Tuesday, October 13, 2015

XL. Las Dos Galerías, Parte 1

The Two Galleries, Part 1

The shabby looking face of Galeria Axixic especially irritated my
fastidious spouse.
One of the distinguishing features of our departamento's (apartment’s) location here in downtown Ajijic is the two galerías directly across the street. They are the backdrop for the human stories we make up to entertain ourselves as we sit on our balcony sipping beverages—in the morning, coffee, and in the late afternoon, margaritas. When we first arrived in this village one of the galleries was clearly on the way up, and the other on the way down—way down—Galería La Mestiza and Galería Axixic, respectively.

The front wall of the former had been painted last winter with a sage and green geometric design around windows and doors, a devilish little chupacabra with its talons bared against a crimson background, and the huge face of a baleful-looking mestiza (half-breed woman) who, unfortunately is the first thing we see as we blink our eyes open to the AM sun. Investigation revealed that this galería had only opened last diciembre with an elaborate fête, but it was closed when we arrived here in May and we have seen no sign since of a re-opening…perhaps, we thought, that would happen in noviembre when the snowbirds return from their summer nests in Toronto, Vancouver, Denver and DC. 

The investigation I wrote of came about because we wanted a local place to hang out, and you can’t get much more local than right across the street. An open gallery would also be a rich mine of human traffic—more fodder for fertile imaginations fed by an insatiable itch to create sense of our surroundings. La Mestiza has a Facebook page that features a video of its opening last winter but no word on if/when it will reopen. But, considering what we had been seeing at Galería Axixic, Mestiza seemed by far our best shot.

We held out little hope for Axixic for several reasons: its scabby paint job, for one thing, and dangling wires. Trash on the sidewalk was often a problem. The plastic letters spelling its name were broken or missing, and a sign advertising its wares sun-faded. At least it was occasionally open in an unscheduled way—although no longer serving food as advertised—but rarely did anyone venture inside the darkness behind its doors.

The one employee (owner? who knew?) we ever saw was a shambling fellow who couldn’t sit still, kept stepping outside, looking up and down the street with a squint and frown, returning to the interior gloom for several minutes before repeating this drill. We dubbed him El Hombre Intranquilo—The Worried, Restless Man. And he was much less than welcoming to us. My few forays inside were met with indifference and the art I saw was uninspiring.

Within several weeks of our arrival we also identified The Artist who had a studio—and perhaps lived—above Galería Axixic. We could see a bucket of paint brushes through his door which opened to a cluttered and unkempt rooftop of dying plants, broken chairs and huge containers holding who-knows-what. At least he was friendlier than The Worried Man, and would return our greetings and wave to us as he hung his laundry. 

Several different Huichol Indian families—identified by their small stature, polished mahogany complexion and colorfully embroidered clothes—would occasionally camp out in the gallery, from there carrying their bundle of sale goods to and from tables set up in the plaza or malecón. That gave the place some cred, in our eyes, and we gradually gathered that The Artist was the moving force behind at least this activity. Meanwhile, El Hombre Intranquilo continued his obsessive vigil, customers few and far between.

Another month and we were able to recognize another pattern—a young fellow we dubbed The Handsome Man (El Guapo) also seemed to use the gallery as a staging point for forays to and from popular tourist spots around the village with a pack full of jewelry for sale. Then, in mid-summer, for a period of 2-3 weeks, a young greaser gringo with a pickup-sans-working muffler and a skinny, skanky-looking female companion—plus three ill-behaved children—began making multiple daily stops at Galería Axixic.  A lot of interminable parking, loud conversations, and incomprehensible (to us) commerce would always ensue. In our eyes, presence of this motley group, including El Guapo's participation, would mark the low spot of the gallery’s existence.

The sinister face of the eponymous mestiza stares at us each morning. It took
awhile for me to be able to ignore those baleful eyes and that skull necklace.
Over at Galería La Mestiza, meanwhile, we had figured out that the crabby woman we occasionally saw wielding a broom in the the carriageway actually lived somewhere in the warren of rooms we imagined were below the rooftop we could see extending back a hundred feet from the street—the rooftop where the cats gather to sun and preen. After about a month this woman was joined by her sister, Crabby Two, and between them they rivaled the eponymous Mestiza for bad energy—rarely a smile or friendly gesture to anyone that we could see. Nor did they ever seem to walk the barrio—just got in their shiny red Mazda and left periodically for what we assumed was the big city—Guadalajara—whence we had heard they came. We also were told they were the owners of this gallery. These were the people who had invited the music, art, food and lively scene pictured in the Mestiza video? It was hard to feature.

Back at Galería Axixic, The Worried Man continued his fretful vigil throughout most of the summer, but did nothing about the peeling paint, wires trailing over the entrance, or empty cups that had contained Coke or Corona and always seemed to find their way to Axixic’s window ledges. We would place bets on how long trash of this type would remain in place; ten days was about average. Sometime in the dog days, El Otro Guapo—The Other Handsome Man—came on the scene, and the Huichols gradually faded away, as did Greaser Gringo and Skinny Skank and her Skimpy Tank Tops (which, to be truthful, I really didn't mind). 

It wasn’t long before we noticed that El Otro Guapo had a girlfriend, whom we cleverly dubbed La Novia, The Girlfriend. The two of them exhibited an industry not previously noticed among Galería Axixic’s other denizens. Every morning they would take tables and packs from the gallery to the plaza where they would spend the day making and selling some fairly attractive jewelry. We liked this commitment as well as the good-natured affection they shared.

It was during this period, also, when we first noticed the occasional presence of unlikely looking gallery guests (read: men with shirt sleeves or jackets, women wearing dresses) gathered for a handful of sit-down confabs that would last for hours. Artist would always be there, often with both Guapos, but El Hombre Intranquilo was only lurking around the edge. We welcomed any activity, and this seemed somehow portentous. We imagined negotiations. Could the Galería Axixic be changing hands!? Was a renaissance its future?! Each of the half dozen or so meetings heightened our anticipation and hopes.

Mid-August, though, all such activity ground to a halt. A gathering of indigenous people from all over North America was taking place up in the mountains above our town. We had seen a poster announcing this event on the gallery’s door, and when the day arrived for preparation of the ceremonial site, all the Guapos, The Artist, even Worried Man, plus bewhiskered newcomers arriving with backpacks—all of them booked up in several scruffy vehicles and decamped for the hills. 

They were gone for ten days. No sign of life at their gallery. Next door, at La Mestiza—no change. We left town for a week at the end of the month, telling ourselves that upon return the promise we had predicted would be kept and an overhaul of Galería Axixic’s exterior—at least—would have begun. Wishful thinking.

To be continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment