Sunday, March 8, 2009
I'm staying at The Plaza Hotel. No, not that one (although I did stay at the Plaza in New York back in my travel agency days). This one is in Queretaro and is right on the town square. I've got my French doors open to the little balcony, and there is music floating in.
Not the hatefully loud commercial pop, which is pumped out by the clothing store directly underneath my room. Two 6-ft. tall speakers spill out onto the sidewalk in front of the shop. The bass woofer literally vibrates the floor and walls of my room, interfering with my afternoon nap (crabby gringo). No, tonight's music is from the Municipal Band and is being performed around the corner in the square.
So, I ran downstairs and stood in front of the lobby's open doors to listen. The music filled the air. As I was enjoying the pleasant music and delicious weather, I noticed on both sides of me couples smooching--one right in the middle of the sidewalk, the other actually in the street, standing between parked cars. These weren't little pecks-on-the-cheek-type kisses. They were the butt-grabbing, get-a-room variety. Not to be a voyeur (OK, I am), I'm relating this story because it illustrates how openly demonstrative most Mexicans are. The rest of the public just walks right by, ignoring what's not a big deal for them. It's a cultural norm.
Mexico is a very traditional, Catholic country. But you see LOTS of smooching. Plus couples of all ages walk hand in hand. I've noticed dozens of times ladies taking their husbands' arms as they walk through the park. If you've ever by mistake tuned into a Mexican telenovela on TV, you've seen some of that open emotion on display: hysterical crying, screaming, lots of romance, guys slugging it out. It portrays the uncovered emotion that's part of being Mexican.
Tonight, the band concert was ringed by folding chairs, all filled and then some. The open space in front of the conductor was left open (this was at ground level, not on the bandstand, which is being restored). In that open space, dozens of couples of all ages spontaneously got up and danced. Very sweet. Old men in Panama hats. Ladies with fans.
It's been a busy cultural weekend. Yesterday, I attended 3 events: a panel discussion on religious diversity--part of a month-long diversity series-- which included outlines of indigenous Mexican Indian beliefs, paganism, metaphysics, and African beliefs. That was in the Museum of the City. And--in the same museum--I caught a violin duet concert performed by two girls who are attending the Eastman School of Music in New York. Both are Russian, but one lived in Queretaro since she was seven. And after that, I walked over to the Garden of the Arts and took in an open tango (actually "milonga") dance session. Anyone who wanted to could grab a partner and give it a try (not me, I validate the saying that white guys can't dance). Some were quite accomplished. This dance with Argentine roots is one of my all-time favorites, defined by legs kicking in and out between the partner's, and dramatic footwork. One young couple, in their twenties, I'd guess, were among the most dedicated. They hardly got off the dance floor, she in sensible shoes, and long skirt; and he sporting two dark hickies on the side of his neck! That Mexican display of affection, again. The evening was a treat for all the senses with a handful of orange trees within the walled corner garden, all in bloom and scenting the air with the sweet smell of orange blossom.
Snapshot: city traffic police removing license plates of illegally parked cars. The not-too-pleased owners then have to "go downtown" to ransom their plates. It's one way to get scofflaws to pay traffic fines.
Snapshot: lunch today. In a "ostioneria" (which means "oyster shop") that was really a fish restaurant. I had the Special No. 1 which included a shrimp cocktail (I LOVE shrimp cocktails), fried fish filet, rice, salad, and a soda for approx. $5 U.S. Have you priced shrimp cocktails back home lately?
Snapshot: an every-night addiction, a fruit "paleta." It's more than just a popsicle. Last night I tried melon, and there were big chunks of cantaloupe in it. Tonight, it was strawberry, with bits of the fruit. These are made without milk, just fruit, water, and sugar. And super tasty!
Snapshot: Indian ladies seated squat on the sidewalk again the wall of a building, wrapped head and shoulder in a shawl, some holding babies, with a hand outstretched, begging for coins. It's not terribly common, but each time you see it, it makes you feel bad....to give or not to give.....each time. But, of course, it's not about what the giver feels, but what the receiver can do with the money. Other charity seekers I've encountered are itinerant musicians who walk into restaurants and start performing, then stop by each table for coins. And blind musicians on street corners. And today I saw a horribly deformed man who was in a wooden box on wheels, like a wood-sided children's wagon. He had no limbs, but a very enlarged head. He was at ground level right in the middle of the sidewalk in front of a major department store, I didn't see him at first and almost tripped over him. I share this only because of how Mexicans deal with this. It's all part of life. And they don't hide people away who are different.