Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Caras en La Calle

Every morning on the block of Orizaba between 20 de enero and 28 de abril a woman about 60 years old sweeps the street for about 50 yards on either side of her door.  She looks to have just woken up.  Her hair is a pile of frizz, and she wears a poly-cotton house dress that goes from the neck to about mid-calf, printed in either blue and white checks, or a pink and white floral, with a row of snaps from top to bottom.  On her feet are grey socks bunched up around her ankles and a pair of dusty, gray men's loafers.  We pass her at 7:37 every morning, as we head to the bus stop on our new route up 28 de abril (less incline, wider sidewalk, fewer unbroken cobblestones).  When cars come down Orizaba, she stands on the sidewalk, guarding her pile from blowing away in their exhaust, then she resumes the gathering of the night's bougainvillea leaves and snack wrappers.    

I saw her two days ago on Calzada de la Aurora, about a mile from home, on the other side of town.  Incredibly she was dressed: in a colorless suit and stockings and the same flat, black slip-ons that all Mexican senoras wear.  I don't know that I would have recognized her outside of the neighborhood.  But she had the same lopsided smile from a cleft palate that never got repaired.

In Spanish immersion class at Habla Hispana, my teacher Enrique speaks of voces en la calle, street slang or literally, voices in the street, as he tries to teach us to speak less academically and more like a local.  I love this phrase.  It makes me think also of the faces in the street, caras en la calle, that I see regularly.  San Miguel is a small town; its eccentrics and vendors and beggars and street sweepers become familiar very quickly.  Here are a few of the people you will see if you visit San Miguel, if not the first day, by the end of your week.  

The knife sharpener on his bicycle.

Everisto, our favorite horse cop, dressed as a Wise Man for Navidad.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Hearse in the Neighborhood

A black hearse waited in front of the neighbor's door for at least two hours.  When I left to get the morning's hot rolls and a small bag of eggs from the Farmacia Guadalajara, it was parked at the curb, engine off, silent and disturbing.  In Mexico no one departs by hearse.  You are sent off with a somber file of townspeople, dressed in street clothes, carrying a clutch of red and white carnations, all on foot snaking through the dry streets to the cemetery behind the Dragon Chino and next to the circus grounds.  I arrived back from my errands at nine o'clock.  Still the hearse sat at the curb, grotesque and ugly, taking up more space than it deserved.  Finally four well-dressed men and women came outside, got into a car, and turning slowly to the right, and down the block, made a left and disappeared from view.  No one came out to the hearse.  What could take so long?  They should come for the body, take it away.  No need to linger, when they should know the sight of their vehicle is a jolt, particularly when it's parked outside your front door.  What if they got the address wrong, and they actually meant to come for you?

I leave again, walking to the plaza to buy Friday's newspaper from the portly vendor who measures nearly as wide as he is long.  His voice is like dark chocolate in a cement mixer, full of rocks and a bit of dulce.  Everyone in town greets him--he is our link to the outside world--though he is gruff in return, but means nothing by it.  This you can tell by the way he wears his striped wool scarf wrapped twice around his neck, the frayed ends hanging down on either side of his face, all year long.

When I return I walk into my barrio.  And there is the hearse, parked three streets away from my house.  There is no one in the driver's seat, and now the baby-blue curtain that covered the back window is ruched and pulled to the side.  The backseat is filled by a matching blue coffin, its heavy metal corners poking against the glass.  The back window is cracked about six inches, enough to let in a little air on this hot afternoon.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Color of Mexico

Agave in the fields of a sisal plantation in the Yucatan (photo taken through my new polarized sunglasses)

"Must be surreal surrounded by all those colors all the time," wrote my friend Jorie today in an email from the States.  She was commenting on some photos we had taken during our summer in the Yucatan. It never really occurred to me, beyond the gorgeous blue mornings, the terracotta and mustard buildings, the huge clouds--see-through yet so very white--and all the red, white and green trappings of nationalism, just how right she is, just how much color there is in Mexican daily life.  Here there is almost no black--not in dress, not in storefronts, not in fabrics.
Building and star on Tenerias in San Miguel de Allende
Our friend's baby napping at the water park (the fork is so that no one steps on him)
The boys with local weavers in Zinacatun, Chiapas
Graffiti in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
Beans in the market in San Cristobal
Typical shop on the andador (pedestrian wallkway), San Cristobal

Fruit stand in San Cristobal
Harvesting sisal at a plantation outside of Merida, Yucatan
"Tahiti" in the town of Bacalar, Quintana Roo
Roadside chicken in Bacalar
The pastel houses of Campeche
A church in the Yucatan
Everyone's favorite view in San Miguel, looking north on Aldama
Beaded bracelets at the artisans market, San Miguel
Cinco de Mayo Parade in Puebla
Random saint in Puebla
Castillos (fireworks towers) in the jardin in San Miguel

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The View From Parque Juarez

Last November we moved from Parque Juarez, where we rented for eight months, to a beautiful home which we bought, once we decided we couldn't leave San Miguel as soon as  we had originally planned.  The city takes its hold on you almost immediately.  You feel that you have been here forever, and also that you just arrived.  So now, from our new house in La Aldea, I say adios to our life on the park.  In memoriam: "The rooftop terrace on our house on Diezmo Viejo in San Miguel de Allende looks out over Parque Juarez. Basketball leagues, Saturday morning zumba, bike riders, dog walkers, balloon vendors, ice cream men, tienda keepers, Tai Chi instructors, kids, high school bands, grandparents, lovers, and skateboarders all use the park as their backyard.  At dusk when the blackbirds come out and the garzas flock to the trees in the chorro above us, it feels like the happiest place in the world."  Only our physical address has changed.  The city is still this incredibly happy place.

Zumba on a Saturday morning in the park.
The boys with the police horse in front of our house on Diezmo Viejo.

The boys swimming with friends in the park.  A no-no, it turns out.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Day in Tulum, Before Heading Towards Belize

The view from the ramparts at Tulum down to the beach.
July 5: Left Casa Cenote, and with a little help from Sam's mom and an old bank card, managed to buy  our way out of the beach and head further south for the rest of the week.  First we took a quick side trip to Tulum, kind of digging the flexibility of nowhere to go, with no plans at all.  For me, the site was much more interesting than Chichen Itza, but that's just because of its spectacular setting.  Hard to beat 1,000-year-old ruins cheek by jowl with incredibly clear water and the chance to walk down from the ramparts for a swim.

Fourth of July, Mexican Style

July 4: Hit the road immediately following our unpleasant encounter with the owners of the beach condo, with no destination, but south.  We had been told a hurricane was coming and heading north--we had already been besieged somewhat by Alex, a week earlier--so outrun this one and head south was our plan.  The sense of relief that we were leaving this unpleasant situation behind us was incredibly liberating.  The boys had a DVD player in the back seat, we had air-con in the front seat, and, most exhilarating, a stash of pesos that we found in the glove compartment.  We knew we could survive at least through dinner.

So we pulled in for one night at Casa Cenote, a beachfront inn owned by an American named Gary who hosts a Texas-style BBQ every Sunday.  Figured there'd have to be something good on tap for Independence Day.  The place was a bit run down but had free kayaks, a cenote across the street and didn't ask for any money up front: we could put our heads down for a night until we found a source for some cash.  And there was snorkel equipment.  And cold beer.  And BBQ.  There wasn't much more we needed.
 The view from our bedroom at Casa Cenote. Not a bad second stop after horrendous Puerto Adventuras.

Mason heads out to the cenote across the street.

The Flamingos of Rio Lagartos

July 2: Decided to take a day trip from Valladolid to the sleepy little town of Rio Lagartos, on the Gulf, exactly an hour north.  Thought it might be a bust after our rather odd drive along the rest of this same coast, west of here.  But it turned out to be a real highlight of the trip.  Sam has never been on safari, nor seen a pack of one animal, represented by the thousands, so he was particularly thrilled with our adventure.
The boat trip took us past a salt factory that still exports tons of salt around the world every year, as well as mud baths, where the kids got off the boat and slathered themselves.  This was a traditional natural remedy for Mayans to fight mosquitoes and the heat.

Some of the flamingos we encountered.

Next stop: A deserted island.

And finally, one last cenote at the town swimming hole.