The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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What Is It about This Place?

Various vendors drive though the city selling canisters of natural gas and other commodities from trucks. They announce their presence with recorded messages which blare over the speakers on the cabs that can be heard for hundreds of yards. These are the only vendors in town who ignore tourists.

There are a number of North Americans and Europeans who live here semi-permanently, leaving (if they can) only during the hottest part of the summer. In their faded clothes, weathered faces, and long, shaggy hair, many of them are like 60’s hippies. Something about the climate or culture appeals to them in a fundamental way. Some are barely getting by, earning two dollars an hour as greeters and servers at the local restaurants. They live in an alternative reality. Here is better than there, wherever there is.

I often think of Graham Greene in Veracruz or the horrible, masterful drunk in Under the Volcano or James Taylor’s song, “Mexico.” Even after a few days, Mexico works on your mind. Whether it’s the ocean, the tropical climate, or the relentless sun, everything is slowly stripped away until one’s core is laid bare.

November 23, 2010   Comments Off on What Is It about This Place?


The crosshatched patterns
Left by the retreating waves
Are ancient and new.

November 23, 2010   Comments Off on 300

School Days

Opposite our compound is a primary school in a large enclosed lot. The kids and parents arrive around 8:00 a.m., talking with one another and milling around the grounds, until the principal with his microphone instructs the kids to line up by grade. This is the signal for the parents to retreat, which they do in a slow and graceful way, and for the custodian to padlock the gates. The principal’s amplified voice shapes the herd of kids into neat lines and gets them marching in place (the younger ones at least), and when he is satisfied with the result, instructs them to file to their classrooms, without running, starting with the first graders and ending with the sixth. It is only then that the last of the parents drift away, catching one last wistful glimpse of their precious children.

November 23, 2010   Comments Off on School Days

An Honest Hombre

Yesterday on the beach my son stepped on a sharpened piece of rebar buried in the sand and cut his foot. We borrowed hydrogen paroxide from the manager of the compound, but needed more, so we walked to Sayulita this afternoon. We also needed groceries.

Our first stop was a carniceria where we purchased meat for carne asada. We bought 75 pesos worth and I handed the clerk a 200 peso bill. He gave me change for 100. I told him I had given him a 200 and he pulled a 100 peso bill from the till and said this was the one I had given him. I insisted, and he finally handed me the 100 he was going to keep to fatten his salary. Oddly, it didn’t bother me. It seemed natural somehow.

Next we stopped at the farmacia. There was a sign in the door saying it was closed for 15 minutes, so my son checked out the break while I waited for the shop to open. Sooner than expected, the clerk opened and I bought a small bottle of peroxide and bandaids. Then I headed toward the beach to find my son. While I stood at the top of the street looking for him, a vendor accosted me. First, he showed me a folding container full of jewelry, then a small glass pipe, and finally said he would sell me the stuff that went inside at a very good price. I told him I was tempted but not interested. Not finding my son, I went back to the drug store and found him buying stuff for his foot. The clerk was the first to laugh and comment. He had picked out exactly the two items I had chosen.

Finally, we went to one of the markets and selected a large assortment of vegetables. It made the owner nervous that I stood around doing nothing while my son picked out items. He asked if we were together. I replied—with what I thought was an obvious smirk—that my son was distracting him while I robbed the place. The owner’s chin immediately hardened and, pulling two knives from under the scale, said no one robbed him. “Want to see the large knife?” he asked. I said yes and he turned around and unstrapped a knife long enough to kill a bear. Not able to help myself, I asked, “Donde es la pistola?” wondering whether “pistola” was the correct word in Spanish, and his eyes immediately shifted sharply to the left. He didn’t pull the gun—he couldn’t—but there was no doubt he had one.

I liked this guy, I decided. He was an honest hombre. You knew what to expect from him.

November 23, 2010   Comments Off on An Honest Hombre