Spanish for worm, the gusano is actually the larvae of an insect found within the agave cactus used to make mescal. The gusano is often put into the bottle and sometimes eaten as a sign of machismo.
This is one of the rare instances of historical inaccuracy in the novel. The gusano was not introduced into mescal production until the 1950s after Jacobo Lozano Páez inadvertently discovered that the worm changed the taste of the agave (agave worms are sometimes found in the piña after harvesting). From then on the gusano was put into mescal bottles, mainly as a marketing gimmick.
An incubus is a demon in male form, said to lie upon female sleepers in order to have sex with them. In the Middle Ages, the existence of incubi was recognised by law.
McCarthy frequently uses the image in his novels, employing it in a sense more closely related to its original Latin root incubare (‘to lie upon’) as something incumbent, something malicious lying upon or within.
Caballo en pelo means to ride bareback.
Coincidently, Caballo en Pelo ('The Naked Horse') was the name of the Quechan chief responsible for killing John Joel Glanton, the infamous leader of the Glanton Gang of scalphunters, whose exploits McCarthy described in his earlier Blood Meridian.
Hacienda de San Diego was one of 23 haciendas owned by Luís Terrazas, governor of Chihuahua and patriarch of the powerful Creel-Terrazas clan that at one time was primed to succeed Diaz’s rule of Mexico.
During the Revolution, Terrazas was forced into exile in the United States and the hacienda was taken over by rebel soldiers under Madero and Villa. It was here that Francisco I. Madero was proclaimed president of Mexico.
Today, the hacienda is inhabited still by descendants of the original campesinos who lived there at the end of the Revolution.
The Dodge Model 30 touring car was first produced by the Dodge Brothers Company in 1914 and marketed as a slightly more upscale competitor to the Ford Model T.
In 1916, the U.S. Army employed Dodge Brothers vehicles during their Pancho Villa (or Punitive) Expedition into Mexico. The Dodge Company gained some priceless publicity when Lt. George S. Patton employed three Dodge Model 30 touring cars in an ambush against Julio Cardenas, one of Villa’s most trusted subordinates; eventually returning to headquarters in Dublán with the bodies of Cardenas and two other Villistas tied to the hoods of the cars.
That old Dodge lying by the Hacienda de San Diego (located near Colonia Dublán) may well have come from the Pancho Villa Expedition – one of many ghosts from the past haunting McCarthy’s novel.
In a separate incident, Pancho Villa himself would die in a Dodge Brothers car, mysteriously assassinated while driving his black 1919 Dodge through the city of Parral on July 20, 1923.
Hernandez y Sifuentes – La Punitiva (The Punitive Expedition)
The kimono is a traditional Japanese robe worn by women, men and children.
Kimono literally means a 'thing to wear' (ki 'wear' and mono 'thing').
Maria Callas, prima among primadonnas.
Although McCarthy describes the travelling theatre troupe as an opera company, the play Billy watches belongs to the Commedia dell'Arte tradition - a form of theatre that originated in mid-16th century Italy.
Commedia dell’Arte troupes travelled extensively and were not hampered by language barriers since the plays were largely communicated by gesture and physicality rather than dialogue. The plays were performed outside on temporary stages, characterised by masked ‘types’ and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios.
More information on the Commedia dell'Arte can be found here.
In 1906 the Victor Talking Machine Company created a new line of phonographs with the turntable and amplifying horn tucked away inside a wooden cabinet which they trademarked with the name Victrola.
Victrolas became by far the most popular brand of home phonograph, and sold in great numbers until the end of the 1920s. RCA Victor continued to market phonographs with the Victrola name until the early 1970s.
Lorgnette opera glasses developed from the Lorgnette spectacles which were popular among the fashionable ladies of the 19th century. The use of the original Lorgnette spectacles was mainly cosmetic, worn more as jewellery than to enhance vision. The more specialised Lorgnette opera glasses maintained the handle of the original Lorgnette but added a greater magnification specially designed for viewing opera or theatre performances.
The jinete was originally a Spanish light cavalry man armed with a javelin, sword and shield, designed for skirmishing and rapid manoeuvre. This troop type developed in the early Middle Ages in response to the massed light cavalry of the Moors during the Reconquista.
In modern Spanish usage, the term has come to mean someone who shows particular expertise in horse-riding, such as the vaquero or charro.