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Itzel I

A Tlatelolco Awakening
edition:Paperback
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Itzel was an Auschwitz survivor. That is how I will always start. Whether I am in Oaxaca eating grasshoppers or in Cacaxtla drinking pulque, or just surveying one or the other city or even Puerto Escondido on Google Earth, that is how I will begin: Itzel was an Auschwitz survivor. Over and over. Thinking one day I will do it: write that story. Get it down. Until it will once more make me go to Mexico to try to retrace our route--our many routes--and become a refrain: Itzel was an Auschwitz survivor. And yet not a single word will be written.Even if I have already let the fiction begin in my mind. Already changed her name. Even if I know it would have satisfied her, the real her, when I let her speak it. Laugh at how it seems so strange that an Auschwitz survivor should bear the name of a Maya goddess. But of course such a name would already have to appear strange to me, the me who will be the author, because she was so very blonde. As I suppose the Auschwitz survivor part will too, almost devolving into one of the New York jokes of my Brooklyn childhood, always a punch line for something: Funny, you don't look Jewish. Except that there is nothing funny about it. Which may be the reason, now, in front of my keyboard with Google Earth in another window, I will decide at last to write it this way: that it can be written this way. As this impossible hybrid. Because I want you to know this: everything I say here about the camps was said to me. That part was real.And so was she. This woman so very briefly my best friend. The first person to befriend me in Mexico, or whom I will befriend. And betray so badly. I still think that. Even if most might think from a superficial look at the circumstances that it was the other way around. So that a great deal more of all this is true too, certainly the part of Mexico I will be there for, in the making of its history, even the exact minute of the green flare falling from the army helicopter to begin the massacre at 6:10 in the afternoon of October 2nd, 1968. When I will see Itzel begin to run. True as something of fiction always is. Though you can work out what yourself in the storyline, with its names changed to protect innocent or guilty, the details recombined mostly, only occasionally imagined. The way I will often do, in my head if not on the page: just to let me find the moral centre of my tale. But the specifics, the historical specifics: I will vouch for them.I will start to use that line early on: Itzel was an Auschwitz survivor. Even if I will use her real name then. And change it only when on Cozumel one year I will be reading so much about the Maya goddess whose shrine stands at the island's centre that it will become a way into the story, one that preserves the rhythm of the original as well as its unusual features, not like Vera or Elena or other names I'd thought of that can be easily pronounced in Spanish as well as English, when always I would like her own far too much before finding that one: the Maya goddess of medicine and midwifery, which will finally birth my tale, and be a gift not just to the goddess but to her, what with that sound, that 'ts' sound contained in that 'tz' so common in her own Hungarian and in the indigenous languages of Mexico, still intact. Eetsell: She would love it.As perhaps she did. Which is what will let me see it as the name she'll take when she joins the underground cell with us, I will hear her laughter in it and that will jog my memory because Cozumel's shrine to Ix Chel--another version of Itzel most say, though controversy surrounds that too--will once more bring her and her code name to mind, how in her own way she will be midwife to us all. Because she will join the group with us. That too, is true. So that Itzel, that central voiceless hissing whisper in it, can seem both assertion and subterfuge, and so come to mirror her most salient characteristic. And I will keep it singular, one characteristic: assertion and subterfuge. Because one will never be present without the other. It will be easy to use that line to try to frame her. To put her in the frame. Better said a frame. Like a portrait. The better to see her. That's what I will tell myself at the start. Though I do like that other phrase: put her in the frame. That British police procedural phrase. Even if the American use of frame might work better. That I am trying to set her up. It is easy enough to think that in trying to get a grip on her I might be trying to trap her inside some sort of misdemeanour if not felony which I have come to think her guilty of. Or that Basta might, just to get out of the picture himself. To leave us to it. Because there is a third character here. Of course there is. There has to be. The third point of the triangle. Or the outsider. Or both. The one who arrives late into town or mind. Or perhaps someone else will play at least one of those roles. I'll leave it to you.And besides, we will meet at art school, Itzel and I. And that's part of what we'll be learning to do. Compose the design within its limits: its frame. And we will paint each other.

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