Mexico Notes – part 5
Starfish-laden scaly crest of wave
Balloons of stinging jellyfish
The crush of birth called beach.
Journal, Mayo 27, 2003
We headed southwest, towards the ocean, through gargantuan agri-business fields and tractors to rival my Iowa birthplace. As boring as this was, I was glad to be gone from searing Alamos.
Now, sitting on the Mazatlán beach, I wonder if I would be happy in such a quiet little place, where no property beckoned to call it home. Alamos’ quaint, closed-in beauty: would I be happier with sea breeze and foam-laden waves? Pelicans that drift and dive? A surf that roars? Maybe it is time to break the mold. Crack the private property habit, rent, and move with the seasons. Or, perhaps it is not about landscape, as much as people. The ocean breeze taunts mood and thought to the surface. Life-to-life resuscitation.
I miss my daughter, Hope, who sits behind a desk in downtown Albuquerque. I will email her tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll be lucky and catch her online.
I smile as I recollect the dress lady of Alamos who had a wily knack for catching Susan and me, no matter which door we exited. Once, as Susan grasped for the words to say, “no thank you … later,” she blurted, ” no hay.” The two gringas and the dress lady laughed out loud. Susan did return. On her final, stomach-in-an-uproar day, she purchased a little embroidered purse and two placemats from the persistent, sweet woman who, it turns out, spoke perfect English. Esta muy buen … we need all the practice we can get.
Tom joins me for a beach walk we’ve been warned against, because of a recent influx of jellyfish. The walk is tedious. Read, short. We opt for a beachside dinner table where gin and tonics are strong and two for one. Tom orders el mocajete and raises the waiter’s eyebrows. “Ahhh,” he says, “specialty of the house.” We haven’t a clue what it is, and don’t believe our eyes when it arrives, bubbling like a volcano, inside a three-legged lava rock bowl. Chunks of avocado, tomatoes, beef and chilies, slathered in a thick layer of jack cheese that takes a good ten minutes to calm. Tom is smitten, I’m jealous. We learn that the dish is a generic, thick Aztecan/Mexican stew, to which the cook adds a variety of foods and spices. Its name comes from the grinding-stone “bowl” ( mocajete) in which it is served.
Mazatlán is harder to exit than enter. We walk several blocks to the internet café that’s supposed to open at 9:00, but is still locked and deserted at 9:45. We drive to another and for the first time on our trip, connect with home through cyberspace. It feels strange. Always before, in my Mexico forays, I had spent long times in unkempt telephone buildings with other villagers while my number, given the receptionist on a piece of paper, was connected by an operator. Sometimes I would wait 30 minutes or more for the connection and my name to be called, when I would proceed to a private wooden booth, lift up the heavy, black receiver and hear a familiar voice. Now, contact was a few pesos and quick keyboard taps away. This, more than any other factor, dissolves the border between the north, central and south Americas. Between Old Mexico and her Nuevo sidekick. With nano-second technology goes the way of romance. The aesthetics and stories of the telephone rooms.
There is one more stop before we leave Mazatlán. It is Wal-Mart. Like the Cyber Café, I have not been to a Mexico Wal-Mart. In my hometown of Taos, the Wal-Mart is a political hot potato. The gringo community has taken the politically-correct lead and made our Wal-mart- pequeno’s efforts to become a Wal-mart- grande into a heated issue. White folks argue that it will destroy local businesses and the quaint feeling of the town, while Brown folks argue that they’re the ones who use it, need and want it. They’re the ones who can’t afford the prices of private, tourist shops. They’re the ones who sit their bodies down in the Wal-Mart coffee shop, their modern resolana. It is they who halt their carts and fill the aisles in vivid conversation with neighbors. The proposal for grande has been turned away twice by the city. It is only a matter of time before the county does what the town did not, welcome the needed monies into her tax coffers and rolls out the green carpet.
As for Wal-Mart in Mexico, it is mind-blowing. A covered parking lot with an attendant who directs us to a parking space. He is a joking, friendly man, who will later help us to unload our cart. Inside are a half dozen open cauldrons of mole and a deli that boasts over 50 different hams and cheeses. There are fresh, hot tortillas, liquados, yogurt, and a panaderia. And, there are the North American brands we need to stock up on. Today we are low on drinks without sugar. Tom wants some California wine, and I covet children’s books in Spanish.
What there are not in this store are Mexican villagers. I am a long, long ways from the neighborhood tienda and the weekly market. Unlike the Wal-mart- pequena of Stateside, I will come to Mexico-Sam’s only when pressed, or when I need to use a credit card. It is too distant from the simple Mexico I wish to touch.
We don’t top our gas tank as we leave Mazatlán. Three times I mention gas to Tom, as we forsake our number one driving rule: fill up, first chance we get, when the tank passes below half. Now we’re far away from the next station, running on empty. I’m pissed. Seething. We’re on the verge of a rare fight as I dig myself a bunker into the moral high ground. You know, that place where you may be right, but you’ll be right by yourself.
We shut up and contract into our separate worlds, numbed by the leaning gas tank needle. The vehicle that runs on fumes passes men with machetes who clear fields and pile rocks into miles of stunning, mountainous, dike-like fences. Papaya trees swell with fruit that hang like upside-down teardrops. Traffic is slowed by road repair, as men in long, cotton sleeves heft shovels of hot asphalt from wheelbarrows. A dead dog sprawls along the roadside, covered with white lime granules. I wish I’d painted a Guadalupe on our gas tank.
El zopilote’s long black wings tilt back and forth above us. In silent drift, he follows a chunky cliff top painted with a white cross. An omen for those who run on empty, no doubt.