Friday, February 29, 2008

Still Lifes from Lat. 19°N, Long. 104°W

Sometimes we don't feel like writing...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

El Gran Teatro del Estrellas

"I'm never gonna make it to midnight," Big Dog complained after I told him that Miss J and friends were going to go to the club around 10:30pm but things don't really get going until around midnight. It's been a weekly ritual for her to go to the tourist town on the other side of the bay with her friends for "some dancing." I had wanted to go to hear the local band do some rock en espanol, but until now, we were invited to dinner or Big Dog was sick, or we just didn't feel like it.

Our plan had been to go to the town for sunset and dinner and then head to the club for a short while, but what would we do between dinner and dancing? Hang out in a bar for 3 hours? We're just not big enough drinkers to do that and unless Big Dog is behind the wheel, he gets Very Antsy, Very Fast. It was almost a relief to get a call from The Japanese Dude's daughter inviting us to "el hipnotizador."

There's been this circus tent on the edge of town near the highway for several weeks now. A circus or something, we thought, but last week Goro, The Japanese Dude, told us that it was a hypnotist show and they come to town every year.

So, off we went, around 8:30pm, with Goro's two teenage daughters, a Japanese boy who's staying with them while his landscaping job in Japan is dead for the winter, and a couple of Goro's employees.

"See, nothing ever starts on time here," explained Chisa, the older of the two girls. "The locals know it, too."
Sure enough, the inside of the tent was almost completely empty. A few kids sat up in front, a few couples were scattered here and there, and there may have been one or two other families, but most of the white plastic chairs emblazoned with "Corona" and "Coca-Cola" were empty, as were the bleacher seats.

"Maybe everyone's seen it already," I whispered to Big Dog. "They did say it was the last day. Or maybe the last week. Ultima something."

While the place slowly began to fill, we amused ourselves by watching an attractive girl mindlessly sucking on a lollipop, kids having popcorn fights, grownups greeting each other.

By 9:30, the place was packed. The plastic chairs were nearly completely filled and most of the bleacher seats as well. But unlike every other event in this town, this one was strictly local. The only non-Mexicans were those in our small group.

Finally, with a deafening drum machine rhythm blasting out of the speakers, the show began.

Two men dressed like cowboys appeared on stage to lip-sync to a ranchero number with a lot of adolescent potty gags. Especially fart gags. Kids and adults all howled.
"Maybe there are more fart jokes in Mexico than other countries..." I suggested.
They continued to lip-sync through a few other songs, including what sounded like something by the Backstreet Boys.
Next, a pretty woman dressed a la torera, with sequined sombrero, lip-synced a romantic ballad.
Then, an older man in baggy pants and cowboy hat, did a comic rendition of a popular song.

After each set, the curtain would close and there'd be a dash to the concession stand. Lollipop Girl went to get a hot-dog and ate that as erotically as she had sucked on the lolli. But mindlessly. I don't think she had a clue as to how erotic it was!

"Oooo, maybe it's The Hypnotist next," I'd hope every time the curtain re-opened, but the singing show kept going on.
When the first two guys reappeared, dressed as what might have been a Mexican impression of a local gringo and gringa, I realized we had seen all the estrellas we were going to see on this stage.

After the clown (the skinnier of the first two) did a comedy skit with the help of audience participation -- using to everyone's great amusement, Take-kun, the Japanese boy who probably wasn't nearly as clueless as I was, but was clueless enough to draw giant peals of laughter -- at long last, The Hypnotist show began. And not with just one hypnotist, but two! (The two other men in the show, now dressed in business suits. Guess you can't have a Cowboy Hypnotist.) They asked for volunteers and about a dozen people climbed onto the stage and to the plastic chairs (same style as ours but red) lined up at the back. A droning voice counted up, then down, and up again. Although I could only catch a few commands ("dormir" "contento y contenta") it seemed to sound like every other hypnotist routine in the world -- except, of course, that adjectives like "content" have to have both the masculine and feminine forms.

The casting of the hypnotist's spell took quite some time.
"They're plants," Big Dog insisted. He had never seen people really become hypnotized.
"I don't think so. At least not all of them." There were people in the audience under the spell, too. Heads rolled back, forward, to the side, everywhere. "And don't you remember that time a producer at my radio station got hypnotized?"

A friend of one of the staff at the station was a magician who also did a hypnotist routine. He used to come around to the station late at night to entertain his friends and the producer in question took a liking to him. Before long, the magician had his own late night radio show. Things went well until he was invited to a wedding party for two directors who were getting married. At this party, he did his usual hypnotism trick, but he made the mistake of using the producer of his show.

"When you hear Go West by the Pet Shop Boys, you will want to watch soccer," he told the hypnotized producer, then "woke" him up. After that, at odd moments, the engineer would play a piece of Go West and the producer would suddenly get an uncontrollable urge to watch soccer. This cracked everyone up. The music would stop and the producer couldn't understand what was going on, why everyone was laughing at him. This went on all night (long after it was funny, for some) until the producer became all messed up with paranoia. The following week, the magician had no radio show.

Here in Mexico, the routine was similar. The hypnotized people remained on stage to play imaginary instruments, speak "Chinese" ("Wasn't it funny how everyone said something like 'arigato'?" Chisa and I laughed, later) dance with same gender partners ("You are at a quinceanera! You are the sweet fifteen year old!") and become pop stars. The funniest was a chubby girl shaking it like Shakira, though that might have been because Shakira was the only pop star familiar to me.

By the time the show ended it was midnight.
"Thank you so much for inviting us. I had a thoroughly good time even though I didn't understand a lot of it. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because it was bewildering!"

This is the "Mexico" I love -- simple and funky. In these times of globalization, these uniquely Mexican moments are truly precious. I can't wait for a masked wrestling match to come to town.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Who's the crazy one?

It's been exceptionally cold here this week. Cold enough to send the locals crawling into fleeces and filled nylon jackets. Cold enough to even get Buster, the town's only gringo waiter, to ask us to find him a sweatshirt at the Wednesday street market. Yes, even the local gringos are bundling up. The only ones still in tank tops and shorts are the tourists.

But it's still much warmer than anywhere inland, so a few days ago, an old friend who now lives in Guadalajara suggested coming down here for a few days.

"I don't know if it's a good idea," I emailed back. "Big Dog's been rather emotionally frail..."

I hadn't seen R. in decades. We only reconnected a year or two ago by email. I have almost forgotten how he used to be and have no idea how he really is today. Letters are always deceptive, desho? And I suspect he has some picture of me that has faded away long ago -- or never existed at all. But mostly, I worried that he and Big Dog would get into a huge argument over labor issues and immigration and the upcoming election and the fallout would last long after R. went back to the City.

After last night, though, I am wondering if subconsciously I was worried more about me. Recently, I seem to be more prone to huge mood swings -- induced by hunger. Like, last night. We come back from a leisurely afternoon stroll to find Miss J back home with a gang of guys doing shooters in her kitchen. I figure they'll all go off to get something to eat in a bit and then I'll start making dinner. Ha. As time went on, they became merrier and drunker while I became hungrier and angrier. I don't know why I just didn't start eating, but when I go into these tailspins, I can't think straight.

"Oh, come on, your motorcycle accident didn't completely change your life," I start arguing with Mayor Dave, the friend who introduced us to Miss J.

The music is too loud and too mid-70's, in addition to being somewhat distorted by the cavernous concrete room. People are shouting to be heard above it. The din is making me crazier. I've got to eat before I blow up in a rage. While I'm making a shrimp-filled avocado appetizer for myself and Big Dog, he decides none of the guys can drive in their state so he's going to drive Mayor Dave back home. Dave's leg, broken in that accident a year ago, is really bothering him.

"I'll pick up some milk on the way back," Big Dog says.
"Okay," I huff. Somehow it pisses me off that he's leaving as we're finally about to eat something.
"I don't have any money."
I sigh and walk upstair to get some, wondering why he didn't just do it himself. He's not the one making dinner and he knows just as well as I do where the money is.
"Here you go," I hand him the money and get back to huffing and cooking.
"I don't have a bag."
"It's upstairs," I tell him without even turning around. He knows exactly where the shopping bag is! Get it yourself! But he's not going for the bag.
I have to eat. NOWWWWW! I sit down (finally!) with my avocado boat and start wolfing.
"Ohhhh. You guys are having a problem..." Mayor Dave suggests. Even a drunk man can sense the Category Five Hurricane churning inside me. He just doesn't know the cause.
"NO WERE NOT! I'M JUST HUNGRY!!!" Having to shout makes me even angrier. Dave chuckles. Maybe out of embarrassment. Maybe out of nervousness -- maybe I looked like a really crazy woman.
"IT'S NOT FUNNY!!!" I am hunched over my avocado boat, guarding it like a lifeline to sanity. I MUST look crazy.

I was inappropriately angry for a loooong time after that, but now in the calm of another cool morning, I am embarrassed by my outburst and hoping that everyone was too drunk to remember any of it. I wish I was.

But R., really, you can visit us anytime! Didn't you like being abused by women?

Friday, February 22, 2008


Anyone who's lived outside of his/her own country understands the unique bond between expats. You may not like them, you may not even have a whole lot in common, but the fewer of you there are in your new "home" and the more isolated you are, the stronger that bond becomes. A giant city like Tokyo has many sub-groups of expats, all there for different reasons from Yen to Zen, but in towns that only have a handful, you can bet they're a tight-knit group.

Big Dog who has spent the majority of his adult life outside of the U.S. seems to be more comfortable outside of his own culture, and he's thoroughly enjoying the life of an "exile" here in Mexico. (That's what my friend, S. in Tokyo calls the escapees and he's built quite a career (and following!) writing about this "exile culture.") He's made several new friends here that will be like the life-long friends he's formed during his time in South America, New Zealand, Australia, Philippines, Japan and beyond. The fascinating septuagenarian couple from Spain-Turkey-France-Canada who live in a trailer in the next town and a former construction worker/dive master from Colorado-Florida, for example.

(I got that far and was completely distracted by Shadow, Miss J's cat. He usually finds my lap in the morning when I'm in front of my laptop -- on a desk, not my lap -- but today he decided that instead of just curling up and catching more zzz's it was time for grooming. Oh, and what a thorough job! It's hard to concentrate when there's a fat black cat on your lap intently lapping his nads.)

I know people who were born and raised in the same town. They get married, work their whole lives, raise their families and die in the exact same town. They are stranger to me than aliens from space. I've been moving around since I was born, living in all sorts of situations. I grew up outside the culture of my parents, but what was mine? Multi-cultural kids form their own special subculture, I guess, but I never felt like I was of that subculture, either. I can't really be an "exile" because I have nothing to be exiled from. 30 years in Tokyo and it became my home, but since I've been out I realize that I am back in my element again. All through my childhood, home was never a structure, a location, a country or culture. They talk of how home is where the heart is. In my case, that's the only way it's ever been.

And you want to know the strangest thing? I feel more at home here in Mexico, where I can hardly communicate, than I do in California, where I grew up! I am wondering if my isolation comes from Big Dog being "back home"? He's got family, boyhood friends, pals from student days. I am suddenly seeing how deep and wide his roots in California are. There, he is a "returnee." I don't think he likes it much. I don't think I do, either.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Realm of the Senses

They say that when you lose one ability, your body covers for you by developing another. You know, like the guy who loses his sight but then gains extraordinary hearing. Or the woman with no arms or legs who can do everything with her mouth/lips. (Hey, you, stop imagining that!)

A couple of Very Loud Rock Gigs have, I think, permanently damaged hearing in my right ear for certain frequencies. It's not a recent thing at all, but I've noticed in the last few days that my sense of smell is Very Pronounced. I've been woken up by coffee brewing a block away. A dead fish on the beach is so putrid I have to run away, but no one else seems to notice. It's more of a hindrance than a gift.

My memory is also in need of either a massive tune-up or more RAM. What will come to replace this waning function? I am hoping for x-ray vision.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gaudi Would Have Been Proud?

On my way into town for groceries this afternoon (and believe me, if you want the good stuff, you gotta be there before noon, so I was very late) I saw two boys on the beach, buried up to their chest in wet sand. They both dipped into the silky sand, soupy from the waves that barely reached it, and poured it over their groin, creating a magnificently baroque, Gaudi-esque sand phallus.

It made me laugh.

Why are some things so universal?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ever Changing Moods

Faces of the sky and sea
shift moment by moment

(and now, for a little trip back in time... The Style Council...)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just Doing It

I had as many aspirations and dreams as the next person, but since leaving my workaholic life in Media, I've been surprisingly content to just live in the moment most days. All of my (former) life, I'd been programmed to strive for success, recognition, praise... Even today, I get visits from Ambition at times and I'll think "when I'm in Mexico, I'll get around to writing all those screenplays in my head" or "I really should start that novel." I think it comes from guilt. It's the Super Productive Japanese in me that feels bad about just doing what makes me happy, at that moment.

I'm definitely still on my spiritual journey, still learning. When you can live in the moment, there is so much peace there. Past accomplishments are really meaningless -- they are PAST accomplishments, for crying out loud -- and who knows what the future brings, so thinking too much about it just makes one anxious. Still, old habits are hard to break.

"Just Do It!" is just a catchy motto to sell more sports gear, but it's become a mantra for many. We want to believe in positive thinking, that we can achieve our goals, that if we work hard enough, we can do anything. We never stop to think, "And?" Does any of it make us "better"? And better than what? Better than that bum on the street? Better than the dogs and horses? Better than the sun, the wind, the ocean, the trees? (You see, my spiritual journey has allowed me to be less anthropocentric. If that's a real word. But you know what I mean.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Taste Treats

If you grow up in California, Mexican food is as much a part of your diet as hamburgers, pizzas and spaghetti. From fast food chains to family diners to elegant (and expensive) restaurants, everyone eats Mexican. But like the "California Roll" sushi, Mexican food has been highly Americanized in many of these places. For more authentic Mexican food, you'll have to venture into the real Hispanic neighborhoods, or step into a hole-in-the-wall taqueria, or stand in line with day laborers in front of a taco truck.

Mexico, being the giant country that it is, has many regional dishes, and each area will prepare things differently, but I find the food here much simpler and tastier than the Mexican food up north. I absolutely LOVE the chile rellenos here and even when I'm up north, will buy fresh pasilla peppers to make my own rather than settle for the gooey, cheesy mess they call rellenos there.

Yet, after a start craving other flavors. You want more variety. Thank god for a kitchen! And if you are used to improvising, you can do amazing things with the ingredients at hand. (Once, in the States, when I was rolling out pie crust with an empty Corona beer bottle a friend laughed that it might make a good beer commercial.) Like last night's lime ice cream. It was a real winner.

There's this thing called Chantilly Top Cream here. It's just cream with sugar (quite a lot!) and vanilla that they sell in cartons, but just add some egg yolks to it, cook it in a double boiler (small pot in a big pot of boiling water works fine) til it's thick, then add fresh lime juice and cook some more. Then, whip up the egg whites (Miss J's kitchen had no electric beater -- at least none that I could find -- so I just put it in her blender on high for a minute or so) pour that into the cream-egg-lime mixture and when it seems thick enough, remove from stove and let cool. Stick the whole thing in a container and freeze for a while, then beat it with a spoon. I suppose you'd get better texture if you did this a few times, but either way, the end result is a rich, sweet/tart ice cream that tastes a bit like frozen cheesecake. Very rich. Very yummmm.

Our village has a paleteria that sells paletas, homemade popsicles (terrific!) but their ice cream shops pale in comparison to the ones we've found around Oaxaca and further south (with flavors like mescal, tequila, chili and cactus) and the exotic concoctions of Ice Cream of the Gods up in Tepoztlan, so I'll have to keep experimenting. Besides, Big Dog is an excellent lab rat for these sorts of experiments.