Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Revolt of Guadalajara, Chapter 1 part 2

Between two oceans, but far from both, on a stony, infertile plain, where irregular mesas alternate with surly, grey-green fields, where the rare shabby village and low trees stick out and hordes of shrubs lie silent and bald on the sandy banks of the riverbed that almost always streams with silt, lies Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, one of the poorest and most backward in all of Mexico. [note to reader: yes, these are long-winded and occasionally even run-on sentences. I’m trying to preserve what I understand to be the intentional unwieldiness of the original, at least for now.] It was founded by one of the followers of Hernando Cortes, who went almost without mention in the history of the conquest and who was apportioned the least-promising spoils.

A long road ran from the South, where the government had its seat, to the distant bent-over barrier island in the North, now called Baja California. Guadalajara was originally nothing more than a depot for goods and food for passing expeditions. Later a few salt flats were exploited, a tin mine was discovered, a soap-works set up, and something of a harvest was eked out from the meager fields in the area. But the original residents, the Indians, didn’t get ahead as a result of any of this; instead, the conquerors kept everything for themselves and had the Indians work for them. They offered no resistance. The strongest took to the hills, from which perch they threatened the plains dwellers for a long time. The ones who stayed behind were gradually weakened. In the exchange of syphilis for tuberculosis, they fared badly. The forced labor in the salt flats, the soap works, the tin mines, and the glass blowers that were later established, was deadly to them. The abuse of strong drink replaced the rare but enormously therapeutic release provided by the old blood sacrifice festivals. The unruly were exiled, the meek retained.

Only in one of the outlying towns did one strain hold themselves pure and apart, supporting themselves with crude basketweaving that they themselves carried once every two months to the market in Aguascalientes, so as not to have any trade with Guadalajara.

Once there had also been an insurrection in and around Guadalajara: when wars of independence were waged throughout South America, republics sprang up like mushrooms out of the ground, merging and dividing, and often disappearing again after a brief existence; it had only lasted there for a very short time. After that no one gave any more thought to revolts. Languishing, sickly and in filth and poverty they lived on.

There were still remnants of the old sacrifices. Sometimes a child would go missing. The law didn’t trouble itself over it as long as it didn’t happen too often, even if the child later turned up mutilated or dead. In a place ringed by walls, not far from the city, the old misshapen idols still stood, weathered and crumbling, and another still more or less intact on an offshoot of the mountain chain. There was a vague legend that one day the sun wouldn’t go down and the gods would enter the city and devour the white people, but when and how would they tell the whites from the Indians? Many didn’t even know themselves, calling themselves white if in doubt, though under those circumstances would try to pass for Indians.

The gods were still brought offerings in secret, really so few that they must long since have grown displeased. The Christian gods made such large demands: no children, truth be told (except for those who were used for work in the monasteries), but money, lots of money, more than they could ever hope to raise. They always were coming up short, their products were always worth less than they expected when brought to market and bought by contemptuous middlemen.

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