Hopeful

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It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m on a long-distance bus from Montreal to Toronto. Our bus just passed the salt truck so I’m hopeful there’s another one close ahead.  There’s some sort of ice mist, freezing rain, sloppy snow, general grimy Eastern Canada winter weather making the driver earn his money up front.  This bus is equipped with seat belts and mine is firmly attached.  We are waltzing over the highway now and then and I can only hope there’s no cosmic death march in four-four time humming in the motor of this vehicle. Toronto is not the end of my trip so….even more hope is hanging on the following two and a half hour drive straight North of the the city to my final destination in Muskoka.

New Year’s Eve is full of hope.  Even though we deride or scorn the Old Year, as if that were the root of our misfortunes , we get excited about turning the page, starting a new era of the time that we try so hard to divide up into some sort of sense.   Can we divide up time? Grief that seems so endless or ecstacy that lifts up beyond clocks and calendars show us that our hours, our agendas, our schedules are devices to help us deal with the finite and the infinite.

The driver just passed a transport truck on this road and that’s about as close to the finite ( and infinite) as you can get.

Still, I retain hope that we will get safe to Toronto in spite of my total ignorance of the driver’s skill, of my ignorance of road conditions ahead, of my ignorance of the statistics  on transport trucks that fishtail and nudge an overloaded bus into the ditch on New Year’s Eve.  In the face of ignorance and fear, hope is the oxygen that keeps the flame alive.  Without hope all is darkness.

 

San Miguel Tuesday Market

 

Every week ordinary Mexicans and ordinary Gringos go to the huge market that is set up above the town. I always marvel at how this vast emporium is put up and taken down all in one day.  Want an axe handle, a Barbie,, sexy underwear, second-hand clothing, fresh,and,tasty fruits and vegetables?  Get on that bus at the square and enjoy the bumpy, chugging ride up the steep streets of San Miguel until you come to the market.  But wait, there’s construction up on the hill and this morning to my consternation, the bus sailed on past the site and sped along, through narrow streets and then back onto the highway until I was sure I would end up in the next town, 40 miles away!  An aged grandmother with a large walking stick had taken the seat next to me and the bus was so bumpy that I hesitated to make her get up so that I could ask the ticket taker if we were on the right road.  But then how would I ask him and how would I understand the answer? I gazed out at a burned landscape punctuated with large cacti and waited to see what would happen. ( It is tax time and if fields are not ” clean” people pay a higher tax. ). I think the idea is that fires should not start.  Hmm!  Logic?

Anyway I resisted the impulse  to jump out into the wasteland and to my joy the driver suddenly made a U turn at a big hotel and the sign announcing the city limits of San Miguel hove into view.  There I was with the little old lady getting off in front of me, her hair braided down in a grey roap and her apron unbuttoned in back.

The market was the usual cheerful chaos.  Even at 10 am, Mexicans were seriously digging into the cooked foods, particularly what looked like delicious soup.  It was unusually windy and that played havoc with the big coloured tarps that are strung up over the stalls.  They protect from the sun but the pink and orange filtering the strong rays make it impossible to see what color garment one is buying.  The flapping made me feel I was in a galleon carrying Mexico along to her fate.  The plastic sheets were like huge sails and the vendors struggled to get control of them and to stop the wind carrying away their goods.

The kids were out in force.  It was aschool day but there were a lot of youngsters “helping” or crawling around under the tables, getting lost or selling mysterious things out of plastic bags.

There are no San Miguel souvenirs at the Tuesday market, just people getting on with their daily lives.  I resisted the impulse to buy a pair of spurs, gathered up my bundles and headed for the bus bound for “Centro”.  Last Tuesday Market for at least a years. Other adventures to enjoy at home.

Old and Young

 

 

I could hear an accordion playing somewhere near the square ringed with neatly clipped trees.  The melodies, however, were not neat, slipping from some sort of oriental belly-dance tune to a tango to a waltz.  Impossible that this eclectic stream of tunes and chords could be canned music.  Ah, there he was, sitting in the  shade and playing the most beat-up instrument I had ever seen.  With 20 words of Spanish and a liberal sprinkling of French and English we managed a ten-minute conversation, during which the musician told me his accordion was 100 years old.  I recommended to him Annie Proulx’s wonderful book “Accordion Tales”.  It follows the adventures of an accordion brought to the United States at the turn of the ( other) century.  I wonder if he will be able to find a Spanish translation of this brilliant and, at times, terrifying book.

I wandered off to my lunch date where I met a talented weaver.  Her website is at http://www.tapetelana.com and her name is Yumiko Murai.  She dyes her wool with vegetable dyes and she agreed to show me her 70 year old loom, set up in a sort of open-air warehouse.

How fortunate that we enjoy the mild Mexican winter where these old, venerable objects continue to do their work, caressed by the hands of generation after generation of artists, creators of beauty.

One of the lunch party was a maker of silver jewelry.  As I looked around the table, it struck me that others cultivated the art of kindness and an open heart….the most valued of all skills.

Leap

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Can you see what these very glamorous bridesmaids are doing?  Having come to the main church of San Miguel ( the parochia) they are removing their trendy sports shoes and putting on some killer high heels.  That way they  can totter into the church behind the equally glamorous bride and guests.  It is impossible to walk  in high heels in the cobblestone streets of San Miguel so this is not just sensible, but a matter of survival.  There is nothing glamorous about a cast, after all.

I spent some time in the public garden in front of the ornate church and saw a couple of society weddings on Saturday.  The square was crowded with wealthy Mexicans, some visiting from Mexico City.  The usual crowd of tourists and locals were there too.  The hat sellers, balloon sellers, Mariacci bands and beggars added local color.   

I crept inside the church and found it lavishly decorated with white flowers.  The guests were dressed to the nines; men in immaculate tuxes and women sporting all the bling they could muster.  At a side altar, a woman, her hair dishevelled, clothes dirty and almost in rags approached on her knees to the object of her prayers, an altar devoted to St. Theresa, the little flower.  Two half drunk young men posed with a can of beer for their companion to take their picture before a gory statue of Christ dressed in a purple robe, on his knees, blood running down his face.

It was too distracting for me in the church that day.  I wondered if I had been transported back in time to the Middle Ages when a different order reigned.  People were, before my eyes, sharply divided into rich and poor. I wished the bride and groom well, in my heart, wished the penitent on her knees well, wished the happy guests well and left the church.

I was carrying a back pack full of the fresh vegetables that make cooking  such a joy in this town.  It was about five o’clock and I turned down a side street away from the bustling main square.  Soon the bride and groom would emerge to the sounds of the band and evening would fall over the scene.  On my way down the street I passed a young mother, sitting with a child of about a year and a half, begging.  She looked tired.  The child was grubby.  He  was playing half-heartedly with a bit of white rag.  I tossed into her cup a small coin, about the equivalent of a dollar.  Then I noticed that the child had a cast on his leg.  I was at the next corner before I decided to turn back.  My pack was heavy and how much had it cost me?  Let’s say I could have bought one item in my grocery store in Montreal for the cost of that shopping trip.   I decided to give her the equivalent of the cost of the bag of vegetables.  Perhaps then she could go home and put that child to rest.  She looked up in astonishment as I put the equivalent of the cost of three cups of coffee in the Gringo establishments I frequent,  into her cup.  Then I saw that the baby had a shorter cast on his other leg too.  In my pathetic Spanish I tried to ask her what had happened and she replied in a flood of explanation that only conveyed to me her distress at the child’s condition.

I continued down the street full of happy teenagers taking selfies, tourists hailing a taxi, overdressed guests from the weddings.  All that evening that mother and child haunts me and they still haunt me.

The title of this piece is leap.  Surely we are at the leaping point.  There is no more excuse of ignorance.  We who are rich know who lives beside us in the beautiful parts of the world we visit.  They see us, watch TV.  (  Oscars last night!) wash our clothes, clean the house, cook and serve food.  Can we leap into the heart of the others in compassion?  A great leap…..so that that child can leap out of the gutter…not into conspicuous wealth or as an exploiter himself, but into a world of knowledge, health, service to others.  Ah, what a dream!