By E.A. Barrera
“The air was thick with dirt, you could taste it, the heat too heavy to breathe without singeing the lungs. The summer rains never came this year. Just yesterday, dark virile clouds hung low. They came swaggering in all boast and bluster, flirting with mother earth, pledging rain and summer flowers. But it was all a puff-and-blow act. The fickle clouds soon broke their promise and wandered off to answer someone else’s prayers.”
Tequila Lemon and Salt
Daniel Reveles, 2005
Daniel Reveles stands in front of a crowded room at the Rancho San Diego Public Library… with his thinning white hair combed upwards towards the center of his head like a strutting, proud peacock. His skin is a deep tan, and his eyes glimmer as he talks to the overflow audience about the “Diana Bar” or “Gabriel Adame” or most important of all, his home town of Tecate.
“Like all Mexican towns, the plaza is the soul of Tecate. You can sit on a bench and watch as the teenagers gather to flirt in front of the fountain, or the secretaries clip-clop on their platform shoes, wearing miniskirts as they head back to the office. The old men gather in the plaza and talk of revolution,” said Reveles. “Time no longer exists in my town. There is no internet, no cable television … most people do not even have their own phone. As one of my friends once said, ‘in Tecate, time’s swift chariot has a flat tire.’”
Reveles has written a new collection of short stories based on characters and moments he has known in Tecate. Titled Tequila, Lemon, and Salt - From Baja ... Tales of Love, Faith and Magic, the stories range in tone and dimension from bittersweet recollections of love and friendship, to hilarious absurdities with a touch of the magical realism that is the hallmark of modern Latin American literature. Though he will speak for hours on the simplicity of life in Tecate, his stories are complex tales filled with the nightmares of modern life, such as the woman who contracts AIDs from her philandering husband, or the crippled woman who has never known love and finally finds it after offering a prayer and releasing a balloon into the sky with a note seeking to find a mate.
“They both felt awkward now, just looking at each other, then Esperanza began to feel she was standing in front of him without her clothes. This gorgeous man read my intimate message to God. He knows my age, he knows how desperate I am, he knows everything,” writes Reveles in his story “Dear God.”
He moved to Tecate in 1976 after a career in Hollywood as a jack-of-all-trades journeyman who worked in movies, television and radio. The death of his wife in the late 1970s was the event which began his current life as a writer, though he told the audience at the Rancho San Diego library that he began earning money as a writer during his teens.
“I sold love letters for one dollar in junior high to the boys who were falling madly in love with a new girl each week, but could not put a sentence together to save their life,” said Reveles. “Later, when I was in the army during World War II, I sold letters to GIs writing home to their wives or sweethearts. Of course I charged a little more by then.”
Now in his 70s (he would not reveal his actual age) Reveles was a late bloomer to literature. He spoke to the audience about his journey as a reader of good literature - how he did not read Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past until after he had turned 40. He said he read many of the authors who have influenced his work - Somer-set Maugham, Willa Cather and O. Henry - later in life and commented that if he’d read the works of these authors at a younger age, he probably could not have understood their meaning.
“We can be very selfish and closed to feelings when we are young,” said Reveles. The process of writing was of interest to the people in the audience and Reveles enjoyed speaking about his methods for writing - primarily a total devotion to the work with no other distractions and a capacity to maintain a disciplined schedule.
“Writing is ten percent talent and 90 percent hard work And the most important lesson I have learned was once said by Maugham, who commented that it was better to offend your readers than bore them,” said Reveles. “You must make your work interesting. You must make the words come alive. The process is just like making a movie in that you create a series of scenes, and in each scene, you describe for the reader what is happening - what the sounds are for the characters at that moment; what they smell, what they see.”
He told the audience that the creative climate afforded him in Tecate was unique in it’s ability to inspire him and provide him with rich characters and moments.
“If I lived in Chicago, I think I’d stop writing,” said Reveles. “If you are in the arts - if you are creative - than you should come to Mexico.”
Reveles’ appearance was part of a Friends of the Rancho San Diego Library series, which sponsors similar events throughout the year. Reveles allowed the proceeds of the books he sold that afternoon to go towards the program, which sponsors such things as a Children’s Summer Reading Program, as well purchasing furniture and maintaining the libraries infrastructure. Sherry Johnson, who heads the Friends program noted that on Saturday, April 16, the library group would be holding their annual “$1 per bag” book sale.
“People can come down to the library, purchase a bag for a dollar and fill it with as many donated books as they care to take,” said Johnson. “In fact, we encourage folks to buy as many bags as they want.”
The “$1 per bag” book sale will take place between 10a.m. and 3p.m. at the Rancho San Diego Library bookstore - called the “Courtyard Bookstore.” The library is located at 11555 Via Rancho San Diego, in the unincorporated area of El Cajon near Cuyamaca Community College. For more information, you may call the library at 619-660-5370 or Johnson at 619-670-5650.