Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The strange, sad, funny, and interesting life of Sir Edward James

(this is taken from a recent letter written to an ancient friend....perhaps it should be stated to a friend from our ancient times....who somewhat recently visited this place called Xilitla (hee LEE tlah)
   Edward James seemed to me to be a person who was only happy during those lengthy periods of depression and introspection that seemed to follow him closely during most of his life.  That psychological or emotional disposition is how I remember him seems to be around 1978.  It could have been either in Xilitla or at the venerable Hotel Valles, in Valles, San Luis Potosi, Mexico.    James would be dead in England about 6 years or so later.  He was 77, I believe, at the time of his demise.  When I took a group into the Hotel Valles in 1979, the staff told me that he had returned permanently to England.    In that land, his home, he was truly an aristocrat, in spite of his father being an American railroad magnate and  designer.  His mother, a titled Scotswoman, was an heir to a massive estate in England, by way of her grandfather.   It was, however assumed that she was the daughter of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward IV, as the result of a bit of a tryst as it was said in those times and in that strata.  It is said that his name stems from that.   It is also said, that because of the track to relationship to HRH Victoria and Prince Albert...that Edward James had Royal ancestry, although his title "Sir" came from his mother's Scottish side.
     When I would come across him, twice in Xilitla, and about four or five times in either Valles or Tamazunchale, and perhaps once in Aquismon and once in Tanquinhuitz de Gen. Pedro Santos, all places that were very close around to Xilitla, he would always be armed with his pet cotorro who delighted in biting the H lasting Hell out of anyone with a finger to spare.   Edward James always had the "layered look", with robes and raiment, about three deep of different textures....from almost gauze, to  flannel, to very fine goat hair serape-like a cross between a robe, a serape, and a poncho.   He always wore sandals as I recall.

Mexico Tamazunchale Hollingsworths Hotel San Antonio
This is a borrowed image of a postcard of the
 Hotel San Antonio in Tamazunchale,
 San Luis Potosi.
 Owned by an American couple,
 Episcopalians, and one of the most
 fantastic places in rural Latin
 America for all times,
   In 1962, the majority of people, 25 miles in
any direction, did not speak Spanish.
   The largest group of white people were not
 Spanish in origin, but French.
   Still, to this day, there are large swathes
of the Indian populace who do not speak
 any or very little  Spanish.
    The meals and ambience were ideal.
The Hollingsworths had another home,
 nearby on the tropical Tamesi River
in the same style as above.
  They would come to McAllen, every now
 and then attend Mass at Saint John's
 Church - Episcopal in McAllen.
   They w0uld buy things that were
 a little harder to come by in Mexico
in those days. 
He would talk in a friendly way, making inquiries concerning ones activities and health.   Conversations could be times all day affairs.
      But as one might answer, Edward might  look away and/or turn his attention to his parrot, his  given name does escape me at this time. Perhaps it was "Sir Winston".

   He spoke at length one time of the Hollingsworths and their Hotel San Antonio in Tamazunchale, where he said that he would frequently dine. He declared their staff as expert in the preparation of acamaya (the small river lobsters).   He did not like for the people in Xilitla to know that he actually ate meat because he made considerable noise about the need for humanity to return to its vegetarian antecedents.   He was something like the doctor who would advise his patients to stop smoking and then ask them for a light.
    One learned that he did not respond to anything about his activities in England, California, or his time in Mexico City and Cuernavaca.   Joaquin, the bartender at the patio bar of the Hotel Valles said that he would prepare nachos with "everything" including the excellent cecina (sheets of very thinly sliced prime beef) that Joaquin would cut into 1 inch squares to mount on the totopes (fried tortilla quarters), with queso blanco, guacamole, jalapen~o, onion, and a bit of over-ripe tomatoe.   This preparation was only when no one was in the Patio Bar area, once again because the nachos had meat, and a very fine meat at that.

The very elegant thatched roof
 restaurant of the Hotel Valles.
    Edward James always seemed wasted.   Gentle, patient, but really wasted.  Underneath his robes and trappings, he wore white captain's trousers, like one might see as part of a British or American (Canadian?) naval or coast guard officer.   He wore white socks with his sandals, and I never saw him wearing conventional shoes or boots....even during muddy or rainy events.  El Gringo Viejo is given to the wearing of white, Oxford-cloth, long sleeved shirts, a habit since high school, and Sir Edward also had that same habit, it seems.
     He had very fine flasks...larger than normal flasks....perhaps one-quart....but still smooth, slightly rounded, and apparently made of Taxco silver, and initialled by an excellent smith with a Gothic E and J.   Not showy but impressive.    In one he carried  tequila, in another rum from the  local distillery in Valles.   The tequila he drank with tonic water and lime, while the rum he would mix with bottled Coca Cola, and squeezings of fresh lime.   He would feed his parrot the nachos or anything else for which the bird might have had a hankering.   I never saw that the bird made a mess on his raiment, although the bird was ever present.  And, frankly, Sir Edward never seemed to be dirty or smelly although he would at times look almost as though he were a derelict.
This seems to be around 1968 or so.  Sir
Edward with the parrot thought to be
named,   "Sir Winston".  He had become
one of those parrots who would not only
speak...but who could actually carry on
a conversation.

     When asked, Sir Edward would say that he did not use alcohol because he had been an alcoholic.  It was part of his "mystique" and floating-cloud reality brought on by years and years of really hard living.  But, he would approach the outdoor bar, when Joaquin would be polishing the was a delightful, tropical...almost elegant setting...and deliver  his flasks at some point that would be nearing his departure. Both he and Joaquin wold try to be at least a little discreet in this operation.  He would point to this  flask and  say something and then to the other one. I'm sure he was identifying which was for the tequila and which was to be refilled with rum. El Gringo Viejo would keep a certain distance from Sir Edward when he would abruptly leave, while making no explanation.  It usually meant he was up to some personal hypocrisy that he felt that only he suffered, and that all others held no hypocrisies in their souls.
     He had a car and driver.   The driver was Plutarco Gastelum (gaz tah LUHM)  who said he was a Yaqui from Cuernavaca.   The problem, of course, is that Yaqui Indians are not found in abundance in the Cuernavaca area south of Mexico City.  They are native to the uplands of Sonora and western high mountains in western Chihuahua State's high, about 1,200 miles to the north of the Cuernavaca area.  Because of their incessant hostility, President Porfirio Diaz had them translocated in the 1880s from the bracing highlands in the north to the humid lowlands on the Yucatan Peninsula.  This was greater than the Cherokee Relocation action, and caused a lot of death and disease among the re-settled Yaquis (these are a sub-group of the greater Apache Nations).  It should be pointed out that some of the women of killed Yaqui warriors who fought the Mexican and American Armies at different times...up to and including the 1940s...would sometimes be removed from their homeland and sent to work as maids in the Pedregal or other rich sections of Mexico City.  And with the number of wealthy Mexicans and Gringo retirees in Cuernaca,and Taxco, even as early as the 1890s for the Gringos, it seems now, as I think about it, possible that Plutarco might have been Yaqui. 

     Locals around Xilitla, howver,  said that Plutarco Gastalum was from the Conca' and Jalpan area a few miles and a little further up in the mountains on the way to Queretaro from Xilitla.   Very pleasant places, a bit cool in the Winter.   These local folks said he was actually Nahua (remnants of the Aztec nation that, much reduced in numbers sought refuge in the mountains far to the northeast of what became Mexico City after the fall of Tenochtitlan to the Spanish, Otomi', and Tlaxclalan combined armies drove the Aztecs out of their impressive city and empire in 1523).   The Huastec did and still do outnumber the Nahuatl by 20 to 1.   It was said and may still be true that the Indians of the area around Xilitla and Tamazunchale cannot venture far before entering into another linquistic group....the old rule is about 20 miles. 
    This last time in Valles when I saw Edward James, he was neither being driven nor driving.  He was flagging down  the common bus to head back south to his Xilitla, with his parrot.   That bus would drop him off at the intersection from whence James would take a taxi up to his Castillo...semi-residence...semi-hotel....semi pleasant-nightmare.   The whole run from Valles probably totalling and hour and a half.
After your mention of having gone up to the place it has been rattling around in the front and back of my mind.   This picture that I found and herein attached is my remembrance of how he looked in those latter days.  The first time I saw him, he had very black the mid-1960s driving around with my brother, who was any accomplished and accredited archaeologist,  looking for archaeological sites.

Casa del ingles, Xilitla, S.L.P.
 An example of the many absurd
concrete statuaries (there are
200 more) found in Los Pozos,
about two miles from "El Castillo"
the home-hotel-studio  place in the
centre of Xilitla.
      We could load up the rest of this blog-entry with innumerable pictures and commentaries about Sir Edward and his Quixotic life in the Xilitla catchment area...a small but incredibly endowed natural area, with  aquiferine, forest, birds, butterflies, major mammals, and doggedly resistant to change exhibited by the local  cultural groups of the indigenous.  But, we would challenge the OROG to read up on his/her own.   Forward questions, of course, because I love to pontificate and say, "But on the other hand....''

     The hotel is still functioning, even in these days.  The town is still functioning, it will never die, in my estimation.  It would be worth any visit that would involve a minimum of  six days and five nights to do it in any reasonable way.  There are still Indian markets on certain days of the week, and there are Indians who still show up in native garb.  On those market days, for instance, it is a rare thing to hear Spanish spoken in the hum of conversation and the calling out to others during the markets.

When we learned that the communities in and around Xiltila, Aquismon, and Tamazunchale, numbering several hundred villages were safe because the Indians would take note of the cartel people, and the men would melt into the forest.   They knew that during the first or second night the cartel people would degenerate into a bunch of drunken slugs.   They also knew that they would insult the girls and women.   But then at one or two in the morning, when the cartel henchmen were passed out, well, the men would enter into the outlying places on the edges of the Indian's villages and take care of the situation.   Suffice to say that it is not a good idea to go to sleep in a drunken stupor after insulting an Indian's sister, especially when the Indian is traditionally remarkably deft with a sharp machete.  The Cartel people are fewer everywhere, but especially in the Xilitla catchment.

Edward James (c) and Gala Dali (l) and Salvador Dali (r)
Probably in Cuernavaca.  It is said that Sir Edward
might have danced at both ends of the ballroom, but it is known
that many women of the avant garde set....and aristocratic
women, wealthy women, literary women ...would fall for Edward
like a box of rocks.  He married once, had many "women friends"
many of whom were on The Registry, even Hollywood noteworthyettes
who hunted him down for maleness or money or genuine attraction.  But
he had his inner proclivities and devils.   Probably a genius.   The Indians
never levelled any charges against him so that he did not
offend them is certain.  He was the only white man, including
the rich white Mexicans from the big cities, to have bought and
 successfully owned terreno communitario of an
 indigenous group.  This is true because his permit would 
have had to emanate from the council
 of the Cacique, with unanimous assent.  They, in fact,
 officialised the sale before a notario publico,
 a form of real estate lawyer/official
 necessary in land transfers.  
[Edward James, Dalí y Gala, su esposa, 1942]
Un jardín puede estar en cualquier lugar, la vida está en todas partes, es el mismo aire, pero en esas 30 hectáreas encontramos paz, delirio, sensualidad, depresión, esquizofrenia; el letargo y la energía en cada piedra, en cada trozo de metal y concreto.
(translation - A garden can be en any old place, life is in all places, it is the same air, but in these 30 hactareas (75 acres) we find ourselves peace, delirium, sensuality, depression, schizophrenia, the lethargy, and the energia in and of each rock, en each slice of metal and slab of concrete.) 
   El Gringo Viejo has always been very respectful of the Indians there, male or female.   There is something about a well-armed populace that knows how to use its weapons.   But enough.   Please do your own research, and ask me questions about this place if you wish.  Some of what has been put into the blogosphere or the internet in general is a bit out of focus, let us say.  However I am not the final authority by any means about this place.  It is a magnificent place to visit.

We appreciate the continued interest shown by the Original OROGs and all newcomers.  All are welcome.  We remind that we prefer email to any other form of communication.  And we appreciate any comment, critique, or complement.
El Gringo Viejo