The mourners are keeping vigil over the body when a dog jumps over the coffin, leaving behind a crooked candle. It is a scene from Bohemian Lights, the play by Spanish turn-of-the-century playwright Ramón del Valle-Inclán, who was known for his esperpentos, or exaggerations of the more unpleasant aspects of reality as a way to criticize society. In the play, the literary master insisted on deforming reality so that it could shine in all its fullness. A similarly deformed reality was recently on display in Zacatecas, Mexico and captured on video by local residents. “That dog has a human head in its mouth,” a voice is heard saying in the cellphone recording. The animal can be seen walking down a quiet-looking street, like a proud David with his decapitated Goliath. It is yet another grotesque scene for the theater that Mexico has become, with its streets strewn with corpses and bags full of dismembered limbs lying anywhere, any day of the year. Like Valle-Inclán’s esperpentos, the violence here takes on grotesque overtones.
Such iniquity forces onlookers to close their eyes. Because eliminating all the dogs to avoid similar scenes in future seems too drastic, right? One thing is certain, and the Mexican president often repeats it: there are no two places in the world quite like Mexico. But what fault is it of Mexico? Let the police and the army, the prosecutors and the judges be the ones to feel ashamed, as well as all those who do not know how to give orders and all those who blindly obey. Infamy has won the game. The horror of the scene prompts one to look away, yet how many mothers probably pressed play again and again looking for their missing son in that face without a body? The wayward son, but their flesh and blood after all. These are the sons of a country without opportunities that condemns thousands of young people to a short life, wielding machetes one day and falling prey to them the next.
To celebrate Halloween, cities are decorated with bloody arms and legs scattered everywhere. They also do it in Mexico. But what’s the need? Isn’t it enough to watch television, to read the newspapers every day? In newsstands, some newspapers made fun of yesterday’s corpses with amusing headlines. The locals have gotten used to living in a giant cemetery, and they step on the accelerator on their way to the office as they pass the bridge where several corpses hang. In Mexico, it’s Halloween every day.
The Zacatecas dog, with the head of a man in its jaws, is indisputably the symbol of absolute degradation. No amount of literature could do a better job of depicting it. Reality here is so warped that words no longer serve to describe it. But what does the dog know about it as he crosses the semi-darkness of the empty street without realizing that someone is recording the scene instead of running away screaming at the sight? Run to take shelter where? At the police station? In the prosecutor’s office? As a matter of fact, the president of the Superior Court of Justice of Zacatecas recently complained in his annual report to state legislators about the increase in young people (and getting younger every year) who are getting co-opted by drug traffickers, now the largest business in the country. Later these same kids will be called muertitos (little dead ones), not to underline their short life, but rather the narrow line that separates being above or below ground. In ancient Mesoamerican mythology, dogs guided the dead to cross that path.
Mexicans like to celebrate their Day of the Dead with flowers and rich offerings, to bring back their ancestors to the home kitchen for a few hours, drawn by the aroma of cempasúchil and to the clay pots overflowing with mole and hot tortillas. The other reality is just a Halloween in bad taste that forces you to close your eyes. This is not the Mexican reality that served Valle-Inclán as inspiration for his grotesque tragedies in the early 20th century. In today’s times, he would not have had any need to deform it.