“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
― Anaïs Nin
One Saturday morning in Mexico City I had a dental emergency and was forced to call a dentist who offered 24 hour service. It was 7 AM and she agreed to meet me by 9. The rather archaic looking office in the back of a building caused my husband and me to look at each other questioningly, but the pain was “exquisite” so in we went. After taking an X-ray, Dra. Blanca determined that the problem was beyond her scope of ability… but she knew an excellent endo-dentist. Since it would take some time for the reinforcements to arrive she suggested we go somewhere for breakfast together. On the way we stopped at a pharmacy where she got something to help me cope with the pain. We had a lovely time and when the specialist arrived I was feeling a bit better.
Back in the dentist chair I learned that I had an incomplete root canal. The end of one root was bifurcated and the extra tip had been missed when the original work was done. Now it had abscessed and was badly inflamed. I am a terrible patient and never let a dentist near me until a ½ valium has taken effect. There were none to be had so I would have to tough it out.
As they prepared the equipment my anxiety level escalated and I began having a panic attack. My husband has many excellent qualities but nurturing is not one of them. He suggested they just hit me over the head and get on with it but Dra. Blanca had a second career in psychotherapy. She played soothing music massaged my head and neck and spoke soothingly to me until I was sufficiently calm to begin treatment.
Due to the amount of inflammation they were unable to complete the work in one visit. This is a delicate procedure and if you perforate the membrane it can cause a mountain of trouble. They opened the office for me on a Sunday and again at 7AM on Monday morning trying to finish the job but it was still too inflamed to reach the extreme tip of the root. I was satisfied that at least most of the pain was gone by Monday afternoon when I caught the return flight to Huatulco
Two weeks later I had a phone call from Dra. Blanca, checking to make sure I was all right. In Canada I had the same dentist for 25 years and he had done a few root canals… he never once called me once to see how I was recovering. After living here for 14 years I am still impressed with the level of care and dedication by many medical professionals.
Well this was a while back but it is still a good story. In 1986 my future husband Larry Turk (boyfriend at the time) and I took off for a scuba diving trip to Cozumel. We flew through Los Angeles over the Christmas Holidays, and during the layover opted to visit my cousin. Although we had reservations on Mexicana, we were unaware that it was on a first come first serve basis, when we got back to the airport we took our places at the back of a very long line. We ultimately missed our flight. But our dive gear did not and so although we were able to get a series of connections that took us as far as Cancun that night we had no idea what happened to our very expensive and essential dive gear. We arrived the next day at the Cozumel airport and low and behold all our gear was intact sitting on the concrete in the middle of customs. On this same trip, diving with Aqua Safari and staying at the Maya Cozumel, Larry left his fishing gear at the hotel. We realized this upon returning to the US. With my limited Spanish at the time, and even more limited phone service, I reached the hotel staff and confirmed the gear was there. They assured us they would hold on to it until we returned, regardless of the date. All of it was there when we retuned the following year.
On our first trip to Oaxaca City we decided to avoid the inner city traffic and get an early start home. Along the way we stopped at a small roadside café in Tlacolula for a quick breakfast and continued into the town where we bought some coffee. About five hours later I realized my handbag was missing. I had left it hanging on the back of a chair in the café. Assuming it was still there my husband refused to drive back in order to retrieve it. There were a few hundred pesos in cash but my major concern was credit cards, passport and FM3. Thinking about what I would need to go though in order to replace my Mexican visa document was enough to give me nightmares.
Upon arriving home we discovered that the coffee we purchased came in a bag with the name and phone number of the company. Lacking in linguistic ability, I had my friend Freddy Marin called the coffee company to explain where we had left the bag. They knew the café and got back to us with a phone number. Freddy called the café and arranged for my hand bag to be sent by Estafeta. My handbag arrived within a few days complete with cash, documents and … also tucked inside was tiny gift of black pottery courtesy of the café owner!
A Bug, A Bag of Juice, and the End of the World
An American accompanied a Mexican on a shopping mission from Zipolite to Pochulta in a 1972 maroon Bug on December 20th, 2012, the day before the end of the world. Sunny. 100 degrees. 4pmish. The roads were pleasantly quiet. His bare feet worked the 3 pedals, hands directing us around the curves. Sky. Mountains. Palmas. Representing North America in its diversity, they arrived at La Bodega and met their Canadian friend.
A cart full of beans, rice, Clamato and an economy pack of toilet paper later, the three go —- gay, straight, married—–up the claustrophobic streets, through the herds of vegetable venders back to Zipolite. The Canadian spoke Spanish to the Mexican who spoke Spanglish to the American who didn´t understand French. The Mexican drove, while the Canadian and American passed Sabritones and bagged jugo through the piles of laundry on their laps, groceries from La Bodega, and the toilet paper, using the only hands available.
“Still afraid of the end of the world?” the Canadian asked the American.
“Haven´t thought about it in a while, but if I do die tomorrow, I wouldn´t change anything about what I did today.”
Mexico has many positives that lie in the eye of the beholder. There is something very real about the people and their day-to-day lives. Later that night, the Mexican and the American ate burgers and French fries under the stars and took a midnight dip in the Pacific…Oh, the Canadian didn´t join them, but he walked up to their table, grabbed a French fry, and said “Provecho,” before disappearing into the night.
I must confess that I haven’t read any of the ‘chicken soup’ books but I do know about the power of that particular comfort food, and I do know what comforts and heals me.
We’ve been coming to Huatulco for five years now and we’ve come to love it as a special place. This year we decided to arrive in early November rather than our usual January time. Everything was so green. The days and nights so cool. How wonderful.
Coming back is always such a joy. Re-connecting with the neighbourhood. Javier who fixed my sandals last year giving me more miles on my Spaldings. Janet who cuts my hair just the way I want. The baker who takes time off work to translate for the cushion man across the street. The young man with the beautiful smile who sells me my coffee beans. Gina at the laundry, the taco wagon right there, Felix with tamales across the street. And the locksmith who lets my husband into our condo in seconds when he forgets his keys! So many familiar faces. Such comfort.
We bought our condo in the centre of La Crucecita sight unseen – a story in itself. This is such a place of peace and calm – with the occasional human drama. The ‘spice’ in our tortilla soup.
This has been an eventful past two months. Most of the parades go past our place and I can hear them from the condo so sprint down to the street for the floats, the candy, the brass bands, the clowns and laugh out loud as I’m pelted with candy. The ease with which events transpire is amazing, a lesson in the belief that everything will work out. This week we had our first ever fiesta for the staff and their families. Over 60 of us conversing in our bad Spanish, playing with the children in the pool and feasting on the wonderful food. We all needed the fun of it, and the togetherness.
Tortilla soup for the soul indeed.
We had just circumnavigated one of the most notorious big city glorietas, La Minerva, in the heart of Guadalajara, a couple of times. We entered from Avenida Vallarta and sped round and round, shifting in concentric circles outward, crammed between delivery trucks and high speed taxis until we were dizzily spit out onto Lopez Mateos where we finally got a red light and shuddered to a stop.
Then ensued: “Why didn’t you move over when I said so,” “You didn’t give me enough warning,” “Didn’t you see that truck,” with accompanying hand gestures, flailing of arms, head swiveling – it looked as if we were conducting opposing Italian arias. Just as we were reaching a crescendo (“then YOU drive!,” “No, YOU read the map!”), right before us appeared the sunniest smile I’ve ever seen.
A little moon-faced boy wearing a size-too-small t-shirt, navel-baring shorts and worn cowboy boots rode happily atop a wheelbarrow full of yellow guayabas. His fingers splayed like a minstrel singer, he beamed and waved all the way across the street, looking me straight in the eye. He actually thought we were waving at him. I can hardly describe the shame I felt. Here we were, maniacally driving in circles in search of “stuff,” stuff, for God’s sake, insignificant stuff, and this little fellow was riding on a wheelbarrow full of fruit, and he was HAPPY. The light turned green; we crossed the intersection and miraculously discovered ourselves only half a block from our destination. As we parked, the heavens opened in a torrential downpour, and we ducked and ran to the shop stairs protected by an overhang. Seeking shelter as well, up trundled the wheelbarrow with its load of boy and guayabas, pushed by a slim young woman and guided by a somewhat bigger boy with a firm grip on one handle.
The bigger boy lifted the little one down from the pile of fruit, sat him on the steps and removed the tiny cowboy boots. From his pocket he produced nail clippers and proceeded to groom his little brother, who once in a while would look down at his hand or foot with a bit of concern, but then raise his head and beam that radiant grin.
I spoke to his mother, who knew a little English and not much Spanish, having been raised in a Nahuatl mountain village. She said she was happy to have the opportunity to practice her English, as she was learning both English and Spanish to get a good job so her boys could go to school. She said that for the present, selling guayabas earned a living, and she could keep her children with her while she worked.
We bought guayabas, bags and bags of them, paying more than was asked. The rain stopped and the little guy was lifted back onto the now much smaller pile of fruit. They all waved and pushed on, and we too went our own way.
We ate guayabas until we could eat no more, gave the rest away, and lost some under the seat of the car. Their pungent lemony musk wafted from hidden places for months.
Years later, I love the scent of guayabas. Like an olfactory boomerang, the scent returns the boy with the beautiful smile, his loving older brother, and their optimistic, intelligent, hardworking mother – a reminder of the really important “stuff.”