gringo : escritoresTJ

The Bonfire of the Vanities

La hoguera de las vanidades

Juan Carlos Dominguez --
translated by Daniel Charles Thomas

"What, you don't cover spectacles?" one reporter asked another. "This is a spectacle," she answered carefully.

In effect, that night of 30 November was a "show" - where the star was Jorge Hank Rhon. He for whom they applauded and raised up ramparts, whom everyone wanted to touch, greet, or at least be caught in his gaze.

The ceremony of taking office as Presidente Municipal of Tijuana culminated the latest caprice of the son of "el Profesor." What better act than to give thanks to God and be blessed for his immediate future.

It was seven o'clock in the evening and a solemn mass was to be celebrated in the new Cathedral, but even there you could hear the noise from the other side of the sidewalks, on the plaza of the Palacio Municipal, where "El Jarocho," announcer for a radio chain, was shouting: "This will be a night for history! As much as a body can take!" Spirits were still frozen in the thousand PRIistas gathered there by then. The color red spread through the tarps covering taco, pizza, flan and hot dog stands.

Meanwhile, in the Church, politicians and close Hank aquaintances were arriving. "The beautiful people" were everywhere, like Sunday mass at Espiritu Santo Church in Chapultepec, or del Carmen in the neighborhood of Chaco. Red coats and sweaters abounded in their vestments. They were waiting for Hank but he wanted to give the first "bath to the people." "Now they've broken the schedule!" one functionary expressed, "That damn Chinaman!" - firmly blaming William Yu, director of Public Relations of the (new) city government.

Hank arrived at the tribunal on the Palace plaza, and without uttering a single word just let himself be seen, applauded, and posed for the first photos.

From there on foot by the hidden path through the offices of Government to the Church. Clearly, with a good following of camouflaged guards, reporters and party followers of every class. "Now why are you following him?" one adolescent protested. "Why do we go, to go to mass!" one lady put it to another.

The earlier mass not yet concluded, Hank and all his following were led to the side and then onto the patio of the cathedral. There he was interviewed by various reporters, and shook hands with all who could get close to him. "He shook your hand... don't wash it," "and what if he went to urinate..." "There goes the eighth city government reborn!" "They've brought in more "chopped tortillas" for security..." "...with all those red jackets it looks like they've let in the Marlboro men," "they're gonna sell the boss out like that." Commentary of every sort came and went.

Scarcely on crossing the Church door, you could hear the applause and shouting for Hank. "Make straight the way of the Lord..." the choir belted out and the sui generis mass commenced. The mayor elect and his wife were seated in the second row, to be gradually surrounded by his children, mother and brother, family, and, of course, bodyguards well armed under their long coats.

"I will give a brief thought, it isn't fitting for me to make a long reflection," pronounced bishop Rafael Romo Munoz, urging that the new city leader and his officials serve the community as their calling: "You came here to ask for purification, to ask forgiveness for all your sins." Hank remained somehow absent, unmoveable, far from all blame.

Very Catholic, Hank, and very Catholic some reporters who, even with cameras in their faces, focussing, followed right along with the religious canticles and prayers.

The scene was very peculiar. The photographers, all pushed up in the pulpit, on one side of the priest, next to the choir, elbow to elbow with the saints. The most unadapted were the gorilla-guards, not knowing what to do during the liturgical session. A pair of them joked when the offering basket was passed around: "There goes for the two of us," one said, gruffly throwing in a dollar.

The photographers' cameras remained permanently attentive to every blink of the elected candidate. But suddenly the flashings were thunderous and synchronized, to capture Jorge Hank as perhaps he will never be seen again: on bended knees. Clearly, in this case, fulfilling Christian ritual.

As the moment of "giving the sign of peace" everyone wanted to do so with Hank. They had to do this, even were they in the last row. At the time of receiving the host, he did not commune, and at the end withdrew to a small chapel where it was impossible to remain before the hounding of the press. The ceremony concluded with the chorus singing "...I am the bread [el pan] of life..."

A literal red carpet was stretched from Independence Bridge Avenue to the esplanade plaza of the Palacio Municipal. Although narrow, it was wide enough to permit the passage, one by one, of the functionaries and members of the new city government. Greeters dressed in red offered red roses to the ladies.

The bonfire of the vanities produced its first ruination. A young, well-dressed man complained in his cell phone: "Just now you passed by and didn't greet me... I don't have your dignity. You are more important, always have been..."

Beneath the same heaven as the PRIistas, also walked some sadly famous PANistas: [outgoing mayor] Jesus Gonzalez Reyes, [sitting governor] Eugenio Eloduy, [ex-mayors] Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan, Francisco Vega, Hector Osuna Jaime. On the edge of euphoria, an old man shouted: "There comes the boss! Here comes the boss!" It was unnecessary to clarify that it was Hank wrapped in his blue pastel shirt and brown coat. "I've already greeted half the world," presumed a woman from a working class neighborhood.

Although situated in the front row of seats, the PANistas mentioned above were practically buried under other attendees and reporters on their feet, directly below the raised stage where the protocols had already begun.

The Presidente Municipal and councilmembers, all standing, sang the National Hymn. Then they began the same with "The Song of Baja California," and here, certainly, it was clear that Hank did not know the words, tried to follow along, and only managed to come out with "Baja California." He suddenly coughed, or drank water, to get through the difficult moment. Below, Carlos Barboza, a director of the city PRI, followed each move of his boss. His face displayed a strange absence, his eyes extremely red. For the young manager there have been many emotions in very few weeks.

Except for a few trips of the tongue by the new leader, protocol and discourse followed along without any major change. Until, suddenly, the most frigid night of the year got hot. And how. The still officiating secretary of government, Luis Alonso Morlett, was abruptly interrupted by councilmember Raul Castaneda Pomposo at the moment he was going to present the three candidates proposed for election as the new secretary.

For his part, the representative of the PAN faction, Raul Soria Mercado, proclaimed: "If this is how you want to begin, by violating the law, then go ahead." Between the gripes and jibes, Morlett couldn't figure out whom to obey; he felt confused, unprotected, abandoned; very far from power and from his supporters; very far from Chuy Gonzalez [the outgoing mayor] seated and hidden many meters away.

The argument went on a good while, to the delight of the public. They took advantage to hurl all their hatred at the outgoing PANistas. Typical whistling passed into flat insult: "Get out! Get out!" "Burn them! Burn them!" "Get down! Get down" "He wants to cry! He wants to cry!" "Jackasses!" "We don't want any more PAN [-"bread"-] now!" "They stole our taxis!"

On the other hand, like good Mexicans, it was all affection for the newly annointed one: "Up with Hank! Up with the next governor! You're going to be governor!" Even a "We love you, Jorge!" But the new mayor remained immobile, with a lost gaze, apparently indifferent before the tumult, washing his hands of the farce to name Fernando Castro Trenti as secretary. Only when a PRIista below him yelled through cupped hands: "Come on, Boss!" did the so-named one sketch a grimmace intended as an ephemeral smile.

The ceremony resumed, and each time Jesus Gonzalez Reyes or Eugenio Elorduy was named, the shouts and whistling catcalls resounded over the entire heaven of the River Zone. The governor's face turned red and was inflamed with impotence; while the ex-mayor lifted his head over the people, pretending dementia and affecting all his attention on what transpired above the tribunal.

Then Hank's moment arrived. Taking for his own the generous style of others, he said: "Just give me a chance to speak, if I'm not going to turn into a frozen desert here. Give me a chance and we'll get it done quickly."

He thanked the bishop for being present: "Like my father said, we may not all be Catholics, but we are all Guadalupanos."

By dint of scattering sympathy toward the ex-mayor Chuy Gonzalez, he chuckled: "And even my hand is frozen!" - as the PANista had said.

The ceremony ended and clearly now, more than ever, the different destinies were evident. The PRIistas went into the interior of "their new house" where an elegant dinner awaited them. And the PANistas ran toward their automobiles, for all that they wanted to do now was disappear from there. Chuy Gonzalez was practically carried away on the backs of Police cadets. Some of them, surprised, said: "Where are you taking him now? To lock him up?"

* * *

To enter the private dinner within the Palace was practically an heroic event. And after that, to leave. Opening all the doors, the guards assured that even some of their bosses could not get in. "It's racetrack vigilance." In the extreme case even Jorge Hank was blocked from passing. A photographer had to intervene: "Hey! He's the boss!"

The more than 90 tables could not give enough space for the overinvited crowd. Many people had to stay standing. The party was not so VIP since apart from PRIistas, businessmen from every line of work, reporters (each one seated with their favorite PRIista); every class of strainer, not to forget the old PRIistas, "de medio pelo" [middle rank], rusting away; now they could die in peace.

The dinner carried on for more than an hour and Hank still wasn't able to finish the first soup. People would not leave off approaching his table. They came and went pushing against his already seated companions. Just to go to the bathroom was an exploit. Huge three-color banners were hung down to the floor like enormous mosquito nets. Some of them even got burnt from being next to the reflector lamps. But whatever risk was as nothing. The important thing was to be there, with the annointed one. In the here and now of an immemorable Mexico. Outside, the fiesta continued, and the last fried snacks were eaten up. To the pueblo that which is for the pueblo.