Thursday, August 30, 2012

In which I go to San Ignacio Guazú, where I meet a Jesuit priest from New York

I took the bus to San Ignacio Guazú, a cute, tranquil town without a single other tourist. The bus ride was atypical in that the driver blared the radio. I couldn’t nap because I was too busy being disgusted hearing songs like “This Magic Moment” sung in Spanish. Also, every time we went through a town, we’d hit a series of speed bumps. Theory was, I suppose, that the bumps would slow highway traffic, but most bus drivers considered them a challenge and maintained their speed.

I found a lovely pensión in what appeared to be an old mission building. The rooms faced a courtyard filled with flowers and orange trees dropping fruit. The walls were thick white adobe that kept my room cool even in the heat of the afternoon. I ate lunch in the pensión bar along with six men who were watching a dubbed rerun of “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

In search of potable water, I went to the little grocery store next to the pensión. I was surprised to find paté, good olive oil, several varieties of hot sauce -- but no bread. I inspected a bar of Brazilian chocolate. We were three years past the expiration date stamped on the label.

Later, I walked to the mission museum. It was a gentle introduction to South American religious art, which I was to discover was bloody and torturous. Here, the Jesuses were skinny, no more, as opposed to the bloody, excoriated, flagellated Christs I was to find in Bolivia and Peru. I signed the register and the woman looked at it. “You’re Peace Corps?” she asked.

“Yes,” I told her.

She pulled a postcard out of her desk. A photo of Denver was on the front. “This is from Susan. She was here six years ago and started a school for disabled children. The school is still running. Do you know her?”

“No,” I said. “She’s from Colorado. I’m from Texas.”

“Our priest is from Texas! Come and meet him!”

I protested, but she grabbed my arm and dragged me to the garden. A middle-aged man with deep acne scars and a brightly-colored striped shirt was watering the flowers.

“Father, this woman is a Peace Corps volunteer from Texas. Maybe you know each other!”

We didn’t. I asked how he’d ended up in Paraguay. “I was a parish priest in Dallas --although I’m from New York originally -- and I got sick of all the high school kids driving BMWs. So I came here.”