You know you’ve had enough tequila when, during the Day of the Dead, whilst staggering down a narrow, cobbled Cuernavaca lane at night, you stop to look at an ofrenda in a shop window, and head of a skeletal mannequin turns to stare back at you.
The next thing, you’re back in bed at the Hotel Bajo el Volcan, once the apartment complex where Malcolm Lowry wrote “Under the Volcano,” and the bed begins turning like a rudderless skiff. No point in sleeping, standing being much less vertiginous; so you go out on the balcony and light a pipe, reflecting that Malcolm Lowry smoked a pipe and probably stood smoking away the spins on this very balcony that overlooks the barranca, the canyon that surrounds Cuernavaca and into which the Consul, the protagonist of “Under the Volcano,” falls at the novel’s climax. And it strikes you that as much as you love “Under the Volcano” and admire Lowry’s writing, you vowed never to be like him. Yet here you are, smoking a pipe, struggling for balance, and leaning over the barranca.
I’m very much looking forward to it, very much anticipating the play’s arrival in a form where I can begin shopping it around to theatres. And yet….
It’s cold in Portland today, really feels like the beginning of winter. But in my heart, it’s 82 degrees. Among the broad trees shading Cuernavaca’s zocalo, black butterflies with a five-inch wingspan silently drift, their wings splashed with irridescent green. I can’t get over the butterflies. I used to collect them as a kid, and occasionally, I’d send off for foreign species from a mail-order catalog. They’re dead, of course, and you have to treat them so their wings lie flat. I had one of these black and green ones in the collection, probably even knew the Latin name for it once (some kind of swallowtail, I think). Here it is now, nameless and alive. Drifting through warm, clear air, with a volcano in the distance.
And the tequila is very memorable as well, also clear, with the liquor’s characteristic smoke and burn, but also wtih a silkiness akin to cognac. The Mexicans keep the good stuff for themselves.