Ten Reasons to Fall in Love with Mexico
Given the current context of life in Mexico – especially the sometimes exaggerated and sensationalist way events here get reported in the foreign media, (fear and panic about the swine flu pandemic preceded by bloody accounts of violent confrontations in the so-called ‘drug wars’) – it might seem strange at first sight to be writing a post with this title. Perhaps, however, it is important to offer a different view of this rich, complex country.
My first visit to Mexico was at New Year 2003 for a few days in Puerto Vallerta to see my son who was spending part of his gap year there. My second visit to Mexico was for two weeks in August 2003. In those two weeks, I fell in love with a Mexican women with three daughters living in Guadalajara, and was offered a job at the regional campus of the University of Guadalajara in Ciudad Guzmán.
For the following year, I came and went between Mexico and England, taking classes in Spanish, and trying to secure the job offer that had been made to me. Eventually, it took two years to secure a contract of one year. In September 2004, I left England and moved to Mexico with the intention of making my life there. This intention has persisted, though my relationship with the Mexican woman I fell in love with has changed from partners to friends.
I liked Mexico very much initially. I had always wanted to live in a non-western, ‘different’ culture and Mexico fit the bill perfectly. Over the years I have lived here, (in Guadalajara and Ciudad Guzmán, Jalisco and one year in Cuernavaca, Morelos) my understanding and appreciation of Mexico has grown and deepened.
Recently, I have travelled more frequently than I normally do in Mexico. In March, I visited the two ex-colonial mining cities of San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. In Semana Santa (Holy Week), I stayed in Tzintzuntzan on the Lago de Patzcuaro, witnessed the town’s extraordinary traditions on Good Friday, and visited the cities of Pátzcuaro, and Uruapan, and the volcano of Paricutín. The following week, Semana Pascua, I was in Chiapas in San Cristóbal de las Casa, and visited the Mayan site at Palenque.
What I have noticed in my visits – some of them to places I have been to before two to three years ago – is that I now see and experience Mexico very differently. Places seem more alive, more attractive, more beautiful than on my previous visits. It occurred to me that I have now really fallen in love with Mexico. How wonderful to fall in love with someone you already know!
As a result, I have been reflecting on the whole process of coming to know another culture (or another person). At first, all we have to understand the ‘other’ are our own assumptions, mental models, values, beliefs, personal life history etc, through which our experience of the ‘other’ is filtered. We only have a superficial impression, that generally says more about us than about the ‘other’. However, as time goes on, the ‘other’ begins to penetrate, effect and shape us.
It is not now just that I understand Mexico better (its language, culture and history) – which I do – but that I experience it differently. For example, I see differently. I see things that I had not seen before. I think thoughts I could not have thought before.
In celebration of this, I am going to write a post about ten reasons for falling in love with Mexico. In so doing, I am going to follow the advice of the people who write blogs about writing blogs (for example ProBlogger Blog Tips, Copyblogger, Blog Building University), who always seem to be recommending short posts (which I don’t tend to do) and particularly lists of ten items.
So the following are my list of ten reasons to fall in love with Mexico.
Like all lovers, I am sure I will become disillusioned, when I might write another post about ten reasons for falling out of love with Mexico. But, for the moment, “love is the drug”.
1. The people
Mexican people are known for their warmth, good humour and hospitality. In world surveys about happiness, (and God knows how this can really be measured), they regularly come out to be one of the happiest nations. One example to illustrate this.
When I was first planning to come to Mexico for two weeks, I rang a contact of a contact who worked at the university of Guadalajara to talk to her about visiting the University in Ciudad Guzmán, where she worked. At the time I was in Los Angeles and thinking of coming for one day. Her response, though, was to say that it seemed very stressful to just visit for one day. Why didn’t I visit for more time the following summer and stay in her house for the time that I wanted? I remember thinking that if a stranger had wanted to visit the Management Institute where I was working in England, I could not imagine myself saying to them…. ” Fine. Please come and visit and you can stay in my house for as long as you like”
2. The food
In England, at least, we have a completely misconceived notion of Mexican food. The most well-known Mexican dish in the UK is chile con carne, which I have never seen on a menu in Mexico. Mexican food is cheap (unless you want to eat in expensive international restaurants), plentiful and astonishing in its variety. Every region has its own cuisine. The food can indeed be hot through the use of many kinds of chiles, but also includes many other tastes and sensations.
Carlos Fuentes claims there are five major gastronomic traditions in the world. French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and……..Mexican. I think he might have a point.
3. The climate
Because Mexico is such a large country, the climate varies enormously according to region. Where I live, in Ciudad Guzmán, it is generally warm and sunny, a very comfortable 20-30 degrees most of the year around, and with a pleasant coolness in the mornings and evenings.
4. The colours
When I first came to Mexico I loved the colours, especially the combination in some houses of deep blue and orange. Life in Mexico is colourful, in every sense of the word.
5. The landscape
DH Lawrence, in his novel set in Mexico, The Plumed Serpent, described the Mexican landscape as harsh and unyielding. He was referring in particular to the dark hills that ring Lake Chapala. Lawrence is right in that the landscape can indeed be harsh, arid and unhospitable. At times, I miss the softness of the green hills, rivers, streams and woods of England. But as well as being harsh, the landscape can also be magnificent. And because of Mexico’s size there is great variety.
6. The biodiversity
I have already commented on the diversity of the food and the landscape. In addition, Mexico has great biodiversity in terms of its flora and fauna. It is one of the 12 countries in the world that between then contain 60-70% of the planet’s biodiversity, which entitles it to be called ‘megadiverse’. It occupies first place in reptile diversity, second in mammals, fourth in amphibians and vascular plants and tenth in birds. In general terms, it is estimated that more than 10% of all world’s species live in Mexico.
7. The surrealism
The famous French surrealist, Andre Breton, commented that Mexico was “the surrealist country par excellence”. This surrealism encompasses not just what is visually on offer everywhere but also to what happens in Mexico. As one of my favourite sayings about Mexico states…….“Mexico where the impossible is possible and the possible impossible”.
In his highly readable and interesting book on Mexico City, ‘First Stop in the New World’, and also in a recent post on his blog, David Lida comments that one of the reasons he thinks there are no great novels set in Mexico City, is that “reality will inevitably trump whatever you could make up about this town”.
8. The Unexpected
Linked to this sense of surrealism in Mexico, is the related sense of the unexpected. Nothing is certain in Mexico. Mexicans are notorious for their unpunctuality but sometimes they are on time. It appears that the bureacracy is endless and unrelenting, but then suddenly something happens and the tramité is completed. I have yet to discover any logic in this.
9. The crafts
Mexico is internationally known for its crafts. Some areas, like the Purépecha region of Michoacán , have extraordinary craft traditions, where each small town specialises in one particular craft.
Mexico is a country of extremes. Fabulous wealth and absolute poverty. A powerful sense of community and solidarity and strong egoism. Extremes in climate in some areas. Great kindness and compassion and harsh indifference to suffering.
It is partly this sense of extremity that gives Mexico its vitality. Mexicans live closer to death than we do in the West, and perhaps for that, know better how to enjoy life.
So that concludes my list and it does not even include the architecture and the rich mix of cultures that is Mexico. Hopefully, like any love affair that lasts, I will go on discovering new and unexpected aspects of the ‘other’.
And what do you think I might have missed that you would include in your list of ‘ten reasons to fall in love with Mexico’?