We’ve just passed through our second bout of culture shock in two weeks with our return home from Seattle to the little village where we live in México. A few notable experiences that highlight the differences:
Yesterday evening, a few hours off the plane on the way up to the cafe where we buy our coffee, I see a woman sitting on one of those ubiquitous white plastic chairs in a row of a half dozen others that are set out on the verge of cobblestoned Calle Castellanos. I nod and smile to her as I pass by on the narrow sidewalk, then glance through the wide opening (usually into a garage) that she is facing, past another, fully occupied row of chairs to a bank of funeral sprays—white lilies mostly and lots of greenery is my impression—fronted by a shiny casket. I feel a little—but not too—embarrassed (mostly because I was checking out her cleavage during what was revealed to be a solemn time) and mumble something I now forget, but I’m sure included the word “Dios”.
|A "rainbird", more properly known as a cicada, seems to |
presage the local rainy season with its very high-pitched call
that increases in frequency until lluvia begins to fall mid-June.
Photo found in Wikipedia.
As I gratefully stumble to bed (we were awakened at 2:30AM this same day so we could wait in TSA's line to have our privates inspected for explosive residue) I hear out the bedroom window, in the direction of the nearby montañas, the seasonal high-pitched trill of what we gringos call “rainbirds”. They get their name because around here that "song" begins, seemingly without fail, about a month before the rainy season starts in June. When we first heard the sound, almost exactly a year ago, I was sure it was some electrical anomaly. Neither a buzzing hot wire nor a bird, it is actually an insect, a cicada, and the noise is made by the male flexing a drum-like organ on its abdomen. As the weeks pass, more chicharras will join the chorus and the noise increase until the rains begin to fall in mid-June, and the sound slowly fades from memory.
This morning as we have our coffee on the balcony and the sun begins to rise, briefly coloring the rooftops, guayaba and palm trees shades of pink and orange, we hear a cacophony of bird calls: the irritatingly ever-present and onomatopoeically named kiskadees, an exponentially increasing throng of chattering swallows, harshly monikered grackles who use a wide range of chirrups, clicks and whistles to construct delightful and always changing songs, countless roosters crowing far and wide throughout the village, and the goofball chuckle of a turkey in the next block, plus a few travelers whose names we don’t know.
A little later, on my way to the early opening abarrotes to buy a bottle of water for our maid, I follow the guy who always wears a tattered sombrero and likes to sing loudly in the middle of the street. Today he’s also got on what looks like a bearskin vest, and is not singing but shouting a hearty hello to the few of us up and about at this hour. At the corner with Calle Colón another fellow is engaged in the traditional morning activity of throwing a basin of soapy water on the sidewalk in front of his store and brushing the suds onto the street. That's where I notice a few tiny, walnut-skinned Huichol women with their distinctive brightly embroidered blouses sitting on a stoop waiting p-a-t-i-e-n-t-l-y for a bus, and across the street an hombre who has evidently awakened to a flat tire is good-naturedly trying to raise it with a bicycle pump. On my way back with the agua pura the ladies are still there, the tire is at least no longer flat on the cobbles plus a friend has parked in the middle of the calle to give encouragement, and the sidewalk cleaner has moved into the street with his broom and dustpan.
On the way to breakfast we see our beggar in his early morning place on a bench in the plaza. He is a nice looking guy probably in his 50s, almost nattily dressed, often with a scarf around his neck for the morning chill. He only has one leg and the other he displays with the skin eaten away from the foot. We almost always give him ten pesos or so. Usually we see him after the bank has opened when he moves to a spot on the sidewalk right outside its door. Sometimes he puts his hand out twice in the same day. We open our mouths, bug out our eyes, shrug and raise our palms and eyebrows in mock outrage, and then we all laugh as we pass him by.