Of Volcanoes, Mezcal, and the Beauty of Malcolm Lowry

10 Apr

“Try persuading the world not to cut its throat for half a decade or more…and it’ll begin to dawn on you that even your behavior’s part of its plan.”

It’s as usual that I come to brilliant works of art late. But I’ve acclimated myself to that idea. You see, it’s better to encounter such things like Picasso’s Guernica or Mahler’s Symphony Number 5 later in one’s life than the opposite. The gravity of these gemstones, as one comes upon them in one’s later years, seems to push down a tiny bit harder, thus leaving–I think–a more distinguishable footprint in the squishy grey matter.

The line quoted that starts this post is from Malcolm Lowry’s brilliant novel Under the Volcano. As with the aforementioned two, I have come to find this pearl in the road at a later stage of my walkabout. I am grateful for my own self-imposed pace, mind you. I don’t feel time is running out at all. What’s that that’s often said…so many [insert name of some thing here] so little time. Is that it? Well then, who cares. Your time’s up anytime, so might as well not care about all that gets overlooked. A slow pace is important for proper imbuing; trophies, even the intellectual kind, aren’t.

I am mesmerized by Lowry’s novel. No, I haven’t (yet) seen John Huston’s film version with Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset from 1984; I do intend on screening it soon–although as brilliant as Huston’s films and his own vision of his beloved Mexico are, he cannot (and does not, according to trusted sources) encompass cinematically what Lowry created over the span of a decade’s worth of work. (He wrote and re-wrote the novel over the course of 10 years while living in Vancouver, B.C.)

There is a heavy blanket of profundity weighing down the reader and uplifting him at the same time, if that can be possible. And it is. There is beautiful language and there are numerous moments of humour throughout the novel that anchor you back to Sophocles’s epigraph from Antigone: “the wonders of man,” which opens chapter 1.

All this to say I’ve discovered mezcal in all its glorious smokiness. God bless Oaxaca, Durango, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas, where this beautiful gold nectar is made. And may God bless the agave espadin plant. (Later I shall devour the worm that so patiently waits at the bottom of the bottle.) It is getting on with spring in these parts of the world, which means tremendously hot temperatures and oppressive humidity are not far down the road. I shall think mezcal will make a fine companion to the broiling cavalry that rolls through from late June to October in these parts.

Naturally, this shall burn an even larger hole in my wallet. One larger than, perhaps, the mouth of Popocatepetl. You know, compounded over a number of decades, as it were.

Here’s a parting shot of truth from the novel; one that hits much more effectively than a fifth of mezcal on an empty stomach:

“Now you see what kind of creatures we are, Hugh. Eating things alive. That’s what we do. How can you have much respect for mankind, or any belief in the social struggle?”


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