Beneath the Noise
(Catemaco, Mexico)

At the southern end of 2 de Avril, at the intersection of the Malecón and Playa, a rectangular-shaped, poured concrete traffic island—lime green around its base, and a bit faded after years of direct tropical sunlight—holds 3 young palm trees in 3 separate circular elevated poured concrete planters, their own lime green bases perfectly matching the traffic island’s color. 2 lamp posts are also to be found on the island, bookending the 3 young palms. Both lamp posts (in a slightly darker shade of green than the rest of the ensemble) support 3 spherical glazed-white bulb casings in a design that—as a passerby once casually remarked—seems to emulate the victory platforms seen at Olympic contests and general athletic championship events. As the man delicately stated, at the register of a purring cat: “First place highest in the center, second place a bit lower to the left, and third place even a touch lower and to the right side”. 2 small ornamental plants, ragged yet confident from years of existence, round out the traffic island’s composition.

This island, whose main purpose to guide automobile traffic safely through an unorthodox convergence of 3 streets, also plays two other key roles: it serves as an oversized drainage catch basin for the torrential flood waters that seasonally make their way down 2 de Avril, and it is the meeting place for a small pensive group of area mystics, some of whom (excepting the 1 or 2 street vendors and the self-proclaimed "Idiot of the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas") actually helped in the strategic design and planning of the island itself, along with other integral structural elements of the town’s seaside promenade.

As opposed to the majority of healers and shamans found in the town of Catemaco, the traffic island group have never once considered themselves to be functioning professional practitioners of witchcraft, but instead aim to remain behind the scenes in a town where magic has become a type of low-grade tourist attraction. In fact—and perhaps due to their understated casual demeanor—it is nearly impossible for anyone outside of the group to ascertain their dedication to the mystical and supernatural. On initial interaction with any group member it is most likely that one will receive as response solely a rattling of keys, a melodic whistle (and the quick wave of a hand), or at best the soft tenor rendition of an area folktale.

With dedicated time and effort, however, an embedded visitor—at the point of becoming a resident and fixture along the Malecón—might start to discover traces of the group’s spiritual side: the preference for a quick hop through the rear-side roll-up window opening of the corner bar & taqueria (instead of taking the normal front entrance!); the specific design & planning decision of dual-facing concrete benches, integrated as openings and passageways into the run of the beachfront promenade’s pipe-rail fencing; the subtle observation and discussion of any used peanut shells found near doorways or gated openings; and the pleasure found in discussions of fog and the region’s often overcast weather.

In consultation with the proprietor of an area kiosk, it was hypothesized that this pleasant yet taciturn group from the traffic island might hold a more dedicated than usual interest, curiosity and respect for thresholds of various kinds. As well, the group seems to maintain an implicit belief that any special powers they might actually have, could be better served for subtle, often overlooked urban planning decisions, as opposed to the myriad of zócalo mystics whose only missions are usually to help tourists and local citizens with spiritual cleansings, the location of their vanished loved ones or the retrieval of missing cats.


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