When I arrive at Guadalajara’s airport at 6:00 a.m., I am dismayed to see thousands of other travelers scurrying to get home too. For some reason, I expected that Sunday would be the heaviest travel day.
I have less than an hour before my plane departs for Tijuana, and the queue at the check-in desk is long. But the airline personnel are efficient, and it takes me less than 10 minutes to reach the desk, show my passport, check my luggage and receive my boarding pass.
The worst is yet to come. The serpentine line leading to security is crowded with hundreds and hundreds of travelers, some of them only barely awake. We weave around and around the crowd-control barriers at a snail’s pace. I can’t imagine that we’ll ever get through security at this rate.
The room is unventilated and rapidly heating up with hundreds of bodies. I fan myself with my boarding pass. “It’s pretty hot in here,” says the young man ahead of me, who turns out to be from Los Angeles.
We chat as we inch along. When we finally reach security, and place our belongings in plastic bins to be X-rayed, I notice that the young Angeleno, has removed his shoes and put them in a bin.
“You’re too American,” I say with a laugh. “You don’t have to take off your shoes in Mexico.”
After security, it’s a long hike to the departure gate. The boarding process has already begun, but I’m able to stow my backpack, claim my seat, and dream on the three-hour flight of my next trip to poetic Mexico.
December’s last day—
drinking tea with an old friend
as we watch the clock
A trumpet! A drum!
I can tell by the loudness of the music that whoever is playing is not far from my apartment, but by the time I tie my shoes, go downstairs, and unlock and lock the front gate, the joyful strains have ceased.
Disconsolately I ascend the stairs to my apartment, fit the key in the lock, and resume my interrupted chores.
Perhaps twenty minutes later, I hear the lively music again. This time it is very close. I peer over the edge of my second-story terrace, and there in the street below me are an old man with a battered trumpet, and a young man with a small red drum. The two of them sound like a whole mariachi band!
I barely have time to aim my mobile phone at them for a quick shot as they pick up their belongings (the old man lugs a bulging black plastic garbage bag, and the young man guides a pink scooter) and move down the street. Apparently, they are circling the neighborhood, hoping to garner donations in these waning hours of the year.
Maybe they’ll use the few pesos they get to throw themselves a New Year’s Eve party. Or maybe they have families to support, and busking is their sole source of income.
Whatever the case, I’m grateful to them for a few moments of joy in an otherwise mundane morning. Feliz Año Nuevo!
almost New Year’s Eve—
the neighbor’s poinsettias
redder than before
“I need to sit for a while,” the policeman says in Spanish as he eases himself down at the opposite end of the bench from where I am sitting at Hospicio Cabañas.
“No hablo español,” I reply.
So, he switches to English. “I need to practice my English,” he says with a smile.
During our brief conversation, I learn that the policeman, Jose Luis, was born in Acapulco, but came to Guadalajara as a young man. He became a policeman at age 26, and is looking forward to retiring from the police force in three years, when he turns 55.
“What will you do then?” I ask.
“I want to work with my hands,” he says as he displays his broad, powerful hands for me to admire. “Construction, I think.”
In the meantime, he pulls guard duty at Hospicio Cabañas, often making his rounds at night.
“There used to be a lot of children here,” he says of the former workhouse, orphanage, hospital and almshouse, “and some of them are still here.”
“Do you mean ghosts?” I ask.
“Yes, the spirits of some of the children are still in this place. Especially boys. I hear them playing futbol and laughing in the darkest hours of the night.”
stillness at midnight—
even the mice stop gnawing
the old foam pillow
If you hang around Mercado Libertad o San Juan de Dios long enough, you’re bound to get thirsty, and there are plenty of options for quenching your thirst: coffee, tea, bottled water, soft drinks, frescas (fresh fruit drinks) or jugo de cana.
In a moment of daring, I chose the latter.
I haven’t used refined white sugar for years, but what, I thought, could be wrong with a cold drink consisting only of liquid expelled from the stalks of crushed sugar cane?
So, I plunked down 15 pesos (roughly 75 cents) for a vaso chico, a little cup.
I grabbed a straw, shoved it in the cup, and went to find a place to sit on some nearby steps.
The first sip jolted me with sweetness, tempered somewhat, I think, by lime juice (there was a greenish tinge to the liquid, and I had seen squeezed limes on the counter). I couldn’t really tell, because a terrible cold has made it impossible for me to discern any flavor for the past three days.
But as I sipped the cold, sweet liquid, and indulged in people watching on a warm December day, I experienced a glow of contentment. How sad that I don’t have enough time before I leave this bustling, yet welcoming, city to return to the Mercado for one more cup of jugo de cana.
first days of winter—
looking in vain for some snow
in the marketplace
If anyone knows anything about conserving water, it’s the car detailers of Guadalajara—or any city in Mexico. They can make a car spotless with less water than most people in the United States use to wash their hands.
They move around the city, setting up shop on street corners on certain days. Armed with 20-liter plastic buckets, they beg water from any local resident who is willing to give it.
The detailers show up every Tuesday, open-air market day, on Calle Capricornio at about 6 a.m. In the winter, it’s still dark at that hour, but never mind. They can clean a car by the glow of the streetlights, and never leave a streak or a spot. They use far less than a bucket of water to wash a car and return it to its original showroom luster.
When the open-air market closes, and shoppers and shopkeepers head for home, the work of washing cars is essentially over. But in that eight-hour stretch from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., there is rarely any downtime for the detailers of Guadalajara. Somebody always wants his or her car washed. And the lucky somebodies who come to these water misers for service will always get a good deal at a fair price.
the neighbor in a hurry
peels out from the curb
Mexico is the land of church bells. In a memorable phrase from one of his two books (I forget which one) about his adventures living in Mexico Tony Cohan writes, “Church bells stun the air.”
There’s hardly a time during daylight hours—and often far into the night—that you don’t hear church bells ringing somewhere in the city.
Sometimes they ring to mark the hours. Sometimes they ring to call the faithful to worship. And sometimes they ring in joyful celebration at the end of a midnight Mass, as on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve).
Whenever they ring, they are a welcome diversion from horns blaring, brakes squealing, and jackhammers pulverizing old pavement to make way for new.
Church bells. The sound of serenity. The sound of Mexico.
first week of winter—
clutching my grandson’s left hand
for our long walk home
The neighbors downstairs invited me to share their Christmas feast with them and a few other people.
Ten of us gathered around the table to share pork tenderloin (except the vegetarians among us), mashed potatoes, and a variety of savory vegetables, topped off with cheese cake and coffee.
But more important than the menu was the simple fact of being together on Diá de Navidad. We shared many stories around the table—and laughter, abundant laughter.
We rounded off the evening by playing the word game Taboo, introduced to us by one of three ESL teachers at the feast.
At the end of five hours together, it was hard to say goodbye, but one by one we melted into the night, filled not only with food, but also with the peace and joy that come from being among friends—even if you have just met those friends for the very first time on Christmas Day.
on a wintry night
a castoff baby howling
from the dumpster’s depths