So This is January and What Have We Done?
Quite a lot, actually.
We had no intention of ever buying another property again. Yet we do, complete with Mexican bureaucracy and all its bank/ trust complications; meaning, you never ever really own your property because the bank holds it in trust. Scary stuff if you are from Canada. We worship our banks, which were founded and on solid English and Scottish premises. Little things, like rules and regulations, are applied in Canada. Our banks stood tall and proud during the US economic meltdown. Do we even trust a Mexican bank? Regardless, our condo won’t close for years. Plenty of time to do more research then. We set the move date from Toronto to Mazatlan for October.
I buy a hand-painted ceramic bathroom sink for US$20. I have absolutely no use for it. But it looks fabulous propped up in the apartment.
I join the English local library for US$30 a year. The library has over 6,000 books, 271 members and 20 volunteers.
I buy a “Friends of Mexico” card for US$15 ( I don’t know why it’s not called “Friends of Mazatlan” because it’s only honoured in Mazatlan), which provides us with terrific discounts at participating restaurants and pharmacies while our US$15 fee goes to worthy charities — we hope.
We figure out all the bus routes, and 75 cents takes us everywhere. There are bus routes, just no bus stops. You simply hail a bus and the driver drops you off anywhere along his beat. Before you hop off, be sure the bus comes to a complete stop. Often it’s a slow glide.
We adore the pulmonia taxis. Unique to Mazatlan, they are VW engines and frames with a metal scalloped tin roof. Think golf cart with a VW engine. The cute cars hit the streets of Mazatlan in 1965. The regular taxi drivers were so jealous of the attention these open air vehicles were attracting that they warned their customers they may catch pneumonia. The noun in Spanish for pneumonia is pulmonia! I can confirm that pulmonias can hold four cases of wine and 26 bags of groceries. Drivers are very enterprising about the securing of our liquids and foods. We take the bus to buy “the heavies” and a pulmonia back, and it’s never more than US$5. Tito, a pulmonia owner, tells me there are over 350 pulmonias on the road, so it’s a breeze to hail one.
I notice this is the land of the hose, the mop, the broom and the machete. The machete is creatively swung to trim and shape all the lovely laurel trees. Eduardo Scissor-Hands is on every street corner. So quiet, so graceful so not a weed whacking noise. Cleaning from mansions to hovels goes like this: first the sweep, then the hose. Then the family walks across the wet area and tracks muddy foot prints into the house. Then the mop must be used to remove the dirt dragged in from the wet courtyard. It’s not an incredibly productive method, but no household is ever without a broom, a hose or a mop.
We start Spanish lessons knowing they will end in March, as our instructor is leaving Mexico to fulfill a U.S. contract. While Spanish lessons with a group of English people are lively, you do tend to talk too much in English. That’s exactly how I ended up buying the ceramic bathroom sink. I line up Alfredo Herrera to teach us privately in March.
I join a Mexican yoga studio, Mukande, where the classes are all taught in Spanish. I was so enthusiastic about its matha style (Mexican hatha) that Soren has joined too. He also embraced the yoga classes because we all give each other a “gracias” embrace after the class. Mexican women may be shy, but they are not shy about showing their cleavage. Soren really enjoys that part of the class. The studio is an airy second floor space overlooking the Cathedral. During the sunset relaxation when the Cathedral bells chime and the fragrance of jasmine is wafting through, my entire core grins. This move to Mazatlan is entirely right.
In Toronto I was at my gym five days a week and I am missing my cardio regime on the Stairmaster. I am not a natural runner or spinner nor am I attracted to any form of aerobics. However, what is natural for me is yoga, Pilates, gyms, walking, badminton and tennis. There is no tennis or badminton in Centro. There are lots of signs for Pilates classes, but the spaces have been empty for years. It’s been over two months since I’ve done any real cardio and I am in desperate need of a cardio challenge. I ask my friend, Harry Whelan, if he would lead the way up to the lighthouse, El Faro. I am looking forward to the climb; it’s about 523 feet high and it has to be easier than the endless rolling steps of a Stairmaster. At 6:30 a.m., Harry charges ahead and approaches the steep hill like a mountain goat. He negotiates every curve, every faulty concrete step, and the ever- increasing height in lighting speed. Harry keeps checking his watch (connected to his heart monitor) and is very pleased with his results. At the half way mark, I felt my heart was going to burst in two. Apparently the view from the top of El Faro is to die for. I nearly did die and don’t remember the vista at all, as I was so preoccupied thinking about the 300 steps I had to retrace, downhill. Harry does this cardio climb five times a week, and his return route includes another 170 steps up the El Mirador hill. I don’t even bother to ask Harry to slow down; he won’t listen. And why should he? He’s 79 years old. I really enjoyed that hike with Harry — once. The next day I joined Euro Gym.
Euro Gym is one block from Villa Serena and is a typical macho gym which costs US$22 a month. Soren will not be joining me there. The Mexican boys treat me well and help me move the heavy equipment as required. It’s disgustingly dirty and part of my workout is to stomp on those speedy cockroaches. The gym plays loud, filthy rap songs in English — the kids have no idea of what the words mean, and I have no intention of translating it for them. I do screw up the courage to say in Spanish that their mothers and sisters would not approve of these lyrics, but they just grin, shuffle their sneakers and ignore me. I swear Mexicans are hearing impaired. During the mornings I see the young Mexican women yakking to their guy pals (these are not certified fitness instructors), but it’s apparent to me that tight buns, smooth abs and firm triceps are a universal goal for all females. I observe the machines that are recommended for those muscles, and soon I know how to use every piece of equipment in the gym. Most of it is rusted and held together with duct tape. The programs on the treadmill blew years ago and it has only one setting: incline. Often the boys have to give the treadmill a shake to get the rubber belt rolling. I try not to dwell on that. Anything is better than a return climb to the lighthouse.
I begin to write articles for The Pacific Pearl, the local English tourist magazine. Soren takes the supporting photos and our magazine fees are donated to the Hospice Mazatlan, which provides specialized care for people whose illness cannot be cured. Our Dr. Levid donates his medical services and says that “one day they will be able to pay me, and I will wait.” We don’t need to wait; we begin to give money right away.
We attend a wonderful flamenco performance at our local theatre, Angela Peralta. The restoration was completed in 1992 from the original structure built in 1874. We are already looking forward to next year’s cultural series where we will see ballet, opera, jazz and modern dance. The most expensive ticket is US$15. Toronto is a theatre city. I’ve seen every play from “Hair” to the lavish but brief “Lord of the Rings” production. I’ve slept through obscure plays at fringe theatres. I’ve been part of the Toronto theatre scene for over 50 years. My interest has waned because of the re-makes of re-makes and plays based on movies, like “Dirty Dancing.” It’s fun, it’s frivolous, it’s just that I’m not that captivated anymore by bloated stagings which can cost between US$75 to US$250 for a ticket. Toronto is also famous for its opera, ballet and symphony. I’m a Philistine and can easily exist without these live performances. Perhaps I’ll be lucky and see some shows on our satellite when we move into our condo Vue Centro Historico. Mazatlan has enough culture to keep us intellectually, emotionally and financially satisfied.
For instance, the first Friday of every month is ArtWalk; for seven months, 40 artists open their doors and serve wine and munchies. The work can vary from ceramics, to paintings, to mono prints, to leather masks, to jewellery, to mosaics and to sculptures. As my friend Nan says, “There’s an ass for every saddle.” Who am I to evaluate art or make comparisons between Santa Fe and New York? This is Mazatlan, and I’m having way more fun here than I ever did in Santa Fe or New York. It’s one of my very favourite evenings and I have my third ArtWalk all planned. My first ArtWalk was a total blur. I had a glass of wine at every house and I was torn between looking at the renovations the owners had done, and their artwork. My third time will include only three stops, have one glass of wine, inspect the house in detail, and then really, really focus on the artwork. First the architecture, then the art.
The word that comes to mind when I think about our new friends here is celebration. We all seem to be celebrating life in this moment. Whether it’s escaping the snow, the rain or annoying parents, we all realize this is Mexico, not Switzerland. Mazatlan is messy; it’s the complete opposite of the manicured gated-communities in Florida. Therefore, it attracts free- spirited, like-minded people who roll with the quirks and quarks of a seaside city. There is another important common denominator: none of us believe the propaganda that the Canadian and U.S. media feed the public with about Mexico. Does that make us iconoclastic, defiant or adventurous? I don’t know, but I do know none of us are buying the media reports. It’s not news, because it contains no facts.
The weather is perfect, so no one complains. The lack of constant harping on about temperatures and road conditions opens up new avenues for interesting conversations. Many of our friends are writers, painters, performers, gardeners, yoga teachers, store owners and editors; they are all here pursuing their dreams. Full-time residents already know about the vast opportunities that an ideal climate can yield. We are constantly meeting fascinating people, and since we are all here for the same reasons, we find making new friends a real pleasure. Now infiltrating into the Mexican social scene will take a lot more effort, and a lot more Spanish, but we hope to begin that long journey in October.