Answering a question about Guanajuato, Mexico, Ms. Van Ostrand
gave us both an answer and a story reminding us of why Mexico remains timeless
"I liked Guanajuato very much. Took my shy English-student, Fernando, the
then-12-year-old son of beloved housekeeper, Josefina, to Guanajuato (with his
parents permission of course). ..... His family thought I had done something wonderful
for their son. But it was the other way around."
|With his parents'
permission, I took Fernando, my 12-year-old English student, to Guanajuato, the
seat of the Mexican Revolution, for two days. |
Fortunately, I'd been
warned by a friend to avoid driving in Guanajuato because of the extreme difficulty
in traversing the city streets, which are laid out with no pattern, no design,
and no logic.
As in Boston, Massachusetts, whose streets are paved over
the original meandering cow paths, in 1548, the founding fathers of Guanajuato
decided to simply follow the terrain. Additionally, antiquated tunnels winding
erratically through the city and can be either walked through or driven in, were
once the sewer system. It's terribly Jean val-Jean, if you ask me. However, Fernando
loved taking a taxi through the tunnels and seeing the water seep through the
ancient stone walls. Me? I'd rather have root canal than sewage canal. I didn't
know at the time that it was Fernando's first taxi ride or ride in any car at
all for that matter.
One of the first places on our agenda was the Don
Quixote Museum -- There were paintings, murals, stoneware, ceramics, statues,
and other works of art -- If you find it hard to believe an entire museum devoted
to a man who never lived, in the U.S.A., there's a museum for "Peanuts," a cartoon
character who never lived either.
When making advance reservations for
the Hotel San Diego, I had been assured we would be given two separate bedrooms.
What did we end up with? The honeymoon suite. There I was standing on a romantically
baroque iron balcony overlooking the colonial Church of San Diego -- with a 12-year-old.
Together we watched as today's answer to Quasimodo tolled the great
bell, his rope-clinging body alternately rising from and returning to the ground.
The clangor was deafening, especially at 11 o'clock -- too bad one o'clock comes
only twice. I chose to look at the bright side. Since this man never slept, we
didn't need an alarm clock.
There's an awful lot to be said for this
Auntie Mame stuff. For instance, imagine my pleasure at learning Fernando had
never been on an elevator in his life? You should've seen his face as the elevator
rose and his stomach fell. He grinned from one ear to the other, and held his
hand over his stomach much as a pregnant woman does when she feels her unborn
child's first kick.
We ate at a sidewalk café which offered nutritious
hot fudge sundaes and banana splits which sounded like proper fare to a 12-year-old
on his first adventure. Fernando watched and replicated my every move; he hadn't
eaten in a restaurant before, nor had he ever tasted these delectable dulces.
We sat by a window so we could check out the social activities across the street
on the steps of the Teatro Juarez, where college students gather after class to
study and talk. Little did we realize that every panhandler in town habitually
hung himself through the waist-high window, rheumy eyes watering pleas for pesos.
Not a great location to be sucking up Sundaes. In exchange for my demonstrating
how to blow paper wrappers off straws, Fernando taught me how to open a bag of
potato chips without using my teeth. Can you tell me that we are not at the same
level of maturity?
On to Alhóndiga de Granaditas, formerly the massive
town granary, where a young miner nicknamed El Pipila heroically made his way
to the wooden door of the fortresslike structure, set it on fire and allowed the
insurgents to storm the interior, the first major military victory of the War
of Independence. Now a museum, we were afforded the opportunity to see mementos
of great Mexican heroes, both peasant and presidential.
I will ever again have the thrill of seeing such an expression as was on young
Fernando's face as he moved his hand with reverence over the smooth surface of
Benito Juárez' desk. He was touching it not only for himself, but for his absent
classmates, who would soon share in every Kodak moment.
Next came the
Museum of the Mummies, ghastly to me but a highlight for Fernando. There, we waited
on line behind about a hundred thousand other kids. These mummies are advertised
as ancient, but I hope they all got a glom at that one guy who died wearing only
black nylon socks and BVDs.
We climbed to The Statue of Pipila, which
can be viewed from every cranny in the city; Iglesia De La Valenciana, La Valenciana
Silver Mine, Mercado Hidalgo, University of Guanajuato biblioteca, La Parroquia,
Museo Del Pueblo, Museo Diego Rivera, and Iglesia De La Compańia. We wandered
through the parks and narrow, steep and twisty cobblestone lanes, my Nikes screaming,
"You should've bought a larger size."
Politely declining my offer to
buy any gifts he wanted for his family, Fernando chose instead to bring back to
his mother these souvenirs: a paper-encased restaurant straw, a pat of wrapped
butter, and miniature soap with the hotel name on the wrapper.
return to Ajijic, Fernando's parents, Josefina and Enriquez, thanked me profusely
for taking their son on the first trip anyone in their family had ever taken beyond
their own village. But I know for a fact that it's I who am grateful to them.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand's humor has appeared
in the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, various magazines, and appears monthly
in the Mexican publication, El Ojo Del Lago.