30 October 2009

Day of the Dead

Tomorrow, I am going to ride along with two friends going to Pátzcuaro for the Day of the Dead festivities there on Saturday evening. We will do the simple camp out with small tents and sleeping bags afterward in the wee hours of Sunday morning and then return that day.

Pátzcuaro is in the state of Michoacan a bit to the south and west. It is one of the two major centers of the celebration of Day of the Dead in México, the other one being in the far south. Pátzcuaro is near a rather large lake, which plays some important part in all of this. I am determined to learn more about this fiesta, if one can call it that. I have done my reading, and now I need to see it in the flesh. It is far, far more than the simple equivalent of our Halloween.

Traditionally, it takes place on 1 and 2 November, the first day being Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) or Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels), dedicated to remembering the death of infants, particularly infants who have died during the preceding year. The second day is referred to as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead) and is the day to remember deceased adults. A good deal of the festivities takes place in cemeteries, believe it or not.

Before the conquistadores three tribes of indigenous people lived around the lake near Pátzcuaro. They were continually at war with each other, which involved a little killing now and again. Harmless indigenous stuff. Then came the Spaniard named Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán in 1529 and demonstrated for the indigenous people there how killing and torture on a truly large scale are done. His nickname became "Bloody Guzmán," and he has been referred to as “the most depraved man ever to set foot in New Spain." I believe that the holocaust that he undertook in this area has something to do with the fact that Pátzcuaro is still one of the big Day of the Dead centers.

I shall report back on my field trip and the results of my research.








29 October 2009

Pardon me.

Pardon me for a bit. I am thinking deep thoughts.

I know. I know. No good can come of that. But no bad either. This is not a Manichean world. That was officially declared heresy by learned clerics long ago.

In the meantime, contemplate my newly refreshed supply of potable water since you are here anyway.




Another thing beautiful in its simplicity.



27 October 2009

A Conversation

“I cannot count the number of times I have given my deposition,” she said.

“Aha. Then you already know a good deal about how I used to earn my living.”

“I do. If my deposition is never taken again, it will be too soon for me.”

She swirled the remnants of the double vodka in her Old Fashioned glass.

“When I first took this position, we had twenty-two lawsuits pending against the company. I had to work through every one of them with the lawyers and get rid of them.”

“How did you find time for the normal human resources stuff?” he asked.

“Simple. I worked all hours of the day. Still do in fact. The job is 24/7. I checked my cell phone before we left the house tonight. There were six voice messages waiting, all business. I'll take care of them in the morning. I'm on vacation.”

“Helluva vacation when people call you all the time.”

“Has to be. That's all. I am good at what I do, and the money is good, too. I like the money.”

“Excuse me. Si. Otro vodka para mi amiga. Doble. Y para mi, agua mineral por favor. . . . . .No. No. Con nada. Vodka solamente. Si. Gracias.

This would be her third double. He had grown adept at keeping a count of everyone's drinks at a table, even a table of eight—a skill akin to an experienced Bridge player's ability to keep a count of the cards out in each suit. There had been a time when he could not keep track of his own.

“And where did you say you are from, Steve? Sorry.”

“'s okay. I'm from Iowa. Not where potatoes grow. Where corn grows.”

“I know where Iowa is. What brings you to San Miguel? You're living here now, right?”

“I really don't know.”

“Don't know what? Why you are in San Miguel? If you are living here now? Or whether you are really from Iowa?”

No, no. I am from Iowa. I am sure of that. I have an Iowa Driver's License that says so. Wanna see it?”

She laughed.

“I mean that I would be happy to explain to you if I could,” he said. “It's just that every time I have tried that, my explanation came out so lame, so dopey sounding that it was embarrassing.”

“Is your name really Steve?” She was grinning.

“Oh, come on now. Yes, it is Steve. I am not disbarred. I do not owe the I.R.S. My child support was paid long ago. There is no warrant out for my arrest up there. I am square with all that.”

She drained half of the new double and contemplated her glass for a moment.

“I would love to live here. I wish I could live here right now. I have been coming here for seven years.”

“Why don't you?” he asked.

“My 401K was crucified.”

“Oh, of course it was. I should have known.”

“You have no idea what that feels like. One day my statement is this long.”

She held one hand above her head and the other down by her side below the seat of her stool.

“Then one day my statement comes, and it is one page long. My 401K had disappeared!”

“Not completely, I hope.”

“No, but a big, big chunk had just. . . . .disappeared.”

“It became a 201K?”

She did not laugh. She sat silently for a time. Then. . . .

“I like nice things. I like nice things around me. That is important to me.”

“I see. In other words you could quit and come to live here but not in the way you would like?”

“Exactly. I would like to quit and come here to live just like you did.”

“Ooooooh, now wait a minute. You would not want to come here like I did. I don't have shit, Carmen. I live like a gypsy. You need a house nicely done, like Linda's or Bob and Sharon's. And you need nice things. You just told me that.”

“Yeah, I do. That 401K thing has ruined all my plans. I might have been here by now. I gotta take comfort in what Bob and Sharon told me. That rest of that 401K is still out there somewhere. I need to give it time to come back home.”

“Good advice.”

“How do you live?”

“Carmen, I honestly don't know. I just do."

“Okay then, what do you do during the day? Just tell me about a typical day.”

“There again, it's very difficult to explain. I have no typical day. Many times I don't know what I am going to do when I get up in the morning. Occasionally, I go on a little excursion here or there with friends or alone. Many times I just explore the city. Or I might stay home and read a book. Or write a book review. . .”

“Book review? You mean like a book review for other people to read?”

“Well, yeah. But nobody reads them. . .Excuse me. Si. Otro vodka para mi amiga. Doble. Gracias.

“You know something, Steve?” She fixed him with a stare.

“We have been sitting here talking for a pretty long time, and I still don't know a goddamned thing about you. I mean, I know the usual things. I know you have been married before, probably more than once. I know you have children. I know you have grandchildren, although you're not sure how many. I know you were a lawyer. But I don't know one goddamned important thing about you. I mean, I don't know what sets you apart, if you know what I mean.”

“I'm sorry, Carmen. I really don't know what you mean. That's about it. In a nutshell.”

“Sheeees. . . . . . . . "

"Still, I would like to do just what you did, Steve.”

“But Carmen, we have already been over that. You cannot. You cannot do just what I did. You need nice things.”

“Yeah. I know. I know. You're right. Tell me something important about yourself. What is it that sets you apart?”



Three Paintings by Siqueiros






Streets of México








The Child Mother








The Revolutionary






Beetle Series


This is the shop area here where I live. The primary activity going on there right now is the fabrication of new iron railings for the rental properties at the other end. Every day a welder comes and pieces new sections together out front.




We also have this project going on inside the shop. It is at a temporary standstill. In the four months that I have lived here, I have seen work done on this Beetle once. We must be awaiting for parts.


The fenders are stored in there somewhere.






This little unit sits among the many semi-retired vehicles parked hither and yon here. The reinforcement of those bumpers for Mexican traffic appeals to me.



However, the best feature of this one is that it has an alarm installed. Every time I walk past this Beetle, I ponder why in the world it would ever occur to anyone to break into it. Maybe large sums of cash were transported in it.


* * * * * * * * * * * *




I keep my eyes open for a classic such as this one that has those teardrop shaped turn signals mounted on top of the front fenders. I love that touch and wish it had never been abandoned. This is a 1972 model.








Again, the history of the Beetle in México.



26 October 2009

The Tortilla

God, I have written a lot of entries lately that somehow or other touch upon food. And this after unmercifully mocking the American obsession with food, particularly the obsession of older Americans with food. I cannot remember now which entry that was. In summary, however, a large, free meal is to older folks what getting laid is to younger folks.

I have really never been all that interested in food as some sort of art form and have regarded food intake as a necessary waste of time before getting on with it. But getting the hang of food here has been interesting for me. What can I say?

Before I form a firm resolve to leave the subject of food entirely alone for the foreseeable future, I wish to pay tribute to the lowly tortilla. It is a staple here obviously. It is utterly beautiful in its simplicity. Therein lies the appeal for me.



I now purchase my tortillas at a tortilleria very much like the one pictured in the stock photo above. No need to go inside the tortilleria. At mine, a grumpy old lady stands at a window counter with scales on it. Mexicans cue up late in the afternoon on the sidewalk to purchase stacks of fresh tortillas on the way home. Many times I get in the cue with them, and purchase a dozen, which are then wrapped in paper.

Purchasing at a tortilleria gives you tortillas that many times are still warm when you purchase them at rush hour. Grab a chunk of great cheese on the way home, and you are eating simple quesadillas made with tortillas that were prepared less than thirty minutes before you eat them. A different experience compared to eating them out of a resealable plastic bag from the Mega Store, I can assure you. These freshly prepared tortillas are so good that many times I eat a few plain right out of my cloth grocery sack on the walk back.

I am still partial to flour tortillas, but more and more I am purchasing corn tortillas for a little change of pace. You can wrap anything and everything in the damned things and eat it. I do not mean anything and everything in the sense of road kill. I mean anything and everything that is otherwise edible. However, my hamburger intake is pretty much at nil now. Playing with hamburger here is playing with fire, and I consider it to be on a par with road kill. So my basic filling is pretty much cheese, many times garnished with whatever else that is left around here.

With my penchant for peanut butter, I have downed many a peanut butter filled tortilla here at the little casa. I cannot remember the last time I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with bread, but I can tell you the last time I had peanut butter filled tortilla sandwiches. About two hours ago.

Just heat the omelet-sized cast iron skillet up. No oil or other grease necessary. Warm them until they are a little brown. If there is any one thing that symbolizes the new simplicity of my life, it is the tortilla. This is my tribute to it.



25 October 2009

The Beetle Series

As a token of my appreciation to Ruthie from California del Sur for forwarding to me a copy of her hopefully-soon-to-be-published poem, Elegy for My 1958 Volkswagen, I determined to put this up for her. I bumped into this one in the parking lot at El Charco del Ingenio:




I especially like the BMW tire rims. Adds a real touch of class, don't you think? I am sure the BMW's owner did not miss them.

So we have a mural series going here and now the Beetle Series. There have actually been two previous entries in the Beetle Series. You may have overlooked this little survivor:



He does merit Parking Space No. 1 up at the plaza. I can verify that he has a Virgin of Guadalupe decal in the rear window right where it belongs, too--obscuring the driver's vision through his rear view mirror:




My daughters and I used to play a game in the car on long road trips when they were very young. I cannot remember what we called that game. Anyway, the first to spot a new and different Beetle on the road or parked nearby got a point.

Kindly send along any digital portraits of Beetles that you may have and believe might merit inclusion in the Beetle Series. Attach them to an email addressed to my lawyer, Hugo, at hcb@burdtlaw.com. He will scan your emails and attachments for viruses and forward them along to me.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When everyone settles down, goes home, and stays there, this place can become downright civilized. No aerial bombs. No tractor trailers without mufflers down shifting while descending the big grade at the edge of town. The traffic is light on Calle San Antonio a block away. Even the dogs have shut up. I originally typed, "Even the gods have shut up." Them, too.

Just the crickets chirping. And me rustling around occasionally. Very cautiously. I do not want to set anything off.

It is a thoroughly peaceful, pleasantly warm and still Sunday evening in San Miguel de Allende right now.



Two Sections of Mural: The Epic of American Civilization by Orozco






Anglo-America






Hispano-America




Benjamino's


Harry's


Another evening of socializing last night. Two Saturday evenings in a row. Unbelievable. An escort was needed for a friend of Lorraine down from Dallas for a visit, a delightful lady who runs human resources for the Hooter's Restaurant chain. She makes a very decent living. I got the nod.

Please do not ask that question. We are above that here.

24 October 2009

Office Depot

I have spoken often of the Mega Store out on the edge of town. It is the equivalent of Super Target back home, a big white box store with a grocery section. I am making every effort to stay out of it now.

There is another facility here in that category, the Plaza La Luciernaga out on the highway that skirts the city. Plaza La Luciernaga is a shopping center, small by United States standards, but nonetheless a shopping center in every sense of the phrase. It is so typically a shopping center that it never occurred to me to take a photograph of it. Seen one, you have seen them all. In my entire time here I had never stopped at Plaza La Luciernaga.

On my way back from El Charco del Ingenio on Thursday I stopped in at the shopping center. I had a single purpose. My intention was to be in and out. I wanted to purchase a stack of blank CD's at Office Depot. Staples, Office Max, Office Depot. They are interchangeable. Staples happened to be my mainstay back when I was operating an office. My problem with big office supply stores is the same problem I have with large hardware stores. There is no such thing as walking in, retrieving an item, paying for it, and walking out. That was fully my intention on Thursday when I walked into Office Depot. I am easily distracted.

The stack of blank Memorex CD's that I wanted cost exactly $12.26 American. Unfortunately, in punishment for my error of walking into Office Depot in the first place, I was assessed a fine of 1,646 pesos ($127.06 American) in the form of the total tab that I paid at the checkout counter on the way out. And I had been doing so well to that point. Living frugally. Cooking instead of restaurants all the time. Attending to my budget. In fact I was living so cheaply that it was incredible. Real discipline. Real discipline. Until Office Depot.

Item one. My beloved Skullcandy earbuds for my iPod had shorted out. I no longer had sound on the left. I have another set of earphones, but they are the Sony's that hang on the outside of your ear. They look dorky. They are only suitable for private use with my laptop. I had tugged at the Skullcandy earbuds gently, I had tapped them gently, and finally I gave them a good rap on the side of the camper. They were not reparable--in any manner available to me, at least. Office Depot had in stock a decent set of Ear Thumpers for 369 pesos ($28.63 American).

Item two. I stumbled upon the cutest little one-cup electric espresso maker. I needed that. I did really. It was only 119 pesos ($9.23 American).

Item three. And here is where I really went astray a little. They had a set of Creative Labs exterior speakers for my laptop. Little black towers for 999 pesos ($77.51 American). I knew the sound would not be tremendous. I briefly considered some speakers with a little subwoofer for more than twice that amount but passed them up. I had at least not lost every last shred of self-discipline. The problem is—and I know that some of you will understand this—there are some kinds of music that do not work through earbuds. Serious jazz, for example, is not acceptable to me through earbuds. What can I say?

Those speakers work grandly by the way. I do not know what Joachim and Bärbel think of them. I try to keep them turned down. I try not to crank them. I have never tried to find eleven on the ten-point volume knob.

When one adds in the stack of blank CD's along with the impuestos, the taxes, of 214 pesos ($16.60 American), one arrives at the total fine for walking into Office Depot of 1,646 pesos. Actually, the total fine is less because we need to subtract out the CD's and the tax attributable to them. I went in with the intention of purchasing those. The total fine was therefore roughly 1,466 pesos.

For the misdemeanor of walking into Office Depot. You know what you have to do in these situations? You have to take it like a man and put it behind you.



23 October 2009

The Blood of the Revolutionary Matyrs Fertilizing the Earth by Rivera







Ouija Board

I have not done a good job--in fact, I have been remiss--at conveying to you one aspect of the city that lends it a certain air. There is an inordinately large undercurrent of weirdness here. In fact it is a riptide.

I attribute this in part to all the talent-challenged, would-be artists and would-be writers who do not paint and do not write and who have washed up here. As usual they are accompanied by hangers-on awash in harmless new age bullshit and the occult. These in turn are accompanied by the lunatic fringe of dangerous new age cretinism and potentially lethal homeopathic healing; unreconstructed, aging hippies with lavender lenses in their shades; impotently angry Marxists; folks holed up here awaiting the Mayan millennium in 2012; incense and tie-dye merchants; bell ringing Zen masters; bra-less chanting nymphs; spiritual nymphos; tarot card readers; and the generally whacked out and fucked up, all with that glaze in their eyes. In short, that portion of the human bell curve of normal distribution is a lot fatter here than it usually is in cities of this size. The mentally lame and the psychologically halt definitely contribute to the atmosphere of the city.

And they all encourage each other in the madness.

You will recall that I have mentioned the Civil List_SMA, a members only Yahoo Group catering to the expatriate community here. The folks to whom I refer are thick there with their postings.

And yet. . . . And yet. . . .Every once in a while one of these people passes along an item of valuable, nay, vital information. When that occurs, I am determined to pass it along to y'all as a kind of public service. In that vein I encountered the following exchange in the Civil List_SMA this morning over coffee.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Re: [Civil_SMA] houija board

HI,

THIS CAN SOUND A LITTLE RARE BUT I LIKE TO SAY IT ANYWAY: THE USE OF SUCH AN INSTRUMENT (IT'S REALLY THAT) IS KIND OF DANGEROUS AND IT DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU BELIEVE OR NOT IN LIFE AFTER DEATH, IT'S LIKE OPENING A WINDOW TO A STRANGE FORM OF ENERGY AND YOU DON'T KNOW IF IT'S GOOD O BAD THE ONE YOU POSSIBLY LET ENTER (UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED AND EXPERIENCED). I SUGGEST NOT TO TAKE IT AS A GAME OR A PLAY....I DID RESEARCH FOR SEVERAL YEARS WHEN I WAS IN ITALY. FELL FREE TO ASK MORE ABOUT.

CIAO

BRUNO
415 1139786


Re: [Civil_SMA] houija board

Ciao is right-on!! I think it is an invitation to dangerous entities. Beware. This is really not a chidren's or novice's game.

betse

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...IT'S ABOUT LEARNING TO DANCE IN THE RAIN!


* * * * * * * * * * * *

Now I admit that it does sound a little rare at first blush. But goddamnit, in these times we live in, you cannot be too careful. Dangerous entities abound. Why invite trouble? If you have been experiencing any phenomena in connection with playing around with your Ouija Board lately, perhaps you should reconsider all that. Or perhaps telephone Bruno and get some additional information as to just exactly what the hell may be going on.

Unless of course you are no novice, in which case I guess you would already have been fully informed the hard way as to what the hell is going on.

Betse is a certified space cadet. We will be hearing more from her.



El Charco del Ingenio II



There is more to El Charco del Ingenio than the hike along the canyon. It is a nature preserve. The wetlands above the dam provide a habitat for birds and other wildlife. There are relevant photos relating to that at the web site as well as photos portraying how the place changes through the seasons.

22 October 2009

El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden and Nature Reserve

I found myself in the mood for a turista thing this morning. I had heard of the botanical gardens previously, but I was not inspired. You will recall how taken I was with the cactus collection at Oleander Acres in Mission, Texas, when I was still not used to indoor plants growing outside. I suppose that I have become a bit hardened after having slept among 'em several times now.

The truck needed a drive, too. It had been sitting for quite some time.

How pleasantly surprised I was! Botanical garden does not do this place justice at all. El Charco del Ingenio. And it is so close, above the city just on the western side, across town from me. I spent about two and half hours wandering in the place.

Do not forget to click on any photo that interests you in order to enlarge it.









21 October 2009

Self-Portrait Dedicated to Irene Rich by Rivera










The Note

Pinté mi portrato para la bella y famosa artista Irene Rich y fue en la ciudad de Santa Barbara de la California del Sur durante el mes de Enero del ano de 1941. Diego Rivera

I painted my portrait for the beautiful and famous artist Irene Rich, and it went to the city of Santa Barbara in southern California during the month of January of the year 1941. Diego Rivera



Book Fair

Note the birds. General Allende endures this humiliation constantly with side effects that I need not go into.



Book Fair under the Statue of General Allende
.
Day before yesterday, I encountered a bunch of tents housing book stalls in La Plaza Cívica. This is the other big square in the city first constructed in 1555. It is dominated now by the big statue of General Allende, hero of the war for independence from Spain. Joachim and Bärbel had tipped me off about these book stalls. They assured me that there were some books there in English.


I have yet to find any sort of bookstore in San Miguel de Allende, even one carrying only books in Spanish. There is a little book department in the Mega Store, but I am sure you can imagine what that is like. The cost of international shipping from some internet operation like amazon.com is stiff.


First concerning my book box. I brought with me a box, actually a plastic tub with a lid, with a few selected books in it. Not many books. I have weight concerns with this little camper trailer and a four-cylinder truck. I have read them all, a couple twice, with two exceptions. The first exception is Proust. However, with the Proust the intent is not to finish the book. I have been scratching a little, pecking a little in Proust for a long time, and I will continue to scratch a little, peck a little into the foreseeable future.


The other exception is a novel entitled A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It is an Indian novel in the sense of Indian Indian, an “International Best Seller.” I bought that book just before leaving. I do not know what crossed my mind. It is 1,474 pages long. That in itself would not be a problem but for this fact. I have never read a novel, or even a short story, by any Indian Indian author that I truly enjoyed. The purchase of that book is an eloquent comment on my mental discombobulation at the time. I was not in my right mind obviously. I may never start that Indian Indian novel. Therefore, I was in effect out of books of my own here.


Our friend Sheila about to go to India for an extended stay to do good work by the way. I look forward to following her blog about that. I really do. Sheila's account will add highly to the interest factor, I am sure. India is fascinating, although I have no desire to go myself.


Then there is La Biblioteca Publica, the bilingual public library. I thoroughly enjoy going there to read because of the antique beauty of the place and the people watching on the side. I have not yet obtained a library card for the reason that I prefer to read there rather than bring books home. There is one big problem with that, however. La Biblioteca Publica boasts a collection of the most uncomfortable chairs ever assembled in one location by man in the history of civilization. Incredible!

If only I had a rich philanthropic friend whom I could persuade to send some money for chairs for the public library here. I would pick out those chairs for him or her and personally deliver them to the public library in his or her name with my pickup.


There were indeed some books in English at the book sale. This is the one stack of them. It was a real potpourri of fiction and and nonfiction, the vast majority of which was of no interest to me. I did score an old edition of three short novels by E.M. Forster for 30 pesos ($2.31 American). I am reading that now.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Again, the Mexican people are not great readers of books. And again also, this was explained to me by a delightful older Mexican lady whose very profession involves encouraging Mexican children to read more books. I do not claim to know whether what she is doing is a good thing or a bad thing.







20 October 2009

Proletarian Mother by Siqueiros







Tipping and Over Tipping

Bloggerboy's other comment on the El Pegaso entry included a question about tipping. This entry on tipping is intimately related to the previous entry on the word Señor.

Here is the short answer to that question. In San Miguel de Allende a 20% tip is perilously close to over tipping. It would clearly be over tipping in other parts of México not so polluted with Americans. Ten percent is enough. Fifteen percent shows gratitude for exceptional service.

That is tricky initially because when one converts a 10% tip in pesos to American dollars in one's head, it always seem such a pitifully small, indeed insultingly small, amount of money.

But as usual, the subject is more complicated than that.

Another story is in order. Early in my stay here, I was with little Maria at El Pegaso with two other people. A party of four. You will recall that Maria is originally from Columbia. Her permanent residence now, as well as her mother's, is in México City. She was working temporarily in Terresa's permaculture operation out there to learn about organic gardening, self-sustaining living environments, and that sort of hippie stuff. Nonetheless, Maria is a big city girl (only a well-to-do city girl would wear gloves for manual labor in México) and very, very bright.

When it came time to pay the bill, I volunteered to pay the whole tab. Not a peep of protest was heard by the way. From across the table Maria watched me fumble around with the money. I calculated a tip in excess of 20% and set it out there with the principal amount. Of course, I was utterly charmed by the job the waiter had done.

Maria went haywire. She asked me what I was doing. She said something very interesting but which I cannot quote exactly. She said words to the effect of, “That man is not a beggar!” She was referring to the waiter of course. She herself took charge of the money, rearranged it, and returned to me an amount sufficient to reduce the tip below 15%.

Now at the time, I took her to be expressing a concern about me, about my wallet. I also thought she was saying in effect that the waiter did not need that big a tip. Are you with me here?

But since then and after more experience, I now interpret her meaning then far differently. I am very close to certain about this.

When she said, roughly, “That man is not a beggar,” she was telling me that by over tipping him I was in some way showing a kind of disrespect for him, a professional man of pride. I was going to insult him and his professionalism by over tipping him. By over tipping him I was telling him that he had done something that night that he ordinarily did not do when in fact Cesar renders great service each and every time out of the blocks.

Hell, she did not care about my wallet. Maria was always under the impression that I was this eccentric American with all the money that God had ever created. I did not tell her that exactly. I do not know how she got that impression.

Consider then that this took place in a country wherein bribes are commonly solicited and commonly given. I myself have been solicited and gave a significant bribe, as most of you already know. Moreover, there is not a helluva lot of hypocrisy about that. People are open about asking the bribe, and the people paying know exactly what they are paying.

In Central America and México we do use a word for “bribe” that is at first blush a euphemism. The word is mordida. Literally, it means “bite.” But hereabouts “bite” has become its secondary meaning. Its primary meaning now is “bribe.” See what I mean? In other words by using the word mordida instead of the Spanish word for “bribe,” that is, soborno, people are not in any way being delicate about the subject here.

So here I am in the land of bribes being gently berated by a young Hispanic woman for showing disrespect to a waiter who had done an excellent job by over tipping him! Can any of you figure that out?

The only thing I can come up with is that if you are asked for a bribe, start bargaining about the amount, and then give it. On the other hand, if you are not asked, certainly do not overpay for anything. That is as close as I can come.

See what I mean about how everything is complicated? Nothing is simple?

It certainly is quite possible that Maria was only saying, “You look like a dumb shit gringo putting out that kind of money, and it is embarrassing.”

In fact, now that I have gone to all the trouble of writing this, I have changed my mind. I think that is exactly what she was saying. I have been known at times not only to over tip, but also to over think things.

Any way I cut it in my own head, however, I never over tip here anymore.



Señor

In a comment on the entry on El Pegaso, Bloggerboy posed a simple question, and I know he posed it half in jest. Do the waiters in El Pegaso call me Señor Steve? That simple question raises a whole subject, a whole new topic.

Nothing is simple in México. Nothing. Most particularly, those things that seem simple at first. They are many times the most complicated in fact.

Again, the parable about the Frenchman who decided to write a book explaining Great Britain becomes relevant.

I came to México with essentially no Spanish but confident at least in the knowledge that the word “ Señor” is simply the equivalent of “Mister” in English. And when used without a name, it is the equivalent of “sir.” “Excuse me, sir. Can you direct me to the nearest rest room?” Consequently, initially I was using the word “Señor” all the time.

As time wore on I came to notice that Mexicans do not use that word. Now, it is entirely possible that they use it commonly among themselves, but not in addressing me and not in addressing anyone else, Mexican or otherwise, within my hearing, at least. That is all I can tell you. I am very slow, but I am not completely imperceptive.

This all came home to me after some weeks here. There is a convenience store down the street, an adjunct to the Pemex station, which is exactly like any convenience store any of you patronize in the United States. Same layout. Same general appearance. Same smell. There is a clerk there in the mornings whom I would estimate to be nearly fifty. He is the only convenience store clerk whom I have encountered here who is any older than 21. And he addresses me as “Señor.” The first time it was so strikingly in contrast with my general experience that I immediately wondered, “What the hell's the deal with that guy?” without even thinking about it. I tell you that story simply to illustrate what I am talking about.

By the way, I myself mindlessly stopped using the term “Señor” here long ago, again on the simple theory of, “When in Rome. . . .”

Just before I came, I had finally read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, which is his account of his participation in the Spanish Civil War in the thirties. In fact, I was so enamored of the book that I read it a second time after getting here.

In that book, Orwell has a couple of chapters wherein he describes what it was like in Barcelona in the midst of a true Marxist revolution. That section of Spain was the furthest to the left of any section of Spain at that time. Everybody started dressing the same in workers' apparel. Tipping was forbidden on the theory that it was a sign of the social superiority of one class over another. Signs were posted in the city explaining to people how to act in conformity with the elimination in class distinctions. Among the things that occurred there was the absolute elimination of the use of the term “Señor.” The use of “Señor” was viewed as an acknowledgment of the superiority in class of the person addressed as such.

I am not certain of what follows. This is my working theory right now. México experienced a successful revolution in 1910, which was a class struggle if ever there was one. For one thing, it marked the admission of the Indians to full fledged citizenship in this country for the first time. The great artists who followed, our old friend David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, and the famous Diego Rivera, husband of Santa Frida, were all great muralists and all Marxists. Santa Frida herself was a Marxist and a personal friend of Leon Trotsky when he lived here before he was assassinated. Those three muralists, all national heroes themselves, documented the revolution and its results.

Prior to The Revolution, the hacendados, the great landowners, ran this country. They were a small minority of Spanish descent. The vast majority of the rest were their economic vassals directly or indirectly. The development of a middle class as we know it was a much later development in these Latin countries then the history we are used to. And those hacendados demanded respect. They were free to dispense extra-judicial corporal punishment for a lack of respect.

So I am confident that this refusal to use the term “Señor” is a hangover from the revolution in this country. It is a way of tacitly saying, “You are not my hacendado. I do not automatically owe you any respect because of your class or other station in life.” If you were to ask a Mexican about this subject, he or she would probably not explain it this way at all. However, that does not mean that I am not right.

In the interest of completeness, there is another exception in addition to that convenience store clerk. My landlady, an elderly woman whom I address as "Señora Maria," in turn addresses me as "Señor" occasionally, but only occasionally. I have no idea what that means.

Now how does this manifest itself with the waiters at El Pegaso? Waiters being notorious suck-ups, one would think that the use of “Señor” would be a perfect way for them to suck up. Not so. They pick up Americans' names from their charge cards so that they can address them by name the next time. When they do, they use the English “Mister.” “Mr. Smith.” “Mr. Jones.” Even if they are conversing in Spanish with the American. I have never heard them use the word “Señor.” Just watch though. Now that I have taken the trouble to write this, the next time I am in there, I will hear one use it.

As for me, they call me “Steve.” I pay with cash. I was so taken with them off the bat that I introduced myself to them gradually one by one, and asked them to call me that.

When I have become really, really tight with them, I will ask them to call me “Don Steve.” We shall see how that goes.


* * * * * * * * * * * *


I am not in a position to give anyone lots of advice about traveling in México, and I probably never will be. I may have entirely misapprehended the situation that I have discussed above. I can pass along one thing with confidence though.

You can make a lot of mistakes here and survive them just fine. This is after all the land of mas o menos, “more or less.” One thing you must not do. You must not underestimate the pride of these people. You do so at your peril. I do not give a damn what Mexican we are talking about. They will have their revenge. That revenge may take the form of something as simple as giving you change for a 20 peso note when you handed over a 200 peso note and then stonewalling you if you call him or her on it.

If you were to piss off a waiter, do not eat that meal. Just pay for it, leave, and never go back to that restaurant. Otherwise, you can let your imagination run wild as to what is actually in that food you are eating.

I like this approach. I like this approach a lot, and I can more than live with it. I can thrive on it.



19 October 2009

El Pegaso


I have mentioned the restaurant El Pegaso (The Pegasus) before in passing. Today I dropped in there and found it nearly empty. I felt more comfortable taking some photographs, although there is nothing very special about the appearance of it. I simply wish to pay a quick tribute to the place.

El Pegaso is located one block from the main plaza, El Jardin, up town. The clientèle is usually about half American and half Mexican, which is a good thing. The clientèle of the other restaurants in this area can quite often be entirely American. The menu is nothing spectacular but very solid. Everything is good. The coffee is killer. Their specialty is desserts. I had Coconut Fudge Cheesecake with the graham cracker crust late this afternoon with my coffee. Since I have sweets so seldom, I cannot tell you what a treat that was.


The dining room to your left as you enter.


The pastry cabinet in the center of the picture with Queen Bee in the cash register nook to the left.


The dining room to your right as you enter.

Given its proximity to the main square, the prices at El Pegaso are extraordinarily reasonable. This would be your go-to, sit-down restaurant if you were here.



Alejandro


The bar and coffee shop in the center. Juan Carlos, the bartender and barista, and Teodoro.

These are two photos of what is special about El Pegaso. The waiters. My main gun, Cesar, had not yet come on duty today when I arrived. He came just as I was leaving.



The dessert board. Postres famosos.


What a pleasure to encounter truly competent waiters where one encounters them so seldom! All the guys are in their thirties or forties. They are all career waiters. No youngsters here humping tables, working their way through art school. In fairness, there are other high end restaurants with competent waiters on the plaza. However, the prices at those restaurant are very much higher.

Then there is the Queen Bee at the cash register who runs the place with an iron hand.

Oh, how I do love thee, men. Let me count the ways.

1.These waiters greet you by name when you walk in after a time or two. They pick up your name in a hurry.

2.They act delighted to see you when you return. They are great actors. They emote when they express their delight in seeing you again.

3.They keep an eye on you from afar while you peruse the menu, and they are there immediately when you are ready to order.

4.They bring the food promptly before it gets cold back in the kitchen.

5.They check back with you during your meal unobtrusively.

6.They remove each dirty dish as you are finished with it.

7.They bring the goddamned bill when you ask for it.

8.They inquire if everything was satisfactory just before you leave.

I must be brutally honest. These things do not occur in a typical, run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant. On occasion you will find yourself in a Mexican restaurant where two or three may occur. Not one single item on this list occurs routinely in a typical Mexican restaurant. I love these guys, and I wanted to say so here. They are smooth as silk.

I know most of you are perfectly accustomed to this in your restaurants. I have become perfectly unaccustomed to it.

This is the restaurant where the walls are festooned with innumerable little nichos, the little Joseph Cornell-like boxes by the artist, José Antonio Madrazo.



The corner of Corregidor and Correo.








Black and white added 13 August 2012. I still attend.