Five characters (and their guests) in search of something.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Make no mistake, Mexico is not tranquil. Here in the city center, we hear bands playing, fireworks exploding and a general hustle of traffic and conversation that starts early and goes well into the night. This is a culture rich in history and pageant. And it happens on the street. On Friday mornings a woman parks her not new station wagon on our corner, opens the tailgate and sells home made sweet rolls, donuts and cookies along with coffee and hot chocolate. I've no idea whether it is a once weekly endeavor or perhaps she has various corners through out the week. She certainly has an avid clientele on Fridays. Most corners have a regular cart that might sell tamales or fresh fruit that is peeled and ready to eat.

One of my greatest pleasures is the abundance of flowers. Many women come into town, riding a bus for three hours, to bring bundles of freshly cut flowers from their gardens. You might imagine arms full of calla lilies and they are ubiquitous, but that is just the beginning. There are roses of all colors, fragrant gardenias, gladiolas, spikes of flowers from aloes and red-hot poker, and many mysterious blooms that are irresistible. Often the foliage accompanies the flowers making the generous arrangements that I place about the house seem both personal and original.

Outside our kitchen we have iron stands holding the large shallow baskets, usually used for bread delivery, ours are full of chilies, limes, avocados, papayas, melons, onions, and other fruits and vegetables. It is a constantly changing assortment that challenges us to try new ways to prepare this magnificent cuisine. Diana Kennedy's books are kept close at hand. We've come to think that the refrigerator is empty if it does not contain a licuado (my favorite, so far, is made from passion fruit) and at least one salsa fresca. Needless to say tortillas are always included in our meals and black beans (which my four year old grandson calls dinner beans) are cooking on the stove nearly every day.

Like all Mexican homes, no space is idle. At our house the washing machine and scrubbing sink are in a covered outdoor space and the roof is home to two rabbits, our sunny breakfast table on weekends, and the place where we hang the clothes to dry. It happens that it is also beautiful, with plants in pots and vine-draped walls. the ceiling is bamboo slats and blue sky. It was the perfect place to watch the total eclipse of the moon, in October. We've been known to sip mezcal and enjoy all the phases of the moon from this utilitarian spot.

Since our sala surrounds an open-air courtyard, there are times, at night, when we retreat to our beds for warmth and comfort. It is not unusual to get up and go out later. Sometimes it is not to eat or drink but to feel the air and the life on the street. All manner of people, from vendors selling rebozos and baskets to young lovers aware only of each other, and people heading home after work or visiting one of the many cafes, the only thing for sure is that there will be a variety of activities to view or participate in.

Our trips out of town are limited, as we do not have a car. The freedom from worries, about traffic and parking and safety far out weigh the limitations. Occasionally we rent a car for a day or hire a taxi by the hour. The latter is our preference because we enjoy the conversations with the drivers and always glean information. Riding buses in town is rare, most drivers have a shrine surrounding their rear view mirrors and a helper who hops off the bus at each stop to shout the destination of his driver. It is as if he were selling an excursion. We have decided the drivers must be paid by the volume of passengers. It makes for a lot of fast stops and woe unto the passenger who does not shout out his stop well in advance. These jockeys all behave as if they are in a race.

--Alta Tingle


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