Impressions of the Unexamined Life in Mexico

I saw a man with a bucket scrubbing his white car with a brush. He was at it for an hour and a half. After the brush, he went over it with a wet cloth, renewing the water in his bucket two or three times.

I saw in the backyard a papaya flourishing, with abundant fruit hanging down from it.

I felt a cool breeze on me as I looked out from the wrought iron gate and my folded arms grew slimy with sweat because of the humidity hurricane season brings to Monterrey.

I saw the low clouds torn on the last perpendicular upthrust of the abruptly-rising spines of rock, so near, so sheer, so rugged, so tall.

I saw the lights in the darkness, the people still driving by, still coming out of the corner store at 3AM in the warm night.

I was in a rather ostentatious and overelaborate little restaurant, still smelling of the cigarette which, coming from a world in which it has been banned, is good to smell.

I saw palm fronds dry and brown hang down over the edge of the roof. The breeze was cool. Beyond was an empty monument, a more than semicircle of pillars holding up a roof. It was a broad, cool circular walk overlooking the lake and the treeless park. The permanence of the materials, the lavish construction are things to amaze. Everywhere they are building and working in permanent structures; in concrete, brick, marble and rock. On the shores of a man-made lake, on a hill, they erected a light house for decoration.

I saw many well-fed Mexicans among their conglomerate signs, in the midst of all their agglomerate structures.

I saw the remnant of burgeois urban culture at Sanborn’s, that old establishment. There waiters and chairs and room all come together to signal the Mexican city.

I saw a dingy post office in a middle class neighborhood, and at noon I saw the people walking past the little stores, over the streets—some wet with the washing of garages and courtyards, the ambling driver of a soda truck, the motorcycles still in use after four decades.

I heard the rain, loud as it is when it splashes on the courtyard from a spout. I saw the bubbles forming in the stream along the edge of the road.

I saw the Mexicans sitting on low seats, sitting in odd places, finding shade wherever possible.

The Mexicans have only an urban culture there in the city: they know nothing of suburbs. They look and enjoy what has passed out with our suburbs. Their cities are so conglomerated they have to be affected by the conglomeration, and I wonder if I do not see it in their styles.

I heard Jose Carlos Moncayo’s Huapango and the sweet, sweet sounds of Mozart’s Magic Flute.

I have listened to the rapid pattering of Mexicans speaking, their accents so brisk—how shall I describe the sounds of their voices? Were I able to do that, I would have something rich.

Here the urban culture of the last century of the modern age lives on. They live city lives with nothing suburban anywhere about. They build with concrete, they pave and take up as much room as they can, leaving little to the plain earth. No islands in a sea of grass here, no vinyl siding, no shingled roofs, no long driveways, none of the lawnmowers roar or the liturgical monotony of genuflecting sprinklers.

I saw the hanging white sheets of uncooked pork rind.

I have lingered among all the worthless wares they pawn to tourists, rummaging through the trash with a curiosity unconscionable in sentient beings. It is a curiously incurious curiosity. Even the local middle classes come here and gawk at the worthless wares, worthless crafts of worthless craftsmen; all worthless. Here the air is cool, however, and the tradesmen and women and girls, for there are no younger men here, invite the customer into their shop.

We have seen the old men sitting on the public benches in the park. The parks are full, always full of lingering people, loitering people pooling in all the shady places.

I have smelled the market: the smell of raw meat, dried chilies, spices, soap and the simmering broth, leather and wool.

I have seen women in the corners of the market sitting at desks with typewriters, waiting to type something up, to make a document official and important by passing it through a machine . . . as I will do. I saw a woman come up with a handwritten page to show the typist.

I saw some of the literate culture that might be theirs in a bookstore, but not much. They do not read. I do not see any pride in letters. I did not see much of Mexican writers, but of translations, of classics, of textbooks. The life of leisure remains the unexamined life, it seems. Perhaps I am mistaken but I do not see much of reading; much of sitting, much of staring, much of watching and gazing and waiting.

I was in a good restaurant, dim and cool, waiters as unctuous as Jeeves. The air stirs about; service is solicitous and very slow. They have a machine to dispense the liquors to the barman. Here a large party might come with comfort. I am sure it is a better place in the evening. It makes me wonder how much business here can thrive in the evening, the evening meal being minor compared to the afternoon meal.

I had much of lingering, much of living the life of retired people. And I cannot, or at least it is very difficult not to see it as a life of indolence. Have I so much become a puritan? I want to have no love for the unexamined life, but I want something of humanity.

I saw the rain, the clouds beneath the peaks of the great dorsal mountains of Monterrey, the clouds above the peaks, the rain on the concrete, on the glass, on the conglomeration of the city, blown away behind the jets of airplanes.

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