This article is from the June 2001 The Mexico
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Musings on Mexico
by Hank Duckman
Duckman lives in Morelia, Michoacan. He contributed an article on the Hermanos
Mayar Circus for the October 2000 issue of Mexico File.
is a land of surprises. The phenomenon of surprise derives from the unexpected
- both a "giver" and a "receiver" being required.
As for the "giver," the multicultural nature of the country
contributes to the vast number of permutations of unexpected daily events, and
both the climate and the unique topography of the land have in return left
their brand on the culture. I'm not sure why such occurrences and events have
this effect on me in Mexico but they do.
a "receiver," there is no surprise, much like the "flower that
is borne to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air."
[Elegy in a Country Churchyard...Gray, Thomas] The "receiver" is the
person modified by being in Mexico. Living here leaves its imprint on you.
Mexico molds and shapes you in its own inimical way. The imprint seems to fade
with time if you depart to another place, almost as if these gifts must be
taken back. Acceptance of imperfection, willingness to take a leap of faith,
enabling one's internal clock to become synchronized with that of a different
pace of life, and learning patience - these are a few of my gifts from Mexico,
some of the things that have molded me.
of My Life in Mexico
days before, we had left our life in New Jersey to make Mexico our home. When
the customs inspector
15 miles south of Laredo told me to get out of the car and open the rear
hatch, I anticipated trouble.
It appeared as if we were going to have to undo weeks of Lacey's meticulous
packing and be hit with
import duties or bribes to get through. From experience on our long drive I
already knew that he who tried
to extract even one solitary item from the back of that car might be maimed
and buried in an avalanche.
As luck would have it, I think the inspector thought the 70-pound Primo, our rescued Greyhound,
was a man-eating wolf. I wasn't about to dissuade him of this belief. With
Primo staring at him
through the open rear hatch, he quickly gestured for me to shut the door.
"Do you have any weapons?"
he inquired. Perhaps I hadn't heard of the new breed of rebel guerrillas
traveling with dogs in late
model cars. I kept a straight face and answered his question seriously.
"Do you have any drugs?" he said.
Had the major drug cartels decided to reverse their operations and smuggle
stuff back into Mexico? I
was trying to suppress the grin creeping over my face. "No," I
assured him. He started to smile too. "Andale,"
he barked and waved us on. He looked relieved as we sped away.
were lucky to have learned of a hotel that welcomed people with pets. In such
a context one naturally assumes
the category "pets" to encompass dogs, cats, and perhaps birds. The
hotel was in Santa Maria, the
little town on the mountain bordering the city of Morelia to the south, about
five minutes by car from the
city. After a couple of days there, Piccolo, our fifteen-pound Italian
Greyhound, calmed down from his
traveling nerves and we were able to leave him with Primo in the hotel room so
we could go house
eventually were offered a cheap rental place to live in while we looked for a
house to buy. "You'll be comfortable
here," said the owner. "I fixed it up for my daughter." It had
a paucity of windows and those that
were there were too high to see out of, no hot water in the kitchen sink, and
a roof that thought its destiny
in life was to act like a sieve. The chairs around the small dining table were
of the plastic garden variety.
We called it "the Bombay Hideaway." We found a house we loved but
which was going to need considerable
renovating and we bought it. We were stuck in the Hideaway until the work on
our house could
be completed. Whenever it rained at night, we dared not touch any of the light
switches. There were
of water all over the floor.
I had been keeping in touch with the International Mexican branch of our
moving company by
phone so I would know when our possessions would be arriving from New Jersey.
I called their Guadalajara
office from the hotel. "I think your things are at the border," a
pleasant young lady told me in English.
"What do you mean you think?" I retorted. Were my worst fears being
realized? "Don't worry," she
purred, "they should be arriving in Morelia in a week." A week later
I called again. She didn't know where
the truck was. "What do you mean you don't know where the truck is?"
I shrieked, starting to lose control.
A large moving van with all our worldly goods had become incommunicado in the
wilds of northern
Mexico. I could picture banditos scrambling out of the truck with my computer,
our TV and Lacey's
clothes. This ordeal ended two days later when the truck was located. They
would arrive in two
I was so relieved I didn't even ask about how it had been lost.
people we bought the house from maintained the right to stay there for a
period of time until they could
find another house. The renovations would start as soon as they left. However
they kindly allowed
to store our things in the house when the moving van arrived.
began to take rides through Morelia to familiarize ourselves with the city. I
noticed that our Ford Expedition
barely fit on some of the streets. This called forth a whole new set of
driving skills which took
a while to develop. One night we went for a drive in the city. We were
enthralled by how clean and uncrowded
the streets appeared. The colonial wrought iron street lamps threw a romantic
glow over everything.
There was no traffic; well, almost no traffic. I glanced in my rear-view
mirror and saw a taxi about
two blocks behind me. I was driving extra carefully because we were as yet
unfamiliar with the streets.
I started through an intersection and stopped when Lacey told me I should have
turned left. I took another
glimpse in my rear-view mirror, saw nothing, and started to back up. I felt a
very slight crunching sensation
like the breaking of a stale tortilla. I hardly thought anything of it and
almost drove on, but I thought
I'd better check. When I got out of the car, there was the taxi driver shaking
his head and inspecting
the damage to the front of his mini-taxi. He had driven up so close behind me
that his car and mine
could have become intimate. There was no way I could have seen his car in my
mirror. I paid him what
he thought the damages would cost. That was the first of a host of fender
benders my car and I
while I became accustomed to driving a brobdingnagian car through lilliputian
went to Sears Roebuck one afternoon to look at appliances. When I parked in
the lot outside, I saw that
my Ford Expedition barely fit within the lines demarcating the parking spot.
The parking spots were always
sized for cars smaller than mine. When we came out of the store, I started to
back out of the space. Someone
had parked their car at a weird angle in one of the diagonal spaces in the row
crunch! We waited for the owner of the late-model Mercedes to come out of the
store. We had neither
pen, pencil nor paper. After a half-an-hour we timidly drove away,
guilt-ridden, but laughing uncontrollably
with tears running down our faces like two young children. We didn't know what
else to do.
We would never again be able to come back to Sears in this car for fear that
our big, dark-blue
would be spotted and we'd be put in jail.
How do you find a dentist in a strange city? At the bank one day, I created a novel solution to this problem. I backed out of my parking place and elicited another crunch. The man who came running out of the bank to see what had happened to his car had left it in the middle of the parking lot right behind mine. He was yelling angrily at me. I hollered back and told him he had no right to leave his car in the middle of the lot. As is the custom in Mexico, those involved in accidents try to avoid police involvement. We decided to solve this peacefully. I gave him my card and invited him to come to my house to discuss this situation. He gave me his card. He was a dentist. Now, he is my dentist.
Our time living in the Bombay Hideaway was not without incident. There
was a sink in the bedroom. It had
developed a slight leak. We asked the owner to get it fixed. "Don't
worry," he said, "I'll send someone over
to fix it right away." That afternoon a handyman showed up and went to
work on the sink. When he finished,
he assured us there would be no more problems with it. That night at around 4
am, a loud crash resounded
through our little haven. When I got the light turned on, I saw the sink
shattered in a million pieces
on the floor. Poor Primo, who had been sleeping on the floor under the sink,
narrowly escaped with his
life. Already a bit neurotic, he stood there trembling, a dazed look on his
sleek lupine face, his gentle eyes
radiating fear. Fortunately, the water supply was connected to the sink by a
malleable metal tube that
intact. Otherwise, Primo might have drowned. The leak stayed fixed.
day after we had moved into our house, the doorbell rang. Standing there were
a young man and an older
woman. The young man was carrying a sack. They explained to my wife that they
had bought a piece
of property on the outskirts of Morelia to build a small house, and while they
were digging to clear the
property they found a number of small statues and figurines. "I think
they are originals from the pre-Columbian
tribes that inhabited this area centuries ago," said the woman earnestly.
"But if you decide to
buy any from us, please don't tell anyone because we could be in trouble with
the authorities, being that there
are laws forbidding the sale of authentic artifacts." My wife, knowing it
was highly unlikely these were
genuine, nevertheless fancied one of the figurines and bought it. The next day
the two entrepreneurs were
back. My wife looked through their "wares" again and didn't find any
she liked. They looked disappointed.
"But I did like the one I bought with the little horse pulling the
wagon," said Lacey. The young
man and woman looked at each other, then smiled hopefully at my wife.
"Ah, Senora, we can get
lot more of those."
never cease to be charmed over herds of cattle, horses, goats and other
creatures sharing the roads with
cars and trucks or stopping to feed in whatever empty lot is available. Some
time after we moved into
our house, there was a rainstorm. The sun came out when the rain stopped.
Shortly thereafter, a group of
horses was grazing in a small lot just to the left of our house and across an
alleyway. The house is situated
on the edge of a mountain overlooking Morelia. There was a loud crash and a
commotion out front.
Lacey went out to investigate. There was a group of people standing around
looking at the back door
of our car and shaking their heads. There was a sizeable dent in the door.
Lacey asked them what happened.
"Oh, Senora, it's nothing, just a horse who lost his footing on the
slippery cement and crashed into
your car." My wife was aghast. "But don't worry, he won't be back to
do it again." "How do you know?"
asked my wife, not sure she wanted to hear the answer. "Well," said
the man shrugging his shoulders,
"when he got up, he lost his balance, stumbled over the cliff and fell
down the mountain."
Only in Mexico.