Island of the dolls

Only an accountant could have come up with the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words. Still, some things elude description, and if there are pictures to go along with the words, you may come up with the right combination. In my book First Stop in the New World, there is a short chapter about a man named Julián, who used to live in the Xochimilco section in the south of the Mexico City. There is an enclave in Xochimilco that is made up of a series of canals, in the middle of which are small islands known as chinampas.

The incredible story goes that one day Julián heard the cries of a woman drowning in the canal near his chinampa, and although he dove in the water and tried to save her, she died. Yet he kept hearing her cries, perpetually, nightly. As talismans to ward off her spirit, he began to hang dolls from the trees around his house. Throughout the decades he became a Xochimilco legend, and people brough him dolls from far and wide.

Now there are hundreds of them, suspended from trees, from metal wires, on the walls of the dilapidated shacks on the property. They look like images that might have appeared in a nightmare or a low-budget horror film. Some are green with verdigris, many are naked, others with matted, windswept hair. Julián died in 2005. Now his nephew administers the place.