Last night I slept at Timonami again. In the bedroom where I always sleep. I have not been here for a year and half a month. It is good to be here. It feels good and right.
Yesterday, even before our plane landed, I could feel the pull of the jungle house. When I walked out of the quiet air-cooled airport terminal onto hot cement, the heat and smell and noise of Mexico hit me. It is like running into a wall. Sweat bursts from pores, dampening hair so it clings to the back of the neck, and the smells and sounds assault nostrils and ears with excitement. The smells are of chiles and garlic and dust, the sounds are the noise of airport greeters that stand outside the terminal holding signs aloft, and shuttle drivers clamoring to take you to your hotel or condo or the ferry and rental car agents hawking the local agencies. They speak in rapid Spanish mixed with English phrases, "Senora, aqui, aqui, this way, por favor, I make you a very good price," and everything pulses and dances with life. And I want to dance for the joy of it. But I yearn for the coolness and quiet and the deep shade of the jungle house. We rent a car from a Mexican rental company, their office is in hot, airless shed hastily built and just a likely to hastily be torn down. The agent is not there but soon appears and pulls a small laptop from under a make-shift wooden counter. But, he “makes us a good price” and someone soon brings a small gray no-air stick-shift Nissan sedan to the curb in front of the terminal. The agent gives us a card with his cell phone and home number on it and dissappears. The makeshift office is deserted again. We drive off into the madness of Mexican traffic, Timmy behind the wheel. Timmy drives like a Mexican – with panache and wild abandon.
The jungle house is off the old Merida carretera about 30 klicks out of Cancun. I lean forward in the back seat, ignoring the hot wind that pours through the open windows of the Nissan and whips strands of hair against my cheeks and across my mouth, eager to see if the wooden sign that marks the road is still there. It is. I sink back against the hot artificial suede seat of the Nissan back seat with a sigh and Timmy wheels the car off the asphalt and onto the dirt and gravel road. The sign is old and a little beat up, painted blue with a drawing of a small, rectangular shaped swimming pool insinuated at the top left corner, a swimming pool I've never seen and that may not even exist. The sign is lettered proudly with the name of this community that has never come to be. It says "Bosques del Caribe": Woods of the Carribean. The sign is nearly hidden by tall weeds that have grown up around it. Just past the sign, the walls of the jungle close in on either side of the road. It's not the rainforest-jungle of South America, but the thick tangle of slender trees that grow so close together it would be hard for a small child to pass between them that is common to this area of the Yucatan peninsula. The leaves look like the leaves of deciduous trees back home, but they are not. The foliage thins as we pass an abandoned house that sags forlornly in a little clearing. And then we pass the gatehouse, deserted too, windowless, a door hangs from one rusty hinge like a drunk clutching at the lintel, not wanting to fall down. The gate is gone. A dog barks from somewhere far down the road. It must be one of Federico's pack of mongrel bitches or hounds.
Then we reach the long stone gated wall. Timmy slows and stops the Nissan on the dusty, pebbled road. The wall looks ten feet tall and the gates forbidding. They are locked but we have the key. Robert jumps out to unlock them and they swing wide before us. Timmy eases the Nissan through the gate. Inside a lush, quiet garden waits.
It is narrow and deep, this landscaped strip of clearing, carved from the surrounding jungle with machetes wielded by strong Mayan hands. Every inch was cleared this way—directed by a clever eye: clear, direct, discerning and cold, grey-blue. This was my uncle's land. Until his death he lived here all alone except for an occasional groundskeeper, but he didn't have many of those in the seven years he lived here. Now it belongs to my cousin, his daughter Patti and her husband, Tim. My uncle named it for him and for their son who also bears that name. Timonami. Timmy thinks it is bastardized Spanish an means 'Tim and Me'. But, it’s not…it is French and means My friend Tim.
The road curves sharply to the left past a tall bush full of butter-yellow flowers large as teacups glowing against the soft grey wall. There are no leaves on the bush, only long, thick, needle-sharp thorns. It is the only foliage that is allowed to grow near the stone wall…. The wall and surrounding thick jungle make the house virtually impregnable. Robert locks the gate behind us and jumps back in the car and we move on slowly down the bumpy, uneven drive lined on either side with precisely placed hibiscus plants. Glossy green leaves cluster near the top of the plants, turning them into topiaries elegant enough for an English garden. The star-petaled flowers sway and nod from slender stems that thrust wantonly from the clustered leaves as the stamens do from the throats of the blooms. Yellow pollen, thick as clotted cream, drops from the tips of the stamens enticing what it may. We can see nothing ahead but trees and the drive until we pull alongside the groundskeeper Antonio's thatched roofed house. It is shut up tight. He is away today. When we stop, the full of it comes upon me. The coolness of it and the damp and the smells of dark loam and limestone and the mossy lichens that grow around the well. The smell of the spiky shrub palms that grow among the tall trees of the jungle. The green smell that is the jungle itself. And the birds, the birds, flitting like flames in the high canopy of green. Up ahead I see the tall hump of shaggy thatch that tops the main part of the house. It looks like the humped back of a great shaggy beast. We are here, we are at Timonami.
The grounds look the same as always: a seamless mix of jungle growth left intact in the clearing and plantings imported from all over the neighboring area. It is my uncle's last masterpiece. During his life, he created many. He was a strange man, you could tell it in his eyes: they had a fixed, still quality, as if he looked beyond horizons.
He was second generation Romanian/Macedonian. Ever and always a gypsy, a wanderer, he left his University in his teens, in the late nineteen-forties, and ran away to Acapulco. Teddy Stouffer, owner of El Mirador Hotel which overlooks La Quebrada where the cliff divers, then and always, spring out and down into the crashing surf, took him under his wing. Teddy was married then to actress Hedy Lamar. My uncle believed she was the most beautiful woman in the world, more beautiful even than the beauteous Elizabeth Taylor, but that was before I grew up. I don't know how long my uncle stayed in Acapulco, it was before our family knew him, but he came home and married my mother's baby sister.
They had one child, my cousin Patti. Later, they divorced and George, entrepreneurial all his life, created one masterpiece after another. He started the first small commuter airlines in our state and hired me as office manager and his personal assistant. That was only the first of his many ventures and it was a small masterpiece of ingenuity and guile. He had little money and no experience as a pilot. He just knew how to put things together and could entice investors with his dreams. And when his dreams sometimes burst, as they often did, he slipped away to another part of the world… another life.
When George was a boy of nine, he would run away every night to the big sewers of Dogtown, that section of south St. Louis first populated by Irish immigrants and then by Greeks. His Uncle Dimitri would be sent out to find him, and find him he would: smoking cigarettes and gazing with his cold, clear grey-blue eyes out upon the City. "Yodeyos," Dimitri would say, "What are you doing? You know you must come back with me now." And he would reply, "I have to go to the end of the pipes and see the world." And he did.
After the airline was sold, it was a travel agency in Hawaii, then restaurant in Acapulco, a resort in Panama City, and a grand hotel in old Miami.
Late in his life, when the Berlin wall fell, he was owner and captain of a merchant vessel that sailed the North Sea. He said he and his cronies fell upon Russia then, with pillage and rapine in mind. A sea captain he remained, bringing a Russian-born ship to Cancun when he had a mind to settle there for good. And he sailed it, hauling passengers to and from Isla Mujeres, while they drank cocktails on the covered decks. A handsome man, beautifully made, he was gorgeous with his longish wavy silver hair and mustache and his gentleman-pirate ways, wearing silk shirts even in the jungle and driving his '88 Jag through the streets of Cancun.
He piloted his boat, last know in those waters as Playa Aventura, for many years. He lived in the house he had built on the outskirts of this sprawling city that supports the resort area the Mexican government created from nothing but an island wrapped around the lagoon of a small fishing village. When he went into town, where he was known by the local restaurateurs, barmen, shopkeepers, even laundresses and parking lot attendants, as Captain George, never Capitan Jorge, he always returned before dark. It was his rule, and everyone staying at Timonami kept it. He became a cautious man as he grew older. Mexico suited his pocketbook, his disposition and his health. He gave up cigarettes and alcohol, although champagne and an occasional bloody mary could always tempt him. He was ever a private man: while he lived here, only a very few of the residents of Cancun and Isla were invited to visit Timonami. I think he had many secrets… but that’s for a later chapter. His love for Isla dwindled as more and more tourists came. He had grown weary of people and wanted to be alone. He stopped piloting the party boat to Isla. He drove his Jaguar to town and then came home to his fortress. Only his daughter held his undying love, but he was a hard man and he troubled her, and she him. They were too much alike. His son-in-law and grandson were his favorites. And then, at the age of seventy, suddenly he died. An aneurysm burst in his aorta.
The night before he died, after his crew member and dear friend Juan Carlos sped him, at unbelivalble speed, in the Jaguar to a hospital bed in Merida, my uncle spoke to his daughter on the phone. He told her that she was not to come then. She was not to see him sick and feeble, and if he died she was not to see his body. If he lived, she must come as soon as he was well.
But it was too late, the aneurysm burst, and it was his son-in-law Timmy who came to claim his body at the hospital morgue, and attend to the grisly business of a cremation in Mexico which he was required to witness and, finally, arrange for the burial.
My uncle's ashes were scattered from his ship in the middle of the Bahia de Mujeres. Patti followed his wishes and did not come, but she wrote the eulogy for her husband to read as the ashes streamed out on the wind like silver dust, and floated down into the sea. And she forbade all outsiders to be onboard the ship when they scattered his ashes. Only her husband and my uncle's two Mexican crewmembers were there…it was kept a secret from all of Cancun until it was done.
Hear then his eulogy:
Has it’s Beacon
Has it’s light
We must therefore
And his legacy: TIMONAMI