Part of travel is making new friends, and sometimes rekindling old friendships. How quickly with distance we forget. Now here in Patzcuaro again we have rekindled our friendship with the local patron of the Mezcaleria, Beto, … And Arturo, who now for eight years holds yet the same table at Lupita’s on the Quiroga Plaza where he paints and sketches. ….. with whom I speak of master watercolorist, Tony Van Hasset, our neighbor in Maine … Explaining drawing to young kids. Same cap beret. …Two years hence to meet the same fellows as if, although it has, no time had passed at all and to pick up where things left off. ..
Throwing an I Ching before we left, advice was my friends are in the South West. Here we are.
And we have made new friends quickly. Our neighbor who introduced himself when we arrived and we found the street was closed to cars and who helped us move in up the hill when we arrived. He is very pro US having worked there a number of years but has hair raising stories of crossing the border illegally years earlier when one older companion died basically of thirst and when he himself, while running from the Border Patrol, was badly wounded by cactus spurs. Presently he drives Coca Cola truck between Patzcuaro and neighboring villages or towns, not an easy or enviable task over the mountain roads
He drives us to Madero, a Town NW of Mexico City, like most Towns well into the mountains. Francisco Madero, a visionary statesman and leader of the Revolution, who as President of Mexico paved the way for the adoption of the Mexico Constitution in 1917, was overthrown in 1913 and like too many Mexican statesmen assassinated by his opponents. There we visit the Hacienda where a friend of is grows the cactus from which Mezcal is made. He also distills it. We bought three (unflavored) kinds ofthe best Mezcal. I am told Mezcal is distilled from Maguay, a variety of the Agave cactus and Tequila just from the Agave cactus. Our new friend’s brother in law, a former Tai Kwon Do Mexican champion, (student of Dom Suk Kim), who also won tournaments in Las Vegas, Chicago and Cuba, has undertaken to instruct us in the sport.
We find a local language school, CELEP, and for about ten dollars a lesson for us both, have undertaken instruction in Spanish. Our instructor, a Puerhepeche artisan who learned to weave complex designs from her grandmother, is fluent in Spanish and English. Along the way, she introduces me to the works of Michoacan poet Amado Nervo (1870s to about 1920), whose poetry I look up on the Internet.
… And of course the same chess player, a British Columbian whose game has improved much more than mine has over the past two years, is here and spreads his canvas board across the table at the local café… And a new chess playing friend, available to play in the Square if he is not where more people are to be found as he begs his living, cheerfully. He reputedly supports a wife and two children, which is not surprising given his personal charm. Having no legs, a friend pushes him in his wheel chair.
Our friend, the retired lawyer for a number of Native American tribes, returns and regales me with more stories, of the present and his fight against a pipe line which is taking his land by eminent domain, or trying to, of the impact of oil fracking on local farms, and stories of the past, of his mentor and friend, Reuben Snake, an impressive Native American Activist and road man) of the 1960s and 70s.
Around the corner our neighbor opens up the garage to his house and cooks over a hot round tin in broth delicious tacos, beef, pork, onion, hot peppers, maybe pursuant to a secret recipe… all.
It being the season of celebrations of the Virgin of Guadelupe (December 12 to January 6) there are candle lit processions, it seems every evening, led by young girls happily enjoying their dress up as Angels, crowds of children and parents following, to sites where numerous prayers are cited, after which young kids struggle mightily to bang at and to bring down showers of sweets from the Pinyatas hung across the street, after which the festivities continue through the night. The Celebration of the Patron Saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadelupe, eclipses any Christmas celebration although a large Christmas tree is placed in the Square where Bing Crosby and Johnnie Mathis Holiday songs are often to be heard on the loudspeakers in the Square! There seem to be a number of inexplicable juxtapositions but one is foolish if he would deny the magical element to it all.
In the morning, rather early each morning, in addition to the deep ringing of the copper bells from many churches, calls to what we do not know, we hear, untranslated, a deep voice, resonating with the bells, repeating a phrase we cannot figure out, sounding almost like a morning Muslim call to prayer. Eventually our friend explains the mystery: “Oh, it is the Agua truck.” The driver bears five gallon jugs of water for sale, up, down and around the narrow streets, calling out “… Agua …Agua Purificado … Agua …” The melodious sound perhaps reminds the awakening dreamer, as well as of the need for physical water, of the words of the Persian Poet Hafiz:
“…Water of life dost seek?
Like Hoary Khizar know
The fount of that sweet life giving stream is love
The capital of everlasting life is love!”
Mexicans, here anyhow, surely like music! Indeed Mexicans seem to be quite constantly going to or about to be going to a party. Our friend Jorge, the Tae Kwon Do champ, introduces us to the music of Michoacan Province, of which Michoacans are very proud. One can find the Lilguerillas of Michoacan on the Internet, two ladies who have sang Michoacan love songs, campana songs, and not least the Cancon Palomas Mensajeras for many decades.
“Palomas Mensajueran devuelban a sunido. Siban al paraiso sobiebolando estanhay Michoacan.” I think are the opening lyrics.
The workers painstakingly having dug out, leveled, mixed and filled the excavation with cement, chiselled and laid each rock with painstaking detail and labor have almost finished the Escalaria 600 plus feet walk from the Square up to our Casa, a walk good for the heart in more than one way. Along the climb up as elsewhere in town, the presence of children keeps one young, I would venture that one making the walk will remain young forever, as he passes at least a dozen very pretty young mothers, their infants wrapped in their Rebosos, often followed or accompanied by gleefully smiling five to eight year olds, and three year olds. The little ones from two to five or six years old, often do not need a hand to hold, but make giant steps and easily handle the stone stairs. If needed, they hold the hand of an accompanying grand mother. One does not hear these elders, not a few septuagenarians like myself, complain of the climb. Nor often do they seem out of breath.
… All this may to some smack of a smug and romantic account of life in Mexico, especially viewed against the backdrop presented by hundreds of thousands of Mexicans facing daunting Immigration and deportation problems in the U.S., against the background of economic impacts in Mexico from devaluation of the Peso in response to raising interest rates by U.S. Banks, against the fact of criminal enterprises (which go so far as to assassinate Government officials rather often), stoked in part by modern day drug policy of prohibition, in the U.S., and against the background of alleged wrongdoing by foreign corporations from Monsanto to Canadian Railway Companies, and domestic Mexican corporations such as PEMEX, and against continuing reportage of significant levels of corruption.
This tourist, with superficial knowledge and extremely limited linguistic abililty over many months however never experienced a hint of crime, or corruption, or bribery or intimidation. An American married to a Mexican here forty years said he had been stuck up three times and that is the worst this tourist heard of actually happening.
Recently it was reported in the news that Mexico’s wages are near the lowest in the Central American area. At the same time it is estimated that sixty percent of the economy is informal, which I take it means cash. My experience mostly in the informal economy is that Mexican President Nieto’s positive affirmation of Mexico as an emerging major force in the world economy and as an important and significant Friend to the U.S. is on the mark.