. . . but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.

01 February 2010

Real Life Santa Teresa

I have finished Part 3.

Bolaño does a great job portraying the border town. Obviously, this one is modeled on Juárez, but it could certainly be modeled on Reynosa. They are all the same only to a little greater or a little lesser degree. One can watch videos of shootouts in Reynosa on youtube.com if you enjoy that sort of thing.

I drove across the border into Reynosa alone first thing in the morning on June 3. It was like driving into another world—into one of Federico Fellini's freaky movies like Amarcord. I use the term “freaky” in a non-generic sense. He was obviously fond of filming freaks sometimes. This entry into another world occurs abruptly. One simply drives across a bridge. Disorienting.

Trapped in nightmarish traffic in claustrophobic streets. Drunks jumping on top of my truck at stop lights. People pressing their faces against my windows. Starving horses, apparently abandoned, standing by the canal. Dogs that do not look like dogs anymore. Stuff like that.

Anyway, I could not get out of that place fast enough. Sure enough, I was stopped for speeding and had to bribe a traffic cop to get out of there. I had no Spanish at that time. I could not bargain effectively, but still, it was the best money I had ever spent.

But then at a federale checkpoint 20 kilometers out of town, I found out that my vehicle papers had gotten screwed up back at customs. I could not get out of the municipality of Reynosa--municipalities are like our counties--with bad vehicle papers. So I had to turn around and drive back into that shit hole, back to the place where you get your visa at the border. Sucked back into that place like Oscar keeps getting sucked back into this place. Then I had to drive back out again. Reynosa is a labyrinth, by the way. All this took me an entire day.

My point is this. I have done normal scary things before. Like jump out of airplanes or hang off the side of a mountain on a rope, for a couple of silly examples. Being scared in Reynosa had an entirely different quality about it. It is one thing to understand exactly what is scaring you. It is another thing entirely to not understand exactly what is scaring you. Reynosa frightened me in that way. Ominous. Bolaño captures that very well, I think.

If one gets in the swing of this book while taking it in big gulps and not worrying about the overriding themes. . . . I am kidding there. I went on a difficult hike in the mountains near here with Fred yesterday to escape this book and clear my head. I am off that kick now.

When one gets in the swing of this book, Santa Teresa starts to affect one's own thinking as it does those three critics, Amalfitano, and Oscar Fate in different ways. I am sure that is exactly what Bolaño wanted, and he succeeded with me. He sets you up just where he wants you to be psychologically at the end of Part 3.

But I still want to discuss Amalfitano a bit with anyone interested before getting to Oscar Fate. Later.

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