Friday, November 28, 2008


There's a, young woman, who lives on the other side of the canal. We stumbled upon her last week when we were wandering through the brush. I think she was washing clothes. Or maybe vegetables. I don't remember. I scarcely remember the details of her shack -- it seemed like all the others. Corrugated tin, slabs of wood, rags hanging on a line. She was squatting between the footpath and the shack, engrossed in whatever she was doing until we walked by.

She looked up, so I smiled. I've gotten into the habit. They usually give me a little smile back and maybe an "hola" or a "buenos dias" or whatever, but not this girl-woman. What I got was the most amazing, radiant, beam-me-up-scotty, transfix you, siren song, magic potion kind of smile back. If smiles were currency (and who hasn't talked about someone's Million Dollar Smile?) she would be a veritable Fort Knox.

I went back through that footpath the other day and there she was, again. (Of course she was there! It's her house, isn't it?) She was in an "outbuilding" if I can call it that: a structure with one wall and a tin roof. And there it was again!

So you're thinking, big deal. Everyone smiles. Some smile big time.

But this was different. Outside of our family, I have only seen that smile once or twice before. That no-holds-barred smile. A smile with full abandon. And I'm sure it's not even proportionate to the emotion behind it, because I DO believe we share similar emotions. It's just that some people have the ability to really, really, really let go when they smile. And there are the rare few who can do this casually, to people they don't even know, only provoked by another smile.

I want to tell her how beautiful her smile is. How it really does light up the world. How it makes me want to get to know her. How it makes me want to walk by her house every day. How I think of it when other things threaten to bring me down. Damn my shyness! Damn my inability to speak the language! Damn me for even thinking of language!

Labels: ,

Monday, November 24, 2008

Accelerated Changes

"You know, this place may become a mini Puerto Vallarta one day," I said as we walked down the beach the other day. For now, it's been spared that fate.

There's a construction boom going on, but it's still done manually. No cranes and heavy machinery. Just good, strong men building concrete-block-and-rebar houses. Locals are adding on, building up, hoping for that extra rental income during the winter months. What used to be the bus terminal restaurant and internet cafe has turned into a real estate office that sells lots and homes at North American prices, but it doesn't look like they are moving too many properties.

Yet, you definitely see the change when you hit the plaza, the zocalo, in the center of town.

When we first arrived, it was still THE place to be on Sunday nights. Teenagers in their Sunday best circled the plaza in sexually segregated groups, eyeing each other. Parents and grandparents sat on benches, socializing. Little kids dressed just like their parents (cowboy hat, buttoned shirt, jeans, boots) played tag.

There aren't nearly as many people hanging out in the zocalo. Cable and satellite television, computers and DVDs have finally come here, too, to replace traditional entertainment. Families are becoming more insular. The teenagers look more and more like their contemporaries in a Los Angeles barrio. Things are less intensely Mexican.

"Is it us?" I wondered. In a way, it must be. More money is coming into this village with the tourist traffic and the locals can afford satellite tv, cell phone and wi-fi. Most households have washing machines, gas ranges, other modern conveniences, meaning they can do more in a day. Life's pace gets faster as we cram more and more into our hours, our days. One day, who knows when, this place will out-pace me. Of that, I am sure.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Viva La Revolucion!

It's Revolution Day in Mexico.

I can't help it. Whenever I see or hear the word "revolution" I get excited. It makes me smile. It makes me want to raise my clenched fist in the air. It makes me want to stand up on a bank counter and swing my AK-47 in a graceful arc, with or without stylish beret. For a kid that grew up in the Shadow of the Boom, who was too late for Flower Power, too early for Disco, my pop culture icons were Angela Davis, Che Guevara, Jerry Rubin, 70's John Lennon (not at all in that order) et cetera. OK, so I'm the shallowest, flimsiest revolutionary there ever was, but...

It offends me that "socialism" is a dirty word in so many countries.

I love going to May Day Rallies.

Seeing the kids moshing to Rage Against The Machine made me unrealistically optimistic about the future.

I can blame most of Japan's problems on its never ever having a real revolution. (Its "people" have never fully realized its "power.")

And it makes me happy that here in Mexico, they have a special day to celebrate their People's Revolution of 1910 -- Dia de la Revolucion -- which is separate from their Independence Day (in September.)

The middle school students had a parade in the morning, with flag bearers and drummers and horns. Then, in the afternoon, the elementary school and kindergarten kids had their parade through town. There was a group of maybe first or second graders dressed in traditional peasant garb: girls in braids and ribbons, boys with vinyl-and-duct tape bandoliers and wooden rifles.

Every so often, a whistle would blow and the parade would stop in its tracks. From the sidelines came cushion-y mats. Boys in gym wear would then scrambled onto the mats to make human pyramids. The whistle would blow, we'd all clap, and the parade would move on.

"I'm not sure what that has to do with the revolution," admitted the Japanese Dude's wife. (For those of you who didn't read the posts from earlier this year, there is a Japanese Dude and Family living here who run a restaurant by the highway.) Her third daughter (and the only one living with the parents now) was in the morning parade, as one of the flag bearers.
"Maybe it's to stress the importance of health and fitness in a revolution," I suggested. In corpore sano...right? But now I am thinking, we were focusing on the action, rather than the form, the result -- a human pyramid. Of course! It's not about gymnastic skills at all! It's about Power to the People, right on, right on!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gringo Lingo

Every day, a few more Norteños arrive. In giant RVs, camper vans, rent-a-cars, taxis from the airport, buses from the cities. When we first got here there were a mere handful of year-round Northerners, but their numbers are growing. Quietly, for now, but the locals tell us that after Thanksgiving, there will be a flood.

"You really think so?" wonders Big Dog. "With the economy the way it is?"
"But gas prices are going down..."

We had seen a headline in a local paper the other day telling us that gasoline was down to $1.50 or something like that in the States. It made us mad.
"Just when people are starting to think about taking that petroleum spike out of their veins!"
"The petroleum people are like drug dealers! As soon as we start moving away from gasoline, when we start demanding more efficient cars, they bring the price down. 'Oh, it's okay, you guys. You can drive your SUVs and Hummers. See? Gas isn't expensive!' They're evil."

Four bucks a gallon would have kept a lot of vehicles away, but now, who knows. This village may become as over-run with non-Mexicans as it was last winter.

The local Mexicans impress me with their tolerance for butchered Spanish. Maybe they are like the Japanese who appreciate English speakers making any attempt to speak a foreign language. We understand that English is today's lingua franca but it's moronic to presume everyone speaks it and rude to insist.

What fascinates me is the English-speaker's inability to accept unchanging vowel sounds. In both Japanese and Spanish, there are only five vowel sounds. They are constant. A is always a short "ah" and E is always a short "eh" etc. (People always talk about how the Japanese have difficulty with r's and l's, soft and hard th's, etc. but it's really the vowels, the many different breaths of sound, that really trip them up.) But when English speakers first learn Japanese or Spanish or Hawaiian, the vowels are all over the place. I have yet to meet a mainlander who correctly pronounces "Honolulu." It always sounds like "Hanalulu."

(And there are some languages where vowels are even more peripheral. I studied Old Testament Hebrew at university and remember how the Hebrew alphabet was all consonants. I believe Arabic is the same way. Ancient Jews called their God YHWH -- you were not supposed to pronounce His name. It was a breath, the life force, without sound. Does that mean that vowels are not peripheral, just taboo? Maybe vowels are in the realm of the divine and not something for us mere mortals. But that brings me to another tangent... The "om/aum" of Hindu/Buddhist belief comes from the first breath we take (o or au) and the muteness of death (m.) How can my brain retain all this information and forget any math I learned beyond the second grade?)

"Higuerra" is a main street in San Luis Obispo, near our ranch. Locals call it "High-Gerra" -- even the TV newscasters! (In Hawaii, at least the announcers approximate the correct pronunciation of their streets and cities.)

"If they can't pronounce it right, why didn't they just re-name it 'Fig'?" Big Dog keeps wondering, but he, too, will mix up his vowels. (It's hAbitAciones, my dear, not hAbitEciones though I understand you are thinking of the English "habitation" and so the second "a" begins to sound like "ay" and thus in Spanish, more like an "e.")

Japanese rarely correct a visitor's Japanese and often congratulate him/her on his/her "excellent" Japanese. It's their way of encouraging you to study more. The local Mexicans will not correct a gringo's lingo either. They won't tell you it's GuadalajAra, not GuadalajEra; AUtO-bUs (ah-oo-to-boos) not OtO-bAs.

Me? I'm no better and probably worse. I often mix up Spanish with Italian or French (like saying har-dan for jardin (pronounced har-deen here and jar-dan over there) and my conjugation of verbs is...well, virtually non-existant. But the biggest problem of all is that they let me get away with it. It's an impossibly long road to fluency.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mañana Mode

It's hot. And humid. But we don't mind...because we're back in Taco Land!

I had everything so well scheduled (direct flight from LAX to PVR, a decent time out and a decent time in, etc.) but we were foiled again by the airlines. Well, actually, it was sort of our fault. In our cavalier way, we had a cab pick us up just before 8am. The driver turned out to be one who had driven us to the airport before (are there that few cabs in LA?) and was super chatty. The problems was that the faster he spoke, the slower he drove, and the day after the Presidential Election, we all had a lot to talk about. We didn't arrive at LAX until 8:30 and Big Dog couldn't stop expounding his views on energy (the cab driver had worked for major petroleum companies.)

"Come onnnnn," I grimaced and pointed to my imaginary watch.

Once I pried him away from his sole audience, we hustled inside the terminal.
It took us a while to find the Mexicana counter (Tom Bradley, downstairs) but by then, they had closed check-in.

"What?! We're here an hour and a half before departure!" cried BD.
"I'm sorry, sir. This is an International Flight. Check-in is three hours before the flight." The ground hostess was not doing her mostess to put us chronologically challenged passengers on their booked flight. We were not the only ones denied -- there were several groups who also arrived too late.

After our initial moment of surprise, however, we chilled out. Oh well. They did book us onto another flight and it's not like we're really on some kind of schedule or anything. However, it did mean several hours trapped at LAX, several more hours trapped at GDL and coming into PVR after 9pm.

I was proud we were so calm and nonchalant about our wasted hours.
"We're already in Mañana Mode."

But that was then. Once we got to our little fishing village (quickly becoming Gringo Winter Haven) I realized how Norteño we really were. It takes time to get the buzzzz out of a person. We think we're different from the regular North Americans who have 9 to 5 (or longer) jobs, regular responsibilities. It's only when you get to a place as sleepy as this that you realize what a busy bee you've been all these months.

That bizzzzy-ness is seeping out, though. And soon, maybe mañana, after all the bees are gone, there will only be slow-moving, sweet, amber honey.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Indecent Proposals?

Yes, I have been very distracted by U.S. politics. There's a lot going on right now! It's completely fascinating for a person who comes from a country with a different style of democracy. Japanese don't get to vote for their Prime Minister, nor do we get to vote on specific issues. Instead, we elect lawmakers who then "represent" us in voting on various issues in our parliament, the Diet. So, although we are a highly educated, completely literate populace, we're not trusted to actually make the decisions, at least not directly.

Here I am in California where, along with the choices for President/Vice President, Congressmen, Senators and Local Representatives, we can vote on specific issues. And I think the issues finally got Big Dog to register to vote. (In Japan, everyone with an address is mailed a postcard at election time. There is no "registering" involved.) Thanks to BD, I got to take a look at the mail-in ballot. The issues, called Propositions, are right there on the ballot, below the list of candidates and come with a brief paragraph explaining each issue. Interestingly, there is also a sentence or two about the economic impact. It all comes down to dollars and cents, huh. Many of the issues are complicated and, without reading the entire proposition, seem open to interpretation. I wonder if there are many people who vote "yes" or "no" when they mean the opposite. But then, other propositions sound pretty straightforward.

Proposition Two will make humane living conditions mandatory for livestock. No more chickens stuffed into tiny cages where they can hardly move, let alone turn around or spread their wings. No more calves shot full of antibiotics to keep them from dying in their horrible pens. Only a real sicko would want to torture their food before consumption. (Flashback to the urban legend of the screaming monkey brain: Apparently, terror is what makes the brain taste so...indescribable.) But if you only saw the "anti" ads, you might put in a negative vote.

The ads don't describe what Proposition Two is really about. Instead, they tell you that if it becomes law, the cost of food production will rise and producers will take it elsewhere, so in fact, your food will become not only more expensive but less safe. If voters really thought about it, I think most would be willing to pay a few extra cents not to have to eat stuff coming out of a torture chamber. And, I think most would chose "safe" Californian eggs over "unsafe" elsewhere eggs, for example. The ads claim that the food "would come from Mexico, exposing us to more diseases." "Salmonella" flashes by in the ad, menacingly. No one mentions that these are diseases that are the direct result of ranchers and farmers keeping their eye on the bottom line, rather than humane treatment! (How should one vote if one were a vegan? You certainly can't support inhumane treatment of animals. And yet, by saying "yes" to Prop 2, aren't you also condoning the consumption of animals or animal products?)

And then there's Prop Eight.
It's the proposition to outlaw gay marriage. Again.
"But didn't that law just go into effect?" you may wonder. Flip-flopping laws are nothing new in the U.S. Anyone remember Prohibition?
The ads try to scare straight people with "the teaching of gay marriage will become mandatory in public schools." First, schools really have no business teaching marriage, period. Especially not when they can't even teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic anymore! So a proposition to boost education standards would have made way more sense, but for all the liberalism in California, there is still a very real anti-gay part of society.

I see "Yes on 8" signs on the lawns of kindhearted, tolerant people and wonder how they could want to exclude gay people from expressing their love and commitment in a legal manner, from having the same rights straight couples have. (And don't forget, not too long ago, it was illegal for people of different races to marry each other. Miscegenation was not only illegal, it was also a sin.)

"Marriage is not just a legal matter, it's a religious matter. It's a covenant before God," they may argue. But if it's a sacred commitment, a vow before a Supreme Being, how do they explain their own divorces? Oh, it really wasn't THAT sacred. I see. Plus, if it's all about religion ("Nowhere in the Bible do they talk about a gay marriage!" "Homosexuality is a sin!") then isn't it something they need to take up with their church, not the state?

"They should have just called it something other than marriage," Big Dog once said to me. "It would have shut up all those homophobes."
I doubt it, but I am thinking now that maybe the legal union between ALL couples should be called something other than "marriage." The concept of marriage has changed over the centuries and is still different from culture to culture. In some cultures, it's a joining of families and has nothing to do with love. Here in America, a mix of cultures and beliefs, who can say what "traditional" marriage is? Traditional for whom? No matter which "tradition" you opt for, it's bound to exclude a lot of other people, and that just doesn't sound like a fair law.

Well, in a few days, we'll find out how it all turns out. In the meantime, I remain a captivated bystander. It's much more interesting than Election Season in Japan which is all about sound trucks cruising through neighborhoods, yelling at ear-splitting decibels "This is (insert name here)! Yoroshiku onegai shimasu! (support me! vote for me!)"

Way more interesting.

Labels: ,