Saturday, February 11, 2012

Looking for home

About a week ago an e-mail from a good friend arrived saying she was looking forward to "coming home", meaning she was coming back to San Miguel. The word "home" struck me as a bit strange, for she is not Mexican, not by a long a shot, but a true Texan, who sprinkles her drawl with "y'all's" as predictably as some of our Canadian friends finish their sentences with "eh?"

My Texas friend and her husband have been in San Miguel longer than we have, probably eight or ten years, but have hardly sworn off Texas or the U.S. They have children and grandchildren in Houston, and recently spent quite a bit of time there for medical treatment.

Other American acquaintances here claim they have, physically and mentally, abandoned the U.S. except for collecting Social Security checks. In the words of one woman, "I don't give a shit what happens in the U.S. as long as I keep getting my checks."

Crown Fountain at Chicago's Millennium Park
For our part, Stew and I are drifting toward a twilight zone of sorts regarding what we regard as home. Recently we spent a week at a Mexican beach with friends from Chicago and their tales from that city  sounded as distant as a weather report from Finland. Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is doing well in his reincarnation as Chicago mayor. Good for him.

At another dinner with Chicagoans on Thursday we heard that breast cancer had finally claimed Maggie, the wife of former mayor Richard Daley, about four months ago. Stew and I hadn't heard.

Indeed, the Chicago section of our Rolodex has gotten pretty thin during our six years in San Miguel. E-mails from our friends come farther apart until they stop coming altogether, though a few friendships have been instead nurtured by distance. Former co-workers report on the travails of the Chicago Tribune, where I used to work, though I no longer care that much--as long as my pension checks keep coming.

We try to follow American politics but even then the time we can tolerate listening to Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, or even the far mellower Brian Williams, also is shrinking. We regularly cut off newscasters in mid-sentence, out of disgust or just boredom.

The Republican primary, as seen from a leather chair in Mexico, looks like a foreign-language clown show. Amusing one day, bizarre the next, but ultimately irrelevant, particularly when news bits about the race arrive in a thick soup of micro-analysis, punditry and speculation, lately seasoned by CNN with an electronic board that looks like a giant iPad, with John King touching one corner or another to take viewers from Las Vegas to Columbus, Ohio and back. Babble, babble all the way.

Who knows? Who cares? Where's the damn remote?

But in spite of the growing disconnect between us and our former base we haven't developed enough roots in Mexico to call this "home" either, as our friend from Texas does.

Our house here is great, a hybrid of Mexican decor and American gadgets, surrounded by a beautiful landscape and a perfect climate (though it's been clammy and miserable now for three days running).

We designed the house specifically to our needs and tastes, to be our "forever" home, or at least our home for the foreseeable future. Any more we tune out Americans fretting about house resale values because Stew and I haven't thought of selling or going anywhere, certainly not to back to the U.S.

Friends in San Miguel--really good friends--are more numerous than we ever had in Chicago, and a singularly interesting, well educated bunch. Gay and straight couples and also singles, the only thing in common being that they are old--not as "old friends" but as in Social Security-old. Yesterday we bought a desk-size appointment calendar at Office Depot to jot down all our social comings and goings.

This busy circle of friends, though, is like a fish tank filled with familiar English-speaking guppies from the U.S. or Canada. It's understandable because relatively few of our friends speak Spanish. Some are not really interested in Mexico-type things either, beyond colorful handicrafts and an occasional plate of tacos, and are happy to remain perpetual tourists in this place they call home.

I have made a sustained effort to insert myself into the Mexico all around us, but have not  made much progress. I speak fluent Spanish, but it's Cuban Spanish, as different from the Mexican variety--and as easily detectable by the locals--as a Mississippi drawl would be in Boston. My Spanish gets me directions and a general understanding of what is going on, but so far hasn't taken me to the "mi casa es tu casa" phase of mixing with Mexicans.

My height--six-foot-three-inches--puts me about eight inches above any Mexicans around. That, if nothing else, creates a glass-like barrier around me that I haven't been able to break.

A good part of the problem too is the reticence and privateness of Mexicans, who are invariably polite but not likely to invite you to go dancing at the next fiesta. Two weeks ago a friend from San Antonio and I went to a big fiesta at Sosnavar, Félix' home, and we were fascinated by the lack of fun among the participants.

There was a traditional dancing group with bright costumes who went through all the motions precisely, but there were no cheers, clapping or other encouragement from the bystanders who stood by watching the spectacle as impassively as if they were watching mesquites blooming.

I could imagine that if we had we been in Puerto Rico or Cuba there would have been much spontaneous whistling, clapping and instinctive booty-wiggling and soon the performers and the spectators would have blended into one raucous conga line.

Most of the noise at some of these fiestas comes from a steady volley of firecrackers, beginning at 6:30 a.m. Some of the participants may succumb to booze as the day wears on, but that's not exactly what you'd call fun. 

I'm not giving up. Next weekend is fiesta time at La Biznaga, the little town next to us to which our ranch technically belongs. I'm determined to stay throughout the entire show and find out what if anything I am missing. Also, we contributed $500 pesos to the fiesta fund last week so the least I can do is go watch and eat.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is not about to let go of us. Stew is working on our federal taxes and last week we received, via email, our absentee voter paperwork from Chicago. I know, I know, voting for Democrats in Chicago is like endorsing pasta in Rome, but somehow as a loyal U.S. citizens we feel that's the least we can do.

6 comments:

  1. It's interesting, isn't it...this process of living long-term and trying to find "home" in a new culture.

    After nearly nine years in Mérida, I've got to say that I do consider it home...although a different sort of home than Alaska where I was born, because my deep roots are not here. Nevertheless it's a place where I feel centered and at home. I don't feel foreign here and do not yearn for the USA. In fact, as you appear to do, from this distance I increasingly find the hyped-up media/celebrity culture north of the border to be trivial and quite strange. I am not completely fluent in Spanish, but most of my days are spent immersed among Mexican friends and neighbors and not isolated in the foreigner community, in which I socialize only occasionally.

    I like it. I continue to experiment in finding my way here, and it continues to grow on me.

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    1. Wow. Alaska to Merida must have been quite a jump. Making Mexican vs. American friends may be a matter of just following the path of least resistance. When you have a large expat community like we do in San Miguel, you automatically gravitate toward it. It's the easiest thing. If we didn't we may have more Mexican friends. Our location outside of the city also may complicate matters because the Mexicans who live around us are very poor.

      At the end of the day we like it here too, no regrets.

      We were thinking of going to Merida and Veracruz this year and if you give me your e-mail we'll contact you beforehand and buy you lunch when we get there. Thanks for your comment.

      al

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  2. Al, I think if you ever had to go spend a long period of time back in Chicago, you would realize which place feels like "home"

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  3. We're just back from 6 weeks in Merida. Nice but I do not like the humidity. And, would not want to be there past February because of the weather. Yes, lots of air conditioning but after 12 years in SMA, we've grown to dislike a/c. But, Merida is a nice escape if you want the warmth of a beach climate in a big city where there is lots to do.

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  4. "Home" is one of those concepts I simply do not use -- though the word will inadvertently slip into my posts now and then. I never had ha a desire to label anyplace home. It may have to do with my libertarian instincts. But I am simply not a nester.

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  5. The simple answer is HOME is where the heart is - truly. Some have little heart invested anywhere which usually leads to a default to the country of origin. If none of that works then playing with semantics will keep one entertained.

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