Fred Becomes Hacendado!
Biggest Event Since Flagellum Circumnavigates World
March 9, 2006
Ha! Vi and I just closed on a house in Jocotepec, the only remaining Mexican town on the north shore of Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara. We’re going to call it The Pancho Villa. It has a big ratty-looking walled-in yard with gynormous twisted orange trees, probably planted by Methuselah’s granddaddy, that drop oranges all over the place without regard to environmental piety. Flowers erupt everywhere, never asking permission. It’s wonderful. I hate trimmed gardens. They remind me of the kind of over-organized desk that I associate with compulsive hand-washers.
On top is a mirador, which means a concrete place like a tennis court that lost its net. You can sit up there in the wind and sun and watch large brown mountains lolling about. Or you can fall off it. We’re going to put in a railing, though. You can also watch sunsets, which are showy hereabouts, or thunderstorms and get electrocuted.
The Pancho Villa is in almost the last street of houses short of the mountains so in the mornings you hear roosters propositioning hens. Burros yell “Eeeeeeeeeeeee-honk!” like hairy saxophones. If you want a burro here, you just get one and put it where you think it ought to be. You don’t need a rabies card, farm-animal zoning, and a federal license saying that you know how to operate a burro.
The lady from whom we bought it (and she is a lady, in the almost-forgotten sense of the word) is an Englishwoman of the generation that fought WWII. They don’t make those any longer, but ought to. Since the furnishings come with the house, it was great to find that her taste was also our taste. Maybe it feels like home to me because I grew up on Kipling and Alice and suchlike British tales.
Now, I get mail saying, “What’s it like to live in Mexico, Fred? Isn’t it full of, you know, deadly viruses?” Well, yes, but they’re optional. If you buy a little plastic bucket of yogurt, an envelope comes with it that says, “Deadly Viruses.” You don’t have to eat them. You can give them to a passing child.
Anyway, life in Messico. The country still works on a distributed paradiggem. That means that if you want a quart of milk, you walk a block to where there’s a little Pedro-and-Maria store that probably used to be a living room and now it’s a store. If you want a donut, you walk two blocks in another direction to the bread shop. You tell Conchis that you want two of those gre-t-t big ones with clumps of maple sugar or something on top and you chat with her a bit because that’s how it’s done. Then you go back home and chomp on them.
See, it’s because Mexico is still primitive. Pretty soon it will get modern. Then it will have a shopping center three miles out of town with a Mall-Wart that will close down all the little shops in Joco. Then you will drive fifteen minutes, fight other angry unhappy people for a parking spot, and save seven cents on your donut. And maybe die on the way back, trying to eat a donut while using a cell phone. (Every cloud….)
We’ve all heard old guys talking about how great it was to live in little towns out of Norman Rockwell (or, as I guess it would be here, Piedrapozo). Well, it was great. Not too dynamic maybe, but especially swell for kids. A lot of Mexico is still like that. In the US the most important things are efficiency and making money, which is why it is real efficient and has lots of money and all sorts of technology. There is a definite upside to money.
Mexico isn’t so hot at any of those things, but it has a certain livability to it. It’s more personal. Most parents recognize their children on sight, people know each other, and towns go in for huge seething festivals for their patron saints, or because it’s Easter, or maybe just Wednesday. A Mexican doesn’t need much prodding to launch a fiesta. In Joco on fiesta nights the plaza is so jammed that it takes twenty minutes to cross it. You’ve got three bands going at once and kids on dad’s shoulders and fireworks fizzing and whirling on tall wicker castillos. Most of it would be illegal up north. So would everything else, though. Consistency is a Nordic virtue, much overrated. There has to be a reason why intelligent people want to live with so many rules, but I don't know what it is.
There’s a relaxed feel to things here. If you want to ingest a brew, you can sit on the sidewalk (in a chair) at the beer joint on the plaza and watch Mexico go by, mostly on motor-scooters or cuatrimotos, those four-wheeled things that roll over and crush you. Kids of about nine drive them, but not where they can roll over. The girl-watching is excellent, the women not given to scatological demonstrations of morbid virility. Joco reminds me of Athens, Alabama, in 1957.
Not everybody would like it. If you are the kind of pedestrianly lordly (can you be that?) and meddlesome retiree who really wants to live in suburban Lauderdale but can’t afford it, don’t come here. Go to Lauderdale. Live under a bush. Better yet, play in traffic. You wouldn’t like Joco.
A lot of the streets aren’t paved. There’s burro traffic, and horses. They would probably give you germs. There aren’t any anti-smoking regulations. The second-hand smoke would make you crump from cancer before you could whip out your EPA-approved mini-oxygen set, and probably dissolve the paint from your car.
Actually, there aren’t many regulations of any kind. Everything is disordered, and people take care of themselves. If you want a beer, you go to the beer store, where the owner’s kids will be playing inside, and no one will arrest the owner. Not nearly enough things are illegal here to suit the emerging North American taste. Try Canada.
We move in on the 28th. There will be a most disreputable party. People will dance on the mirador and fall on their heads. There will be ribs and tequila (which sounds unnatural, but we’ll do it anyway). I’m going to get a shack and put a serf in it so we can be authentic hacendados. (What do serfs eat, I wonder?) What with barbecue and ruckus juice and socially deviant behavior, no one will make it to work the next day. But no one would have anyway.