Stan Gotlieb

I am a traveler. Some people are drunks and some play Bingo. I like to pack a suitcase and boogie. I get restless when I have been too long in the same place, the same job, the same social scene. That’s why I travel: for stimulation. So far, I have lived in 15 cities, in four countries, on three continents.

On the other hand, I like my comforts, the more so the older I get. I am not a loner, so I look for places with the possibility of community. And, having been born and raised in Minnesota, I like warm places.

With all this, I had no immediate intention of going anywhere when, in 1993, an aunt died and left me a few thousand dollars (I didn’t know she was rich, and I wasn’t sure she liked me). At the time I was working in a legal aid office dealing with domestic issues, and the combination of overwork and icky cases was burning me out. So, in the fall of 1993, I gave notice, and in January of 1994 I packed my bags, rented out my house, and headed south. I had visited in many places in Mexico over the previous 20 years, but chose Oaxaca because since first coming here in 1973 it had remained in my mind. Mexico, I told my friends, is the ideal place: very close to here, but very far away.

In some ways, all the cultures I have lived in, including the many that exist in the U.S., were bizarre structures through which I moved as invisibly as I (the “real me”, whoever that is) could manage. I guess that aspect of me is part of what makes any creative person: the need to figure out what the hell is happening, and what significance to give to events and people who on the face of it might just as well be happening on Mars.

Nothing about Oaxaca was difficult for me (however much I pretend to complain in my writing). I love the “vamos a ver” (let’s go and see how it works out) attitude. I accept the fact that I will always be an outsider to the local folks: people from the next State are so viewed, so why not me? I have my “family” here among the extranjero (foreigner) community, and like all families, I like some better than others and some not at all. The climate (5,100 feet) suits me.

Of course, I miss my old friends, most of whom could not for various internal and external reasons share in my expatriate wanderings. It takes a long time for new friends to become old friends — although I have observed that the process is speeded up in small town atmospheres such as we have in the expatriate community of Oaxaca.

The day to day reality is not much different than it was “back there”: work, sleep, eat, socialize, make love (and occasional war) with Diana, scratch for the rent, and go to the beach whenever the time and money permit. Also, I have to admit, it’s fun being a medium sized frog in a very small pond. I like the notoriety, such as it is, and it makes me feel good when I can give others information (power) that they didn’t have before, like how to get to x and where to find y and have you seen z. Because aside from writing, which is fun, I am really a “matchmaker” by nature: a living walking connection between here and there, so-and-so and such-and-such.

In the final analysis, I am just trying to keep my grip and have some fun and talk to other folks in hope that they will talk back to me. I enjoy my role (and I often think of it as just that: a sort of persona that time and circumstances invented for me) of “Mr. Internet Oaxaca”. It tickles me that a whole lot of people find something that I say worth reading, even if a lot of it is free: with five million or more information providers on the Internet also giving it away, I take pride from that.

Carl Franz says “everywhere you go, there you are”. He’s not the first person to say that, but he made it the central empowering notion of a valued travel guide, and that is why I give him the quote. To me, the notion that you can “transplant” yourself is an erroneous simile. It’s like saying you can grow a cranberry bush in the Sahara. The successful process is more like grafting, where you join your developed personality to roots that are already viable.

However, the problem does not end there. You can graft almost anything to almost anything else, and get a viable hybrid, but what will it do, and how pleasing will the result be? My guess is that a pleasing graft occurs when the cutting and the root share some common characteristics.

This means that if you value punctuality above everything else, you would find life here very frustrating, but if you know how to be punctual but don’t value it more than reading a good book, you could probably adjust. Relaxed cultural values regarding punctuality compose one of the roots of plants that grow well in this soil. Among the many others are patience, tolerance, a sense of humor and a nonjudgemental attitude.

The Mexicans reciprocate in kind: they accept us as they find us. Sure, we scandalize them some times, but most often they just shrug their shoulders and assume that our craziness is just the way “we” behave. And don’t forget that Mexicans differ even more from one part of the country to another than do we: what you need to bring with you changes, depending on where you go and what you are doing.

There is no-one alive who should never think to move to Mexico. There is no perfect profile for making the move. The best indication of being able to make it here is having made it here, and even that isn’t sure. Circumstances change. Things happen. Life’s a cabaret. For me, Oaxaca is happy hour.

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