Mexico sights and sounds
Because most of our neighbors don't speak English and because our Spanish is at least awful, some strange things happen in our Mexican community. The other evening a woman stopped at our front gate. A baby was riding on her back in a cloth sling.
Such a scene usually means a solicitation for the church or a charity. But this woman held out a small can of red chilies. I thought she was selling and I shook my head "no" and rubbed my midsection because reds and greens are much too hot for me.
She smiled at my gestures and used a finger to circle the top of the can. The woman needed to borrow our can-opener.
Oh, what sights we see . . .
The elderly Volkswagen, a monument to German engineering and Mexican ingenuity, was parked along the main drag in Jocotepec, at the west end (naturally) of Lake Chapala, in this great state of Jalisco.
The motor cover was up and a would-be mechanic was tinkering with wires and removable parts. His jeans and T shirt were smudged. He had extra grease on his fingers, a shiny object in one hand, and a satisfied smile all over his face. He looked to be about four years old.
Norman Rockwell, where are you?
On the carretera (highway) between Chapala and Jocotepec, within or near the municipal boundaries of San Juan Cosala, was a yellow front-loader, a large and powerful earth-stirring machine with back hoe and big black tires. It was tooling along just a little slower than the brick trucks, holding up a whole line of taxis, Pepsi deliveries and others trying to rush to and fro. The main show was up front in the giant scoop. Three men had hitched rides and were leading the parade with smug smiles.
When we dust off bifocals and crank up hearing aids, we discover unusual sights and distinctive sounds in the towns and villages along the north side of Lake Chapala. There's more here than boomboxes, band practice and fiesta fireworks.
We haven't seen or heard him in a while but in Ajijic was an old man who sold roasted corn on the cob -- from his wheelbarrow. He made his rounds just at twilight, singing his commercial in a beautiful baritone, stretching out the last syllable of "Eh-lo-taaaay."
It was almost opera.
The knife-sharpener signals his approach with a special whistle. It could be Zamfir and his pan flute. The trucks that dispense propane gas are not so sweetly melodic. Their recorded message is three honks of the horn and a big, loud "El Gaaah-sss."
Just in case that isn't enough to command attention, the helper riding in back bangs a few tanks together.
On our lakeside street in suburban Jocotepec is a morning show you'll never see in New York or Los Angeles. A farmer brings his cows, one at a time, outside their barnyard, to the side of the street. They get a few bites of crushed corn and stand patiently. He sits on a small stool and conducts milking demonstrations in front of God and half the neighborhood.
Grandmothers, mothers and children gather with cups, glasses, pitchers and pails to buy really fresh milk -- one peso for a small drink, two for a double, five for a liter. The farmer's wife takes up the collection. You'd have to see it to believe it.
The truck that delivers bottled water has a bell. The driver with oranges in the back of his pickup truck is price conscious, careful to undercut the markets. He cries "dos kilos, cinco pesos." We're still trying to determine what the watermelon salesman says but we know he's lying. And, we're still having trouble with the priest. He drives around the village with an occasional amplified message but his words fly too fast for our pedestrian processor.
The ice cream salesman moves more slowly, in a customized VW van about my age. The top has been sawed off and replaced with a raised tarp -- to create more headroom, the better to stand and dip. His recorded music is a scratchy version of something you may have heard at the carousel, the last time you attended a county fair. Children recognize it a kilometer away (that's 6/10ths of a mile). Market price is two pesos per a single-dip cone. One peso will buy what passes for a baby popsicle. I know. This old gringo buys bargain treats.
There are some alarming sights -- 10 in the back of an old truck with a driver barely able to see over the dash. A family of four rides on a motor scooter meant for one.
Some sights tell wonderful stories. There was a bicyclist hauling a lawnmower and gas can on a rack built over his back tire. You really need to see the burro pulling the miniature cart -- carrying the driver, his wife and three children and a sizable serving of beans on the vine.
One of our favorite sightings was the broken-down bus on the hillside north of Chapala. Red-mesh bags of potatoes and two suitcases were positioned along the highway as hazard warnings.
There's no red light but we paused at an intersection in San Juan Cosala while a herd of cows controlled the right of way. They had been to the lake for a drink, or maybe just to cool their heels, and were apparently returning to their pasture or corral. We saw no cowboys or barking dogs, just a lead cow and a big crowd of followers.
Some sights stretch the parameters of credibility. Along Rivera del Lago, near the western limits of El Chante, is an unofficial trash collection center. Focal point is a 55-gallon metal barrel. Almost always it is overflowing with plastic bags of something, maybe coffee grounds and cantaloupe rinds stacked in layers.
Somewhere in the vicinity lives a very large hog. Never have we heard it say "oink, oink" but we have seen it in action. There is video proof. It roots hard against the big trash can, topples the tower of debris and sorts out the garbage. Me thinks the smell is not Chanel.
Our community rooster delivers a distinctive cock-a-doodle-do-do-do. Practice begins about 3 a.m. and by 5, it is in serious performance. One burro says hee-haw in his very own musical way. He's good enough for the movies. Barking dogs chase shadows. Identity remains uncertain but a couple are in potential danger!
The big buses that travel back and forth from Jocotepec to Chapala must stop and go at three topes (speed bumps) one long block from our house. In the still of the morning, if you listen closely, you can tell which brakes need relining or when it is time for a tune-up.
Now that the lake is back, two men go door to door in our neighborhood with fresh fish. One uses a wheelbarrow, the other a little red Wal-Mart wagon. I am not making this up. One calls out a sing-song message, the other whistles a tune. For special customers, either will stop in the shade and carve out filets.
Best sights and sounds are the smiles and laughter of our young neighbors, Javier, Magdalena, Gustavo, Francisco, Adriana and Carlos, as they play soccer in the street, crawl after each other through concrete culverts, skip rope or chase butterflies.
Yes, we do enjoy our special time and small space in this magical place called Mexico.