Passport to the Future

24 09 2007

Manu Chao

by Derek Beres

June 2001. I’m lying on a thin cot propped up on a wooden plank that’s trying to pretend to be a mattress. A gentle summer air blowing across the ocean creates a splendid, starlit night, but inside my cabana, where no breeze enters, I am but a tourist disguised as an experiment in high-pressure cooking. A single sheet covers my entire body, my only armament against fist-sized mosquitoes that have entered where the breeze cannot. The sweat dripping from my skin is their version of tangy dressing. Their daggers puncture my flesh through this humble and laughable line of defense.

Perhaps it is my own fault, believing I deserved more for eight dollars a night. Tulum is a sanctuary of stone and sea, and I wondered how the skeletons in those gorgeous ruins once dealt with these pesky invaders when they were but scaffolding for flesh. Outside the thing trying to be a window in my hut, dozens of people are congregated, loudly, at the bar, the one where I tried to drown the misery of Montezuma’s Revenge with two shots of Sacrificia de Maya. As the waitress set fire to this blend of Kahlua, Anise and Tequila, I sucked the burning liquid through a straw, wondering what form of sacrifice it would demand of my intestinal system.

Like all journeys through the inferno, there must be a reward. Mine was a unique sound rising above the drunken tourists on tinny club speakers. At first it sounded like circus music; a repetitive, high-pitched single chord strummed from a guitar, over and over and over, above someone that seemed to be singing about being a king of bongs. That noise—and I was waiting for a ghoulish clown to break down the cheap plank that was pretending to be a door – reverberated endlessly, for hours, as I pretended to sober up from my drunken stupor. Ironically, it soothed, rather than maddened, me. That was my introduction to Manu Chao.

To read full column on PopMatters, click here.

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