Notes From the Belly of Mexico – I

Tuesday and Sunday mornings are off days – I run the other 5 mornings every week. It is working out well for me.

Tuesday and Sunday mornings are especially carefree. After breakfast I climb the stairs to my 5th floor roof terrace, relax in the hammock, and catch up on my reading. It’s so casual. I pull on a pair of boxer shorts when I get out of bed and with the exception of going out that’s the way I stay dressed all day at home. Flip flops and boxer shorts.

The entire apartment is entirely private which stands to reason as I am the only residential tenant in the building. There is a boutique on the ground floor but I occupy the rest: 2nd floor office, third floor dining/living, 4th floor bedroom(s)/shower, and the 5th floor roof terrace where I have a modest garden with a spectacular view of the city.

The building has a lovely southern exposure so I have lots of natural ambient light. All the glass windows are made with the old fashioned thick beveled glass panes that appear opaque from the outside meaning I don’t need curtains or any other kind window treatment for privacy.

And the weather is sublime. So as I said, it’s boxer shorts and flip flops. Heaven on earth.

At 10:15 am this morning I walked the three blocks over to the Mercado to pick up some fresh veggies: white chard, avocados, and a bunch of beets. I love the place. It’s so old world. Tons of fresh food arrives every morning which is constantly being unloaded, moved and sold.

The Mercado is composed of three old buildings constructed out of concrete and hasn’t been properly cleaned top to bottom since the day it was built. So it’s not a faux-Mercado, it’s the real deal.

I shake hands with half a dozen people, get pats on the back from a few others, and exchange smiles and greetings with a dozen more. Heaven on earth.

I called my sister in California and we talked from 11:15 until 12:10. Last week I had sent her a YouTube link to a video done by a European news agency on the dominant local crime cartel and so we subsequently spent most of the conversation talking about Mexican culture.

She asked me some very interesting questions all of which surprisingly I was more or less able to answer. Like the role of the church in society. Why cartels flourish. The condition of the aged, how people deal with all of the tragedy; and family and values.

Her last and best question was, ‘Does Mexico have a superior culture to that of the US?’ I believe she was surprised when I told her yes.

Forget the fact that their culture is built upon three thousand years of multiple overlapping civilizations – let’s just stick with the little things.

While Mexico might have a long way to go towards the basics of recycling (and litter) it has managed to get some of the bigger related issues addressed – like fixing things instead of throwing them away – out of basic economic necessities. For instance there are still electronic shops down here who repair TVs, stereos, and cell phones.

Not to mention shoes, sandals, and clothing. One of the errands I ran after lunch was to pick up a pair of beloved cargo shorts that have now undergone something like their 4th or 5th repair.

I’ve got two pair of them and they are both something like 7 or 8 years old and in my opinion are irreplaceable (the company hasn’t made them in years). And this woman in my old neighborhood has been stitching and patching them back together for the last four years. 30 pesos is all she charges me -that’s like a $1.50 USD.

Arturo, the neighborhood shoe repair guy, is such a sweetheart that he refuses to take my money. For example, he from time to time shortens a stretched strap on various pairs of sandals  – which is all I wear down here – but is adamant about not accepting any payment from me. When I insist he waggles his finger, dark shining eyes and huge handlebar mustache belying a smile politely veiling his serious determination that he’s not going to take my money.

Another great example that demonstrates the local inclination to refurbish as opposed to replace is when I got my first Panama hat cleaned and blocked a few weeks ago. I had mostly given up on it – it was that sweated out and misshapen – and almost binned it, but I had such a sentimental attachment to the damned thing that I held out.

So my friend, Clemente introduced me to a man who not just painstaking cleaned it,then blocked it (as in reshaped it), but also replaced the interior band liner as well as the exterior decorative leather strap and charged me a mere 50 pesos ($2.50) for all that work.

The greedy bastards at the last remaining hat shop in Georgetown wanted the astronomical sum of $100 to do essentially the same thing. F**k ’em.

It was a new hat I bought off my friend, Gavin in Ecuador back in 2009 for a mere $20 so there was no way in hell I was going to pay 5 times the value of the hat to restore it. And as fortune would have it, I brought it to Mexico with me.

Life is good my friends. Everyday I’ve come more and more to value the little things in my tiny little life. The freedom of wearing only boxer shorts most of the day. And to where when I do have to dress up and go out – it’s in a refurbished pair of cargo shorts, a t-shirt, wearing handmade leather sandals, and then sporting an old but beautiful Panama hat.

A sweet life indeed.

PS – A lot of old codgers down here wear sombreros – Spanish for hat, as in a mostly cowboy style hat woven from local natural fibers. And some of these guys look like they were born to wear them; for some it’s such a natural look, especially here in Michoacan, with the backdrop of mountains and all. So it feels good to me, approaching old codger that I am, to be wearing my own hat that I feel comfortable in.

It’s a guy thing isn’t it?

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