Sunday, November 23, 2008

Romance on the Waterfront

It was intrusive to take this shot, but I just had to. It illustrates so much of the story I want to tell. Like Mexican men and women together. Couples are very, very "touchy" by American standards. Even older couples who look to have been married a long time walk hand in hand. Or sometimes he'll give her a playful squeeze on the butt. Cute! Or like in this case, a full blown 100% smooch is fine, right in public. Every Mexican town square park (or garden, as they sometimes are called) has couples sitting on the pretty wrought iron benches making out. Other folks just ignore them, leaving them to their mutual pleasures. I usually yell, "Hey, get a room!" I don't really do that.

It came home dramatically to me last night as I sat in an Italian restaurant in Xalapa having a late-ish dinner. I sat on the outside patio and could look through a set of windows into the main dining area, the back room of the long and narrow restaurant. I felt like a peeping Tom or someone from an Alfred Hitchcock movie as I looked on. What else was I supposed to do? I was dining alone, no book, nothing to do as I waited on supper. So I did people watching. One of my favorite pastimes. So, as I was seated, I noticed the first couple seated at the table immediately in front of me through the windows....a young couple. Both of her hands in his stretched out across the table. Both leaning forward slightly, gazing into each others' eyes. Kind of sweet and mushy in a Doris Day movie kind of way. Then my dinner came and I focused on my fettucine. Somewhere along the way they got up and left, the table was cleared, and another couple was seated at the same table. (this is quite cinematic, isn't it?) This time, they appeared to be older American tourists. They ordered a bottle of wine. There was NO conversation whatsoever between the man and the woman. It appeared as though they'd said everything over the years that needed to be said. They studiously reviewed the menu. She looked off into the distance. He poured himself another glass of wine.

The two couples couldn't have been more different. Striking, really. But, of course, it's always problematic to generalize. There is plenty of domestic violence in Mexican homes, and the "macho" culture is still quite strong. Papa is always the boss.
I remember when I stayed with a family over in Guadalajara a couple of years ago while I was studying Spanish. After dinner, I went to help wash up the dishes. OH NO! Men were not allowed to do that. That was for the women and girls in the family. The men went to watch TV. But I don't judge cross-culturally. That's what's done here. And most couples seem pretty happy with it from what I've seen.

Which brings me to another manifestation of machismo culture: how women dress. I noticed today as I was sitting at my outdoor cafe for lunch. Woman dress up here. I mean really dress up. Tall high heels are not uncommon. They look uncomfortable as hell to me, especially if you have to navigate the uneven Mexican stone sidewalks and streets. Lots of gold jewelry. Hair always perfect. And tight, tight jeans or pants. It's as though the women are hyper-aware of being sexy. And their efforts at it are appreciated by the Mexican men. I've yet to not have a Mexican cab driver tell me how special the women are in HIS particular city. They're the finest!

The other part of this photo is the kids in the background in swimming suits. You might not be able to tell what they're doing, but they are diving for coins. Tourists throw 10-peso coins (about 80 cents) into the murky water right off the pier, and a half dozen of young kids dive in for it. Here's where I have to restrain myself from being judgmental. It's just the way it is here. To my sensibilities, it's demeaning for the kids and smacks of advantage-taking on the part of the (mostly Mexican) tourists. But the kids do it for the money. I'm not sure why it bothers me, but it does. Something seems out of kilter. But that's through the rose-colored glasses of a middle class American.