Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Puerto Vallarta, 16 January 1954

We lived in Puerto Vallarta for about a year. I was four. Murray's report may be a journal entry rather than a letter as there is no salutation. Rosa took the pictures

It is sunset. The wind, which has been strong and troublesome through the day, has died down. I can hear the waves breaking on the bar at the mouth of the thin river but they are washing in, not charging ashore with the deep growl which marks the storm-driven waves.


A lobster feed at the harbor
Looking out the window I can see, over a clump of palms down by the shore, the triangular sail of a fishing boat, coming slowly back. These boats are about 25 or 30 feet long and are usually manned by three fishermen. On the outward journey two row and one uses a paddle as a tiller. Mornings they go south, pausing off the mouth of the river to fish, then going out into the wide bay to fish deep. The evening wind helps them to come back. Tonight I can see only one boat. Perhaps the strong winds of the earlier hours kept the others at home, though it was hardly stormy enough for that.


The sunset is a strong pastel, not as vivid as the good ones at home but delicate and languid. Below the window an old woman is sweeping the steep cobblestoned street which slants down the hill past the house, breaking, a few yards away, into a series of wide, downward sloping steps which must form the basis of a waterfall in the summer rainy season. The sound of her broom is harsh. Somewhere a burro is protesting. A radio in the wood-walled, tile-roofed shack across the street is playing popular Mexican music. All male Mexican singers sound exactly alike on the radio; you almost never hear a woman vocalist. I don’t know why.


The best singing we have heard here has been that of the amateurs. One night walking along the Malecón—the broad, waterfront promenade stretching from the Hotel Rosita to the Hotel Paraiso, we heard a strong voice coming from a second story window. I thought it was an old record of Caruso. When the song ended the people we were with applauded. A man stood up, waved a glass at us in an upward gesture, and, pointing at the outline of a figure on a hammock, said “Mario Lanza.” He certainly wasn’t Lanza but also he wasn’t bad.


And on our first night in the house we were awakened at four ayem by a blare of music under our window. My first thought was that I had left a radio on somehow. (This is absurd: we still don’t have the electricity hooked up to the house[…]) I next that one of our friends from the hotel had arranged a practical joke. The music went on for half an hour: a band of four or five pieces and a singer with a pleasant, versatile voice. Later we learned that they were serenading the nubile daughter of our next-door neighbor; four ayem is the customary hour for these concerts and we were assured they would not be infrequent. I look forward to the next one. 


The family next door promises to be one of the delights. A big family in a big house. The mother is big and animated; the father is big and slow; and the children big and numerous: three girls and six boys. They are also big-hearted. The boys have solved some of the problems with our Coleman stove; the mother has showed up with an old-fashioned wick which makes the two-burner kerosene stove that came with the house burn instead of smolder. She loaned us boiled water when we ran out. This afternoon she asked Rosa if she wouldn’t like a “refresco” and when Rosa went down to their patio handed her a huge pitcher of water with papaya and some other fruit cut up in it: cool and wonderful. Rosa brought the picture to the house and we nearly finished it, only later realizing that she was just passing the pitcher for Rosa to have a glass. Rosa went down to apologize and was assured that the Señora remains “always at your orders.” Later, without orders, she showed up with a papaya for Lane and a quarter of a cake and the stove wicks. She’s going to help us get a charcoal burner and the boys are hunting for a wick for the Coleman lantern. All this in the easiest sort of way without the hint of show-off generosity. And we don’t even know their names. 


Lane has been quite sick. She got sick Thursday afternoon, vomiting at the beach. I thought she had just swallowed some salt water, and though we did not go back in swimming I took her for quite a walk along the beach, looking on the rocks for limpets. We’ve made up a song about Sally the Limpet (“Sally the Limpet was spawned in the sea; in a manner not so different from you and me. The waves carried Sally to and fro; she went wherever they wanted her to go…and so on.”) At dinner though, on one of the little hotels off the Malecón, she vomited again, and I took her home. She was terribly sick all night, vomiting almost steadily, wailing afterwards and then napping off, momentarily, in the post-bilious calm but waking shortly, sick. Rosa was off in Guadalajara, picking up some of our baggage and doing some shopping, and I spent the longest, most worried night of my life. Early the next morning—Friday—I went down and found a doctor and got him to promise to climb the hill to our house. Rosa arrived before he did (a day early) and when the doctor came we stood wanly around through his examination, fumbling our Spanish even more than usual and feeling nearly as miserable as Lane. How sick a heavy tan can make someone look: clay gray. It’s apparently something she ate. Today her fever is gone and while she is not over it, she is apparently getting over it. Great relief. I’ll be a long time forgetting the lonesomeness of that first night, wondering (as I still do) where and when she had eaten the wrong food or taken the wrong water, wondering if we should have come. 

Me

The doctor I found is a pleasant young graduate of the University of Mexico. His name is Mañuel Baumgarten Jova, and he looks like an athletic Oscar Levant. He has considerable reserve. I suspect he doesn’t like Americans in general, though I have no grounds on which to base the assumption. When I asked if he was native to the town he said yes; I remarked that the town was beautiful, he said nothing at all, just looked pained. Whether this was an intelligent man’s awareness of his home town’s limitations, or whether it was inspired by the fact that the town is changing under the impact of the Yankee invasion is hard to tell.


One change is unfortunate, certainly. A few of the children are beginning to ask tourists for money. I’ve been approached three times now, twice by the same boy. …


Actually there seems little need to beg here. The land is bountiful and the sea generous beyond belief. I went out fishing with a small party the other day and with questionable equipment and no skill we boated three huge torros, a gallo, a bonita, an albacore and nine sierras in about four hours. One man at the Rosita took 53 sierras and ten larger fish in four hours one morning. Another caught 21 torros and had a heart attack. …

"The Price of Violence Within Ourselves"




As I get back to these archives after some months off, I'm doing a bit of time travel. This is an essay Murray read on his broadcast and then published in Argus Magazine after President Kennedy's assassination. I read part of it when we dedicated the Murray and Rosa Morgan room at the Tacoma Public Library last September 11. It seemed appropriate to the day and to our times.