Blogging is challenging. I try to convey a cohesive sense of place, however photographs and words are the only currency that I have at my disposal. Mexico, luckily, is quite a forgiving blog-subject. It is such a feast for the senses!
Here I submit words and photos to engage all of your senses. Imagine this incredible setting along with me, and play some classic Ranchera music from Chavela Vargas in the background to set the mood. For extra credit, read this post while sipping mezcal. A friend of mine says that it tastes like Mexico: a bit dirty, smoky and spicy, and is traditionally finished off with a sensuous nibble of sweet orange spiced with chili powder.
One characteristic sound
Maybe he is selling tortillas, or maybe oranges. Possibly household cleaning supplies, or perhaps it is something else. Honestly, it is hard to decipher the mix of sounds as a clear message at first.
Getting louder as he approaches, the soundtrack becomes easier to understand. It is peppered with cheerful music or sound-effects which make for a more dynamic sales-pitch. Eventually, the words become more clear despite the loudspeaker’s high distortion. It is strapped to a car roof, usually one that needs a new muffler.
This is the sound of the traveling sales-vehicle. I do not go a day without seeing them.
One characteristic taste
After hammering a stick into its base, the sweet, juicy, slippery mango is peeled and sliced. Before you are asked if you want to spice up your snack, lime juice is drizzled and a shaker is tilted overhead, sprinkling a mix of salt and chili over your refreshing fruit. Of course you want salt and chili.
One characteristic scent
As I have mentioned, most coffee in Mexico leaves a bit to the imagination. However, passing through coffee country in the high Sierra Mountains is a completely different story. Whole beans and fresh grounds are sold by the kilo in outdoor markets, and cafes lure passersby with a rich, intoxicating smell.
One characteristic sight
Intricately braided hair is such a common sight here that I researched the history of braids thinking that they may have been invented in Mexico. While they were not, braiding certainly has been perfected by mothers preparing their daughters for school each morning.
One characteristic texture
I have yet to meet a Mexican who doesn’t have a favorite kind of baked-good. Maybe this is because Panaderias, or bakeries, are ubiquitous. Even the tiniest of pueblos have at least one or two. At the entrance of every bakery there is a table holding tongs to grab the pastries off of the rack and stacks of metal trays for each customer to collect and carry their purchases.
Anyone who has visited a panaderia can describe the feel of the tongs on fresh pastries in bakeries, about how the soft texture of the thin crust gives only slightly to the light pinch of the tongs. They can tell you how sugar granules fall gracefully back on the rack and on the trays, and about the chorus of the metal tongs clicking together as customers decide on which items to place on their tray.
Funny story about bread: Mexicans and US Americans are probably good bread eating partners: most Mexicans prefer to eat only the crust. The middle is picked out and discarded. Conversely, many US Americans like to cut the crust off from their sandwiches. It gets discarded. I think I see a nice partnership here!
Making me smile
- Unlike almost all of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, I have yet to find a scorpion in my house. Some of them find three per month!
- Skyping with a friend while enjoying a couple glasses of wine…for three hours! During all of the laughs and catching-up, I realized that it is now difficult to speak only in English
- Noticing that people eat fruit differently here. Mangoes get peeled and eaten like bananas; oranges are sliced in half with the skin still on, with the consumer using their teeth to peel the tasty part away from the skin, bite by bite. Jicama and cucumbers are considered fruit too.
- Spending the night at a fellow PC volunteer’s house and waking up to a minor volcano eruption
- Baking birthday cakes Mexican style. Step one: remove all pots and plastic bowls from the oven before pre-heating it…
- Hearing families speaking in Otomí to each other as they made amate paper in the same manner that it has been done for the past thousand years: with tree bark, water, a volcanic rock, and the new change: an orange peel to give the final product a smooth and even finish