"But fix your gaze on the valley because we near the river of blood in which those who injure others by violence are boiled." (Virgil, in Dante's Inferno)
"The scene is Dante-esque," observed Julio Rank, spokesman for Salvadorean President Tony Saca, on viewing the charred remains of his lately deceased countrymen. (It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that George Bush, the King of Spain and 11 other regional heads of state are visiting Guatemala at different times over the next month.)
Just before catching the clipper tonight I had a call from V. Her earlier telephone bulletin and my own reporting of it had some inaccuracies. It was not Sergio's teenage son that perished last night, but Sergio himself, shot 14 times in his car.
And so for the second time in a month I found myself heading down river on the boat with my eyes leaking for a dead Guatemalan that in truth I hardly knew. Yet this I do know: Sergio was completely harmless, and he was the number one cuatazo (best mate) of V's brother Felipe. I wept for the pain this will have caused his wife, his young family, and of course Felipe. And for the extravagant senselessness of this murder.
It was in fact Sergio's father that stood as V's padrino, and his younger brother Juan Carlos that met his end in that aviodable industrial misadventure back in 1994 (which provided me with my first experience of a Latin American velorio).
Between ourselves V and I had often derided Sergio, por tacaño, por capitalino. Our last face to face meeting occurred a couple of Christmases ago at Felipe's bountiful table at which he had arrived with a large group brandishing a couple of bottles of Gallo between them. We exchanged glances as others spoke, two parts curiosity and three parts mistrust. But harmless he certainly was. Having been made redundant by a bank a few years back, he set himself up as a freelance money-changer, a career-change which must ultimately have exposed him to the blistering savagery of Guatemala City.