When Fish Fly

parrot in glassFor myself, I like to take my sorrow into the shadow of old monasteries, my guilt into cloisters and under tapestries, and into the misericordes of unimaginable cantinas where sad faced potters and legless beggars drink at dawn, whose cold jonquil beauty one rediscovers in death.

Bleachhh. I have to say that Malcolm Lowry, author of these cheerful words in his 1947 novel ”Under the Volcano”, was a spectacular, Leaving-Las-Vegas, drink-yourself-to-death-in-exile type drunk. But he knew Mexico, knew it and loved it.

Returning to my own AA roots– something I do with alarming regularity when you consider the whole anonymity thing– there was an old babe sitting just inside the door of the room where I attended my first meeting. Sucking on a Virginia Slim and blowing out a cumulous formation of smoke, she looked me over and said “Sister, if you stick around, you won’t ever have to feel the way you feel again.” She was right. But she didn’t disclose some of the various appalling ways I would have to feel. It wouldn’t have made any difference if she had. Having been pretty much drunk for twenty years, I wasn’t in the habit of, er, “sitting” with my feelings, and had no frame of reference for some of the truly hideous emotional experiences I was in for as I battled my way into sobriety.

Many Norteamericanos have a similar blind spot when it comes to Mexican Culture. “Oh, we don’t want to change a thing. ” they say earnestly. “We’re the sort of folks who want to immerse ourselves in the real Mexico, not try to turn it into what we’re moving away from! If we didn’t want to embrace the local culture, we could just stay where we are!” This makes sense, and is always said with suitable contempt for the loud shirts that insist on eating Quarter Pounders with Cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner and calling all the waiters Pedro. Still, it’s a fact that until you’ve lived here, the best you can do is guess at the Mexican way of life. This usually results in the assumption that yes, Mexico is going to be different, but it will be different in a sort of lateral way. There’s a tendency to subconciously believe that adapting to Mexico is going to involve buying your meat from the ye olde El Butcher, instead of the supermarket.

But when new arrivals see the acres of plastic Chinese shit that passes for a street market instead of brightly colored papier mache folk art, or when they have to pick their way across Raoul lying prone on the sidewalk in a manner that would suggest foul play in the States, but here means only that he felt like sleeping, or when they see that the butcher shop involves more carcasses and flies and less crisp white aprons, they miss the Mexican culture that they had been counting on, and which isn’t here.

I was the same way, prepared to be perfectly broadminded, as long as it didn’t involve cheap or disgusting. Unfortunately, when measured against the gleaming hygenic dunes and drifts of the American retail experience, every country in the world is going to come up short, so the only option is to stay home, or find a different way to measure. flying fishTry measuring by human connection, and Mexico comes up pretty well. It actually comes up amazingly and miraculously well, to tell the truth.

I guess I’ve gotten used to that as the yardstick, and I have come to be willing to trade in sparkling public bathrooms for friendly greetings from strangers. Here in Ajijic, and Lakeside in general, we have our own universe, a unique hybrid that is the result of Gringos having been here for several generations. Neither all Gringo or all Mexican, it is a blend of both. The results are not easily described, and it isn’t always the best of both worlds living side by side, although it certainly does include that. It reveals itself in surprising ways, as unpredictable as mixing DNA from a fish and a parrot in a petri dish and trying to guess what will happen. You can hope for a fish that flies, but you might get one that talks instead. And you have to admit, it may not be what you planned on. It may not be what you hoped for. But a talking fish is cool.

In the end, if you are like me, Mexico will get under your skin. Like Malcolm Lowry, too, who also wrote; “He upon whose heart the dust of Mexico has lain will find no peace in any other land.”

Elliott Joachim pulled the plug on life in Metro D.C. and headed South of the Border. In her blog, Lifestyle Refugee (honey, what the hell are we doing in Mexico), she regales you with how a middle range baby boomer builds a new life in Ajijic.

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