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Sounds of the Village

It starts with the roosters.  As the sun dimly lights the morning clouds, the roosters proudly proclaim “I am here! I am here!” Then the cows join in with their low baritones, affirming the day has begun. Next the church bell springs to life, two long rings followed by 15 rapid-fire ones. It is now 6:30 and the village is waking. Pretty soon we will hear the propane truck announcing its presence with the lyrical “Z gas, Z gas, Z gas”.  In our first days here before we actually saw the truck we assumed it was a tobacco dealer selling “Cigars, cigars, cigars”.

Dogs bark. Horse hooves clap a staccato on the cobblestone streets. Neighbors exchange a friendly “Buenos dias” as they pass each other on their way to the bus stop or to church. Missing is the sound of freeway traffic, leaf blowers and jet planes. It could be 1640 or 1890 or 2008. Progress here is measured in centuries, not decades – it took 200 years to finish the church. It is only when you walk the three blocks to the highway that the illusion is shattered by the new Wal-Mart being built between green fields of corn.

After breakfast we drive or walk two miles to the gym for an aerobic workout set to the disco-beat of old Beatles songs. The gym is owned by Judit, a Hungarian-born acupuncturist who came to Mexico by way of Canada. The crowd is mostly gringo seniors with a few younger Mexican women - the Mexican men don’t seem to join. We leave the gym invigorated and head a few blocks to the town plaza to sip coffee at the organic coffee café across from the stone church - the one that took two hundred years to complete. The café owners, Pepe and Betzy, have become friends thanks to Lyn – she trained Betzy and their seven-month-old Labrador, Osa (“Bear” in Spanish).  Osa spent her puppyhood in their upstairs apartment but is now excitedly experiencing the sights and smells of the village.

Finishing our coffee, we run assorted errands or head down to the lake to see if it has risen further. Thanks to several years of above-average rain, the largest lake in Mexico is at historic high levels and everyone seems to be happy about it. Better for tourism, better for business, better for the environment. Not so good for the trees that sprung up during times of low water levels and now stand rotting 100 yards from shore. Chapala is a very shallow lake and a dip of several feet can mean a shoreline retreat of hundreds of yards.

We stop by the Polleria to get some chicken necks – Gabe’s favorite frozen treat. My Spanish is punctuated with pantomime as I point to my neck, crudely indicating which body part I want. I ask for a dozen but leave with only three for the grand sum of three pesos – thirty cents. Walking back, we pass the corner Carniceria with its lineup of street dogs waiting for some meat scraps. We avoid the highway and take the cobblestone street that connects Ajijic to our village, San Antonio. Halfway there a small herd of saddled rental horses await riders for the possibility of a trot along the lake. We are now in La Floresta, a non-descript up-scale neighborhood of mostly walled compounds. An occasional open gate affords a view of grassy courtyards, swimming pools and grand haciendas.

Passing an open field of horses and cattle, we turn down Colon street and finally arrive at our own walled compound. From the street, a narrow green gate opens to a vine-lined corridor squeezed between the two adjacent properties, just wide enough for our car. At the end of the corridor the property suddenly opens up to reveal a grand house and two small casitas set amid lush landscaping. We have rented the smaller of the casitas, privately tucked away in one corner of the property. Jack, a friendly black Lab, wags his body in greeting as we approach. He gets fed by our landlady but belongs to whoever is currently renting the casita.

We arrive home, free to read or nap or create or plan our next adventure. Life in the slow lane. I think back to all the helter-skelter days of rushing to and from work, cramming everything into weekends, scheduling our lives months in advance and I wonder how I ever put up with it. It is a life that no longer feels a part of me, as if it were someone else’s. Mexico does that to you, it’s part of the rhythm of this culture. The belief that joy and pleasure don’t come packaged as things or accomplishments but rather are part of one’s life as it is lived each day.


So what’s in a name...

Too many notes”, declared Emperor Joseph II after hearing Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Similarly, I feel Ajijic has too many dotted letters. They all blur together, causing your eye to screech to a stop in order to decipher it. Pronounced “ah-hee-HEEK”, there is also an alternate spelling, Axixic, which is much easier to read. In this case the letter X can also be pronounced as an H, like in the Spanish pronunciation of Mexico (“MAY-hee-ko”), although some scholars feel that X was originally used by the Spanish to represent the “SH” sound in the Nahuatl language. This would make the original pronunciation of Ajijic “ah-shee-SHEEK”, but we’ll never really know unless our ears can go back in time...


Camera Lost and Found

To the average American, the image of Mexican as good Samaritan isn’t one that immediately comes to mind, but you do not have to live here long before you either experience it first hand or hear the uplifting stories of others. I tripped and fell in Guadalajara and immediately people rushed over to help me up and make sure I was ok. Not to say that this doesn’t happen in the US, but in Mexico it’s almost guaranteed that total strangers will go out of their way to help. Friends of ours have had flat tires or car trouble and strangers stopped to help them get going. One friend of ours got lost in the desert as it was getting dark and used her cell phone to call the only local number she could remember—the busy foreman of a construction company.  He dropped what he was doing to spend the next two hours locating and rescuing her.

Our own experience in Ajijic involved a brand new digital camera that I had given Lyn for her birthday in May. I set it on the roof of the car and drove off (don’t ask why…). Later that day when the camera was no where to be found, I realized what I had done so I made posters offering a reward for the camera’s return and posted them around town. The next day I got a call from a woman who had found the camera and wanted to return it. I walked a few blocks to her apartment, elated that the camera had been recovered. It seems that she and her husband not only saw it fall, but they tried to chase me down as I drove away. I pulled out my wallet to give her the $40 reward—probably equivalent to a few days wages. By the looks of the apartment, she and her husband appeared to be struggling financially plus they had several small mouths to feed. She refused to take the money, I insisted, she refused again, I insisted more strongly and finally she gave in and took the money, saying that she only would take it because she really needed it.

I don’t mean to sound as if I feel Americans aren’t good Samaritans—for the most part they are and American people are globally respected for their generosity. It’s just that I think it would be nice to follow the example of the Mexican people and offer help without regard as to how it might fit into one’s schedule, lifestyle or social appropriateness. One telling fact about Mexico is the almost complete absence of homeless people. For sure, many poor people cross the border in search of a better life but within this poverty-plagued country, if you have family or friends you will never be homeless. How many of us would be gladly willing to offer our living room sofa to a down-and-out cousin or old friend?  Think about it...




Ajijic: Life in the slow ‘carril’

Click on any picture to view larger version. More photos

Text Box: Lake Chapala from the Ajijic pier
Text Box: The town plaza is the place where old friends catch up
Text Box: The “New” church, finished in the mid 1700s.
Text Box: One of several interestingly carved trees in the plaza.
Text Box: Gringo-gone-native on his trusty burrow.
Text Box: The “Old” church, finished in Cortes’ time.
Text Box: Market day in Ajijic.
Text Box: Manicured gardens of the Lake Chapala Society.
Text Box: Dancers perform for free in the plaza.