If the first paragraph of an article is the most important one; could the same be said about the first chapter of a book? The first chapter of John Ross’s El Monstruo, Dread and Redemption in Mexico City (2009) focuses on room 102 of Hotel Isabel in the Centro Historico of Mexico City, and its immediate surroundings. John uses his intimacy with his neighbors and neighborhood, on what was the ancient island of Tenochtitlan, to skillfully extrapolate understanding from the micro community to interpret the macro community of the largest city in the world and even the Republic.
On Wednesday, December 29, Carol Hopkins and I had the privilege to be in room 102, helping JRvacate the address made famous by John’s frequent reference to his one room residence. With the dust of his papers, photographs, even his Human Shield Brigade t-shirt, still on our hands, we walked through John’s neighborhood letting the people, noises and colors he so often described seep under our skin, hoping that doing so would allow us to more easily understand JR’s insight.
They are the same streets walked by 20th Century famed expatriate authors from D H Lawrence to Steinbeck. The stories told in the first chapter of El Monstruo display John’s encyclopedic memory of these haunted souls and the tragedies that befell many of them. John, too, played out his dramas but never lost sight of his primary task, clarification of the complexities of today’s Mexico in an historical framework. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell posits the 10,000 hour rule - the necessary 10,000 hours a talented professional must put in to become an “outlier” or genius in one’s field. John was certainly an outlier with an easy100,000 hours plus. It is unlikely we will know his like again.
Mexicans, unlike their northern neighbors, are intensely interested in their politics and history: local, national and even international. They like nothing better than to sit, talk, and speculate about the latest dramas in the Mexican political scene. Even relatively uneducated Mexicans are well aware of the geography of their country as well as the stories surrounding their various wars. Most Mexicans can easily name their presidents, the states, even the capitals. They even know which US cities are within “former” Mexican territory. Newspapers, of every persuasion, can be found on every newsstand. For the illiterate there is TV, radio and, of course, the ubiquitous streetcorner chatter.
Back in room 102, John, Carol, and I carried out that most Mexican of traditions. We probed John about his fascinating recent supposition that Subcomandante Marcos was somehow involved in the kidnapping of Diego Fernández de Cevallos. John’s theories are based on years of being with Marcos in Chiapas, knowing him well, and having an intimate knowledge of the Sub's unique writing style and great humor which, he says, give the communiqués issued by the Misteriosos Desaparecedores (Misterious Disappearers) telltale signs of Marcos' writing; such as speaking about the Archduke of Escobedo and a "whole series of things which could only have been Marcos. Kidnappers don't kid around like that. Only Marcos kids around like that. I don't think that he did the kidnapping, though perhaps he's involved in the scripting of it. Marcos as far as I understand was not on very good terms with the leadership of the Zapatistas and I think there was some kind of mutual understanding that he would move on to something else. The other thing is that [in my analysis of this] I used the model of the kidnapping of [former Chiapas governor]Absalón Castellanos Domínguez as being a clue; where they put him on public trial in the jungle and then released him, which is what they've done with [Diego]. The rigid part of the left is very resistant to this idea, but I think I'm going to be vindicated one of these days."
John firmly stated that if Marcos was involved, he did not involve the Zapatista Army nor hold Fernández de Cevallos in Chiapas. His speculation about motive was more vague.
John has spent many years believing fervently in the Zapatista cause, backing Marcos, but on this day in room 102 he was critical of the Sub. He faulted him for not supporting Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the 2006 post electoral struggle when millions of people in the country no longer believed in the electoral system and yet he continued to attack Lopez Obrador.
"I think my books have contributed to creating this cult of personality and that was a grievous injury to the Mexican political physiognomy by making Marcos the center of the situation instead of the catalyst in a situation in which the people were much more involved."
We asked John about recent charges that La Jornada was no longer carrying real news about the Zapatistas in exchange for the Chiapas government's paid ads and gazetillas (paid ads presented as articles). JR was reluctant to be critical of La Jornada but he did express his regret that La Jornada’s coverage of the Zapatistas has been seriously eroded.
Thank you readers for your responses to Part 1 on John Ross (online at < http://www.thenews.com.mx/index.php/charliesdigs/charlie-5337.htm>). Dorothy Wick, a retired archivist from the New York University faculty in their Archives Administration program, has generously offered her considerable skills to help archive the John Ross material before their transfer to a major university library.