From Tampico to Tatzelwurms
First things first: this week's reading is divided into three of AtD's untitled chapters which are themselves comprised of three, four and four sub-sections respectively. The first two sections treat Frank Traverse's wheelings and dealings down Mexico ways, the third his brother Reef as he works as a tunnel digger in Switzerland.
We join Frank anxious to leave Mexico in order to resolve certain revenge-centric "unfinished business in northamerica", but nevertheless finding it difficulty to extricate himself from the tangle of Mexican politics (637). He's hanging around in a village called Tampico (trans: The Place of the Others, a.k.a. Gringolandia) with Ewball Oust, the young mine engineer from Lake County whom we first met at p. 274, who has since "shifted his interests from rural Anarchism to arms procurement" (637). They both happen to bump into Günther von Quassel, late of Gottingen, now referred to as "El Atiladado," or "The Neat Man," who informs Frank of his own relationship with Kit as well as Kit's now rather dicey relationship with Scarsdale. There follows a passage concerning Frank and Günther's respective coffee preferences, and then all three of them then bump into a former acquaintance of Ewball's, Ramón, né Steve, who invites them to a party up in the hills.
Tom then supplies us with a breathtaking, paragraph-long sentence describing the anxiety the hill-dwelling gringos experience as they dread the inevitable "native uprising" (639). Really gorgeous stuff. You should go back and reread it; seriously, I'll wait.
Cut to the party, which is itself described as filled with uneasiness and partygoers willing to leave in a big hurry should the situation require. Günther and Frank discuss a shipment of Mondragón semiautomatics to be smuggled and meet Günther's sub-agent, the Irish Insurrectionist Wolfe Tone O'Rooney, late of New Orleans, who, like everyone this chapter is traveling under an alias, namely "Eusebio Gómez".
Wolfe, Frank, and Ewball start hanging out in a "cantina and gambling den known as La Fontiga Huasteca," a place where when the house band plays, "[e]verybody knew the words to everything, so the whole place sang along" (642). Then, another random meeting: Frank and Ewball's former jailmate and present nogoodnik, Dwayne Provecho. There follows a discussion of the possibility of revolution in Mexico and parts north, though Ewball contends that for the "norteamericaos" it's too late, having already "'delivered [themselves] into the hands of capitalists and Christers" (643). Dwayne leaves them with a hint about a shipment of Krag-Jørgensens up in Juarez that, as the chapter ends, Frank decides to pursue sans Ewball.
The next chapter opens to find Frank peeved that his Juarez contact, whose card (“E. B. Soltera, Regeneration Equipment”) Dwayne gave him, is to be found in "another of these damned lades' gathering spots," a fashionable restaurant for “gringos making their first trip south” (644). E.B. turns out to be none other than Estrella Briggs, a.k.a. Stray. The two talk business then discuss Reef and Jesse, the latter of whom is already playing with dynomite, “’just like his daddy’” (646).
Frank and Stray then head out into town where they meet two less-than-friendly associates of Stray, Hatch and his unnamed sidekick. A face-off occurs wherein Frank is matched with the sidekick (“For it really was the sidekick who presented the problem.”), but shooting is averted when Ewball shows, dues ex machina style, and deflates the tension (647). There follows more Frank and Stray chitchat and a description of a recurring dream Frank has been having about Webb who stands on the other side of a doorway that Frank cannot penetrate.
The chapter ends with Frank and Stray discussing Reef some more, Frank saying she should “[h]ave faith” (650), though she remains certain only of “her own sad story, her dream, recurring, bad, broken, never to come true (651).
Though Stray must remain waiting for her baby-daddy, we are transported by no more effort than a leaf-turn to Switzerland where we see exactly what Reef is now up to, or rather down to. Seems ol’ Reefer’s working with Flaco as a tunnel digger below the Austro-Swiss border in a region plagued by hotsprings and palling around with a typically motley cast including, we’re informed, a number of Anarchists. We catch Reef swapping blood vendetta stories with an Albanian named Ramiz, though Reef observes that such vengeance is getting trickier because “‘lately, as civilization comes creeping out from back east, authorities tend to frown more and more on it’” (654).
The workers have some complicated feelings about the tunnel, some of them holding the “belief that the tunnel was ‘neutral ground,’ exempt not only from political jurisdictions but from Time itself,” which has important implications for Anarchists or Socialists who contend that history is moving inevitably toward a revolutionary end-state. Stranger still is the rumored presence of Tatzelwurms, a “‘snake with paws’” and a horrifying scream which supposedly hibernates in the mountain and which is being disturbed by the drilling and especially by the presence of railroads (655).
And into this utterly proletariat setting, who should set foot but Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin. Ruperta’s come through town for the hot springs and Reef’s as smitten as ever. Ruperta’s been keeping busy slumming as a prostitute, but she and Reef quickly take up where they left off. During a post-coital discussion, they begin to talk of Scarsdale Vibe and Ruperta informs us that the baron has been buying up Renaissance art all around Europe but is currently headed for Venice where she, and she implies Reef, will soon be traveling.
This is followed by a brief passage focused on Phillipe, a tunnel digger and who compares the mountain to a cathedral, saying, “‘In a cathedral what looks solid never is. Walls are hollow inside. Columns contain winding staircases. This apparently solid mountain is really a collection hotsprings, caves, fissures, passageways, one hiding-place within another – and the Tatzelwurms know it all intimately. They are the priesthood of their own dark religion’” (658).
That said, Reef is promptly attacked by one of the pawed serpents, which, strangely greets him by name before it attacks. Reef manages to shoot the ‘wurm, which explodes in a mist of green blood, but it spooks him enough leave his position.
Riding the train down to Venice, Reef, alone in a car, has a conversation with a tunnel ghost, which accuses him of neglecting his obligations. He is living the good life as Ruperta’s boy toy and is not working to avenge Webb. The chapter – and the week’s reading – ends with the ghost not so subtly hinting that maybe Reef should “‘get back to [him]self again’” and target Scarsdale when he gets to Venice.