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?