WELCOME TO MEXICO
Good thing they’re facing the ship, because if any murderous members of a drug cartel are going to cause any trouble, they’ll be pouring out of a cruise ship, not coming by water. There were about seven men with guns on the pier in total, which really makes you consider that stroll into town. As it happened, I was content to wander around the beachside shopping and beer-procurement district . . .
. . . and down to the beach.
. . . during which I was approached about 5,013 times by helpful gentlemen who wanted to know if I wanted to go a restaurant and sit and have a beer. It was 9:30 AM, and I said no. I went to the beach, but was told it would cost ten dollars to sit in a chair. Or I could sit at a table for free, but I would have to order something. That’s fine; I understand. This is their entire economy. Oh, where were we? Huatulco. It’s one of the FONATUR state-created resorts. They put up docks in places where the locals have no vacation traffic, and sell them as new destinations for people tired of the same old beaches. Huatulco is apparently the “showpiece” of the program, with an “eco-tourist” twist. It’s all a national park, and when it’s done – I’m reading directly from the daily ship bulletin – there will be 16,000 hotel rooms and 1,000,000 visitors per year. Good luck with that, unless there are other piers. Right now it’s rather sleepy and a bit tumble-down in shrugged-shoulders Mexican fashion. The national motto might as well be “we’ll get around to finishing this eventually."
The local hotel – I assume this is not part of the 16,000 room complex:
Right next to these structures, as you can imagine are beautiful new buildings that have a nice fresh moneyed feel. And then a dank crummy store that sells tourist krep. The same! The pens! The lighters! The magnet with a picture of an interchangeable beach with a tiny thermometer! The beer insulator with the name of the town in a font that came with PCs in 2002! And so on. As I walked around, you go through the usual drill with the hawkers and vendors: at first a polite No, then a handwave to indicate you’re interested, then you shake your head, and finally you just ignore them. I hate that. But when you’re walking around looking and observing and thinking and letting it all form in your head, it’s distracting. Hey, pal, I’m making memories and drawing sociological conclusions here. A little breathing room.
Some flopped and busted cafes dot the beach.
DAY . . . SOMETHING: CLOSE TO THE END
Woke with a complete and understanding of the movie “Groundhog Day.” It was one of those days where Bill Murray has accepted his fate and decides this will be a fun day. Doesn’t matter what he does, after all.
But it was not exactly like all the other days, because – well, after lunch I was chatting with some people, and they asked if I was ready for my speech, and I said ho, no, it’s not a speech. I’m just introducing David’s talk about the Moon landing and the Mailer book on the same.
“No, it says here you’re giving a speech on social media.”
Well, I’ll be switched. I was. I had 40 minutes to come up with a speech. So I hammered together some notes, then sat outside reading for 20 minutes, thinking it best not to run through. Just do it. At 2 I went down and gave the speech. It was fun. This is the room, by the way; that’s our host Hugh, not me.
Now it’s almost six; I’m at the Bistro for the pre-meal espresso, looking out over a calm sea, the pianist in the lobby playing “Blue Moon.” (Whenever he stops there’s a distant smattering of applause that reminds me of the last moments of “The Shining,” but only perhaps because I just saw it.) In a few minutes it’ll be another two-hour dinner, something that fills me with no small amount of weariness, but you know what? I don’t give a damn what’s on the menu. I’m having a steak. Don’t give a damn what the Serb thinks.
What will he think, though? Stay tuned.
Tonight I got my revenge. Ah hah! I chose a dessert that seemed like a novel reinterpretation on apple pie a la mode – and I say that because it was, more or less, apple pie a la mode but contained so many adjectives and qualifications it would make previous attempts look like rube-food fit only for people unable to distinguish between Mexican vanilla and the Madagascar variety – and I know what you’re thinking, north Madagascar, or the nuttier, more assertive variety of the central mountain region? For purposes of this discussion we will pretend we are groundlings unaware of such distinctions. When it arrived it was a small portion of baked apples interspersed with a wry, understated gesture towards the concept of “Crust,” with a heap of melted ice cream on top. The desserts here have been extraordinary; this was dull. And such a small portion, too. When the dour Serb returned, saw that I had no consumed every atom but had pushed it away in the universally understood gesture of gustatory contempt, he raised an eyebrow: sir?
I made a moue of disappointment, flicked a thumb sea-wards to indicate that this insult should be removed from my presence, and shot a finger at the dessert the fellow next to me was enjoying with evident relish. (Actual apple pie.) He nodded, and whisked it away. I expected the manager to come over and say “I’ve just heard about the pie,” followed by Mongo embedding a cleaver in the table, but the Actual Apple Pie appeared in a trice.
It wasn’t as good as I remembered.
Then we had a discussion about whether nature is beautiful regardless of the existence of a being who can behold it and apply an aesthetic judgment, and afterwards I went over to David Allen White’s table – he’s the former Shakespeare lecturer at the Naval Academy, a delight and a brilliant man – and told him what someone had said, and he said it was wrong, and he was surprised because she was a smart woman and should know better, really, and I said no, that was my position. Ah, well, then we must repair to the Cigar room and have this out. So we did. Here:
I’ll miss that. But that’s how it goes: you want to go home, and then as you approach the moment when it’s time to pack and leave, you start to miss it in advance. People. We’re hopeless.
I had to leave the cigar bar because of the smoke. Not the rich luxuriant smell of fine cigars, mingling with aroma of polished wood and leather, but the rank bright-blue tang of cigarettes, combined with four people laughing to an old “I Love Lucy” episode on the TV. It’s not funny. I’m sorry to Lucy fans, but it’s not. When Lucy and Ethel start to wail, when Reeky gets an idea and decides to foool Loocy, and Fred pitches in – gawd, it’s contrived and strained. Now, the other night there was a Dick Van Dyke show on the old -things shipboard channel, and it was crisp and funny. Except it had the little kid. But everyone always overlooks him.
What, you ask, no reading? That’s for the day. In the evening I talk and write and watch TV out of the corner of my eye. The books so far:
Read “UR” and the rest of “Full Dark, No Stars” by King. The former was too short, the latter dark and snappy. I enjoyed it much more than the last novel, but I think he’s better at the short form now.
More of Sherlock.
“Sherlockian,” an amusing novel about a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast whose attempts at deduction are paired with the story of Doyle dealing with a mystery in his own time. Just started it. Clever and nerdy and not exactly rich in Victorian detail so far, but smart enough.
Lost to the West. This was the find, the prize; I think I mentioned this. Utterly engaging read about the history of the Byzantine empire, how it was really the Roman Empire Pt, 2. For people who are vague on the big Medieval muddle – like me – it was fascinating. Rome fell but the empire survived. And you learn things like the Arian heresy. I asked David Allen White, the other lecturer on the cruise, if he was familiar with the Arian heresy, and he barked “of course! And we’re living through it again today!” And then we argued about Hitchcock and so on. That was last night. Everyone broke up around 10:30 or so, but I went back down at 11:30 because I was wide staring awake, and chatted with the hostess. When I got up to go I realized the ship was starting to . . . move.
And then it came: the night of weather. The doors to the decks were locked, and everyone battened down. Howling wind screeeeeching in the cracks of the door, which I’d failed to secure. A chair flipped over on the veranda. Everything was rocking back and forth and up and down, and I laid down and fell asleep with a smile.
Now I’m in the piano bar, which has the same clubby interior of the Cigar Room; it’s woody and dark and close and Victorian, but filtered through American recollections of the genre, which come from American movies about the real thing. There’s a great singer at the piano, and she’s doing every number everyone asks. She’s absolutely wonderful. What a job, though. To plow the seas all year and sing in the dark all night, every night.
Which reminds me. I was having coffee upstairs yesterday, banging out a blog entry or something, and a fellow came up and asked if I was James Lileks. He wasn’t with our group. Fame! It doth extendeth even unto this place! I said that I was, and he said “I know your father-in-law.” He was a lecturer on the ship as well. Did it a lot. Mentioned to FiL that he was doing this vessel, and FiL said to look for a guy who’d be typing on a laptop, which I was.
“You’re the sixth or seventh person I’ve asked,” he said.
Went back to the room and wrote novel. Around midnight I went out to the back deck; there was an old married couple in bathrooms standing at the balcony with their arms raised, forearms perpendicular to their faces, as if both were bracing for an epic sneeze.
“There,” said the man. “There, right tipped over on its side.” They were looking for constellations, shielding their eyes from the lights on the deck. He heard me and turned and pointed: “It’s the Big Dipper. Standing on its handle.” I looked out and saw nothing, but then I shielded my eyes and leaned over and waited . . .
. . . and all the stars came out.