After a year in Oaxaca Mexico I drove through Mexico City (without getting killed) to Queretaro where my old Mexican-American friend, Patsy and her husband Jose, were waiting for me. Patsy and Jose are in Mexico trying to get legal papers for him. Jose helped me get the car repaired and repainted and then Patsy and I took off for the Texas border. We crossed at the Columbia Friendship Bridge about 30 miles west of Loredo..a great option to the Loredo crossing. New, park-like, very few cars; bright friendly border guards. Think it was built as part of the NAFTA trade agreement…
Let me tell you, Texas is a BIG state with not much to see in it! Twelve hours later we hit Las Cruces, New Mexico. Then the next day we drove another twelve hours to Las Vegas where my oldest son, Greg, was awaiting our arrival and where we lounged in comfort and convenience. When Patsy and I went to Vons, a nearby clean orderly grocery store we flew in all directions…excitedly choosing yogurt WITH NO SUGAR, blueberries, raspberries, bagels, familiar cheese! Do you feel like you just crawled out of a hole, I asked Patsy. Yes, she agreed! No in-your-face corruption (just hidden), no late-night apprehensions, arrests and killings! No bullshit bureaucracies..at least not yet.
The next day Patsy flew to Portland Oregon and I stayed behind a couple days to enjoy Greg and a casual catered buffet dinner at his home with his friends…Andy, a Mexican ex-marine from LA and his fiance…two apparently very successful female real estate developers…Las Vegas being the real estate capital of the country at the moment…and the witty gay black caterer and his partner. And Greg’s very best friend…an Iranian anesthesiologist…and his sister. Around the pool that night, after a few lemon-drop martinis, we had a very spirited conversation about immigration…the black guys providing an added dimension to the debate. And best of all, a nice long telephone call from son Josh who was traveling through western China for a few weeks to sample the Sichuan cuisine before returning to Beijing where he is the chef de cuisine at one of the restaurants in the Hilton Hotel. Meanwhile, his wife Amy visited her family in the States during a month-long break from her job as a teacher of history in the International School. The next day Greg treated me to sushi…a belated birthday and mother’s day gift. That night we enjoyed a wonderful Lebanese dinner with Greg’s Iranian friend, Bob for short, who, Greg said, had to court his wife, who he met in London, for three years…he being Iranian and she being Lebanese…before the families would agree to let them marry. Their two small lively squealing children crawled all over Uncle Greg from the moment we arrived. A truly lovely family and I feel very privileged to have met them. And told Greg he should date Bob’s beautiful sister…
The night before I left Las Vegas Greg and I were invited to the home of the sister of his latest girlfriend, Vanessa. Vanessa’s mother, a lovely woman who joined us, is Costa Rican and her father Cuban. Needless to say, Las Vegas rivals New York City in it’s diversity. The next day I drove non-stop from Vegas to Salem…from 9am to 2:30am…never again.
I enjoyed a week with my son Doug who was waiting for me at the house in Salem…before his return thursday to his wife, Luk, in Thailand. Luk and Doug’s father, who lives south of Pattaya, were to join Doug in Bangkok today. In a couple days Doug and Luk will fly down to their home overlooking the Gulf of Thailand on Ko Samui.
Now, for me, it’s back to the reality of Oregon…few people on the streets, no Zocalo to meet friends over coffee to watch the latest march or music concert or candela…visual and auditory feasts. No pesky colorful vendors many of whom ended up my friends. I can even laugh now about the really old and ugly woman beggar who owns two apartment houses. And the guy who, after a drinking binge, makes everyone groan when he “sings” “Oaxaca, Oaxaca!” with his battered guitar. And the wandering trombone player, with his plump wife sitting faithfully on a stool next to him, who makes you plug your ears. Apparently no one has told him trombones aren’t supposed to be solo instruments. The two saxaphone players weren’t so bad…one better than the other who was always asking me “vamos a mi casa!” Right! And Jorge, the raboso vendor who knew everything about everyone. And the two retired one-eyed Viet Nam vets, the retired right-winger with a big heart who used to be the police chief in a small Colorado town and who has adopted a poor Oaxaca family to support. An eccentric police chief, he once did a traffic stop, he told me, with a big red clown’s nose attached to his face! The guy, with a Ph.D in French literature who lives on $70 a month and plays chess every day at five o’clock in front of the Cathedral after sitting all afternoon with one coffee in a sidewalk cafe. The Mexican kids, many of whom are excellent players, pay him 10 cents to use his chess board and clock…and many of whom just hang around to practice English with us. And they admire the tall, unusual gringo who voluntarily lives on so little. He would often walk me back to my apartment late at night after the Marimba Band had finished up in front of the Del Jardin Restaurant. Good times with my retired friend from San Francisco who arrived in Oaxaca on the same plane as me and helped me fill out my visa application. Bilingual, she had previously lived three years in Veracruz. She is helping facilitate the erection of FM community radio transmitters around the state. Community radios, although legal, are essentially enemies of the hated state governor. I worry for her. And Elvira, the soft-spoken Zapotec woman who organized a woman’s coffee bean collective. She travels five hours down from the mountains by bus to sell her coffee at the organic Pochote Market and stays thursdays and fridays overnight with this same friend before she goes back to her home at 5am Sunday morning. Lester, who was worried about his young son who was volunteering at the CIPO house…an indigenous volunteer organization, stayed with me two pleasurable weeks. And my gentle Swiss friend, Willy, an industrial engineer by training who is trying to make a living on the local economy by making incredible lamps out of debris from his backyard and as an eco-landscaper. I told him he could sell his lamps for hundreds in NYC. He wasn’t interested. Many good times with Charly from Canada who introduced me to Mica and Bardo…all coffee roasters…and in whose adobe home in Huayapam we enjoyed many delicious Sunday afternoon cenas. And the several visitors Charly met on Sweet Maria’s coffee home-roasting web site and sent down to visit Oaxaca. One of them, Jennifer, when I picked her and her husband up at the airport, said that I looked familiar and asked if I ever went to the Beanery in Salem where she used to work. Of course, I said! And Hector and Lulu, my landlords with a new baby, and eternally cheerful Adelina, the apartment maid, and her lively bright daughter Fernanda, who watched out for me and would never let anyone inside the courtyard gates that she didn’t know. Adelina makes $200 a month…so I am putting Fernanda through school…no big feat…only $30 a year for registration and another $20 for shoes. I will miss Adelina the most. And the friends who came and went in the other two apartments that were configured such that we could all talk to each other without leaving our apartments. Joe, a retired CPA from Chicago, who helped us organize the badly sung Norteno Christmas Party for the landlords and their families, twenty-something Canadians Ana and Steve, Roy and Eileen from San Francisco. Peter, a funny Australian guitarist and his wife Mirella who have come to live in Oaxaca. The two absolutely delightful woman interns I met at the Casa de los Amigos Guesthouse run by the Quakers in Mexico City who came to stay with me a few days. When I was in Chiang Mai Thailand, I used to go to a nearby guesthouse for a $2 buffet breakfast where I met “Sharkey”, a twenty-something firefighter from Eugene Oregon. He told me he used to live with a paraplegic Viet Nam vet in the mountains above Miahuatlan near Oaxaca City Mexico. So one night in the zocalo, when I met Judy, a friend of a paraplegic Viet Nam vet who lives in the mountains above Miahuatlan, I told her I had met Sharkey in Chiang Mai. “You know Sharkey?” she exclaimed. Small world indeed. And then there were the many wonderful long conversations with my anarchist friend, Max, also a classicist who enjoys high mass in the cathedral. Now, I’ll have time to read Mikhail Bakunin, Max. Sigh. Re-entry always the most difficult part.
Tags: Mexico, Nevada, New Mexico, Oaxaca, Oregon, Queretaro, Texas, USA