BootsnAll Travel Network

Mexico: the plan

Gallo, Ansie, and I leave early tomorrow morning for Guanajuato/Leon airport. I can’t quite believe it. The idea was born in a Sugar Land, Texas coffee shop as Jake, an artist buddy of mine, talked about how hungry his eyes were for color and texture. I told him he should feast his eyes on Mexico; he said he doesn’t speak Spanish; and despite the fact that I speak it so badly it hardly even counts as speaking it at all, somehow we were on our way. I told Gallo (who really DOES speak Spanish), and he looked at his calendar and said he could go; and then I had lunch with Ansie (who took a course in conversational Spanish last semester), and she said she could go–and so, magically, we were four. Then Jake changed his mind. About a week ago I paused long enough to wonder what the hell I’m doing. I sat with the question for a little while and lapsed into a blank state of wonder. Life keeps on bringing surprises.

My first trip to Mexico was in 1975. Seth was a baby, still nursing, and we were living in a shack in the Louisiana bayou country, in an area called “French Settlement.” I was collecting welfare and food stamps and writing short stories and a master’s thesis. We were so poor sometimes I ate nothing but cucumbers from my landlord’s field for a week and supplemented Seth’s diet with saltine crackers, but when my income tax return came, I decided to blow the whole wad on a trip to Mexico. The first day, Seth and I got kidnapped by a guy named Homer Gamboa, whose mother I met on the bus down from Reynosa. It was the old lady who set up the kidnap, and I stumbled into it like a dumb fly headed right into her web. Homer moved a dresser in front of the door of the hotel room where he was holding me, and I somehow shifted the dresser and escaped, along with Seth in a baby backpack and a rather hefty suitcase, while Homer was taking a shower. I had a contact in the city, the sister-in-law of a friend in New Orleans, and I made it to her house in a cab. She and I laughed off the whole episode and were soon in the Zocalo listening to the band play the national anthem for the Benito Juarez Day celebration.

I guess I’ve been a dozen times more since then: to Jalapa, Palenque, Puebla, Oaxaca, Patzcuaro (the very names of the cities are a music in my mouth), Mexico City, the Caribbean (Cancun–a terrible mistake that seemed attractive in the middle of a Massachusetts winter), and several times to the very part of the country I’m going to this time: the central highlands, the old silver cities, the high thin air, the clear sunlight, the clouds of bouganvillea tumbling over walls where hard-working people have a way of life that is a celebration, a sacrament, a struggle, and a constant stream of ingenuity. So many Mexicos. So many stories. There was a time when I spoke better Spanish than I do now. Now I speak and understand just enough to get myself into trouble.

It’s a dance with possibility. I hear Mexico is awash in prosperity, that there’s a film set and a film company in little San Miguel de Allende, that things have changed for the better. I wonder. I think about the narrow margin by which their last election was taken by the right, and I wonder. This is also probably my farewell to Mexico. Grants or projects may lead to future travels, but I just don’t see myself going on vacation again. The Big Dream is to strip myself of all possessions but what will fit into one suitcase by December, use my 401K to pay off the debts, leave my daughter everything she wants, and give the rest away. After that…who knows? But probably no more trips like this one. Which makes this one all the more wonderful. What will it be?

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