Friday, January 18, 2008

"Expat bloggers add fresh perspective to Mexico"

(Published January 18, 2007 in The Guadalajara Reporter)

Forget Lonely Planet and Fodors. At this moment, hundreds of English-speaking expatriates are not only enjoying new lives south of the border, but recording their ups and downs, travels and home life, good eats and unusual finds through digital journaling and photography posted on web logs for the world to browse. After a bit of web sifting, I’ve caught on to a few that really shine: the chosen expatriate blogs are easy on the eye, informative, and fun to read.

Ed Fladung lives and breathes surfing in Bucerias (just North of Vallarta) where he’s been, as his web/photoblog’s heading announces, on a “perpetual Mexican surf sabbatical” for the last four years. Fladung is about as g├╝ero as they come, with a shoulder length head of sun-bleached hair and a healthy beach glow. He occasionally appears in the vibrant, Technicolored shots of candid small-town Mexican life he posts — a click on the photography link in the upper right hand corner will send you to an online Flickr gallery which is like peering into a candy shop, sun-saturated rainbow colored pictures you could sort through for hours.

The photography is bright and entries light; his Keanu Reeves-esque surf lingo is endearing and readable. “OK, I’m off to go pre-book our hotels,” he writes in preparation for a surf trip to Bali. “Bummer, I was hoping to just roll up …” And of a boat captain’s suspiciously high fees, “I told dude that’s the gringo rate, that I live in Bucerias and I’d be willing to pay 300 pesos total. Dude said no.” Recent entries include movie reviews of a dozen or so films that passed through his “two horse town,” as well as an anti-Adobe Acrobat rant and several single photograph posts. Check the March 26, 2007 entry to learn how Mr. Fladung ran into members of The Whitest Boy Alive and Broken Social Scene at a local restaurant and witnessed an impromptu acousti
c concert (with Leslie Feist on spoons and glasses).

I’ll admit, the tone of this blog was initially off-putting (and beware of strong language, folks), but I’m now a droppedin addict. Maybe it’s the cleverly categorized entries (“Mexico is Baffling: Lace up your Jesus sneakers,” or “Entertaining at Home: Stop drinking you’re already drunk, a story about moderation”). Or maybe it’s the way some of the travel notes sound like poetic verse (“Progreso is a port town and a carnival … It’s got that Coney Island
desperation and democratic fun feel just barely below the surface of good time tourist town in training”).

The blog is a joint-effort by an artsy, bespectacled, and often crass 20-something couple from New York who now make their home in the Yucatan. It’s a live staging of the World of Jillian & Malcolm, a strange and beautiful adaptation of two cultures laid out in photostories, lists (from Jillian’s Likes about Mexico: “the
sexy ‘conductores’ of Telehit, Uriel and Amanda; Sundays are for bicycles and brunch and dancing; superior chicken”), and ceremony—Jillian pays homage to Grandpa Jack in the form of a pot roast on the Day of the Dead (“I learned a lot about Scotch and comedy from Jack, and so I did my best to honor him, to channel his improvised kitchen alchemy with some simple food and spices”). In the World of Jillian & Malcolm, blue crabs trespass kitchen floors, blackbirds squawking “MEK!” serve as alarm clocks before sunrise, and 29th birthdays are spent climbing the “World’s Deadliest Playground” in Dzilam Bravo and the isolated “casual ruins” of Xcampo. The appeal of this world, above all, is the sheer honesty the authors express about their living adventure, and the love of their new home and for each other that ignites each tale despite occasional irreverence.
The author of this reflective travel diary is a relative rookie to the blogging scene, first posting last October. Four years ago this 36-year-old Canadian came down for a post-divorce yoga recovery in Cozumel, met a charismatic Mexicano in a bar where she ended up doing most of her recovering, fell in love and now lives with her “hubby,” as she refers to him, in Cancun with their two and a half year-old son, Max.

The adventurous Canuck admits the blog is “like free therapy … I love to talk and this is a great way not to be interrupted,” and that’s the sense you get when you scroll through—you might as well be sitting on a bar stool next to her and at least three drinks into the night. She dotes on her little cropped-hair boy, whom she claims danced to opera music while still in the womb and who already enjoys browsing YouTube videos. The Canuck is still struggling with Spanish and growing close to a new extended family (struck by nerves after being requested to address 30 relatives on Christmas Eve: “I fumbled my way through a speech [in Spanish!] and received a round of applause before I collapsed in my seat.”). It will be interesting to see where she takes this blog.

The Mex Files is a priceless resource for expats who don’t read Mexican newspapers but want to keep informed—the blog covers current politics, culture, economics, and some U.S.-Mexico related news. Richard Grabman, a writer, translator, and Mexican historian based in Mexico City, started the project to fill the “need for an English-language Mexican website that wasn’t a tourism site, or ‘my life in wherever-tlan.’”

The site, as any politically oriented forum might be, is somewhat less than objective—the average post includes a translated clipping from a local paper along with a short rant or rave, but not without foundation and historical perspective. See Grabman’s analysis of the potential reorganization of Mexican political parties for an example of the blog’s tone: “With PAN and PRI often uniting to maintain the status quo … the PRI has been trying to re-invent itself to maintain relevance. While it is still Mexico’s largest political party, it seems hopelessly adrift, caught between a growing united left (PRI is technically a socialist party) and the ‘neo-liberal’ PAN.” This webpage demands a bookmark—it’s simple way to keep afloat in an unfamiliar political culture.

La Barranca (Huentitan)

Photos taken from La Barranca, a canyon that lies just beyond the edge of Guadalajara. In fact, in one of the pictures below, you can see part of the town spreading toward the gorge. Jalisco state government has plans to install a dam in the river below, so the beauty may be temporary...

Monday, January 7, 2008

"Ahorita voy": Thoughts on the Near Future

The following article will be published in the Reporter's Language column on Friday, but since I haven't posted in a while I'll go ahead and put it up.

It's followed by a few photos of las Piedrotas I took in Tapalpa, a surreal and breathtaking experiment in rhinoplastic geology. Also, a beautiful and curiously arranged nativity scene I saw on the side of a cathedral, in which the devil appears to be keeping an eye on baby Jesus (see red blur in top right corner).


Ahorita, Mexico’s ubiquitous, diminutized ahora whose closest English equivalency is ‘right now,’ used to bug me. And that’s exactly why—if you ever hear someone tell you “¡ahorita voy!” grab a good book and get comfy.

My landlady especially favors this expression. A few weeks into my new residency I asked her to send a cable guy over to connect my internet. The phone rang early the next morning: “Ahorita vienen los de Megacable,” she told me. I rubbed my eyes, hopped out of bed and put water on the stove in a daze, fully dressed and caffeinated within the half hour.

Oh, my silly Yankee faith in scheduled service repairs. I eventually nodded off again after the promised cable guy stood me up, jostled awake every now and then by footsteps below, imagining the housecall that was surely on its way ahorita (he showed later that afternoon).

I’ve taken to asking my landlady to quantify ahorita; this allows me the freedom of leaving the house and returning if right now happens to be in 3 to 4 hours, or suggests urgency if right now is in 10 minutes (enough time to do the dishes and spot-sweep).

But I have found a new game in ahorita. Try it out. If you are like me and arriving anywhere on time within the hour of a proposed date is moderately to extremely challenging, ahorita will become your friend. Think of right now as you did as a child when your mother summoned you for bath or bedtime: tell her, “I’m coming right now!” then continue playing till you’re dragged by the ear.

Ahorita stretches as long as the speaker desires, and isn’t limited only to the near future: “ahorita lo hice,” means “I just did it.” “Te llamo ahorita,” means “I’ll call you right away,” but could also mean “I’ll call you later” or “I might call you.” If you’re leaving and coming right back within an undefined period of time, say “ahorita regreso” or “ahorita vengo.

Ahorita defines the magic of time and space in Mexico: a leisurely, sun-baked, arbitrary system of guesstimations and esperanza (which means, simultaneously and appropriately, “expectation,” “waiting,” and “hope”—and you will need all three), still wonderfully unscathed by that North American rush through linear time.