May 12, 2005

Ixtlan

carlospix2_small.gif "What happened when you grabbed your ally, don Genaro?" I asked.

"It was a powerful jolt," don Genaro said after a moment's hesitation. He seemed to have been putting his thoughts in order.

"Never would I have imagined it was going to be like that," he went on. "It was something, something, something ... like nothing I can tell. After I grabbed it we began to spin. The ally made me twirl, but I didn't let go. We spun through the air with such speed and force that I couldn't see any more. Everything was foggy. The spinning went on, and on, and on. Suddenly I felt that I was standing on the ground again. I looked at myself. The ally had not killed me. I was in one piece. I was myself! I knew then that I had succeeded. At long last I had an ally. I jumped up and down with delight. What a feeling! What a feeling it was!

"Then I looked around to find out where I was. The surroundings were unknown to me. I thought that the ally must have taken me through the air and dumped me somewhere very far from the place where we started to spin. I oriented myself. I thought that my home must be towards the east, so I began to walk in that direction. It was still early. The encounter with the ally had not taken too long. Very soon I found a trail and then I saw a bunch of men and women coming towards me. They were Indians. I thought they were Mazatec Indians. They surrounded me and asked me where I was going. 'I'm going home to Ixtlan,' I said to them. 'Are you lost?' someone asked. 'I am,' I said. 'Why?' 'Because lxtlan is not that way. Ixtlan is in the opposite direction. We ourselves are going there,' someone else said. 'Join us!' they all said. 'We have food!'"

Don Genaro stopped talking and looked at me as if he were waiting for me to ask a question.

"Well, what happened?" I asked. "Did you join them?"

"No.I didn't," he said. "Because they were not real. I knew it right away, the minute they came to me. There was something in their voices, in their friendliness that gave them away, especially when they asked me to join them. So I ran away. They called me and begged me to come back. Their pleas became haunting, but I kept on running away from them."

"Who were they?" I asked.

"People," don Genaro replied cuttingly. "Except that they were not real."

"They were like apparitions," don Juan explained. "Like phantoms."

"After walking a while," don Genaro went on, "I became more confident. I knew that IxtIan was in the direction I was going. And then I saw two men coming down the trail towards me. They also seemed to be Mazatec Indians. They had a donkey loaded with firewood.. They went by me and mumbled, 'Good afternoon.'

"'Good afternoon!' I said and kept on walking." They did not pay any attention to me and went their way. I slowed down my gait and casually turned around to look at them. They were walking away unconcerned with me. They seemed to be real. I ran after them and yelled, 'Wait, wait!'

"They held their donkey and stood on either side of the animal, as if they were protecting the load.

"'I am lost in these mountains,' I said to them. 'Which way is Ixtlan?' They pointed in the direction they were going. 'You're very far,' one of them said. 'It is on the other side of those mountains. It'll take you four or five days to get there.' Then they turned around and kept on walking. I felt that those were real Indians and I begged them to let me join them.

"We walked together for a while and then one of them got his bundle of food and offered me some. I froze on the spot. There was something terribly strange in the way he offered me his food. My body felt frightened, so I jumped back and began to run away. They both said that I would die in the mountains if I did not go with them and tried to coax me to join them. Their pleas were also very haunting, but I ran away from them with all my might.

"I kept on walking. I knew then that I was on the right way to IxtIan and that those phantoms were trying to lure me out of my way.

"I encountered eight of them; they must have known that my determination was unshakable. They stood by the road and looked at me with pleading eyes. Most of them even displayed food and other goods that they were supposed to be selling, like innocent merchants by the side of the road. I did not stop nor did I look at them.

"By late afternoon I came to a valley that I seemed to recognize. It was somehow familiar. I thought I had been there before, but if that was so I was actually south of lxtlan. I began to look for landmarks to properly orient myself and correct my route when I saw a little Indian boy tending some goats. He was perhaps seven years old and was dressed the way I had been when I was his age. In fact, he reminded me of myself tending my father's two goats.

"I watched him for some time; the boy was talking to himself, the same way I used to, then he would talk to his goats. From what I knew about tending goats he was really good at it. He was thorough and careful. He didn't pamper his goats, but he wasn't cruel to them either.

"I decided to call him. When I talked to him in a loud voice he jumped up and ran away to a ledge and peeked at me from behind some rocks. He seemed to be ready to run for his life. I liked him, He seemed to be afraid and yet he still found time to herd his goats out of my sight.

"I talked to him for a long time; I said that I was lost and that I did not know my way to Ixtlan. I asked the name of the place where we were and he said it was the place I had thought it was. That made me very happy. I realized I was no longer lost and pondered on the power that my ally had in order to transport my whole body that far in less time than it takes to bat an eyelash.

"I thanked the boy and began to walk away. He casually came out of his hiding place and herded his goats into an almost unnoticeable trail. The trail seemed to lead down into the valley. I called the boy and he did not run away. I walked towards him and he jumped into the bushes when I came too close. I commended him on being so cautious and began to ask him some questions.

"'Where does this trail lead?' I asked. 'Down,' he said. 'Where do you live?' 'Down there,' 'Are there lots of houses down there?' 'No, just one.' 'Where are the other houses?' The boy pointed towards the other side of the valley with indifference, the way boys his age do. Then he began to go down the trail with his goats.

"'Wait,' I said to the boy. 'I'm very tired and hungry. Take me to your folks.'

"'I have no folks,' the little boy said and that jolted me. I don't know why but his voice made me hesitate. The boy, noticing my hesitation, stopped and turned to me. 'There's nobody at my house,' he said. 'My uncle is gone and his wife went to the fields. There is plenty of food. Plenty. Come with me.'

"I almost felt sad. The boy was also a phantom. The tone of his voice and his eagerness had betrayed him. The phantoms were out there to get me but I wasn't afraid. I was still numb from my encounter with the ally. I wanted to get mad at the ally or at the phantoms but somehow I couldn't get angry like I used to, so I gave up trying. Then I wanted to get sad, because I had liked that little boy, but I couldn't, so I gave up on that too.

"Suddenly I realized that I had an ally and that there was nothing that the phantoms could do to me. I followed the boy down the trail. Other phantoms lurched out swiftly and tried to make me trip over the precipices, but my will was stronger than they were. They must have sensed that, because they stopped pestering me. After a while they simply stood by my path; from time to time some of them would leap towards me but I stopped them with my will. And then they quit bothering me altogether ."

Don Genaro remained quiet for a long time.

Don Juan looked at me.

"What happened after that, don Genaro?" I asked.

"I kept on walking," he said factually.

It seemed that he had finished his tale and there was nothing he wanted to add.

I asked him why was the fact that they offered him food a clue to their being phantoms.

He did not answer. I probed further and asked whether it was a custom among Mazatec Indians to deny that they had any food, or to be heavily concerned with matters of food.

He said that the tone of their voices, their eagerness to lure him out, and the manner in which the phantoms talked about food were the clues--and that he knew that because his ally was helping him. He asserted that by himself alone he would have never noticed those peculiarities.

"Were those phantoms allies, don Genaro?" I asked.

"No. They were people."

"People? But you said they were phantoms."

"I said that they were no longer real. After my encounter with the ally nothing was real any more.".

We were quiet for a long time.

"What was the final outcome of that experience, don Genaro?" 1 asked.

"Final outcome?"

"I mean, when and how did you finally reach Ixtlan?"

Both of them broke into laughter at once.

"So that's the final outcome for you," don Juan remarked. "Let's put it this way then. There was no final outcome to Genaro's journey. There will never be any final outcome. Genaro is still on his way to Ixtlan!"

Don Genaro glanced at me with piercing eyes and then turned his head to look into the distance, towards the south.

"I will never reach Ixtlan," he said.

His voice was firm but soft, almost a murmur.

"Yet in my feelings ... in my feelings sometimes I think I'm just one step from reaching it. Yet I never will. In my journey I don't even find the familiar landmarks I used to know. Nothing is any longer the same."

Don Juan and don Genaro looked at each other. There was something so sad about their look.

"In my journey to Ixtlan I find only phantom travelers," he said softly.

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Posted by Dennis at May 12, 2005 9:19 AM

1 Comment

(Ahem, if I may use the comment section to ornament this post with second and incidental thoughts.)

After reading the part about plucking kids out of high school and streaming them into select art schools to emerge and churn out perfect product for the industry... ?Hombre, pro favor! If you don't see phantoms at work, you must be one.

On the other hand, good and talented people are mixed into this stew, real people (fellow sorcerers, I guess) and phantoms. So, no offence cool and sincere art collector people. I don't mean to bite the hand... maybe a sloppy gnaw.

No, really.

Besides, think of this: the art world runs on prestige. And what is prestige if not some ghostly stuff? What do they call it? Ectoplasmic?

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