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BOOKS & THE CULTURE I BY DAVID ROMO Ringside Seat to a Revolution The following excerpt is adapted from Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez: 1893-1923 \(Cinco was raised in both Juarez and El Paso, but I’ve spent a large part of my life trying to get as far away from both of these cities as possible. If you walk through downtown El Paso after 5 p.m., you’ll find that the place is dead. Mostly there’s just a lot of loan shark agencies and trinket shops inside neglected old buildings. There’s more action in Juarez. But it didn’t appeal to me either. There was too much suffering there. So pretty much from an early age I wanted out. I wanted to go some place where things were happeningwhere matters of significance occurred. I didn’t want to live on the border, on the edge of the world. I wanted a cosmopolitan cultural center, a city with a busy nightlife, museums, bookstores, theaters, lots of history and no Border Patrol. I didn’t know back then that the Border Patrol is everywhere. But as soon as I graduated from high school, I split. I spent four years in northern California, twoand-a-half in Jerusalem and five years in Florence. But something kept drawing me back to this desert, this place that so many consider nothing more than a vast cultural wasteland. My family and friends had a lot to do with me coming back, of course. But there was something else. If geography is destiny, as they say, then I felt I had to come to terms with my own geography. I’ve been looking for Pancho Villa for the last four years. I didn’t intend to. When I began writing this book, it was meant to be a psychogeography, not a history. In 2001, I was the artistic director of El Paso’s Bridge Center for Contemporary Art and had just received a grant to chart the underground cultural life of El Paso and Juarez. The first rule of psychogeography is to walk through the streets without preconceived notions; just drift and let the city’s underground currents take you where they will. The areas that drew me the most at first were the Tex-Mex dives along Alameda Avenue, neglected cemeteries, the Santa Fe International Bridge, the seedy hangouts on Avenida Juarez, and the old buildings around downtown El Paso. Almost everywhere I went, Pancho Villa had been there before me. I ordered an elote and a lemonade near a Korean-owned store on Mesa and Texas Streets where everything costs a dollar. It had once been the Elite Confectionary. Villa and General Pascual Orozco, who headed Madero’s troops during the Battle of Juarez, had been there in 1911. Pancho and Pascual didn’t like each other very much, but they had posed for Otis Aultman’s camera anyway, sitting stiffly next to each other. Pancho, famous for his sweet tooth, had ordered the Elite Baseball, a scoop of chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream, for ten cents. Pascual didn’t want anything. I walked two blocks down from the Elite Confectionary to the First National Bank Building on the corner of Oregon and San Antonio. In 1914 Villa had his Consulado de Mexico there. El Paso Detective Fred Delgado, who moonlighted as Villa’s secret agent, worked out of Room 418. When the U.S. recognized Venustiano Carranza in 1915, Pancho Villa shut the consulate down. I looked around the place, maybe something had been left behind. Villa’s offices were empty. The whole building was empty. No one had even bothered to at least put up a little sign reading: “Pancho Villa was here.” Pancho Villa had been across the street at the El Paso del Norte Hotel as well. That’s where my Latin Jazz band, Fronteras No Mas, used to play at the hotel’s Dome Bar every Saturday night for tourists and hip Latinos. Villa didn’t like that place too much though. He thought too many perfumadossweet smelling dandiesstayed there, like the Guggenheims \(who owned one of the ASARCO smelters Villa threatened Pershing, Alvaro Obregon and the Terrazas clan. He preferred to lodge at the Roma Hotel, on the corner of Paisano and El Paso Street, during his American exile in 1913. It was a more down-toearth place. Villa and his number one wife Luz Corral stayed there after he escaped from a Mexico City prison. She had a soft spot for El Paso too. Pancho would walk around coddling pigeons in his arms. People thought he was a little eccentric but he told them pigeons were the only thing he could eat, on account of his delicate stomach. The truth was he was using them as homing pigeons, to send messages to his rebel friends in Chihuahua. Almost every evening, Pancho Villa would walk downstairs to the Emporium Bar, which was also a little strange since Pancho was a teetotaler. He would order nothing but strawberry soda pop, his favorite drink, and hang out with all kinds of characters. One evening, he met with alleged German secret agent Maximilian Kloss at the bar. Apparently, the agent wanted to buy the rights to some submarine bases in Baja California just in case Germany went to war against the United States. After a few months of walking through the city, I realized my aimless wanderings had transformed themselves into an obsessive, very focused manhunt. I’d somehow entered a zone I couldn’t leave. I followed every clue, no matter how insignificant. I wanted to know about Villa’s eating habits: He loved canned asparagus and could eat a pound of peanut brittle at a time. 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 13, 2006