Having written of my impressions of Dr. Félix at the Centro de Salud in San Ignacio and of his cavalier preoccupation with sex, it seems well, by contrast, to say a word about the approach to sex of the villagers. For although Dr. Félix is a citizen of the same country, he comes from a very different world. As a boy, Dr. Félix grew up in a huge metropolis where he was orphaned from the soil and from Nature, where sex, as he learned of it, must have been something naughty and elitist. It was joked, whispered, and even shrieked about; distorted, idealized, and devotedly sought—sight unseen—almost like God. By contrast, the villagers of the Sierra Madre have grown up in a world where sex is as plain and natural an element in their daily lives as is the hot dust under their feet in las secas or the fresh taste of rain in las aguas. Three year old Beni, in the casa Chavarín, says to her mother María, “What are the pigs doing?” And María replies simply, “They’re making babies.” ”Oh!” says little Beni, and stares with avid fascination until she has had her fill, then turns to other things. It’s as simple as that.

People grow up regarding sex as normal, necessary, pleasurable—or sometimes painful—and commonplace. It is a man’s nature, they say, to “llenar la barriga y vaciar la bolsa” (fill his belly and empty his pouch). And because “filling his belly” is the appetite he is least confident of satisfying, the campesino’s wishful thinking frequently turns more toward a beautiful cornpatch than a beautiful woman… For as Pelluyo the musician sings with his thrush-like voice,

Se acaba el maíz,

Se acaban los frijoles,

Pero nunca se acaba,

La cosecha de mujeres.

The corn runs out,

The beans run out,

But the harvest of women,

Never runs out.

Sexual indulgence in the villages of the Sierra Madre—as anywhere—may be harsh or gentle. But it is always prevalent, and perhaps for this reason sex is less idealized and glamorized than is good food. Above all, sex is not sordid. Bestial at times, true. But never have I seen the villagers make it dirty and cheap. Somehow a villager can manage to talk about the same anatomy of the same girl with basically the same motives as Dr. Félix, and yet ring as fresh a note as from the city-bred physician it rings foul. In general, the villager finds little need to talk about his sex life, or anyone else’s, (unless, of course, it is a scandal). Sex is not something to be whispered or guffawed about, or that children need to sneak away about, to tell jokes that are funny because they are taboo. Sex, like a bath in the river, is a refreshing and clean respite.

It is true, that with such “directness of desire” comes an array of concomitant problems. When a man’s appetites get the better of him he may rob another man’s corn, or he may “rob” another mail’s wife or daughter. Such acts are frequent. Little Goyo’s Aunt Benencia was raped when she was only thirteen; Goyo’s mother was assaulted twice when she was fifteen. And so on. Although in the villages there is little sign of the overt preoccupation with sex so conspicuous in America today, sexual union is a very significant pastime in the lives of the villagers, being the cheapest (at least initially) as well as the most habit-forming form of entertainment. To the maturing girl, however, sex can be a real threat: not because she is afraid of sexual contact, but because she is afraid of being mistreated or made pregnant by a man who cares for her body only.

All this considered, however, in the people’s matter-of-fact approach to sexuality there remains a kind of innocence, which is to me as refreshing as standing by night on a lone mountain and looking up at the host of sharp stars in a clean sky; after many dreary nights of peering up at the sparse, half-suffocated stars above a city.

In the months I have known Tatino Chavarín, stayed with him in the home of his parents in Ajoya, gone hiking with him, swimming with him, gone with him to the milpa, talked with him of a hundred different things, he never said a word to me about his sex life. Not until two days after we had completed the first round of vaccinations did the subject first arise.

After helping vaccinate, Tatino needed to get back promptly to Ajoya to help his brothers harvest the sesame crop. As he had never been to Verano before, I offered to accompany as far as the ridge overlooking Bordontita, where he could easily find his way along the river.

We set out from El Rancho del Padre shortly after dawn. When we were a hundred yards from Irineo’s big casa, Tatino said with a laugh, “Did I ever have a scare the day before yesterday!”

“How so?” I asked.

“Do you remember that fat woman with the curly hair who came in the afternoon with all the other mothers?”

“Do you mean Escolástica?” I said.

“Yes,” said Tatino, “I was afraid she was going to explode when she saw me. If her eyes had been fangs I’d be dead!”

Tatino reached out and plucked one of the saffron daisies. “It had to do with her daughter.”

“You ‘robbed’ her?” I ventured.

“Yes . . . You see I was about sixteen at the time, and Cirila was thirteen or fourteen…” As we wound our way up the mountainside of cosmos, Tatino told me that when Micaela and Ramón had taken a trip to Mazatlán, he had lured Escolástica’s daughter into the back portal of his home and “robbed” her. The girl then told her mother, who marched off to San Ignacio and demanded that the judiciales (state police) arrest Tatino, which they did. Tatino was taken before El Presidente in San Ignacio (a different Presidente than the present one) who sentenced him to twelve years in prison. When Ramón and Micaela returned from Mazatlán and found their son was in jail, they went to the Presidente and begged him to let Tatino off, offering all the small funds that they could scrape together. But the Presidente refused. As luck would have it, Jesús Manjarréz of San Ignacio, a wealthy and influential friend of Ramón, arrived a few days later from Mexico City, and at Ramón’s request quickly arranged for Tatino’s release. Escolástica was, of course, furious and has remained furious with Tatino ever since. Her daughter has long since married.

“That was eight or nine years ago,” said Tatino. “You’d think she’d cool down. But no!”

“Was Escolástica’s daughter the first you ever robbed?” I asked.

“Lord, no!” replied Tatino, and gave his one-eyed mare a swat on the rump. “The first was when I was about twelve years old, or maybe thirteen. I’m not sure; my mother lost my birth registration when I was still little.” He picked another flower. “You see, it happened like this: One evening after it was dark, a group of us boys were playing ‘Mamitas.’ That’s a game where one half of the boys run and hide while the other half cover their eyes and sing out:

Mamita, Mamita,

y el pan que te doy!

Si más te diera,

más comiera.

Little Mother, Little Mother,

And the bread that I give you!

The more that I give you,

The more you shall eat.

And the other half, from their hiding spots, sing back:

Reloj-o, Reloj-o

No mires pa’ donde voy.

Viene San Pedro,

te quiebra un ojo,

con un tapojo!

Clock-o, Clock-o,

Don’t look where I go!

Come Saint Peter,

He’ll break your eye

With the blinder of a mule!

“Then the first half run to hunt for the second.”

“Well, when it was our turn to run and hide, a friend and I ran down that little path that takes off beyond the house of old Cecelia, you know, the witch who hexed my uncle, and we hid below in the deep, brushy wash. While we were hiding, a young woman of about twenty, called Lina, who lived in the house behind my aunt Lupe, was coming back from Raúl Padilla’s along the path with a bottle of kerosene she’d bought. She had her little boy with her, about four. ‘Let’s grab her’, said my friend. He was about the same age I was, maybe a little older. ‘All right!’ I said. Well, we dashed out of the ditch and grabbed hold of her. Her little boy ran away, screaming. We hauled the woman down into the gully and made her lie down. First my friend robbed her, and then I did. Well, like I say I was only twelve or so. It was the first woman I’d ever had! But I liked it! More than just about anything. And do you know, she didn’t even struggle or cry out. I think she liked it too… Yes, she was married, but her husband had been away for months, so that in those days she didn’t have her man ‘by the foot’. That night was just the beginning. After that my friend and I used to go to the same spot every night and wait for her to come by for kerosene. She made a point of coming, whether she needed kerosene or not. Every night we’d grab her and lead her down the gully and rob her. Sometimes we’d spend as much as four hours, taking turns. We didn’t get much sleep on those nights, but it was worth it! Unfortunately it only lasted about three weeks. Her boy told her father, and the old fellow followed secretly her when she left the house. As ever, my friend and I met her down into the wash. I was all excited and ready when we heard a noise and jumped to our feet. Her father came charging out after us, and we ran off down the arroyo. The old man ran after us, throwing rocks. He didn’t hit us.”

“He didn’t take any action against you?”

“No,” said Tatino. “I don’t think he recognized us. It was dark.”

Suddenly I realized we had taken the wrong trail. Absorbed in conversation, we had drifted along through the tangle of saffron daisies and tall grass until we had come out on the ridge top. I had automatically led the way to the right, toward Jocuixtita, instead of taking the trail to the left, which follows the ridge crest down toward Bordontita. We turned our animals around and headed back along the ridge.

Tatino was now in the mood for reminiscing. “I’ve had narrower escapes than that,” he said. “One time, for instance, when I was about eighteen, I was in Coyotitán visiting relatives, and a young woman I got talking to invited me into her house. She told me her husband had left that morning to work in the, hills and wouldn’t be back for several days. So we got into bed together. Next thing we knew her husband was pounding on the door! Said he’d forgotten his machete, and told his wife to open up. Well, there was no other way out except by that door, and there was only the one room. ‘Quick, under the bed!’ whispered his wife. So I climbed under the bed, and she let in her husband. He lit a cachimba and began to poke about the room. Meanwhile, there I was with my pants off and my breath held, under the bed.”

Tatino laughed at the memory of it. “Then the fellow bent over to look for his machete, and spotted me! Well, he jerked out his knife and scrambled under the bed. And we fought. I managed to get hold of the hand with the knife, but he cut me twice, pretty deep.”

Tatino swatted the one-eyed mare until it came along side Hormiga, and showed me his hands. Across the back of his right hand was a long scar, and on the side of the wrist of his left hand was another.

“We fought for a long time, all over the room. At last his wife helped me get the knife away from him by beating her husband’s hand with a mano del metate (pestle for grinding corn) until he dropped the knife. I ran out of the house, and out of Coyotitán. I didn’t stop until I got to San Ignacio. I was pretty weak by that time. I’d lost a lot of blood.”

We came out on a high crest which overlooked, to our left, the deep, winding valley of the Rio Verde, still dark and mysterious in the shadows of early morning. To our right, far below us in the distance, lay the red-tiled roofs of Jocuixtita, clustered in the middle of the daisy-gilded slopes, now aglow in the early sunlight, while behind them rose the somber escarpments and towering crags of El Cerro de los Chivos.

I pointed out to Tatino a beautiful little rancho, now vacant, called La Higuerita, in a high pocket midway between our viewpoint and Jocuixtita… “You were lucky,” I said. “The owner of that little rancho came back to his house one night this spring and found his wife with another man. Only the other man didn’t come out of it as well as you did. He’s in the hospital in Culiacán with a bullet through his spine, paralyzed from the waist down.”

“Only the lucky stay alive!” said Tatino with a shrug. His eyes swept out over the magnificent panorama. “The mountains are pretty after the rains,” he added. “I like it when everything’s so green and full of life.” We clucked to our animals to move on. Tatino continued to relate his many exploits with the opposite sex. He spoke with no special pride or shame, and always with a kind of child-like enthusiasm. He had simply enjoyed himself, and he said so. On some of his trips to the coast he had experimented with prostitutes. He had been to both the large, government regulated whorehouse near the army camp in Culiacán, and to the small burdél oculto near the junction of the Rio Piaxtla and the main highway, where “the house can’t let the police and soldiers know it exists… officially, that is.”

“No,” Tatino added, “I haven’t been very often. I don’t get down to the coast very much, and when I do, for me fifteen pesos is a lot of money. But I like to do it when I get the chance, especially when I haven’t got a regular woman in Ajoya. A man shouldn’t let much time go by that he doesn’t hechar el palo (put in the pole). If he does, little stones will form in his huevos and he’ll have to have an operation to get them out.”

“What do the young men from the villages do who haven’t got a woman and don’t have the chance to go to the burdeles on the coast?” I asked.

“They either bear it or they rob a girl,” said Tatino. “But there are always women who are ready or who can be persuaded. For example, there’s Ubaldina, the inocente. She likes it a lot and will do it for a peso, or sometimes for nothing if a fellow hasn’t got a peso.”

I noticed that Tatino rarely mentioned the sex act by name, but rather spoke of “it”.

“I’ve never done it with her myself,” Tatino continued. “She repels me. But I know Eberardo has. When Eberardo comes back to the house so happy that you think he’s drunk, but he’s not, and he can’t get that big smile off his face, you can bet he’s been with Ubaldina.” Tatino shook his head. “Of course if a man’s got a lot of money,” he added, “he can have just about whoever he wants. Your good friend, Ramona, as you already know, is the secret mistress of Chuy Vega. He pays her fifty pesos a shot.”

“Are you sure of that?” I asked.

“Where do you think she gets the money to buy all those clothes and perfumes?” replied Tatino. “After all, David, Ramona’s no longer a child! She’s eighteen now. She’s ready and she’s looking. Have you seen the way she shows her thighs? One day when Ramona was sitting out front of the shop, Nicolasa, the old witch, came out and cried at Ramona, ‘Why do you keep showing your thighs? Don’t you know it makes men rear up like burros?’ Mona knew, all right. That’s why she did it. All the men and boys who were standing around exploded with laughter. Poor Ramona covered her face with her hands and ran back into the shop… but she was laughing.”

I learned from Tatino that not all of the men of Ajoya confined their sexual taste to women. For example, he told me that Raúl Padilla, the owner of Ajoya’s largest shop, was a mesatero, a man who spends one month with a woman and the next with a man, according to the changes of the moon. He said that Raúl openly declared his likings and offered twenty pesos a time to young men who would oblige him.

“There are always those who accept,” said Tatino. “After all, twenty pesos is two days wages. I’ve never done it though. I don’t think that I’d like it much.”

Tatino went on to tell me that José Lomas, Tatino’s young cousin and formerly the best hunter in Ajoya (he used to bring me all kinds of wild game because he knew I missed not having much meat) had been el marido (husband) of Raúl.

“But the people started talking,” said Tatino. “They said that José was a puto and that he had ‘salted’ (brought bad luck to) the pueblo. They even blamed him for last year’s drought. The women made it unbearable for José’s wife when she went for water or to wash in the river. At last even his wife began to make fun of him. José couldn’t take the ribbing any longer. That’s why he took his wife and children and left.”

“If the people were so critical of José,” I asked, “why don’t they say anything about Raúl?”

“Oh, they do,” said Tatino. “But in whispers. After all, Raúl is rich, and the people have to beg for credit at his store. José, on the other hand, is poor. Poor guy!”

“You don’t hold anything against José?”

“Why should I?” shrugged Tatino. “The people are always after somebody’s hide. No, I don’t see that José did anything wrong: he made twenty pesos each time.”

Ahead of us the ridge burst suddenly upward in a dark escarpment of volcanic rock. We followed the trail around it to the right, cutting through a, dense forest of bamboo-like otate. Twined about the filmy otate were rich bouquets of a pink-flowering pea called coronillo, whose lavish festoons were being visited by large, lazy butterflies, snow-white above with a round yellow sun-spot painted on each wing.

Tatino suggested that I should get married in Ajoya so that I wouldn’t be tempted to leave. He suggested the sixteen-year-old daughter of Antonio Sánchez. “Antonio would let you,” he insisted. “He’d be delighted. What do you say?”

“She’s pretty and I like her,” I replied, “but . . .”

“You could just tell her you were going to marry her, and later leave her,” explained Tatino. “Shall I talk to her for you?”

“I wouldn’t feel right about it,” I said.

“Why not?” said Tatino,). “The girls don’t mind being tricked. They expect it.”

“What about you, Tatino,” I suggested. “You’re how old? Twenty-four or twenty-five? Haven’t you got any thoughts of getting married?”

“Oh yes,” said Tatino, “I’d like to get married. Then I wouldn’t have to keep jumping from one woman to the next.”

“How many women would you say you’ve had?” I asked.

“Not many,” replied Tatino. “Let’s see . . .” He counted on his fingers. “Only fourteen, not including whores.”

“Have you had any children by any of them?” I asked.

“Just two that I know about,” he replied.

“Have you ever asked a girl if she’d marry you, and meant it?” I asked.

“Just once,” said Tatino. “It was a couple of years ago, around the time you came with your students. I was going with a young girl from Duranguito. She was only twelve. One afternoon I took her out into el monte and we found a little clearing where we thought no one would find us. Well, we’d just finished doing it, and were sitting there side by side talking, when we heard someone coming through the brush. It was her brother. He had a rifle with him. He was hunting cüiches. ‘What are the two of you doing here?’ he asked us. ‘Talking,’ we said. ‘Just see that that’s all!’ he said, and he went away. I knew there was likely to be trouble, so I asked the girl if she would come and live with me. She said yes, and we did it again. Then we started back toward Duranguito to talk with her parents. But we met her father coming our way. He had his rifle with him. I told her father we planned to get married. He got mad and said to the girl, ‘I’ll give you a choice, daughter: You can have a father, or you can have a husband, but you can’t have both. Not yet! Which will it be?’ Well, she began to cry, and said, ‘I think I’d better go with my father.’ ‘As you wish,’ I said. But I was hurt and angry inside. I really wanted her then. She was crying. Her father took her by the hand and led her down the trail a few meters, and there he beat her with his fist. My God, how he beat her! And I couldn’t do anything because he had the rifle. Then he led her off toward their casa, and I went back to Ajoya. About two weeks later her father came to Ajoya and asked me if I would marry her. He said he’d changed his mind and it was all right with him. But I’d changed my mind, too, by that time, and said no.”

“You’re not going with any woman now, are you?” I asked Tatino. “I’ve never seen you with one.”

“I hope nobody’s seen me,” said Tatino. “I don’t want my parents to know. They’d have a fit. You see, she’s María Elena, the wife of Manuel in the house next door to us.”

“How do you manage it?” I asked.

“Each of us sneaks out in the middle of the night as if we have to excuse ourselves. It’s an old trick we learned as children from our parents—where everyone sleeps in a single room. First one parent gets up and goes out as if to take a dump; and a few minutes later, the other. But they don’t come back for half an hour or so, so all the kids know what’s happening, if they’re awake. The two of them go to a spot in el monte that the father cleared very clean with a machete the day before. When they come back, the children all pretend they’re asleep. Or if one of the smallest children is so stupid as to ask his folks where they’ve been, the father says, ‘Shut up! Go to sleep!’ Well, that’s more or less how María Elena and I do it, too.”

“What will Manuel do to you if he catches you?” I asked.

Tatino grinned. “Kill me… if he can!”

We reached the point where the ridge we were following began to drop off abruptly and we began to wind our way down toward the junction of the Arroyo de Caballo with the Rio Verde. We could see the village of Bordontita far below us in the distance.

“She is such a beautiful thing!” said Tatino happily.

“María Elena?” I said.

“No,” replied Tatino with a laugh. “María Elena’s not lovely at all. She’s ugly. I mean the thing itself, you know, the act. How I do like it! I’ve been doing it since I was twelve, and the will hasn’t left me at all.” He looked out over the wide valley. “I like it as much as I like riding all day through the mountains, as we are doing now, when everything is green and alive. It makes me feel strong, you know what I mean? And it is natural. The most natural thing I know.”

Tatino smiled broadly, and looked a little pleased with himself for having thought out all his feelings so well. “We certainly have talked!” he said, laughing. We rode on down the slope in silence.

On re-reading what I have written on “Tatino’s Love Life,” I notice that the first and last time I used the word “love” was in the heading. Tatino’s exploits with the opposite sex clearly and openly are expressions of lust, with no pretensions of love. In fact, the word amar—to love—has virtually been dropped from the local language, the villagers using only the word querer—to want, or to like—to express their deepest, most passionate bonds. A deep love is nevertheless very evident in many close relationships. If Tatino’s affairs are conspicuously devoid of real affection, it may be because he has not yet set up house with a woman and tried to live with her through thick and thin. By contrast, Tatino’s parents, old Micaela and the blind Ramón, after thirty-five years of floods and droughts, harvests and hunger spells, simple pleasures and crushing adversities, have become united by a bond so complete that the visiting nuns’ insistence that the aging couple marry seems absurd. Their “marriage” is clearly far deeper and more durable than are the superficial pacts awarded by church or state! Many times, as I observe the depth and closeness of the bonds between persons such as old Micaela and Ramón, I recall James Thurber’s simple insight: “Love is what two people have been through together.” Tatino, for all his adventures, still has a long way to go.