Posts Tagged ‘Graham Greene’

An extract from The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene, an account of his travels in the Mexico of 1938. Thanks to Sir William Wilmot for giving me the book to accompany me on my travels.

El Retiro is the swagger cabaret of Socialist Mexico, all red and gold and little baloons filled with gas, and chicken a la king. A film star at one table and a famous singer, and a rich men everywhere. American couples moved sedately accross the tiny dance floor while the music wailed, the women with exquisite hair and gentle indifference, and the middle aged American businessmen like overgrown schoolboys a hundred years younger than their young women. Then the cabaret began – a Mexican dancer with great bold thighs, and the American women lost a little of their remote superiority. They were being beaten at their own game – somebody who wasn’t beautiful and remote was drawing the attention of their men. They got vivacious and talked a little shrilly and powdered their faces, and suddenly appeared very young and inexperienced and unconfident, as the great thighs moved. But their turn came when the famous tenor sang. The American men lit their pipes and talked all through the song and then calpped heartily to show that they didn’t care, and the women closed their compact and listened – avidly…

Then the Waikiki, on a lower level socially and morally. Armed policemen (later that night the place was raided for Perez, the drug trafficker).  Lovely sexual instruments wearing little gold crosses, lolled on the sofas; a man had passed out altogether beside a blue soda water bottle. Small intimate parties struggled obscurely with shoulder straps, and presently got up and made for the hotel a little way down the street. My friend thought I might be lonely and insisted on finding me an American girl – there was only one in the place, and she was called Sally. I said I didn’t want her, but she obviously had for him (he was a Mexican) the glamour of foreignness. He said, ‘She’s nice. She’s refined – and interesting. You’ll like to talk to her. You’re a writer. She’ll tell you all about her life.’

I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to her about her life.’ You could see it all around without asking questions – in the red velvet sofas and the blue soda-water bottles and the passed out Mexican. But my friend had got a girl and he wanted me to have an American – somebody I could talk to easily. He kept on asking everybody, ‘Where’s Sally?’ and presently they found her – so there she came, picking a refined way across the dance floor, pasty, genteel, and a little scared, and very badly dressed. She said, ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir,’ ‘Yes, sir’ to everything I said. The formality, the subservience, the terrible refinement were uncanny.

My Mexican friend said, ‘She’s pretty, eh?’ and I had to look at that infinitely plain pasty face with all the vacancy of drug-stores and cheap movies and say, ‘Yes, fine.’


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