Tall white birds rose frequently in the fields this morning as my bus rumbled passed them on its way to Celaya, Guanajuato. The birds strut in the black soil, or in the wet green stalks and stab at the ground with their long sharp beaks. Insects, I guess they eat, or seeds. I have no idea what species they are.
It's much warmer here in the Bajío than in Mexico City. This central rolling plain of the country is rich, consequently, with fresh cut hay, with wind breaks, with plow grooves, with patchworks of green, and, at last, with popsicles. I've found, I think, partial confirmation for my theory of La Michoacana. I expected to encounter more of these popsicle shops as I moved westward. Today, in Celaya, three of them stood on three different corners of that city's central square. The shops provide sure relief from the swelter of midday. I lapped up a paleta de limón. My first paleta de limón of this trip. What a refreshing popsicle lime makes! Delicious in the shade of the centro.
A round simple fellow tramped up to me this morning as I sat for a late morning rest on a bench in the Celaya central square. The trees of that square are very closely and carefully groomed. A kind of outsized hedge they make, bordering the plaza. Their shadows fall unbroken and cool. The round simple fellow held a half-dozen old coins in his fleshy hand. Antique, non-circulating Mexican pesos, he held. A Deutsch mark.
This fellow exuded a palpable warmth. His manner was very gentle and genuine. And he seemed forthright. And he was simple. All of this melded into a kind of maternity in him, into something motherly. From a woman in that square such a strong odor of the maternal would have put me off. Suspicious I would have felt. But from this round fellow's bloodshot and jolly eyes, from his filthy t-shirt stretched to threadbare, from his great smile and soiled cap, I felt only attraction, affinity.
"Do you speak English?" he asked in Spanish.
And he began then in an intelligible but fast-mumbled English to offer to me a few of his old monies. "Would you care to see?" And he picked out the Deutsch mark and lifted it between us. He lifted his eyebrows impressively. These were very interesting curiosities, he said. It would benefit my quality of life, he said, to buy one or two. I declined. And then I declined a second time. And then, with his head nodding good-naturedly, with his head nodding philosophically, the round simple fellow acquiesced to my third refusal.
The round simple fellow began then to just talk to me. He spoke earnestly--but with a storyteller's flare and energy. He had lived in Los Angeles, he told me. He had lived in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife. And he turned his head then at this mention of his beautiful wife. She was a beautiful woman, he repeated. And then he seemed to wait for my response to this significant statement. He watched me from the corner of his left eye. I inclined my head. He described for me then where in Los Angeles he had lived. But I have only visited that city once, and only for a day. I told him this.
Then, "Do you know Michael Jackson?"
"Do I know Michael Jackson?" I paused. "Well, I know who he is."
"What is it that just happened to him? What is that about his head?" And the round simple fellow turned from me again. He looked at me sideways again, significantly.
"I have no idea. I don't know."
"It was a bottle," he revealed dramatically. And with gestures and sound effects he then detailed for me how it had been thrown from the audience. His mumbling became more excited, more rapid.
"And do you know this rock group," he asked. "This rock group. I can't remember. This rock group..." And he looked at me warily, as if hoping I might read his mind. He waited. His excitement began to deflate. I could not read his mind. He pantomimed then a guitar riff. He started to sing. He sang, "We are the champions..."
"Yeah. What happened to that guy? What happened?"
"He died of AIDS."
"Yeah." The mumbling sped on then, excitedly, trippingly. Something about Freddie Mercury. The round simple fellow turned his head, he looked at me out of the corner of his left eye.
He spied my shoes.
And the mumbling slowed, stopped.
The round fellow asked clearly, thoughtfully, "Are you going to exercise today?"
And here I realized the round fellow's simpleness. And I realized that I could not follow his train of thought. And I surrendered my vexed attempts.
"Oh," said he. "So you have already exercised?"
I blinked. "No. I am not exercising right now."
He gazed at my sneakers with his fishy eyes. He gazed at my sneakers as if to say...as if to point at them even and say, "But what about those! What about your gym shoes!" Something mumbled from him in Spanish then. The word "tenis" was in it. And for the first time then since his approach I wanted this warm and simple and maternal man to let me be. I still believed him gentle and genuine but I no longer wanted to spend my time with him. His randomness was too much for my preoccupied mood. He was too disconnected in his thinking. I glanced at the clipboard on my thigh.
He saw this.
Rapidly then, unintelligibly then, the simple fellow began a warm mumbling. He made several references to beautiful girls. Beautiful girls this. Beautiful girls that. Then through this garbling jollity I discerned a promise to let me return to my work. Beautiful girls, he said again. And he looked at me from the corner of his left eye. Then he rose. He took my hand warmly. He said, "Goodbye, my friend."
"Yes, goodbye. Have a nice day," I offered. But I was taken aback. His departure was so sudden.
He shuffled off.
Later, after walking through Celaya's business district again, after fleshing out my descriptions a little, an old man came begging a favor. He shifted the black bolero of his red plaid shirt, he adjusted his wide straw hat tentatively as he claimed a seat near me on a plaza bench. He would be traveling to San Fransisco in two days, he told me. I nodded. Nervously then, he asked: "How do you spell "Brett?""
Later, after my descriptions were at last complete, after I had wandered long and lost through some stark and labyrinthine Celaya neighborhood, an old man appeared on a doorstep to insult me. He lounged on the stoop of a machine shop. He wore white stubble. He was a beggar. "Un peso en el nombre de Diós, señorita?" He tossed out sardonically, I passing, to laugh. He had seen that I would refuse. He had employed "señorita" as an epithet. It referred to my long hair.
They filmed some of Al otro lado del sol in this part of the country. Last night I was surprised to see prominent in its setting the same Tequisquiapan church I visited yesterday. That doesn't make much sense, really. The fictional town is supposedly fifteen or so hours north of Tequisquiapan, near the U.S. border.
I've learned from the telenovela that Mexicans rarely refer to the United States as "the United States" when speaking of it informally, or in the context of immigration. It's known instead as "el otro lado," or, "the other side." Therefrom comes the title.
A Friday night soccer match commences in about a half- hour. Toros Neza versus Monterrey. Toros Neza is a Mexico City team; Monterrey from that gigantic northern city of the same name. The Mexican soccer league is a twenty team field and an ever-present ingredient in Mexican pop culture. Some of the best soccer in the world is played in this country. I purchased a grapefruit drink and chicharrones for the game.
I guess I have to accustom myself to these day trips as much as I had to accustom myself to Mexico in general. I was nervous again this morning as I sallied out to Celaya.