Saturday, May 19, 2012

San Cristobal: Saturday Night Red Light District

When I turned 15, my family lived in the Panhandle of Texas. The town, Dimmitt wasn't exactly the buckle on the Bible Belt, but it was definitely one of the holes. The city fathers, the powers-that-be, the standard bearers in that little town believed that dancing was a sin. Like playing cards and drinking alcohol. Playing cards leads to gambling, drinking alcohol leads to a life of debauchery and ruined families, and dancing leads to sinful unmarried sex and little bastards.

(I recently read that in North Carolina, high school teachers will soon not be allowed to tolerate kissing in the schools, because kissing leads to sex, and sex leads to.....but I digress.)

So my wayward father, who didn't care much for the powers-that-be, decided to use my birthday party as a venue for a jab at the status quo. And being the truly innocent person that I was, I happily let him.

Max, the kid next door, had a band. So I asked if he and his band would play in our garage for my birthday party. Of course they were happy to do that, it was their first gig, unpaid, but a gig nonetheless. They were pretty terrible, not that I remember what they played or how well, I was too busy dancing.

I invited everybody I liked, which was probably way more people than liked me, and a bunch of them came. A few parents called my parents to ask about dancing and when told there would only be dancing if the kids knew how, they pulled their kids' invitations.

The bulk of my friends showed up. And my father, to advertise the correct location (he told me) took out the regular yellowish bulb in the porch light and installed a red one. That flashed.

I thought, what a cool dad, he found a red light. I never even knew such a thing existed. (It was 1967....)

When the police showed up my father laughed his ass off. It meant some neighbor had turned us in for running a house of ill repute, and the party went on.

It wasn't till years later that I finally learned what a flashing red light means in the rest of the world.

A plate of Cochinita Pibil from
Dona Chayito's restaurant on Guadalupe


So imagine my surprise to discover that every Saturday night, many streets in San Cristobal de las Casas turn into red light districts.

Entire families are engaged in this business activity. The city condones it by ignoring the hygiene laws and not inspecting the premises. No license is required. Any family that wants to participate in this illicit and normally illegal activity simply puts a wood frame with red plastic panels over their front light, and they're in business.

Potential customers walk up and down the street and when they feel the urge, they stop in at a house with a glowing red box and get serviced. Each house had its own specialty. Some like it big, overstuffed and hot, some like it small and mild.

Tamales that is.

Steaming hot tamales, in banana leaves or corn husks, stuffed with cheese and nuts, or mole and pork, cochinita pibil, or red hot peppers and shredded beef. The varieties are endless and the sizes vary with the chef. All over this part of town tamales can be purchased for a late dinner or for Sunday breakfast. Some places have tables and chairs in the patios but mostly you buy it "para llevar" (take out).

Yum!