ROBERTO BOLAÑO once wrote a story with Mijares’s hometown as both setting and title. “Gómez Palacio” is not a happy tale. The protagonist, a poet exiled from Mexico City to teach a handful of hapless writing students, dismisses the place as “some godforsaken town in northern Mexico.” Much of the city indeed looks as though a stiff wind would blow it over. Gómez Palacio is one of the principal municipalities of the Laguna (which is actually an agglomeration of four adjacent cities); so is Torreón, where I moved from Chicago in 2005, essentially to learn Spanish. It didn’t feel like exile to me, but there’s no denying the harshness of the environment. The weather is extreme: windstorms, floods, and, for ten months of the year, a desert heat so unyielding that local men call the Laguna La Ciudad de Huevos Congelados, the City of Frozen Balls, for the ice-cold beers they squeeze between their legs. The city’s principal landmark is an open-armed Jesus statue on a foothill overlooking Torreón. With charming disingenuousness, locals describe the statue as a reflection of the Laguneros’ hospitality and decency. No one mentions it’s a copy of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.
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