Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mexico: Juárez: First Date: Kentucky Club

The Kentucky Club, Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. November 2016.

It has become my custom to seek cultural interpretations from authors whose writing has a sense of the place where I live.

In South Louisiana, these writers were James Lee Burke and Ernest J. Gaines.

For El Paso, I identified a long list of literary cultural guides. I've started with Benjamin Alire Saenz.

The very first book of Mr. Saenz's that I read was a collection of stories called Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club

The Kentucky Club, Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. November 2016.

I read the first story, He Has Gone to be With the Women, while I reclined on my "couch," which is also my bed, in my studio-plus apartment.

All of a sudden, I gasped, then sat up straighter against the headboard. Wha?

Below is the passage I read, and I include some delicious wrap-around to the cause of my gasp because it is also so rich with cultural illumination in the short exchange. A bit of background: The story protagonist, Juan Carlos, has just met the story's other principal at the Kentucky Club. They are introducing themselves.
We found ourselves sitting outside. The morning was cold. The wind was back, the wind that was in love with El Paso, the wind that refused to leave us to enjoy the sun.  .... 

"Juan Carlos."
"Juan Carlos," he repeated "Where do you live?"
"Sunset Heights."

[And here is when I gaped - thinking, "that's where I live!!!!"]

He tapped his paper cup. "Interesting neighborhood." 
.... "It's a beautiful place," he said.
"It was built in 1900."
"Ten years before the Revolution."
"More than a hundred years ago."
"And here we are. One real Mexican and one Mexican who's American.""My grandfather was born here," I said."My grandfather was born in Israel," he said. 
"So I'm more Mexican than you are."
.... "Do you like to fight?" [he asked.]
"No, I don't like to fight," [I said.]
"Certainly you are not a Mexican," he said.

In The Art of Translation, another story of the book's collection, the protagonist and a woman walk over to the Kentucky Club from El Paso, via the same route I took in my first foray:
She held my hand as we walked over the Santa Fe Bridge. I found myself sitting at a booth in the Kentucky Club. It was strange. I should have felt drunker than I felt. She asked me questions. I answered them and I smiled to myself because I knew the answers weren't true. Men lied to women all the time. Normal

When I read the book, I kind of wondered if the Kentucky Club was a real or an imagined locale of Mr. Saenz's.

Not long after I finished the book, my landlords had a man come to ready my room's radiator for the coming winter. Somehow I learned that he lived in Juárez, and I asked him if there was a Kentucky Club there.

Not only was there a Kentucky Club, but he used to live in one of the rooms above the club many years ago! He told me that back in the day, women weren't allowed in the club, and that along the foot of the bar was a trough in which men would pee so they wouldn't have to leave their spots at the bar. Eucalyptus leaves were placed in the trough to dampen the odor, and as I think about it, probably to squelch some of the splashing that would likely occur. This story sounded apocryphal but he swore it was true. (But then see Mr. Saenz's story excerpt above.)

Of course, it became a destination goal to visit the Kentucky Club if for no other reason but to see this trough with my very own eyes. Because I'm lowbrow like that.


The Kentucky Club, Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. November 2016.

The Kentucky Club, Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. November 2016.

So on my first date with Juárez, I visited the Kentucky Club. I sat at the bar. Placed my lady foot atop the trough. Asked the bartender about the trough; he confirmed the story. (But again, see the story excerpt above.)

By the time I went to Juárez, I'd learned that the Kentucky Club was actually damn famous. For one, it (allegedly) invented the margarita. Therefore, that's what I ordered when I visited.

The Kentucky Club, Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. November 2016.

Thousands of El Pasoan adolescents also patronized the Kentucky Club in decades past, as Mexican drinking laws were much more lax and what the hey, the club was so close to home for El Pasoans.

Cultural luminaries from both sides of the border visited the Kentucky Club.

But it's not all margaritas and sunshine at the Kentucky Club - the place got into trouble recently for discrimination.

No comments: