Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Rest

I was having coffee one evening at a small diner in Mexico City when I was joined by a young German fellow who asked me if I know the city well. I said yes, that I'd lived there for a year and knew it well enough. He put a Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico on the table, opened it to Mexico City, and took out a pen, ready to strike. He showed me all the yellow high-lighter marks, showed me what he had "done" so far in his trip to the city, and asked if there were places of interest he had missed.

Well, yes, he'd missed a lot of things of interest. I know of little gates that lead to courtyards that reveal things only someone determined to explore without fear would find. I know a lot of things about the mega-city that most people, locals or no, would not know of. But I don't know about the myopic pursuit of every detail in a guide book as travel. He had me beat there. I know of a sheet metal mural of charging horses, of a tavern for famous mariachis, I know things I don't speak of. I know of libraries and map stores and police equipment shops on the sly. But I don't know about the rigid determination to see it all in order and program. I know of up-and-coming wrestlers at the gym, of the derelict Communist Party meetings, hack journalists, torch singers, of the European exiles and the Asian trapped and the South American hopeful. I know a lot. But I don't know the book. I told him he'd done just fine and that I was impressed. He was relieved.

Michael is a computer guy here. He knows the book. He knows technology inside out and is picky and cranky about it. He loses his temper when one misses the point of chemistry of beer-making. He is upset when one is not taken with 1950s radio diagrams. He's like that. He's like that even in describing the disease that is killing him as I write. I somehow missed a step in the process of him decaying and dying, and he was furious. How can I be so stupid as to confuse this with that? I dunno. I just am. I don't really care.

But I like Michael. I went to see him after a frantic message from the aether, and found him collapsed on the floor. I considered picking him up till I had my arms around him and realised that picking him up just might break all of his ribs. His mind is strong, when one looks at his successful applications of technology to the working world. But his mind is badly broken, too. He is very likely insane in a mild if corrosively destructive way. He's gone now. I think of him as someone I liked, someone I pity, someone who blew it all. But it's not my place to criticise what he missed in his mad endeavours to do it all. No one can do everything. No one can get it right to the satisfaction of another. We all fall short, of their expectations, of yours, of mine, of our own expectations. Then we weaken. Then we die.

I'm going out for coffee and some wandering and pondering. I leave my friend to his fate. Adios. Shine on, you crazy diamond.


Anonymous said...

During your time in Mexico did you drink cafe americano or local-style?

Dag said...

I suffered for a couple of years in the Middle East from the coffee there. It was little better in the Balkans. I can't recall any coffee during the war, now that I think of it. So, when I got to London I thought nothing of spending $10.00 for a cup of good stuff at Starbucks. I only did that once, I admit.

I drink just about anything that resembles coffee and I suffer through it and don't complain much. But one afternoon in the mountains of Guatemala on the roadside, not a village but a wide space in the road where shacks were pressed against one side of the mountains and on the other where shacks were balanced on poles over a 10,000 foot drop I found a place to sit in and have coffee that was surprising.

I entered the shack and made my way toward the window at the back where I saw a table of a kind and a plastic chair. I made my way around the hole in the plank floor where a 50 gallon burning-barrel had burnt through and dropped, and I sat it, looking out the window frame, and gazed at a medley of greens in the jungle across the next mountain of the valley. Pairs of birds flew back and forth, green parrots with yellow trim, some scissor-tailed fly-catchers, and others I don't recall so well. But the toucans! Yes, I recall those well. I had my coffee, hardly noticing it except to hold onto the terra cotta cup that would have rolled away from not having a flat bottom. My cup was whatever the local potter could make with necessary effort and nothing more. I took a sip of my coffee and was enthralled by the birds. I took a second sip...

And I realised then that I was having the best cup of coffee I had ever had.

I've never had any coffee so good since. In Mexico I drank swill, and it was fine enough. But one time in my life I had the best coffee in the world.