Desafortunadamente la vida no nos da para traducir este diario que Joe Haldeman publicó en Facebook durante su estancia en México para participar en la quinta feria internacional del libro en Azcapotzalco. Aqui lo tienen en inglés, pero eso si, ilustrado con buenas fotografías.
Joe Haldeman´s MEXICO CITY diary
The other day Gay and I went to the airport and flew to Atlanta, but then changed our minds and turned around and flew to Mexico City. Actually, we'd been invited to a literary fair, the Feria Internacional del Libro de Azcapotzalco. Kind of rolls off the tongue, if you're an Aztec.
We were picked up at the airport by José Ramón Calvo, who has been our guide for all of the considerable driving around we've required.
We came early to Mexico City, knowing it would take a day or two to get used to the altitude. Good thing; after two days I'm still panting a bit and not feeling like the young 70 I was when I stepped on the plane.
Mexico City is fascinating, though, and we do have friends here from science fiction. Gay has two degrees in Spanish and speaks it well. I personally can order a beer and maybe a taco.
We had dinner out with old friend Paco Taibo II, (José is his son-in-law) but I was still too tired to
do the soup justice. We went up to Paco's place and admired his book collection, huge and gorgeous.
This morning I started to feel somewhat normal. We had breakfast out on the terrace of the hotel's sixth floor, in the shade of the Cathedral, on the Zócalo. Bright and sunny, with a vast variety of food on offer. I had bacon and eggs but also a fruit salad that had fresh mango and papaya; frijoles refritos (black beans cooked and refried), exotic fruit juices, and a strange pancake made with corn flour and a raisin-like red sweet fruit, with honey. Lots of sweet strong black coffee.
We had the company of hummingbirds and one fat black pigeon. The view was both impressive and foreboding – even at the break of dawn, the pollution affects visibility.
They do have a distinctive mild flavor not quite like anything else I've eaten. Never catch on like chicken eggs, though.
In the early evening José drove us out to Coyoacan, a sort of artsy area, very beautiful with a kind of GreenwichVillage intimacy, lots of young people hanging around doing young people things. We peeked into an old church, La Conchita, and, our appetite for culture assuaged, sat at a lovely outdoor café where they were roasting gorditas over a heavenly-smelling pine fire. Good beer, but I think it may be hard to find bad beer in Mexico.
Tomorrow I will explain why.
Yesterday we went to the huge Templo Mayor with Luis Britto García. This was the hub of the Aztec empire, long buried under the city. Rediscovered by telephone repairmen in 1978! This was the main temple of the Aztec death cult, where captured prisoners of war were brought for mass sacrifices, as many as ten thousand at a time. They were given spikes of shell and allowed to kill themselves.
Next to it, the Museo del Templo Mayor has thousands of artifacts from that grisly period. The center is an eight-ton disk that depicts the Moon goddess, who was decapitated and dismembered by her brother. These people were almost as bad as the Christians.
(When we came here in the seventies, I think the consensus was that the sacrificial numbers were much exaggerated by the Spanish conquistadores when they wrote up their adventures, to justify their own cruelties.)
We could see a large open-air restaurant with patrons looking down at us as we wandered through the ruins. We wound up going there for lunch – Porrua, the terrace of a large bookstore. I had a really fine artichoke, roasted and served with a sweet vinaigrette, with good duck tacos for a main course.
From there we walked a bit, winding up at the Colegio de San Ildefonso to see the colossal murals of Jose Clemente Orozco. There were Diego Rivera murals there, too, but they were closed for renovation.
Back through a light mist of rain to our hotel, where we had a drink in the bar, the terrace being a bit damp. We were joined in these meanderings by novelist José Carlos Samoza, from Spain, and a Mexican student Pavel, an astronomy graduate student (who had read my books), and our guide José Ramón Calvo.
We collapsed for awhile. I went out to get a late-night (for Americans) snack and a bottle of wine, but got a little lost. Found a couple of chicken quarters, nicely roasted on a spit. For dessert we went out again and found a yogurtshop and had a couple of cones, very American.
Not much sleep. Can't get used to the air on this planet.
A full and interesting day yesterday. After breakfast we went out walking, and I went to a street vendor whose wares I'd seen the previous day, and got a middle-sized bag about half the size of my usual canvas briefcase, a pretty soft leather thing. (I do have more bags than the vainest teenage girl. But my usual one is much bigger than I need when I'm not carrying the computer. And I'm husbanding my strength.)
Then we wandered into a huge bank building, which José had told us was actually a pawn shop. He used to work in the industry as an architect and built a lot of them -- it's a curious aspect of Mexican economics, that people use these pawn shops for many of the fiscal functions that banks serve in the American system. People routinely sell and re-buy their cars and even houses, and on a smaller scale keep hocking the family jewels and redeeming them. So the barter system is pretty exact and self-correcting. When you borrow cash, say, on a car, you have a set period of time before you pay it back, plus about ten percent interest. If you don't pay it back, the pawn shop is free to sell it to the
The bank/pawn buildings are about the size and demeanor of a museum building. This one had a wall built by the Aztecs, supposedly.
José picked us up and moved us to our new hotel, about an hour of frenetic driving – the Hotel Plaza Camarones (place of the shrimp!)—which is only a 20-minute drive from the feria.
The feria is basically two large tents, circus sized; one with books for sale and the other an auditorium for presentations. I went straight there for the formal presentation of the guests. Then to the other tent to sign books for an hour and a half. Gay had to help me with peoples' names; strange spellings and pronunciation for a Yank.
Most of my signing was a freebie that the convention had printed up with a long story from each of us, Otras Historias ("Other Stories"). Mine was the gruesome la Suma de Todas Sus Partes, "More Than the Sum of His Parts," which might give me a fearsome reputation in Mexico.
Then I had my own hour on the stage, along with Jose Luis Zarate and Gerardo H. Porcayo (both sf writers), along with the indispensible translator, Armando Salinas, also an SF writer.
My beer with that was an outstanding version of cerveza preparada, which in its usual U.S. manifestation is Tecate beer with half a lime squeezed into it. Here it was dark (Bohemia) beer poured into lime juice and salt – there were squeezers on the table so you don't have to touch the lime yourself. The place was big but homey and not too loud; we had a fine time.
Got home about midnight and crashed.
This is no doubt partly rumor elevated to history, but the story as I learned it was that Mexico's leader (perhaps Maximilian?) was concerned about the prevalence of public intoxication, and decided that beer would be a better national drink than tequila and pulque. So he (or his ministers) imported a crew of German braumeisters to engineer a beer industry from the bottom up. Part of the success was that even the cheapest beer is pretty good, and the better beer is really good.
Nowadays a lot of good European beers are available. When I first came here, in 1970, it was mostly Corona, Tecate, and Dos Exes -- ambrosia to me, just back from Vietnam. In small towns, refrigeration was hit or miss, so the beer was often sitting in a washtub full of ice, delivered regularly by horse cart or asthmatic truck.
I was also impressed back then by the orange juice, which merchants sold on street corners, squeezing it in front of you from a tub of ice-cold oranges.
It's good to be back.
Yesterday Gay and I had the usual long calorific breakfast, with fellow writers Jose Carlos Somosa and Luis Britto, and then took a long aimless walk around the neighborhood, mainly for exercise. Pleasant shirtsleeve weather. Everything was closed for Sunday – including the restaurant where we were going to meet for lunch. So at the fair they brought in catered cochinitas, Yucatan-style tacos, along with a strange but not unpleasant rice-based beverage, horchata. A couple of big bowls of fresh fruit.
Then I was on a panel – the all-purpose kind they call "the writers' panel" in American conventions, about writing and sciencefictional ideas –(with Alberto Chimal, Bernardo Fernandez ((BEF)), Gerardo H. Porcayo and Jose Luis Zarate) and then went down on the floor to sign books for another hour. Old Twentieth is just out in Spanish, and most of the books I signed were out of those boxes.
(I guess the people who only had the freebie "Otras Historias" had them all signed the previous day.)
Then someone declared that the best ice cream shop in town was just a block away, so we went over in a group -- I had a double cone, rum raisin and lemon pie; Gay had butter chocolate . . . about ten of us ate ice cream for most of an hour, and then, sufficiently refueled, we waddled away to go to dinner.
We gathered eighteen people and caravanned to an Argentine restaurant, Cafe Galicia, where we ate marvelous arrancheras -- the tenderest beef I've ever had. (They described the cut with gruesome gestures, sort of over the back on both sides, then down to mid-rib.) Fresh bread, a few scattered limp vegetables, and mugs of good beer, three kinds on tap. Lime slices and dishes of salt provided to spice up the beer.
Good conversation with the other writers, politics and art. After breakfast I'd planned to go out and paint a watercolor, but it rained, so I just napped. Probably needed it.
Noonish, we went to the feria, where I had an interview with a popular radio station, with a pretty good-sized audience. The woman who interviewed me, Fernanda Tapia, was very professional and enthusiastic, and José translated well. I had about fifteen minutes of a two-hour show.
After six days, I'm still gasping in the thin air when I lie down. It's not so noticeable when I'm up and around, thank goodness. ("Goodness has nothing to do with it," says Mr. Oxygen. "It's me! All me, you silly fool!")
Evidently I'm in less good shape than most of the people who post about it; the consensus seems to be that you won't notice it after a couple of days. It may be more the pollution than the altitude in my case. Sometimes I have difficulty in New York's sea-level soup.
I think Gay managed to get me first class for part of the return, though, so I can gasp a higher quality of oxygen.
Just home for a day. Throw the clothes in the washing machine, then repack, and get in another fucking airplane. Just to Des Moines, Demicon, though, which is all of a thousand feet above sea level. A mere pittance.
Another good restaurant for dinner last night, Argentine, Eldiez. Beef two nights in a row? More than I normally have in a week. Really good ice-cold beer to go with it. Appetizers of baked cheese and chistorra, a delicious sausage.
Everyone was speaking Spanish, but that didn't make any difference; it was so loud I couldn't have understood English. But beef to die for, as the cardiac people say.