The Day the Music Died

Yes, it’s that weekend again, boys and girls. Leading up to a Tuesday that could change the fate of the world. I’m sure some of you think I’m a drama queen. But au contraire. It could, indeed, be the day the music dies (and I thought it was a title that would get your attention). The United States of America, once considered the most powerful nation on earth, is in the hands of a narcissistic lunatic. If the Democrats don’t take back at least the house, they can all do what we were told we could do in the 1950’s. Stick our heads between our legs and kiss our asses goodbye.

And what kind of talk is that for a Sunday? I need to veer off to something else so I don’t explode. Ah, the book. I should tell you about the book. I wrote, with Sonia Diaz, The Move to Mexico Bible which was released that month. We do need to get more reviews but so far, the feedback has been very favourable. It is what it is, of course. A book about how to move to Mexico and, in that alone, will not be of interest to a huge market. But I think we have a good chance at dominating that one, very niche market. I’m trying a new strategy. I’ve wanted to shotgun every consumer in the world for most of my life – believing in mass-market, rather than niche, appeal. Now, I’m not so sure it’s a good thing, even if it does work sometimes.

Oh boy, this is going to be a long one. I was interrupted as I started to write this (Sunday) and now will likely not finish until tomorrow (Tuesday, election day). There is a woman here in Cuernavaca who I met the first time we were here and just renting, so almost four years ago. She was part of the group we were gratefully welcomed into – a loose social group of 30 or 40 people. Some Mexican, some gringo, but out of the Thanksgiving gatherings at Jessica’s, which are always 20-odd (her table seating capacity) – maybe three are Americans. There are Mexicans, Canadians, Europeans. The expats have all been in Mexico decades and most are or have been, married to Mexicans. The conversations are usually a hybrid of English/Spanish and people have known each other for decades. (You *know* we would not frequent parties that were mostly American these days… too much chance there’s a Republican hiding in there.)

Anyway, at one of our early (in the season) late (in the day) and somewhat liquid girls’ lunches at Jessica’s, I sat next to Ruth and heard her story. She owns a boutique hotel and incredible gourmet restaurant, I mean, look at that dessert (sitting on a glass plate, on a woven placemat). Ricotta cheese and edible flower concoction in the middle of crafted-to-order sugar spun globe. I dream of this dessert. She also has a dessert that is a boxing ring with Luche Libre fighters in the middle, duking it out, all dessert. Her former gardener at her palatial house (which used to belong to Papa Doc Duvalier, The Shah of Iran lived next door and Kissinger was often at the dinner table) – became her pastry chef.  Incredible, but I digress.

So, I met her in the late spring of 2015 and just prior to that, in December 2014 — her Mexican husband and love of her life had been kidnapped and presumed murdered. They still weren’t sure which. It wasn’t until the following fall they discovered his body, in a gruesome burial plot north of the city with dozens of other bodies. And it wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that they released his body for burial (because it was an ongoing murder investigation).

I saw her at parties, she came to our house and over the years got to know her a bit more. Always a shroud of mystery. I asked her once why she didn’t go home when Manuel was murdered (she was from the San Francisco area) and she told me that this was her home. It was tough, running a boutique hotel (six rooms) and restaurant alone. And her parties were legendary. Everything was always over the top – the blowing up of the Judas figures at Easter, Chinese New Year, Autumn Lantern Festival, anything for a big tasting menu party at the restaurant (always with sublime decorations and entertainment). She had over 30 staff and they loved her to pieces and most were very loyal to her. They were really her family – she saw them six days a week and treated them very well. They were always so attentive to her in the restaurant and it was clear that they adored her.

She would, out of nowhere, hire a mariachi band and take her friends to Xochimilco and out on the boats for a Sunday afternoon. She was a good soul. Because of her husband’s fate, she employed three bodyguards so she was protected 24 hours a day (only two of whom I met). She always said to me, “these guys would die for me” and took courses with them in how to protect her life, so she would know what to do. In September of this year, at a friends party, she set in motion a project with me to write a book about Manuel and her life here in Mexico. I thought it would be one of the best ways for her to get some closure and try to move on with the rest of her life (she was 58). She told me she still spoke to him every morning – coming on four years since he’d been kidnapped. She kept an enternal candle lit for him at home.

I can’t imagine living like she had to. I’m sure by now you have recognized that I’m writing in past-tense about her. She died Sunday morning at 6:40 am, November 4. I’m sure she saw Manuel on November 2, which is the day that the adult deceased come back to visit in Mexico. And she had a little chat with him and made up her mind that it was time for her to go.

Mexican traditions are different. Bodies are not embalmed. She was in the funeral home by 1 pm the same day, and people came to pay their respects. Her whole staff was there. They had been serving breakfast at the restaurant (Sunday brunch) when the news came and shut everything down. One of her bodyguards had a mariachi band come and play for an hour in front of the casket. I have never seen such pain on anyone’s face. I mean, this is a bodyguard out of Goldfinger – bald, huge, round dark sunglasses, wailing at the top of his lungs, shaking his fist at God. He was hired to protect her life – and he couldn’t. The other bodyguard, in a somber suit against the back wall, sobbing. It’s a sad day when you have to give a professional bodyguard your last Kleenex.

We were not close, but we were new friends and I’m sorry I won’t get to know her better.  She ran a beautiful spot. She has left the city with a large loss and I hope she knows how much the community loved her. I, for one, think this is what she wanted. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who still loved, in death, the way she did. It was almost as if he was still alive and I think she lived every day for him and the memories of him in her house and at the hotel (which they ran together). And I guess now, Cuernavaca must mourn and adjust.

We had the Mexican Day of the Dead season last week. We decorated altars – for people and dogs. If you aren’t familiar with the tradition, please read this short story I did some years ago: Day of the Dead – I will try to update a version with new photos for next year. I have some gorgeous photographs. In a nutshell, it’s a time when you visit with your deceased ancestors (and pets). You lure them back with their favourite drinks and food and in general, families spend time together telling stories of ancestors (and pets). But we’re not just talking about them. We’re talking with them – socializing, remembering, eating, drinking. You may have seen the movie, Coco – that’s also a good (and highly entertaining) representation of what it’s all about. Remembering. Really nice writing.

I went to Mexico City to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and the “Alebrijes” (below) were out full force. One of the best things about Mexico (well, *the* best is the weather) is the Mexican appreciation of culture. These were lined up on both sides of a major street with a boulevard. I do like that city.

There’s probably a lot of other stuff I could talk about. But today’s the day (it’s Tuesday now). We can only imagine what tomorrow morning might look like. If you think it’s odd for a Canadian to be this obsessed with US midterms, think again. It’s odd to not be paying attention. Because American democracy is on the line. And that impacts us all. Buena Suerte to America. You may need it.

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