Borrowing from one of the books I’ve been reading lately (though not in the order presented), I would say that purgatory would best describe how it was getting to the small town of San Pancho, in Mexico; that being there was paradise, and that coming back was hell.
Flying is such an ordeal these days that your destination damn well better be paradisiacal in order to justify the great annoyances you’ve got to undergo.
The house we rented, high up on a hill, with verandas looking out onto the Pacific, was even more beautiful than we’d expected — the photos, contrary to what is usually the case, did not do it justice.
It was largely a week of idleness for me (about all I can take, especially at this time of my life when it’s absolutely imperative that I keep moving), and therefore I had to admit it was true that, as Mary said on our return, I was not entirely myself down there.
The sky, for one, was bigger, I told her, far, far more vast than here, where it’s comforting to be embraced by the trees. Two, the waves were too big and the undertow too strong for my titanium knees, three, there wasn’t an available tennis court (a further selling point, some of you would undoubtedly say), and four, Junot Diaz, who wrote the book I read while there, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” alternating between the English and Spanish versions, communicated the fear that pervaded the Dominican Republic during Trujillo’s dictatorship so vividly that no number of margaritas, which usually further loosen my customarily garrulous tongue, would wash it away.
He says at one point, following the brutal beating and probable repeated raping of Beli, the woman who was to become Oscar’s mother, “All that can be said is that it was the end of language, the end of hope.”
Which, of course, got me to thinking of how easy we have it in this abundantly wealthy country, for all its faults. How lucky we are to be able to say what we want — and in full cry if we please — and for us there is always (isn’t there?) hope.
It is a true and beautiful — and sad and funny and torturous and tragic — book, one I think I may never forget. So, I take it back: I was not entirely idle in San Pancho, and the people — there are about 2,000 of them — were amiable, especially our house’s caretaker, Franco, who told me the day we left, his eyes watering, that that night he would cook for a man, a Canadian vacationer of my age to whom he’d introduced me the day before, what might be his last meal in the town he loved to come to.
I wore no watch there, I had trouble remembering what day it was, and I liked it that I felt impelled to speak Spanish. (The margaritas, of course, always help in that regard.)
But Mary was right. Driving down Three Mile Harbor Road toward the office six-and-a-half hours after we’d returned (I’ll not go into the hellishness of it), I heard myself cry out, “Let the games begin!”