The Last Muffin in the Mountains of the Mexican Southeast
(Story read at the close of the “CompARTE for Life and Freedom 2018” arts festival in Morelia, Caracol “Whirlwind of our Words,” mountains of the Mexican Southeast.)
Listen here (in Spanish): (Descarga aquí)
It may have been a string of random events, without any apparent relation between them, that brought about this tragedy.
It may have been merely a coincidence, a bit of bad luck, as if destiny decided to feed rumors of its existence by dropping pieces of a jigsaw puzzle onto the now-cracked open heads of humans and machines.
Or maybe the Storm itself (yes, that storm that Zapatismo insists on calling attention to and, like most things we say, no one else seems to notice) revealed a spoiler, a hint of what is coming. It was as if the incoherent software on which reality apparently runs suddenly flashed an urgent warning, an unexpected alert, a signal so subtle that it was only noticed by the most experienced lookouts, those who focus on examining horizons so distant that they don’t even appear as factors in the frenetic statistics of the global system. After all, statistics function to show tendencies deeper than the drama of the day-to-day. What’s one murdered woman? A number: one more statistic, one less woman. Statistically speaking, you’d need more, many more of these “gendered” murders to even suggest evidence of a tendency—which would be that of the system’s runaway gallop toward the abyss, skidding through blood, mud, ash, shit, and destruction. What’s on the horizon? War. What’s down the beaten path? War. In the capitalist system, war is the starting point, the ending point, and everything in between.
But maybe I’m just talking madness. After all, this is a story, and one has to be careful not to veer into biased reflections, dangerous ideas, morbid thoughts, idle musings, or provocations.
Those who had to suffer through watching a movie with the late SupMarcos can tell you that it was intolerable. The truth is he was intolerable in various respects, but for now I’m talking about watching movies. Any time a firearm appeared onscreen he’d hit pause and launch into a long and pointless discussion about trajectory, distance, force, firepower, and the various shorter or longer geometric curves a projectile could take en route to its “objective.” During that pause he didn’t care how the plot was going to play out, or if other viewers were anxious to know if the hero (or the heroine, musn’t forget gender equity) would be saved; he’d just delve into his hopelessly erudite explanations: “that one is a M-16 rifle, NATO 5.56-caliber—named as such to differentiate between munitions manufactured in countries belonging to NATO versus those of the Warsaw Pact, etc. etc.” The rest of the movie-watchers never knew what to do: if they showed interest, he might go on even longer; if they looked disengaged, he might think he hadn’t been sufficiently clear and thus expound further, always eventually ending up, of course, at the Cold War. At that point SupMarcos would always feel obliged to explain that the term “cold war” was an oxymoron, the system’s way to hide the death and destruction that characterized that period. From there he would delve into the “fourth world war” and on and on until the popcorn got cold and turned into mush with hot sauce.
Huh, looks like I’m doing the same thing now. The thing is that if SupMarcos came to watch a movie, you knew you’d have to watch it twice: once to suffer through the interruptions, and a second time to understand the plot. That’s why I always insist that a story is a story and not a political discussion, although “political discussion” is also used by Defensa Zapatista as a cover for the “gender violence” she inflicts on the stoic Pedrito who, without his knowledge or intention, has become the nemesis of the girl and her undefinable cat-dog.
What was I saying? Oh, right, I was telling you why I was going to tell you what I’m going to tell you.
It was in the wee hours of that fateful night that I confirmed what I had long feared to be true: the honeybuns were all gone. All of them. Even the strategic reserve—meant to withstand the predictable zombie apocalypse, an alien invasion, or a falling meteorite—was null.
How did this happen? Well, that’s just the thing, just like in Greek tragedies and Mexican corridos, everything’s okay…until it’s not.
Doña Juanita, holed up in the CIDECI kitchen in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, had gone on strike: no tamales, no pork, no tacos or street food, no carb-rich, fat-laden or cholesterol-ridden milkshakes. And, heaven help us, no honeybuns. Now she was dead set on serving all healthy food: in other words, vegetables, vegetables, and more vegetables. She would have no discussion about it—she claimed it was part of resistance and rebellion: down with junk food and fast food.
When I found out, I sent an emissary to convince Doña Juanita to make an exception: to say that I understood her point of view, but that I had read a book about the nutritional value of honeybuns. Then I tried another tactic: that if she would make honeybuns, we’d keep it between the two of us—I wouldn’t tell anyone. The emissary came back looking totally defeated: he hadn’t even been able to talk to Doña Juanita. She and her compañeros had fortified their position in the kitchen and were singing, “We shall not be moved, and if there’s any doubt just try it out! We shall not be moved![i] I asked my emissary what he had done in the face of this. He said that the chorus was really catchy, so he had grabbed a guitar and started singing along. Me on the other hand, I don’t just roll over on issues that fall under the rubric of “gender.” After all, Doña Juanita is a woman and there are some things women just don’t understand.
At that point I resorted to the ee-zee-ele-en’s super-secret weapon: our compañero Jacinto Canek. Far, far from these mountains but deep in others, our compañero Jacinto Canek knows all about things pertaining to the kitchen. He works wonders with just a few pots and pans. But he has a special gift with regard to bread. It is said that people travel from all over the world to try his bread. As a demonstration of “another globalization,” his baking has delighted the palate of people across the five continents.
“The secret is that you have to put a lot of huevos[ii] into it,” Jacinto Canek confessed to me one day while we waited, me rather impatiently, for some honeybuns to come out of the oven. He meant into the bread, but I said, “like with everything, Don Jacinto, like with everything.” I had faith that our compañero Jacinto Canek, as a matter of gender solidarity, would honor his nom de guerre[iii] and offer a solution to the very serious crisis at hand.
A mission of such transcendental importance required drastic measures. In order to ward off the criticism I could already see coming from the feminists, I sent Insurgenta Erika to the distant lands where Jacinto Canek protected his culinary secrets at all costs.
I told her she was on a very important mission, that she had to find Jacinto Canek and tell him about the legend of the first gods, the ones who gave birth to the world and created honeybuns so that humans would have some idea of what paradise was. But then the fucking capitalist system showed up with its Bimbo-Marinela, Tia Rosa, Wonder Bread and all that, corrupting the sacred delicacies of the gods. Those who make artisanal bread are effectively the guardians of memory, protecting the Holy Grail that provided for communication between humans and gods.
Insurgenta Erika of course asked me what on earth a “Holy Grail” was. I told her it was something very important—sacred, in fact—and that the entire future of humanity depended on it. Erika scoffed, saying, “Oh, please, you for sure made that up, Sup: you’re just trying to get your hands on some honeybuns.”
I put on my “I’m-so-offended” face and sent her off with a firm warning.
After what I imagine was an exhausting journey, Insurgenta Erika came back with a huge bag of homemade bread. I applauded, I couldn’t avoid it. I have to admit that my beautiful eyes teared up with gratitude. I didn’t even return Erika’s greeting, but grabbed the bag from her and emptied its context onto the table. Nothing. There were croissants, cupcakes, muffins, elephant ears, cinnamon rolls, long johns, cornbread, donuts, everything. But no honeybuns, not a single one.
I collapsed into my chair, bitterness filling my mouth.
Just then Insurgenta Erika took another bag out of her backpack, a smaller one. And there it was, all wrapped up in plastic and paper: a honeybun!
“He only managed to make this one,” Erika explained. “He couldn’t make more because he was about to go dancing with his wife. He said he didn’t know when he’d get around to making more.”
Erika left. With extreme care, as if it were fine crystal, I placed the honeybun on the table. With the Storm, the Hydra, and the All-Inclusive-Apocalypse on my mind, I assumed a formal posture and declared:
“Here lies the last honeybun in Southeastern Mexico.”
I didn’t know if I should eat it or put it on an altar, with a homage to what it represented: the end of an era, destiny’s unappealable mandate, the anger of unknown gods, a glimpse of disdain from a desired eye, the collateral damage of the capitalist war.
I looked at it—oh, yes, I looked at it with undisguised lust. My fingers brushed lightly over its sugared curves, the circular cleft that gave rise to the single bosom of the unisex being, the voluptuous figure that not only spoke but shouted: “I am a honeybun, not just any honeybun, but the only honeybun.”
I was busy with that, and pondering whether the cooperative store would have that well-known cola with which I could honor this last honeybun, when, as if to complicate what was already a tragedy, Defensa Zapatista and the cat-dog appeared at the door. I stood up as quickly as I could, using my body to try to shield the obscure object of my desire as I stammered incoherently:
“Uh, no, there is no honeybun on the table. No, I’m not hiding it. Of course there’s nothing behind me. Wow, it’s hot, and the mosquitos are out in force: I think it’s going to rain. Do you think it’s going to rain?”
I think Defensa suspected something because she walked right up and around me and saw the honeybun. She looked at me sternly and declared:
“You have to share, Sup.”
The cat-dog barked or meowed or who knows what, but I suppose in agreement with Defensa Zapatista.
Out of the blue, apparently convoked by the very word “honeybun,” another little girl appeared, reaching over the table to try to grab the honeybun with one little hand while holding on to her teddy bear with the other. I pulled her away from the table and, in true SupMarcos fashion, asked her:
“Who are you? I don’t know you.”
“My name is Esperanza [Hope] and my last name is ‘Zapatista’ and this is my little bear and we’re hungry.”
Upon hearing the little girl’s name, I once again appreciated the continuous paradoxes of these lands.
Esperanza Zapatista backed away after various attempts at what new theoretical frameworks would call “accumulation by dispossession of honeybuns,” a still-developing phase of capitalism.
Defensa and the cat-dog looked at me with over 500 years of demands in their eyes, awaiting the impossible: that I share with them the last honeybun in the Mexican Southeast.
“I can’t,” I defended myself awkwardly, “there’s only one. If there were two or more we could divvy them up, but there’s only one, enough for one person, and that one person, well, he can’t share one honeybun.”
I emphasized the masculine pronoun to purposely leave out Defensa Zapatista, Esperanza, and the cat-dog—I mean, we don’t even know if it’s a dog or cat, much less if it’s male or female.
In accordance with the fifth law of the dialectic (note: the first law of the dialectic is “Everything is related to everything else”; the second law is “To share is one thing; don’t fuck with me is quite another”; the third is “Fuck matter and the universe”, and the sixth is, “There’s no problem too big to be turned around”)…
Anyway, I was telling them that the fifth law of the dialectic states that “There’s no problem so big that it can’t get worse”, and as if to ratify it right there on the spot, Esperanza Zapatista reappeared, now accompanied by two little Zapatista boys: one had on a cowboy hat that was bigger than he was and introduced himself as Pablito; the other had on a hat resembling that of Don Ramon on “El Chavo del Ocho”[iv], which also looked kind of like a wool helmet, and introduced himself as Amado [literally “beloved”], The Amado Zapatista.” (I wanted to swat him for trying to take over my role.)
Seeing that I was outnumbered, I evaluated my options:
I could, for instance, take the “finders-keepers, losers-weepers” approach, that is, grab the honeybun and flee, or in military terminology, execute a “strategic retreat.” But I had to discard this option: the Zapatista kid-commando had me surrounded.
I could plow through them, IMF-style (they’ve trampled both progressive and not-progressive governments), but I’d run the risk of stumbling and dropping the Holy Grail. That would give the cat-dog the advantage—its ability to snarf down whatever falls is demonstrated in another story that I’ll tell you another time.
So I opted for the current demagoguery in fashion and addressed myself to the kid-commando:
“Look, analyze the current historical conjuncture—the correlation of forces is not on your side. This is no time for radicalism; it is a moment of gradual transition. You should wait, for example, until there are more honeybuns, at which point, yes, of course you can have some. But right now you need to wait patiently. If there is a little girl named ‘Defensa Zapatista’ [Zapatista Defense] and another named ‘Esperanza Zapatista,’ [Zapatista Hope] well then maybe there’s another little girl named ‘Paciencia Zapatista’ [Zapatista Patience]. So go look for her, and when you find her, give her a political talking-to and then we’ll see.”
“There isn’t,” Defensa Zapatista responded, adding maliciously, “but there is a little girl named ‘Calamidad,’ so that would make her full name ‘Calamidad Zapatista’ [Zapatista Calamity]. You want us to bring her?”
A shiver ran down my succulent body. I realized with desperation that my arguments weren’t working.
I imagined the potential final cataclysm: a multitude of little Zapatista girls and boys surrounding my hut, the former General Command of the ee-zee-el-en, yelling insults in various Mayan languages. I could imagine Defensa Zapatista giving the order, “Bring the kindling”, Esperanza wielding a lighter (who knows where she got that) while her teddy bear, I swear it, transformed before my very eyes into “Chucky.” The cat-dog would be barking and meowing, Pedrito would be dancing with the education promotora, Pablito singing the “The Girl with the Red Bow” and Amado harmonizing (yeah I know, the guys are always off in outer space). The kindling would begin to catch, the first flames licking the walls and forming a circle of fire within the circle of kids, and there I’d be, heroically clutching my honeybun, willing to die rather than give up “my treasure” [English in the original] to this irreverent mob barely a couple feet tall.
It was pointless to try to divide and conquer them; the honeybun united them and I could not give it up.
I could have hurled it out to them and used the ensuing confusion to seek refuge. But I had my doubts that they would pounce on the honeybun—they would probably follow their tradition of sharing any little bit they had, just like the late SupMarcos’ kid-gang used to do after robbing the “Nana Zapatista” store in [the Zapatista community of] La Realidad.
Forget it, it was my honeybun: we were united by destiny. Ancient verses ran through my mind: “In the beginning, the gods created the honeybun and they saw that it was good. Then they created the Sup so that he could delight in the honeybun and scarf it down without sharing.” Ergo, the honeybun was my property by divine right and these disrespectful little midgets were trying to steal it from me, thus committing the gravest of sins: challenging private property rights over the honeybun, which is, as everybody knows because that’s what the history books say, the foundation of civilization, order, and progress.
The future of the world was at stake. If I shared the honeybun, humanity would return to the stone age, a world without internet, social media, films, streaming series’, and, horror of horrors, without pecan praline ice cream.
I realized then that within my beautiful and shapely body lay the last opportunity of humankind.
If I shared the honeybun, terrible things could happen. For example, women could rebel. Not one, not just a couple, but all of them: millions of Zapatista Defensas, Esperanzas, and Calamidades, rising up all over the planet.
The apocalypse. The destruction of the world as we know it. The end of time. The final catastrophe. I shivered.
Then I committed a mistake that I will always regret. I blurted out, completely unnecessarily:
“Plus, it’s the last one.”
“The last one!” Defensa Zapatista repeated with alarm. She fell silent, thinking, and another shiver ran down my voluptuous body. There is nothing more terrifying than a little girl deep in thought. Suddenly she broke the silence:
“Okay fine, then what we’ll do is play a game and whoever wins gets the honeybun.”
I wanted to object that I had no reason to play anything and gamble my honeybun because it was already mine, ALL MINE, my treasure, the fruit of my labor…(okay, the labor technically was Jacinto Canek’s, but in his place and out of gender solidarity, it fell to me). As I was preparing my legal defense, Defensa Zapatista added:
“In honor of the cat-dog [gato-perro] here, the game we’re going to play is ‘gato’ [tic-tac-toe]. Whoever wins gets the honeybun.”
Upon hearing this I paused the brilliant juridical-gastronomical defense I was developing in my head and asked:
“Gato? That game with the x’s and o’s where whoever makes a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line wins?”
“That’s the one,” the little girl replied, and drew the tic-tac-toe pattern in her notebook. It was a game I remembered from my childhood, and which I knew from playing had no winner.
For those of you of the “digital generation,” I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up on Wikipedia: “Tic-tac-toe (also known as noughts and crosses or Xs and Os) is a paper-and-pencil game for two players, X and O, who take turns marking the spaces in a 3×3 grid. The player who succeeds in placing three of their marks in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row wins the game.”
I calculated quickly in my head and ventured:
“What if there’s a tie?”
Defensa Zapatista looked at the cat-dog. The cat-dog looked back at her. Esperanza looked at both of them. Pablito and Amado looked at the honeybun. After a moment the cat-dog bark-meowed. Defensa Zapatista paused, asking it, “Are you sure?”
The cat-dog snorted as if to say, “How could you doubt me?”
The little girl turned to me and said: “If there’s a tie, the person originally in possession of the honeybun keeps it.”
“Me, that is,” I said to make sure there were no juridical tricks in this agreement.
“Correct,” Defensa Zapatista said without concern.
“Deal,” I said, savoring my anticipated double triumph: the gender victory and the honeybun that wasn’t just any honeybun, but the last honeybun in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
“So who goes first?” I asked the little girl as I took out a blank page and my black indelible ink pen.
“Oh I’m not playing. I call for a trial by combat and declare the cat-dog my champion. He will fight in my place,” declared Cersei[v], I mean Defensa Zapatista.
“Fine,” I answered confidently. In the end, that arrangement would relieve me of all the gender-based critiques that would have plagued me for having beaten a little girl, and the cat-dog, well, it was just that, a cat-dog, so there was nothing to worry about.
In a single leap, the little animal landed on the table, disdainfully pushing the paper aside and, with what I’m almost sure was a mocking smile, extended its claws to draw on the surface of the table, lightning-fast, the battlefield:
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t care about the scratches on the table, I mean, it’s already covered with tobacco burns and ink stains, but it seemed to me a little unprofessional on behalf of the cat-dog. Nevertheless, I pulled out my pocket knife and switched open its blade with an evil gleam in my eye.
The entire universe seemed to rest on the metal blade, as if its future movement or lack thereof depended on what played out on this wooden table: heads or tails, life or death, shadow or light, honeybun or chaos.
Oh, fine, I’m exaggerating, but the cat-dog and I exchanged the same looks that have for centuries passed between opposing sides when they know that in this battle not only one’s life but the whole future is at stake.
The cat-dog gestured with its hand, well, its paw, as if to cede to me the first move. At least that’s how I interpreted it.
Firmly, emulating Kasparov,[vi] I drew my first circle in the center. I know of course that the center takes us absolutely nowhere, but I thought in this case a tie would be a victory because the honeybun would remain with its legitimate owner—my stomach.
The cat-dog, as if trying to get the whole Sixth on his side, played below and to the left:
I wanted to keep the cat-dog’s suffering minimal, so I played the center again, but from below—you know, the progressive trend these days:
The cat-dog, as was to be expected and without hesitation, played the above center, as if to say that the center from above always neutralizes the center from below:
I attacked from the left flank, wanting to catch the cat-dog off-guard, but it blocked me again:
Finally, and seeing the tie shaping up, I tried for the diagonal route from above to below, left to right, you know, social democracy in decay style:
Another block from the cat-dog:
I filled in the above right spot, a mere technicality since the tie was imminent and my triumph uncontestable:
I was ready to stow the honeybun safely away in my possession when Defensa Zapatista exclaimed:
“Hey, wait a minute. The cat-dog still has one more turn.”
“But the diagram is full,” I said in protest.
The cat-dog smiled slyly and, with its sharpest claws, did something totally unexpected: as if drawing a new world, it added an extension to the diagram:
Slowly, with morbid pleasure, it scratched an “x” in the new space and, I swear it, the wooden table creaked in mourning as the cat-dog drew the diagonal line of triumph:
“We won!” Defensa Zapatista yelled and grabbed the honeybun as the little animal jumped up and down in circles.
They both ran out the door, with Defensa Zapatista holding the honeybun in the air as if it were a universal flag.
Before following them, Esperanza Zapatista, honoring her paradoxical name, came over to me and patted me on the back:
“Don’t worry, Sup. Later I’ll tell you how that honeybun the cat-dog won from you tasted.”
She left too, and with her my last hope.
As I watched them run off into the distance, I thought that this is precisely the problem with Zapatismo: believe me, if its dreams and aspirations don’t fit in this world, it imagines another…and surprises everyone with its attempts to bring it into being.
And it’s not just Zapatismo.
Across the whole planet are born and grown rebellions that refuse to accept the limits of diagrams, rules, laws, and norms.
There are not just two genders, nor seven colors, nor four cardinal points on the compass, nor one world.
Just like Defensa Zapatista, the cat-dog, and the gang made up of by Pedrito, Pablito, Amado, and us [nosotros, nosotras, nosotroas], we only have one objective: to take care of Esperanza Zapatista.
And if it can’t be done in this world, well then we’ll have to make another, one where many worlds fit.
With that thought in mind, I sighed and said to the mirror: “You should have just shared.”
From the caracol Whirlwind of our Words, mountains of the Mexican Southeast, Planet Earth.
August 9, 2018
15th anniversary of the Zapatista caracoles and the Juntas de Buen Gobierno [Good Government Councils]
[i] The African-American spiritual “I shall not be moved” was translated into Spanish as “No nos moverán” in the 1930s during the Chicano movement and has since become a protest song in its own right, “We shall not be moved”. The lyrics sung here come from a 1996 take on “No nos moverán” by Mexican punk bank Vantroi, in a song that references the Zapatistas.
[ii] Literally “eggs,” but used as slang for “balls.”
[iii] Jacinto Canek was an 18th century Mayan Revolutionary who fought against the Spanish in the Yucatan Peninsula.
[iv] Popular, widely syndicated Mexican sitcom.
[v] Cersei Lannister, the fictional character and unscrupulous queen of the series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, adapted for TV as Game of Thrones.
[vi] Garry Kasparov, Russian chess grandmaster widely considered to be the best chess player in the world.