Monday, June 13, 2016

Dispatch #53: Writing In The Field

La Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe
by Lupe Fernandez

I sit in La Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church. Romita, GTO Mexico. I'm here with my mother to mourn the death of her brother after a prolonged illness. I'm am in the field. Another country. Another culture. Another language familiar and not. A fresh breeze flows through the open side door. The interior is cool at 12:48pm. Three viejas in scarves, blouses and skirts sit silent, contemplating the mysteries of Christ, crucified on a gold laden altar.

What should I write about? I've read many accounts of writers who travel to foreign locations and write about their experiences. What should I write about? So much history has swept by this town founded 140 years ago. Revolution. Drought. Flood. Birth. Death. Miracles. Perhaps I'll write stories my mother recounts with her sister over sweet bread and atole.

How in 1957 or 59', my parents walked from Leon to San Juan de Los Lagos. My father had promised La Virgin he would walk 81.9 kilometers (highway distance) if his paperwork to reenter the US went smoothly. They walked two days with blankets and bad shoes, over rocks, dirt, hills and hot sun.They traveled with a group of other pilgrims, slept at night in the open, fed by locals who recognized their purpose.

Pilgrimage from Leon to San Juan de Los Lagos

"I was so tired. I was so hungry but too tired to eat," my mother said.

When they reached the church in San juan, my mother asked my father "Why did I have to come? It was your promise."

"Pues, you have to come with me." My father implied it was her wifely duty.

Shall I write about the old days when merchandise traveled by burros? Roads were dirt or non-existent. Rain produced torrents of mud blocking travel. To save the merchandise, travelers would cover the burros first and then sleep by the animals, exposing themselves to the elements.

Or I could write something contemporary. Leons de la Tierra played in El Jardin Friday night. Donald Trump - at the time of this writing he was the front runner for the GOP Presidential Primary - made a guest appearance. Mr. Trump renewed a few campaign promises. One of the singers summarized all the promises Trump had made during his campaign, including building a wall across the US Mexican border to keep Mexicans from stealing valuable American jobs no one wants. Upon finishing the litany of Trump's promises, the singer concluded in English, "Fuck You!" The crowd cheered. I was proud of my kinsmen. They are no strangers to US military incursions and they will fight.

And now the flip side. It's hot outside. Probably low 90's. What do I know? Temperatures are measured in Celsius. The hard wooden bench hurts my butt. I'm writing on a legal pad against the bench arm. I genuflected ad hoc before I sat down. Shirt sticks to my back. Stomach cramps. I ate a delicious bollo de  carnitas and tomato from a trusted vendor - Tia Delia vouched for her - I carry three five peso coins in case I need to use El Publicaa Sanitoro (restroom). My handwriting is sloppy. Will I be able to read this page later when I type it? No I didn't bring a laptop, iPad or tablet. I have two sheets of paper towels in my back pocket of my sweaty shorts.

I lug around - wait a minute - I have to go.

I exit the church, cross the baking plaza, leave the gates for the secular world and head for El Publica Sanitoro. I pay the lady behind a cart four pesos. I need the coins - some lady just verbally chased out two young women for breast feeding in church, the other was chewing gum - El Publica Sanitoro lady does not change big bills. She hands me several sheets of toilet paper.

I wonder if she's calculated the minimum amount to get the most value out of a roll vs. what a customer needs to avoid a mess. Hence the paper towels in my back-pocket for insurance. The stall is cramped and the door is misaligned with the frame. I lean against the stall to shut the door. Bathroom is clean. I've seen worst in certain restaurants in good old U.S. of A.

I walk back to the church and complete this post. I lug a backpack with camera gear, a used paperback about cosmonauts and snacks for emergencies. My stomach feels settled.

Now to shoot a self portrait without appearing sacrilegious.

Snap and I walk out into the dry heat.

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