Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Perfect First Entry

Today (25 July 2008) was pretty damn good.

I woke up early planning to run in the park, but a quick glance outside at the rain and general ugliness changed that plan real quick. Rather than burning caloris, I decided to consume them in bed--fresh, warm mimi-packcakes from a street vendor around the corner from my hotel.

By midday it had stopped raining and a few rays of sun started to cut through the clouds. I went for a walk through the colonial down town of San Luis Potosí. The capital of the state of San Luis Postosí has too many charming plazas to name and even more boroque-style churches accented with ornate designs that are so characteristic of Latin American churches (Catholic Missionaries "indigenized" the religion to suit the native cultures). They are pretty, but not too exceptional. I can only appreciate the beauty of a church for so long before my mind wanders. Even less exceptional was receiving a nasty email sent with nasty intentions.

I took another long walk to clear my head. I told mysefl that something so trite and petty from so far away was nothing to get worked up about. I was right. Conforted by a cup of cubed pineapple sprinkled with chili pepper and fresh lime, I sat down in the large city park. Something was strange about this park. People were looking...

Now people had been looking at me with curiosity since I had arrived. This was to be expected, as I was one of the few gringos in town (apparently most trourists skip the section on San Luis Potosí in their guide books). Stares of curiosity neither annoy me nor make me feel uncomfortable. Those of you who have ever walked the streets with me know that I am no stranger to looks and stares. But the looks I was getting in this park were different. I was at ease. I felt familiar territory. They even made me feel comfortable. No, I told myself, it can`t be. I`m just imagining things. But then I saw a man in his 50s, very discretely, pick up a young trick. I did not imagine that!

I had found the crusing hot-spot of the colonial San Luis Potosí in less than 24 hgous. Leave it to me--it`s my gift.

Spying on the older gentleman`s and the young taxi-boy´s interaction was something of an intrusion, I admit. (And I am certainly not going to get into the ethics or morals of what I saw). But it intrigued me, and it was the start of an unforgettable day.

After some additional people watching in the park, I continued to explore the city. It was a Friday afternoon and I felt the anticipation for the weekend in the air. It seemed as if in every plaza and in front of every double-towered church there were young girls in poofy bright pink or red or yellow dresses celebrating their quiciñeras.

It was while walking by one of the birthday girls, posing so her proud father could take a photo, that I met Jonathan. He startled me from behind when he cheerfully said hola! ¿No te vi por aca sacando fotos hace un poco? (Didn`t I see you around here taking photos earlier?). Uuhh sí, puede ser (yeah...I guess so), I replied, wondering what the hell this kid wanted and why he remembered me from earlier in the day. (Was he following me? Or do I just stick out that much?). My suspiscions, however, quickly vanished as he smiled and made small talk as we walked down the street.

He was friendly, flirty, and wondering what I was doing walking around in his town all by myself. He told me that he visited Chicago once, but he didn`t like it. I asked him why not and he responded because there was nothing colonial about it--it didn`t feel like San Luis Potosí para nada. He was surprised that he was the first Posotino (one who is from San Luis Potosí) to introduce himself. I told him that I had only been there for a day, but he was nonetheless concerned that I would leave with a bad impression of the people of his city. I told him not to worry, that even a smile is more warmth than the average two strangers share with one another in Washington, DC. We said our goodbyes outside of a museum he had led me to. He appologetically said he couldn`t accompany inside me because he was late to meet a friend.

Inside the museum I chuckled to myself about how I just got hit on by a 16 year old (oh yeah, did I mention he was 16?). I was also beginning to wonder where the museum got off charging US$3.50 to look at a bunch of photographs taken by a recently dead German ethnographer when the security garud asked me how I was liking the exhibit.

Oh...muy interesante, I lied. She smiled proudly and asked me where I was from. We made small talk. She was also very concerned about what I thought about the people of San Luis Potosí, but was reassured when I told her that I couldn´t expect to meet nicer people anywhere. Her curisotiy extended to why anyone would choose to travel alone, sin familia ni amigos. She offered to fix that for the time being and jokingly ordered me to wait until her shift was over so she could take me out drinking. (At least I think she was joking). After posing for a picture that she took with her camera phone, I said chau, hasta luego, and left, grinnign and thinking that there could be no nicer people than the Posotinos.

By evening traffic in the narrow, cobblestone streets of el centro was at a stand-still. There were simply too many people walking about--families with ice cream cones and teenagers meeting up with their friends. I could physically feel the jovial spirit in the air (and the continued familiar smiles and head nods from high school boys kep my laughing)--where am I? The usual European and Gringo backpackers were replaced by young Posotino punks, complete with jet-black mohawks, skinny jeans, thick black eyeliner, and revolutionary stickers on their worn-out skateboards. I headed back to the park (the cruising park) to read before finding dinner. It was there that I met two more interesting characters.

The first was a man in his late 40s or early 50s. He walked by with a rickety bike and paused to ask me the time. In the basket attached to his handlebars he kept a bag of food scraps (most likely salvaged from various city trash cans) for his dog (named George Bush) who limped behind him soberly. Ther conversation that I had with him was positively the most interesting and frank conversation I have had with anyone in Mexico. People passing by looked at us uncomfortably, almost embarressed. They most likely assumed that he was bothering me, asking me for money (which I admit was my gringo assumption when he first approached me), and they paused as if to give me time to ask them for help.

But he was mostly interested in talking politics. He had lived in Texas for 10 years and very much liked it. He worked sin papeles (undocumented), and, to my surprise, found most people living in the US to be very likable--he even claimed that 99% of people who worked in law enforcement were buena gente. He was also a very bitter man. He talked abou the class and cultural divide between Chicanos and Mexicanos, and he wanted to remind the Chicancos that most likely their parents or grandparents were also mojados (mojado--wet back--is a derogatory term referring to economic migrants/refugees who travel north to work in the fields. They get their "backs wet" picking our fruit and vegetables. Here, he was was using the term to refer to all undocumented working Mexicanos in the States). He cursed all of the corrupt politicians of his country, claiming that one could not trust a single one. The police are even worse, he claimed. Ordinary people fear police officers. "Don´t call the police if your home gets robbed," he cautioned, "because they´ll rob you of whatever you have left!"

I asked him if it had gotten better since political power had finally be removed from the Partido Revolutionario Institucional. The PRI had openly conspired to hold political power for well over half a century. The election of Vincente Fox was claimed by many observers to be a much needed step towards ´real´ democracy. He considered my question for a moment before sadly cofessing that he thought things have gotten even worse. (I know so very little about Mexican political history, so I hesitate to offer any commentary. However, if by "even worse" the man is referencing the increaseing poverty, the growing gap between the Mexican rich and poor, and the corrupt contracts between Mexican business and Mexican politics--Vincente Fox is the former CEO of Coca Cola--then perhaps the implementation of NAFTA and its effects--the rapid industrialization of of formerly unihabited borer areas, alarming rates of rural-to-urban migration, exploitation of labor, a massive informal and unregulated economy, and the near-death of substanance farming--warrent mention).

With all his bitterness the man was still hopeful. He is very closely following the US presidential election (along with many Mexicans), and he is a HUGE fan of Obama. But his eyes really lit up when he told me about Jed Bush´s son-in-law (or son, I didn´t quite catch it). Apparently he is a chicano lawyer. He couldn´t contain his excitement as he imagined the young Bush becoming the first Mexican-American president. I felt guilty that he didn´t have similar hope for Mexico.

All-in-all the conversation was pretty sober. Before he said goodbye he cautioned me about the park, telling me it was very dangerous--the whole area was very dangerous--and that I should be sure to return to my hotel (which was less than a block from the park) very early in the evening. I promised him I would (knowing that I wouldn´t). He never once asked me for money or anything else besides my time and attention.

Not five minutes after the old man walked off with his bike and dog, a young guy approached me and asked what the old man was saying to me. He asked me que buscas (what are you looking for?). I decided to play dumb: "well I suppose I came to the park because its pretty and I wanted to relax and take a stroll before dinner." By the time we finally got to introductions I could tell it would be a painfull conversation and would have preferred him to just leave me to my book. He, like Johnathon, was 16. I laughed at the fact that I had been approached by two gay 16 year old high school students in a matter of hours. He asked me what I was laughing at, and I told him. He didn´t think it was very funny. We talked a little about the gay culture of San Luis Potosí before I awkwardly excused myself, claiming I had to write my family an email (I am usually a fast thinker on my feet, but at this point I was at a complete loss). I evidentially hurt his feelings because as I was walking away he shouted to me, and everyone else in shouting distance, Perra! (bitch). I smiled, waived, and left to find dinner.

Dinner wasn´t too far away. I shyly ordered enchiladas Posotinas at a very crowded street vendor´s tent. Two women fried the corn tortillas; stuffed them with cheese, potatoes, and carrots; and smotherm them with crema and salsa before my eyes. It was a vegetarian feast that I ate while listening to a folk concert in the Plaza de Armas. Old men smiled and wished me good evening as they passed. I could think of only one way to end such a day--with homemade ice cream over a brownie (it was worth every calorie). I walked home around 10:30, refusing to check my email until monring in case I had received more electronic nastiness from far, far away.