Tag Archives: Local Culture

‘Round Yon Virgin — A Time Warp

I’m writing this piece under the solemn gaze of a four-year-old girl who is waiting to show me the killer dance moves she has learned from watching Shakira. “Espérate,” I tell Valeria. Wait a while. Like about eleven more years, please.

Quincianeras are celebrated in Mexico when a young girl reaches fifteen years old. They mark an official passage into womanhood. For one day of her life she changes costumes more times than Cher, gets the kind of attention Miley Cyrus takes for granted, and her parents hire a band to play sentimental songs like “Turnaround” from the Kodak commercial.  Larry and I were invited to a big quincianera this past weekend.

I think we scored tickets because the proud papa at first considered staging it in our RV park. There have been parties there before because it’s pretty, paved, and has plenty of bathrooms and electrical outlets. It’s also private and easily secured, a major consideration these days when Mexicans throw a big party. It was available because with travel advisories against driving in Mexico, we’re not getting a whole lot of business.

But Papa’s guest list grew and grew, and our little RV park was not big enough for a sit-down dinner for five hundred, a VIP lounge area, a dance floor and a twelve-piece band from Guadalajara. Papa eventually rented Hacienda La Peñita, a square city block studded with towering palms, and enclosed by high stonewalls. It’s dreamy beautiful, but in the whole place there is only one outside electric outlet and not one easily accessible bathroom. No problema.  There’s not a lot you can’t accomplish in Mexico if you’ve got pesos. Papa hired a semi-truck with fancy built-in restrooms, and a substantial “gratuity” insured a direct hook-up to a nearby power pole. Within hours the Hacienda was transformed.

The invitation said a partir de las ocho. “If it begins at eight o’clock,” I thought,” leaving at nine will make us fashionably on time — according to Latin standards.” I am married to a man whose lights go dim before the evening news, so leaving for a party around nine in the evening was a major challenge for him, let alone putting on a tie. But just after nine, we approached the Hacienda slowly, very slowly, cruising for a parking place, subjecting our open, honest faces to the scrutiny of armed guards who were posted on all four sides of the party place. Papa greeted us, seemed overjoyed that we’d come, and led us to a table with the four other gringos in attendance. We were obviously early.

We also thought we’d scrubbed up pretty well, but we didn’t hold a candle to the glamour that surrounded us.  My Mexican neighbor had counseled me about quincianera protocol. She told me to expect elegance — una noche de largas mantelas – literally, a night of long tablecloths. Party after party of the most beautiful and stylish people gradually populated the tables around us. Languidly, guests staked claim to white-shrouded tables —  and stayed there.  Maybe it’s just hard to mingle on a soft lawn when you’re wearing four-inch heels. It was honored-daughter, with her attendant court of young men and women, who promenaded from table to table, greeting guests, allowing plenty of time to take in the details of each others’ dress. The young men were seamless in their manners, their partners accepting their attentions with a grace engrained since kindergarten.

There were also lots of waiters, bearing lots of wine, lots of tequila, and eventually – wait for it, because we did — dinner rolls. I’d fed us a little something before going, but the combination of soft dinner music and growing hunger pangs were putting a glaze in Larry’s eyes.  Soup was finally served about ten thirty, cream of corn with a hint of curry, but Larry gave up around eleven and took a cab home. The entrees arrived about twenty minutes later, a variety of coconut shrimp, filet mignon, and garlic-laced dorado with side salads of baby lettuces and blackberries. Just before midnight, an MC took the stage and announced that honored daughter had una sorpresita for us – a little surprise. Serve Larry right for leaving early. Not only did he miss the meal. He missed her belly dance, complete with appropriate drapery.

It was after midnight before the live band struck up with Latin rhythms that finally pried guests away from the long tablecloths and out onto the dance floor. There were trumpets, drums, choreography and vocals that rocked the neighborhood. The teen-age queen had yet another costume change, and when I left just before one, the lively part of the evening was just getting started.

Are the rhythms of Mexican life really that much different than those of their northern neighbors? Concerning party times, manners, and table service, yep, they are. But some things move at the same pace north or south of the border – like waiting forever for a grown up to finish what she’s doing, or watching a young girl grow up in the blink of an eye.  I’m almost finished, Valeria. I’ll watch you dance. It will only be a moment, and then it will be — gone.

Stand up to the Bully named FEAR

The economy here on Jaltemba Bay, the body of water on which sits our adopted home in Guayabitos, has received a one-two punch this year. I hope it’s not down for the count.

First of all, Mexico received more rain last summer than they have EVER received in a summer before. It was record-breaking. Most news stories have focused on the States of Oaxaca, Tabasco and Veracruz. The devastation is heart-wrenching, if one has not become inured to images of soggy humanity across the hemispheres, east and west.

But there was lots of rain here on the central Pacific Coast north of Puerto Vallarta. In fact the northbound two-lane span of the bridge which takes us from here on Jaltemba Bay to there on bigger Banderas Bay washed away completely. Here we are, not quite cut off from the airport, Sam’s Club and COSTCO (I speak with tongue in cheek), but having to expand our timelines to accommodate time spent confined to one lane each direction.

No lives here were lost on a par with Oaxaca or Veracruz, gracias a Dios, as our neighbors remind us.  But being able to make a living has definitely taken a nosedive. Here in the State of Nayarit, for a period of about seven weeks this past summer we received between six and eight inches practically every night. Where does most of that water go? Away! And it carries a lot of infrastructure and landscape with it. “Worse than Kenna,” my friend Chelo intones, nodding her head sadly, referring to the 2002 hurricane from which the local market town of La Penita has never fully recovered. It was only this past winter that further progress was made in clearing the waterfront wreckage from that storm.  Kenna came and went, as giant whirlwinds are wont to do. The rain this past summer was relentless, a slow pummeling of a people and economy that were already on the ropes, weakened by bad press revolving around narcotraficante wars and swine flu.

The bruises from this recent pounding are evident. The main roads into both San Pancho and Sayulita, beach towns to the south of us, are still closed. Access to those towns is by pedestrian footbridge in one case and in the other by a circuitous route that bumps and grinds its way through back streets full of potholes. Gas trucks with fresh water and butane have difficulty supplying their customers. This is not great for tourism.

There’s more. The famous surfing beach at Sayulita that attracts winter crowds of experts as well as wannabes is now a sand bar way off shore.  The stretch of sand in front of Don Pedro’s Restaurant where rows of cobalt blue cabanas and beach chairs used to stand sentry over the surfers are gone. Water laps at the wall right below your “beach side” table.  And the pavement on Highway 200, the artery that connects these beach towns like pendants and beads on a necklace – it can be as unpredictable as that necklace you buy on the beach.  Don’t put a lot of stress on it, or it will break and scatter the pieces it’s supposed to hold together.

Number two punch, actually two short jabs right to the gut, were travel advisories issued by both the Canadian and U. S. governments. There’s nothing like putting an official stamp of approval on a rampant case of heebie-jeebies. Every time there is a shooting in Juarez or Tijuana, ten people or more cancel a trailer park reservation in Guayabitos, La Peñita, or Lo de Marcos, all of them over a thousand miles to the south. Yes there is violence along the border, but it is a rare case indeed when touring motorists are involved. On our two trips crossing the border this summer, we had no problems. We hear the same from the friends who have started trickling back into town. Their stories match ours: The Federales were present at many checkpoints, and all were solicitous that Americans and Canadians feel safe and secure in their travels. In our own case, the immigration official at the Columbia crossing west of Laredo was particularly cordial when he stamped our documents. The cleaning lady had had to go wake him up, as we were the first foreign visitors to come through in several hours. He was overjoyed to see us! And for those who are especially cautious, the Green Angels have offered free escort service to anyone who wants it.

So this is directed to those who love this area, who think of it as a second home. Are you a fair-weather friend? Your second home neighbors miss you! Get into the ring and lend a hand. Mexico wants you here. Mexico needs you here. Yes, flights into Vallarta are full of one week vacationers, but snowbirds from the frozen north — snowbirds who spend months here, not days — are the bread and butter of this coast. These are the people who provide fuel for the local economy, a hitherto growing economy fostering a burgeoning middle class, an economy that provided a buffer and defense against those narcotraficante recruitment posters that ask, “Tired of eating beans and rice? Join us!”

Come on! Do your part. Let’s stand up to the bully named FEAR. If you’re going to throw in the towel, do it on the beach!

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Mexico Road Trips is a site that offers traffic and safety reports. Check them out. They are frank, up front and reliable. Dot and Bill Bell have put more miles on their car traveling Mexico’s highways than anyone else I know – 10,000 miles alone this summer, crossing the border many times.

Mario Vargas Llosa in Mexico

I just saw the news that Mario Vargas Llosa has won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

I snapped two photos of this rock star of Spanish literature last year at the Guadalajara Book Festival, the second largest book fair in the world.

Vargas Llosa was surrounded by young Mexicans, mostly under thirty, all vying for his autograph. I got these shots by holding my camera way over my head and hoping for the best.  I then zoomed in and cropped the image.

I didn’t mind. As a former teacher and a current writer, I’m delighted to see young people going gaga over an author instead of a pseudo celebrity. Prompts me to ask the question: Are these the young people south of the border who we want to keep out of the U.S.?

Mother matters, because mothers matter

I just returned from a visit with my Mom in Lubbock.  One thing women in my age group seem to have in common is that we often have “issues” with her from whose loins we have sprung.  This recent visit was harmonious, mainly because a lot of prayer went before it, I’ve learned the value of responding rather than reacting,  and my husband consciously and valiantly ran interference while we were at ground zero.

It appears though, just from my personal observation, that women younger than the boomer generation have better relationships with their mothers, to the point that teenagers and women in their twenties seem to positively be best friends with their Moms, never far from cell phone contact or texting check-ins. Wahoo! I count this cultural progress.

But cultures vary across the globe, and finding the universal symbol for “the perfect mother” is an idea that doesn’t always translate easily.  I heard of a man teaching English to Japanese students, trying to demonstrate the word “mother” by cradling a baby in his arms. The students didn’t get it. Then a bi-lingual colleague suggested another gesture — a fierce look and shaking index finger. Ah! So! Mother!

That certainly wouldn’t be the case in Mexico. Have a look at this article by Marilyn Davis, originally printed in 1999 in El Ojo del  Lago.  The article was recently re-printed in the sister publication here on the west coast, El Ojo del Mar. Again, from personal observation, I see Mexican mothers emulating that Guadalupe presence. It’s one of those things that makes Virgin Territory special.

PS — Bob Brock — thanks for the great image!

“YAY!” Connie Pierce’s New Book

I just finished reading my friend Connie’s new book My Journey of Real Life Weight Loss: How I lost over 180 Pounds. It’s a quick and easy read, but, boy, does it pack a punch! I read it the same day I attended a local kindergarten graduation here in Mexico. Both events brought home to me the importance families play in forming the concepts we carry of ourselves. Now that’s a field fertile for discussion. Don’t we all have stories?! I shared some of mine in the last chapter of Virgin Territory. The responses I received ranged from “Yay!” to “Yikes!” When we start speaking from that Inner Guadalupe place, it is bound to make some people uncomfortable.

In her book Connie has raised a Guadalupe cry of pure honesty She tells a personal saga so many can relate to – the constant self-condemnation, self-depreciation, and heartbreak that comes when we judge ourselves by what others think – or even what we think others may be thinking. How she broke free of that imposition is the most important part of this book. Her sense of self-esteem came first. It wasn’t a reward for losing weight. For those who are ready to change their thought as well as their bodies, Connie offers a whole different mirror for self-examination. I for one want to give her a resounding, “YAY!”