An old dilapidated 19th century house at the end of an unkempt garden. The door was open. To an uncanny display. I was expecting yet another series of altars to the dead such as the one above.
Or an offering of corn, arranged on volcanic earth, framed by flowers. (Stage right)
Or, stage left, a paper cutting of the ubiquitous cacti.
I did not expect this old-fashioned camera. Which from a distance I thought might be a Hasselblad or Rollei.
Taking advantage of the lack of security (and visitors), I stepped inside the display. No Hasselblad but a very old Yashica.
To the left of the Yashica stood the writer’s den, a pair of old shoes on the floor. A typewriter on a table. (For the younger generations: people used to write on those contraptions… I kid you not.) No chair. Maybe the writer typed standing?
To the right, a young peasant woman was kneeling in front of a mirror, her head wrapped in a shawl.
Where could I be, without the shadow of a witch?
Stage left, an old projector rolled mute black and white images on a white wall, past a papier mâché Agave:
Left, a man with a pipe, staring into the horizon. Right, a young Mexican peasant woman, of the thirties or fifties, her head covered against the sun. (No, I will not write “blazing sun”). The writer’s desk was calling me.
I stepped over the flowers arranged on the floor. Careful. Careful.
I came closer. It was a Remington all right. I read the text. And I knew.
“I went to Comala, because I’d been told that my father lived there, a man called Pedro Páramo. My mother told me. And I promised her that I would go and see him after she died. I pressed her hands as a sign that I would do it; for she was about to die, and I… I was ready to promise her anything. ‘Make sure you go and see him – she said -. He is called that way and another. I am sure he will be pleased to know you.’ So I couldn’t do anything else than tell her that I would…”
I… shivered. This was the first page of Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo. With corrections by the author? Then the man with the pipe was…? Rulfo? This whole thing was an hommage to one of the greatest Mexican writers, Juan Rulfo (1917-1986), a hundred years this year.
Pedro Páramo was published in 1955. It tells of a young man who visits his mother’s hometown, Comala, to meet the father he doesn’t know, Pedro Páramo. But Comala… is a ghost town, populated by… ghosts. Gabriel García Márquez once said that Pedro Páramo unblocked him and allowed him to write One hundred years of solitude. Borges, the immense Argentinian writer wrote (on the wall of that dilapidated house?):
“Let me tell you a secret. My grandfather the general, used to say that his name was not Borges, that his real name was another, a secret one. I suspect his name was Pedro Páramo. I, therefore, am but a reprint of what you wrote on those of Comala.” – Jorge Luis Borges
As I came home I searched for a copy of the book in my library.
My next read, I guess. And to finish up this visit in the writer’s den, this was the altar set up in honour of Juan Rulfo:
Thank you to the City Hall of Tlalpan and the artists who set up this wonderful hommage to Rulfo. And thank you all for joining me in this unexpected trip to Comala.