I’m about 600 pages into Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 –a book that is both horrible and hypnotic, one of the few Bolaño works I’ve been able to finish (Amuleto was the other one). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a lot of most of his books, some in English and some in Spanish; I simply think he’s overrated and overtranslated when compared to the amazing wealth of other contemporary Latin American writers. 2666’s spot-on epigraph begins things with a quote from Baudelaire: “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom”. The 1000+ page book is divided into five parts. I’m drowning in part four, “The Part About The Crimes”. It describes, in blunt unaffected language, dozens upon dozens of brutal rapes and murders that occurred in Santa Teresa. The Mexican border city is Bolaño’s fictional stand-in for the very real Ciudad Juárez, where hundreds of women have been killed in unsolved murders stretching back to 1993. As in 2666 , many of these women worked in the American-owned maquiladoras in the nearby desert, making products for export north.
If it were the stand-alone work of an unknown writer, The Part About The Crimes would be an insane, unpublishable anti-novel . But Bolaño’s writing has long embraced themes of systemic violence and the relationship (if any) of literature to any actual world.
Today, taking a break from the dark gravity of Part Four, I came across several related articles.
The New York Times reports that: “Foxconn, a Taiwanese firm that makes iPhones, Dell computers and other electronics, is one of several Asian companies taking root. It opened a plant in Juárez last summer. . .Despite several murders a day, trade between Juárez and Texas rose 47 percent last year to $71.1 billion.”
And The Guardian says: “Not by coincidence, Juarez is also a model for the capitalist economy. Recruits for the drug war come from the vast, sprawling maquiladora – bonded assembly plants where, for rock-bottom wages, workers make the goods that fill America’s supermarket shelves or become America’s automobiles, imported duty-free… ‘It’s a city based on markets and on trash,’ says Julián Cardona, a photographer who has chronicled the implosion.”
That quote brings to mind a scene from 2666‘s Part Three “The Part About Fate”, which chronicles a black New York City journalist who ends up in Santa Teresa covering a boxing game but learns about the killing of women (and ultimately engages in a favored Bolaño trope: having an outsider enter in a potentially lethal situation and extract a person at risk with the power of words or at least without physical force). This excerpt is rich in its typical Bolañoid blankness (“the sandwich was full of all kinds of things”), laced with a humor so dark you almost forget the room has no windows and we’re running out of air:
He could see hills on the horizon. The hills were dark yellow and black. Past the hills, he guessed, was the desert. He felt the urge to leave and drive into the hills, but when he got back to his table the woman had brought him a beer and a very thick kind of sandwich. He took a bite and it was good. The taste was strange, spicy. Out of curiosity, he lifted the piece of bread on top: the sandwich was full of all kinds of things. He took a long drink of beer and stretched in his chair. Through the vine leaves he saw a bee, perched motionless. Two slender rays of sun fell vertically on the dirt floor. When the man came back he asked how to get to the hills. The man laughed. He spoke a few words Fate didn’t understand and then he said not pretty, several times.
“Not pretty,” said the man, and he laughed again.
Then he took Fate by the arm and dragged him into a room that served as a kitchen and that looked very tidy to Fate, each thing in its place, not a spot of grease on the white-tiled wall, and he pointed to the garbage can.
“Hills not pretty?” asked Fate.
The man laughed again.
“Hills are garbage?”
The man couldn’t stop laughing. He had a bird tattoed on his left forearm. Not a bird in flight, like most tattoos of birds, but a bird perched on a branch, a little bird, possibly a swallow.
“Hills a garbage dump?”
The man laughed even more and nodded his head.
And that’s that. The complex — and extremely macho — intensity of Bolaño’s Grand Novel can certainly benefit from queering interventions & inversions more about seeds than graves. First there’s Rihanna’s new single, in which the pop star from Barbados goes reggae as she recounts gunning down Chris Brown “a man”, in broad daylight, with immaculate hair and styling. Personally, I believe guns should be illegal. But I’m willing to make exceptions for Rihanna.
Edging further towards 2666 is Rita Indiana’s punk-mambo apocalyptic embrace of a song, whose title translates to “The Devil’s Takin’ Us Away”, which we produced and released on Dutty Artz awhile back — Rita was in NYC recently and whipped crowds into a frenzy with each performance of “No Ta Llevando El Diablo”. Here’s footage from her Summerstage rendition of it, “a tune so bold and out-of-this-world, that it really seems like a trip to hell.”
One of my favorite Mexican bands calls themselves Super Grupo Colombia. They’re one of those groups who have moments so good they cease being songs or even hits and pass into the DNA of things, transformed into a reference and departure point for cumbia lovers everywhere.
Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. I ate my breakfast, I had my NY day, and down in Mexico hundreds celebrated this holiday with the start of a 4-day peace march (#marchanacional) beginning in the city of Cuernavaca and moving towards Mexico City, where it will conclude this Sunday. Envio un abrazo solidario. As Geraldine Juarez writes, the march is “to demand the end to the ‘War on Drugs’ and the removal of all government officials responsible for more than 35,000 deaths and the increase of insecurity and corruption.”
Here’s an important video from poet Javier Sicilia, “who became the leading voice of the discontent towards the government’s method of tackling the drug trafficking problem after his son Juan Francisco was killed.” It’s important to me because I fell in love with Mexico, it captured me like no other country has. Cinco de Mayo fiestas & tequila shots can ease the weight of now, but it’s a weight I want to feel. Before we can begin to care about the impact of American drug consumption and U.S. drug policy on the tens of thousands of Mexicans dead, we have to feel… that Mexican problems are American problems. Not just intimate, but interchangeable. You make a border real by policing it, and there’s a disturbing corollary: living in the United States and ignoring the political situation in Mexico helps feed the violence of that border. Wanting to be ‘global’ or ‘cosmopolitan’ is missing the point — so slippery and abstract as to be useless. We should try to be good neighbors and take it from there.
I might not be thinking these thoughts if it weren’t for cumbia. That’s why I’m putting up this Super Grupo Colombia song. The lyrics aren’t topical – though their flow on the chorus never ceases to amaze – it’s simply a nice song from Mexico, and golden minutes help fuel long hours.
I previewed tonight’s show here. The above portrait comes from a recent Spanish-language interview in Frente (warning: it’s one of those horrible flash-based sites whose ‘digital layouts’ ensure that none of the content can ever be linked to). Clearly, Daniel brought the heat to our city today. The radio show kicks off his NYC stint, keep an eye out for the Thursday book party + Columbia U. talk
Right now I’d like to excerpt two sections from his new book, Down and Delirious in Mexico City. Together they hint at its narrative arc as Daniel moves from “a sort of native foreigner” to a sharp-eyed chilango whose self has been rewritten by the city he writes of — from ex-punks tending their aging legacies to the birth of fashion blogging to neo-indigenista sweat lodges– with such lyricism and insight.
from Chapter 2: Points of Arrival
“And this is the house where La Malinche lived,” Victor says, pointing to a plain colonial structure on Calle República de Cuba, in the Centro. The building doesn’t seem like much: pink walls, brown wooden doors that appear indifferent to their age, shuttered windows. On a wall high above the sidewalk, a tile marker with blue cursive script indicates that “according to the tradition” the house once belonged to a woman named Doña Marina. Also known by her Indian name Malinalli Tenepal, Marina served infamously as Hernán Cortés’s translator and mistress during his conquest of the Aztec empire.
“Uff,” I respond, and frown. Among some Mexicans in the United States, La Malinche is reviled as a traitor, the Judas Iscariot of the New World. By grunting I think I am doing my duty.
But Victor, an artist with whom I have struck a fast friendship, recoils. “You Chicanos need to get over the conquista,” he says. “La Malinche was amazing. She was incredibly smart and beautiful and knew many languages. She is one of the only women historical figures we have from the period.”
I am strolling with Victor after lunch. It is a warm and drizzly day, mid-July 2002, just a few weeks into my first visit to Mexico City. From the moment I land, nearly every human interaction and every street corner turned offers an eye-widening lession. The onslaught of information and sensations leaves me fatigued. Almost anything I say is analyzed, mocked, or critiqued in relation to my being a sort of native foreigner — a Mexican born in the United States, Mexican but not quite. Victor’s reproach shocks my brain. . .
And then, crescendoing with feverish visions after several years spent in D.F., we get to this section of chapter 15: The Seven Muses of Mexico City:
Everything is thrilling in Mexico City because everything is out of whack. There is a sense of delirious rupture, everywhere. The Cathedral, built over a dead Aztec temple, is sinking. The video game arcades are packed. I’m looking at male stripper clubs for women in Iztapalapa, extremely open public displays of affection on the metro, between men and women, children, and men and men, at political propaganda calling for the death penalty for kidnappers. A man without legs is begging on the sidewalks, just a human stump riding a skateboard. A little indigenous girl is stricken with panic, screaming in an indigenous language, as she gets off a metro car before her mother can reach the closing doors. On the platforms, the blind are walking with blind. Chaos and mutation on every corner. How, I wonder, can we mediate the doom?
We are not asking it enough. We are watching out for ourselves, like true urban rats, wondering, What is it that I want? I fall into the same mind-frame, thinking lecherously, I want it all. I want clothes. I want the Hustle. I’m a Mexico City mutant eating sidewalk hamburgers for dinner under a pounding brown rain. I want cactus juice to flow through my veins. I want to dance upon the pyramids. I want to sweat droplets of jade. I want acid.
+ + +
Bogota’s Frente Cumbiero has a year-old mixtape of originals and edits, which makes for a fine soundtrack to our displaced Mexico City memories on this warm Nueva Jork / Puebla York / Neza York day:
You can stream last night’s radio show for deep, consistently fascinating discussion from Liturgy! Topics include: tremelo strumming, 19th ct. Romanticism, encore vs apocalypse, the value of effort, and my esoteric theories regarding Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s esoteric theories. Liturgy’s musical selection began with 14th ct Frenchman Guillaume de Machaut and ended with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In between you’ll hear weighty black metal, including previews from their upcoming album on Thrill Jockey.
How to follow up such a rich show? With another equally rich show.
Que Bajo?! returns to NYC after touring Miami, Medellin, Barranquilla, Bogota, Cali, and SXSW… come hear exclusive new remixes from myself, Uproot Andy, DJ Orion, Toy Selectah, Isa GT and more and check out our guest DJ’s Venus X of the Ghe20 Gothik Party who just rocked the shit out of the fader fort at SXSW and Panchitron from the Peligrosa All Stars crew down in Texas. Pancho’s mixtape stayed in heavy rotation last month for Que Bajo?! fans
Thursday March 31
Le Poisson Rouge
158 Bleeker St
I will elaborate on this later — right now I’m working with Sonido Martines on an organic farm in south Netherlands — but in the meantime, go get The Fader’s Fall Issue, which contains my feature on Tribal Guarachero, researched over the course of a few weeks in Monterrey/Mexico, with excellent photos by the intrepid John Francis Peters. John just upped the images on his website (although you’ll need to get the magazine to see the spread in its full-color, full-size glory).
Also: everybody who reads this should go visit Mexico, you will fall in love with the country as it is continually mind-blowing! And: we’ve got high-quality exclusive content related to my #3Ball MTY essay coming up soon on Fader blog, so preparate… (& you heard Erick Rincon’s tribal guarachero remix of a Scandinavian folk tune, right?)
I can’t remember exactly, but tomorrow, July 4th, we Americans celebrate our Independence from Microsoft, or the Constitution, or Google, or the British, or the RIAA, or Illegal Immigrants, or Apple products, or People Around The World Who Hate Our Freedom, or maybe Slavery or the Absent Birth Certificate itself. It’s an important holiday, especially if you like to eat dead animals.
So what better way to join the festivities then hunched over my laptop, carpal tunnel syndromin’, listening to incredible new Mexican music of the 1st decade – or is this already the 2nd decade? (Is it true that time isn’t circular but tubular?) – of the 21st century!
Erick Rincon from Monterrey gifts us with a sublime tribal guarachero refix that wraps hypnotic playful voices around some ill tubas. Deep sonic multitasking from northern Mexico. As the 16-year-old producer says: “Bueno pues ahora, Dejandoles algo de Tribal, Mezclandole algo de Norteño!! que suene la tubaaaaaa!!” Let the tuuuuuubaaa sound out!
I just listened to this two-minute song a dozen times in a row, now you can too:
Ernest Gonzales, the man behind the wrestling mask/moniker Mexicans with Guns sent this one over earlier today. “Me Gusto” is raw, a terrific dancefloor scorcher. Purchase the vinyl or mp3 package which dropped today w/ Chico Mann on vocals and Ghosts On Tape remixing on the flip.
(everything else enhanced by U Mean giffordization.) so that intro…!, then some of the video and off to look at another window, tune still running, hit by a Mexican — which is to say, American — crossroads truck.
[we keep rollin! here’s the debut post by Geko Jones, Dutty Artz vibe springer & flyspace ambassador. We’re cooking up some of his refixes for public consumption this weekend , but until then, check the words of Papa Gex — Rupture]
I don’t remember when exactly it stopped bothering me, but being Latino in the U.S. means that at some point, some moron is gonna look you up & down and say “You’re a Mexican, right?” I by no means fit the commonly-held profile of my Mexicano bredren but in the back of my mind I brush it off on the premise that we’re gonna be the voting majority in this country in like two weeks. What I do have a problem with, however, is the standpoint that our country, which was entirely built by immigrants, has taken on its borders.
Here in the states, where we strive so hard to keep public face and remain politically correct, our administration has an apathy, if not disdain toward economic conditions south of the border and are considering funding to build a wall from Texas to Cali. Did we learn nothing from Berlin? Or better still look toward Gaza.
The Egyptian foreign minister sent a blunt message to Palestinians during a television interview being picked up by media outlets stating that “anyone daring to cross the recently re-sealed border between Egypt and Gaza will have their legs broken.” [BBC article] Imagine yourself living in a place where basic human needs and supplies are cut off by embargo except for a small trickle of goods being smuggled in by a network of underground caves. This is a complete 180 from the announcement made on Jan 24th by Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak when he told Palestinians to “come in, eat, buy food then go back- so long as you do not carry weapons”.
Living in an increasingly globalized world it’s amazing to me that despite all the law regarding crimes against humanity that no international court can find grounds to hold someone accountable for keeping 1.4 million people penned in a roughly 25×7 mile cage and denying them food, medicine and goods.
Big up all my smugglers, hustlers and I.N.S. troublers.