13 August 2008

August 13, 1521

On August 13, 1521, (487 years ago today) Spanish conqueror Hernando Cortez captured what is now Mexico City from the Aztecs.

Wow! Four hundred eighty seven years is a long time. You would think that things would be a little better organized by now. Some things here are kind of surreal. For instance, there are no points of the compass in Mexico or at least here in these parts. Oh, I suppose there are...there has to be, but nobody ever uses them. If you say to somebody that something is on the north side of the street or on the southwest corner all you will get is a blank stare. They don't use the term "across the street from" either. For example, if I tell people that my house is "a través la calle de Walmart" (across the street from Walmart) or "otro lado de la calle de Wallmart" (other side of the street from Walmart) they may not know what I mean but if I say "frente Walmart" (facing Walmart) they will understand. Instead of saying North, South, East, or West, they say "rumbo de" (ROOM-boh deh - "direction of") as in "rumbo de León" (in the direction of León) or "rumbo de Salamanca" (in the direction of Salamanca). Hey, I wonder if the guy who is in charge of the signs on the U.S Interstate system is a Mexican. The Interstate signs really don't tell you which way you are going either. How many times have you been driving NORTH on an interstate when the signs say "Interstate so and so WEST"? In Irapuato there are street signs only here and there. On top of that, the name of a street can change three or more times in the space of a mile or two. The house numbers sometimes don't make sense either. If you ask where a person lives the answer is likely to be something like "Down that way towards the highway near where the man parks the big dump truck on Saturdays facing the house with the white dog". Most people have lived here all their lives and so have their ancestors so street names are not that important to them. They always know where they are and they know where they are going so what's the big deal with signs?

They don't seem to use rulers here very much either and sometimes that is quite evident. My boss once hired a man to build a guard shack next to the front entrance to the plant where I work. The guy was supposed to have a helper and it was only supposed to take three days. It turned out that he didn't have a helper (or most likely he didn't want to pay for one) and he took fifteen days to complete the job. I checked his work and there was not one ninety degree angle anywhere on the building and one side of the structure was at least six inches shorter than the other. I guess his measuring string must have broken or had a knot in it or something. The funny thing is that nobody seemed to notice or if they did they didn't seem to mind. I think if you made something perfectly straight and square here it would stick out like a sore thumb.

I have finally learned (somewhat) to relax and take things as they come. I think just about every gringo that comes to Mexico thinks the same thing, that with a little help from American ingenuity Mexico will change for the better. However, anyone who has spent more than a year down here will probably tell you that there is a much higher probability that Mexico will change you instead of you changing Mexico. By and by everything gets done but it may be to other people's satisfaction and not particularly to yours. There is nothing that can be done about it so the best thing to do when you are frustrated is either take a siesta or read a good book. There is a poem by Rudyard Kipling and the theme rings familiar but it has to do with the Orient and not Mexico. Nevertheless it is true and it goes something like this:

"At the end of the fight is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear: A fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East."

All you have to do is change the words "the East" to say "Mexico".

Some days there is just too much activity and other days not enough. One just doesn't know what to make of it. Now and then I feel like the poor Mexican pig farmer who got a visit from the health authorities. They asked him what he fed his pigs and he told them table scraps that he collects from restaurants and garbage from the dump and things like that. They told him that was against the law and they gave him a big fine. The next month they came back to check on him and asked him again what he was feeding his pigs. Remembering what had happened the first time, he told them that he was feeding them caviar and smoked turkey and ice cream and things like that. The health inspectors became very angry and told him that he should be very ashamed of himself because there are so many hungry children in Mexico and he was wasting all that good food on pigs so they gave him a big fine for wasting food. The poor guy didn't know what to do but the next time they came he remembered what had gone on before. This time when they asked him what he was feeding his pigs he said, "Every week I give each of them 50 pesos and I let them buy whatever they want"...

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.