Don Jesus Gil is gone. Beloved Don Chuy, as known to friends and family. The landmark man of the Plaza de Armas, dueno of the Terra Cotta restaurant of the Portal of the Portales, is no more. I am amazed at how saddened I am by this particular call to The Beyond. An early memory of this kindly, handsome gray-haired man haunts me.
Let me tell you about it.
Hal and I were newcomers to this Pueblo Magico, Alamos, at that moment laid low by gripa that had gripped many. It was the January chilly season, time of the Music Festival. We were staying at the Casa Roberto, a short stroll down Calle Obregon from the Palacio, home of the governance of the town, the county. I was all better; Hal had improved to the reading-in-bed stage. I felt okay about leaving him for a nighttime downtown stroll. The town is safe for such. It was past 9pm, the sidewalks and streets were empty. I had a soup container to return to Joseph, chef of what is now Charisma, and the Tesoros. A busy man.
As I started pass the Hotel Tesoros, I peeked into the restaurant – nobody there. Then I looked beyond into the open air patio, where under the stars three musicos were huddled with their guitars, softly strumming, humming, choosing their repertoire. A merry busload of tourists had been relegated to the dining room in back – they were eating enchiladas and waiting to be serenaded, tippling the world’s best margaritas. I moved to join the three men as they sweetly intoned Gavilan o Paloma, a poetic love song of the past century. They let me croon along, adding my soprano to their bassos, grinning at my efforts to mouth the Spanish words. It was a magic moment, in the dark, under those stars.
I continued my amble. Finding chef Joseph busy in his Mansion kitchen, I returned the container – he was into the night’s cleanup. My stroll took me to the Palacio; I palavered with the night watchman. He was friendly, bemused by my gringo Spanish. Then I hoisted myself up the broad rocky stairs of the portal of the Portales – those would be banned by OSHA. There on the steps, enjoying the warm breeze of the quiet night, sat Don Jesus. He nodded a welcome to me. His day was over; meals made for who knows how many that day. We greeted each other, traded appropriate comments. “Muy bonita la noche, senora.” And then he left to arrange an iced coffee for me. He sat again on the steps, thinking his thoughts and I mine. There were two fellows talking on the plaza – they were the only other humans in view besides us. Warm winds stirred the plaza’s towering palms, trees extant for more than a century. Their rattling fronds heightened the tranquility. We sat for a while, and enjoyed the precious solitude and each other’s silence.
One the way back, I found the singers clustered in the street; we sang again, said our “que pase una buena noche,” and I returned to my sweetie’s bedside. I was under the spell of this town, held up by the gentleness of the people. Don Jesus was at one end of my walk, the musicos at the other. Where else in the world could I have done such a simple and beautiful thing?
Now there is no more the man on the plaza, the marker for our comings and goings, the one whose restaurant has fed us so well for so long. No more Don Jesus to greet when we go to the Terra Cotta. We are triste, sad. His wife continues the delicious comidas, his pretty smiling daughter Claudia serves. They fill his shoes. We have them to complete our circle.
Don Jesus, we love your daughter Claudia; she has become our touchstone at the Portal. But she’s not you, not the handsome gray-haired jefe of the Terra Cotta. I still see you in the darkness, resting on the steps, your kindly smile welcoming me. I always will. It is your spot. You will always be there.
RIP, Don Gil.