Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fifty Shades of Mexico

Fifty Shades of Mexico
            Real Life is not a perpetual vacation. Yet aspects of the last couple weeks feel like one. I love meeting old friends, Mexican, Canadian and State-siders, and watching faces light up. That is real connection—that is my “welcome home”. 

Sunshine days, balmy nights. Often I wake with the voice of Cat Stevens singing in my head, “Morning has broken, like the first morning”. All the shrimp, red snapper, and mahi-mahi I want to eat. Exotic fruits, papaya, pitaya, pineapple, coconut and melons. Lounging on the beach beneath a palapa with friends, limonada in hand. Seeing the sun drop sizzling into the Pacific every night. These are mere details. Each day free of the pain brought to my body by the cold, I feel stronger. “Praise for the singing, praise for the morning.”

I have only one more night at the resort. I count down the days until my friends fly back to their homes. My newly-rented studio apartment does not sit empty and neglected. Yesterday Evelyn and I walked over for some cleaning and sorting. Evelyn is my friend from Harlem. Harlem in New York City. We chuckle over our unusual connection, roll up our sleeves, fill buckets with soapy water and wash cupboards, drawers and every surface within swipe of cleaning rags. 

In past moves, I rushed to create order, cleaning, painting, unpacking, placing, not pausing for breath until done. Working on Mexican time, I walk over to my apartment every day or two, putter a bit, sit and contemplate, maybe open a box and grin to see what trifles I had placed inside. What was I thinking when I packed that? Then I realize each item is perfect, metaphorical “comfort food”, items which will nourish my hungry spirit on lonely days. I empty a box, open another and set it aside. There is always manana.   

Today I choose to stay on the beach. Vanity, or is it a false modesty, disappears. I’m a shade-bather. I don a bathing suit and a sarong and saunter down to the palapa, pull my chaise into the shade, open my book and using it as a prop, watch the waves roll in. I no longer care that my legs host a road map of surgical scars and my thighs jiggle when I walk. I look around me. Truly I am the only one who ever cared. Suddenly I feel grateful to have legs that work. A few days in the shade and I have turned a lovely rosy brown.
One day Kathy, Richard, Evelyn and I took a bus, six pesos each, to the huge market in the historic Centro district. I had a small list of things I need, the first of many such lists to come, so we shopped. The market has everything imaginable and some things one could never imagine until one’s been here. I scouted out spices at one stall and pointed at jars, asked for a quarter kilo of cocoa and cinnamon, lesser amounts of paprika, oregano and other seasonings, indicated by cupping my hands, nodding my head for “enough” or holding fingers apart to indicate “a little more”. At a booth with simple household items I chose brooms, a mop, a toilet swabber, two plates, a tortilla press, a limon (lime to us) squeezer, and a molcajete made of basalt rock. The molcajete along with the tejolote is the traditional food processor. While I bargained for these necessities, Richard dashed out to the street and waved down a pulmonia, an open-air vehicle looking like a modified golf cart with a Volkswagon engine, found only in Mazatlan, to carry us and our purchases back to my apartment. The pulmonia reminds me of a “surrey with the fringe on top”. 

Laden with bags and bristling with broom handles we scurried into the pulmonia sandwiched against the curb by huge belching buses. There was not time to negotiate the price—we simply crammed ourselves onto the open seats. 

As a rule, one never gets into a pulmonia until one has established a firm price. The dickering is part of the fun, part of the custom. But here we were, so I leaned over and told the driver where we wanted to go, knowing it usually cost sixty to eighty pesos to go from the market. Expecting the worst, an inflated price and either an argument en route or grim resignation, I asked the price. 

“Thirty pesos,” he said. Thinking I heard wrong, I asked the driver to repeat. “Thirty pesos.” 

When we arrived and trundled out onto the sidewalk, I handed the driver a hundred peso note. He returned seventy pesos change. I gave him a nice tip and still the total price was an unprecedented bargain. Do you think it was the brooms?

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
November 28, 2013

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