As we walk uphill from the lagoon to have breakfast, Poncho’s presence is like an earthquake about to happen, All the neighbourhood dogs – astray or pet – go wild, barking. Some of them reach out and snarl at it, but no one dog dares to bite on Poncho, that remains calm but draws its vital space clearly. I wonder whether their aggressiveness is due to its large size or its resemblance with a lion because of its haircut. Poncho had a lion’s heart anyway. Nano knows it and walks untroubled. Javier – a kid getting a ride to Mexico City with us – keeps an eye on the barking dogs. He’s wearing a green handkerchief to his head, much as a pirate. Caribbean waters just downhill and a fort with cannons overlooking it made me think, why not?
I stop to make a photo of an abandoned house. The sudden absence of barking brings out the peaceful silence of Bacalar streets south of the main square. Birds chanting on tall trees. Bacalar streets and lots are full of trees and vegetation. Actually its houses that become patches of bright reflected light, against a green abundant vegetation backdrop. I had not felt this for a long while. Bacalar is still a small town with streets free of litter and few wall paintings. It is painteresque. Bacalar is a Pueblo Mágico. This Federal allowance allows its municipality, and demands from it, to keep it nice and clean for tourism.
A bunch of kids gather at a school yard. They watch us pass. One of the kids points to Poncho and yells its emotion – “It’s a tiger!” -. The rest of the children stare and murmur. A teacher in command calls them in from inside. The bunch breaks up and does so immediately. I’m impressed.
A giant stands by the school, casting a cooling shade on it, its many arms in bright lemon yellow coloured flowers. Beneath a carpet made out of these same flowers, glows. It is a tree called Lluvia de Oro (golden rain). I stand in awe. The neighbouring Ceiba trees are as tall. A street intersection sign shows “La Casa Internacional del Escritor”, where we are staying, third in importance, after Downtown and City Hall. An awkward feeling of pride gets into me.
As the streets become busier some stores appear. They are not that close to each other. Fruits, tortillas, a couple of bureaus, the basic, among private houses. We walk in front of a boutique hotel being built by a well known architect. Mediterranean style, white clean walls, soft undulating crests at their top, deep blue wooden doors and window shields and a moderate use of local thatch roofing. We seat just pass it, at Los Socios, a down to earth Mexican snacks restaurant with plastic red Coca-Cola tables and warm smiles.
Javier plugs its phone to an outlet. We order beef sopes and oatmeal water. A small bowl of cream of frijoles is included. Its heaven. They know Nano. Nano is known in heaven. The place is a well painted long roofed rectangle and used to be a bakery. I look back at the very end of it. Light shines in through cracks in the ceiling and an opening on the adobe wall. “There’s a crack in everything, that’s where the Light comes in” I sing Leonard’s to myself. The smoke from the wooden fire gives away the light rays beaming in. They seek and find the shape of a long-timer huge hump made of clay that is waiting dormant as an extinct volcano, for the day justice be made and it can feed bread again to all the starving souls.
On the way back clouds gather menacing. We come by a greenhouse. The exuberant garden looks the work of an elf. Stone flints the size of a door mat and cut in triangular shapes, are stuck in the soil, scattered in an apparent chaos that includes their light blue painted numbering out of a sequence, or in one borrowed from an alchemy book. A lot of digits are fives. It’s Maestro Morales’ – tells me Nano. He is the town healer and grows its own herbs. He is also the town’s elder citizen that has chronicled Bacalar’s life. No wonder. I see him leaning down on his orchard. I choose not to bother him with the camera and take a rain check on Nano’s inviting tone. We are to meet, writer to writer-chronicling healer.
Back at the House of the Writer, its raining. We rest. I practice the house tradition.
On our way to Isabel and Abe’s, Nano waves friends as they recognise him in his unmistakable clown van. People like him. I catch a glimpse of one of them walking swiftly as she passes by on my side of the van. Nano tells me she is Victoria, a well known Rap singer that prefers to enjoy peaceful Bacalar, incognito. She opened Manu Chao’s concerts in Europe not long ago. Without stopping, Victoria waves back with a concealed smile. Her head in a hood. Her eyes behind dark glasses.
As of this writing, Victoria is no longer in Bacalar, of course.
Abe & Isabel
Rain left us for a while. We pull in at Abe’s. He opens the wooden garage door. A tall, thin young man he is. I enter second in the queue. His eye contact is strong. His beard and his hair make him a young Cat Stevens. Three playful dogs and a couple of cats greet us also; that is why the door never opened ajar. A long alley leads to a wonderful garden by the lagoon. In the roofed terrace entering his house an artwork stands tall as the roof. It is covered in white linen. Nano and Ave go back a long. Nano peeks through and opening and smiles. I’m dying of curiosity and can’t resist doing the same. A big thick slice of a tree trunk that resembles a giant amoeba is at the base, another one, with the same contour, rests aloft as a cloud, suspended from the ceiling; a million thin nylon threads link the wooden ends, forming a tubular illusion of a structure. Drops of life, as in water, flow bottom-up, across carefully crafted and carved holes in the bottom wooden piece, and end up in three shower heads. Ave uncovers the work. I’ve made the drop a symbol of life. This is to represent a life flowing inside a tree.
Beside it, another suspended piece looks like a DNA spiral, but grows into very large wooden drops that end in a heavy one. I get the feeling of two pendulums that turn on their axis instead of swaying. Then the greatness of a crabs claw comes to heart.
We come inside his home leaving our sandals outside. Beautiful works of art are laying on top of his furniture, all inspired in the drop symbol, utilising tropical woods, marble and limestone. Abe is a painter and a magnificent sculptor. One of the pieces is large and heavy, yet out comes a wing inspired in sea life, such as a manta rays’.
His place is minimal, with accents of colour from his paintings using reds and Caribbean emeralds and blues in pastel tones. Ave shows us pieces his done by imprinting paper with long pod seeds of flamboyants that have paint applied on them first. He has done several works utilising natural elements found in nature. He’s an advocate of it and teaches a class on it ay the local polytechnic.
Abe has been waiting on Luli, a friend photographer to record his latest creation. As I walk in camera in hand and we get to talk about art, Ave asks whether I could do the job. He is to send it to his gallery in Merida. The White Night happening in Merida is this coming weekend and he is dying to present his pieces. I agree.
Isabel, Abe’s couple, arrives. She’s lively and a good conversation. We share green apples we’ve brought and they share a giant guanabana. We eat and quench our thirst. It’s humid outside and the sun is out again. She teaches as well.
Alambres are a concoction between a taco and a stew usually beef, onions and peppers stir-fried and cheese added till it melts. Fact is the stew, or the filling, is abundant and you make tacos out of it on at the table. This is what we order at “Los Alambres”. As we eat I listen to an outspoken Isabel that studied in England before coming to live in Bacalar. We are hot on the Gamma radiation subject. No, it is not the one coming from the Universe, our concern; it is the gamma rays being bombarded indiscriminately on the population of Bacalar as a result of white conditioned Federal police trucks at checkpoints and their gamma ray scanners for weapons and the likes. She’s preparing a citizen crusade against them. Not the sort that makes banners and marches in circles, but the one that gets informed, knows its constitutional right and acts. First it was about no one warning the population. Then came the fact that they did not turn them off. What will happen to pregnant women? What happens with thick steel piercing radiation accumulating on the materials it crosses, themselves. What about taxi drivers or any citizen that comes and goes through the checkpoint several times a day on the way to Chetumal (the state capital)? She’s concerned and acting.
Gamma ray units are a result of the Merida Plan. A USA – Mexico security agreement reached in Merida some years ago. Complicated geopolitics that simply boil down to zapping citizens with radiation. We have it all.
Irony comes to mind as I reflect on Abe’s body of work having to do with representations of Life and the development of a graphical language around “the drop”. It is hope that he is representing: We cannot drink tap water, or get from the abundant underground rivers for this purpose in the Peninsula, some corn and thus honey is contaminated with transgenic crops and vegetables are being grown with one too many chemical additives.
As we get ready to leave the restaurant Isabel points me to check on sustainable communities that work, like Las Cañadas in Veracruz state, or Tierra Amor in Michoacán. She understands my concern for what my kids will be eating or drinking. She tells me to take Lucía – my youngest – to visit La Cañada. I agree.
That night I set-up the lights and umbrellas that happen to travel with me in the van, and make a studio around Abe’s tall work. As I do, I am sure that this meeting was meant to be. Abe’s brother’s birthday is the same day as mine, and one of his brothers in law is Chilean as I am. I’m flowing in the path, as the beetles foretold.
We try for a couple of hours but the space does not help. It’s late. We laugh. I’ve done photos. He’s confirmed that doing video at the gallery will be better suited for this large piece, as he anticipated. We are happy of having done the session; we have gained a new friendship.
Bacalar is a peaceful place to create in and have artist friends.
Abe – Abraham Illescas – spent time in Toronto, studied in Mexico and pursued his path as an artist in the mountains overlooking Chiapas, El Mirador, in particular. There, land owner and shaman, Don Lauro, let him stay at the mountain top for four months part secluded, part in the eco-village, to make a piece sculpture on a limestone rock that was meant to be found by Ave and carved out into the wonderful mixture of theatre mask, Maya design lines and attributes and Abe’s face profile elements, mixed. It was Isabel’s love that brought Ave to Bacalar thereafter. Ave’s drawings and motif cover the walls of La Casa Internacional del Escritor, where I have been staying over.
I return to La Casa Internacional del Escritor, watch the photos, like them and fall sound asleep.