Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

The Widowed Librarian’s Guide to Guanajuato

When I travel, I become the widowed librarian, a nearly invisible being who dresses modestly, spends frugally, and always has time to stop and talk. I wear cheap, black clothes, never travel with any more than I can carry, and never use a suitcase that is worth more than the things inside of it. My main rule of travel is, no white shoes. With this in mind, come with me to Guanajuato, a colonial city in central Mexico where I intend to spend three weeks working on a book.

Guanajuato is an ancient city, a medieval colonial town built into a stone canyon. Like the homes in Horton Hears a Who, the houses are built one on top of another, stepped up the mountainsides, behind, adjacent or under each other. Yesterday there was construction behind the back wall of my living room. Tonight, someone seems to be burying a body in the alley outside of my gate, and it is only 9:30 p.m. But perhaps it will take a long time.

I am staying in “La Privada de San Juan de Dios” en el callejón de San Juan, in the Presa district – near the reservoir at the east end of town. Our neighborhood is a long, narrow one-way street that rises steeply to a hairpin curve, then veers to the right. It is one-way uphill, so if a Volkswagen is charging forward, it is best to step out of the way. The entire city has sidewalks between 12 and 18” wide, when it has them. All of the streets are made of cobblestone or squarish volcanic rock.

The rich and the poor live close together here, and there is a rooster in the neighborhood. When he gets up, we all get up. Fortunately, he keeps fairly civilized hours. There are lots of dogs, and I have also heard the neighing and clip-clop of horses, although I have not seen them. Perhaps they are just echoes from the past.

Today, I ventured downtown for the first time, in a bus that cost four pesos, about forty cents. This was just a scouting foray, so I did not take my camera. The entire city is a maze of streets and alleys, and it is famous for its undeground tunnelsthat take some of the traffic off the streets. This is completely disorienting, so I can tell I will soon give up on directions. There is no complete map of Guanajuato.

I am already several shades darker. I always liked tan and black.
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Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
Fiction
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
Booklist
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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