Nicaragua Night Hotel

The man who guards the front door sings to himself as he guards the front door. There’s one huge roof over the squat hotel, hovering over the rooms on columns. The rooms are a set of cement walls and a few flimsy doors.

Most of the guests try to bathe before trying to sleep through the slow tropic heat, and the showers have elaborate tiles which are old enough to be covered in something that looks like rust. Only near the door are the tiles smooth and bright, worn by feet into a thin trail. There are cement washtubs built into the corner of both small shower rooms. The guests never used to bathe with running water. Above, a single fluorescent tube is screwed into one of the vigas, the spiderwebs around it have become so clogged with dust that they have become the ceiling.

At night there are only the sounds. Men murmur to their lovers, water falls from a plastic pipe in the shower, the singing man guards the front door from a rocking chair. He will stand naked in the shower at dawn.

Then it starts to rain like teenagers throwing fistfuls of water against the fired-earth tiles of the roof. The drips start through the spiderwebs. Empty rocking chairs nod with the wind coming off the lake, which is running down the empty streets, looking for open doorways. If the guests were to take showers now, they’d run across the patio, trying to avoid the rain. They run their fans all night long, for the mosquitoes. For the sound.

A dog is echoing somewhere outside. Most of the guests are old. They’re asleep now, or laying awake waiting for drips, listening to the fans.

The man in the rocking chair also whistles. His tongue is a cello bow drawn across a bending handsaw. The flimsy doors are closed. Snoring harmonizes with the rain that harmonizes with the fans. The dog must be stuck on a roof somewhere.

The curtains are thin. The sheets are thinner. And the man who whistles a handsaw is the thinnest of all.

La Arquidiócesis

La Antigua, Guatemala, C.A.

Querido Adán,

I had to stop in for an americano after the experiencia that I've just had, and for that same experience it occurs to me that I should write you. It's true that there is a lot of tourism here in La Antigua, Guatemala, so much that a friend calls it "disneylandía." But the overall effect of wandering, sunburned foreigners, hostels and internet cafés is but a veneer––similar to the veneer of gringo culture that I've described as covering the southwest U.S. There are murmurings here in the still-rough streets. There is blood in the adobe of the collapsed churches. These are things that globalization can't touch. Sure, they gutted a colonial building and installed a puto McDonald's inside, leaving only the historic façade. In the end, it will matter little. Globalization's supposed danger is also its weakness––it is quick to spread, but stays shallow. Even as free trade agreements seek to change the course of Guatemala's history, they can do little against a volcano.

I'm thinking of the ephemeral nature of human civilization today, Adán. The experience that I mentioned at the opening of this letter has given me a good shake-up. Centroamérica is land of earthquakes and volcanoes, hence the shake-up. This city in particular has been hit so many times by earthquakes that the government decided to call it quits in the 18th century: they up and moved the capital to more stable ground, to what is now la Ciudad de Guatemala. Hence, this city became the "Antigua" Guatemala." Until the time of independence, it was nearly completely forgotten and abandoned.

Which, again, is a long intro (I'm one for long intros, no?) to the experience at hand: wandering the ruins of La Arquidiócesis de Guatemala, a giant cathedral ravaged by earthquakes. Soaring cupolas with their middles fallen out: standing below them and staring straight up, they form a decaying picture frame around the shifting clouds rolling off the volcano. The centers of arches have fallen to the ground, laying giant where pews once were, where exotic weeds now are. This is the leftovers of human civilization, immediately making it clear that nothing we do is permanent in the sense that we hope it will be.

The whole scene gets more complex when I start to think about what we were talking about in front of El Palacio de Cortéz that day in Cuernavaca: that nearly all churches in Hispanic America are built on indigenous holy sites and are constructed of the rocks of dismantled temples. Ritual remix in conquest, I think we called it. In the case of the Arquidiócesis, there are steps near the front of the main chamber which lead down into a smoke-filled crypt. Nine steps, somehow relating to the Mayan view of the underworld and its relation to the world of men. Candles are still kept burning here, hence the thick smoke that scarcely allows one to make out the dimensions of the chamber.

And who, querido Adán, has been buried here? Noneother than Pedro de Alverado, el conquistador de Centroamérica. Also his wife, killed a few years after him by torrential flooding. Still more impressive to my artsy-fartsy sensibilities is that Bernal Díaz del Castillo is also buried here. He was an early 17th century author that gave us what is the first approximately "peoples' history" of the Americas. He broke with the official line with "La Verdadera Historia de la Conquista de las Américas," which is a first person account written in response to the other histories which primarily concern themselves with glorifying Cortéz. Sometime-professors like me still use "La Verdadera Historia" in trying to teach the history of this continent. Fucking epic to be standing over his bones, carnal.

I then stood in another chamber of the crypt and––taking advantage of a burned-out lightbulb––I studied echoes and reverb for a time. Those rooms go beyond echo and let linger a solid tone, man. I've never heard anything like it.

Then I left and got a Happy Meal, which I ordered by shouting English at the Mayan descendant working the register.

Te mando un abrazo,

logan