February 14, 2016
“He didn’t feel well. He went to the hospital. He died.” That’s the information Selena gave me when Alberto passed away four years ago. How people can know so little, or if they know more, never tell, defines Oaxaca’s medical fabric. He went. He died.
I encounter Sele now and again on the sidewalk, usually passing the building where she and Alberto operated their Italian restaurant. Alberto imported from his family in Italy sauces, olives and pastas; in its day, the restaurant offered one of the few authentic foreign meals. The building which housed it is an old colonial stone structure. Massive stone cornices support windows on external street walls, the kind where if you pass with your eyes on the broken sidewalk – as I always do, to avoid tripping and breaking bones – inevitably you’ll crack your head on a carved granite corner. Inside, building stone paves the floor; a round fountain with no water weighs down its center. The bathrooms, across the patio from the eating areas, although with flush toilets, were primitive by tourist standards. We weren’t tourists, George and I, this was back in 2006. After being expelled from the library and Welte buildings for our OSAG meetings, we convened in the restaurant of Alberto and Sele. Alberto offered the space knowing full well nobody would buy much to eat or drink.
That was where we met Brad Will, the first and last time. He wanted to know where the action was. He found it in Santa Lucia. There he was murdered, but what about Alberto? Murdered years later by ongoing medical corruption?
Each time I met up with Sele she looked haggard. She lost too much weight for a woman scarcely sixty, and her hair, once maintained and healthy brown, turned dry and gray. Her expression of grief enveloped us like fog; although I could embrace her and invite her to come and visit, not much more occurred to me. We would part and she always seemed to weep as she walked away.
Yesterday I once again met Selena passing on Porfirio Diaz, across from the old restaurant location, now a disco next to the bank. Sele greeted me with a smile. He face had filled out a bit, her eyes were tranquil. She smiled. What happened? Ah, she told me, about ten days ago Alberto’s mother in Italy passed away. Sele turned her eyes upward to the sky, a pleasant sunny blue although cool air sailed past, to salute them. I feel much better, she told me, because Alberto’s mother is with him in heaven. He’s not so lonely now.
I don’t know how well Selena knew her mother-in-law, but she exclaimed: I would be happy to die and join them!
Then I changed the subject, to my favorite. Yes, replies Sele, of course Mexico hangs on the brink. I offered the option of a national strike, like the Indians carried out with Gandhi. She smiled. The idea appeals. I remarked, In two weeks of nobody arriving to clean his office any government official will settle. But that’s not good enough. Mexico needs more than demands. The disintegration has gone too far. If neoliberalism collapses, if the peso cannot recuperate, if if if. The pope came to visit. Alberto and his mother looking down from heaven can take a moment off from bliss to observe what good it does.