December 07, 2008

Looking at Water -- Dedicated to Mrs. D

Back home now, the winter sun brings forth a different sort of petal, little white parachuted ones drifting from some heavenly bower - snow flakes. “Blinded by the Light” plays on YouTube as I sit at the familiar promontory, jockeying a keyboard that feels as natural to me as a saddle to a cowboy. The familiar sensation attends as I pan for some mineral that if isn’t gold at least is something more than chaff. I’m dubious while paradoxically hopeful.

Last night at dinner, Sandy was still panicky. She uncharacteristically ordered a Margarita at dinner blaming it on nerves. And this just double-digit hours from a facial in the Mexican sun, something that rumor has it is extremely relaxing. But panic drives out seven years’ relaxation like winter drives out seven years’ of Summer heat.

A harder worker has never been found. She does it all at work, at home, while managing to double as landlord in her “spare” time. By contrast, our bartender likes the hotel because it's quiet and small. He may go hours without serving a drink. Yet he seems to respect hard work. I tend to think it takes a lazy man to properly recognize a hard worker. So I was happy that she was relaxed when she was so, just as I was even more pleased by my wife’s similar relaxed mien.

Sandy’d been briefly detained at customs at the Atlanta airport for failing to have passed immigration. The agent had neglected to stamp her customs form and so she was separated stage right with the goats while we passed as sheep and were told to move forward. It was quickly resolved. but the surprise of it lingered for her...
______


And so as the global economy prepares for another Great Depression, we’d got ourselves to the beachery while we still have jobs. Use it or lose it. Peggy Noonan wrote of depression 2.0 recently, though she’s drawn to apocalyptic scenarios like Homer Simpson is to jelly donuts. Chalk it up to her native Irish fatalism or maybe something more, like woman’s intuition or a prophet’s sense.

Winter's light and temperature cycles don't coincide; light begins to decline long before the temperature does. Are the dark nights worse than the cold days? I've always been inclined to say 'no', that I'd care far more for heat than light, but then I always underestimate the Light.

Yay, verily I say the light's decline doth reach its nadir on December 21st and the temperature reaches its nadir on January 29th. This means the perfect time for a warm vacation might be the mid-point between the two dates, perhaps January 8th-ish. But it's complicated; the holidays are stressful for an introvert and front-load winter stress such that the perfect time for a vacation ought skew earlier. The perfect algorithm has yet to be discovered, even by the greatest mathematicians with the aid of the most powerful computers. Guesswork is involved, though I've never dared taken a winter vacation so early as this.

Is it too early? Like a stimulus package, the devil is in the size and timing. It's all superfluous as it is – millions do winter without 'plaint though I notice my edition of a recent Dean Koontz’s novel reminds his readers he lives in Long beach, California. I’m just sayin’.. Even those who write of embracing struggle do so from a position of comfort where possible, and one seeks to instinctively to strategize, to maximize, even if it is things of a purely natural nature and thus worth less (though hardly worthless). When I wore a younger man's clothes I would plot and ponder ways to grow my 401k nest egg, but now I ignore all that and plot and ponder ways to maximize those weeks of vacation given annually.

Our trip began with a visit to the Deep South town of Atlanta, Georgia. You may have heard of it. It was made famous in the film “Gone With the Wind” and I half-hoped to meet Ashley Wilkes or Scarlett O’Hara but then our visit was limited to ninety minutes at Hartsfield Airport.

We toured Terminal B amid the scent of peaches and magnolia blossoms while visions of sunny Tara danced in our heads. I think I might’ve even detected a Southern drawl in the hostess who graciously offered us menus and led us to a seat in her home, oddly called “Fridays”. Her son’s name? I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and a lemonade and I could tell it was served Southern-style by the prominent lemon that clung to the glass rim. The South will rise again and if the Atlanta airport was any indication it has.

Though I must admit I was surprised at a certain lack of Southern hospitality. We received a small piece of paper with a number on it after we finished our meal. I thought it gauche to charge a guest though it’s true we’d just met. I assumed the number was their best offer and so wrote another number on it, which was my best offer, but it soon became obvious this wasn’t a matter subject to negotiation.

So far the Deep South seemed a bit cold and overly money-conscious. The service was also fast; I’d heard Southerners were extremely slow-moving, like my great-grandmother in her last years.

I entered the airport bookstore hoping to find a Eudora Welty novel but they had none and I briefly entertained the notion that this bookstore was no different from one in St. Paul, Minnesota. Worse still, I could find nothing by the quintessential Southern writer of our time: Dave Barry.

Still, I could feel my writerly juices rise. I felt sure I could be the next Barry or Faulkner if I lived in Terminal B of Hartsfield. Because it is the land that matters, only the land Scarlett! But sadly we had to leave on a plane bound further south, a plane aptly named “Delta” for the nearby rich alluvial soil of the Mississippi valley.

Saturday


I love the smell of saltwater in the morning. Or noon. Or night. I arrived in a state of instant ecstasy, soon aided and abetted by the Guinness that survived the suitcase journey. Obligatory disclaimer: no earthly ecstasy is worth all that much – the Editor.

Modern technology is amazing though. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s unnatural to go from 18 degree weather to 84 in six hours, though I’m willing to guinea pig it. An orange palate splits the skies as a cruise ship, with scattered cabins alit, slides by smooth as Fred Astaire. Only chatter buries the mood: of work, of home improvement projects, of minutiae. It reminds me a bit of the dynamic of camping: gather everyone together in a natural setting and then proceed to mostly ignore the setting. I figure we’ll eventually talk ourselves out, like George Foreman did with his punches against Mohammad Ali in their epic battle. I wonder at those who can appreciate natural wonders in a group - it's not something I have a particular gift for. Alone, or with one other person I can truly savor.

We’d scarcely got settled in when the sun began to melt like the wicked witch in “The Wizard of Oz”. Lights began to appear on mainland Mexico, twelve miles from us across the strait of Cozumel. Ever since I saw the dramatic satellite image of Korea at night, where wealthy South Korea is alit like a Christmas tree and North Korea dark and silent and famine-prone, I’ve associated lights at night with wealth. The city Playa del Carmen, across the waters, is not rich but not desperate either.

I rent a bike, a pleasingly smooth transaction. They come and drop it off for you and pick it up when time expires, in my case six days hence. In America you have to go to the bike rental place and find a way to get it back later. The service is amazing here.

The sky soon begins to darken in earnest, the lower bough of clouds radiated from below with orange writ large, reminding me of the glow of the space heater in cold Ohio. A little pool of saltwater collects in the rock outcroppings while a ghost ship sparkles on the sea.

A huge crab sidles up to us but Mark and I scare it away, simply by our approach.

”It is a beautiful crab,” I said, and my wife asks why I never think she’s beautiful when she’s crabby!

Then the bar closes. I’d not closed down a bar in probably a couple decades but it’s easier here since it closes by six pm.

Sunday


Last night I learned exactly where the expression "sawing logs" comes from in referring to sleep. This is often not of the simple hand variety, but a Poulan gasoline-powered chain saw. Sleep was thus ragged.

At dinner last night I exhibited the superstitious belief that if I leave a bit of of food on the plate it's not gluttony, notwithstanding evidence to the contrary. So when I left a bit of food my waiter said that the Mayans call that "the hatch" as in "I can't go yet - I've 'the hatch'!".

The breakfast buffet is especially plentiful and I wonder if part of the reason gluttony is wrong is that it makes you lethargic and uncomfortably full which makes you less alert to any service God may will, should one be open to service in the first place. It reminds me a bit of what I once heard regarding Church teaching against masturbation, that it took away some of the desire to serve God through others, specifically through marriage and being fruitful and multiplying. Though St. Thomas said that use of sexual facilities increases desire (although perhaps a rebuttal to that is how rapes have fallen off despite the big increase in porn in our culture).

I do penance by riding my bike to San Miguel's Church in the city of San Miguel here in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. This exercise in learning where exactly I was - beyond 'Cozumel Island' - was required by the customs station. "City = Cozumel, State = Inebriation" wouldn't fly and would only perpetuate ugly American stereotypes. Speaking thereof, I turned on the local radio station and heard frequent use of the word "Americanos" and "America" ending with a mock-heroic song clip beginning with "America". That can't be good, I figure, even though I knew none of the Spanish surrounding the word. But Obama has come to the rescue and now the world will love us. (not!)

St. Michael's as the doors open and the street sounds enter, mixing the sacred and the profane. Boys in a car blare rap into the street and into the church and it was pleasing in the sense of not walling off the sacred from the profane as we are wont to do, in limiting Jesus to the tabernacle.

While I'm gone, Steph and Sandy learn to Salsa dance, which meant that the timing of my bike ride was excellent. That I'm no fun is obvious by the fact that I read Mark Steyn on vacation instead of doing the cha-cha or even reading a light novel. His is certainly not ideal vacation reading, especially the paragraph:
"Incremental decay is seductive. In some ways, the most pleasant place to live is in a state of gradual decline. You have the accumulated inheritance of a dynamic past to smooth the genteel downward slide. Much of Europe feels like that. You sit at a sidewalk cafe and watch the world go unhurriedly by. Life is good, work is undemanding, vacation's coming up, war has been abolished."
Spiritual capital is more difficult to acquire than material; someone once said the compounding value of money is the most powerful force on earth, which means that if you save a little early you can avoid having to save a lot more later. Spiritual capital is not the same.

The wind is strong this morning. The sea gusts over the stone protecting walls. It lends a mood for sea shanties, which I learned on C-Span last week that Cherie Blair, wife of Tony Blair, used to sing as a kid in Liverpool.

We'd missed Sunday 8am Mass because Masstimes.org had said 8 when it was really 7, so we trundled out for 8pm Mass after dinner at an open-air restaurant. I've since updated the website. Mass reminds me, in a "Hound of Heaven" sort of way, as ice on a burn. When you burn yourself, you put ice on it and then it feels good for awhile. But then it wears off suddenly and you find it burning again and you need to put ice on it. I felt sorry for my wife, who isn't Catholic, to hear a Mass in Spanish. There is also nothing quite as humbling as receiving Communion in a Mexican church when so many do not receive, presumably out of personal unworthiness. I tend to think of them as likely far more worthy than this well-off gringo.

Monday


The balcony here is fabulous, an "oasic" perch from which fills the eye with azureness. Out of the blue, literally, appear two Carnival cruise ships. Modern-day pirates, they come and dislodge thousands to loot the stores along the strip. They look like mirages.

I wonder at the captain of a cruise ship, how he prevents it from getting old. The ships practically sail themselves these days given the computer equipment and 'power steering'; one senses the job deosn't tax one physically or mentally except in extraordinary circumstances. He's a long way from Chris Columbus. You could say he gets paid to "look at water".

The hotel has gone a bit faddish on us, placing a book of the teachings of Buddha in every room instead of a Bible. Somewhere Mr. Gideon is spinning in his grave. If we could find an English bible down here it'd be nice to donate one to our room. There is a Christmas tree in the hotel lobby with finely-wrapped presents under it, which my wife told me were only empty boxes. Mere symbols, like Baptist eucharists. (Now that I've offended Buddhists and Baptists I'll leave the subject of religion alone; my beef with the Buddha bible is only that it seems so trendy these days, as if the religion is a consumer item which the hotel wants to be associated with.)

______


Snorkeling, I come across what I call a sea snake but which turns out to be a spotted moray eel. Not especially friendly, he. The only sea creature to object rather vehemently to this snorkeler's presence.

On shore, I look upon the waves...
White cap, white cap,
like sharks in the distance!
White flash, white flash,
the sea sails itself!
The day is windy and welcomely overcast, offering silence and privacy for the hardy beach lover. Winter feels so hibernatory, both socially and otherwise, and yet it's the most social time of the year between Thanksgiving and birthdays and Christmas and New Years'.

The aquamarine waves form and re-form like a Kaleidoscope. There seems more oxygen at the sea line, the air super-oxygenated with salt and the barnacled rock wall looking like something from the age of the Conquistadors.

Caribbean magazine, found in the room, talks of a private island rented to Oprah and Bono and others, seductively selling it this way:
"you're getting a purchase on profound versions of abstractions like privacy, space and beauty - luxuries (or are they necessities?) that go beyond mere comfort and consumption, and speak to the needs of the soul."
I read the New Yorker like the Talmud, as it's the only magazine I thought I'd brought (turns out I had an NR too). There's something about magazines and beaches that go together like blogs and bloviation. The New Yorker has a bit on a new book out titled Hitler's Private Library: "Ryback relies heavily on Walter Benjamin's idea of the private library as a map of its owner's character, but Hitler's reading yields few new insights." Also, it mentions "The Secret Life of Words" which looks interesting.

Sitting on the deck that overhangs the ocean, I feel like the captain of a ship, the waves about eight feet below but exploding upward to within inches of me, as if they were leaping towards me with affection as an effusive dog. It's the closest I'm likely to come to a William F. Buckley sailing experience.

The scene makes me want to read those books I only want to read when I'm near the ocean, like Moby Dick. I like this front seat to the open ocean. The mistake I make is to sit too far back such that the fellow tourists become the focus rather than the sky and water.

Our family comes from sea stock. We were all born mariners, emerging from primordial amniotic fluid which I've heard is chemically not too dissimilar from sea water. I also had the good fortune to live my early years near a creek. I spent many an hour there looking at water. Watching the crawdads and skater spiders and the hullosks (made-up word) that hunkered along the creek bank. Tiny shell fossils gave evidence of Ohio being an inland sea at one point; I was born only a few million years too late, give or take.

Black-suited divers look like coral after they descend....

Yes it's a nice break of weather. It's 'gales of November come early' weather, with a wind so fierce that lighting a cigar was a fruitless enterprise. But with a windbreaker jacket it's not bad. I muse how odd it is that we enter vacations (and prayer) so reluctantly, as if it were burdensome to slow down, to look at the sky, to listen to the music of the waves.

The outdoor bar is a figure of wonderment, a study in beautiful and functional architecture. It's all clean lines - dark wood polished by the arms and elbows of those sitting atop white pillar stools. A thatched "Tiki hut" covers it and the sides are painted tropical red, which in audacity match the brilliant hue of the ocean itself. The dark maize of the balcony and the red of the bar confirm this is a land of color, like the red and yellow doors of Ireland which accompany the audacious thousand hues of green found there.

Tuesday


A possible jellyfish sting cuts short today's snorkel. Being highly allergic in the past (requiring an emergency room visit), I was necessarily a bit paranoid. The doctor had said a few years back that every subsequent sting I'd have a more severe reaction. A little archipelago of red bumps begins to form on my arm. I put some Calydril lotion on it after washing it but am nervous about having this hang over my head. I figure I'll have to drink a beer or two (for medicinal purposes only). I rarely feel hypochondriatic, but suddenly I wonder if that's numbness I feel is the result of some sort of allergy-induced stroke. I'm ready to pop a Benadryl if I have trouble breathing even though Benadryls knock me out like sleeping pills. (Later I would learn from Mark that anaphylactic shock isn't aided by Benadryl.)

On a different front, I learn to stop worrying and ride over broken glass. I was a little concerned about riding on the edge of roads that seemed to have a lot of glass from previous accidents still extant. But eventually I figure that the tires are just thicker down here, in the way indigenous things are usually well-suited for their environment.

Eventually my arm seems to show no signs of reaching elephantine proportions due to swelling, and the odd twitches come less frequently. I can relax again. The sun lights up the surface of the moving sea and I stare at it like a flickering campfire.

Whether neutral or ill, I'm moving ever farther from a camping sensibility, that is amenity-insensitive. Perhaps it's a natural result of aging. But I do appreciate having a refrigerator in the room. Just not to have to drive a car is a vacation; I make at least fourteen trips a week, going 300 miles. Not much compared to many, but enough.

Part of why I like the place where land meets sea is it's a visual border between order and chaos, and if that border is often messy or missing in politics or life, here it is crystal clear - the ravages of the wild sea threaten but do not overtake the chairs and bar and settlement from which I view it. It's consoling if perhaps illusory. The serrated edge of nature's knife lay here against our throat and we feel more alive for it. The waves look like a surrounding army with uncountable battalions and yet contained, painted within the lines God has ordained.

Evil has a limit but it's incalculably greater than most of us can imagine. That's why the Immaculee book Led by Faith strikes such a chord. She came out of a Rwandan horror equivalent to the Holocaust, an updating of Hitler without a figurehead. And a young girl, no less, proving again that God makes the weak strong to show the strong from whence real strength comes from. Her instincts differ from mine; it's like in the slasher movie where the girl seems to put herself in danger. I think of ways I would have avoided the trouble Immaculee is about to experience while she, in her innocence, is more trusting of God and man. I think of escape routes, while she expects God to provide, which brings about the opportunity of change to her persecutors.

It was also telling to see her gratefulness and affection for Dr. Wayne Dyer. It was personally helpful to me, if providing a bit of a cognitive dissonance, in how this "marriage" between a devout Catholic from Africa to he who, fairly or unfairly, represents to me the liberal PBS therapeutic model. Immaculee makes friends without checking their credentials first, which is the way God does. Dyer suffers in my view only because I'm so infused with that therapeutic vision which influenced me early on and continues to do so. I associate that view with the modern view that health is more important than virtue. If the Bible were re-written in a therapeutic culture it might go something like this:
"Cain had father issues that needed to be worked out in a way other than violence. Adam's concern over his nakedness shows he was extremely sexually repressed. Eve's willingness to try things seen as taboo is laudable."
So I like that Immaculee and Dyer are friends, a symbol of the fact that between God and science there is no disconnect.

God never gives you more than you can handle, I tell my wife, though He comes very close. She says this is so God can remind you he takes care of you, when relief comes. Relief on His schedule.

I run 45 minutes or so down the beach and back. Steph got a massage and encouraged me to get one. I told her I'm relaxed enough - I have alcohol. Ha. Plus the massage thing I still tend to associate with ancient Rome. I joked that the muscle men want massaged isn't covered in a massage, that is the brain. (What did you think I was going to say!? :-)

But Dominican nuns now give massages due to touch itself being healing. The New Yorker, amazingly, printed a letter to the editor lauding JP II's "Theology of the Body", a work, shamefully, I haven't read much of yet. The letter begins "Talbot's fine article points out some obvious problems with a negative, 'mortify the flesh' view of human sexuality..." Indeed, if mortify the flesh is plan A, plan B sounds good. I was born a bit late, as Theo of the Body came out after high school and college years but after two thousand years of Christianity it's still feels precarious, the Church solving problems (to the extent She can, original sin being what it is) over centuries rather than in any individual's lifetime, but then that's understandable given that we are a corporate Body rather than a collection of individuals.

____

I like the (not so) little things, like the fact that the bed gets magically made when we're here. Or like how in the mornings the coffee cups are magically replaced with clean ones. Ideally the lack of work required down here would result in great study but so far only the New Yorker, the memoir of Cherie Blair and a Dean Koontz novel have been my fare. Oh, and a taste of Moby Dick when sea-toxicated. I'd brought Russell Kirk's The Sword of Imagination out of the nostalgia of wanting to finish the last fourth of it, having read the first 3/4ths when I was on a vacation five years ago. I'd also brought Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris but so far have been too slothful to read it.

Wednesday
"I was not tempted by either Sirens or Mermaidiens, or any of the green-haired following of Glaucus...In my pagan days the sea was always full of tritons blowing conches, and other unpleasant things." - Oscar Wilde
The hotel service is always pretty extraordinary. Gentle, the whisper in the ear from the masseuse: 'your massage is done...you can stay." I think the masseuse is more transparent than workers in other jobs though I could be wrong. It seems like the human touch exhibits the personality of the toucher no matter how specific the training is; it's like a different pianists will arrive at slightly different sounds while playing the same song. A computer program, if it works, looks like any other computer program to the user.

Today I swam again with the fishes. Every day I appreciate it more. It's not just about hoovering weightlessly over a coral reef, but more Lord of the Dance, the song that came to mind today. Quarter turns, flip turns, dive down for fish-eye views. I adopt a pet, a brown codger who stays in one place about 3-4 feet below the surface looking up with doggy eyes. I see semi-camouflaged flounder on the bottom, looking like sand dollars with fish visages of some past fish president. Barracudas come, with their Speedo bodies, or so I thought until I later learn I'd mistakenly identified flatnose needlefish! I wander into a major fish intersection - I look to my right and am blindsided by a school of dozens of large yellow jacks. The time of day is crucial - an hour or so before sunset the sun hits the water at an angle and refracts on the sand floor. The fish are feeding too, big and little and in between. The sea floor is finely raked, as with a broom, in neat rows created by waves. I dive down into a causeway, holding my breath while followed by parrotfish.

Endorphined by a long bike ride and a Guinness, the snorkel fins become my dorsal fins, a part of me, and I swivel my ankles, sweeping and swirling, dancing and diving in this sea's half-acre.

_____

We talk to the barkeeper, an Irish-looking Mexican with curly black hair and ruddy expression. His mouth glittered with rows of silver, which him seem more genuine somehow, in the way someone with just two or three replaced teeth might not. "he's an "all or noner". He likes Calderone, the new Prez of Mexico, and Vicente Fox, the past president. Both were friendly to business, but when it comes to American presidents the party less friendly to business is not appreciated. Like Vicente Fox, this barkeep singled out Carter and Clinton as his favorite U.S. presidents. I didn't get the impression his distaste for Bush was connected with Iraq. He seemed to look at Bush as the Mexican Pri party, too long in office and subject to corruption. Cherie Blair, wife of Tony, says that foreign policy is all about national interest and not domestic politics and so she says Bush's politics didn't bother her that much. So what's it to Mexico regarding Bush? Maybe that England and the U.S. share more foreign policy commonalities than the U.S. & Mexico.

Thursday

Before I was,
my parents were.

Before my parents were,
the oceans were.

Before the oceans knew of guardians,
my angel was.

Before the angels were,
God was.
The water is pirate-clear, translucent enough to see beneath the sand to 16th century Castille. In the water I see a piece of driftwood that looks like a Mayan ruin. Florida's coast never seemed too Robinson Crusoe, at least not to this extent. Not having been to Hawaii or the South Pacific leaves me no less in awe of this wonder. A speed boat full of tourists rushes by and I think: "There but for the grace of God go I".

Underwater today there were big honkers, the technical term for large fish. I'm surprised by a newbie, a brown and white stingray. We'd seen filo fish too. The needlefish are unnerving, being mistaken as they are for barracudas even though barracudas aren't aggressive.

Across the way I see tiny white bicuspids along the horizon. They mark the Mexican mainland, presumably Playa del Carmen though I've no Google Earth handy. It's nice to do nothing sometimes. Like any skill, I get better at relaxation over time. By Thursday it doesn't intimidate me. I think I could be relaxed another week down here. There is a wisdom to increasing an employee's share of vacation time over time. 3-4 days was life-transforming for a 23-year old, not it's quite the same. Maybe two weeks? Weeks go by so fast now. I recall a sibling going on vacation for a week and it was over so quickly I almost felt sorry for them. And yet, as mom said, it doesn't go that fast for them. Or maybe it does but it's a different kind of fast. It's like the difference between fast food and a gourmet meal - they both are over relatively quick but they are...different.

The toothy buildings in the distance represent work, daily life. I like seeing them there. Today I opt towards full laziness. No bike ride, no run, no seriosity in reading material other than the deadly serious novelist Dean Koontz. I let time elongate its own self. I don't parcel it into the usual 1-2 hour capsules which, in apparently anti-farm work parlance goes "no silos".

Thursdays of vacation weeks feel instantly elegiac, full of disastrous forebodings which the tropical fish can't ameliorate. "But if my ship, which sails tomorrow..." - The Pogues "Lorelei". The breezes caress in consolation, earth touches sky, the salt jumps from the water and smoosh goes the sand, a gelatinous shock absorber.
____

Mark thought the turtles out front were imaginary despite eyewitness accounts from his fellow travelers. In a "touch my side, Thomas" moment, the truth is revealed. They come from all corners. Later Mark and I discuss the short-evity (antonym of longevity) of so many pop song writers. They keep making songs but they're not as good as their earlier ones. (See John Denver.)

____

"Tu-rah-lu-ra-lay!"

My latest nomination for greatest song ever is '80s song "Come on Eileen".

It has everything: light-heartedness, pathos, joy, resolve, contentedness. The brilliance is a breakout towards the end of the song - a sudden whisperendo and change to a minor key as it were. It slows to a crawl, as if the suitor is literally crawling towards his love interest.

It encapsulates life - from the time when we think we're "far too young and clever" to the point at which we are crawling. "At this moment you mean everything," the singer intones honestly. Because that's all we can offer at any given time. We have only the moment, which is both our delight and our curse. Our delight because it gives us hope. Our curse because the future is uncertain.

____

Tonight's our third night downtown in five days but it works out, to my surprise, just swimmingly tonight. We find the perfect restaurant with outdoor seating and Steph and Sandy go shopping but without wasting their time - they come back bearing baubles, having fulfilled their gift-buying duties in record time.

While the gals were gone three kids approached us, one carrying a palm limb with Christmas foil attached to it*. Our waiter tells us it's a Christmas tradition where children collect money for presents, I think for poor kids though their eagerness - more so than our "Trick or Treaters" - makes me wonder now.

Another boy held an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe while they sang. And we weren't cheated. A long son git was, almost more spoken than sang, came forth in Spanish. About twenty minutes later another group cam by. Then another. Then while we were shopping others came. Cute kids, though the little banditos were everywhere! (Which reminds me - one definition of relaxation is to be able to sing, with sincerity and enthusiasm, the ballad "I am a Frito Bandito". )

Friday


One thing that amazes me down here is how the workers talk to each other constantly. I wonder what they have to say, although I'm not one to talk, given how verbose this blog is. After a day spent working together at the spa, I see the spa ladies talking after work up at the street corner. There is great mirth in the eyes of the barmaids, hanging with the barmen. These folks see each other 40 hours or more a week and I think how I don't talk to my co-workers that much.

At dusk, it's not like looking at a painting it's like being in one. The waves remind me of the swirls and crests in an oil painting while the cruise ships go by alit like birthday cakes.

We don't know much Spanish but we're wearing out what we do. We're "Ola"ing and "Gracias"-ing the poor people to death. For variety I throw out a "Buenos Nachos" and my wife says the 's' in Buenos is semi-silent. I tell her that's impossible - a letter is either silent or not, like someone being pregnant or not. She claims pregnancy is not so cut or dried, that it doesn't occur until the embryo is implanted. I say pregnancy occurs at fertilization. We look it up later on the 'net and she admits I was right, although since conception can occur outside the body these days it does stretch the meaning of pregnant.

Tomorrow is our last day and is brevity writ quick, a punch 'n judy affair lasting only until the noon-thirty checkout. Wherefore are thou Friday? Deny they father and call thyself 'Tuesday' so we'll have more days down here. The same barkeeps, same fish feeding off the reef will continue after we're gone.

Meanwhile, the air smells of adventure, like a Tavis McGee novel. There's a houseboat nearby listing drunkenly on the dark waters with the lights burnishing only a few paltry meters of roilsome augua. Along the horizon a string of kliegs demarck land. The sky is a brackish purple pushing up tumulous clouds.

I read Joseph Bottum's memoristic Thanksgiving post on "First Things" blog today. He had pleasingly (for the outsider) eccentric parents who encouraged their children to become 'jack of all trades' such that whenever a repairman came to visit that repairman would be asked to give the children a history of his profession and teach them the skills of the trade. One is thankful his father didn't frequent prostitutes. My parents never embarrassed us as his did; rather it was the other way around. Bottum's post reminded me of something I read years ago, from the NY Times Sunday magazine, about a father with a penchant for quoting Coleridge:
"I was in awe of my father's cerebral prowess. He was always intellectually trigger-happy, plus a bit hard of hearing, and the combination was deadly. If anyone happened to mention it was 'coldish' out, my father would starting bellowing Coleridge: 'Down to the sunless sea....'

During the many times he dragged us through Europe, every inscription on every doorway and pillar had to be decoded, whether from French or German, Latin or Greek. At museums he'd give the guards art history lessons. At a Japanese restaurant he'd correct a waiter's pronunciation. Even at a pizza parlor he'd order in extravagant Italian - a bit of Dante's 'Inferno' thrown in for good measure, complete with rococo arm gestures, kissing his fingers and writing in the air. It was always murder taking him anywhere."
Saturnine Saturday


Saturday morning. 6:30am. Small two and three-person fishing boats travel northeast while huge cruise ships pass in the other direction. The cruise ships are silent, the motors on the fishing boats loud. We are sitting just south of the northwest most point of Cozumel, just east of the mass of land jutting into the Gulf of Mexico called the Yucatan Peninsula. Peacefully, the song "Petticoat Junction" comes to mind: "there's a little hotel called the Shady Rest at the Junction" while looking up with longing at the hotel's buttercup ramparts in the morning gleam.

I read from the hotel directory:
"We would like to remind you that the Island's spirit is one of calmness and relaxation. You will find it in its people, its nature and our daily ways of life. 'Siesta' is a must and hurriedness is unheard of. Activities are casual and not subject to tight scheduling. All of us wish you can immerse yourself into that spirit."
Easier said than done!
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* - More information about the palm branch song here. Called "canción de la rama", one source says:


At Christmas time you may encounter small groups of children downtown and near the square. You'll see them with a branch decorated for Christmas with tinsel and ornaments. They will greet you excitedly with, "Cantata de rama?" At the same time, they will eagerly offer a box or can asking for coins. If you agree, they will sing for you and then, in turn, you deposit your gift of coins.
The words of the song vary, even more so with through the fracturing lens of Babelfish translation:

The Branch in Yucatan and Veracruz

By the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico, the Branch is a tradition. The children decorate a branch for Christmas - as there is available. Sometimes they are adornments of the Christmas tree, sometimes toys pequeñitos, with angel hair, which is. Then they go of house in house singing - we asked if the family wanted to hear the branch and if they said yes then we sang, and they gave money to us. We did in general it before the inns began, day 16 of December, but sometimes we followed beyond that date. The problem is that I do remember the words of the song. I know that it changed according to sang who it. Sometimes it was longer, sometimes more cortita, but there were some parts that were always included.

Contribution from Takings Wild H.:

About song of Branch, whose words does not remember... I sent them this:
"Oranges and you file you file
and lemons prettier the Virgin than all the flowers
In a portalito of lime and sand
Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Eve

Green Zacatito dew plenty
the one that is not covered
one dies of cold
The skull has a tooth it has a tooth
and the death has two
If they do not give my Christmas gift
my Christmas gift
they will already pay it with God."
Besides that main letter, there are some additional rhymes that are sung like goodbye, and which they change according to the children who carry the branch receive or nonChristmas gift on the part of the inhabitants of the visited house. I would love to make the explanation of which I was born in the State of Veracruz, where that tradition like in Yucatan exists, and is realised in the previous days to Christmas.

Natalia Lopez of Yucatan, Merida, says to us how the Branch in Yucatan is sung:
"I stop to me in the door
I clear the hat to me because
in this house a horseman lives. A horseman lives,
a general lives
and he gives permission us to begin.

Oranges and you file you file
and lemons here she is the virgin of all the flowers.
In a jacalito of lime and sand
Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Eve.

On an average night
a rooster sang
and in his song it said:
"Already Christ nació" Green,
full Zacatito of there was dew
the one that is not covered one dies of cold.

Mrs. Santa, why cries the boy?
By an apple that is it lost
That he does not cry by one,
I will give two him one for the boy
and another one for God.

Calaca has a tooth, it has a tooth.
Topogigio has two. If they give our Christmas gift us,
Christmas gift the gentleman would be pleased to it.

And following if one occurs him something to the branch is sung:

The branch already goes away very been thankfu
l because in this house well it was received
They happen good night, therefore we wished them
they happen good night, we we go away.

Or if it does not touch anything to him to the branch,
then… The branch already goes away very heartbroken
because in this house they did not give anything him
They happen good night, therefore we wished them…

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