Last day of spirits-school at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. This lesson: mezcal from Oaxaca. Mixes of cultivated and wild agave cooked with Huanache, oak, or mesquite. The names: Union, Espiritu Lauro, Koch, Yuu Baal, Los Siege Misterios, Real Minero, Pierde Almas, El Jolgorio, Banhez. Time to study up.
My favorite video from the Chuds… Weng Weng. I watch this every Sunday while eating Cheetos
We are drawn by the pulsing famo beat, drawn from our rondavel in dark of night, down past the turn in the river and the semi-deserted hospital, down toward the grounds of the vacant hotel and into the gutted adjacent building—some defunct abattoir—where all hog-butchering has been laid aside to give the band some space to play. The building is a dusty cinderblock warehouse, windows painted over, walls shedding plaster, the whole place haunted and forbidding.
And there is an honest-to-God famo band napalming the stage—actually, there’s no stage, defunct abattoirs don’t have stages—but the singer is raging and the drummer is raging and the dancers are raging, though not the accordionist or the bassist, because those two stonefaced motherfuckers are motionless, wearing sunglasses, chain-smoking, sitting with their backs to the crowd, and laying down an absolutely dirty line of accordion-bass polyphony.
But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, because I don’t want to skip over the man with the machine gun, and because I want to make sure, first of all, that we know what famo is.
This was not just any border, but one whose creation in 1947 had led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, one of the largest mass migrations in human history, and more than six-decades of highly militarized contempt between what today are two nuclear powers. Since 1959, the India-Pakistan crossing at the Punjabi village of Wagah, were I was headed, has also been one of spectacle, famous for a daily ceremony known as Beating the Retreat—a show of inane yet belligerent antics in which goose-stepping Indian and Pakistani border guards, donning fan-shaped tufted hats, spend 45 minutes trying to out-kick, out-stomp, and generally out-perform the others, before lowering their respective flags and closing the border for the evening.
These theatrics have made Wagah a border crossing unlike any other since Checkpoint Charlie: the vast majority of visitors arrive not to stamp passports but to gawk at the line in the sand and its guards. For both countries, it is a 365-day-a-year national ritual, held at what is the only open road crossing along the 1,800-mile border between the two states. Although I had come in part for the entertainment, I also hoped these stomping men in silly hats might teach me something about the long-intractable India-Pakistan conflict.