Thursday, June 4, 2015

XXII. Un Rascaespalda y También la Cabeza

A Backscratcher and Also the Head

Yesterday I was returning from the tianguis—the street market where you can find all manner of goods except, evidently, the bread which continues to elude us. Anyway, I had picked up un regalo there, a gift for my soon-to-be-birthday-girl wife. To complete the present I had stopped by another location just off the busy highway—carretera—that bisects our little town, and I was heading home heavily laden.

Un rascaespaldas with vertebrae massager embedded in handle.
The missing tine is to make this also a double-duty tool for
pulling the high chain that controls the ceiling fan's speed.
Stopping to rest on this sunny, unusually humid day in the shade of Café Gran Café’s awning, I commented on the weather and the load I was carrying to a well-dressed older gringo woman who was waiting there for some reason I didn’t catch. We had exchanged a few pleasantries when my attention turned to a small mujer from whom I had purchased a bamboo backscratcher a day or two after we arrived here in Ajijic several weeks ago. Thirty pesos, if I remember correctly.

She was approaching from the plaza around the corner, backscratchers and tchotchkes in hand, followed by two much larger people—a couple in their fifties, a little sweaty and looking confused, ergo gringos. The little vendor woman latched onto me and I was about to give her the standard, “No, gracias” when it became clear there was something else afoot.

Numbers were being thrown about en español. It was a confusion about money. I noticed the heavy-set wife was clutching a woven purse similar to several others in the vendor’s hand. Possession of this was the point of contention, and I was suddenly both the interpreter and the expected advocate for both sides in a negotiation as old as commerce itself. 

I presume that I was chosen because of the impression I had made in that prior experience with the backscratcher.

Ciento ochenta,” the Mexican said. “A hundred eighty pesos”, I translated. “About twelve dollars”, I explained to the quizzical hombre blanco. I looked over to the elder (and I guess some might put me in that category as well) with whom I had been chatting a few minutes earlier, and suggested that her Spanish might be better than mine, but she shrugged and looked away. 

We went back and forth, the gringos looking for a bargain—as we’ve been taught to do with these people. It’s part of the game—we’ve been told—but for the relatively few items I’m interested in buying from street vendors, I usually pay the asking price, which is almost always incredibly borato, or inexpensive. Plus, I figure that I’ve been fortunate by birth and it’s good to spread a little of that luck around.

Anyway: down to one fifty, up to one seventy, and with each offer and counter offer in pesos I mentally divided by fifteen to give the rough dollar equivalent. We were stuck for a moment or two when the gringos expressed doubt they even had enough pesos. Where was the nearest currency exchange for their dollars, they queried. But I think that was a ruse. If so, it worked, and the vendor gave an offer in that tone of voice and a petulant expression that’s meant to express finality. A bargain was struck at one sixty—not quite $11, I translated.

My facilitator role in this bilingual exchange, as well as the recent and successful purchase of gifts for my wife, momentarily lifted my spirits and took my mind off the customs debacle over which I have been hassling and fretting the past couple of weeks. The day before I had found out that our household belongings—that we had had shipped here to Mexico, and for which we’d expected delivery soon after we arrived—we being summarily returned to Seattle. End of story.

Well, not really. We filed a claim for a refund of the cost of shipping—and are awaiting resolution of that—and we still have to decide what to do with the contents of those two boxes, most of which are feeling less and less necessary to our new life in Mexico. Fortunately, the helpful daughters back stateside have agreed to receive and house them for the nonce.

No comments:

Post a Comment