As our plane swooped down over Mexico, endless green filled the windows. My first instinct was to wonder what sort of farming this could be, dense, unbroken and stretching to the horizon in every direction. As the wheels touched down, I saw it was jungle, an impenetrable mass of unruly, complex life. The runways had been cut out of the wilderness but no attempt had been made to cultivate the creepers and trees. Nature was too vast, man too small.
Mexico is a mostly modern country with drive-through Starbucks and TGIFridays. But many Mexicans accept the unrelenting power of nature, impossible to dominate completely when the air is humid and the sun shines brightly all the live long year. Grasshoppers the size of iPhones, careen through the sky with chartreuse scales and hot-pink wings. Raccoons wander into four-star restaurants and take corn chips off the bar. Cars are sun-faded, concrete is cracked, donkeys walk slowly. It’s not a rich country, but that’s not the reason things seem shop-worn and resigned. It’s because Mexicans accept the inevitable encroachment of Nature, that it’s pointless to be fastidious when geckos will wander onto your kitchen counters and carpets of kelp will wash onto your freshly grouted patio.
I like it.
In New York, we have been beating Nature back for 500 years and we think we’ve won. So we can’t help but freak out when mice nibble on the organic granola box, when mosquitos find their way under our 600 thread count sheets, when Hurricane Sandy knocks out our wifi for a week. If Nature gains the slightest foothold, we take it as a sign that our entire civilization is crumbling.
I like that in general Mexicans are so much less uptight about perfection. They are cool if you do things that are a little risky — but hardly dangerous. Things that would have flocks of lawyers descending anywhere in the States. Unsecured seatbelts don’t have those annoying warning alarms. There are packs of cigarettes in the minibar. People build restaurants out of driftwood and light them with masses of candles. Some cars are missing fenders or bumpers and are painted patchily by hand. Most streets have no sidewalks or street lights so walking at night under starry skies can be an adventure.
We sat in a beachside restaurant that served food that would have been the envy of any entry in the NYC Zagat. But before our appetizer arrived, the waiters patrolled through with smoking pails, emitting clouds of burning citronella so chokingly dense we could barely see our $12 artisanal margaritas. The mosquitos and gnats were barely dissuaded but no one bothered to complain to the Health Department, pausing only to reach under our designer linens to scratch the welts.
Mexicans don’t value their lives less than their Northern neighbors. They just accept that we can’t control everything all the time. And that this acceptance makes life easier and preserves resources for more important things. Insisting on perfection makes thing a lot less interesting and spicy. It’s also a losing battle.
Maybe it was the heat or the Negro Modelo but my pen line was a little looser in Mexico. I did a number of scrawled pages in my journal, drawn half lying down, book propped against my spreading gut, mango juice on my unshaven chin. Maybe this was how Gauguin felt.
I am sloppy as a rule, but I’m not always loose. I value looseness because it feels more organic and expressive, more human, more natural, more the way life is. Less uptight, less gringo. Jack tells me his drawing teacher insists they draw standing up, with their pads on an easel, and that they draw from the shoulder, not from the wrist, to make bold and sweeping lines with their whole bodies. Flat on my back on my chaise, I am far from that, but I feel integrated, natural, in tune with my surroundings. My body, immersed in sweat and heat and verdant richness, feels sensual and at ease. My inner critic, the monkey is dulled too. He is chewing lazily on a mango in the shade, indifferent to my drawing. He can’t be bothered to nag me when we have the jungle at our doorstep. In Mexico, monkeys sit on your roof, squat on your car, hoot from the trees above your hotel window. But it seems they stay out of your head.
Over this past week in Mexico, I haven’t been as insanely productive as I might have been. But I have been more in tune with my nature. I’ve dismantled waves, I’ve counted grains of sand, I’ve listened to grackles eat French Fries, and I’ve felt the walls of perfection erode. Rules, goals and expectations, it turns out, may not help me make as much stuff as simply sitting in the sun and letting the world grow on around me.
14 thoughts on “On drinking the water.”
I want to go to Mexico, and I am in the end of October for the day of the dead celebration.
I am thoroughly enjoying your journey. It is as if you are taking all of us with you to sit in the shade and sip mango juice. *sigh*
I agree with bohemianopus, thats how I feel too n I’m inspired to fly to Mexico for a holiday if its that relaxed 🙂
Love reading about it, but know I would hate it. Sweat, heat, bugs, ugh. The pace? Now that’s another matter altogether. Sounds refreshing.
Where are you in Mexico? Come draw with us here in San Miguel- you will love it!
Already, you are learning important lessons on your new journey! Thanks for sharing them with us!
What a great read with my first morning coffee
You are painting a wonderful picture!!! Makes me want to go visit!!!!!
Beautifully written. You make this reader feel every little drip of sweat trickle down the back and behind the knees.
What a lovely entry to read over my coffee this morning–thank you so much for taking the time to share it.
This is so well-put. I spent a month in Costa Rica in June-July and had the same conclusion – they have accepted that they won’t be able to fully control nature, so they don’t try. Similarly, there are no signs telling you to “swim at your own risk” or fences to keep you from where you probably shouldn’t go. It’s a wonderfully free experience.
Ah… So nice to know the Mexico I so delight in has not vanished amid those condos and starbucks. Delightful read…gracias
Danny, I’m really enjoying your “new” life blogs. The journey’s the thing isn’t it.
Not sure if you’ve read this before but a great piece for contemplation:
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life. –Wu Men
Here’s to the parting of the clouds.
Gorgeous writing. Lush. Loose. Perfect. Made me think of Sam Shepherd. So glad you got out of the rat race and are now walking the artist path. Mangoes, Mexico and Gauguin. Thank you for taking me to them.