Today, I am posting a blog on my new book, “The Alacránicles.” It’s about life in Mexico! Sometimes leisurely, sometimes not. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.
DEFINITION OF ALACRÁN: A SMALL ARACHNID RELATED TO SPIDERS THAT HAS TWO FRONT CLAWS AND A CURVED TAIL WITH A POISONOUS STINGER AT THE END. ALSO, KNOW IN ENGLISH AS A SCORPION.
DEFINITION OF CHRONICLE: TO RECORD (A RELATED SERIES OF EVENTS) IN A FACTUAL AND DETAILED WAY.
A story of quiet lies and hidden deception, of hooded men with dark guns, of overt and often shocking extortion, and of swift death and body wrenching torture at the hands of madmen, as told by a participant and interested observer. A story that takes place in a deceptive and dark paradise––a Shangri-La engulfed by beautiful unmarred white and pristine sands and lined with gracefully swaying long-necked coconut palms that at times seem almost a cliché. All set to the accompaniment of whispering and lovingly warm sweet smelling ocean breezes that, over time, eventually give way to the violent and drenching, yet life-sustaining summer rains; the vital rains that support and bring forth the verdant and ubiquitous dark muted green of the mango, the full soft leafed and generous banana and the tall, sky teasing papaya trees.
The Alacránicles is based on real-life events: ones that are filled with giddy laughter, heartfelt joy, and unquestionable beauty. But also events that take place deep in the gritty and dark underbelly of corruption, threats and fear, a system that was given birth over 400 years ago. It stemmed from a hellish marriage of poverty and suppression brought on by the arrival in Mexico of Cortez and his wealthy, arrogant Spanish minions, who nurtured corruption and then perfected it into a way of life that today is endemic in this fabulous and fertile country.
Over those tumultuous years a system of top-down economic oppression was breastfed and then brought up to become the bastard child of the elite, as well as on down the food chain, and of almost every social transaction in the general public that involved money. The “hand under the table” was the hidden norm for conducting deals, negotiating agreements and for trying to get anything and everything accomplished.
That “hand under the table” didn’t come without a price, however. Without the “proper” documentation, signed and stamped in multiple places and on multiple pages, that proved you “did it the right way,” you could become subject to extortion, threats, and outright theft. You could become the victim of a long-honed system that consisted of, for the rich, “squeezing” those below you, and for the poor, “squeezing” each other. For over 400 years that was the system in play, and that’s how it worked. That was the painful sting of the scorpion.
Ciara and Conor
It was a coincidence or was it?––a triangulation of sorts. A call went out from a friend––maybe an accident or perhaps synchronicity. His call may have come at an inappropriate time, but it came, like a car driven through a dense fog. How many people would have responded positively to this call? Probably somewhere between “nada mucho” to “almost none.” It was a long shot. But for some reason, both Ciara and Conor picked up almost at the same time. Conor seldom used his phone; he called no one, and no one called him. In a way, having a phone was like owning a leash for a recently deceased pet. Little did they know that that call, coming like a rooster crowing the dawn of a new day, would signal the beginning of a wild and, at times, beautiful journey, the rising of a fresh, golden and warm sun.
San Miguel de Allende in spring was hot and dry. It annoyingly continued that way until the monsoon rains fell from clouds, the ones that filled the skies with darkness and the smell of electricity and the streets with rivers of water. It was the kind of weather that made men nervous and irritable. It must have been that way back in 1542 when the gentle Franciscan monk Juan de San Miguel founded the town. He had hoped to protect the silver route from Zacatecas to Guanajuato and on to Mexico City. Later, on September 15, 1810, that irritable heat must have also ate on the nerves of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who, in neighboring Dolores Hidalgo, loudly proclaimed Mexico’s independence from Spain with his now famous El Grito; “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore!”
Soon after Hidalgo’s declaration was sounded, General Ignacio Allende, the namesake of San Miguel de Allende, quickly jumped into the brawl with both feet, which unfortunately led to his ultimate capture and beheading. Connor thought about the harsh costs of freedom and the injustices and brutality that were part of Mexico’s history, of world history. He was glad to be in the 21st century, though even that was no guarantee of peace and safety.
The revolutionary atmosphere in San Miguel must have been jubilant––fiestas, celebrations, music, and dancing, like a coming out party, not for a teenage girl but an entire nation. Ciara thought about the carefree winds that brought new vigor and life to that beautiful part of Mexico at that time and imagined the fervor and excitement that came, like the rapid flow of narcotics through veins, to intoxicate an entire nation.
At the same time north of the border, John Jacob Astor formed the Pacific Fur Company, and the Republic of West Florida, following in the footsteps of Mexico, also defiantly said goodbye to Spain. Both Ciara and Conor admired the way that things happened simultaneously in separate places and similar ways, as though set in motion on invisible tracks.
“Ciara” was not her real name. Her Irish Canadian family had lovingly dubbed her with that nickname near the beginning of her early youth. She was, officially and correctly, named Ciaran. She says that her name was pronounced “Kee-ra.” Some called her “Kai-ra,” but she was quick to correct them.
Ciara was from Quebec, and for many years had been dreaming of retiring in a warm, dry climate. The long cold winters of the North wore on her aging body and no longer held their white mystical magic for her. Instead, she was drawn to the sunny, dry climate and long warm days in Central Mexico. There, Ciara felt she could be free––free from the cold, free to follow her love of painting and cooking and free from the stress of the life she had once lived. At the moment she stepped off the bus from the Mexico City airport, she knew she had found a home. Ciara felt a wave pass through her body, a wave of sweet vibrations that came up from the earth and rattling her very core. She knew in her heart what it meant. And, for her, it said she had found home!
Ciara also loved to see new places, so travel she did; journeys that sent her in many directions: from Thailand to France, Japan to China, even Israel, and India. When she had time, she would study the unusual and enticing local foods, learn about spices and techniques, go to museums, and attend classes of all sorts. Everywhere Ciara went she also searched the local social directories to see who else shared her unique name. And, whenever she tried and failed, she sadly felt as though her name was a precious, yet rare and obscure object that nobody else wanted.
She was tall, with dark hair––Ciara meaning “dark-haired” or “black-haired” in Gaelic––a beautiful woman. She had a fancy and flair for art and music and was a connoisseur of excellent food. When Conor met her, he was lucky. He felt he had coaxed open a white, soft cloud and magic poured out, showering him with joy. And yet, it was that phone call––that strange, out of nowhere phone call that initiated their first date, a blind date at that, and started a six-year Mexican adventure which, like an avalanche of events tumbling out of control down a mountainside, tested and teased them, leaving dark memories, new friendships and bruised and bloody noses.
That morning, Ciara stepped out into her patio, her sanctuary, where precious flowers of all sizes and colors grew. She took a moment to thank them all for being there and then drew-in their heady hues and fragrances. The red of roses, purple lavender, the white of camellias and many other eye-catching flowers of more different subtle colors, filled the garden and blended with the soft afternoon sun, and swayed in quiet, gentle and graceful ways. Together, they took on the appearance of happiness, like the sweet and lovely toppings on an angel food cake. She had carefully planted each and every flower, and she loved them all.
Her garden was softly filled with the fragrance of Plumeria flowers and mingled with the sweet essence of the gardenias, stargazer lilies, angel trumpets and jasmine, and created a dizzying perfume that at once calmed Ciara’s mind while it enticed her artistic imagination.
There, in that garden, like more beautiful and delicate flowers, talented young opera singers honed their skills before setting out on their way to the now famous San Miguel Concurso. Ciara was a magnet, a beacon that drew them there. She was well known for being an invisible lighthouse––a ray of love––and gained a reputation for drawing in and nurturing those bright stars, especially during the lead-up to the competition. She cooked for them and housed them, gave them emotional support and love, and then helped guide them with her encouraging words towards winning top honors in the contest, which, indeed, they did. Conor delighted in the beauty of those lovely creatures. In his mind, he undressed them, caressed them and made love to them, all to the sounds of their angelic voices. Being there during that time was for Conor like being caught in the Aldous Huxley 1962 novel “Island,” his short version of utopia.
Léo Delibes’ Lakmé “The Flower Duet.”
Puccini’s Madame Butterfly “Un Bel dì Vedremo.”
Bizet’s Carmen “Habanera.”
Those intoxicating melodies filled every space of Ciara’s beautiful secret garden, sailing on the wind and landing softly on the soul, like the graceful and gentle and delicate monarchs returning to trees of Angangueo.
By the time Ciara went back into her kitchen and began cooking, Conor had arrived. John Coltrane was playing “My One and Only Love” from the CD, The Gentle Side of Coltrane. Both Ciara and Conor loved that tune and could recognize and name it within three notes; it was a favorite. Though how she became familiar with the saxophone of Coltrane, no one could understand; it seemed to fit perfectly with her and her mood. The warm afternoon sun spilled into the corners of the kitchen and dining room and created a welcoming palette for the combination of herbs and spices, lights and shadows, sounds and silence.
Conor had grown up in Southern California and had traveled for years into mysterious Mexico and the barren wastes of the Baja. Since his early youth, he had dreamed of someday becoming a part of that vast and magnificent country. There was something there that had attached itself to his soul. Maybe it was the simple, yet delicious food, perhaps the heat of the sun, or could have been the honest and direct way the people lived that drew him there. He wasn’t sure. He was sure of one thing; that his heart was hopelessly wound tight around the very core of that land.
Today was Conor’s first day after returning from a grueling and lengthy evening of Daime––Ayahuasca. He could still taste that fermented, smoky flavor lingering hotly in his mouth and on his lips. He felt emotionally and physically exhausted, yet so happy to be at Ciara’s that evening.
Banisteriopsis caapi: a dark root used as the main ingredient in Ayahuasca.
The root was traditionally combined with the vines chacruna and chagropanga, like the intertwining of three slithering poisonous snakes, to produce a mind-altering, spiritually cleansing adventure into the dark recesses of the mind. Conor knew that the Spirit of the Vine was making a resurgence at a time that it was needed the most; offering at least a small degree of hope for a better world. He, like Ciara, was concerned about the future, a future that seemed to have no connection to its past, like a lizard who had lost its tale.
During that long solemn night’s session of self-reflection and cosmic adventure––a grueling and tormenting journey––Conor came to meet his demons; tall, ugly, reptilian and repulsive. And, it was there that he also met Los Alacránes, the Scorpions, hundreds of them, spiraling in circles on the floor like Sufi dancers, Whirling Dervishes, the Mevlevi of the Dark Night of the Soul. Scorpions are everywhere in Mexico. They are said to be a part of the Shaman’s world. They are brown, black, golden, large and small. With two massive crushing pinchers, they held their prey, and then repeatedly and violently attacked it with their venomous spiked tail. Though they were not real in a physical sense that night, the vision of them created a line between reality and what exists on “the other side,” a line that was permeable and transparent. Those creatures would become a dark symbol of what lay ahead, often appearing unannounced and from seemingly nowhere, like the headless horseman riding out of a dense fog.
As much as Conor tried to relax, his thoughts held him in an inescapable grip––a fox caught in a trap. Before he walked through Ciara’s door, he fought the impulse to turn back and go home––to hide. Conor felt like a person mired in an existential quicksand of emotions as he pulled himself together and slowly entered the beautiful house. He took a deep breath and turned the knob.
“It smells wonderful in here!” Conor yelled as he opened the door and caught the first welcoming impressions on his senses. He could distinctly detect onions, garlic, wine sauce and other wonderful smells. Suddenly, he felt lighter, as the darkness from the previous night lifted from his shoulders. “Well, I hope so,” Ciara remarked without looking up, continuing her mysterious magic in the kitchen. She was so at home in her cocina. Strangely, Conor felt comfortable being there as well.
That night was his first real date with Ciara since yesterday’s phone call that brought them together––a blind date, and at their age; they were not young. Conor wasn’t sure what to expect. The sights and smells were heady and intoxicating; the soft sunlight on the warm Saltillo tiles; the delicate yellow painted walls of the entranceway; the aromas of simmering oregano and basil. His body and soul ached for what he was seeing and feeling. Living as he had, alone, left him wanting to share in those luxuries––great food, companionship and much, much more.
Soon, they found themselves finishing their meal with a beautiful glass of wine, and talking. Ciara knew her wines and paired them well with each course. She had been to the Beaujolais Valley, Côtes du Rhone, Bordeaux, and Burgundy, and knew quite well the wines of Chile and Argentina. Ciara was a delight to be with, and Conor felt blessed.
One thing led to another, and then another, and, with seductive warmth, Ciara invited Conor up to her bedroom. Their magnetic draw to each other and the months of loneliness they shared made the decision easy. Conor felt a swelling in his body and heat that was traveling up his spine. It was a dizzying feeling and one that assumed a mind of its own. They felt exhilarated and eager to be in each other’s arms, to hold each other tight. Ciara again gently grabbed Conor’s hand and led him up the stairs to the second level and the entrance of her very private retreat. They’re slippers made soft, gentle sounds as they went up the steps, taking each step slowly.
Over their heads was a vast glowing glass atrium that filtered the delicate afternoon light onto the tiles and doorways. Conor could feel the quietness of the rooms on his body. The beauty of the moment was transcendental. His eyes eagerly followed the golden terrazzo floor leading, like the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz, through a maze of secret passageways. A wonderfully rich, hand-carved wooden door held back the treasures of each room. Some doors were open, some not, but for those that were he could see beyond and into the quiet darkness, to the stately poster beds, the ornate bookshelves and the artwork––beautiful artwork created by Ciara. Which room was hers; he wasn’t sure, he didn’t care.
She was a master artist. She loved working with a centuries-old technique called repujado, a style of using an aluminum alloy and wax over which one applies oil paints, creating a 3-D effect of stunning depth and softness. The compelling faces and delicate figures she created and displayed seemed to come to life, glowing in the afternoon flood of light––down the hallways, covering the walls and playfully perched on tabletops––forming a visually delightful mood that was both deliciously welcoming and seductively inviting.
They started to step together into her cool and darkened bedroom, as though irresistibly pulled by a magnet. Their eyes suddenly caught a brief outline on the floor, directly at the portal entrance. Something was there, something that was out of place, and something that sent out an inaudible threatening alarm. It was sitting in the dead center of the doorway opening, as though it was placed there with intent by an invisible hand. They both moved closer to gain a better view, trying to determine what it was they saw when it began to move.
First, it rotated a bit to the left and then began to open from a coiled position, like a spring that fell from a strange, dark toy robotic machine. Both Ciara and Conor quickly moved back, more out of surprise than fear, as the object began to show itself. Like an animated child’s superhero, the dark entity stiffly and slowly started to unfold, one leg at a time. Within a few seconds, they realized what was happening. They were meeting, for the first time, something that would come to haunt them for the next eight years, visibly and invisibly––a giant, black and deadly scorpion.
Was it the “guardian of the threshold,” sent there by Ciara’s deceased and loving husband, warning them not to proceed further––that he was watching? Was it a leftover from Conor’s nightmarish meeting with demons that night before, the swirling Alacránes? Too many thoughts, so many visions. They kept coming at him at a furious pace. His mind was in confusion and turmoil when Ciara confessed that for the years she had lived there, never, ever has there been a scorpion in the upper rooms. Downstairs, on occasion yes, one or two had been seen, and Ciara often dreamt of them at night, crawling through her garden with their tails up, ready to strike.
Together, they had met their first nemesis, their early omen of things to come. Conor couldn’t help recall a quote he read somewhere, it was a quote from NPR Music critic Ann Powers: “Follow the path of the creature you want to swat, and you may find your way.” That moment their lives had changed; they found their way. That day, that very evening, was the beginning of the Alacránicles.
Watch for the next chapter: Chucho. Coming soon!