Ghost Town

Odd that I would find myself back in Mexico. Rosarito hasn’t changed much. The same little shops are strung out along Avenida Benito Juarez: the locksmith, the leather repair shop, the apothecary filled with its exotic botanical cures, the tamale joint, the Comex paint store. The frail Indian woman in her long traditional dress and her oddly modern eye glasses still slumps on the sidewalk in front of the Banamex, selling chiclets from a box on her lap.

But now there are also ghosts almost everywhere I turn.

No street is more haunted than the one I’m currently staying on, Calle Mar Adriatico. This was the backstreet that led to the frequent happy hours at Pelicano’s, although not all the time spent there was necessarily happy. There was once a dog who slept on the sidewalk, on the same spot day and night in front of a locked gate on Mar Adriatico. This old, decrepit creature looked like a dog drawn up by committee. The head didn’t fit the body, his wall-eyes didn’t quite fit his head, and the fur was more like that of a Shetland pony than a dog. He was black with white paws so we called him “Botas” and each evening returning from Pelicano’s, Botas gratefully received our left-overs.

I recently learned that Botas had been owner-less and depended on the kindness of strangers to survive. I suspected as much. I also learned that Botas had long since died, so why is it now when I turn the corner onto Mar Adriatico,  I see him on the sidewalk in front of the locked gate? Or is that merely the shadow of the yellow bougainvillea under which he used to lie?

I could not bear to go to Pelicano’s now, especially alone, for there even I am a ghost, the ghost that would spike the overly sweet margaritas from a pocket flask, and where we would watch from the terraza the small herds of rental horses on the beach trotting back to their stables at sunset.

I long ago overcame the taboo of dining alone in restaurants, especially if the restaurant is al fresco and there is something to stare at other than my fellow diners. I dined alone last night in a seafood place called Vince’s, at an outdoor table on a second story deck. I was watching a woman across the street scurrying to catch a bus when I was approached by a man with an accordion offering a song for a fee. “Estoy solo!” I told him with a smile. He shrugged and began to walk away, but then turned back for a quick glance. I think he recognized me. I think he remembered me from a time when I was not always “solo”.

But I will not go alone again to Pelicano’s, especially at sunset when the horses are on the beach.

There is also a French restaurant called Bistro Le Cousteau, on Benito Juarez not far from here. It is owned by a burly Frenchman name Phillipe who can often be seen at night standing in front of his restaurant chain smoking and looking worried. Philippe had been a chef in Paris and in Mexico City and always greeted a familiar customer with a bear hug.

The restaurant itself serves up a reasonable Cesar’s Salad and a pretty good wood-fired pizza. The tables are usually filled in the evenings by couples: wives and husbands, but also lovers, talking softly. It is lit by jade lanterns and warmed by the open hearth oven. Philippe does not charge a corkage fee if you bring in your own bottle of wine, let’s say a nice sauvignon blanc from the Guadalupe Valley.

I will not go alone again to Cousteau’s, especially in the evening when the candles are lit.

And I will not go alone to the little Mercado Del Mar, south of town on the free road toward Popotla. I will not search for a new mezcal or squeeze a lime or sniff the fresh guayaba. For if I were to do so, I might embarrass myself by suddenly turning in the direction of her  voice and her  smile that is not really there.

Today I took a walk along the beach, in the direction of the red and white striped smoke stacks of the power plant north of town. We had taken this walk many times, sometimes stopping on the way for a Pacifico and a shrimp quesadilla at a joint called Tacos and Beer. Often, I would run ahead a few hundred yards then circle back, squinting into the sun in search of that luminous hair, that familiar silhouette,  like navigating by a star. Turning back toward the sun today, I thought for a moment that I saw that silhouette again. But, of course, I was mistaken. Perhaps there was something in my eyes distorting the view.

Close by here is a condominium tower called The Riviera. I lived there once. And as I write this now in the gloaming of nightfall, the color of the sea changing from blue to translucent silver, I can hear music playing on the stereo from the apartment on the tenth floor. Is it Chet Baker? Is it Gordon Lightfoot?

The room on the tenth floor where the music is coming from is lit by candle, and there, across the tiled floor, two ghosts dance in close embrace, one of us unwilling or unable to let go.