The sun pervades now, as we leave March behind, heading back to our jobs after the one to two week spring break called Semana Santa. I just finished my morning classes and am sitting here on the steps of Chapultapec, listening to reggae beats flow out into the streets from a nearby car stereo. As usual, the breaks are squeaking and motors are buzzing and rattling along.
My skin is dry, my mouth is dry. About once an hour, I head to the kitchen in attempt to pour water from the garaphone, a huge plastic barrel that sits in a metal swing, into cups. That barrel is king. We get a new one delivered to the house nearly every day, and when we aren’t home to receive it, we tide ourselves over with hot tea until we can’t take it anymore, and then we splurge on overpriced water from the 7-11, or the pharmacy.
I drank alcohol this weekend instead. My anemia is not so pervasive now, and having spent most of my free time last week sleeping, I'm not so tired. So this weekend I took advantage of the energy that suddenly welled up within. On Friday, my Mexican-American roommate Andrea, my American friend Katie, and I tried our feet at salsa. Andrea takes classes at a place on the main drag of the rumbling, screaming-fast traffic of Vallarta, a few blocks from our house. So after some beers, rice, fish, and guacamole, we headed over and climbed the stairs for classes in the upper room, which has windows that overlook the street. I often watch people dance in those windows all the time, whether it’s areaobics, banda, tango, or salsa. There always seem to be moving bodies in there. They seem to be dancing to the music, taking cues from the words and the notes.
When we started, the one-two-three, one-two-three pattern was easy and natural. I watched the ten of us in the mirror sliding to the side, then back and forth, adding in our little sassy touches of hip swings and shoulder rolls. I was in some sort of fairy tale, getting into that happy state of mind where Mexico seems like Disney Land.
I get this same feeling during Sunday runs down Vallarta, when the street becomes closed to cars and people came out in hoards on their rollerblades, wearing their bright colors, keeping pace with their lovers, their children, and their friends. During these runs, on the sidewalks, double dutchers perform jump-push ups inside the ropes and violinists play Pachelbel's Canon across the street from African drummers, as men and women cart around ice cream and cold drinks. Up a little further, life sized games of chess and checkers commence.
But back in that salsa room on Friday, this dreamlike atmosphere disintregrated when we started the actual moves, leaving me tripping up and re-orienting, tripping up and reorienting. I paired up with an older guy who taught me to spin every which way. He’s no prince charming, but I’m sure he’s gotten his share of love interests with his moves. The dance is a flirtation, he told me. It’s like a courting. So I shouldn’t have been spinning out of control, away from him. I should have been staying close. This brings one question to mind: I wonder what real salsa dancers do when they are a bit repulsed by their dancing partners.
After salsa, we headed to a Mexican rock club which was offering free enterance for the night. There were columns and old, elaborate moldings inside…it felt a little castle-like in architecture, but the lights were blue, orange, red, and there were music videos playing in front. I felt entranced by the videos and the sweet sounding singer coming over the speakers. The first video showed a close-up of a young face, singing with innocent feeling, looking unflinchingly at the camera. And I came to the conclusion, as I have so many times, that we are all the same. American rock, Mexican rock. I couldn’t understand exactly what she was saying in Spanish, but I have a feeling it wasn’t too different from other American rock stars’ songs.
On Saturday morning, the energy I had the night before somehow continued to flow, and I headed to Tequila to see the only place on earth where they make real tequila. It’s made from a blue plant called the agave, each of which produces about 20 liters of tequila. There, I got a tour inside the factory. We had to wear hairnets as our guide led us through the rooms lined with huge vats of tequila and laboratory testing rooms complete with test tubes and chemicals. At the end, we tried a variety of different tequilas, from the white stuff that goes down smooth but is lacking in body, to the darker stuff I prefer for its fuller flavor.
On Sunday, at breakfast, the Mexican mom of my house suggested that we head to her daughter Gina’s house for a meal. So after a run on Vallarta, where it seemed it was puppy day for all the little dogs jaunting along on leashes, I showered, and Andrea drove us over to Gina’s house. We ate clams from a can, mixed them with avocados, fresh lime juice, rock salt and ketchup. We ate them standing up around the kitchen counter, talking about sports and their business, and raving about the mixtures of flavors we were creating. We drank palomas with good quality tequila, with lime squeezed in and salt around the rims. Then we sat down at the table and started on the tacos. I learned that they afford the nice house there in the dry rolling hills, with its spacious rooms and location away from the chaos of the city because Gina's husband works for an American company. For this, he's been to Las Vegas 4 times and Gina none...I kept thinking about how this is what I'd wanted all along, to be around a Mexican family's table, speaking exclusively in Spanish, eating the way they eat. But there I was, and we were eating ketchup, and they had all the same sleek appliances that we have in the U.S. It felt so American. And I wondered whether this is what success always means here--Americanism. Or maybe we are all headed towards the same fate when we modernize. Maybe its always necessary that designs get sleeker, simpler.
When it comes to questions these days, whether they be questions about what I am supposed to do here or in the future, or whether they be questions of the state of society here, I look for signs in my surroundings. As we headed home on the huge avenue, I kept my eyes wide open. There were German factories, huge American stores like Sam's club and Wal Mart. And when we passed a huge sign that read "Mexican Market," there was a Radio Shack and a 7-11 underneath. Mexico's future modernization process seems to depend upon the U.S. As for my own future, it's still unknown. I wish I could write more on that, but it’s hot out here on these steps and I have no more power in my computer, so until next time, if fate should allow it...