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Edward Swift
Edward Swift

Cafe Páramo
an excerpt from the final story in my new collection: The Mexican Stories:

When the Cafe Páramo opened on the Plaza San Felipe all us expat novelists who enjoy working in public places became regulars. To be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of human activity takes the sharp edge of isolation off the process of creating stories about people who do not actually exist. Writing is a solitary passion that sometimes requires non-obtrusive companionship. For this reason, those of us who have given our lives to creating fictions are often found working in a neighborhood cafe. Not just any cafe will do, of course. Most of them cater to lonely regulars with no book to read or story to write, so they strike up conversations at random, often as not in voices that cut to the quick, break the concentration, interrupt the flow of unspoken words. In a writer’s cafe, conversations are kept to a minimum. It’s the work that’s important, the writing. Of course, if the coffee is good all the better, but we don’t go to cafes for the coffee alone, we go for the silent companionship.

Fortunately, the coffee at the Páramo is exceptional, and so is the owner. When he opened his doors to the public, he posted signs everywhere: Silence Please. Writers at Work. His name is Ricardo, and he arrived one day and opened his cafe the next, or so it seemed to those of us who became his regulars. He told us he had come from the city of Leon but he was not from there. Then he said that he had worked in a cafe in Querétaro, but he wasn’t from there either. He had also managed a restaurant in San Luis Potosí, but he had gone there from another place. Finally, we found out that he came from the town of Tierra Blanca. (That’s where paragliders jump off the mountain, El Salto, and soar like eagles.)

Ricardo was 33 years old when he arrived in San Pedro de los Lagos. He was the son of a farmer. He read books and worshiped people who wrote them, and in the eyes of his family he was a deserter. He had already jumped off El Salto, figuratively speaking. He said he would never return to Tierra Blanca. He said he was putting down roots of his own.

All of us writers fell hopelessly in love the moment we saw Ricardo standing behind the espresso machine. His profile came straight off the pyramids: a Nahuatl nose, almond shaped eyes, a strong, square jaw line. If only his lips had been more severe, he could have been mistaken for Nezahualcóyotl, or at least what we think Nazahualcóyotl might have looked like. His most familiar image is printed on the 100 peso bill; the poet/king of Texcoco, 1400 to 1472. The poems he left behind are still read and admired. They’re part of Mexico’s literary heritage. Surely, I thought, with a nose like that Ricardo is a branch off the same tree.

“My cafe is named for the great Mexican novel Pedro Páramo,” he said to me when we first met. “Have you read it?”
“Yes,” I said. “I read it in Spanish although it took me awhile.”
“It was written to be read slowly,” he replied.
“They say it’s the forerunner of magical realism,” I added. “It’s also a ghost story.”
“Everyone in the novel is dead,” he said, “and yet they’re alive as well. The fictional town of Comala is dead, but it’s also alive. Alive with ghosts. Modern Mexico is just the same. We’re all ghosts: haunted by our past, dissatisfied with our present and suspicious of our future.”
“That’s why I live here,” I said.
“Well, then, I must welcome you again to the Cafe Páramo. Here you can work without interruptions. All day if you want to, and for only the price of a cup of coffee.”
“How will you make money off that policy?” I asked.
“I don’t need a lot of money,” he replied. “I’m not here to get rich. I’m here for other reasons.”
“Are you a writer also?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I didn’t inherit that talent. But my sister did. She’s a poet.”

That was the first time he mentioned his sister whose poems I would come to admire. I dismissed the comment at the time because I was more interested in him. I had fallen under his spell.

Excerpt from The Mexican Stories, by Edward Swift


Edward Swift was born in Texas. He is the author of several novels and a memoir. Also a visual artist, he works primarily in wood and paper mache paste. His latest novel is Walking on Glory which will be published next year. Currently he is finishing a collection of tales called The Mexican Stories. He has lived in New York City, Taos, New Mexico and now San Miguel de Allende. In 1990 received a grant from New York Foundation for the Arts, and his novel of stories The Christopher Park Regulars was selected as a notable book of the year by the New York Times. His papers are in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

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