As my August 31 birthday approaches I become morose. It has always been a sad day as birthdays always meant large birthday cakes that I loathed and many children coming to our Buenos Aires garden with the prospect that all would have to go into the house (and break all my toys) as August 30, 31 meant rain. August 30 is the day of Santa Rosa de Lima and on her day it always rained. The storm was called la tormenta de Santa Rosa.
Today I am even sadder. Naguib Mahfouz, a friend I never met died yesterday. I first discovered Mahfouz in the desk drawer of the chief of the judicial police of Acapulco. In 1989 I spent a week with the chief, Felipe Ferrer Junco. He had been my neighbour in 1973 in Mexico City. His wife was the bodyguard to the wife of the president of Mexico and Felipe was a lawyer. Somehow by 1989 Marcela Ferrer Junco had retired the gun in her purse and Felipe was now dealing with scary crime in Acapulco. I can attest to the fact that it was scary.
On my first day Felipe told me, “I know that you are writing about me for Vancouver Magazine and I will give you access to everything I do here. You can photograph anything. But please remember, when you write this, that my job could be on the line.” Felipe was true to his word and I saw everything from the creative use of Salsa Búfalo (a very hot sauce) mixed with soda water that could make any alleged criminal sing on the spot if the concoction were to go up his nose to the setting up and the “doing away” of a man (with a 22 revolver) who had killed one of Felipe’s men.
My biggest surprise was finding Naguib Mahfouz’s book in that desk drawer next to a grease gun and the State of Guerrero Penal Code. It was an odd revelation to read about the heat of Egypt at night in the heat of Acapulco while spending time with my urbane and mostly gentle chief of police.
It was Felipe who on August 31, 1974 (before I moved to Vancouver in 1975) who took me to a house of prostitution in Veracruz for a drink. “You need to see one of these before you move to clean and respected Canada, “he told me with a smile. I watched a very young and beautiful woman dancing very closely with a man who looked of ill repute. Felipe whispered in my ear, “Don’t even look in that direction, he is the chief of police here.”
As for Felipe’s fondness for Naguib Mahfouz’s books it could be partly explained by his Arab “connection”. “You know,” he would tell me often, “I am the spitting image of Muammar al-Quaddafi.”
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.