Falling in Love
When we arrived at our “fully furnished apartment,” it became obvious that not only did we need to learn Spanish, but we must also learn to understand the Mexican code phrases. For instance, a fully furnished apartment means that, yes, there is some furniture: a bed, but nothing in the kitchen or bathroom. One ancient towel shot with holes, a single set of tired sheets, no pots or pans or cooking utensils, no glasses. No wine glasses to be specific. Stove, fridge, microwave, blender and coffee maker were all provided and, even more surprising, were all working. We had found Villa Serena on the internet last September (two bedrooms, 1 ½ baths, $850 Canadian per month), paid in October and believed it would be an excellent launching pad for our Mexican adventure.
When we landed on December 2, 2008, the location part was right. Right in the heart of the old town, minutes from the ocean and the charming town square, Plazuela Machado and the bustling market. Twelve apartments share a courtyard and a cooling pool, along with purple and pink bougainvillea, climbing bamboo plants, a majestic palm tree, wild yellow canaries, a stray cat and a roaming rat. Most of the renters are experiencing Mazatlan for the first time too, and we all enjoy pooling information. Happy hour is a particularly productive time to discover yoga studios, English- speaking doctors and dentists, where to buy coffee filters, how much to tip, when and where to bargain, restaurant openings and closings and, most importantly, which apartments at Villa Serena are empty so we can raid the unit to stock up on our own kitchen supplies. Many of us are here for “the season,” five months, and our owner relies on the politeness of Canadians and Americans to give up on her and head to Wal-Mart to buy what’s missing. We refuse to do that, and during our landlady/renter meetings we begin to learn more code phrases.
Mexican stores, or individuals, do not like to admit they are out of anything so they create unique ways of never having to say “no.” These are all code sentences: it’s not in season, it’s on order, it’s in Mexico City, it’s in Guadalajara, it’s being fixed or, my supplier no longer carries it. When I hear any of these sentences, I know I will never be able to buy the item before our return to Toronto. Mexicans will also never admit to not knowing something. For example, if you ask where a street is and they don’t know, they simply say, “Who knows?” or “¿Quien sabe?” -meaning, if I don’t know, then no one knows. This goes for everything from, “What time does the baseball game start?” to “When will the internet be working?” “Who knows?” translates to “I haven’t a clue”. “¿Quien sabe” is a very useful phrase; I use it a lot now.
Our English- speaking courtyard did not stop us from exploring Mexican street life. It’s astonishing the impact ideal weather can have on a city and on your soul. From November to June, it never rains, and the average temperature is 26°C. Life is lived outdoors and you can count on it day, after day, after day. The streets are alive with food carts, bicycles, roller blades, families soaking up the sunsets, kids with surf boards, wandering jazz trios and teenagers kissing on park benches. It’s a wonderful outdoor pageant that unfolds from morning to night. It is exciting to be warm 24/7, it is thrilling to be surrounded by a new language, and I’m quite simply deliriously happy walking the streets of Mazatlan. For some reason, I choose to accept and embrace this culture. I’m not blind and I’m not deaf. Reasons that cause meltdowns with my fellow Canadians do not bother me. Many of the Mexicans are on time, many are not. The roads do contain debris of all-night parties, dog poop, gum, dead and alive cockroaches, which is all typical litter for an oceanside city.
However, the streets are swept every morning by city employees, the trash bins are emptied, and the squares are occasionally power-washed. When walking, I constantly look down, being super careful about sudden endings on the concrete sidewalks, as I am often facing a three- foot drop. “Look down” is my walking mantra. The Mexicans love to share their music. Every bus and cab driver has their own portable radio turned to top volume. The police keep their sirens on, even during a parade or a triathlon. Every restaurant blasts tunes or live music; they all compete for your listening pleasure. Weekend dining in the Plazuela Machado is fun; do you choose the restaurant for its food, or for its music? Often we opt to eat in the apartment, then amble to the square where we play musical chairs around the various jazz, banda, rock and salsa groups. The shopping areas are crammed with small stores emitting a massive amount of noise. It’s loud, it’s chaotic, it’s out of control. On a deep, cellular level I am responding and connecting to the Mexican people and to the pure joy of their daily spontaneity. What a complete change from my sterile routines in Toronto. This is what I was longing for; this is what I was so thirsty for.