At Pachote Organic Market while sampling Mezcal, an alcoholic beverage made in Oaxaca from the agave plant, I met Juanita, a lovely Mexican-American woman, who was here visiting her daughter. We connected immediately and it turns out that after having one child in Guadalajara and three in LA, she lived for 30 some years in Highland Park…two blocks from where we lived while my husband was doing a pediatric internship and residency at LA County Hospital. We left a couple years before she moved in but her husband’s brother lives on Marmion Way…the same short street our next door neighbors moved to shortly before we left LA. Juanita has just left her husband and moved back to Mexico.
So, after meeting her daughter, Veronica, in her little casita north of the Zocalo, we all drove to a nearby hilltop overlooking a little valley to visit Willie, a Swiss expat, artist and industrial designer. He graciously served us avocado and tomatoes and grated carrots with lime and salt and we had a bowl of Veronica’s black beans. Besides designing lamps and such out of sticks of cane gleaned from the hills around him, Willie is helping an international organization design an eco lodge in the Sierra Madre mountains.
Veronica, born in Mexico but raised and educated in LA is teaching English to third graders. I get an insight into the teacher’s strike when she tells me her husband never went beyond primary school but was able to purchase a teaching permit. This permit can be held until he decides to retire…or just not teach anymore…and then the powerful Teacher’s Union will pay him retirement wages. He can pass the permit down to his children or sell it to someone else. My landlord, Gerardo, had told me that many of the teachers are not qualified so it was interesting to hear this story. Veronica is currently estranged from her husband…he is busy striking while she is supporting their one and a half and six year old children. The other side of the story.
That evening Juanita and I decided to go out dancing but when we found the club closed we walked up to the Zocalo to find other entertainment. We found a traditional music and dance performance called a Calendula in front of the Cathedral depicting political commentary…boys under huge 15 foot tall paper mache “bodies” swinging back and forth wildly out of control.
Then the fireworks started directly above us. It felt weird being seeing all the sparks rain down directly upon us…possibly dangerous I thought. The fireworks were being lit too close to the Cathedral and started bouncing wildly off the walls and roof instead of up in the air. Then all of a sudden fireworks began shooting horizontally at us and people stampeded backward. I looked over my shoulder and saw that the fireworks stand was on fire. Juanita and I ran smack into a vendor’s tent and fell but quickly helped each other up. All I could think of was the other stampedes I had heard of, but most of the people around us didn’t seem too concerned so there was no panic…they’ve seen this before I thought. So that was the end of that.
We got a cup of coffee further up Alcala St. and sat in front of another Cathedral listening to some boys drumming…and watching a fire-stick twirler…finally making our way home about midnight in the cool night air.
Then came another unexpected adventure. I turned on the stairway light just as I was reaching to put the key in the door when I noticed what I thought was a salamander hugging the wall by the doorknob. I touched him…expecting him to scurry up the wall but he didn’t move. Don’t touch it, Juanita quickly warned…it’s a scorpion! Big one!