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11 months ago

Reflections

Selected Writings & Artwork by Harriett Copeland Lillard

Mexico Mexico is a trip

Mexico Mexico is a trip in more ways than one. I love the country, the people, the language, the smells, the flowers, the music, the light. From my first visit in 1959 almost twenty five years ago, the magic continues to endure. I have traveled all over the country in every imaginable conveyance – bus, train, plane, car, horseback, burro, and by foot. On this occasion, it is the beach— beautiful, soft and warm. The ocean powerful and terrifying as it always is to me, but I am drawn to its edge as if by a magnet. I would love to live by the ocean, my life cradled by its rhythms. It’s immensity spelling eternity, infinity – a visual manifestation of man’s own smallness. I love the restaurants in the little towns with their porcelain enamel-topped tables advertising Carta Blanca beer, the slow heat and friendly flies (somehow they don’t seem so malicious here). The soft, rapid inflections of the language, the easy laughter and ready music are like oil to my dry North American consciousness. The food has an intensity of taste and texture that I can only compare to my remembrances of favorite dishes that I enjoyed as a child. The hot soups filled with unknown swimmers are an adventure. The beef, lean pork, and exotic seafood – fresh from the slaughterhouse and docks— still have the urgency and piquancy of life about them, having quit it only hours before. The relationship of man to food here is not separated by refrigerated railcars, cold storage, wholesalers, grocery stores, cans or plastic wrap. It is immediate, intimate and omnipresent. In a country where food production barely keeps pace with human production, there is a deceiving abundance of food. The markets are piled high with lavish heaps of tomatoes, oranges, avocados, pineapples, and cucumbers. It is the peso that is so elusive, so hard to get and keep. Everyone’s efforts are daily bent toward the acquisition of this slippery currency to be spent just as energetically on their own sustenance. In Mexico, hunger is never far away. We lie on the beach – the conglomerate of families tied by blood and marriage, each with their own secrets and fears, joined by memories and love, nursing lost hopes and future expectations. The sun and sand form a soft, warm interlude in our various lives – it is a return to the womb of creation. And yet we will not go back to reality changed in any significant way. Nothing spectacular will happen – we have touched and then moved on. And that is all. The boy arrives with his bucket of ceviche – raw fish bought, cleaned and marinated in the early hours of the morning while we slept in leisure. He has brought hot sauce in an old Coke bottle with a hole punched in the cap and hard tortillas in a bag. He comes just after midday, everyday – we are his customers. I wonder how he will know when we are leaving. Will he come with his full bucket to an empty beach? I already grieve for his disappointment when he finds us vanished. No one else seems to consider this or even care – the easy disdain of the leisure class in Mexico for those who labor. Previous pages, Lillard-Martinez family reunion and vacation on the beach in Mexico. 65

Mexico I wonder in my motherly way if he is getting enough to eat himself – if those pants he wears gathered around his thin waist tied with a rope are the result of hunger or simply a hand-me-down from an older brother. I wonder how much of life he knows too soon in the tiny house where he lives with a mother and uncounted brothers and sisters, what the soft brown eyes hide about the hardness of life, what resentment stands behind the deferential manner and voice? Does he go to school, does he dream, does he hope? Will life be good for this small brown, barefooted entrepreneur? The ceviche is passed around on a hard flat tortilla for the “prueba” – everyone agrees that it will do. Relief shows in the brown eyes and now comes the final negotiations – the price. Nothing is ever set, but fluctuates daily in relationship to the price of fish. Today the negotiator is scrutinizing the ratio of incongruous ingredients. There are more carrots and less fish than yesterday, so the price should be lower. The boy dismisses saying that it is indeed the same. The discussion seems interminable, but a price is finally reached; lower than he had asked, but higher than first offered. Next arrives the “pico de gallo” – cucumbers, pineapple, oranges, apples, watermelon, cantaloupe, all chopped and diced together, sprinkled with salt and left to make its own juice. We dive in with sandy fingers, each after our favorite morsels. Sand begins to collect in the juice at the bottom of the bowl. It is not a problem worthy of discussion. Long minutes slide into hours. Fragmented thoughts and bits of conversation float in and out of consciousness. Nothing is sustained for any long period of time – we just drift. There are no plans, no organization, no attempt to schedule – the day just happens, one thing flowing into the next. This is Mexico. ˜ 66