Around and About
One Man's Angle on Mexico
August 14, 2011
You need to know about Braco the Bar Dog. You may not think you need to know about him. Ha! This column shares the spirit of federal authoritarianism burgeoning up north. We will tell you what you need to know. (You may address me as “Mommy, sir.”)
Anyway, Braco. On the north shore of Lake Chapala, an hour south of Guadalajara, lies Ajijic, which is a town. In Ajijic frequently are Violeta and I, usually in El Camaleon, a bar belonging to Braco the Bar Dog and his partner, Fito Villa. Braco is or appears to be a Weimaraner, a breed which my father described as “those purple dogs with yellow eyes,” and is the size of a small horse. Braco is a good-natured beast, which is well because he could probably tear a hind leg off Godzilla. He spends his time wandering Ajijic, going into one bar after another to see what is happening—Tom's, the Music Box, Pablo's. No one cares. Mexico has a more relaxed view of things than do the gringos of the Fourth Reich. A dog has to be somewhere. It's a law of physics. So what? Besides, you don't argue with a dog that could eat Godzilla.
The Camaleon. Again, note the pathological fear of color characteristic of Mexico.
The Camaleon is thought by some astronomers to be the exact geometric center of the cosmos. That may seem an odd thing in a small Mexican town. Many things in this world are odd. I bear no responsibility for them but just report.
In a corner next to the bar a garish jukebox blinks and flashes like a strange visitor from another planet. It may be one for all I know. The bar maids are pleasant, the patrons civilized. Paintings by local folk hang on the walls. In the long afternoons of summer a mixed clientele of gringos and Mexicans sits at the bar and chaffs time along in its passage. Somebody has to do it.
Braco the Bar Dog and Fito Villa. The perspective here is deceptive. Braco is actually thirty feet long. His paws are the size of New Hampshire. National Geographic measured them.
Some might find whiling away the day over a cold Corona culpably unproductive. Que se chingen. It is less degrading than a federal job, and a lesser waste of time. The company is better.
El Ocelote, for example, whom we ran into the other day. The Ocelot is himself, and nobody else—a long-haired Mexican many would call a hippy, but in fact he is in tone a man of an earlier time, that of Kerouac and Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg and Burroughs. He is a literateur, a fellow of many books, reading and speaking equally English and Spanish, but has an affinity for the Beats, of whose writing he seems to have absorbed every word.
I once inscribed a book to him,
"Para el Ocelote, un espiritu libre en un mundo de esclavos.”
El Ocelote. Perhaps the only reasonable man in Ajijic.
Ajijic lies, as do Jocotepec and Chapala and San Juan Cosala, on the narrow stretch of land between the lake and the hills known somewhat too grandly as “the mountains.” You can walk from lake to hills in ten minutes. Ajijic is a town of various ethnicities amongst the Americans and Canadians who retire here. There are the Hill Tribes, who live in pricey houses behind gates and would not be caught dead in a place as low-caste as the Camaleon. This probably suits Fito fine, as dead people are a problem in bars in Mexico these days. Many of the Hill people put great effort into avoiding Mexico, which would seem to make it a peculiar choice of a place to live, but I claim no understanding.
A more interesting band are the Variegated Riff-raff, the men and occasional woman you find at the Camaleon and at Johnny's, a bit down the road at San Antonio Tlayacapan. Johnny's was started by Elisa Hinojosa, a local gal who starts businesses as exuberantly as a pyromaniac starts fires. You could put her on the dark side of the moon with five pesos and a six-pack, and a week later she would have a beer saloon going with a short-order kitchen, two-for-one Tecate on week days, blues and country bands alternating on weekends and a guided crater tour, bring your own air. If she were president of the US, she would have the country on a profitable footing, which is impossible, in six months. And then sell it, to start something else.
But riff-raff. All manner of unusualnesses end up in Mexico. It's as if you turned the planet on its corner and all the guys you'd want to talk to rolled into the Ribera, the shore of the lake. (How you turn a sphere on its corner will not occupy us here.) (Actually, all of the eccentrics roll into Mexico, and the rest into Bangkok, but never mind.)
Not everybody in Mexico wants to be too identified, so I'll keep this generic, though in most cases it wouldn't matter.
Elisa of Johhny's
Sit around the bar at Johnny's and you meet a lot of pilots of checkered pasts. I don't know why pilots. Carrier fliers (or, as these madmen sometimes call themselves, "nasal radiators"), chopper jocks from That Place in Asia, guys who flew heavies on contract for outfits in the oil lands of the Mid-East, bush pilots out of Alaska. If you want to hear stories, they've got stories.
It's not just pilots. You get all of life's freelancers, serial multi-taskers who did this for a while, that for a while. They are guys who get bored, who fly A-6s off a carrier deck for a few years, then become professional musicians in Reno, work as photographers before getting into designing web sites and selling them, work in the fishing fleets, and move on. They end up at Johnny's or the Camaleon. What the hey. Everyone ends up somewhere.
Smitty, Alaskan bush pilot, Southerner, barbecue cook par excellence, country-music aficionado, and hell of a good guy. Known to drink beer.
And so of an evening the country music tells of heartbreak and loose women and Elisa rushes about filling glasses and taking juke-box requests. The juke actually is a laptop on the bar plugged into the amp, on which she can find any music known to man on YouTube. Requests come in for Duke Ellington and Willie Nelson and Emily Anne Reed and someone is saying, There we wuz in KL and Muggeridge picks up this honey, he's wasted to the gills and didn't see her Adam's Apple, and we didn't tell him.... In Johnny's, everyone knows that KL is Kuala Lumpur. In the bar seat next to us Chica is curled up, she being a lovely kind of mostly Border Collie, maybe, belonging to a friend of ours. In Mexico you don't need seventeen permits to breathe deeply, and Chica is more of a lady than most two-legged forms.
Now you know about Braco.