I’m riding my bike home from the laundromat on the path that runs along Highway 111 when two motorcycles fly past on the road. My body startles and cringes, shock to ears and cells and heart. “Why aren’t things like that outlawed?” I shout to the hot air as I push the pedals in the afternoon heat. “There’s no reason we should have to live with that kind of blaring, grating noise,” I say. I am only grumbling now, my heart finding its rhythm again. I want to live in a world without cars, I think for the fourth time this week. But is there such a place, one without sacrificing all connection to the modern world? If I flee to the country, there is still always a highway somewhere nearby, the steady background of engines and heavy masses moving past. Do any of our communities ban vehicles, the way some ban leaf blowers? If I had moved to Todos Santos ten years earlier, it would have still been a slumbering fishing village on the rise, only a thin ribbon of traffic on the highway marring the quiet. But when the burgeoning expatriate community started building their homes, the first thing the locals did with their money was buy big shiny pickup trucks. What would it have been like to make my way across town on the dirt roads there without a car in sight?
When I visited Guanajuato, I was thrilled to discover several blocks of their downtown closed to traffic. The streets were for us, for humans walking or climbing the crisscrossing stairways up the steep hillsides, the callejones that branched off all over the small city. I wanted to live there, stood for a long time in the middle of the road studying a house for rent and dreaming. And Ajijic was not a town with motorcycles screaming through it. The narrow cobblestone streets did not lend themselves to speeding. Instead, expats ambled past in golf carts, kids drove ATVs and somber middle-aged caballeros rode their horses, or practiced their parade gaits on a quiet street, the hard hooves ringing against the cobblestones, more music than noise. But here, where many of the surface streets have a 50 or 55 miles-per-hour limit, there are always huge blocks of steel hurtling past you. I shrug off my momentary terror at the motorcycles roaring past and the anger that followed it and keep my bike moving west, glad of the small buffer of palm trees between the highway and the bike path. All those loud chunks of heavy metal rocketing by are disconcerting, a constant looming threat to skin and bones. I wonder, not for the last time, if there is a village or an island in this world without cars I might one day call home. Maybe I need to give Guanajuato another look.
Dusk nears on the second day of my spring holiday, my first in ten years of teaching. I sit on the patio and move my pen across the page of my notebook to begin my first post for this new year of mine, 54 at 54–All Things Mexico. The task I have set for myself terrifies me, but I push the pen across the page anyway. My mind has been wandering paths as steep and twisting as the narrow callejones of Guanajuato, playing out possible topics for my blog, trying them out in my head. Why didn’t I document my time there, take vivid notes, photograph everything I loved? My fear about the course I have set for myself here makes the question come out harsh, anguished. Why didn’t I take pictures of the horses on the cobblestone streets in Ajijic? I would run to the balcony when I heard one passing by below. Why didn’t I record the sound their hooves made dancing on stone? I don’t have any pictures of the Wednesday market or the cemetery or the grackles roosting in the trees at twilight in the plaza. Why, I wonder, didn’t I photograph every doorway, every windowsill, every wall spilling bougainvillea on the street? Why didn’t I photograph every face I came to love, and all the textures and colors that layered themselves inside me, that have me missing Mexico like a river running through my California days?
Why didn’t I take more photographs, learn more words, record the stories and the history and the rumors that came my way? Is it because I was not yet a writer in the same way I am today? In part, I know that’s true. And I didn’t know one day I’d want to write a blog about this big love of mine. I was busy taking it all in, absorbing the way it felt inside me, this foreign country where I found such sweetness, such welcome, yet where I was still so much “the other,” my white americana self a sore thumb, standing out amidst the dark hair, the dark skin of the other people in the villages. I think in my usual way I paid more attention to emotions and interactions, to the nuances of finding my way in a culture so different from the one I grew up in. I didn’t document the details, not outer or inner, only let them pile up inside me. Now I am afraid I have set myself an impossible task, but it’s one I want very much to meet. And so, as the light wanes on my California evening, I take a deep breath and reach for trust. I will find ways to write about what I love. I have already begun. A bird I don’t know in the pine tree repeats one long sliding note. I take another breath, the pen loose now between my fingers, and I know dusk settles in Mexico in just this way.