I fell into a burning ring of fire: the Mexico Chronicles, primeraPosted: 06.18.11
Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire.
Most people who have spoken to me for more than an hour or two know of my deep and abiding love of Mexico. I will talk about it incessantly if given half a chance–and I’m certain that many a friend has wished that I would just shut up already about it, damn. My darling Miss Dawna, however, has requested that I speak more about my time in Mexico–in story form, which I take to mean as being properly coherent instead of rambly and gushy. (She didn’t in any way imply that, but I know how I can get when I get on the subject.)
I do want to make a note, though–it seems ridiculous, I think, to most that some silly gringa is in love with a country that could kindly be described as having less-than-favorable living conditions for most. Indeed, I have no illusions about Mexico being this quaint little foreign country; I know that what I saw was the tourist area, and that it gets far worse–and what I saw was often not great. If you were lucky, you lived in a real structure, be it an actual home, a little area above or behind your shop, a little outbuilding next to the hotel you ran; I saw many cobbled-together domiciles, though, some made of junked trailers, some made of just scraps–whatever could be found. I saw businesses that were the same, ramshackle affairs, restaurants that any U.S. health inspector would faint to see in his or her city. They were doing the best they could with what they had, which was not very damn much. Meanwhile, great skeletons of future condos went undeveloped on the shores, littering the coast from TJ to Ensenada–I imagine they’re still unfinished, that they have, by this time, become nests for seagulls. These condos were always disponible, but rarely completed enough to be habitable by human beings.
It’s a damn shame that Mexico is in such dire straits. Mexico has an abundance of resources that could potentially generate a lot of wealth for their country; among politics and strict legalities about foreign development, and dangerous drug trafficking into the mix along with a dearth of liquidity for the average citizen, Mexico can’t begin to utilize all of the resources at her hand. While poverty is wonderful for the preservation of culture–as what are you going to do with no other options but to keep on as you have for ages?–it’s a sucky way to live. I have no romantic illusions about that.
Underneath the strife and the hardship–if you can look past the children who try to sell you Chiclets in the street, earning a living instead of playing, if you can look past the noticeably worse conditions that are apparent even before one crosses the border–there is beauty abounding in Mexico. I clearly wouldn’t choose for them to live in poverty if I had the choice, but I can’t help but see Mexico through the eyes of a gringa–I am one, after all. And, as wonderful as development is, as wonderful as capitalism and democracy can be, as wonderful as it is when a nation is able to flourish and thrive, we do often lose some little bit of ourselves in the process. Progress means change, and change means loss, inevitably.
I touch briefly Mexican life when I visit and it calls me back, it connects me to ancestral memories of family, of days that are not so exhaustively full of electronic nothingness. I think about catching fireflies in my yard at dusk, five years old and reaching out to the light with little pudgy hands cupped. I think about my father and his friends sitting out in the back of our house, playing their guitars in the light of one dirty bulb, the dying barbecue embers, and their lit cigarettes. In the South, at least, we lived more slowly then. Our 80′s were still struggling to get out of the 70′s and probably even the 60′s; despite having been alive throughout most of the 80′s, I didn’t even discover them until I was an adult. In the same way, stepping into Mexico–especially out of Tijuana–is like stepping through a time portal. Like Kentucky in the 80′s, Mexico hasn’t caught up to the whiz-bang flash-glam of the modern era. I feel deep kinship there–more than I do in modern America, which I feel moves too quickly to be fully lived. One needs to wrap oneself completely in life: it’s bed on a lazy Sunday, it’s an ocean that you dive into headfirst. Yet, I spend an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter. Go figure.
San Diego: The farmer’s market
My love affair with Mexico didn’t start in Mexico; it started, rather, in San Diego. On one of our early trips–quite possibly my first trip–Mr. Geek and I were out exploring the city when I saw what I sometimes affectionately think of as “Big Pink”: a tall, flamingo-colored stucco structure with the words “Farmer’s Market” down the side in black. I needed to visit this building. A farmer’s market! And it’s bright pink!
Not having grown up in California, I was under the impression that a farmer’s market would be a gringa paradise full of locally-produced foods and goods. When we pulled up, I was bursting with excitement to get in–I get that revved about food, yes. The market turned out not to be a market for Caucasians at all, though. What I saw going in was a very strange (to me) world of products that I’d never eaten and possibly had never heard of before. Brightly-colored packaging with completely unfamiliar brands, words, and trademarked logos. In other words? This was a Mexican market, and also, heaven. While a white man’s farmer’s market would have been nice, this was exotic and new to me, and thus crushed my former expectations into a pitiful ball while it expanded to fill me with the joy of discovery.
Had it only been a little grocery, I would have been pleased. The grocery was attached to another structure, though; corridors filled with booths containing everything from pets to clothing made rough circles, the center of which was a small food court. A Mexican food court. An authentic Mexican food court. This was no Taco Bell/Sbarro’s, mis amigos. The tables had large bowls of salsa and condiments laid out; the smells of barbacoa and chiles hung intoxicatingly in the air. We don’t have “real” Mexican food in the Midwest. We have a few echoes of it–mainly at taco trucks–but nothing, nothing like this. I moaned, knowing that we had just eaten and couldn’t partake in this glorious-smelling feast. I silently promised Big Pink that we would be back–oh yes, yes we would.
My then-boyfriend, now-husband made a remark while we were walking around that sealed my fate. ”This is just like Mexico,” he said.
I turned to him, eyes wide. “We have to go to Mexico.”
Coming soon, Segunda: I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher.