Chronicles of the city of Cimera (Part One)

By Mario R. Loarca Pineda

This part is set in the second half of 2009.

It coincides with the second year of the government led by Alvaro Colom, who promoted some reforms such as the renewal of national or departmental radio stations led by TGW, la voz de Guatemala.

At the local level, the so-called Barrientos Pellecer administration occupied the city hall for a second consecutive period (2008-2012)

Camilo, the passer-by who walks through the streets where he meets different characters who offer him their subjective appreciations, is an assiduous listener; someone who has managed to free himself from the dominance of TV and who looks sideways at those remain plugged in to the cell phones that here are usually called celulares.

Dedalus’ way of living in a village

June, 24, 2009, St. John’s Eve, which in Spain is celebrated by making bonfires. I begin a saga of stories that I intend to capture from my ontological condition-as a foreigner in his own land. I am called Camilo and I live in a town called Xelajú or Quetzaltenango, which I have preferred to call the Cimera City, as it was baptized by the apothecary Don Mariano Fuentes Zuasnábar, a bard known in his previous reincarnation under the pseudonym Emiro Fuensanta.

Yesterday I woke up with the intention of completing the small morning tasks: removing the latch from the street door so that Felicia the baker could enter, pouring a portion of cat food into the Sandymount container, preparing a raw oatmeal shake with soy milk for little Laika, placing a bowl of sorghum in the thought of the humble birds that spend the night in the eucalyptus tree and -in passing- detecting the feline and canine excrements that I will later have to collect and deposit in a dairy.

Once that first part of the day was over, I prepared my own smoothie, almost the same mixture that cosmonaut Laika-CCCP received, I drank it and took a twenty minute long hot shower.

Espresso coffee by Michell Zappa

Around eight o’clock I had the breakfast complement: a bowl of chocolate with cinnamon, from the Superior de las Chávez Anzorena, wholemeal Mennonite bread with cheese from Los Cubanitos and a cup of espresso coffee from Santa Elena farm in San Felipe Retalhuleu. I half listened to the newsreel of Radio France International that, in a bad way, transmitted TGQ-the voice of Quetzaltenango-from the cradle of culture (la voz de Quetzaltenango-desde la cuna de la cultura).

I settled down in the old red armchair and spent more than an hour reading the old book that has captivated me: Life of Christopher Columbus, written by Salvador de Madariaga. I read and savored at my leisure, not forgetting to write down the lesser-known words on the back of some consumer notes in the Popular Pantry that today occupies the building of the former Cador Cinema – its music room – one block from the central garden that many people still call a park.

In advance I had outlined an urban tour with certain pending tasks in mind: go to the Banco de la República (BR) agency-center, buy fresh cheese at Los Cubanitos (produced in Retalhuleu) and a bag of concentrate for puppies at the Natividad store, which is served by a native brother from Alta Verapaz married with a quetzalteca with a traditional mayan dress.

At 10:35, Fabiola, the main BR cashier, called to let me know that the check was ready. I left the house twenty minutes later after having a little chat with Felicia , the New York pastry chef of Calabrian ancestry.

I took the 9th avenue down because it is more pleasant than the 12th, since the latter is usually transited by gawping and curious people who I did not want to cross. I passed in front of the radio-technique workshop of the spiritual medium Tonito Herrera Minera, the first confessed vegetarian in this Xelajú of sweet apple trees, and I greeted his neighbor, a happy car-cleaner who prowls around the public swimming pool of the Caracol.

As I walked down the hill I observed some parishioners gathering in the hall of the St. Francis of Assisi charismatic-shamanic community. I continued on to the Street of Pensión Bonifaz to reach the Rivera building, where the BR branch is located. Passing in front of the renowned hostelry, I observed the majestic figure of Mr. Jorge Mario Bonifaz Lagrange who was talking to another man with a hooded hat.

11a. Avenida, Quetzaltenango. Photo by Carol Ixtabalan.

I spontaneously approached and entertained myself by listening to the issues that often concern and occupy certain notable citizens of the Summit City: the absence of urinals and public toilets, the human waste that adorns and perfumes the streets of the so-called historic center; he abusive and overbearing appropriation of sidewalks converted into parking lots for banks and other buoyant businesses; the rural migration that causes so much dirt and tremendous chaos in the once faithful Xelajú, whose sidewalks were once covered with flagstones brought from the Xekijel River.

O silvery, moonlit streets that were the cradle of a pestilential crown of miscreants!

Having said goodbye to Don Bonifaz Lagrange and his friend of the regulars’ table, I slipped down the slope of the Rivera building where, in the last century, the office/terminal of the Rutas Lima was located.

Excursus. Advantages that provide the passage with the Rutas Lima. Modern equipment and expert personnel, guarantee for your person and luggage, more comfort and security than in a private car. You will save money, time and even nerves because with us you will travel with more tranquility.

Direct line from Guatemala to Chimaltenango, Tecpán, Panajachel, Sololá, Chichicastenango, Quiché, Totonicapán, Quetzaltenango, San Marcos and Huehuetenango. Intermediate locations and vice versa. Help us to watch over your luggage in the terminals of this company. (Taken from the newspaper El Imparcial, April 1960).

I entered the BR Branch determined to deposit the covered check into my account. Mrs. Fabi, who seemed to be used to facing life possessed by a firefighter’s spirit, performed the operation and instructed Raquel, the young cashier with the friendly face who looked like ten years older with her new haircut, in addition to the military green attire, a colorful institutional uniform.

On the way out, on the corner of the centennial Banco de Occidente, I heard a couple of half lost tourists speaking in a strange language. I asked them what they were looking for and they answered the Schwarze Kater Hostel, formerly the Kaehler House. They turned out to be Polish, one from Krakow and the other from Lödz. I offered them to guide them to the place so that they could for a while, chatting in German on the slope of the Bonifaz and part of the Juan José Ortega Avenue, the best street in town to the Frenchman Victor Villagrán Amaya.

Excursus. For a moment, certain images of Warsaw, the capital of Poland, came to my mind: the reception and the sober corridor of the Hermes university hotel, the headquarters of the ESLA attended by young Poles who spoke in Brazilian Portuguese; the old streetcars, the witty little cicerone that led me to look at the remains of the Jewish ghetto; a typical menu based on sausages, cabbage and beets at the Hortex café; the drunkenness with vodka and beer next to the Peruvian homeopathic doctor, a dissident from the Shining Path movement; the ghostly street musicians, real guardian angels, who guided me by chatting in German after midnight.

I recalled the two weeks of asylum in a remote convent run by Hispanic and Lusitanian Comboni Missionaries, the pious candidness of a couple if freckled and redheaded scholastics; the beauty of the young men and women who gathered in Frederik Chopin Park to attend a public concert; the return to Vindobona (Viena, Austria) on board a Polish convoy loaded with Zubrówka vodka and boxes of smuggled Marlboro cigarettes, all safely stored under the cushions, at the very base of the seat. How can I refuse to guide the pair of tourists from the hospitable country of Kolakowsky, Wajda and Kieslowsky?

After saying goodbye to the Poles, I continued my walk up ML Barillas Avenue to Cajolá Street, where Azucena lived, the peerless Dulcinea of my youth; 16th Avenue where the chalet of Doña Olimpia Aguilar was (so gentle and so church-like); thenthe old Swiss stable, the so-called Rialto de Arieo Caffaro, teh Colegio Evangélico La Patria (CELPA) and finally the Los Cubanitos diary store.

On the way back, bordering the CELPA, I took the 2nd street to reach Natividad store and buy, with a Q5 discount, a couple of kilos of Dog Chow that will serve as sustenance for the dog Laika. The owner, who says goodbye to me with the usual God bless him, was lamenting about the scams of a supposed canary provider who vanished with everything and the cages.

I returned in a hurry, fearing that the rain would catch up with me. I still had time to take off my dry clothes and then fulfill the inescapable task of serving mutzi Laika and mutzi Sandymount their feed rations, in that order.

What followed: a tomato sauce with onions and chipilín, potatoes with eggs from a farm of widowed peasant women, provided by Felicia the pastry chef, the washing of dishes, the afternoon cappuccino, the call of the German girl Tania who escaped to Sipacate to surf and a heart that is restless, Felicia’s ciabatta bread with a little cheese, and finally the entertaining program by Maestra Julieta Fierro, astronomer at the UNAM, which broadcasts Radio Red-1110 from Mexico city (CDMX).

Man reading a book in his office. Photo from flickr

Third Tuesday of July, I seemed to have lived a singular day that happened as follows: I decided to take advantage of a couple of hours at home reading the Life of the Very Magnificent Lord Don Cristóbal Colón, a text that I enjoyed as if it were an exquisite conventual delicacy. So, sitting in the red, faded and wrinkled armchair (which I share with the little Sandymount), I kept myself devoted to the enjoyment of reading and mental digression.

Shortly before noon I went out to the street with the intention of going to Lupita and Bertita Chávez Anzorena’s store to buy a portion the Michoacan style quince jelly; there I talked for a while with playwright Lu-Natykón and a trio of hurried tourists from Madrid who entered the market to buy candied chocolate and immediately continued their tour towards Panajachel.

I stayed a while longer with them, listening to their memories about a certain lady from El Alto who was much talked about forty years ago, Doña Piedad. The pair of chocolate makers made a memorable account of the Zepedas, a family that emigrated to Guate City and vanished from the Top City a long time ago.

– They built a factory of bottled soft drinks on 14th Avenue in front of the Bethel Garden; Piedad was a very distinguished lady who lived in the big stone house where today a funeral company operates, close to the bridge.

– Piedad used to attend the religious services at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and liked to walk around the city center with her six little Pekingese dogs dressed in sweaters and coats. Together with the dogs, she would visit the Mayan jewelry store in Magin and Olguita and later the pharmacy of Don Mariano Fuentes.

As I left the Chávez store, I took the little street that passes behind the cathedral, went down the stairs of the old market that is a stop in La Florida and continued to the best street in town (according to Villagran Amaya), where there is a Berber bazaar called La Aljama Al-Natury.

I entered, we greeted each other and the Moorish merchant indicated to me that the music he heard was a song that refers to our times gone by of solidarity and revolution: of your dear presence, commander Ché Guevara.

I inquired about the price of amaranth and the nutritious cakes of the day.

What a coincidence, an unexpected encounter!

Anyway, I decided to have a snack and share the time with her. We talked about the cats and their masters, the years we spent in Mexico City, the overwhelming corporate image of the national fried chicken and its impact on the poor nutrition of the mass of consumers.

The Moor, dressed in a turban and a bathrobe, intervened in bursts, telling us about his new experiments mixing coffee that was declared organic and about the project or mirage of selling weekly packages of varied vegetables, apparently free of transgenics.

¡Púchica, that’s cool, you’ll be well off providing for the bunch of gringo tourists who are vegans!

As I watched Felicia, with her blue eyes and her distinctly Calabrian type, I remembered our flings in Mexico City when I had the urge to approach her in order t forge a sex nexus. After 25 years (my silver wedding anniversary) I came to meet her with an old consort, both of them emigrated to Ciudad Cimera for love and lived as an ontological foreigner in my native village.

As we said goodbye, I stayed in La Aljama for another half an hour and told the Maghrebi about a pious conversation that I had with Sri Aurobindo a few days ago, about the disputes over bank deposits between the retired monsignor and some native clergymen who still have the nerve to fly the flags of the popular revolution and the liberation of the oppressed.

—Mario R. Loarca Pineda is a Guatemalan writer who, has published articles and essays in magazines in Mexico and Central America. In 2006, his book Pecado Nefando México DF, Juan Pablos-UNICACH, appeared (you can read a review of his book here). He has a background in Social Psychology and Latin American Studies.

Cover photo by Carol Ixtabalan