Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hasta La Vista, Queretaro

Tomorrow, I get up early and take a 3 hour bus ride to the Mexico City airport, jump on a plane and take a 3 hour flight to Phoenix. I'll be exhausted by the time I get in.
But I'll be back.

Note I didn't say "home." I'm not quite sure where home is these days, Phoenix or Mexico. It's like the first few years after I moved to Phoenix, I had a recurring dream in which I was lost, floating somewhere between Chicago and Phoenix. I was in one city, then another, never quite clear where I was supposed to be. Maybe I'm just a gypsy.

I feel a little ambivalent right now--sorry to be leaving Queretaro, which I've enjoyed enormously, but happy to be going back to Phoenix and seeing old friends. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that having a little dose of America will be nice. There is a certain comfort in speaking your native language and operating in your native currency, in not worrying about cultural differences. That said, I'm pretty comfortable with the Mexican culture at this point.

Today, in the way of cultural "decompression," I went to the mall here in Queretaro. I walked through Sears (it's a high class store here), stopped in a Radio Shack and The Body Shop, and had Chinese food in the food court. I could have been in any mall in the U.S. Except for the guards at the mall entrance in full military garb and serious arms. That, I'll never be able to get used to.

How I got to the mall demonstrates the manner in which I've learned to sort of step off the cliff. I asked the desk clerk how to get there. "Oh, it's a long way away. Too far to walk. You need to take a cab." "Can I catch a bus?" "Yeah, over on Zaragoza." So I walked over to the bus stop on Zaragoza. About 10 went by. Then I asked one driver if he went to the mall. "Liverpool? (the major department store)" "Yes, the mall with Liverpool." So I got on. So far, so easy. But, of course, I've never been to that part of town and have no idea of where to get off. So, I'm watching like a hawk. After about 20 minutes, as we turn, the driver tells me, "it's around the corner." "Do I get off here or the next stop?" He doesn't answer. So, I assume it's the next stop....until the bus pulls away and I see the big shining Liverpool store and the mall off to our right. The bus then goes up, onto a big spaghetti bowl of interstate highway underpasses and overpasses, cloverleaves, etc. I'm thinking I'll end up in Cleveland. Finally, the bus doubles back, and I can see the mall off in the distance. Don't have to ask me twice, I jump off the bus. So, I slog across a big empty parking lot (for the bull ring), across a residential street, and 8-lane freeway between me and the mall.

OK, now your thinking, "he didn't, he wouldn't." Yep, I did. Inspired by a Mexican guy with an armload of something who crossed in front of me, I found a gap in the chain link fence, waited until traffic cleared and ran out to the median island. Waited some more, and crossed 4 more lanes of traffic as I made it to the other side and the mall. There's a spirit of adventure! (and a certain level of stupidity, I suppose). I set off for the mall with a high level of uncertainty about how I was going to get there, and no idea of how I'd get back. Luckily, there was a taxi waiting outside the mall, and I jumped in to get back home. But this story illustrates how "loosey-goosey" you get down here. If at first you don't succeed, try another way.
Some things I'll remember about my time in Queretaro:
1. a little monkey named "Rodrigo" (that's also my name, translated into Spanish) who was staying at the shelter for abused kids. About 6 years old. Always looking to get into trouble, and a wicked sense of humor. The whole group would sit down for lunch, say a unison prayer, then Rodrigo would take a deep gulp of air and let out a spectacular belch that could be heard across the cafeteria. You gotta love a kid like that. He'll go far it life.

2. the counter lady at the gazpacho shop. She was the one who chopped all the fresh fruit that went into the mixed fruit and juice cup. She asked where I was from. "Phoenix." "Me, too," she said. She'd crossed the border illegally to work and still has a son and daughter-in-law over there. She told me of how she'd crossed the Arizona desert to get to Phoenix (hundreds die every year doing the same). "Can you help me get a work visa?," she asked, "I want to see my son. I need to make some more money." I don't know how I could help.

3. kind little courtesies. For example, when folks leave a restaurant, they say, "Buen provecho" (enjoy your meal) to the other diners (who they don't know), as they walk out. Nice. Or clerks in shops who, when you say "gracias," respond, "para servirle" (I'm here to serve you).

4. Concerts almost every night. Mostly free. The city really supports the arts here, and--as a result--everyone partakes. It seems to me that's the way it should be. Last night, I went to a medical fundraiser ($5.60 tickets) for a respected Maestro of the guitar, and elderly gentleman who had studied with Andres Segovia in Spain. Several of his musician friends did numbers, then he came out on stage--elderly, stooped, but with an amazing spirit. He did a flamenco number that made sparks fly from the guitar. And the audience gave him so much love. Nice.

So, Ill be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks. But in the meanwhile, this thought from Mark Twain:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."