A Woman of Mexico
Maggie Van Ostrand
Living in New York and Los Angeles, while good for one's metabolism, is not that
great for one's patience. Who has time to stop and smell the roses? Who stops?
Who smells? What roses?|
When I moved to Ajijic in 1995, I assumed qualities
like honesty, integrity, kindness, patience and, above all, respect, would be
restored by osmosis. Instead, they were restored by Josefina.
was housekeeper at the hacienda I was to rent for several years. At first I was
intimidated, never having had a fulltime housekeeper before. She was nothing like
the weekly cleaning woman who cared for my Hollywood home while I toiled in the
madcap world of television.
Josefina, whose skin was the color of a chocolate
malted if you mixed some sunshine into it, wore a spotless, white apron over what
my mother called a "housedress." The apron had little pink and yellow green-leafed
flowers in the corners which, I later learned, she had embroidered herself.
She blushed at my "How do you do?" accompanied by my hand extended for a
shake which would not, could not, be forthcoming, and lowered her eyes demurely.
"Buenos Dias, Señora," she murmured, "What can I do for you this day?"
I incorrectly felt that I had offended her, but that was my ignorance of Mexican
ways. In Josefina's culture, it would have been improper for her to show such
easy familiarity with a stranger. That's the U.S. manner, and I was not in the
Slowly, both by her example and my observations, I learned to adjust
to Mexican culture. I came to understand these generous people. It is we who are
difficult to comprehend. It is, after all, Mexico, a country in which we were
not born but rather choose to live.
Why choose a colonial village for
its obvious charm and beauty, and then complain because our heels catch in the
cobblestones? We can learn to walk on cobblestones and to wear sensible shoes.
Josefina walks on cobblestones, and so can I.
Why crab about the narrow
streets, yet continue to drive giant SUVs into Mexico and end up parking half
on the sidewalk? Why overlook the fun of riding in lopsided buses where people
gaily chatter and sometimes play guitars. Josefina rides the bus and so can I.
The wondrous sights within and without the bus have unexpected rewards, like
the little Mexican boy who knelt on his seat in front, facing me. He grinned and
pointed to the words printed on his T-shirt: "I am an American." I'd be pleased
to wear a T-shirt that says, "I am a Mexican."
On busses, everyone, seemingly
without exception, says "Gracias" to the driver upon debarking. How courteous
and respectful is that and when did we stop doing it in the U.S?
never forget sitting next to Josefina and spying a very large, odd looking bird
in the empty lot our bus was passing. I asked Josefina, "What kind of bird is
that? I never saw such a wrinkled, ugly little face and that black ruff around
it is totally out of proportion." She giggled behind her hand and could barely
get out the words, "Oh Señora, that is the back side of a turkey and he is bending
over to reach the corn on the ground."
Josefina never made fun of me
when I inadvertently butchered her language, but patiently and softly corrected
me until I got it right. I tutored her youngest son in English and, when he inadvertently
butchered my language, I patiently and softly corrected him until he got it right.
If Josefina can do it, so can I.
She is also one of the world's great
cooks, though she seems unaware of it. At the Chapala newsstand, I bought two
artfully illustrated Frida Kahlo cookbooks, one in English for me and the same
one in Spanish for Josefina. When entertaining, I had only to point to a beautiful
photograph in my book, than I saw it in living color on the dinner table that
very night. She told me how much she enjoyed trying new dishes. SHE enjoyed it?
Invariably, the husbands of my guests trailed Josefina back into the kitchen,
drooling, and begging her to leave her husband and come away with them. They all
Speaking of love, not since Lana Turner's fallen lipstick
rolled across the floor stopping at the feet of newly arrived drifter, John Garfield,
in "The Postman Always Rings Twice," have I witnessed anything as romantic as
Josefina's relationship with her husband, Enriquez, the gardener.
the evening of their 27th wedding anniversary, she invited me to join her and
we sat outside on a pair of stiff chairs. Three crisply-dressed mustachioed men
in sombreros entered the yard, deftly plucking their guitar strings. As they serenaded
Josefina by lustily singing "Cielito Lindo" and "Mi Secreto Amor," Enriquez, dressed
all in black, silver belt buckle glinting in the moonlight, shyly walked out from
behind them. In his hand he clutched one magnificent red rose. He handed it to
No naked film stars writhing about on a movie screen can equal
that scene for romance.
When you figure out why, when we leave our mother
countries to live in the paradise known as Mexico, we want to change it into the
place we just left, please let me know.
In the meantime, when in Mexico,
do as the Mexicans do. Josefina does it, and so can I.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
Balloon In Cactus" 2003 Column