Who understands Mexico? No one, save possibly Octavio Paz. You think I am joking? No way. I’ll give you a small example of how misunderstood Mexico is. What country in the Americas has the best cuisine? Answer – Mexico.
Why? It is simple – Mexico has a multitude of micro-climes. Think of it like San Diego (but a lot bigger). Meaning Mexico has the ability to grow damn near everything you can think of from tropical fruits to highland potatoes.
And the culture reflects the diversity in food. Every village (puebla) has a distinct flavor to it. I am serious here. Most travelers never get far enough off the splendid beaches to see the real Mexico.
I went traveling with my friend and neighbor, Maximo yesterday afternoon to the nearby puebla of Tizapán which sits on the southeast shore of Lake Chapala.
It’s a pretty little village. The cathedral sits on the edge of the central plaza as does the Mercado, the layout of which conforms to the standard urban planning model of post-colonial Latin America.
Max introduced me to his friend, Paco and together we did a small foot tour of the village.
As we walked around, everyone in the puebla knew Paco which isn’t unsurprising as he is a school teacher. But what is remarkable is the reverence and love everyone showed this man. Max told me that Paco was a new kind of authority figure here in Mexico, someone who led others by a quiet and humble grace.
As everyone knows, humility is a characteristic whose antithesis is the stereotypical Mexican despot. Narcocriminals, corrupt fat cops and greasy politicians have forever been the norm. Now here locally they’ve got this man who does things like buys inexpensive paperback books by the boxful in Guadalajara and makes them available in a small downtown shop with little or no markup.
That’s a great way to encourage reading in places where there are few books and no libraries. He could afford to simply give the books away but instead chooses to sell them for a nominal price so that the townspeople do not feel like they are receiving charity and just as importantly everyone who buys a book can take pride in ownership.
It’s interesting that the Mexican people that I’ve seen – however poor – do not see themselves as victims. Even those doing the most menial jobs do so with smiles and lively banter; a trait one doesn’t often witness in the more affluent north. In the US if someone has more money then those at the bottom of the food chain then those are taught that it must be those above them have stolen their birthright. In the north menial jobs are looked upon with scorn and executed with contempt.
It is also interesting to note that lots of underprivileged people in Mexico use the internet as a portal with which to expand their world view while many people in the north fritter away their hours looking at porn.
Here’s a litmus test for you to consider. If underprivileged Mexicans did see themselves as victims then they would look at the marvels revealed on television and the internet with envy and jealousy and the reflection back would reveal to them the shameful poverty of their small and uneventful lives.
But the opposite is in fact is true. Most choose to stay in the villages of their birth because family, faith, and continuity are more important values then material possessions.
Note: Forgive me. I have to add my commentary. I have been here now over five years and the lives and customs of these remarkable people are slowly becoming manifest to me. One falsely assumes because both the US and Mexico reside in the western hemisphere and share some Christian identities then that somehow both must share some semblance of parallel values but this is only marginally true.
Max, Paco and I went on later in the day to have a splendid lunch at a sustainable living experiment just a few kilometers from central Tizapán. We bought takeout at the Mercado and picked up a few beers to go at a shop before hitting the road.
There was also a lot of interesting flora and fauna.
Isn’t this freaking fascinating? You see the gold color in the web with sun shining on it? That is what gives the spider’s ‘golden silk’ moniker. Even more awesome is that these gold silk threads have been woven into garments as witnessed by a cape on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Me? I was fortunate to not just see and photograph this incredible arachnid but was somehow miraculously able to identify the damn thing.
Cheers. Life, given its chances can surprise even the most jaded of us.