A lazy cat napping on the sofa in the galería
a stray dog approaching, head down, tail swaying in an anticipated touch
the rooster that knows not the hands of the clock
the unexpected play of dolphins breaking the skin of the sea
This is the melody of Mexican life
-Wanda St.Hilaire/Of Love, Life and Journeys
September. In spite of summer temperatures, the leaves have begun to yellow with a littering of leaves and the slight chill in the air tells us autumn has begun. I love Calgary in the fall, but ever since a stupendous one-month September sojourn to Oaxaca, Mexico five years ago, as soon as the Labor Day weekend ends, I begin to yearn.
I chose Oaxaca for a writing vacation because of the rich history, the cuisine, the culture and indigenous diversity. My first day was an entrance into a holiday dreamscape and the following month, each day delivered a gift, like a little package tied in a bright bow.
My first few hours investigating the city centre, I met a young waiter named Abimael who was enthusiastically studying English. He offered to tutor me in Spanish for a trade of English lessons.
Every morning I wrote prolifically in a small café on the periphery of the zócalo, the large central plaza of the city, where seemingly everyone visited on a daily basis. After writing, I would sit in the middle of the square and read. Without fail, someone would come speak to me. I had deep and fascinating conversations with old Zapotec men, young Aztecs, professors, renegade lawyers, policemen, artists, and rogues, all in my broken Spanish, yet somehow communicating with clarity.
Each afternoon the flower-packed zócalo would fill with lovers of all ages and a haze of romance enveloped the square. Everywhere I turned, I’d find a couple in an embrace, kissing, looking into each other’s eyes or one with a head resting in the other’s lap.
Abimael and I visited the indigenous villages that surround the city on market days. In a place where time stands still, we feasted on huge Oaxaqueño tamales wrapped with banana leaves and stuffed with farm fresh chicken and dark brown mole sauce followed by homemade cactus ice cream (that we helped churn) while I taught English and he taught Spanish.
I took cooking classes in the kitchen of my dreams at a world-class school, Seasons of My Heart, in the countryside and another with a popular restaurateur in her quaint pensione with three lawyers from London.
The city was a heady wonderland of art, architecture, gastronomy and beguiling Oaxaqueños.
But aside from my fall dreams of colonial, old world Mexico, this is the season when I begin to plot, fantasize about, and visualize winter in my beloved Vallarta.
Mexican life is a vast collection of small things that make life worth living. What you value most is what makes life full and beautiful. Mexico, for me, embodies a sumptuous feast of what I hold dear.
Some visitors to Mexico find the lack of structure too disorienting because of what they are used to. I find it liberating. We don’t realize the constant stress we live under because we’re too busy to consider the implications and we’ve essentially mal-adapted to it.
One simple example: driving. Think about how the establishment monitors our every move.
Really think about it.
Cameras are on most streets and at many lights to catch us speeding or going through a yellow a millisecond too late. If we put lipstick on at a light, we can be charged. When we park, we need to gauge the exact amount of time we’ll need because if we don’t, a “KGB” truck driving around with a multitude of cameras affixed to it will flash a shot of our license plate and send us an automated ticket. Is this freedom?
Every week we lose a bit of liberty. Mexico, for now, is a free country–the way we once were. If I want to, I can ride around like a wild banshee in the back of a pick-up (and sometimes I want to). I can enjoy a drink in a park without being arrested and I can park a car without worrying about ninny parking Nazis. If I so choose, I can ride a bike with my hair blowing in the wind without being chased by a cop or walk a dog without dragging him around on a leash. I could even park a donkey on my doorstep!
Slow living …
It always amazes me that wandering about Vallarta can bring all kinds of delicious detours. There is not a lot of rushing or overfilled agendas and rather a lot of impromptu happenstances.
One day while strolling along the boardwalk, a friendly artisan I’d worked beside in the farmer’s market introduced me to a client. The client in turn asked me where I was headed.
“Can I join you?”
“¿Como no?” (Why not?)
Julia was an engaging woman from Chicago. We chatted and sipped lattes for a slow 4 hours as we watched a crimson sunset. A couple of days later, she invited me to her lovely Conchas Chinas (a cliff side neighborhood with a vista to die for) home for dinner.
Rather than sprinting through days, weeks and months, life is a slow tapestry of small, unexpected and unplanned pleasures woven together.
Sensual living …
While we rummage through the aisles at Safeway trying to find a piece of fruit that doesn’t taste like plastic, the harvest is abundant with heaps of sweet mangoes, plump papayas and ruby-red watermelons in the outdoor markets of Mexico. Fresh salsas and juices and handmade food abound everywhere.
Real life …
In all of my adulthood, I’ve never spent the quality of time with my mum as I did when we both spent winter in Mexico, she with her partner and me in the beautiful hilltop Casa Maraya. Two amigas, we flogged my books at the Sunday market in La Cruz together, tested out tasty food at new cafes and hopped rickety rack buses to San Sebastian and Rincon de Guayabitos.
In Mexico children play with sticks in the sand, content without an iPhone/iPod/iPad or big screen TV. Families gather to celebrate everything, traditions are upheld in loud, living color, and long lunches are spent with friends. There’s a sense of community and it’s a place where waiters and café owners remember you after one visit. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.
There’s something truly decadent and wildly delightful about living in sunshine and tropical nature in the middle of winter when you’re from the frigid prairies. No matter how long I’ve lived in it, I never acclimatize to snow and ice.
As we begin to bundle up in layers, boots, scarves and gloves, the humid storms have disappeared and the sun blooms in Vallarta with fresh temperatures and the beginning of a long, blue-sky season.
Walking the ocean side day by day is, without a doubt, grounding food for the soul. Spotting a whale glide past with intermittent blows of mist or catching a pair of playful dolphins entertaining the landlubbers brings a burst of indescribable joy.
Does life get any better than when your virtual office is a friendly outdoor café overlooking the ocean under a cloudless sky?
Mexico is not a masculine taskmaster who motivates with heavy-handed willpower. She is feminine. She gently inspires. She coaxes you to smile, to dance, to laugh, to play, to create and to love.
And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about Alfie?
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© Wanda St.Hilaire