Q. In your previous books women rarely played an important part in your apprenticeship. They appeared as dull, ordinary mortals or evil-tempered witches. Now the men are gone or have taken a secondary position to figures like la Gorda. Why have don Juan and don Genaro been replaced by la Gorda and the Toltec Woman?
A. Don Juan believed women have more talent than men because they are more receptive to the world. They do not waste themselves as much in this life. It’s natural that he would leave me in the hands of a woman. It couldn’t have happened any other way, because only a woman can teach the art of stalking. Women know this art well because they have always lived with the enemy. They have always had to tread softly in a male-dominated world. That is why the Toltec Woman came to teach us.
Women are very powerful beings. Josefina, for example, is a real wonder. She’s crazy. Crazy! Josefina could never function in this world. She flies very far away but she always comes back because she doesn’t want to leave this world alone. She wants to take me and she tempts me all the time with her tales of wonder during her flying. But la Gorda saves me. She is my foothold and my equilibrium.
Josefina is a being without attachments to the material world; she’s ethereal. She can leave any time. La Gorda and I are much more careful.
Q. The Toltec Woman sounds very intriguing. What is she like? How does she differ from don Juan?
A. The modality of the Toltec Woman is totally different from don Juan’s. For one thing, she doesn’t like me at all. She loves la Gorda, though. She is a very strong woman and her muscles move in a special way. She is old, but she appears to be a young woman made-up to look old. Do you remember the movie Giant with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean? She plays the part of an older woman at some point, but one always knows she is very young. That’s what the Toltec Woman looks like.
Do you ever read the National Enquirer? That’s the only thing I read when I come to Los Angeles. A friend of mine saves me back issues. I saw Elizabeth Taylor’s picture there recently. She is really a “giant” now!
The Toltec Woman is responsible for all of us now. Things have changed a lot since don Juan left. I miss him. But I had to learn from women. The Toltec Woman gets very angry and she hits us a lot. We walk around with these great bruises from her beatings. And she gives us terrible tasks! There is a great deal I do not understand and things I will never be able to explain. But I trust don Juan completely. By now I have learned to trust that which I don’t understand. Don Juan proved to me over and over how foolish my desire to understand things was. He was right.
The Toltec Woman will leave soon. She’s told us two other women will take her place. The Toltec Woman is very strict and her demands are terrible. But as awful as she is she is better than the ones who will come after her. Maybe she won’t leave yet. One can’t really stop the body from complaining and being afraid of the undertaking ahead. And yet… there is no way of altering destiny.
Q. In your last book you speak of the “holes” in people who have had children. How do you then explain doña Soledad’s attitude towards Pablito or that of la Gorda towards her daughters? It seems inconceivable that having children would take away the “edge” from life.
A. Well, I can’t really explain it all that well. There are differences between people who have reproduced and those who have not. In order to tiptoe past the eagle one has to be whole. A person full of holes cannot get through. Don Genaro is a crazy, crazy man. Don Juan is a crazy, serious man. He goes slowly but he gets farther. In the end they both get there.
Like don Juan, I have holes and I will have to follow his way. The Genaros have another way. They have a special edge that don Juan and I don’t have. They are more nervous, they move faster. They are very light. Nothing stops them.
Those who have had children, like la Gorda and me, have other characteristics that compensate for that loss. We are calmer, and even though the path is long and arduous, we still get there. Generally, those who have had children know how to take care of others. It’s just different.
Most of the time people have no idea what they are doing or why they do it. They are not conscious of their acts and then they pay! I had no idea what I was doing.
When I was born, I took everything away from my mother and father. I left them mangled. I had to give them back the edge I had taken away from them. Now I have to regain that edge myself.
Q. Are the holes irreparable or can they be repaired?
A. Nothing is irrevocable in life, and the holes can heal. It is always possible to return that which does not belong to us and to recoup that which does.
Q. What are your immediate plans?
A. La Gorda and I will probably travel. She wants to travel and go to “Paricci,”as she calls it. Now that she shops at Gucci and looks very elegant she wants to go to Paris. I keep telling here there is nothing there but she still wants to go. She’s even learned English very well. That, too, was part of her task.
Q. Will Carlos ever be free and join don Juan and don Genaro on the other side?
A. I have lived at a level lower than that of the Mexican peasant, which is to say a great deal. The difference between the peasant and me is that a peasant has hope and works to attain things and believes in the future. I, on the other hand, have nothing and each time will have less.
Right now my only freedom lies in being impeccable, because only by being impeccable can I change my destiny and leave this world whole. If I do I will join don Juan and don Genaro; if I don’t, I will not change my destiny and the eagle will devour me.
In this world I never am more myself than when I am Joe Cordoba, frying hamburgers all day long, my eyes filled with smoke.
For the first installment of this interview, click here.