Monday, September 18, 2006


Part I of this post is called "Why I want to knit a bikini one day." This is Part II. I wrote journals while I was away. This post is composed entirely out of excerpts from my journals. No photos (no digital camera back then). You'll have to use your imagination. Hope you enjoy it, Trish!

February 2004

I am sitting with my daughter many thousands of feet up in the air. She is delighted with everything. And she keeps a vigilant eye on the seatbelt sign. Pays attention to the announcement beeps. Obediently puts on her seatbelt, and just as quickly removes it when allowed. Digging through her bag every five minutes for something different to read, to eat, to colour. When I take her to the washroom, I notice the tender smiles she always brings to older people’s faces. I notice these things. I’m not sure that she does. Kind man at my right, and I am not feeling anxious.

I have hopes for this holiday. I want to be warm. I want to wear my new bikini. I want that weightless feeling of being buoyant in the ocean. I want to watch the colorful and playful fish. I want to watch my colorful and playful children. I want to eat and drink all my favorite things. I hope not to see cockroaches. I want to laugh.

There was this man in the airport in LA. He was wearing an offensive t-shirt. Cheap. White. Hanes beefy-T type t-shirt, stretched tight over his bulging belly. Huge bold black print. And the shirt read:

I Fear no Broads
Bold Cold
Gold Old
Or Sold

I feel sorry for his wife being married to such an asshole.

And he’s crass: he walks up to a woman (me), worn out from the day of traveling with her two children. (Turns out we’re staying at the same resort).

The man: “I saw your husband in the line. Is that from spousal abuse? He wants to know.”

“I don’t understand…” I say looking around, confused.

“Your husband has that thing on his wrist,” Is that from spousal abuse?

We’re here in Mexico, and we’re staying at a time-share resort. In Mazatlan. In February. It’s not exactly a hip happening place. It’s packed full of old people. We’ve seen maybe four other children. No couples our age. Everyone over sixty. A few “young” folks between forty and sixty.

It’s beautiful here and quiet, private, but it feels like being on the love boat. They have friendly, warm-hearted service personnel: Andy, Eduardo, Manuel. They greet us in Spanish, Ola, Buenas Dias, Buenas Tardes, Buenas Noches. Warm smiles and holding the door open, ringing for the elevator. They recognize us and ask us how we are enjoying our stay. And we are. Despite being surrounded by old people. Old people in bathing suits, and I was worried about my bikini! Ha! I am not one of the women on the beach in a bikini. I am THE woman. No one goes to the beach. We have it all to ourselves. This generous expanse of luxurious beach, and we have it all to ourselves.

We’ve never had it so good. Palm trees and beach chairs. Brightly coloured towels. You can have a clean set any time. Excellent service. Friendly Eduardo with his pool menu. Huge drinks – chi chi’s pina coladas, margaritas. Beautiful food. We ordered a picnic for four and it came on a huge round platter, carried high over our waiter’s shoulder. When he set it down, we saw an array of baskets: fish strips and fries, fish tacos, nachos, a fruit plate. Everything delicious, expertly prepared, garnished with colour – with salsa and guacamole, peppers and peppered carrots (Colin tried one by accident), lettuce leaves and tomatoes, sliced avocado. Papaya, chunks of pineapple and melon. At the dinner buffet, you can put a straw down on the table, turn your back and it’s gone. Just like Disneyland. No garbage, no hunger, no unhappiness. The nearly invisible workings of a well-oiled machine. A machine of service. Lovely, unexpected, unaccustomed. But a little unreal.

Everything is clean, manicured, pedicured. Flamingos and toucans, carp, on display in enclosures. Architectured comfort. Entertainment on the Lido deck. Even the bugs seem to be on their best behaviour.

The beach feels more real.

Kids wave jumping and laughing. Surprised at how cool the water is, and at how warm the water is. Searching for shells along the tide line. And I am the only woman in a bikini because everyone else is lying around at the pool. I look good here. Everyone in their leathery skin –“snowbirds” they are called. People who chase the sun around all year, Arizona, palm springs, Hawaii, Mexico. Permanent shiny tans until their skin looks like naugahyde.

And the music…the guy on the synthesizer every morning during the breakfast buffet. Plays all the sentimental favorites. Beatles tunes, Simon and garfunkel, Unchained Melody, Mrs. Robinson, Something…in muzac. Exactly the stuff this crowd enjoys. At night at the party, the Makarena, The achey breaky, Rock around the Clock.

But out at the beach this morning, I go for a walk before most people are up. I walk along the beach and I am aware of the eagerness of creation. Waves straining toward the shore, pushing their loads of shells, pebbles. Those four dogs running in a pack – the doggy daycare in Mexico. The little tan coloured one. The big black one just like shadow. The stunted black lab, and the Heinz 57, amottled mutt, brown and white, shaggy. The little tan one seems to be in charge. They blurred together like puddles and ran along the beach in a friendly pack.

The old man walking on the beach. Does he come here every day? His worn-in hat slouching low over his forehead. Skin deeply tanned by life and heritage. Not by trips to Arizona. A spare, bent man. An old man, but not in a bathing suit and not with parts of his body bulging out for all to see. Not with a large cocktail in a Styrofoam cup in his hand. A white shirt, grey pants, leather sandals.

Two Mexican boys have begun a sand castle building project. They have a few simple plastic tools and strong eager hands. They begin in the soft stuff, building up an edifice, and sloping it down to the sea, then add in waterways, canals, bridges, tunnels. Very focused on their work.

A peddler with a Catamaran asks if I would like to go for a sail. No, I think, I don’t want to sail: I want to walk – that’s why I am here, to walk. I decline him politely, and carry on.

Would I like to sail, would I like to snorkel, would I like to buy a basket. Would I like a drink, would I like some lunch, would I like to buy a time share (vultures at the beach too). No, what I like is the sound of the ocean, the ability to wear lightweight clothes. The buoyant feeling of floating on my back outdoors in natural water. I like all the fruit and the juice, and even the booze. I like the green and blue and brown. I want to see fish.

My daughter getting her hair done – she looks like royalty – like Cleopatra’s daughter. Carries herself on her toes with pride. She gives a little shake to her head and the beaded braids twirl out from her head and settle back in a fall. Hair in neat corn stalk rows. Forty little braids.

We’re on the love boat. Gopher comes around every ten minutes to see if we want drinks, food, an ashtray. To sweep up the five grains of sand we tracked in from the beach, the stray tomato bits that fell off our lunch tray. Isaac the bartender. Julie the cruise director leading bingo on the lido deck. Or Spanish language lessons. A pool party, an outdoor bbq. Only they are not Julie and Isaac and Gopher; they are Eduardo, and Filiberto, and Manuel. Unfailingly polite, smiling in recognition (not just faking it). Eager to serve my every whim. And we tip them again and again because they earn it, and we are the tourists; it is our role to tip. And because we like them. They are good to us, and we want to say thank you and thank you and again.

I wonder about the authenticity of a space where I sit on a lounge chair and get waited on like a pharaoh.

Bird Island – where we spent three hours was real space. It didn’t conform to our every whim. We went there to snorkel. Wanted so badly to have our young children experience the joy of seeing fancy tropical fish in their genuine habitat. We have so many fond memories of doing this in Maui. A disappointment because the place did not cooperate. Too windy; too rocky; too rough; too murky. I saw one fish and nearly got swept against the rocks again and again. You can’t manufacture these experiences. They happen or they don’t. No photo opportunity here; the place was being itself. You can’t tip a place. We did enjoy our ride on the catamaran – out and back. Back was exciting. All that chop and wind that had worked against us in the snorkel department made the return trip so exciting that the kids will probably count it as one of the highlights of the trip. We surfed the swells into the shore and cheered Juan’s skill with the tiller.

We had that pelican rock all to ourselves. The kids ploughed into the sand with buckets and shovels. We ate bread and pineapple, chips and cookies on the beach. We hiked over to a cove and found the skeletal remains of a puffer fish. We enjoyed the peace and quiet – the family solitude. No old people. No elevator music. No games on the Lido deck. Bird Island was a place. The open water was a place. Juan’s catamaran was a place, and Juan was at home in it. He on his craft; his craft on the water. We got to visit Juan’s place. But only Juan knows its secrets. We learned just one: the trade-off for poor snorkeling was an exciting ride home. Which was the better deal?

Hayley wants to play a game of Parcheesi. I have the energy here to swim with my children, to be with them for long lengths of time, to play games, to joke around. I like that. I probably will not cry or feel depressed or sad. I don’t. And I don’t feel anxious. A holiday from strong unhappy emotions. A treat. A gift. I have not felt this released from all my issues and such for almost a year and a half.

Those two boys on the beach were beautiful. That old man was beautiful. That old weathered fence. Juan poised on one knee at the tiller of the cat. His body knows exactly what to do. Grace and soul. His spirit full of life – visible on the surface. Despite the privacy of all that goes on inside his head, inside his life. And we are the outsiders. We come to this place, and maybe it is just as well that we stay – keep ourselves in the unreal space – because otherwise we might fool ourselves into thinking that we can know this place in the brief space of time we spend here. What can be known of a place in such a short amount of time? What can be known? What have I learned about myself in the last 17 months? What have I learned of my place in Port Moody as I have walked it for hundreds of miles? What can I know of Mexico – even this little patch of Mexico in one short week?

I can learn a bit of its beauty: the beauty of beaches, of surf rolling in – the sound, rhythm, music of that. I can notice that locals wear long pants, and only tourists wear shorts. The locals have such a diversity of looks about them. They are a warm, generous, social people. They know how to do food. They have excellent manners and dignity. They appreciate a smile of recognition and remember a name for a long long time. They like children. The stern guard at customs flirting with Hayley.

Those sea urchins that washed up on the beach were real. The Styrofoam coffee cups are not. Anyone can tell the difference. And anyone can tell the difference between these two
worlds too.

The ricky-ticky public city bus. The older and rustier the better. Door hanging on thin hinges. Hung on rust alone. Spit and rust holding the thing together. Falling apart fun, and even my children know the difference. They preferred the rusty bus to the slicker air conditioned one. They knew the old bus was real.

We went shopping today, and we dumped our money into the Mexico economy as we are happy to do. I bought silver and onyx jewelry, a couple of those batiked hip wraps for the beach, a litre of the real vanilla, a straw hat. Doug bought a hat – thrilled to find one that fit his head. Made him look like Ricardo Montalban. He bought a slingshot (wrist rocket) to ward off the raccoons in our back yard, a t shirt. Colin and hayley bought t-shirts, and games made of onyx. Colin pleased and grown up with an Aztec chess set; hayley delighted with her tiny coffin box of miniature dominoes.

The kids held iguanas today. So bright green, they looked fake, but they were real.

The cab driver spoke better English than my Spanish – all five words of it – he was real. He wanted to improve. He asked us the names for things and practiced all the way to the airport.

Those shacks and the smell of shit. Real. The chicken running around at the side of the road.

The woman changing her baby at the side of the road. Runny nosed girl standing at her side. All alone, no dwelling in sight.

Driving from the airport to the beach was real. Most people don’t live on the beach. They don’t live in cultivated splendour. They don’t enjoy fancy cocktails delivered on round trays by uniformed waiters. They live in shacks with garbage on top. They live in the orange cookie-cutter concrete tract houses. They live in small square squat concrete boxes with garbage piled on top, no landscaping, open-air laundry lines. Scrubby. One box entirely smothered in purple blooms – something in season. Does better than paint to colour the house and keep it cool. Better homes and gardens should see this one.

Old bent people, man leading a horse. Woman walking slowly, painfully, on bandy legs. Woman nursing her baby on the dusty ground in front of the supermercado – the convenience store where I buy my water for half price. My bimbo bread. My canned milk. Butter that is a deeper yellow than butter at home. Pineapple soda. Tubes of cookies, and all jams are called marmalade. Tiny boxes of fruit loops for the kids.

Margarita comes in every evening at 6:00 to turn down the beds and leave pillow treats. She alternates: one night tiny snickers bars; the next, local candy. Something chewy and squishy at the same time. We thank her politely and eat the snickers bars.

Photos I see in my head of this trip:

I see the smiles – Manuel at the door – runs to open it for me before I can. “Buenos tardes, Signora, how are you?”

And Filiberto in his white cap, white shirt, socks, tennis shoes, black shorts – red faced and sweating as he hustles around the pool deck passing out menus and carting drinks.

The ray in the wave – riding the surf up the beach, and my son Colin running to tell me about the ray he followed all over the shore.

Fish leaping in the waves. Those pelicans swarming around like a cloud of black flies. Up close, they are huge, a bit frightening as they perch on the rocks. They look capable of carrying off a small child. Swooping low over the water for a leaping fish.

The backs of my children as they jump in the waves.

Hayley’s hair swinging like a curtain, her on her toes and coltish legs, darting about like a sandpiper. Feet whisper on the packed sand, leaving barely a trace.

I wondered where my sadness went
But it’s here
With me
It came along because it is part of me
It goes where I go
Waiting beneath the surface
Waiting politely for me to notice
Not pushing
Not edging its way like the dull saw it is
It knows I am on vacation
It knows how distracted I am by the power of the sea
The beach
The sun
The clothes
The food
The events
It waits for me to acknowledge its presence
By noticing its absence
When I write about my awareness of its absence
It is then
I sense its presence
Riding the green swells of my comfort
Breaking out in white froth in sets of two, three, four waves
Then a quiet set again
Sometimes a red flag day
Sometimes a yellow
This week – green flag all the way


CatBookMom said...

Lovely. So evocative of a time out of time, making pictures in my head.

And memories of my own. Decades ago I went a couple of times to Mazatlan and Xitapa on April 16 to decompress from 4 months of tax returns. Tail end of low season, with fewer people and more room for personal space. The hotel and its staff were as you describe yours, and the staff were so kind about my few remembered bits of years of Spanish. ¿Cómo se dice 'bandaid'?

junior_goddess said...

What did your DH have on his WRIST?

jayne said...

It was one of those splint/tensor bandage things for carpal tunnel. That guy was such an ass, and his wife was this quiet mousy woman who couldn't say boo. I plan to write a short story about them. She leaves.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the much awaited Part II, and for having the ability to take me to Mexico with you. I have had similar trips, in so many ways, where the only differences were the locale and the faces, and where the beauty and the starkness were conjoined. I was hoping you would would have wonderful walks on the beach, just as you did!