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Under the Volcano (Perennial Classics)by Malcolm Lowry
Two mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaus. Overlooking one of these valleys, which is dominated by two volcanoes, lies, six thousand feet above sea level, the town of Quauhnahuac. It is situated well south of the Tropic of Cancer, to be exact on the nineteenth parallel, in about the same latitude as the Revillagigedo Islands to the west in the Pacific, or very much further west, the southernmost tip of Hawaii-and as the port of Tzucox to the east on the Atlantic seaboard of Yucatan near the border of British Honduras, or very much further east, the town of Juggernaut, in India, on the Bay of Bengal.
The walls of the town, which is built on a hill, are high, the streets and lanes tortuous and broken, the roads winding. A fine American-style highway leads in from the north but is lost in its narrow streets and comes out a goat track. Quauhnahuac possesses eighteen churches and fifty-seven cantinas. It also boasts a golf course and no less than four hundred swimming pools, public and private, filled with the water that ceaselessly pours down from the mountains, and many splendid hotels.
The Hotel Casino de la Selva stands on a slightly higher hill just outside the town, near the railway station. It is built far back from the main highway and surrounded by gardens and terraces which command a spacious view in every direction. Palatial, a certain air of desolate splendour pervades it. For it is no longer a Casino. You may not even dice for drinks in the bar. The ghosts of ruined gamblers haunt it. No one ever seems to swim in the magnificent Olympic pool. The springboards stand empty andmournful. Its jai-alai courts are grass-grown and deserted. Two tennis courts only are kept up in the season.
Towards sunset on the Day of the Dead in November, 1939, two men in white flannels sat on the main terrace of the Casino drinking anis. They had been playing tennis, followed by billiards, and their racquets, rainproofed, screwed in their presses-the doctor's triangular, the other's quadrangular-lay on the parapet before them. As the processions winding from the cemetery down the hillside behind the hotel came closer the plangent sounds of their chanting were borne to the two men; they turned to watch the mourners, a little later to be visible only as the melancholy lights of their candles, circling among the distant, trussed cornstalks. Dr. Arturo Diaz Vigil pushed the bottle of Anis del Mono over to M. Jacques Laruelle, who now was leaning forward intently.
Slightly to the right and below them, below the gigantic red evening, whose reflection bled away in the deserted swimming pools scattered everywhere like so many mirages, lay the peace and sweetness of the town. It seemed peaceful enough from where they were sitting. Only if one listened intently, as M. Laruelle was doing now, could one distinguish a remote confused sound--distinct yet somehow inseparable from the minute murmuring, the tintinnabulation of the mourners-as of singing, rising and failing, and a steady trampiing-the bangs and cries of the fiesta that had been going on all day.
M. Laruelle poured himself another anis. He was drinking am's because it reminded him of absinthe. A deep flush had suffused his face, and his hand trembled slightly over the bottle, from whose label a florid demon brandished apitchfork at him.
"--I meant to persuade him to go away and get dealcoholise," Dr. Vigil was saying. He stumbled over the word in French and continued in English. "But I was so sick myself that day after the ball that I suffer, physical, really. That is very bad, for we doctors must comport ourselves like apostles. You remember, we played tennis that day too. Well, after I looked the Consul 'in his garden I sended a boy down to see if he would come for a few minutes and knock my door, I would appreciate it to him, if not, please write me a note, if drinking have not killed him already."
M. Laruelle smiled.
"But they have gone," the other went on, "and yes, I think to ask you too that day if you had looked him at his house."
"He was at my house when you telephoned, Arturo."
"Oh, I know, but we got so horrible drunkness that night before, so perfectamente borracho, that it seems to me, the Consul is as sick as I am." Dr. Vigil shook his head. "Sickness is not only in body, but in that part used to be call: soul. Poor your friend, he spend his money on earth in such continuous tragedies."
M. Laruelle finished his drink. He rose and went to the parapet; resting his hands one on each tennis racquet, he gazed down and around him: the abandoned jai-alai courts, their bastions covered with grass, the dead tennis courts, the fountain, quite near in the centre of the hotel avenue, where a cactus farmer had reined up his horse to drink. Two young Americans, a boy and a girl, had started a belated game of ping-pong on the verandah of the annex below. What had happened just a year ago to-day seemed already to belong in a different age. One would have thought the horrors of the presentwould have swallowed it up like a drop of water. It was not so. Though tragedy was in the process of becoming unreal and meaningless it seemed one was still permitted to remember the days when an individual life held some value and was not a mere misprint in a communique. He lit a cigarette. Far to his left, in the northeast, beyond the valley and the terraced foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental, the two volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Itaccihuatl, rose clear and magnificent into the sunset. Nearer, perhaps ten miles distant, and on a lower level than the main valley, he made out the village of Tomalin, nestling behind the jungle, from which rose a thin blue scarf of illegal smoke, someone burning wood for carbon. Before him, on the other side of the American highway, spread fields and groves, through which meandered a river, and the Alcpancingo road. The watchtower of a prison rose over a wood between the river and the road which lost itself further on where the purple hills of a Dore Paradise sloped away into the distance. Over in the town the fights of Quauhnahuac's one cinema, built on an incline and standing out sharply, suddenly came on, flickered off, came on again. "No se puede vivir sin amar," Mr. Laruelle said . "As that estupido inscribed on my house."
"Come, amigo, throw away your mind," Dr. Vigil said behind him.
"--But hombre, Yvonne came back! That's what I shall never understand. She came back to the man!" M. Laruelle returned to the table where he poured himself and drank a glass of Tehuacan mineral water. He said:
"Salud y pesetas."
"Y tiempo Para gastarlas," his friend returned thoughtfully.
M. Laruelle watched the doctor leaning back in the steamer chair,yawning, the handsome, impossibly handsome, dark, imperturbable Mexican face, the kind deep brown eyes, innocent too, like the eyes of those wistful beautiful Oaxaquenan children one saw in Tehuantepec (that ideal spot where the women did the work while the men bathed in the river all day), the slender small hands and delate wrists, upon the back of which it was almost a shock to see the sprinkling of coarse black hair. "I threw away my mind long ago, Arturo," he said in English, withdrawing his cigarette from his mouth with refined nervous fingers on which he was aware he wore too many rings. "What I find more--" M. Laruelle noted the cigarette was out and gave himself another anis.
"Con permiso." Dr. Vigil conjured a flaring lighter out of his...
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