Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pigs and Documentaries

I’m not a vegetarian, and being one would be a challenge in Mexico. Especially if you were vegan and ate NO animal products. Cheese and eggs are a peasant staple along with beans and corn. Restaurants re-fry beans and deep fry food in lard or oil, but unless you ask, you’d never know. In San Cristobal, there are a number of vegetarian restaurants, and many that advertise vegetarian dishes. I had the lentil soup from TierraAdentro the other day, but I could definitely taste the chicken broth base.

Animals are all over. On the walk up from the main road, I pass a yard with turkeys in cages, chickens, ducks and geese in the yard, guarded by a big friendly lab named Lucky. When he’s on duty he often comes up to the chainlink fence for an ear scratch and pet. If the kid is around, he’ll romp and play with him, but if the dad is in the yard, I am suddenly the family’s mortal enemy and he’ll come after me barking his head off.

So it should not come as a surprise, Easter being just around the corner, that some animals get butchered. Intellectually, I know this has to happen, but it’s a shock when the pig is screaming just outside my bedroom window, and it goes on for three minutes. It all happened behind a fence, and on the other side of the trees that block my view of the houses next door. I have no idea what they were doing to the poor pig, or why it couldn’t have been done more swiftly. Shortly afterwards they built a big smoky wood fire that blew into the bathroom window. Standing on the toilet, peering out the window, I could see their rendering operation. It will be a while before I stop hearing that pig in my dreams.

Since the trip to Palenque, John and I have both been taking it easy. Lazy mornings doing wash, fixing breakfast and cleaning up, writing, reading and enjoying the pleasant campo environment. I’ve had a chest cold with a nasty cough and haven’t felt wonderful. He’s come down with the Revenge and blames it on the new bottle of water we recently acquired, but I suspect it is just what Brigitte said, it’s in the air, or maybe we still aren’t washing hands as often as needed. It could have been the mole chicken he had for dinner last night. Quien sabe? Who knows?

The Sam's Club parking lot
hole that John almost
stepped in, still uncovered
a week later...... 

So we’ve tended to go into San Cristobal in the afternoons and wander around the centro area, have a nice meal someplace, check out bookstores and other shops. We made another little trip over to Sam’s club, and wonder of wonders! The hole is still there. The shopping carts were locked up so I couldn’t steal one and dump it into the hole like I’d planned. Next door to Sam’s is Aurera.  The one in Patzcuaro reminded me of WalMart. Guess what? It’s owned by WalMart, you can even get a WalMart credit card so you can buy even more stuff! This store is smaller than a US WalMart, the shelves are much closer together, the shopping carts smaller, but they have all the same goods. Plus there’s an actual bakery and a tortilleria. I came around the last aisle in the back of the store to find a long line of people. I asked what they were in line for, and a woman said “tortillas.”  Either they are the tastiest tortillas in the world, or they are so dirt cheap you’d be a fool to pass them up. Tortillerias abound, there’s one on almost every corner. For 5 pesos (40 cents) you can buy ½ a kilo which is a large stack of about 30.  I passed by the line and checked out the ‘factory’. It consisted of a large machine that was dumping 2 tortillas off the end every second. The people at the back were going to have a long wait.

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Young couples enjoying a hooka & booze

Natalia told me about an interesting place called Kinoki. It’s a coffee and hooka joint more than anything, but they also show very left-wing films in tiny rooms furnished with oversized couches. We saw one on Fidel Castro, how he’s lived a charmed life and why there have been over 600 failed assassination attempts, mostly by Cuban-Americans and the CIA. The documentary was so poor that I could hardly make out the faces of people on the slides, but they did have some great old shots of Nixon, Kennedy, and Eisenhower. Apparently each of the subsequent presidents have authorized attempts to either overthrow him or kill him too. Nothing was factually documented, it was all hearsay from interviews with his underlings, but I have no doubt there have been many. And I also doubt his people are 100% behind him, protecting him till the end as the underlings were adamant in saying. The truth, as they say, is somewhere in the middle.

TierraAdentro, a popular restaurant featuring live music.

Another documentary, all in Spanish, was of the Hongo Sacerdota, a woman high in the mountains somewhere in Mexico, who harvests and then uses psychedelic mushrooms in healing ceremonies. The filmmakers followed her around on her many little errands throughout the day, showed how she ingested the mushrooms slowly with great ceremony, and then how she worked at healing a poor woman with terrible gout, or perhaps diabetes. She rubbed eggs and leaves on the woman, massaged her feet, blew smoke in her face and asked for San Pedro’s intervention. The woman came back for a second ceremony, I guess the first one wasn’t too successful.  This healer is quite famous, you can buy a t-shirt with her photo on it, with a cigarette hanging out of her wizened old mouth. The film was more interesting to me because it showed how the indigenous people actually live, with dirt floors, one room houses, firewood stacked high to the ceiling, chickens in and out of the houses, little kids playing elaborate games with just a stick for a toy, women doing embroidery and popping corn kernals off dry cobs, grinding the corn into meal with a mano and matate, cooking on a comal (flat griddle) over a wood fire, and hauling water from a stream or well.  Sometimes I feel like my life in this house is a bit primitive, but it’s got running water and a flushing (most of the time) toilet, electricity, and though I do have to haul it, clean drinking water in a bottle.

Ukelele & pan pipes simultaneously!
On another night we saw a documentary on the Zapatistas, the rebel group that caused so much consternation with the Mexican federal government back in 1994 and 1996. Things are much calmer now, after the government massacred 45 people in Acteal, a little town we’re going to on Friday. Once a month the town holds a service to remember those slain members of their community. I’ve seen photos of it. With machine guns, federal solders mowed down an unarmed group of people including little children. The Zapatistas quickly saw how fighting such a monster was not a good approach so they’ve taken a different and amazingly successful tact. They have socialized entire villages, each headed up by a small committee that is held accountable by the rest. Big signs at the entrance say you’re entering a Zapatista town: Here the people give the orders and the Government obeys. They have their own medical centers, dentists, schools, help and care for the elderly, etc. Little microcosms of socialism, which is probably the only way socialism can work well. We human beings have a tendency to become corrupt when the money involved gets enticing, and the accountability wanes. Plus such small scale grass-roots movements don’t particularly threaten the federal government which never provided much in the way of health care or schools to them anyway. The only time they clash now days is over land use issues, when the feds want to use their traditional land for something and give nothing in return, like selling leases to lumber companies and oil drillers. Mostly though, the Zapatistas have used the internet and international sentiments to pressure the federal government. The feds don’t really want to get into a fight with the Zapatistas, because they know they won’t come out smelling like a rose. It’s what’s known as a Mexican Standoff.