23 April 2006

A Tree of LIfe

Sunday's sun comes down despacio, despacito, all along Juárez-El Paso. Ramón and I make the trip teenagers and crazy gabachos do across the river to get some fun. A light breeze welcomes us on the Mexican side of the Río Grande; long shadows walk back and forth, up and down an orange-and-red Juárez Avenue: the strip. It is just the ideal atmosphere to forget the tedious week approaching and the unbearable lightness of being a routine muncher.

Ramón follows me down the strip. We walk by forgotten pachucos now turned into shoeshines and street musicians. We talk about books and hitch-hiking Jews, southbound trips and Mexican roads—the memories of old—while the smell of all the stale drink-and-drown fiestas permeates through the gate of every single joint. Juaritos says hello and "come on, guys, we have fine and sexy ladies waiting for you," says the man with the neon-lighted smile that stands at every single entrance. But we ain't looking for any of those caves. Ours is an upward trip, in search the sacred root.

Juárez hasn't changed a bit: It's still dying. It's a big town afflicted by the same corruption and a great deal of the violence plaguing the entire México-U.S. border. People are friendly nonetheless. The corners are inhabited by taxi men offering "chicas" (girls) the same way they offer a ride. People are friendly nonetheless. Many dru stores offer "Medecinas baratas" (cheap medicines), the of late number one spot for tourists.

One can feel a sense of history trudging around downtown Juárez. Away from the fluorescent signs and the drunken aroma, few bars keep the revolutionary air that hosted Mexican troops, Revolutionary soldados, and spies during the Revolutionary War of 1910. They can tell a story that no one recalls. Jack Johnson's fight is gone. Prohibition is almost a century-old tale; the gringos came, as they still come, to drown searching for the Mexican Dream. But they cannot find what's been right beneath their noses, a drink made for the wandering throats of women and men with a taste for the border elixir: Chuchupastle.

El Arbolito

No one is certain about how and when it happened, but some 60 years ago downtown Juárez woke up underwater. Three feet of water made of "El Arbolito" (The Small Tree), a small place embeded right in front of the Plaza del Mariachi on Mariscal Street, a residual water pool. Today "El Arbolito" is receving more water again. Cracks on the ceiling leak some water down to the buckets lying on the floor. Nothing to worry about. Two guys are already drinking there when Ramón and I walk in.

"Buenas tardes, jóvenes; a ver sus i.d.'s, por favor, muchachos," says Conejo(Rabbit), the barman who probably was a teenager when the water came long ago.

Our sight takes a tour from left to right resting on the old chairs, mesas and stools scattered across the place and facing the bar at the bottom. The wooden "barra" hosts miniature versions of a Mayan pyramid and a Virgen de Guadalupe image, old calendars, glasses of various shapes and sizes, and a grey dust-covered register. Right on top of the register, a phallic device dwells mysteriously. "La maraca" has a thin stick some 10 inches long and a sort of balloon at its end. No one can touch it. The word at "El Arbolito" is that "la maraca punishes those people who claim to have no money to pay for their drinks." Conejo says it works. "Nomás uno se nos fue una vez sin pagar."

A Julio César Chávez photo hangs from the wall at the left end of the massive piece of furniture. Tequilas, whiskeys and all the other sorts of liquors align together on the main shelf. Beers rest inside an old fridge right beneath the assortment of bottles. The place is far from being your typical hip-hop club or even an American curious "Mexican classic" cantina. The cracked and badly repaired walls host a horde of hipster college students that pack the place up almost every Friday on their way to some of the "fancier" places. On most days a keyboard-guitar duo accompanies the cheer and laughter of those who gather at El Arbolito. On special occasions (almost every Monday) there's "botana" (snacks) for the early birds. El Arbolito's fame brings people in every single day searching the home place to one of the unknown delicacies of Juárez. But the biggest nicety that brought Ramón and me here is Chuchupastle.

El Chuchu

The infusion of Tequila and the root of the Osha plant (Ligusticum porteri)*, Chuchupastle is a strong beverage. Its savor is something between celery and the most pleasant corner of burning Hell. Only a few spots in Juárez sell this liquor in its most original form, and El Arbolito is thought to be its original home. El Arbolito's mix is made with regular Tequila Orendain. The clear liquor acquires a yellowish color thanks to the root's "flavorful and medicinal infusion," said University of Kansas' Botanist Quinn Gabriel Long.

"It is much like many bars in the US make trendy vodka infusions with everything from pomegranate to cucumber," he said.

Ramón says he's thirsty. I just want to drink. The first "chuchu" comes in the hands of Conejo. He serves it in a small shot glass, perhaps a warning of its strength, perhaps a limitation of its enchanting bouquet and strong body. One has to sip it like a fine wine, says the popular word about Chuchupastle. No one stands straight after four of these shots, and I know from experience. As I downed the Chuchu, I feel its grassy flavor bathe my mouth. No sooner had I felt this than a parsimonious burning begins crawling up my body as the Chuchu travels down. It's like realizing I have lungs, arms, feet and hair for the first time. Ramón gasps with his eyes wide open after his first drink. There will be a couple more during the night. A cold beer is a good companion for "el chuchu." Any fría will do. All beers cost 10 pesos, the same as chuchu. And we choose to have "Indio," a dark bock with smooth composition and taste. Just after a few minutes, Ramón and I start talking about whatever comes to our mind. He says to know a guy that did "this" and "that." I answer that something similar happened to a friend of mine. We look at each other with suspicion. Perhaps we revealed too much. Perhaps we need to sip a little more "chuchu."

Almost two hours go by and we are drinking our third round. We keep on talking about "our friends'" stories. Sergio, the son of the late owner, a mature man of about 55 years, plays an Antonio Aguilar cassette on his stereo and Ramón and I sing the little lyrics we know. "Normally, we have musicians come and play all those sad rancheras to cheer people up. Nomás que they didn't come today... They might be drunk," he says.

We had our fifth chuchu a few minutes after. All of a sudden Ramón recalled he had a wife and child to go see. I just laughed and asked for another one. Ramón dragged me out. We finally walked back, passing right next to the prostitutes, travesties and strippers on their way to work.

*Special thanks to University of Kansas Botanist Gabriel Quinn for his knowledge and help.

15 April 2006

seated in the desert of my choice, I wait for a whisper of your voice to tell me why one should cry and venerate the memories of old. I wait for a whisper of your choice to venerate the your memories and voice and call redemption what just was seizure of the soul. it's not an attack.

13 April 2006

Dylan in El Paso

Bob Dylan does as he pleases. And that's what happened last nitgh when he performed yesterday a country-blues version of some of his classics before an El Paso audience at the Don Haskins Center. With a majestic red velvet courtain in the background the poet-musician entered the scenario a few minutes before 9 p.m. to play "Maggie's Farm," the old-time favorite from the "Bringing it all Back Home" album. The first half of the show went on with Dylan and his superb band playing "She Belongs to Me,"Lonesome Day Blues," "Queen Jane Approximately," "Till I Fell in Love with You" and "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." Clad in black, the 1997 and 1999 nominee continued

11 April 2006

Apenas un par de miles de personas se reunieron ayer en el centro de la ciudad buscando impulsar una reforma migratoria que conduzca a una eventual regularizacion de millones de inmigrantes. En el evento no estuvieron presentes los multitudinarios grupos estudiantiles que apenas hace una semana y media hicieron sentir su presencia y le dieron cuerpo al contingente que marcho por las calles de El Paso. Sin embargo, grupos anti-inmigrantes, en los que figuraban personas de origen latinoamericano, estuvieron por momentos al margen, por momentos encarados con los manifestantes que claramente los superaban en numero. La policia contuvo pequenos conatos de bronca que se dieron entre los grupos antagonistas. Matachines, estudiantes, personas en sillas de ruedas y los incansables Braceros se apropiaron de la Plaza de los Lagartos minutos antes de las 4 de la tarde.

09 April 2006

Los hombres comenzaban a llegar cuando Renán estaba terminando su café y preparándose para empezar su día. Otra noche de mal sueño le pesaba en el cuello, pero como siempre él era uno de los primeros en llegar. Su cama no era dura. Su mujer no roncaba. Pero desde hacía poco tiempo las sirenas de patrullas y ambulancias se habían acercado cada vez más.

06 April 2006

Reaparece Mattox en el CMA

Mattox, banda de rock electrónico, presentó en el Centro Municipal de las Artes al menos un par de nuevas canciones en evento previo al lazanmiento de su primer disco, del cuál no revelaron su nombre. La noche fue íntimia. En show de una hora la banda mostró a las 150 personas que acudieron sus argumentos para seguir vigente en la música. El concierto se dio en el marco de la recepción para la apertura de la muestra de pintura "Un Ojo de la Cara" de Carlos Montes, que reune más de 15 obras, las más recientes del artista. Los músicos dieron las gracias al público que los aplaudió luego que se anunció el inicio del evento para comenzar a tocar un instante después. Mientras los ritmos electrónicos rockeros sonaban, cristales estrellados en el piso, a unos metros de la voz Diana Batista, recordaban que se contaba con el riesgo de que al menos parte de la iluminación.
Un par de focos se vinieron abajo, cual lluvia de cristal, apenas minutos antes de que la banda fronteriza comenzara a tocar su música.
Pero esto no importó a la cantante que con su voz inundada de luz escarlata dibujó cantos venidos de algún lugar muy lejos de aquí.
Esta fue la primera presentación de la banda desde el Diva's Fest que se llevó a cabo en noviembre de 2005 en el Club Sarawak. En aquella ocasión la bana alineó con la olvidable Faka de Tijuana (o algo así), Le Petite y Hello Tokyo. Los miembros de la banda informaron que el próximo 21 de Abril darán un nuevo concierto en el Yuba, aunque descartaron cualquier comentario acerca de su nueva producción. ¿Alguien dijo Coachella?