Saturday, January 21, 2006

In Mexico, it's tamarind, not tootsie

Today is Saturday. Robert is back in the states for 10 days leaving Allison and I to fend for ourselves which means we do whatever we want and eat cake for dinner. With Allison in school I have a regular schedule again so Saturday has possibilities. Saturday can feel luxurious or lonely. The mood must have leaned to lonely this morning because I found myself urging Allison to come along on a walk with me. I thought we'd drop in on the family of her classmate who live only one block away. The mother I met once and she spoke very good English. I'm trying to cultivate friendships for my daughter.

The father was outside at a work table sanding. His name was Pascal and he was Italian, not Mexican. Two big dogs ran to us sniffing and wagging. He called for his wife who appeared from the house and immediately called out to her daughter and soon we were surrounded by them all. Come in, come in. Their house, newer and modern in architecture, was a little cramped inside from the overabundance of furnishings and knick-knacks a family acquires over time. It looked more American than Mexican except for the buffet; dozens of bottles of alcohol of Mexican origin. I wanted to study the eye-catching labels but I was invited to sit at a large glass dining table and offered a beverage. I asked for water and I watched as she put the drinking glass under the refrigerator dispenser for, gasp, tap water which I still won't drink because I still see myself as too green for Mexico parasites. I would never admit that to someone serving me, it just seems too rude. So the nicer she was the more badly I felt about not sipping.

Ana, is her name. She is tall, attractive, and very lively. She is a Loreto native; her family, town founders. Her heritage is partly German she told me. Loreto was founded by Jesuits and Europeans soon followed. She went to college in San Diego where she perfected her English and continued to live there for awhile. She and Pascal run a local hotel owned by her parents. They own another in San Javier.

I learned that for all America offers she still longed for home, the calmness of this seaside village. She loved America, but, she said, Americans rush and work too hard. I admit to that. I always listen with acute curiousity when people praise Mexico for it's laid-back, manana attitude. I agree laid-back is nice and lately I'm partaking in a big serving of that, but deep down I am a a striver. We are supposed to be hyper-alert and innovative in ways to multi-task in order to get more accomplished. Our culture is about more, more, more. I nod and agree about much but to say more is like bashing your parents in public--you owe them. And I always go back to this--everybody likes our stuff. It was all over her kitchen, from the appliances to the tableware to the Disneyland sweatshirt worn by her husband. (I say that but probably everything was made in China.)

I've been thinking about my heritage as a northern european a lot since arriving here. I don't think I really know who I am because I've not lived within another culture to make comparisons and reach conclusions. Other than why I eat turkey on Thanksgiving, I don't really know why I do things I do, processes and attitudes that have obviously passed to me through generations. Funny, but the past few movies I've caught on satellite have had stereotypical portrayals of British as uptight, stiff, out of touch. Yet I looked at the derided characters differently: they were disciplined and studied in the ways of efficiency and process. They get stuff done and usually quite well. I guess what I'm noticing is that I'm more English than I understood before. I have the faults as well, if I may be so stereotypical here. I don't make a good Mexican. My mind is bent on control. I look for the faults in a thing and the ways in which it can be improved. Not the makings of an an attractive personality. Maybe in time Mexico will thaw me out. The thing is, I want to learn and grow while I live here, and that means some discomfort. The alternative is to behave like someone here for the weather and scenery and proceed to create self-sufficency to a degree of rejecting the culture.

Allison had an invitation to a classmate's birthday party this afternoon. I insisted she go as it was nice to be invited at all. I had difficulty finding the location and arrived about 10 minutes late. I walked in to find no one but the mother and birthday girl preparing. It was truly one hour more before any other guests arrived. They aren't kidding when they make fun of "Mexico time" It has happened to us so much since we've arrived here you'd think we'd learn. The mother was so sweet to us, leaning down to talk to Allison, speaking slowly to me really trying to have a conversation. I learned she works at the Papeleria, unfortunately for her daughter since that's where I bought her gift. I asked to help her with preparations but she waved me off and eventually left Allison and I and a bowl of giant pink and white marshmallows to ourselves.

Mostly, Allison and I were uncomfortable, not being able to communicate very well magnified by being in a situation where one is expected to be social. Of course everyone we met was extremely kind, but after a couple of hours I was wearing down and had the sensation of being homesick. I kept bothering myself over the sight of the enormous birthday cake sitting out on the open. It was on the bar near the door open to the street attracting the Loreto dust to it's sticky white frosting. The sandwiches sitting for hours in the indirect sun kept me distracted. On these matters alone I wonder if I have what it takes to live with the Mexicans. I'm overly hygienic. It's my little secret.

We stayed on for the pinata busting. Allison was given a turn at the very beginning, another considerate gesture by the birthday girl's mother. We've all wailed at a pinata at some time or another back home where it is a novelty. Here, we were participating in the real thing. Here they do it with full enthusiasm. But, again I digress into nitpicking, the candy! Spicy (tamarind) flavored lollipops! That was Allison's take from the booty and was she stunned. Eventually, we bid goodbye and headed home where we put on our pajamas and watched Little House on the Prairie in English while eating french toast.

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