Friday, 15 April 2011

Questions and Answers

     During the past few hours there have been a few questions come in and it is my duty to answer as best possible, constrained, of course, by my limited intellectual proweress.

During these times....or at any normal time....where do "gringos" tend to want to stay when they are living part-time or full time in a place like Mexico?

         The Old Gringo is going to give a subjective answer.   Later we can look up more precise data in the new Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia report.    Preliminary publication of the just-past census is being published even as this is being written.   It is considered to be the final legal word, and frankly, can be considered to be a good and complete work by most researchers.
          My impressions are pretty  good, however, and come from considerable experience.   There is a bit of deception in the 1,000,000 Gringos living in Mexico number.    Is that number static, or fluctuating?   Does it include people who have some form of dual citizenship?   Does it include criminals on the run?    Does it include full-time only, or part-time as well?
       Approximately one-fourth of all Americans (including Canadians, whether they like it or not....they just smell a little funny, eh) living in Mexico live in the Baja California Peninsula....below Ensenada and all the way down to the various Cabos at the tip of Baja California Sur.     Most of these are younger geezers aged 50 to 70.   Most live in leased accommodations, en lieu of opting for hotel, motel, on monthly rental options.    A significant number have opted for the "permanent lease"   (99 years, permanent renewal option, transferable by probated testament, total lease payment paid in full at time of lease.....essentially a purchase). 
      These lease arrangements require that a qualified bank hold the title, and pay your ad valorem taxes (a pittance), and charge the lessee a fee for such payments and services, usually paid annually.    It is less than a Neighbourhood Association dues, or other rigamarole.      ALTHOUGH.....there are such developments on the Baja that have colonias that do certainly have community owners' conventions and uniform standards requirements.

       Another large body of Americans and other funny smelling people live in and around the area that is generally identified as Guadalajara.....which includes that city (The Pearl of the West) along with the surrounding of Lake Chapala with its communities of Ajijic, Jojotepec, etc. just to the south of Guadalajara.    During these days one will hear, "Everybody's moving out because of the violence, it's just terrible,  everything's ruined!" and I am sure there have been people who have suffered some kind of contratemp there.
      However....upon arriving, everything seems to be as it was 5 years ago...there are gringos everywhere....things are laid back, dull, boring, terribly scenic, 82 degrees in the afternoon 55 degrees at the break of dawn.....cold beer, excellent food, etc. etc.   It seems as good as any place to wait around to die.

      A somewhat smaller body of gringos are found in and around the area of San Miquel de Allende and Guanajuato in the State of Guanajuato.   These folks are normally extreme upper-middle class to eccentric wealthy people who are real die-hard Mexo-freaks.   Most speak Spanish to some degree of fluency or another and seem to really prefer the colonial Spanish Mexican environment.    Emphasis on colonial.      Ideal weather,  year-round.
       Mixed in with this is a highly developed Mexican and foreign art community, the cities of Dolores Hidalgo and Marfil (adjacent to Guanajuato City), and a very stable social and political environment.   It is a place for intellectuals, psuedo-intellectuals, and anti-intellectuals.   Conservative to very conservative locals and foreigners....although foreign pinkoes have their episodes.  
     Cold Beer, excellent margaritas and variations thereupon, and a cornocopia of excellent grub....much of it identifiable....ranging in price from very cheap to the lower range of almost expensive.
       My estimate is that probably five percent of the American community in Mexico lives in and along the San Miguel de Allende -  Guanajuato axis.    It is where my mother would have chosen to spend half her time had she decided to stay in this world a bit longer.   There is a nice Episcopal Church in San Miquel....named....Saint Michael's...imagine that!

      Next....and none of the above or what follows  is in any particular Oaxaca City and surrounding areas and Oaxaca -  Chiapas States  in general.     Oaxaca City and the surrounding areas are idyllic.  Oaxaca City is, like a lot of larger colonial cities...very clean.    It, like Guanajuato and  Guadalajara, is a State capital.    It has a really and truly commie undercurrent.....fueled mainly by communist professors at the university in downtown.....and by a native prolotariat revolutionary rural and Indian assembly of people with too much time on their hands and too much beer and mescal to drink.
      Oddly, however, it doesn't really seem to take away much from this charming and overwhelmingly interesting land of the Zapotec  and Mixtec Indian Nations...still extant...and still speaking their native languages.   Stunning colonial architecture, great and noble archaeological sites of importance (as well as some barely excavated, if at all) are all-enveloping.    The food is amazing and, of course, the climate is perfect.    Earthquakes are an added source of excitement.....although everything that can come down pretty much has been shaken down by 7's ,  8's , and 9's that have hit all around the southern fourth of Mexico since the arrival of the Spanish (early 1520's).
       You all know, with my rightwing bent, that if I speak highly of a place that has a hot-pink bent....then it has to be something special.     The foreign community is composed of quite a churn of tourists....most are not at all offensive.    Probably three percent of the  full and part-time foreign residents in Mexico live in and around Oaxaca City .... within a egg-shaped perimeter with the Capital at the top of the egg and the city and archaeological site of Mitla at the lower end of the egg about 35 miles to the south.
       Because of the pinko-ness of Oaxaca, there is a goodly number of Euro-commies, youth hostel types, back-packers, We'll-bathe-after-we-get-back-to-France folks, a real live Reds who come to "express solidarity" with the oppressed native peoples of the New World.
      One time, the crystal of my grandfather's watch cracked and I took it to the jeweler in downtown Oaxaca.   It was an unlikely looking place....clean, ancient, with neat boxes of parts, tools, and various shop-like things in a small shop.   I asked the owner if he could solve the problem with the crystal, and he asked me to come back in three hours.   We joked about how I would not be able to know three hours had transpired...I told him it really was my grandfather's watch and was very important because I had never known him...he died long before I was born.    Oddly, he said, "Yes, I know"....
      Three hours later I came back.   He showed me my newly crystalled and polished watch...running perfectly....and he charged me the equivalent of  three dollars.    It still runs perfectly.
      The food in Oaxaca is unbelievable.    It has the best hole-in-the-wall places in the world. The weekly Indian markets....different days of the week for different communities...are never dull in spite of the repetition of products....each community has different specialties and seasonality also breaks the monotony.    Careful with the mescal...some of it is 130 proof..or even higher....but you can eat the crickets...really...I always do.
      An addenda is Chiapas State.    While Oaxaca City's weather is perfect, most of Chiapas is not.   It is hot, wet, and almost unsurvivable.    Where the gringoes hang around is in San Cristobal de las Casas.....another Indian wonderland....but Mayan at this point.   It is adjacent to Guatemala.    It is also adjacent to another universe and lives in a different time dimension.  There is a bridge over an unremarkable watercourse that runs through the middle of San Cristobal.    On a corner-post of the unremarkable bridge that crosses the unremarkable watercourse is the inscription, "A la Mexicanidad de Chiapas".    The bridge had been built in the early 1960's, and was carefully dedicated "To the Mexicanality of Chiapas".    My immediate thought was "If you have to say it, then it cannot be totally true".    But it is certain that Chiapas thinks of itself as a separate country.....more like one of the Central American duchies.  
       While the bulk of Chiapas is hot, wet, and foreboding....the area around San Cristobal is very cold, wet, and foreboding.    COLD.     It  is also a State where six different Indian nations set about hacking up their neighbours at various times and stages of the moon.   There is also the now nearly elderly "youthful and energetic marxist redeemer of the oppressed Native Americans, Sub-comandante Marcos...."   .    It makes me want to run out and buy another "Che" pull-over shirt and shout anti-American slogans.    Of course, Sub-comandante Marcos is a white Mexican from the lower ranges of the upper-class from Tampico.....but he likes to wear ski-masks .... and he likes 13 year old Indian girls.   After all, saving Indians from American imperialism is hard work....and Mrs. Mitterand only sends him a couple of hundred thousand Euros a month to keep up his War Against Capitalist Imperialism.     With luck he will be able to establish a Castro Cuba style nirvana with complete proletariat perfection sometime within the next 90 days.    After twenty years,  thirty percent of the people under his control have migrated out of their compounds and living conditions have become even worse for the remainder, even after massive infusions by various pro-communist groups, Universities, and marxist intellectuals world-wide.
        In spite of all of this....there are quite a few Gringoes who live in the San Cristobal well as in and around the archaeological sites associated with Palenque which is nearer to the Gulf of Mexico and touching the tropical lowlands.    I know of three or four couples who have homes outside of San Cristobal or in the very middle of said city, and they would never leave.

       The Yucatan Peninsula is another area where there are large numbers of permanent and semi-permanent Americans.     All along the beaches....the ugly ones on the east and north coasts with the flamingos....and lots and lots of folks on the Caribbean side.    There are many living in Merida, the "White City" , the capital of the State of Yucatan....and it is a delightful place.    VERY HOT in the summer....but with hundreds and hundreds of bars, restaurants, outdoor eateries, and shady places in the center of the is summarily pleasant.     Many, many gringoes live in the outback of the Peninsula.    It is covered with dense low tropical forest with numerous Mayan villages and towns interspersed throughout.     Finding adequate lodging is an issue.....but in no wise impossible.
       Once again, food is really good....and relatively cheap.   Like a lot of places in Mexico, there are respectable saloons that serve incredible botanas for next to nothing for their regular elbow-benders.....sometimes I wonder how they stay in business.    These places actually are found pretty much throughout Mexico and are almost always very civilized and sedate hidey-holes.
       I would estimate that the Playa del Carmen crowd, the interior Peninsula bunch, the Merida-Campeche-Progresso group would total another ten percent of the resident American population....perhaps more.

      One cannot forget significant permanent and semi-permanent people living on the coast of Oaxaca in and around the two small port cities of Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido.....lots of surfer-types, right-wing libertarian hippy types....VERY laid back, I'm okay, you're okay.....All along the Pacific Coast one will run into slightly eccentric Gringos who have found their favourite bar, their best little cheap restaurant, and their elegant deluxe Restaurant Le Self-Indulgence for once a week or so.   Don't discount, for instance, Mazatlan.

     It is my best estimate that about forty percent of the American permanent and semi-permanent presence in Mexico is like The Old Gringo.      Eccentric curmudgeons who are grumpy and semi-hermit-like who are just trying to get along and stay out of the way.  Almost all are retired or semi-retired, self-employed and active, sometimes "computer commuting" in writing, editing, and other pursuits frequently based out of the United States.    These types tend to live inside the general Mexican population and removed from "appropriate" or "safe" areas.    Most are fluent in Spanish.    They can be found along the Vera Cruz coast, in the highlands like in Zacatecas and environs, or in the Bajio....Irapuato, Celaya, Salamanca, and Leon. 
      The final batch live and work in industrial centers like Monterrey and even Mexico City.   Both of those places have their extremely good points, but I could only tolerate living in Mexico City for a week or two.   

I would recommend the book, "Emissaries to a Revolution" which details life during the interesting days from 1910 through 1920.    It was published in the 1980's, written by Larry D. Hill who took two degrees from Texas A & M University and a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.   The author was a friend of my brother's.

More later.    Thanks for your patience.    I shall fill in various and many holes of the above general outline in coming days.    As always everyone's attention, questions, and comments are truly appreciated.
El Gringo Viejo