by Art Lieberman
It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low
The moon's so bright like to light up the night
Make everything all right." (James Taylor)
I love Mexican coffee. It has a rich, nutty, even chocolate flavor.
It's a Nine Flags Coffee Roaster bestseller. Some of the Nine Flags moan and groan when they run out!
I was drinking it one day and was reminded of my first visit to the country.
I must have been almost 13 when we flew to Mexico City.
Aero Mexico (dubbed Aero Maybe by my brother) seemed like any other airline until we landed in Guadalajara, switched planes, and flew to Mexico City.
Our bodies flew to Mexico City, but our luggage didn’t make it.
This was back in the day when everyone dressed up to fly. At least my family did. Dad was wearing dress pants, dress shirt, and a sport coat. Me, dress shoes, long sleeved shirt, and nice pants. You get the idea. We had an itinerary. Hotels paid for. We kept moving, luggage or no. Dress shoes and long sleeves, not the most comfortable travel clothing (and ripening quickly).
The taxi drive to Ixtapan de la Sal from the capital was eye opening. See, I had spent most of my life in upper middle class California. Private school, summers splashing in my pool with my brother, sister, and friends. I didn’t know how good I had it.
Until that drive to Ixtapan. The 2 hour drive was dotted with pueblos filled with the poorest people I had ever seen. Poor people in tiny villages with tall churches.
Finally we arrived in Ixtapan. If you Google it now, it looks like a big fancy resort, but in 1975 it was a quaint village. One of my favorite parts of the experience was the bowling alley. The small resort had a tiny, single lane bowling alley entirely run by a team of eight to ten year old kids.
Nothing was automatic like in U.S. bowling alleys. There was a 10 year old boy in the “pin deck” with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth who set all the pins in an overhead rack and pulled a lever. He also retrieved the ball and sent it back to the bowler with a shove.
I thought that was so cool that I asked if I could help. I enjoyed setting the pins up more than knocking them down. I’m not sure how I asked. I spoke English and they spoke Spanish. They probably knew some English while I knew about three words of Spanish. But we communicated in the ways that children do, who speak different languages and are playing together.
This hotel was the kind with nicely appointed bungalows. They also had a tiny movie theater. So one night, we went to the movies and saw Barefoot in the Park, the 1969 comedy starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (screenplay by Neil Simon). The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles. That’s when I learned that people read much faster than people speak. As a comedy there were many funny moments. But I missed most of the punchlines because people reading Spanish subtitles read faster than the spoken dialogue and the laughter drowned out the English. One day, I’ll have to watch it again and see if I like it!
Sadly, just before we drove back to Mexico City, my mom must have consumed something that made her sick. Because her stomach turned inside out all the way back. Regularly, she pleaded with the taxi driver to stop so that she could spew. It didn't help that the roads were narrow and windy.
Mexico City was a site to behold. At that time it was the most populated city in the world. My two favorite memories of it are murals and pyramids. I was moved by the paintings of David Sequieros (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alfaro_Siqueiros). I didn’t understand them, but looking at those huge works of art was like watching a movie, only somehow more substantial. Maybe all great art does that.
The other great experience was going to Teotihuacán, the Mexico City pyramids. Being a 13 year old, I decided I didn’t want to just walk up the stairs to the top of the sun pyramid. Nope. I was going to climb.
If you look at the pyramid, on one side you see stairs. On the other is a rocky surface. I decided to climb the rocky part (never considering the blood that used to run down its face half a millennium ago). Oddly, nobody scolded me for doing it.
After that, I was pumped and ready to climb all of the other Teotihuacán pyramids in the area. But Mom and Dad were worn out, so back to the hotel.
I’ll never forget that trip. I’ve stepped foot on Mexican soil two other times. Both were as different from my Mexico City trip as going to a completely different country.
A year later we traveled just across the border from San Diego to Tijuana. I don’t know what a day in Tijuana is like now, but in the 1970s, it was a place to go shopping for trinkets. It seemed like miles of shops with blacklight posters and velvet carpets. I bought a mandolin that looked like a watermelon. My dad was happy to get home!
The last time I visited Mexico was in 1983. Cabo San Lucas. This was pure resort style vacation. Lots of great food. Wonderful beaches. Cabo was as peaceful as TJ was frenetic.
Mexico is many things. It shouldn't come as a surprise that a country with over a hundred million people would be so diverse. Here's a hint: there are over 50 indigenous language spoken by over 100,000 people in the country!
Mexico calls. And soon, I hope, I'll be back.
But for now, I'll enjoy my mug of Mexican coffee. And plan my escape.