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La Cucaracha

MEXICO | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [1123] | Scholarship Entry

The cantina is La Cucaracha. The Cockroach. A cockroach—enormous, plastic, hangs off a faded ivory wall. The rest of the walls? Portraits of skulls and naked women.
Our host makes introductions. The man with a black fedora? Allen Ginsberg. The bearded man beside him? William Burroughs. Jack Kerouac is in the red sweater. “You know,” our host says, “On the Road?”
We get facts. The Beat movement came off the “coattails of the black jazz musicians in New York.” Diane di Prima, sitting slinky nearby, gives a husky, “Oh yeah.” La Cucaracha, open since 1947 in San Miguel del Allende, Mexico, embraced the wandering Beat writers. The cantina was already a hot spot for expatriates, for WWII vets, for locals, for gay men. It was the kind of place where men handed the bartender their paychecks to pick up their tabs.
The bartender, making the strongest margaritas of our lives, says his father worked here. He was too busy mixing drinks to remember all the big names, but he does remember that one writer…
“Neal Cassidy!” someone shouts. A tall man wearing black stands up to applause. Cassidy tells us he’s “shut down this fucking bar more times then anybody.”
We’ve been invited to take our imaginations back. We sit on the sagging sofas, legs tucked under us, tipsy off of mescal. We’re poets and playwrights and novelists, here for the week-long San Miguel Writer’s Conference. We want confirmation, inspiration, the Muses. Why are we pursuing the loneliest art form imaginable and why are we re-working a sentence for the hundredth time? We’re happy to be transported back to La Cucaracha for answers, to pay Kerouac for writing lessons with beer.
Kerouac tells us about the night Ginsberg read “Howl” in San Francisco. There were thirty people there and Ginsberg collected change to buy himself wine. Kerouac declares that the reading was done “passionately, drunkenly, arms outstretched to the heavens.” Kerouac turns to Ginsberg. “Re-capture that night in 1955.”
Ginsberg smirks. “You were passed out and snoring three minutes after I started.”
We cheer as he adjusts the microphone. Ginsberg clears his throat. A little jazz music starts to play. And Ginsberg leans forward to recite what became a manifesto and a creed for all those “angelheaded hipsters” of the 1950s and onward: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”
We know why.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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