Friday, August 12, 2011

Loneliness & Market Swings

It’s Friday night in my Jimenez Hovel; I’m doing laundry on the rooftop, between loads watching John Stewart (Aug 10 v. funny and ref to Mexico), drinking a paloma, glass sweating as much as I am, and eating a plate of enchiladas Potosinos (a takeout pack from my friend Lety who has her own home-based business making mole and enchiladas and supplying them to local stores). Not bad - fry them up in a comal - or in my case a Teflon pan, menos grasa. Serve them with my homemade concoction of black beans a la charra, sautéed onions and red peppers, hot chiles and garlic and a bit of bacon to give it some salt and fat. Everything’s better with bacon.

Not a bad Friday night.

But I realized something yesterday while having my breakfast, pb toast and coffee at my all-purpose kitchenette bar and again I’m remembering: I eat every meal in Mexico alone.

Pema Chodron says there are seven kinds of loneliness; I say eight, if you count mealtime loneliness.

Not easy for a gal with Italian roots accustomed to food as a social event – from the cooking to eating to clean-up. In my Grandma’s Brooklyn kitchen, all life and conversation centered around the meal. And once at the table, elbow to elbow with cousins, aunts and uncles – this was the time for critical analysis – sauce came good, too much salt, chicken’s dry, more wine, too much oregano. Okay, not deep but…better than a one-way conversation with an LCD panel.

Yes, the thing I miss most about life back home is gathering to convivir (great Spanish word) with friends over dinners, wine, music, conversation around my Mt Pleasant dining room table.

But the week's ended on an up note, at least financially. The Market’s up a few hundred points, saved by the Friday night bell, my retirement portfolio not fully down the tubes quite yet. From a distance it’s like a roller-coaster, a swinging pendulum, I’m playing roulette with my future, banking on confidence in America – and we all know what direction that’s going in – the 99% are finally standing up, stamping their feet…but I best save this topic for another day.

I’m dealing with basics right now – trash trucks and sound systems for EcoFeria Puente – one week and counting. And I’m feeling up about our possibility for success.

The Muni is coming through with ‘apoyos’ which translates to ‘support’ – but what it means to most Mexicans is money, a handout, a regalo. In this case they are giving us the space, the mayor promises to make a visit, they’ve even committed to putting trash cans in common spaces and a recycling container in the park. And that’s enough for me. The reusable bags and the leadership team t-shirts are ready – funded by the owner of the Corona distribution center.

But Fundraising is experiencing some problems. Okay, I’m not sure what’s happening with most of the teams – between meetings they seem to drift off and lose their momentum. And I seem to be carrying all the weight. I talk to the Semillas about Resistance, a force like the devil, but dressed in many guises…

They nod, smile knowingly and add ‘it’s raining’ to the list of excuses, they call them ‘pretextos.’ But will they overcome Resistance, I don’t know. I’ve gradually been discovering the downside of this strong family value that rules the Mexicans (besides overpopulation): collective action is foreign to them. It’s all about me and my family – and beyond that it’s unimportant. But you can’t save the planet that way, I tell them. You need more help.

More than anything this EcoFeria is about learning how to follow-through on collective action. I tried an exercise on them in last night’s meeting, likening this event to a fiesta. One thing is certain from my time here thus far: Mexicans know how to throw a fiesta - they've got the system down to a science – I’ve been to several – they are cookie-cutter – decorated tables, barbacoa in Styrofoam containers, salsas, tortillas, coolers of beer (two kinds, Victoria and Corona), a mariachi band, a cake. It’s effortless.

Why not think of EcoFeria as a fiesta? I tell them. We brainstorm - what are the keys to fiesta success? Be on time, be ready, be organized...good food, good music, money, cerveza.

I don't think we can have cerveza in the park, I tell them. The analogy begins to breakdown.

But we'll with an afterparty – I write that word on the flipchart - and their eyes light-up.

The other reason I’m in good spirits this Friday night is because I’ve decided I’m moving! I hate this place; it’s been 6 months and it was meant to be a temporary, a quick escape from my familia anfitriona after overstaying my welcome in their casita in Jacarandas for 2 months – unable to find anything better after a month of looking, one nicely-furnished room that’s turned out to be as hot as a sauna – and noisy as a circus.

But it's SO hard to find housing here –no one advertises, there’s no craigslist or even paper ads, no signs on buildings – everything is word of mouth – you have to know someone to find a place. What’s worse, there’s a dearth of apartment housing here, and apparently more broadly in Mexico too.

Jorge Castanedas talks about this in his new book Manana Forever? Mexicans hate sharing common space with strangers – common hallways, trash receptacles, water bombs. Look at DF – one big sprawl that goes on for hundreds of square miles because they can only build out, not up. No buildings! Here too – no buildings, no place to live.

I’ve finally had to let go of my verguenza and start asking around, friends, associates, strangers – please, be on the lookout. And suddenly people start making calls for me, the couple at the beauty shop, a woman in social services in the mayor’s office, sending me all, the corner near the feed store there’s a guy…and eventually I lucked upon this place on Porferio Diaz, street named for the PRI dictator. It has potential – wow, three whole rooms plus a service room for my laundry and storage. And good and far from the downtown, away from the loco centro energy, the noise from the bakery pans and the shoe store cortinas and the herbalife blenders and the boys playing kickball in the long ceramic corridor below me.

As I sit on my hard barstool sweating my ass off tonight, listening to my neighbor blast BANDA from his TV, scratching at mosquito bites because there are no screens on the windows, I can think of nothing better that having a new pad to call home - a place with a real kitchen, not just a camping stove on a counter, perhaps space for a small round dining table where I can invite friends over for Italian dinners – and I can go back to seven kinds of loneliness.

Oh, but do I have any friends? Better work on that.