Friday, December 16, 2011

ON TLALNEPANTLA TIME – Savoring a Mexican Moment

One of the many things I admire about Mexican culture (at least in parts of the country I’ve visited) is the way people savor life.

For generations Mexicans have gotten a bad rap for being slow, unreliable and lazy. While I know from much experience that this is far from an accurate characterization, I can see how an ignorant person might get that impression.

It’s a responsibility to things on which a norteamericano or an europeo might not 
place as high a value.

Mexicans don’t let plans, schedules or clocks run their lives. This isn’t because they’re inconsiderate or irresponsible; they aren’t. In fact, it’s often because they are so responsible that Mexicans find it so hard to be bridled by time. But it’s a responsibility to things on which a norteamericano or an europeo might not place as high a value—especially their commitment to family and community, and their unfailing graciousness.

Mexicans know how to appreciate the simple little wonders that life presents while others might be busy making other plans.

One telling—and typical—experience with this occurred several years ago when I, two of my fellow Spanish students and my friend Silverio were visiting the home of Silverio’s old friends, Ignacio (Nacho), Marta and their three daughters in Tlalnepantla, a northern suburb of Mexico City.

Mexicans know how to appreciate the simple little wonders that life presents while others might be busy making other plans. 

They were going to join us for dinner and a night out in the big city’s infamous Garibaldi Square. We arrived at their house at about 8:00 PM. I thought we were in a bit of a hurry, since we’d planned to leave for the restaurant by about 9:00.

After hugs all around, I presented our hosts with the customary regalito—little gift—a bottle of maple syrup I’d brought from home. (On a previous trip I’d given them another taste of Minnesota exotica, a ceramic moose.)

We sat around the dining room table. Nacho offered us the obligatory tequila, poured from the fanciest of four or five bottles prominently arrayed on the overwrought bar—obviously his pride and joy. When Marta asked if anyone wanted popcorn, the hands of Brenda, Andrea and Abril, shot up in the air, making it unanimous.

A few minutes later Marta emerged from the kitchen carrying nine paper napkins and one small, steaming bag of microwave popcorn. We all helped ourselves to our share, just about a handful each, which we piled on our napkins.

One precious kernel at a time, they’d hold it up, inspect it and finally place it in their mouths.

I watched the little girls as they quietly savored that popcorn. It was as if it were the last popcorn they’d ever see. One precious kernel at a time, they’d hold it up, inspect it and finally place it in their mouths. They made those few buttery morsels last for about ten minutes.

I got up to stretch my legs, taking a closer look at some of their prints and knick-knacks. Nestled in the corner of the living room was a small all-glass étagère with three or four shelves. On each were displayed cheap little souvenir items from places the family had been to or dreamt of going to: a baby spoon engraved with the name of some amusement park; a shot glass from a resort area near Guanajuato; a plastic replica of the Statue of Liberty. And there, front and center on the top shelf, was my moose.

By this time, everyone else had joined me around the curios. For the next half hour, we all stood there admiring those three- or four-dollar items, listening to the girls recalling each trip, hearing all about the people who’d sent them this keepsake or that. At times, I felt a bit uncomfortable with the lengthy silences, no one uttering a word except for a few contemplative “Hm-m-ms.”

Many of us north of the border strive too much, 
talk too much and admire too little.

I suspect that here in the United States this scene would have played out quite differently. First, the mementos would have been more expensive by a factor of a hundred…but that’s not the point. Even if they were Faberge eggs and Hummel figurines, we’re not exactly famous for our attention spans. Chances are, the first time there was a lull of more than a few seconds, someone would have jumped at the chance to change the focus to something more exciting.

Many of us north of the border strive too much, talk too much and admire too little. Silences make us nervous. I’ve tried to adopt a bit of the Mexicans’ appreciation of little things, their comfort with quiet, thoughtful interludes in conversation, and their knack for being in the moment.

All these gifts, it seems to me, lend themselves very well to our relationships, not just with other human beings, but with ourselves, with Nature and with whatever it is we find sacred.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
JOHN LENNON – "Beautiful Boy"


spldbch said...

American culture is so fast-paced. We are always in a hurry to get somewhere, even when we don't have anywhere to be. Maybe that's why Americans always seem so stressed out...

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey spldbch -- No doubt! We have great productivity, but at what price? What's your favorite way to slow down and smell the roses?
Thanks for the comment.

ZihuaRob said...

You know my wife's favorite saying. "Hoy es hoy y mañana no existe. Hay que vivir al máximo."

Garibaldi Plaza is "infamous"? For what? I thought the pulque, tequila, tacos, and mariachis were all pretty fabulous! ;)

Love your article. Saludos.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Glad you liked my post, maestro. I could write a whole post on my all-night experience at Garibaldi - from running the gauntlet of mariachis pitching their looks and sounds; to people watching; to drinking and dancing all night at an adjacent bar - where we beat back robbery attempts by both our waiter and a group of punks; to the utter oblivion of way too, just the right amount...of tequila. (Enough so I feel perfectly free to invent the whole story ;-)

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