. He cleared his throat, reached out a bony hand and tugged on my sleeve. I brought my head closer to his, leaning forward in the bedside chair.

“A long time ago,” he said, “when I was your age, I took a walk near our house. It was a country lane, a dirt road.”

I knew the one he meant. It was a paved road now.

“There were almost no houses then,” he continued. “It had been raining. I turned into the dirt road. A woman was just starting down the road ahead of me. I believe I knew she was Mexican. She had the broader shoulders, the narrower hips, the slender legs, slipper-thin plastic shoes with almost no heel. She was poor. I knew she was headed to the Owen’s house far down the lane. They were wealthy but also a little stingy and preferred to pay the very lowest wages. As I came up behind her, she turned to assess my approach. As I passed her, she turned her head away from me . She was trying to make herself inconspicuous. I said Buenos días! and lifted my hat the way my father used to, although mine was just a baseball cap and his, a full–brimmed felt one. She replied with a Buenos días! from her side. I walked on ahead, satisfied she was no longer afraid.”

I helped my father drink from a glass of water.

“Several days later I took the walk again,” he continued, “down the same dirt road. It had been raining. I saw her tracks in the sand and knew they were from her modest slipper shoes. Her step turned slightly inward. I knew this was her, with her long-suffering poverty and dignity and vulnerability. Someone who could be frightened by a strange gringo coming up behind her.”

“The road turned, and I could see her up ahead. I followed along behind her but this time took pains not to overtake her. This is the part I want to tell you. When I looked down again a little later, her foot prints were gone and in their place were the prints of a deer, a young one. I tried to understand this, but couldn’t. My mind wandered away on its own walk. When I focused on the surface of the road again, the deer’s tracks were gone, and those of a fox–I know the print–had replaced them and continued on down the road, weaving slightly, the way foxes do when they’re not well. I found this disturbing. Soon the tracks changed again–I could see the print of the heel of her shoe. And then there was nothing. But she was still up there ahead of me.”

He was silent for a while. He closed his eyes and his breathing was labored. I waited, watching him, thinking about the time of night and the situation itself, how tired I was, about how long this might go on.

My head jerk up when he began again. His eyes were duller, his voice softer, more serious, an earnest whispering.

“I called you here because I have been thinking about that woman.” He paused, watching me. I nodded, to show I was listening, although all I really wanted to do was just sleep.

“I think she was so poor and so sad maybe that she left this life as we know it and entered some other place.”

He looked at me. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I nodded, but my expression must have given me away. He was not convinced and felt he had to explain it to me again.

“She left because she was so sad, so poor, her prospects seemed so hopeless.”

“Maybe she went and came back,” I said. “Maybe her being Mexican and poor and at that place on the dirt road in a foreign country were all just very tentative.” I didn’t hear the conviction in my own voice.

“No,” he said, and his voice was heavy with fatigue. “No, she left because she was so poor, and the ones she went to do not judge people the way we do here.”

He paused and took a deep, halting breath that was too slow, like someone who isn’t sure he’s still interested in breathing.

“That’s what I want you to remember about me,” he said.

I nodded.

“Do you understand?”

I nodded, even though I didn’t understand. I could see his eyes watering, and the man who never seemed to have touched me or held me my whole life whispered, “Kiss me, my son,” and I stood and leaned forward, hardly able to see him because of my own watering and, avoiding the tube to his nose, kissed him on his barely responding lips and then lay my head against his and wept.

After a while I collected myself sufficiently to realize he had stopped breathing. His eyes looked somewhere else. There was a smile on his lips, and he seemed serene. I was very sad and, I think, also more hopeful than I had ever been for some time. I can not say why.

I sat in the chair again. I watched him for I don’t know how long. I heard soft steps behind me now and then. Once when I focused, I noticed someone had closed his eyes. Dawn seeped through the window. At some point I felt a hand on my shoulder, light like a bird, and then once touching my hair. And finally I heard Nora, the lovely dark Irish beauty say, “There’s a telephone call for you—and I was wondering if you were available.”

“Available?” I repeated.

“After the call,” she said. “Maybe some breakfast.”

And then, as I stood up and let out a long sigh, she put her arms around me and held me and felt warm and substantial and very familiar.

“What about the telephone?” she said.

Rainbow Warrior

On Saturday, November 14, 1998 at 3:30 AM, in a relative calm, the strip-planked crabber “Rainbow Rainbow Warrior” picked its way through a thin fog, turned right at the end of the Bodega Bay breakwater, and took the shortcut between Bird Rock and Bodega Head–a gap about a quarter mile wide and known as a shortcut not to take. Even in calm weather, old swells from the northwest wrap around the headland and join other swells unaffected by the point, and together create two patterns thirty to fifty degrees apart.

Which is to say, when outward bound, it is possible to put your bow directly into the wrapping, more northerly swell, mistaking it for the only pattern, and then be struck from the left by the unblocked, much more westerly, predominant swell of the outer ocean. The unexpected swell can come from as much as fifty degrees to the left of the ship’s heading, resulting in an unplanned rolling motion.

The “Rainbow Warrior” may have had a search light on, sweeping it from Bird Rock to the Head just to get a sense of position. Maybe then, as a kind of headlight, it was aimed straight ahead, over the bow, to see what kind of water was coming. Usually the searchlight is fixed to the roof of the wheelhouse, with a handle extending through the roof, so it can be directed manually. A light positioned on the top of the wheelhouse also shines on the forward part of the boat. The resulting reflected glare can cause night blindness for the helmsman, making it harder to see what’s coming.

The “Rainbow Warrior” rounded the breakwater, turned right, swept Bird Rock and the headlands with its light to determine its position, steamed forward for probably a minute and a half–ninety seconds–plowed through the first swell or two, then rolled suddenly, in a roll that did not end, and sank so quickly that the captain, who was in the wheel house, had to kick out a window to escape. He floated on a hatch cover for fifteen minutes, and was then picked up by another crabber who was coming along behind, perhaps using his own search light, and by chance saw him in the fog and darkness.

For the next few days “The Rainbow Warrior” broke up, and pieces came ashore on Doran Beach, the stretch of sand where I jog each morning. The ship’s stern section washed up first, some twenty feet in length, the ten-foot beam, a stable platform for work, curved at the transom, the exposed floor joists carefully arched, so the deck would shed water through the scuppers, if green water came over the gunnels and threatened to overwhelm the ship. It was a well-made piece, massive and at the same time small compared to the sweep of the sea. Perhaps one ton in weight.

The “Rainbow Warrior” was loaded, perhaps over-loaded, with hundred-pound crab traps, each attached to at least one hundred feet of line, with a buoy at the end. A deck ten by twenty feet could have been carrying three hundred crab traps, and thus an additional above-waterline weight of fifteen tons. The unnoticed west, south-westerly swell, probably a sleeper wave, maybe twice or three times its average size, struck the left side of the hull.

The boat rolled, pitched, and yawed. The combined weight of the keel, the lead ballast, and the engine were not enough to counterbalance the additional fifteen tons of crab traps. The boat reached its maximum roll angle or “frozen position.” At the same time, its buried downward gunnell created a pivot-like effect. The crab traps, stacked eight feet high, pitched in the direction of the roll and collapsed on two young Mexican deck hands.

The tangle of traps and lines drove the two men down into the dark cold water, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 feet. Perhaps at 60 feet, they heard the sound of pirules in a warm afternoon wind–the smell of pepper corns–in Calderones, high above Guanajuato. Perhaps they saw burros moving over paths bordered in September by marigolds, children in a pueblito built of green stone–cantera–a small town, where there is no work, or eucalyptus, on a hill near a white clapboard house, that sway in a cooling afternoon wind that arrives just ahead of the fog. This is their new home, far above the border. A woman waves from a window. They feel her caressing hand, their mother, who came up from Michoacán to be with them.

I do not know how long one sees these things, or whether at all, at 60 feet, at 25 years of age, after fifteen seconds of struggle–holding one’s breath.

On the first morning, the Sheriff’s helicopter made great circles overhead, replaced later by one from the Coast Guard, then fixed-winged planes, a Coast Guard cutter, and fishing boats–all looking for bodies. From Bird Rock, close by, came the smell of harbor seals, sea lions, and sea elephants, their muffled throaty gossip, the smell of seaweed and their shit.

The next day the surf built. The “Rainbow Warrior began to breakup. I jogged their each morning. The stern came ashore, then two survival suits, which I told the Coast Guard about, so they could return them to the families. Then the front of the wheel house, with one window kicked out. Then sections of planking, with the wiring still attached, then rubber work gloves, sweaters, a rubber boot, and a slicker.

The day after the sinking, someone placed a bouquet of flowers in the sand, up near the dunes, facing seaward, perhaps to honor the dead, and invite them to come back from the sea. Parts of the Rainbow Warrior decorated all two miles of Doran Beach.

On the third day, another bouquet appeared in the sand at the water’s edge. The Coast Guard refused to dive for the bodies, because it was not part of their charge, and they would not send their young men down into dark water to become tangled in the wreckage.

On the fourth day, fishermen gathered on large dragger, steamed out the channel, turned right at the end of the breakwater, and stopped over the “Rainbow Warrior.” They wrapped the floating crab trap buoys and their lines over a hydraulic pulley and brought up the tangle–in one mass, minus the hull, along with the two young men, boys really, dangling and pale, and not entirely untouched by the crabs they had gone to hunt.

And after that, nothing appeared on the beach. The stern piece of the “Rainbow Warrior” still sits on the beach, two-thirds of the way from the breakwater, a mile and a half, to just where the golf course begins. The flowers reappeared for a while. In all likelihood, I think, a mother may still wait. Burros move across the slopes of Michoacán and Guanajuato. The sun releases the smell of pepper from the pirules. I suppose a young woman looks northward–remembering. She sees someone waving, from there in the north, but after a while, less and less. The Germans have a word: Trauerarbeit, the work of mourning, which describes hearts trying to heal, waiting for the knot in the chest and the heart to loosen and go away.