Monday, May 23, 2011


So... this morning I was sitting in a humble, traditional Mexican-style beach restaurant, sand floor and no frills. Run by a dear friend from our village, Olympita, we often park our shoes, sunglasses and whatnot here before hitting the surf with our boards. This particular morning, however, I felt like hanging out a bit before boogie'ing the biggies (yeah! they were big yet again).

Anthropology major that am, I ordered a coffee and invited Olympita to join me and thus began the conversation about her childhood.... I´ve been on a run with this topic, talking to various of the elders on this topic (NOTE: I am actually older than most of the people I talk to about their childhood, but their descriptions of their childhood is very similar to that of my mother, born in 1909 in rural Missouri).... What they tell me, and the tone of voice they use, and the facial expressions of nostalgia... Fascinating stuff and it is so very too bad that I am not completely fluent in Spanish in order to capture and record this fleeting, nay, altogether vanished(!) lifestyle.

Over fresh-off-the-grill salted tortillas and hot coffee (Nescafe...mmmgood), she began speaking of how she learned to make tortillas.

She was raised in a big family of kids up in the mountains (she pointed behind her to where the mountains rise into the mist of morning). Her mama would hand her a ball of dough and teach her how to expand and flatten it into a nice round shape for tossing on the hot-plate.

"But!" she added, if she did not do it right, her mama would grab her hand and place her HAND directly on the hot-plate to teach her to pay attention. (Must not display overt shock or they will stop talking -- lesson from Anthro 101)

Aw, the hell those rules -- I was shocked! Thinking back to my childhood and recalling the only incident of (attempted) corporeal punishment on my person, I commented that I would have run away! That is, after all, how I responded to the one time my parents concertedly ambushed me with malice aforethought -- dad attempting to hold me down while mom attempted to wash out my mouth with a soapy washcloth (ooooh, I had said a bad word indeed...) NOBODY was gonna do that to ME! I went into high-gear strength and was slippier than any soap, man. I was out the door and GONE!

However, I did not describe that incident to Olympita. That is one of the handy aspects to having a strong language barrier. Just as well.

All that I said was, "I would have run away."

So! Shock the Anthro Major once again. She began shaking her head sideways and saying that you wouldn´t dare run away! What her parents did if you tried, was take your feet and burn the bottoms of them, so that you could NOT run away again for some time.... so that you would think about it long and hard before attempting it....

More customers arrived, the waves rose high and beckoned.... and thus this conversation was put on pause.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SHOCK the Anthro Major (Pt.1)

(Warning: here follows a silly post, inspired by how uproariously, laughingly, I was shocked at what I saw as a complete cultural mismatch/mishmash of behaviors, a la Anthro 101 in college. BTW, I was an Anthro Major. Mexicans, I had been taught, certainly love to laugh and are very easy-going, but there is a level of dignity -- particularly w/r sexual references, and most particularly in public -- that must be observed. Hmmm.....)

Return to this post in June for photographs of what is described below!!

So, as happens every spring, I was invited to attend the show put on by the primary school children in celebration of their Mothers. Each year, the mommies dress up beautifully, and all the little kids (kindergarten up to around 5th grade) put on a series of playful skits in costumes and song. Then they serve their mommies really good food (cooked by the mommies beforehand, but nevermind). Very silly, very sweet.

This year, there was a different teacher/organizer. Instead of the bouncy, boisterous woman who drove in from Zihuatanejo (when she felt like it, and if not, there was no school that day) -- now there was a very nice young man (married)... who has yet to develop the skill of presenting playful skits and songs. Still, the little darlings were cute despite mumbling their lines with their backs to the audience, and walking offstage to be with mommy.... We were all charmed anyway.

The stage is just a paved playground, by the way. Mommies are seated in schoolroom chairs under the big shade trees nearby.

None of this was shocking... just not as much fun as before.

What got me laughing uproariously, were the activities set up for the mommies to participate in after the kids were done and the food was eaten. These activities were apparently selected by this nice young married man who is the new teacher, since he directed them.

Mind you, everything I describe below was presented in the presence of the sweet little K-5 kids...

Dancing. Which couple dances the best? One mommy poses as the guy for each couple, of course. There were no husbands present. Applause is the indicator for "best," and done in elimination format. So! What we had were mommies shimmying, and doing hip'thrusts, and breast-shakes.... the wilder, the better, and that is who won.

Lap-dancing. Say what? So now... one woman, posing as the guy, sits in a chair, front and center. The partner slithers all around...but I won´t bother writing graphic descriptions beyond that. Applause for the raunchiest determines the winner once again. Not all the women were shy and demure....

Ca-ca aiming. Say WHAT? Yeah. You read right. So, they line up a bunch of mommies with their backs to those of us balancing on school'desks in the shade. Then, they tie a string around the mommy´s waist, with a dangly thing down their back to which is tied a cylindrical stubby stick. Below that, on the ground, is a cup. Each mommy then squats ever so carefully, down and down, trying to get that stubby brown thing into the cup without tipping it over. There WAS a winner.

Loudest laugher. Had there been a prize for this, I would have won hands-down, I think. We were all laughing and pointing and having a great time, but I was also mega-surprised at the breaking of what I had assumed were strong cultural taboos. I know well that the women can be delightfully raunchy at a gathering for "gallinas only" (Robert was shooed away -- no "gallos" allowed). But this was right out there among their kids. So what was I laughing at? Myself!

Friday, May 6, 2011


While enjoying a cleansing hot/soapy shower on, hmmm -- was it September 11 maybe, and 2001 I believe was the year -- Robert handed the phone to me past the shower curtain. It was my sister. All she said was, "Turn on the television."

Keeping her on the line, I dripped my way down the hallway, into the living room, and turned on the TV. Standing there soaking-naked-wet, I watched in silence the repeating imagery of planes crashing into towers -- towers yet to crash to the ground.... I heard, as yet, no narrative.

"Oooooh," I said quietly. "we'd better start building more schools and hospitals around the world...." But I knew we wouldn't.

So did Osama binLaden. He knew we would explode into a fury of playground "hit back harder!" mentality. He knew we would fracture the fabric of our society, and stretch thin the financial and economic fabric of our nation. All he needed to do was make one stupendous, brilliantly engineered, visually stunning attack.... and then sit back and watch us fragment.

For that, I view him as a... what adjective can I use?.... worthy, true, formidable, challenging? ... nah. I'll stick with brilliant.... he was a brilliant opponent. And because of that, I am relieved to read that his body was treated respectfully, and given the proper religious rites of his faith, and that his body was relegated to the sea----that great equalizer that accepts all. And yes, I lit a stick of incense for his spirit... as I always light one for ourselves as well, we who are formidable opponents in our own way (I haven't seen much brilliance lately from our side).

And so NOW!!! Only today(!), in an English-language newspaper printed for us English-speakers in Mexico, do I read of the reaction that I asked for back then. Let me quote, with tears in my eyes:

"It's time to end the wars that have created more enemies than have been conquered. It's time to move forward... Bombs and guns aren't needed for that task. Teachers, doctors and engineers are the ones we need to enlist now. Democracy will come, sooner or later. One of the lessons I hope we have learned in recent months is that freedom can't be a genetically engineered crop.

"More than anything else, U.S foreigh policy must shift to reflect the best of what America has to offer. No longer can support for brutal dictators be justified in the name of so-called strategic interests at the expense of the democratic aspirations of people around the world. That murky euphemism for corporate profits and US goals must be redefined.

"Let the celebration that erupted on Sunday be a celebration for a new way of relating to each other...

"Let us celebrate our shared humanity, our shared global interest in the support of peace, justice, freedom, and the kind of prosperity that takes into account the consequences of nature itself, which is the foundation of all life on the planet we inhabit...."

(by Nafisa Haji of the Bloomsberg News; author of "The Sweetness of Tears" and "The Writing on My Forehead" -- article republished on Friday, May 6, 2011 in "The News" from Mexico: )

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bubbles Bursting in Air

For my momentous 65th (see the essay just below this one, "Rights of Passage," for commentary on THAT thought), Robert offered a Repeat of a Most Wonderful, Romantic Day.

Last CENTURY (in the 19´s, that is to say: 1997) we celebrated our 5th Anniversary Together --right here in Zihuatanejo.... That was actually years before we discovered our present surfing beach, and even more years before we bought our little casita en el pueblito --the sweet home I call Eden, in a little village filled with people who describe themselves (accurately) as "tranquilo y amable" -- tranquil and friendly.

On that day, we had wandered all the colorful tourist shops, treated ourselves to pure-fruit popsicles (paleta), and dined at a beach restaurant, toes in the sand... a margarita for me, excellent fish dinner, a rose in a vase --- and furthermore, Robert engaged the wandering troubadors to personally serenade us together on our anniversary. "Malaguena" brought tears to our eyes...

"Let´s just relive that entire day," was his invitation.

Improvement: instead of paletas (paletas have degenerated into frozen artifically-flavored sugar water), we had Italian Gelatto with local exquisite fruits mixed in. Yummmmissimo.

That´s it.

The rest was, shall I write, a DIS-improvement.

Putting a positive spin on it: EVERYTHING that we looked forward to (now gone to flinders in Zihua, to put it mildly) can be found in diamond-style perfection in our village!!

For example, our closest village friends (Sara y Guille and their kids) are delightful, funny, laid'back family to us. Guille is a skillful fisherman with his hand'thrown net, and Sara is a cook extraordinaire. Thus, we are frequently invited to superbly prepared FRESH fish dinners with fresh-made hot blue-corn tortillas, salad and various sides, fresh-squoze fruit drinks.... and so on and so on!!!

So...contrast THAT to what I was served in Zihua -- soggy fish with glutinous onions globbing atop, and soggy salad leaves with bits of tomato, and one tiny slop of pureed bean "dip."

I didn´t dare bother with a margarita... Dos Equis did me fine.

As for the endearing craftspersons wandering table-to-table with their (mass-generated in China?) cute bobble-head animals, and stone (real stone or disguised?) necklaces and ear-rings etc... Well, we have plenty from years here, but still we bought a few more....

......only to be REALLY surprised by a cute, crisply dressed, nicely coiffed little girl who raced to my side and attempted to steal my coins as I counted them out! When I intercepted her thievery she PINCHED me and tried again. When I pushed the coins further from her grasp she pinched me all the more, and tried again, shoving her body against mine to reach further! In Spanish I told her that these things were not hers. Don´t touch. And I added, (not knowing the word for "pinch"), "Don´t HIT me!" She paid me no mind. Charming, to say the least. Great way to encourage sales from the gringos....

But the penultimate disappointment on this Would-be Romantic Night with my Husband-Lover was this.....

No wandering troubadors!!! No traditional quartet of musicians going from table to table, offering the old corridas with their banged-up, well-played instruments, singing in heartbreakingly beautiful and tight harmonies... No "Malaguena" for me on my birthday...

Instead, there was a nice, young man with his guitar and squawking loudspeaker equipment, seated on a platform. He sang modern songs. It was hard to simply talk to my love, and harder yet to hear the gentle whisper of water retreating, and then the crash of gentle waves upon the sand.

It was good to be back home again. We brought home really good ice cream (wrapped in a fleece sleeping bag...and that WORKED) and took it over to Sara y Guille´s house. All their kids gathered 'round, and we just laughed it up around their table in the front yard, with all of the village life going on all around us. Kids learning to ride bikes, boys chasing each other for whyever, babies playing in the dirt with little horses or whatever, moms leaning against a wall gossiping. Our friends live right in the very center of the pueblito. Where it´s AT!!!

The Rights of Passage:

> 16
On my 16th birthday, I was right there at the front of the line to take my driver´s test. When the man handed me my license, my dad held my hand with the card in it, and said solemnly (to this effect): ¨Now, this license gives you all the rights and responsibilities of a full adult. Don´t go acting like a child with it. Do you understand?¨

So! That night, I filled the family car with as many friends as could fit, and I drove through the center of town!! I was showing off to them what were still 15, I s´pose.

But! What´s this? A cop car pulled up in the lane alongside me, and the cop was yelling something through his open window. I slowed down. He slowed down. I kept slowing down ever slower. He kept "pace." ("Man, am I ever in trouble," thinks I.) Finally, the cop took a flashlight and shone it directly into my eyes. Oh...yeah. Forgot to turn on my lights after dark.

> 21
On my 21st birthday -- this was that great, momentous day in which I became recognized as a really truly fully legal humdinger ADULT (meaning now I can legally drink and now I can legally vote!!!!) Proudly, I ordered a (just one, as I have never really cared for alcohol) "Sloe Gin Fizz." Sounded grown-up to me. When I bragged to a young man of greater age about that, he shook his head and muttered, ¨You might as well have ordered strawberry pop.¨ And thus did he pop my bubble. And as for voting... remember Gene? You know, McCarthy!

> 65
Yeah, well... um, this was that inevitable day -- the one whose rights include being relegated to the old fogie bin, BUT(!) also making me elegible for Medicare and "senior" privileges. So, uh, is this the end of being an "adult" ?? Now I am referred to as a "Senior"...

I do believe that I shall now revel in.... Senior Moments! Stay in the Present Moment, that is. Om Mani Padme Hum..... Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.... Jai HO!!!!