¡Guadalajara Guácala!

Guácala: Spanish slang, probably with Quechua origins, meaning gross, disgusting or yucky. It has spread from the Andes through most of Latin America, but has yet to jump the Atlantic to Spain, probably because to Spain, Latin America is pretty damn guácala.

Guadalajara is not Mexico’s prettiest city. There I’ve written it and I’m not going to unwrite it. Come to Guadalajara to do business. Come here to eat or maybe to shop. Don’t come to see pretty things (they do exist here but not like they do in other Mexican cities).

What Guadalajara does have in abundance (apart from commerce) is abandoned buildings. It takes a certain kind of city to be bountiful in abandoned buildings. Space needs to be cheap, so that there is no roaring imperative to gentrify everything, to make the most of every available space. Guadalajara sprawls and sprawls and sprawls. New suburbs usurp the farms on the edges of the town while the centre is slowly decaying.

Abandoned buildings are fun. Inhabited places are clean and orderly. Abandoned places are dilapidated and chaotic and basically guácala. I don’t think the guácala aesthetic gets its due attention. In abandoned buildings the surface is stripped away and layers of the past can be seem. Buildings are maintained in predictable ways but they fall apart in unpredictable ways. Although they are technically empty, there are usually interesting things happening in abandoned buildings.

I spent a long time looking for the pretty corners of Guadalajara. In doing so I noticed all the wonderfully guácala wrecks of buildings waiting to be explored. This, I hope, will be the first of many, or at least several posts documenting Guadalajara’s guácala cityscape.

It was of course with a good deal of trepidation that I commenced my probings of Guadalajara’s abandoned sites. My first foray was right on  Av. Chapultepec; a restaurant that can’t have been abandoned for so very long (it had already been ransacked but hadn’t yet been comprehensively graffitied).

Abandoned places don’t usually stay completely abandoned for long. Something moves in quickly to fill the void. So through the jimmied door of this restaurant, and immediately the stale smell of habitation, strips of carpet laid out for bedding, shreds of porn, middens of cigarette butts and food scraps, and the ubiquitous disowned shoes. Why and how do shoes so quickly accumulate in abandoned places?

There had been no orderly retreat from this place; menus littered the doorways, and within all the restaurant paraphenalia had been overturned and left to rust and moulder. Fridges and other furniture all at awkward angles, clusters of cutlery arranged into haphazard tea parties, and great dunes of useless coffee beans. Someone had gone to the trouble of emptying all those bags of coffee beans onto the floor; something about abandoned places invites acts of desecration. A lapse in the usual rules; here you can make a mess, you can break stuff, you can do everything you can’t do outside.

This first restaurant was very small and quickly surveyable; a few blocks away on Lopez Cotillo is a far bigger ex-bar that has been abandoned for far longer. The place has been more thoroughly stripped and redecorated with graffiti. A succession of occupants have squatted here, and currently the place is occupied by a lot of overgrown weeds that are slowly encroaching in from the patio-turned-thicket.

This place equally easy to access, its gate ajar and inviting resettlement. Beyond the barren ex-bar space a twisted sequence of rooms coiled around that patio thicket. Every room had its resident depleted spray can. Less wanton destruction here; the enormous mirror behind the bar still intact, albeit tagged.

It’s amazing how quickly the noise of the street disappears and is replaced by the cautious crunch of footfalls on grit and debris. Skulking about in abandoned places is of course a creepy experience; every noise that filters in from outside is alarming. Dark doorways loom and groan and suggest hostility.

There can, however, be a peacefulness to these empty shells too. Sunlight sneaks in from unexpected places. Abandoned places make good refuges, not because they are impenetrable but because they are so easily overlooked and forgotten.

Peaceful perhaps, but always guácala. Always rusting and corroding and flaking and disintegrating and crumbling and stinking and subsiding. Always lonely. Always waiting for someone to take notice, to reinvest them with meaning.

Care to read part 2 of Guadalajara Guacala?

12 responses to “¡Guadalajara Guácala!

  1. This is great!

    I was actually just in Guadalajara last weekend. I wish I had seen this entry before I went.

    I stayed in Col Providencia with my sister, and we basically just hung out in the Centro and on Chapultepec, and at Bar Americas. Silly me, I left thinking, “Gosh, how charming, clean and pretty… I kind of can’t wait to get back to Defectuosa.”

    Do you go into abandoned buildings a lot? I looks like you’ve spent some time in DF– Do you know anything about that one on the corner of Insurgentes and Obregón?

    • You were just in Guad? No one from DF comes to Guad (possibly with good reason)!

      There are actually some abandoned places in Providencia, but I haven’t investigated them yet. They look kind of impregnable. There are a ton of places in the centre and around Chapultepec, but it took me a while to start noticing them. There will of course be more explorations (and, inevitably, blog posts) soon.

      I know nothing about abandoned places in DF, but it’s almost inevitable that i’ll be back there sooner or later. Insurgentes and Obregon you say? I bet DF has super rich pickins.

      • Yeah, it’s a bit like a New Yorker going to Boston or something.

        My younger sister was living there for 6 months, studying medical Spanish. She actually just returned to the States this week.

        Also, my current roommate is from Guad, and her bro, whose screenplay I just translated into English, still lives there. In addition, I met a cute boy there last weekend.

        La neta es que no fui a Guadalajara por razones turísticas, y si regreso será por razones personales o de negocios.

        Wow, it almost sounds like I’m settled down and have a life in Mexico…

        That place on Obregón I actually noticed when I came to DF on vacation, before actually moving here. It has a ton of colorful graffiti all over it, so I was wondering if it’s one of those European-style, more “established” squats, like the kind in Berlin and Vienna that eventually end up turning into cultural centers/record stores with free internet.

        It has a taco joint in front of it called “El Gato Volador” …oh, wait, I actually blogged about it, with a picture:

        http://mariaclarita.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/gigantes/

        It’s at a pretty busy intersection, though, I can’t imagine just going into it? Maybe, I guess this is Mexico after all.

      • no fuiste a guadalajara por razones turisticas? es probablamente por que no hay tantas razones turisticas, aparte de birria y tortas ahogadas (obviamente).

        I’ve no idea when I’ll next be in DF, but will definitely check out the Obregon place. the calavera figure was temporary, right? or is he always there too? the name of the taco place alone makes it worth a visit. I’m don’t know that it matters that it’s on a busy street; the places I posted about in Guad are on major streets and people (including the security guards across the road from one) saw me go in and obviously didn’t care. thought it was weird perhaps, but didn’t care.

        you met a cute boy in Guad? Tapatios assure me semi-regularly that they are the best looking folk in mexico.

      • I suppose I DID notice a lot of good-lookin dudes there. But I notice them everywhere, so…

        Figures that the security guards didn’t care. Maybe it’s not that they didn’t care, maybe they just didn’t assume you were going in there to do something they should prevent. I love Mexico.

        I think I said that already.

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    • Every city has guácala parts, every city has beautiful parts. It’s pretty parochial to say otherwise.

      I love Guad, but part of the appeal is all the ruined, crumbling stuff around the Centro. But if that’s not your cup of tea no problem; I hear Providencia is nice.

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