AN INTRODUCTION BY NATHAN ROSTRON
When we at Restless Books first learned that the Chilean cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky — the madman/genius behind such voluptuously unsettling and surreal epic movies as The Holy Mountain, El Topo, and Santa Sangre — had written novels, we were intrigued. And maybe a little frightened. His films tend to leave their viewers enthralled, disturbed, emotionally and sensorially drained. The images are the material of nightmares and erotic fantasy — often both at once. What sort of esoteric labyrinth would we have to walk in those pages in order to extract their meaning? What minotaur would be waiting at the center? Whatever the danger, we knew we had to take the leap.
It was with delight that we dived into the pages of Where the Bird Sings Best (the first book that Restless Books printed, last March) and discovered a richly novelistic (and, in Jodorowskian terms, surprisingly straightforward) family story, an auto-mythography of Jodorowsky’s ancestors who immigrated from the Ukraine to Chile. We rediscovered what readers in the Spanish-speaking world already knew: for all his cinematic fame, Jodorowsky was also a major literary author.
The second installment of our trilogy of Jodorowsky novels, Albina and the Dog-Men, is a seductive genre mashup only he could conceive: a Western-cum-ancient folktale-cum-road novel-cum-werewolf story about an otherworldly sapphic albino giantess whose sexual power literally turns the men of a small Chilean village into dogs. One day, the titular Albina lands like a messenger of Heaven into the world of a bitter barkeeper whose temperament and sidelong gait earns her the moniker Crabby. Albina cracks something open in Crabby, and together they build a bond that shields them from a world bent upon their destruction. But their road is made more difficult by a side of Albina that comes out only during the full moon…
As you’ll read in this excerpt, Crabby and Albina are fleeing the corrupt and lecherous policeman Drumfoot, who’s been made more dangerous and hell-bent by Albina’s bite. Happily, they rescue a drowning dwarf, Amado, who may have the key to their salvation. I guarantee it’s like no other novel you’ll read this spring — and perhaps ever.
The Visionary Hatter
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
Translated by Alfred MacAdam
Crabby and Albina the albino giantess leave town on a bicycle built for two after drugging the corrupt and lecherous policeman Drumfoot, who is now dangerously transformed by a bite from Albina. While disturbed by the violence they’ve witnessed, the new companion they rescue might change their cynical idea of men.
Crabby pedaled in the forward seat. Albina, behind, moving her enormous legs automatically without holding onto the handlebars, was writing in her notebook: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I do know with whom I’m going. I don’t know where I am, but I do know that I’m here. I don’t know what I am, but I do know how I feel. I don’t know what I’m worth, but I do know not to compare myself to anyone else. I don’t know how to dodge punches, but I do know how to withstand them. I don’t know how to win, but I do know how to escape. I don’t know what the world is, but I do know that it’s mine. I don’t know what I want, but I do know that what I want wants me.”
In that manner, they reached the outskirts of Iquique. The fishmeal factories appeared, covered by a thick layer of café-con-leche colored dust and vomiting thick smoke that slithered up through the chimneys and down to the ground, where they threw down roots and stuck. Rotten meat, acrid excrement, fermented guts — the stench passed through their pores, infected their blood, and tried to infect their souls. Crabby made Albina sit up front and pedaled behind her, sinking her nose into Albina’s wide back. The pestilence was like the mass of demons born from Crabby’s intestines, and the fragrance that emanated from Albina’s white skin, the redemption of the world. Barely breathing, they covered twelve more miles.
After a steep hill, the ocean appeared, sending its salty aroma toward the flank of the mountain, which, under that extended caress, responded with a thousand perfumes from its ochre earth. “Let’s stop to enjoy the pure air and to eat a bit. Just look, Albina, all I have to do is stroll among the rocks on the shore for the crabs to come to me.” Which was exactly the case; hundreds of crustaceans came out of the cracks and began to follow Crabby. It was easy to catch a couple, open them up, roast them on a red-hot stone, and devour them. All the while crabs never stopped rubbing against the legs of the woman they considered their Universal Mother.
A ray of lunar light passed through the keyhole and hit Drumfoot’s forehead. He awakened without realizing he was naked, and lifted the leg with his normal foot to scratch himself behind the ear. Then he went into the kitchen and lapped up the water in the washbasin. Since the door resisted his shoves, he pulled up some of the floorboards and used his hands to dig into the clayish soil and make a hole to get out. He howled at the waning moon and set out, bent over, sniffing the road. “Mmm… they stopped here and placed their feet right on this spot… mmm!… they peed here and… mmm!” He rolled around in Albina’s excrement, panting with pleasure.
Some soldiers on coastal patrol found him that way, naked and carrying out that fetid act. After giving him a good thrashing, paying no attention to his heartrending barks, they dragged him off to the police station. After two days, he got his mind back. The bite on his shoulder had healed, leaving a violet, half-moon shaped scar. “Those witches will get what they deserve!” Drumfoot spent hours sharpening his knife.
The narrow road built by the Incas along the ridge seemed to float over the abyss. Far below, the waves, transformed into gigantic foamy lips, called to them, insidiously sucking. Luckily, the landscape flattened out little by little, and the path was swallowed up by the dunes on a beach. Albina stripped, ran over the hot sand, and plunged into the glacial water. Crabby followed her, fully dressed. They swam, frolicked, ate clams, and drank the little water they had left, knowing that if they didn’t find a town soon, thirst would swell their tongues.
Twelve bowlers floated out of a creek followed by top hats, pith helmets, military caps, pork pie hats, Panama hats, and a huge variety of hats with upturned brims. The tide was carrying them to the shore like an armada of fragile little boats. The intrigued women climbed the rocky wall. On a narrow beach, a small man — he had no visible deformity, so he couldn’t be called a dwarf — surrounded by empty hatboxes was staring out to sea. As they watched he burst into high-pitched laughter, ran toward the high waves, and let himself be carried away, beginning to drown in those convulsing waters.
Albina dove in. Swimming vigorously, she reached the desperate man, knocked him cold with a punch to the jaw, and floated him to the beach. Crabby shouted in a rage, “Why did you bother to risk your life? You should have let him carry out his destiny! He may be small, but he is a man, and one less man in the world is a good thing!” The drowned man opened his eyes, and with an amiable smile said to Crabby, “Madam, perhaps my destiny was to be saved by your friend here, or, even better, perhaps I’m here so that your destiny can be carried out. The plans of mystery contain multiple paths. But I see you have eaten clams! Allow me to translate what these scattered shells mean.” And the little man examined the remains.
“The white lady, who has fled from a temple — I don’t know if she transmits a blessing or a curse. She’s something less or something more than human. With regard to you, Madam Anger, it seems you hate men because you see them as identical to your father, a thin, tall, dead man who was a callous remover by profession. Since I am the opposite of him, a pudgy, living, short man, a hat maker by profession, you may accept me as a partner without a second thought.”
“As a partner? You’re raving mad!”
“Wait a second, let me go on interrogating my clams. A dangerous enemy is chasing you. One of you dances, and the other manages her. You’re looking for a tranquil place to set yourselves up. Now I appear. About a mile from here, in a ravine near the Camarones River — not much of a river, true, but more than welcome in these sandy territories — is my town, Camiña. A little-known place because the highway is far away from it and you can only get there on foot or by mule. About forty years ago, miners loaded with silver from the Chanabaya mine came to town. My father sold them all kinds of hats, because they wanted to look elegant for the prostitutes working in the saloons. But the silver veins gave out, the miners went off to other regions, and the whores followed them. I inherited an enormous shop filled with bowlers, wide-brimmed, narrow-brimmed, and pork-pie hats opening their felt jaws hungry for heads. Those mute complaints drove me to despair. With no other profession than this useless hat-making business and forced by my stature to have no wife, sick with boredom, I decided to bury myself in the sea along with my little felt brothers. But as you two may see, I have a different destiny. Come with me, I’ll give you everything I have, a magnificent shop in the center of town! There you can set up, as the clam shells tell me, the café-temple you want!”
Hiding a smile under her severe face, Crabby looked over at Albina, certain she’d burst into a crystalline laugh of approval. The little man was offering them exactly what they had been seeking but had no hope of ever finding, convinced they could only locate it in an unreachable future. But perhaps because the day ended so brusquely, devoured in one bite by the full moon, Albina tensed her muscles to the point that her white skin turned garnet red, showed her teeth, as if all of them were canines, and stuck out a hard, black tongue. Leaping like a wild beast, she snatched the hat maker, wrapped him in a rib-smashing embrace, pulled off his clothes, rubbed her body with his as if the poor man were a sponge, and bit him on the left shoulder, pulling off a piece of flesh she swallowed with delight. Squealing with a sensual pleasure that filled her stomach with waves, she sat down, foaming at the mouth, and recited for hours incomprehensible words: “Bhavan abhavan iti yah prajanate… sa sarvabhavesu na jatu sañjate…” Crabby, always wearing her severe mask, swallowing her astonishment (she considered that with regard to Albina’s unsoundable mysteries it was just better to let them pass, perhaps like divine serpents), picked up the hat maker’s torn clothing, took needle and thread out of her pocket, and with the precision of a sailor sewed everything back together. The hat maker, almost stiff, sometimes emitted small barks or wiggled his backside as if wagging an invisible tail. Soon the sun came up. No sooner did the first ray of light caress her face than Albina, even though she hadn’t slept, seemed to awaken from a deep sleep. Pale once again, she made a small cry of sympathy and went to the hat maker, who was still in a faint, and licked his shoulder. The wound closed in a few seconds and became a violet half moon.
While Albina recovered from her attack by breathing in the sea air and waving her arms like a giant albatross, Crabby dressed their new friend. When she put on his trousers, she surprised herself examining with pleasure that short, large-headed pink penis arising humbly from a clenched scrotum grooved with wrinkles ordered like an ancient labyrinth. It enraged her to admire that sublime and grotesque appendage. She smacked him on the back, and barely had he blinked when she said incisively, “Seeing is believing, John Doe. If your worship says we three are knotted into the same destiny, let’s not make a habit of rejection, and let’s accept that Camiña awaits us. But before we take the first step along that fatal path, please be so kind as to tell us your name — that is, if you have one. I for one don’t go beyond my nickname. Crabby, at your service. My friend, in accord with her pigmentation, is named Albina.”
“Madam Crabby, Miss Albina, for many years now I’ve been called Hat Maker. Even so, I must confess — overwhelmed by shame, since it is a ridiculous injustice — that I was baptized Amado, because my last name, perhaps of Italian origin, is Dellarosa. So I am ‘beloved by the woman who is a rose!’ How’s that for a lie?” And the little man began to weep. Crabby spit violently toward the parched hills so that she wouldn’t feel the knot in her throat.
In that dried out valley, where the earth was a hard shell covered by a pattern of angular cracks, Amado Dellarosa guided them for hours along a steep path that went forward, backward, twisted left, then after a very long curve, went right, straightened out and again went forward, repeating the same movements again and again, hundreds of times. Crabby shook her head trying to banish an impertinent thought: this capricious path was a labyrinth that resembled in every detail the wrinkles on the little man’s scrotum. Albina, perhaps affected by rays of the sun drilling into her skull, began to repeat obsessively a single sentence: “Seek in the root the future flower.” Finally they entered a grand plateau surrounded by mountains: Camiña.
The town consisted of an extensive circle of wooden houses built around a plaza where grew four enormous cypresses whose trunks were studded with woody eyes, making them look like a nest of ghosts. No living person or animal was visible. No breeze shook the spiny branches, no curtain waved, no fly buzzed. Everything looked clean, dry, immobile, and silent.
“Dear friends, don’t think my town is a cemetery. After twelve o’clock noon it’s so hot that all inhabitants, along with their pets, retreat to the penumbra of home and take a seven-hour siesta. For their part, the wild animals dig tunnels under the desert plain so they can let the heat pass while in narrow but cool grottoes. Believe me, King Sol hits so hard in these parts that the mosquitoes die in midair. Later in the afternoon, when the temperature becomes agreeable, the businesses still functioning — barbershop, billiard hall, grocery store, herb shop — open their doors while the townspeople stroll the ring-street, men in one direction and women in the other, doing nothing else but staring at one another and saying hello. Nothing extraordinary ever happens here. When the Chanabaya mine closed down and the miners left, the Lady, along with her whores, went off after them. By some miracle, she forgot us. For a long time now, no one has died in Camiña. Old folks, when they’re informed they have to give up and yield their spot to someone new, go to live in the abandoned mine tunnels, a charnel house that goes on for miles toward the very entrails of the earth. We know they’re still alive because from time to time they form a chorus and sing old love songs. It seems — though no one has proven it, as we’re all scared to death of even going near the mine — that they eat the red clay that covers the walls. As for us, we’ve learned to survive by keeping bees from the pampa. It’s a rare species, peaceful up to a point. If you approach them on tiptoe, fine, but if someone approaches planting his entire foot on the ground, they sting him without pity and he falls into a coma, transformed into a mass of rashes. For lack of flowers, these worker bees suck the juice of sea algae and make a delicious, salty honey. As you can see, the roofs of all the houses are covered with hives. Pinco, the deaf mute, transports our product to Arica on burros. The tourists just love it, and the money we get from sales allows us to survive. We are bored, yes, but in a certain way we secretly enjoy the fact that we have at our disposal an apparently infinite amount of time. You must understand that lacking any end changes your mentality. The urgency to do things disappears; idleness, once a sin, has become a virtue. The present moment stops causing trouble and offers us its unconcerned calm. Hope, because it’s unnecessary, is expelled from our souls along with fear. Since we all have the security of living, the only thing we long for is to sleep and find the opium that is pleasant dreams. Solitary pleasure is preferred rather than bothersome coitus. Seduction, lacking a mortal anguish to exacerbate it, becomes an obstacle. A long robe, wide and black, accompanied by a handkerchief worn on the head makes all women identical. It makes no difference whether you marry this one or that one, and that’s only done when a pregnancy is needed to fill the vacancy left by an old person. Do you see why I tossed my hats into the sea and wanted to make the waves my grave? Living without death is not living. But here I am going on and on, while the hat shop awaits us.”
No one peered out to see them arrive, despite the fact that their footsteps, no matter how hard they worked to make them weightless, resounded on the whitish asphalt, turning it into a drum. Suddenly, a voluminous bee, its body a brilliant scarlet, flew over to trace a halo around Crabby’s head. The hat maker whispered, “Make not the slightest gesture. It’s a warrior-spy. It can sting without losing its stinger, and its poison is deadly.” Crabby, stiff despite the heat, thought she would sweat ten thousand gallons of cold water. And her terror increased when the animal slowly flew toward Albina. Smiling, Albina shook her hips, opened her mouth, and stuck out her tongue. The bee landed on that moist appendage and began to drink her saliva. Gorged, it used its stinger to draw a tiny cross on Albina’s white throat and then drew another on Crabby’s forehead. Then it flew off like a flame to its hive. From all the roofs arose a general buzzing, rather like rain falling from the earth to the sky. “Well,” said the little man, “both of you were accepted! Hallelujah! I don’t have to tell you how many smugglers and bandits have been killed by those guardians! Without their permission, no outsider enters our town.”
Crabby swallowed her rage. Without warning her, this squirt had dared — a second time — to place the life of her friend at risk. Her own mattered nothing to her, but Albina’s? Shit! To say man is to say calamity! Nevertheless, the bitter saliva in her mouth became sweet syrup when the miserable pygmy raised the metal gate and, with the face of an angel, the eyes of a dove, and the gestures of a gift-giver, showed them the spacious place, where more than two hundred idiots could be packed in. “Thank you, Don Amado!” The now likeable little man stood before her on tiptoe and offered her his forehead. Crabby wrinkled her nose in disgust for an instant, and then, suddenly, as if a stretched elastic band had broken within her heart, she smiled for the first time at a man. Enveloped in a cloud of tenderness, she bent over, and planted a kiss between his eyebrows. Bursting into diaphanous laughter, Albina took off her clothes, and with her marmoreal skin shining like a star in the half-light, began to dance in order to bless the new café-temple.
On a khaki motorcycle, Drumfoot traced the road that rose toward the north. A blood infused with hatred accumulated in his erect penis. In his right fist vibrated a knife, also infused with hatred. The two extremes were guiding him, one wanted pleasure, the other death. While the mountain wind had swept away all tracks from that dirt path, a third extreme, his nose, with its abnormally developed sense of smell, picked up traces of the effluvia emanating from the white woman. It was a vaginal scent, unctuous, biting, bittersweet, greenish, as fragrant as the ivy flowers that open at dawn. Mmm! Suddenly an intolerable stench expelled him from his olfactory paradise. Blood poured from his nostrils. Barking his complaints, he passed by the fishmeal factories. He began to cough, lost control, and, making a leap, twisting like a beast, he fell on all fours, clinging to the edge of the pavement while his motorcycle smashed to pieces on the rocks a hundred yards below.
He left behind the sticky smoke infecting those territories and reached the beach. Vomiting, he ran to dive into the frigid ocean. When the salt water had extirpated even the tiniest particle of stench, he shook his body vigorously, surrounding it for a few seconds with a cloud of golden drops. He growled with satisfaction; there, abandoned at the outset of a narrow path, stood the bicycle built for two! He sniffed it over from end to end, from the handlebars to the tires. He licked the seat that had sunk itself between Albina’s buttocks, and then, overwhelmed by an enraptured hatred, his lower jaw tremulously revealing his canines, he ran along the path, his knees bent, using his hands as feet by leaning on his fists. Soon, so many curves, advances, twists, and switchbacks exasperated him. He located a point in the north, his goal, and left the path to get to it in a straight line. When it was already nightfall, after many hours of trotting, he realized with angry shock that he’d reached his starting point. There was the bicycle, now covered by a sheet of crabs.E