Roberto Bolaño’s Mexican Manifesto

While not as enthralling as his other story “Labyrinth” that I’ve profiled before, Roberto Bolaño’s short story “Mexican Manifesto” was nevertheless an interesting read. The setting is of a couple who goes to a number of saunas in Mexico and partakes in experiences of a certain sort:

In every public bath, there tends to be a fight from time to time. We never saw or heard any there. The clients, conditioned by some unknown mechanism, respected and obeyed every word of the orphan’s instructions. Also, to be fair, there weren’t very many people, and that’s something I’ll never be able to explain, since it was a clean place, relatively modern, with individual saunas for taking steam baths, bar service in the saunas, and, above all, cheap. There, in Sauna 10, I saw Laura naked for the first time, and all I could do was smile and touch her shoulder and say I didn’t know which valve to turn to make the steam come out.

The saunas, though it might be more precise to call them private rooms, were a set of two tiny chambers connected by a glass door. In the first, there was usually a divan—an old divan reminiscent of psychoanalysis and bordellos—a folding table, and a coatrack; the second chamber was the actual steam bath, with a hot and cold shower and a bench of azulejo tiles against the wall, beneath which were hidden the tubes that released the steam. Moving from one vestibule to the next was extraordinary, especially if the steam was already so thick that we couldn’t see each other. Then we would open the door and head into the chamber with the divan, where everything was clear, and behind us, like the filaments of a dream, clouds of steam slipped by and quickly disappeared. Lying there, holding hands, we would listen or try to listen to the barely perceptible sounds of the gym while our bodies cooled. Practically freezing, submerged in silence, we would finally hear the purr welling up through the floor and the walls, the catlike whir of hot pipes and boilers that stoked the business from some secret place in the building.

I’m glad The New Yorker made this story un-paywalled.

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