The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Yet Another Celebration

Today is the third day after the anniversary of the Revolution, and the Mexicans are celebrating again. In Sayulita, the locals sit on plastic chairs on the ragged football pitch in front of an elevated stage where a mariachi band is playing salsa. At intervals, fireworks detonate in the sky. Our neighbor, Ottemar, whom I accosted (in an indirect way) for disturbing me has decided to play nice (or perhaps I have). Turns out he’s a retired professor from Reed College—thus the loud voice. In point of fact, I had no choice but to get along with him. The wireless router for our casa is located in his casa, and often needs to be reset. It’s a case of su casa es mi casa, though he probably doesn’t see it that way.

November 24, 2010   Comments Off on Yet Another Celebration

The Marietas

The days are going too fast, but that’s probably a good thing, since our money’s running out. Any activity designed for tourists (eating out, renting boards, booking an adventure) is only slightly less expensive than it is in the States. Street food, groceries, and most other commodities are much more reasonable.

Today the five of us booked a tour to the Marieta Islands, two flat, rocky islands sitting across from one another in the sea like the Monitor and Merrimac ready to fire cannons. Alas, the islands have hardly any life left in them (which is why the Mexican government probably protects them) but make for great snorkling adventures. My favorite spot (Playa de Amor) was a small beach that could only be reached through an arch that almost touched the waves. You had to sneak through.

There really wasn’t much to see in the water, so I ditched my snorkling gear, except for the fins, and swam for what seemed like hours, though it was only about 20 or 30 minutes. We saw whales and dophins, gulls of various descriptions, and other birds of prey. Our guide, Chewy, who had lived in the United States but didn’t like it, was informative but annoying. Like everyone else here, he gave us the hard sell at intervals for other adventures. His favorite saying was “It’s Mexico, there are no rules.” His motorman, Gabriel, was much more interesting, since he only spoke Spanish and was a trove of information.

It was the first time I’ve been in the ocean in Sayulita, and with the salt water boaying me up, studying the rocks for crabs, seeing fish swim beneath my feet, watching the cormorants circle above, I felt truly part of the place.

November 24, 2010   Comments Off on The Marietas

Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum has written a lovely second novel about the life and loves of Ms. Hempel, an seventh grade teacher in an American junior high school. The narrator is wordy and descriptive, but perfectly nuanced, using language precisely and evocatively, like a brilliant student writing her first novel for her mentor in an MFA program. The quality of the writing pulls us in and we find ourselves desperately caring about this young woman whose life has been both cut short and enriched by her experiences as a teacher. Her heroine is a modern Miss Brill, updated for the present, without the loneliness and infinite regret of the teacher of another age. In short, Bynum’s novel is utterly charming.

November 24, 2010   Comments Off on Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Even in Death

It is still dark. A light rain falls. The cocks have been crowing for about an hour. The compound is quiet except for birds screeching nearby. It is still too early for the trucks to rumble by or for the construction workers to shape their cement structures. The ocean rumbles in the distance. I have a few bites on my legs. One always does. It is useless to resist. It is Mexico.

Even in death, there are two classes here, the rich and the poor. Most people accept it as the normal state of affairs. It is how it has always been and will always be. Few people expect it to be otherwise. The periods in which the middle classes burgeon in history are few and far between.

Although we have a long history of egalitarianism in the United States, marked by periods when the robber barons and upper classes ruled supreme, we do not easily accept tyranny. But this has changed. Leave it to the powers that be to subvert even these values and misdirect the disaffected into voting against their own interests. It is natural, though, and to be expected. The only constant in life is that the rich get richer and poor get poorer by any means possible, fair or foul.

November 24, 2010   Comments Off on Even in Death