Scatter the Mud

By Nancy Lyon

Scatter the Mud
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Nancy Lyon is hardly your typical traveller. Although her travel pieces have been widely published in The New York Times, GEO, Ms. , Travel and Leisure, enRoute, The Montreal Gazette, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald, to name a few of the publications from which this ... Read more


Nancy Lyon is hardly your typical traveller. Although her travel pieces have been widely published in The New York Times, GEO, Ms. , Travel and Leisure, enRoute, The Montreal Gazette, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald, to name a few of the publications from which this collection has been culled, Lyon is an adept at "scattering the mud"—an old Irish expression used to describe a kind of rough or ungentlemanly travel. Lyon's adventures began when she was 13 and her mother, a bored Indianapolis housewife, loaded her three young daughters into a station wagon and headed off to Mexico for the summer. Despite knowing no Spanish, temporarily losing her sister in a tortilla factory, and almost drowning in the Gulf of Mexico, Lyon survived the trip. And she was hooked. Since then, Nancy Lyon has lived in many places and circled the globe, exploring UFO sites in Florida and even stranger sights in SoHo, barely escaping witch doctors in Guadeloupe, wintering on Inishbofin, and taking her mother along on a hilarious busking tour of Europe. For Lyon is also an accomplished musician; her love of music combined with her insatiable desire to travel have taken her into the streets across North America and Europe, busking with her medieval Irish harp, button accordian and tin whistle, literally singing for her supper. Lyon's music has served as her passport to adventure in the streets and cafés all across North America and Europe.

Nancy Lyon

Nancy Lyon abandoned a promising writing career in the mid-1970's upon hearing a concert playing traditional Irish music. In the days following, she bought a tin whistle, tracked down one of the performers and pestered him into giving her lessons. A year later she crafted a medieval harp after being unable to find one, and earned her living as a professional busker on New York's streets. She went on to busking in Europe, eventually winding up in Montreal, where she lived for many years before relocating to Inverness, Scotland, where she continues to play music and write.


"Adios Muchachas!"We called it Indian-No-Place and snickered to think it could actually be the "Crossroads of America" like the radio announcers said. Indiana was a country for hogs and soybeans, and its capital was a "crossroads" only because you had to drive through it to get to someplace else. Indiana was flat, boring and lakeless, except for those muddy man-made things. But for the thrill of an occasional tornado, a summer in Naptown was a string of hot drippy listless afternoons that began with cars screeching at the Indy 500, and ended with pigs squealing at the Indiana State Fair. That's how I saw Indianapolis in 1961 when I was 13, and that's how my mother saw it too. I was a renegade cowgirl in a buckskin jacket who hated dolls and adored Nancy Drew mysteries. She was a rebel New Yorker who hated the Midwest and housework, and was decidedly inept at the social role of a tax attorney's wife. When all the other mothers on North Delaware Street were ironing the smocking on little organdy dresses or making civic chit-chat over tea and Girl Scout cookies, Peg Lyon was making us pirate costumes, inventing toys and gluing National Geographic photos onto plywood and cutting them up into educational puzzles with her jigsaw. It seemed perfectly natural that she should want to get away from Naptown for a summer. Perfectly reasonable that she should ask Dad for the Shell Motor card and an advance on her grocery money so she could drive me and my three sisters to Mexico. And perfectly normal that he said yes. It must have been the neighborhood scandal when Mrs. Lyon piled her four girls aged 13, 10, 9 and 3 into the powder blue Ford Woody with enough jigsaw puzzles and Cheese Nips to make it to the border, said Adios to her husband for the summer, and Vamos! took off. ..leaving the pallid moon on the Wabash for a fiery tropical moon, the flat stubby cornfields for the Sierra Madres and the muddy man-made puddles for the boiling Pacific. °°°The guidebooks called Acapulco a "jet-set playground," a "real hot spot" and it didn't really sound like the sort of place a mother should go to. But one day while we were admiring the mosaic murals of Mexican revolutionaries on the University of Mexico campus, we met an American named Barbara. Barbara was looking for a ride to Acapulco, and we were getting pretty sick of trailer life, always finding tomato skins in the bedclothes. ..On the way to Acapulco, we spotted a gang of skinny boys by the side of the road. They were grinning and holding some horrible lizardy things by their scaly tails. "Uggh! What are those?" I cried. "Iguanas," said Barbara. "They eat 'em like chickens around here. "Barbara looked like she ate iguanas, I thought. Her flesh jiggled and her eyelids were a kind of lizardy green. She never smiled and her short dry hair looked like it came off a coconut shell. I wondered why she didn't like America, or had to leave it. And most of all I wondered why she had no suitcase, and what could be inside the woven cactus bag she was clutching. She seemed to know the seamy side of Mexico. She probably went to cockfights and drank Tequila in those cantinas where loud men knocked each other over the tables. But she was helpful with driving and directions, and we left it at that. We landed in Acapulco, and she took us straight to the Hotel Sans Souci and we never saw her again. The Sans Souci was truly "without sadness. " It perched on the side of a fragrant jungly cliff overhanging the gaudy Acapulco Bay on one side and La Roqueta Island and the boiling Pacific on the other. The lush hill side below hid thatched native huts and dry slithering things. We took a cheap airy bungalow with a hammock-slung verandah that overlooked all of it, and found paradise. Mornings we spent at Caleta Beach, frying ourselves in smelly coconut oil and eyeballing hermit crabs as they peeked out from their sandy holes. We haggled with men peddling stuffed armadillos, and a fisherman wearing a necklace of shark's teeth gave Pat a jar of sea life—tiny sea horses and porcupine fish—which she kept in a pan of sea water under her bed. Afternoons we'd spend making the rounds of the big resort hotel pools, having a dip, sipping Cokes, looking for movie stars. At night the soft winds huffed against our bungalow screens, making the clinging geckoes cheep, and the waves shushed us to sleep. Sometimes a coconut fell with a comical whock! or creatures in the brush thrashed and screamed. One evening the sky turned the colour of avocado flesh, the moon eclipsed and the hills went red with native fires and drums. At dawn it was all ashes. The Sans Souci was a beautiful old place, but like Barbara it was kind of mysterious. It wasn't just how the moon shadows of the nodding palms crept across our beds at night. Or what we heard through the taco-thin walls. It was something about the skinny woman with the painted purple lips and hair dyed the colour of rusty tin cans. One night we saw her slinked in the hammock of the Sans Souci patio with a pistol in the pocket of her pink capri pants. Those torch-lit Acapulco nights, with bronzed-gods divers at La Quebrada plunging from the cliffs, brought out something wild in all of us. Pat went from chasing Luna moths to chasing five-foot iguanas with evil leathery eyes. Susie befriended a native girl who showed her how to slide down the liana vines to the cliff's sea-sprayed rocks. And little Jan fell madly in love with a young resort hotel owner named Carlos, who let her sing Elvis Presley songs over the microphone with his hotel Mariachi band. Peg was like a Mayan goddess now, her wonderful aquiline nose the colour of baked clay, and I felt restless and ached for romance. Yes, Acapulco was a place for romance—not a place to be seen with your mother and sisters. And one fateful day on the diving board of the El Presidente Hotel pool, I met tall, dark and handsome Armando. Not a beach boy or gigolo, I could tell by his respectful looks. He said he was an abogado—a lawyer!Armando invited me to join his friends Mario and Frankie, to go see the famous sunset at Pie de la Cuesta. "Ees fantastico!" he exclaimed, describing how the sun plopped into the ocean "like a beeeeeg eggg plopping into a frying pan. "Around and around the hairpin turns, chasing the blazing ball before it sank too low. I'd be back at the Sans Souci before Peg even knew I was gone. Just in time to see Acapulco lights blink on in the bay. To stand on our bungalow balcony all rapt in the afterglow of what I would proudly call my first date. With the rays of a mauve sun shooting through them, the monstrous waves at Pie de la Cuesta filled and burst like gigantic luminous lungs. Truly it was, as one guide book said, "the most spectacular sunset in Mexico. " It was also, as Fodor's called it, "a death trap," with 20-foot-high waves, a deadly undertow, and sharks. ..How they let me wade out so far, I don't remember. All I remember is having my legs yanked out from under me and being sucked down into the dark. Churning and foaming like a rag doll in a Maytag. Being smacked hard and lifted up, and thrown close to shore. Standing up stunned, salt-blinded and trying to walk. Being dragged down again and coughed up, until I felt my arms being pulled off my body and the sand scraping my bellyI should have been grateful to be alive. But I stood before Armando, Mario and Frankie, my handsome rescuers, all skinny and prickling with goose bumps, with sand in my teeth, my tangled hair, my burning nose, and a huge humiliating lump of it hanging down from the crotch of my fake tiger-skin bathing suit. We finally made it back to Indianapolis, after crossing the border at Matamoros in the middle of a drug raid, and getting stuck in a sand trap in Texas. I felt proud riding up North Delaware Street and into our driveway in a station wagon all loaded down with Mexican pottery, piñatas, tin pineapples and rebozos, and a limey-green sweater for Dad. I was feeling worldly and grown-up and ready to start high school. But the festive green sweater we'd bought at the market in Cuernavaca, knit by hand with nubby green wool, never fit Dad. I wrote a letter to Armando. I picked the Spanish words out of Cassell's Dictionary, blissfully ignorant of such things as conjugation and syntax. September 3, 1961To desire Armando,How to be your law to go? I to start to tall school and to be aroused. But we all sisters to get sad surprise when my father to leave my mother. I to have fear of to divorce. I to miss you very much, and to want to come Mexico some day. All my love, your Nancita


“Lyon is a virtuoso performer of traditional Irish music on the harp and other instruments and her musical talent has been her passport to the world. There seems to be hardly a place on earth she has not visited twice, and there's definitely no subject—UFO sites in Florida, Guadeloupe witch doctors, Arthurian legends, Dublin pub food—she is not interested in and cannot illuminate with prose that is by turns as frenetic as a Galway barroom jig, or as balefully evocative as the most mournful Celtic ballad. There are echoes here of James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Jack Kerouac, Van Morrison and the Chieftains. But ultimately, you have to concede that it's pure Nancy Lyon, virtuoso as well of the lettered keyboard. As such, it also constitutes one of the most impressive literary debuts in recent memory. ”—The Toronto Star

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