New Year’s, Too (40)

I don’t remember the noise of New Year’s Eve in Ajijic. But after October with the steady rotation of the statue of Guadalupe from church to church, rockets marking the progression every morning at 5am, and the two weeks of our saint’s festival, culminating in whole days of almost ceaseless explosions–not to mention having lived through the rainy season with the cascading thunder (!)–I am betting New Year’s Eve seemed quiet there in comparison.

Cobblestone street in Ajijic

I do remember walking through the village on New Year’s Day, spying the evidence of street fires in every neighborhood. Everything was rather impressively cleaned up, no trash or half-burned logs or even big ashes left in the road from the last embers. But you could see the charcoal remains dusting the cobblestones every block or two, and you could feel the quiet, everyone asleep after the big night. Later I learned from Ana they would make tamales and have a fire in front of their own house on Zapata. They would stay up all night, eating and drinking and enjoying each other, the family, the neighbors, nearby friends. Staying up all night seemed to be part of the tradition, though I didn’t ask why. One truly greets the new year that way, I am thinking, more than only marking midnight.

Now every year I picture them together in the street on New Year’s Eve, the firelight dancing on brown faces, dark shining hair. I imagine Rodolfo has made his pipián, and there is a big metal pot filled with homemade tamales, and the corn husk wrappers pile up beside it as the night moves toward the dawn. I can almost taste the masa, can almost hear them singing. Happy new year, everyone.

Salsa that Sings (17)

Sortera gave me some extra ripe heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market Saturday morning. “¿Para mi?” I asked, surprised, pleased. She nodded.

Para salsa.

Ah, muchas gracias,” I said. “¡Que bueno!” I thought for a moment. I big grin came over my face, the child who has figured out something wonderful. “Tengo chips!” I declared, and she smiled back at me. What luck.

I was so glad she offered them to me again. The last time I had hesitated, demurring, suggesting she might want to make salsa from them. (So dumb, this one—of course she could have all the tomatoes she wanted. This was her family’s business.) I know I upset her. I was able to convince her I’d love to have the tomatoes. But in Mexico there should not be any hesitation, only the resounding “Yes.” You accept all that’s offered.

I’m not sure I could ever learn to do that. I know when I lived there I turned things down, begged off because of my work, my lack of time. On New Year’s Eve in Todos Santos, I called Iris to tell her I wouldn’t be coming to their family celebration after all. I felt terrible about it, but I didn’t want to drive past all the bonfires in the streets, through all the fireworks. I was afraid, hid out at home instead. In Ajijic, I turned down more than one invitation to visit my neighbor Ramona, though I don’t think she ever took offense. I think I may have even bowed out once from attending the harvest celebration at the milpa, and I’d undo that in a heartbeat now if I could.

The truth is I was working a lot–too much still then, I think–so much of my time in Mexico spent at home, hunched over my laptop. Though that work allowed me to be living there, so my lament can’t be too strong. Still, I regret not learning more, not leaving with more knowledge, not bringing back more concrete memories. I wish I’d asked Ramona to show me how to make salsa in her molcajete, her basalt mortar. She worked for hours in her dark kitchen, making almost everything from scratch, filling the traditional female role for her big family. She would have been happy to teach me, I think. It would have given us something to do together, too, would have been better than our awkward but heartfelt greetings, our shy but regular exchanges of small gifts, our attempts at chatting when I say with her family in their living room.

And Rodolfo would have permitted me to watch him cook, I’m sure. I know he loved for me to get so much pleasure from what he prepared. I could have learned how to make pipian from a master. And when I made salsa from Sortera’s tomatoes now in my southern California home, even if I made it in the blender, it would sing to me of Mexico. Instead, it makes me miss it more.