Just, You Know, Mexico

A Sort of Ph0to Essay

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People seeming to have an interest in Mexico and the desperate, blood-soaked lives we live here, I asked Vi to find photos she liked in the archives and stick them together. Herewith. Photos by FOE Staff.

Average beach, Micnoacàn, at sundown. Fred, dissolute as a matter of principle, supervises waves with a cold Tecate. To get here, you drive north from Ajijic to Guadalajara, turn left until you hit the Pacific coast at Manzanillo, turn left again, and find hundreds, perhaps thousands or millions, of miles of deserted beaches. We stay in a little town with one hotel of four rooms, one of them a suite, of about two stars, with chickens cackling in the yard and no gringos, cackling or otherwise. And eat garlic shrimp in a restaurant whose floor is the beach, with a leaky thatch roof and usually no customers. Maybe there is a God.

Our friend Maria Elena, a full-blooded Taca from Oaxaca who sits by day fifty feet to the right of Pablo’s restaurant, El Jardin, as you face it, on the plaza of Ajijic. She weaves all manner of beautiful hand-made dresses and so on that you can tell didn’t come from China, because you can watch her make them. She has close to no business now because Washington and Wall Street colluded to bankrupt Americans, who can no longer sell their houses and flee to Ajijic. A great lady, she deserves better. Now that’s a novel concept, isn’t it?

A cheap hotel, somewhere. Whatever Mexico’s faults, and God knows they are legion, it hasn’t yet been completely swallowed by Holiday Inn. It’s still Mexico. And for twenty bucks a night, I can’t kick.

I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. With night coming on we were at a remote rail stop in central Jalisco, I don’t remember where, and in a lonely and darkening world this pooch seemed to us a fellow spirit. So you have to look at him. So write to your congressman.

The Camaleòn, or Chamelion, the Mexican equivalent of a beat dive in North Beach in 1950. One of few bars that regularly has a mixed gringo and local clientele, it looks rough, but isn’t. On the other hand, it sounds loud, and frequently is. Here you find the odd balls, or odder balls anyway, see next photo. What else would you expect of a joint whose juke box has Willie Nelson, Credence, Lola Beltràn, and Carmina Burana? One group you never find here are the proper gringos of the Hill Tribes, the gated communities and such in the hills, where live the bubble expats who, instead of moving to Mexico, brought America with them.

El Ocelote, the Ocelot. He is himself and nobody else. Bilingual and highly literate, the Ocelot is an enthusiast of Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and the like. Also a talented painter of murals, indoor and out. He is unsual, Mexico largely having missed both the Beat years and the Sixties. In Guadalajara you find small pockets of artists and musicians who dress a las Fifites and Sixties, but they are not the main vein of things.

A terrible photo illustrating an essential and salubrioius madness of Mexican life. The window is of my room in Italo’s Hotel, where I lived for a time. Now, understand that Mexico is not as bound by rules as is the United States. People tend to view laws as interesting ideas which might bear thought at some later date. When there is a fiesta, which there often is, Mexicans put things, such as Ferris wheels, where there is room for them, as for example in the middle of the street in front of my hotel. And so for several nights my room flashed green and yellow as children sailed upward in buckets, or whatever you call them, in surreal succession by my window, screaming and laughing. I recommend it.

Street scene in Chapala, several miles down the lakefront from Ajijic. Chapala is a minor tourist destination for Mexicans from Guadalajara, an hour to the north. It is a pretty place, with plaza, church, fountains, restaurants and a long, lovely malecòn, or cement boardwalk, along the lake. The problem is that the lake is drying up, thanks to its use by Guadalajara, a city of six million, as a water source, and to dams on the river Lerma, which feeds the lake.

This was not a posed picture. Whatever the laws may be–it doesn’t seem to matter–Mexicans hereabouts take a casual attitude toward animals. Some establishments are content to have a civilized pooch curl under a table or in a chair. Others are not. Rural pubs in England once had a similar approach, but now probably are under surveillance. Anyway, to date nobody seems to have died of dog poisoning.

Much the same applies to horses. It is not unusual to see a man ride by with his kid of six perched behind, or a couple of girls passing by bareback, chattering away. This is not regarded as a cause for international alarm. In the US it would be a crime. The father would need a helmet, as would the kid. The horse would need a diaper, perhaps a helmet, certainly a vaccination certificate, and probably an implanted chip. The kid would need a car seat approved by the Department of Transportation, and the father would need a federal certificate attesting to his having passed a course on how to drive a horse. Not here. A horse is, well, a horse. Big deal.

Fourteen and posing hard, except for Natalia, on end, right, whose fifteenth birthday party, or quinceañera, it is. High school girls are high school girls, pretty much anywhere that I have been. They and the boys spent the evening in our back yard, walled off and private, with a garish hired rockola, or jukebox, a couple of bottles of tequila, Squirt, and barbecue. Violeta, like so many parents here, figures that if kids grow up being allowed a tad of wine at dinner occasionally, in adolescence they will regard getting bust-head drunk as merely stupid rather than glamorously rebellious. In the US, giving the kids a bottle would result in Child Protective Services showing up with a battering ram, flashbangs, a SWAT team, and mandatory placement on the No Fly list.

The Roswell connection. Mexican johns are usually indistinguishable from American, but in some older and unembarrassedly Mexican establishments, such as the Camaleòn Bar, things are different. This reflects a certain casualness in the ungelded male regarding the propriety of receptacles. Any guy who grew up running through the woods and fields of the country, and therefore regards the whole world as a urinal unless otherwise specified, will find the above site more agreeable than the hideously sterile surgical suites now regarded as johns. Space aliens are accepted with kindly tolerance in Mexico, being barely distinguishable from the more interesting expats.

The plaza at San Antonia Tlayacapan, just down the lake. Virtually every town in Mexico has a plaza, not two alike since until recently the country was not designed at corporate. There is always a church, a building for governmental offices, greenery, and a gazebo for bands during fiestas, which occur regularly with intervals of about ten minutes. Across the street from the plaza will be restaurants, stores, snack bars, and such. Because towns are usually small, everything is within walking distance. At night people come to the plaza to hang out and be social. You could do worse.

The future of Mexico. Hundreds of these boxes line the road a few miles down the lake to the west. As America has discovered, this means dependence on a car to buy a quart of milk, or anything else, and the consequent horrendous traffic, as well as utter uniformity and no communal life or fiestas since there is nowhere to commune or fiest. The difference between people and battery hens is that people do not have feathers.

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