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August 6, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Watercolors (1-3): Tepozteco, Popocatepetl, Chiapas

I thought I’d retell my anazing year (1995-96) of travelling down Latin America using my watercolors from that journey.

1 – Tepozteco

I retired from my classroom teacher’s job in East Oakland in June 1995, landed in Mexico City in September, and the first thing I did was to climb to Tepozteco, an Aztec pyramid atop a summit more than 1,000 vertical feet above the Nahuatl /tourist/ hippie town of Tepoztlán, the Mexican Sedona. People stumble up the steep muddy trail, an hour’s strenous, sweaty climb, young folks in running shoes, older men in cowboy boots,  women sometimes in medium black heels, determined, giggling.  According to those who know, this is the place where the god Quetzalcoatl was born. A gaggle of experimentalist extranjero poets spent the night up here in some shamanic, hypnotic style, performance/ ritual/ workshop, an invitation which Alberto Blanco refused, saying “la noche no será neutra (Night will not be neutral) en Tepezteco.” I was the only one in their anthology, Le Livre Inmediat de Tepoztlán, who hadn’t been associated with that theatrical adventure [most of them imnsho scribbled smart pap] because Alberto liked my poem about sitting up there on the pyramid waiting for my daughter Kia’s passport to come through. I have probably climbed up maybe 12 times in all across the years. This watercolor is painted sitting on a ledge of the pyramid looking back over the town.

2. Popocatepetl

I was living as usual in the Monte Carlo Hotel on República de Uruguay in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City. Luis Cortés Bargalló asked me to put together a manuscript of my poems in Spanish for his Hotel Ambosmundos press, which became Son Caminos. I visited often with my dear bro Jorge Luján, with Sandro Cohen and with Elsa Cross.  One night almost Día de los Muertos walking home to the hotel I saw a woman made up as La Calavera, the Skull, in Juan Guadalupe Posada’s woodcuts. I am almost postive that it was a living woman made-up to resemble La Señora Muerte. She walked between two tipsy gentlemen, holding both their arms; she did not beckon to me. One morning from the roof of the Monte Carlo the Mexico City air was so unusually clear that the volcano Popocatepetl was cleaerly visible.

3 – Chiapas

I flew to Chiapas, home of the Zapatista uprising, which had taken San Cristóbal de Las Casas peacefully but fought fiercely in Ocosingo a tyear and a half earlier. Now Zapatistas held new confderences. As if the máscara (Masl) gave them más cara (more face). One Saturday, Roberto and Conchis and a girlfriend of hers and little Paolo and I took her papá’s VW bug to see the ruins of Toniná. I was designated driver. We climbed level by carved level up to the very top of the stepped ridge. I was getting nervous about time and hour of sunset  everyone was very Mexican about that so I picked up Paulo and started to walk back downhill. Back at the car, the girlfriend sneered “¡John, eres tan inglés!” about my snse of time but I got us going anyhow and halfway up the grade the left rear tire blew out. We opened the uninspected bonnet. The spare was worse,. glinting steel mesh. “Estamos fritos,” said Roberto. “We’re fucked.” Night was coming on, and perhaps those who rule the night, whether ancient gods or modern bandits. In the event, I advocated, and everybody agreed to, driving on the rim over the summit, beginning to smoke on the downgrade but finally safe and sound into Oxchuc, a Mayan town where the one sober inhabitant this Saturday night was the vulcanizador, who installed a nice new tire paid by gringo funds, muchas gracias. English sense of time, indeed! “The mountain was calling you, said the tire-guy’s daughter, selling us a much welcome round of Coca-Colas. “She likes company, so she was calling you. But she let you go.” This watercolor was painted back in San Cris: the women’s textile market outside the Santo Domingo church.



Leave a Comment
  1. JoAnn Anglin / Aug 6 2010 10:19 pm

    What a special way to keep memories. Glad you still had them.

  2. Pam Hazel / Aug 7 2010 11:34 am

    I didn’t know you painted. Nice work.

  3. Jim Bodeen / Aug 20 2010 2:57 pm

    This is an amazing contribution to letters. And what a forum for the watercolors.


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