Sick unto death

catrinaFOR MANY years before relocating to Mexico, I was a big fan of the Day of the Dead tradition. In my Houston condo, I had a ceramic Catrina on my bathroom counter, one that a Mexican crafts store outrageously overcharged me for, which I didn’t know then.

It had been marked up about 10 times. Double is the norm. Those crafty Mexicans.

By pure dumb luck I settled in one of the two most popular and highly publicized towns in the entire republic for Los Muertos, as the Day of the Dead is commonly known in Mexico. The other is Oaxaca.

This really tickled me 19 years ago. Now I’m just ticked off. The tourist mobs have grown to stunning levels and, for that reason, this year we are fleeing for the first time.

We’re riding a bus to Guadalajara late next week.

I have not been to Guadalajara since 2000. Our mountaintop town is located about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City. Actually, it’s a bit closer to Guadalajara. In spite of that, I have visited Mexico City a gadzillion times, and I have not returned to Guadalajara since my mother (R.I.P.) and my sister visited in that long-ago summer. I picked them up at the airport there, and then returned them a week later.

We’ll be staying in a downtown hotel that’s two blocks from the Hotel Morales, which is where I stayed three nights after flying to Guadalajara from Atlanta on January 19, 2000. It’ll be fun to take a peek into there for ole times sake. I tried to book a room at the Morales, but nothing was available for the dates of our visit.

We’ll be visiting the famous zoo and eating some Vietnamese pho, which I love. Other than those two things, nothing much is planned. We’ll just wander around. This will be our first trip to someplace “new” since our 2013 visit to Mérida. We don’t travel much.

What I remember most about Guadalajara is the atrocious quantity of pigeons that pollute the downtown plazas. I’m not a fan of pigeons, nasty birds.

But there will probably be more tourists here next weekend than there are pigeons soiling the center of Guadalajara. Gotta pick your poisons.

A decade gone by

2014-01-10-The-TENIT WAS 10 YEARS ago about now when I was last in the United States. I don’t recall if it was just before or just after Obama’s first inauguration. I prefer to think it was before, so I can say I never set foot in Weepy Barry’s America.

There was no Black Lives Matter or Antifa, and SJW had not been invented yet. There was social strife and victimhood because multiculturalism had been boneheadedly promoted long before I departed, but nowhere near the absurd level that now exists. But I had never voted Republican.

My Democrats were not rioting in the streets. Nor were they prone to hysterics. They were more sensible people.

Visiting outside your native land is a strange sensation. Living in a world so different than that which sprouted you is odder still. Though I’m a Mexican citizen and almost never speak English, I don’t fit in below the border.

I just have to live with that. A price to pay, well worth it.

Quite a few Americans live in Mexico. The Mexican government puts the number at around 750,000, though you see much higher numbers on the internet, stated by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

From what I read on internet forums, etc., most Americans (expats, a term I never apply to myself) in Mexico visit their homeland on a regular basis, as do Canadians. It’s like a siren call, but I’m deaf to it.

There are reasons. One is it’s very expensive up there. Two is that America has become a disappointment to me. (Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently described contemporary American culture as vulgar and slipping into moral relativism.) Three is that it’s dangerous up there. Four is there’s nothing above the border that I need.

The last time I left Mexico was in 2012 when we flew to Cuba, which is a miserable place, but it was interesting. We’ll never do that again.

The last time I was in my old hometown of Houston was either 2007 or 2008. It had changed a lot since I left in January 2000. I imagine I would be flabbergasted to see it now.

Like San Miguel de Allende, where no more Mexicans live, Houston might be the flip side, where no more Americans live, just Mexicans.

And the last visit to another old hometown, New Orleans, was 2006, about a year after Hurricane Katrina. The city was a mess.

There are some things I miss about America. Fall foliage in Atlanta. Floating in the crystal clear Sabinal River in the Hill Country of Texas not far from the town of Utopia. Hot bowls of Vietnamese pho in Houston.

But America lacks some things I enjoy here. Cows on highway overpasses. The bray of burros in the distance or just down the street. Dogs on house roofs. Real cobblestone streets. Inexpensive living. Gonging of the church bell from the plaza. Hummingbirds sitting on my aloe vera.

Lovely brown-skinned babes. One of whom I married.

I cannot imagine I’ll ever visit the United States again. When I left America I was a youngster of 55, wet behind the ears. Later this year, I’ll turn 75, mold behind the ears. It’s been quite a ride.

Death, a constant presence

THE OLDER you get, the closer to death you are and the more death you witness in one way or another.

In my years here on this Mexican mountaintop, plenty of people I’ve known have died.

The brother-in-law, of course. He killed himself unintentionally with a small-caliber pistol that he aimed too close to his heart.

Long ago, there was an old fellow named Charlie who drove around town in a rattletrap Volkswagen Bug the color of a bluebird. Every time he saw me, he asked: Are you still here?

And I always was.

Once Charlie was having lunch at a sidewalk table outside a restaurant on the main plaza when a car pulled up and thugs got out. They walked by Charlie, went into the restaurant, grabbed a man, tossed him into the car trunk and drove off.

They were rivals from narco gangs. This all happened right next to Charlie who didn’t bat an eye. He later said he thought the guys in the car were cops. But they were not. Charlie is gone now, a natural demise. He’s not here.

But I still am.

There was another fellow. He was quite fond of my child bride, and he often would sit with us Saturday afternoons during the weekly pastry sales that my wife did then and still does now.

He was a nervous man, gay, quite smart, about 50 years old, but very nice. We enjoyed his company. He was a Cárdenas, a descendent of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas. One day we heard he died under questionable circumstances.

Then there was the wonderful Al Kinnison. I loved that guy. He was almost like a father to me. When he died here in 2005 at the age of 79, I wrote a tribute to him. And I miss him still. His wife, Jean, preceded him into the unknown a year or two before.

Almost two years ago, a nephew died at age 31 of cancer. We had driven him almost weekly for a year to the state capital for chemo treatments, to no avail. He left a wife named Alma (soul) and two small children.

Last May, a second brother-in-law died. A heart attack in his early 50s. He was a younger sibling of my wife. No one had a clue about his health issue, so his death came out of the blue.

And very recently, two more. One was an old man we knew fairly well. The other was a young boy we knew far less well but who had impressed us mightily the last few years.

Almost every Saturday, before heading downtown for our pastry sale, we eat lunch at a very humble, roasted-chicken eatery on the highway near the Hacienda. The family business started about three years ago in exceedingly low-rent surroundings. A small dark room with a couple of metal tables and chairs.

A father, mother, two children and a granny who made the tortillas by hand.

The father roasted the chickens on wooden stakes stuck vertically into glowing coals which were spread directly on the ground outside. He also cooked chorizo and ribs in the same way. He is a very serious young man whom I’ve seen smile just once.

His wife is far more outgoing, a young, happy woman who looks in her late 30s. The husband is about the same age. The children were a daughter about 7 and a son, 16.

They toil seven days a week.

The food they sell is excellent, and the business grew. Last spring they moved a few doors in the other direction to a larger, less gloomy location, but the roof consists of log beams and a plastic cover. That’s what keeps the rain at bay.

My wife and I always noticed the boy. He was tall, good-looking, clean-cut, polite, attentive to the needs of both customers and his parents. He seemed like a great kid, the sort of son anyone would be proud of, and they were proud of him.

He did home deliveries on a small Honda motorcycle. He was killed on that bike two weeks ago. This is what tragedies are made of. We learned of that last Saturday.

Last week, Michael Warshauer died. He and his wife, Susie, came to our house not long after they moved to the mountaintop in 2005. Mike was a superlative cook, and I had mentioned that I missed Vietnamese pho soup, which I often ate in Houston.

Mike and Susie visited, and Mike made pho. It was good. Not quite what the Vietnamese served in Houston due to the lack of some ingredients hereabouts, but it was a stellar effort. The inimitable Jennifer Rose has written an excellent tribute to Mike, which you can see here.

She did it far better than I could have.

R.I.P., Mike, and to all of the others I mentioned or, as it’s written in Spanish, Q.E.P.D.

Perhaps I won’t be far behind you. Have pho prepared, please. Fixings shouldn’t be an issue up there. And I’ve heard good things about your chocolate eclairs. That too would be appreciated. I adore eclairs.

Thanks in advance.