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Ask an old gringo about Octavio Paz, Mexico reforms, giant fish tank, price break

Marvin West

Spanish edition of The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz
Spanish edition of The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz

The format for "Ask an old gringo" is simple enough: Answer questions from Mexconnect readers if I think I know what I am talking about, and save some that might be of general interest to share with all of you.

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Question: Who is/was Octavio Paz and what is the meaning of his apparently famous quote?

Answer: Paz was a thinker, poet, writer and diplomat. Mexico's Congress has declared this "The Year of Octavio Paz" a century after his birth and 16 years after his death. He was good enough to get the Nobel Prize for literature in 1990.

Paz now gets the full treatment, a public reading of poems outside the Senate, a presentation of his books, a postage stamp in his honor, a crash course in schools, even a summit of so-called intellectuals to discuss him, his message and other memories.

In his most famous essay, "The Labyrinth of Solitude," Paz addressed the complexity of the Mexican mind. The key quote is "The Mexican seems to me to be a person who shuts himself away to protect himself. His face is a mask and so is his smile."

I do believe he had it right, that what you see is not necessarily what you get.

Fifty years ago Paz talked of differences north and south of the border. He said North Americans want to understand and Mexicans want to contemplate. He said North Americans are activists and Mexicans are quietists. I think that may be changing.

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Question: There was a lot of talk last year about Mexican reformation. Did anything happen?

Answer: Back in February, I said there is progress. There may be some mañana involved here but reforms are edging past the talking stage in the general direction of reality.

President Enrique Peña Nieto pushed through a dozen bills — energy, justice, tax code, telecommunicatiions, a long list. Five required amendments to the constitution.

Impatience is out there. Approval rating of the president is in decline. Level 2 politicians are still dabbling with reform details. Necessary compromises will likely be a blend of what is best for them, their friends and their party and what is good for the country. Money may somehow be related to eventual decisions. Most of that is how it has always been. Concern about the country is relatively new.

There is no Paz mask for the fact that the economy is sluggish. The Bank of Mexico cut the benchmark lending rate by half a percentage point to a record low of 3. That is supposed to help.

Nobody asked specifically about education reform but I remain very interested. Mexico really needs this.

An acquaintance named Gonzo (I suppose that is short for Gonzales, which may be his first, middle or last name) thinks Mexican education is a joke.

"Students skip school. Teachers skip school. Nobody knows nothing."

I can see the students, loose in the community, on cell phones and skateboards. The government is beginning to look around for missing teachers. The first official census of schools found that 13 percent of those being paid do not show up for work.

If more than 2 million are supposedly employed in education and approximately 260,417 don't contribute, many, many pesos are going to waste. An outraged parental group calls it the theft of the century.

The "reformed" government is trying to follow the loot. It could be some make-believe teachers changed careers and bookkeeping errors reward them with two checks. It could be the union borrowed a few hundred teachers here and there and assigned them to muscle or cheerleading duties. It could be some have retired or died but remain on payrolls.

No doubt they or relatives will soon call in to correct the oversight.

Emilio Chauyffet, Mexico Minister of the Interior, has a committee trying to identify names he can remove from the rolls. That is not easy. Some under the education umbrella are accustomed to having things their way. Some are militant. Some wouldn't let government inspectors inside their schools when they came to count noses.

As soon as Mexico finds out who is and is not teaching, it can begin to discover who is and is not qualified. That was a primary plank in the original reform platform.

Reform, we now see, is not instantaneous.

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Question: Miami television had a brief item about a Mexico fish tank. What's the big deal?

Answer: Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has built a royal aquarium in Mexico City, four levels, underground, showplace for several thousand fish and other water creatures.

A friend who has been there says it is a sight to behold — little fish of many colors swimming among sharks and manta rays. Here are jellyfish and there are piranhas. Up or down are crocodiles and tiny turtles. Penguins are coming and may already be there. Water was imported from the Gulf of Mexico.

The aquarium is in the same upscale neighborhood that features Slim office buildings and the classy Soumaya Museum created in memory of his late wife.

Alas and alas, the aquarium experience is not free. Friend says the admission cost was 100 pesos or so plus souvenirs and refreshments.

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Question: It seems the drug war and spinoff crimes are forever. Is the end in sight?

Answer: My cataract surgery was helpful but I still cannot see that far. There might be some small recession in the drug business but there is apparently an upswing in kidnapping and extortion. I hear about home invasions and even an occasional robbery in broad daylight, but all is not gloom and despair. I also hear that crime does not always pay.

Two guys were busy robbing passengers on a Mexico City bus. One rider took a dim view of proceedings, seized a bandit's gun and shot him with it. For good measure, he turned and shot the other crook, tossed the gun atop the heap, got off the bus and calmly walked away.

Investigators found the dearly departed and two guns, one deadly as described, the other a toy. That might explain why the hero was not wounded.

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Question: I have read several of your "only in Mexico" comments. Any smiles to share?

Answer: This could happen in any high-rent district but it is coming soon at St. Regis Punta Mita resort on the Bay of Banderas. I just received good news that garden-view rooms, currently $460 U.S. per night, are going down to $399 on July 1.

For some reason, St. Regis did not think I would be interested in ocean-view rooms.

 

Published or Updated on: June 12, 2014 by Marvin West © 2014
Contact Marvin West

Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?”  West invites reader reaction; his address is westwest6@netzero.com.
 

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