Ode to Mexico (54)

This is the last of my 54 posts while I’m 54. Keeping to “All Things Mexico” this year has been a stretch for me. I agonized over what was left to tell, sorry so many of my stories about Mexico had already come out of me the year before when I was 53. Or I shook my head at how the words I cobbled together here so often fell short of capturing the heart of the memory. But still you, my readers, came to visit, told me you liked what I was writing, cheered me on in spite of my own dissatisfaction and my often too harsh critic. I can’t thank you enough for that kindness, that generosity of spirit. And though I have not always liked what I came up with here, there were times I laughed at myself as I was the first to “like” one of my own posts. Do people do that?!!? I wondered even as I clicked on the “Like” button. But there are at least a handful here I was pleased with enough to choose, silly though it may have been. It made me happy.

And as I contemplate my next year of posts, the 55 I plan to write while I’m 55, I think I will again leave the “theme” wide open. I seem to be a funny creature in that I crave a theme, a focus, and then I rebel against the constrictions of one even when it’s self-imposed. Perhaps I will continue as I’ve begun, alternating “wide open” years with years that are more structured. I think of writing a year of posts about all the days or moments I’d like to relive. Or a year of sleeping dreams with thoughts about how they might weave into my daily life. I imagine writing each of the year’s posts about a different being or character, blending fiction and fact. And as I write these possibilities even more leap into my mind, and the part of me that longs for structure becomes eager to try my hand at one of them. But I think for now I will allow this next year of posts to unfold as they will, wander where they might, grow like weeds, like thistles, airy tufts tossed by the breeze to land where they may. And in the time between becoming 55 and turning 56, I’ll let some part of me dream about what kind of shape I might want to commit to for my 56 posts while I’m 56.

So, as I end this year of posts, I breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of the unconstrained year that now awaits. But I know, too, that in my ornery way, I may flounder in that unstructured space, adrift with no idea what to write about. It makes me grin, this odd determination to be confounded either way. And, too, I am not at all sorry I tried to write about Mexico this past year, no matter what my efforts brought. I imagine I’ll continue to write about Mexico, to even try again to tell my stories as the years unfold. I hope to go back to Mexico, again and again, to travel or to live, to dig in and unearth the soil of that country with my wriggling toes, that new stories might spring from that rich and fertile land for me to tell. And I hope even these imperfect posts might serve as my own ode to memory. I think of my first whale, sitting on the edge of that Todos Santos beach while she hovered nearby in the depths just off the shore. I recall my magic wandering of the steep stairways, the callejones of Guanajuato, or my first breathtaking view of that hillside city, the painted buildings a wonder, the most beautiful ciudad I have ever seen. I remember Ana standing across the living room from me at the Aldama house, laughing, or the night she and Rodolfo walked me home along the cobblestone streets while I sang in French, and the night I followed that same path alone, crying like my heart was breaking. I hope my year of posts might serve to honor my memories, my own ode to Mexico.

I Have a Dream (53)

I spent Wednesday at a local resort, “day use” there my treat for spring break. I drank coffee and did my qi gong and my yoga on the cement beside the hot tub. It was warm from the sun, and I lay on my back and watched the fan palm leaves bend and bristle in the wind. I stood beside the wall of cloudy glass bricks, alone in my corner of that public world, and I kicked my legs forward and backward, punched the air before me, stood still at the end of the series, the dragon stands between the heavens and the earth. In between I floated in the hot water and let the tension leak out of my body and felt a dream emerge in me. The “Travel” section of the Sunday Times was about Mexico, and I read it greedily. It was focused on Mérida, a city in the Yucatán. Just like that, the desire to visit was alive in me. And somewhere in the midst of doing my qi gong in that hidden section of the resort, of floating in the hot water watching the San Jacinto mountains peeking out between the palm trees, of feeling the sun-warmed cement beneath my back, against my thighs while I twisted my spine and stretched my hips, a vision grew in me of a neighborhood in Mérida and a part I might play there one day. I dreamed a fountain and good food, a plaza garden, a co-op, a milpa, peace.

The Woman and the Dog (52)

I remember walking from La Casa Azul to downtown Todos Santos. It was late afternoon. I don’t remember where I was going, maybe to meet my Spanish teacher Guillermo at the cafe. I was taking the side streets north of the highway. I passed a woman washing clothes in her yard, another taking stark white dress shirts down off a clothesline. A man in a hat was hosing down the dirt road in front of his house when I passed. He smiled and nodded. “Buenas tardes,” I said. I passed a house with a garden in the front, vines climbing the wire fence, purple blooms. A woman was scraping food from a pot into a white enamel bowl on the ground, her brown dog dancing at her feet. “Oh,” I said. I was grinning. “She’s so excited about it.” Ella está muy emocionada sobre su comida. I remember the woman’s laugh, how it opened up her face. I remember the sweetness inside that moment together, of being part of her love for her dog.

Fast Food (51)

When I lived in Todos Santos, I would ride the bus to Cabo San Lucas to pick up the mail sent to me from my box in northern California. I would go to the Burger King there, indulge in a Whopper that tasted remarkably like the ones here in the States. (When I was an adolescent, I remember my disappointment when my girlfriend and I found a McDonald’s in Germany but the hamburger there still tasted like a foreign country.) In Cabo San Lucas, hamburger in hand, I’d walk along the harbor, or sit perched on the steps overlooking it, and savor the familiar taste as I chewed. After, I’d go to the Häagen-Dazs store and eat ice cream. Before Cabo San Lucas, I never even knew they had Häagen-Dazs stores. I haven’t seen once since. But the best fast food I had in Mexico was the morning after the cats and I had crossed over to the mainland on the ferry from La Paz. We were stopped in line before a toll booth, and a man came up to my window. He had a small blue and white cooler with him. I don’t remember what he called his wares, but I bought one. The plastic bag was warm, and that surprised me. He was using the cooler to hold in the heat. I paid him, then caught up with the toll booth line, and headed south along the toll road. I remember there were big black birds in the trees lining the highway, their calls an exotic din. I unwrapped the plastic bag, warm skinny rolled tortillas, like taquitos only not fried. They were filled with potatoes and a glimmer of meat, and I remember how tasty they were, how good the freshness and the warmth felt in my mouth. I remember marveling to think that kind of homemade breakfast would find me on the highway like that. I can still see the diffident way the man walked toward my car, the blue and white cooler in his hand. And I can still feel the soft warmth of the tortillas against my fingers while I ate and drove, the air alive in grackles.

Taking It to the Street (50)

Last Saturday I spent the day selling books and bowls and all sorts of other things at my sidewalk sale. I called it that in the craigslist post because I liked the sound of it. We don’t have a sidewalk along this property, but I spread blankets and sheets over the gravel where the sidewalk would be if we had one, and I lined up my boxes of books, my Tupperware, my clothes. I swept the street the night before, and after my 11-hour stint that Saturday, I swept it again, feeling small chills as I moved the broom across the asphalt, the precursors of heat stroke, I imagined. So yesterday when the neighbor’s gardener blew a bunch of debris into the gutter in front of my home, I was already in that mode. I headed out with my broom again. I swept the blacktop and remembered how in Todos Santos, people would rake the dirt road in front of their property. They carved neat tracks in the sandy dirt, and in the dry seasons they would hose it down, the water poking holes in the tidy grooves the rake had made. Downtown, where the roads are paved, shopkeepers would wash the sidewalks in front of their stores with soapy water. I remember being surprised, at first, and yet it seemed so natural, so right. Of course, I thought. Claro que sí. Of course we should each tend our own little section of the street.

The DREAM Act (49)

I thought I’d read the DREAM Act had passed. But I just Googled it to confirm the details, and as far as I can tell it is still not law, even though it was introduced over a decade ago. But there does seem to be some kind of “deferred action” in place now with all the same basic parameters as the DREAM Act itself. If you are an immigrant who was under 16 when you came to this country, if you “have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years prior to June 15, 2012 and have been present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012,” if you were under 31 on June 15th of last year, if you are “currently in school, have graduated from high school, have a GED, or [are] an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or the U.S. Armed Forces,” and if you have not “been convicted of a felony offense, a ‘significant misdemeanor offense,’ three or more non-significant misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety,” then you can apply for the deferred action. It isn’t clear to me what exactly the deferred action will get you, but the requirements are similar to that of the DREAM Act, so I am guessing the results run along the same lines, too. The DREAM Act allows for a 6-year path to citizenship involving fulfilling certain educational or military requirements. I read about a $495 fee, as well. And while it dismays me that we have fought over this for more than a decade, I’m glad to know we have at least put something in place. I know this will make a big difference for many of my community college students.

But I couldn’t help but feel discouraged by the rules, can’t help wishing we could embrace these young people more completely. I can’t help but wonder if there is any option in place for people to work off their fees during the process. Do we offer payment plans? And I can’t help but think about the brother and sister who are age 30 and 32. My heart sinks at the thought of being so close and not being eligible. I can see that 32-year-old woman, her heart breaking that she missed the age cutoff. But I see her smiling at her brother six years from now, her heart proud, swelling for his big happiness, his big day, becoming a United States citizen. Could we leave her behind more fully, hurt her in any bigger way?

[Editor’s note: The website I quote is available here. And that last rule sounds like it’s open to all kinds of messy interpretation, hmm?]

Lake Chapala Nibbles on Its Edges (48)

When I lived in Ajijic, the lake flooded. It wasn’t the worst the village had lived through. People told me years before Lake Chapala came two blocks into town. The year I was there, she only swallowed the shoreline. But I remember the eery feeling I had seeing everything submerged. I used to be able to walk straight down Aldama from my hillside home, then walk along a dirt path that hugged the southern edge of the village beside the lake. All of that was submerged, even the cobblestones of my street disappearing into the water. I stood there for a long time listening to the lapping of the small waves, felt my mind twisting with the reality before it. I walked across town, approached the lake from the west.

basketball court submerged in the lake

egrets on the tennis court fence

flooding_don't bother the birds sign

I marveled at the way the basketball courts had vanished, the hoops sitting out in the water. The lake edged the tennis courts at the fence line as if by design. I watched the egrets sitting on the chain link, their unexpected furniture. The little sign asking people not to bother the birds was still visible, the tree it was posted beside surrounded by lake. Two people passed me on horseback, the horses legs churning up the mud. I cringed at what their hooves might find, hoped they wouldn’t be injured. It all made me glad I lived on the hillside, as often as I might have looked at homes nearer the lake with a certain longing. On the hillside, the thunder gods sat on our red tile roofs and laughed. But when the rains came, the rivers of our streets ran away from us. I stood watching the horses heading east where I couldn’t follow. I choose thunder, I thought.