A reader's journal: From The Savage Detectives to 2666, Part II

Back then I had almost no free time. Between university and 132 I barely had enough time to sleep 6 hours a day. So, I began to read The Savage Detectives in every minute I could squeeze from the day. I read it on the bus, I read it while walking, I read it before I slept and right after I woke up; inspired by one of the book character’s voracious reading, I even started reading it while I showered: with one hand I kept the book away from the running water and with the other I soaped myself.

I think I don’t exaggerate if I say that I was inebriated by the book. That I was under its powerful spell. This bookish alienation is not unusual with Bolaño and specially not unusual with The Savage Detectives. There are many who draw the comparison between it and Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar precisely because of its impact in young readers. Readers who entered these novels in search of a challenge, a joy, or even an epiphany and came out of them having found a modus vivendi and a code of honor. And the thing is that The Savage Detectives is a novel that trespasses its margins, jumps out of the pages, occupies everything, colonizes. That’s why Alan Pauls has called Bolaño a conquistador who does not write, but rather populates. He populates his dense paragraphs with characters, anecdotes, nightmares, cities, sensations; but above all he populates the world beyond, the reader’s world, with his voice. How many young readers only came to understand what ailed Alonso Quijano until we read The Savage Detectives?

But this colonization is paradoxical and cruel, since, though the book begins to take hold of the reader’s life, at the same time, more than a few readers will find – I wasn’t the exception -, with a mixture of intense melancholy and burning fascination, that the life emanating from the book is far more a life than the life one’s living. That the blood running through the veins of the men and women meandering inside the book is hotter and redder than the blood in one’s veins. And that those desperate starving poets understand poetry way better than us because they know poetry does not need to be written down to be poetry; and that those savage detectives have come closer than anyone to finding the answer because they know a detective is not one because he finds, but because he doesn’t stop searching. Life is the highest poem and the final inquest.

In my case, however, the quixotic/bolañesque germ found an ideal breeding soil to expand given that at that moment in time (so I believed), my life was drawing up lines that either ran parallel or intersected the lines laid out in The Savage Detectives. Many of the episodes I remember most vividly about my time in the 132 movement are, precisely, episodes that, in my mind, could have been apocryphal gospels – too big a kindness, more like fan fictions – of The Savage Detectives.

That’s how I remember a brief visit to Temacapulín, Jalisco, where we went to support, however we could, the resistance movement trying to impede the flooding of their town for a dam construction project. I remember the cool night in Temaca, a dark, preterit night almost from a time without electricity; the paranoid and tautological monologue of an old, white-bearded, straw-hat wearing carpenter who kept repeating over and over that the paramilitary would come after us with chainsaws; the visit, very late into the evening, to a pond of natural thermal waters, of a muddy appearance compensated by the beauty of a huge glowing moon reflected in it; a pond where we came to unwind and where we found three Spanish young hippies, two guys and a girl; and the fight that luckily didn’t started after the girl, naked and deep in a marijuana half-dream, confessed while laughing that she had just peed in the pond we were all bathing at, which cracked up her two friends even though one local had just said, in front of everyone, that pond was sacred to them, which in turn caused David and another guy named César to start calling those Spanish gachupines[1] while also speaking about the tearing down of the Aztec Major Temple ordered by Hernán Cortés, references the Spanish did not understand at all, but what they did understand was the tone and they decided to leave.

That’s how I remember the long and anxious-filled night in which we waited for our friends to be pulled out of jail: David, two girls named Mata and Siboney, and other supporters of the movement who were all arrested during a march with no other reason than the gross ineptness of the city’s authorities, not accustomed to protests in a usually acquiescent city. I remember the pale light coming from the prison’s gate, barely illuminating the hill, while we delivered, through the fence, food and blankets for those who would spend the night inside.

That’s how I remember a reunion among many 132 state cells in the state’s capital. I remember the way to the reunion, going up the hill through the narrow alleys of Guanajuato, up to that area of the city not touched, not even by mistake, by tourists. I remember the palpable nervousness, the cement rooftop, the night closing above us, the order to turn off cellphones and take batteries out, the speeches which, at times, dived into the apocalyptic hyperbole and augur a revolution in which we would be the first martyrs.

I also remember the sleepless night we spent on the streets in León to take pictures of the electoral sheets, with Denisse, a friend, begging me not to fall asleep while we were going into Chapalita[2] at 3 in the morning.

And I remember, of course, the moments of joy, because there were many. A festival in Guanajuato, at the footsteps of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas[3], where David and I improvised some rhymes for the Leones de la Sierra de Xichú[4], a homage the maestros responded to with another set of rhymes, calling us “rappers”, as if at once thanking us but also telling us: “Well, here is where the big boys play, don’t get yourselves hurt”. Or a party in David’s house my cousins from Mexico City attended to, where we drank Tonayan, as is it was mezcal ‘Los Suicidas’ that Amadeo Salvatierra drinks religiously in the book; a party where I, already intoxicated, tried to argue that Jesus Christ was the first hipster to then propose a parkour amateur demonstration on the rooftop, a feat my cousins performed with elegance and skill, David without skill, but with dignity, and I, very much in my style, bumping into every hard surface/object present and waking up the next day with huge bruises all around my body.

I remember, to put it briefly, the shared music, the dances, the camaraderie, the hope, the endless meetings that became, almost by accident, into parties. The feeling of being part of a tribe where every single one of us, I felt, was a carbon copy of the poets that pulsated in the novel I was reading.

But above all I remember, under that savage light, my long talks with David. Talks that seemed all just one, one pouring dialogue coming from the same inexhaustible quarry. More often than not we were the las tones to leave the meetings. More often than not we went out into the night, sometimes without saying anything anymore, smoking one last cigarette and walking away on the dark and lonely streets downtown.

David was also under Bolaño´s influence. When he gave me the novel, he reread his own edition. So, at times we talked about it. We reminisced our favorite parts and, when I finally finished it, we discussed for long hours, in my Kitchen, drinking coffee, about out interpretation of the novel’s enigmatic ending, where García Madero, the youngest poet of the tribe, seems to be the only one left and he gazes, nonchalantly, into the future.

David used to call me that: García Madero.

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But it all comes to an end. The novel ended and, not much after, the 132 movement also ended. I realized, with deep grief, that my life was not written by Roberto Bolaño. From that moment something important changed within me. It was as if the last card of hope up my sleeve had been insufficient to win the game. I am under the impression that, back then I was burning and since then I am just crackling. In other words, I think an important part of my youth died there.

In November 2012, David and I were published in the same number from a short-lived magazine called Dédalo. We were happy. We both knew Juan Villoro and Roberto Bolaño, who were close friends, had been published in the same Punto de Partida edition when they were still nobodies. We wanted to see a good sign in that. We talked about it afterwards, during one of the last meetings, this already a pure friendship gathering. It was also then when, for the first time, David told me about 2666.


[1] It’s a pejorative term used in Hispanic America, especially in Mexico, to describe Spanish people who come to establish in Hispanic American soil and act superior to the natives. It’s origin, it’s believed, it’s a Spanish family name, ‘Cachopín’, a noble family name from Cantabria, Spain. It became a nick-name for Spanish noblemen who owned land and slaves in Hispanic America.

[2] One of the most dangerous neighborhoods in León, Guanajuato, a.k.a, my hometown.

[3] An architectonic and historic landmark in Guanajuato, a historically charged place since it was taken by the independentist army in 1810 in a crucial victory at the beginning of the campaign; and also the place where the heads of four of the independentist army’s commanders were hung for everyone to see just one year later. It was a place picked by the 132 movement in Guanajuato to organize the biggest 132-related event in the state.

[4] An iconic Mexican folk music group, famous for improvising complex lyrics on the spot. These lyrics do not only rhyme, they do so in a strict formula: ABBAACCDDC, also involving an 11 syllable metric. So, like a rap battle meets Spanish baroque poetry.