I could be in Abilene right now, or in New York, or even in Oxford--in any of those evenings like this, because I feel so incredibly the same. It's an evening that stretches out ahead with me and the place to myself, easy and almost lazy, with all the things I love to savor in alone time. I'm re-reading and re-loving Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, with a tingle of identification, enjoying the luxury of an evening of my own just as if it were two, seven, nine years ago. Simply reading the book again is a transport in itself, to the mornings and afternoons on the subway, pulling it out of my black leather purse to live moments with Henry and Clare.
Nights like this are almost the only ones when I know just what to expect--nothing too surprising, to make me alter my limited vision of the world. Lamp light, an ill-fated, already half-eaten bar of dark chocolate, and the music I like most settling into the corners of the house. And the book Patricio's reading, left partly-hidden under a blanket on the living room couch. He's not traveling far tonight, just as far as the pool hall to wield a cue and nurse a beer with some of his best college friends. But he's also been time-traveling a good deal recently, through that book he rarely dares to leave behind.
And unlike tonight, that tome of his that he guards with his life has rendered a number of expectations completely null. He's marching through Bernal Díaz del Castillo's The Conquest of New Spain, which has proved to be a fail-safe volume of recipes for tearing down pre-conceived ideas as effectively as the Spanish dismantled Tenochtitlán's temples. Read immediately after Cortés' Letters from Mexico, what it reveals is astounding. We knew Tenochtitlán and it's sister, Tlaltelolco, would be incomprehensibly beautiful, though now we can say, "And how!" We'd also heard of cannibalism, and perhaps know more than we'd care to after the fact. But the most unexpected discovery in these relations of Hernán and Bernal has shifted our idea of Cortés into a very different incarnation. In the context of his times he was, above all, noble. Indeed, he was greedy for gold, and religiously intolerant beyond doubt. But he and his soldiers wept when Moctezuma died; had it not been for circumstances he couldn't quite control, Tenochtitlán might not be limited to an archaeological dig.
If your interest is piqued by Mexico in the least, or you're jonesing for journey through the sixteenth century's younger years--or looking for a pretext for enjoying a bar of dark chocolate--I'd recommend it. Bernal and his crew are anything but ho-hum company, even if they are five hundred years old.