All 8 entries tagged Mexico

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September 14, 2005

Eustorgio

Follow-up to Mexican Independence Day from The Midnight Heart

Eustorgio, our guide in the Sierra Norte, was a cheerful man and extremely patient. When we reached a crossroads between the hard and easy routes, he advised us to take the easy route. Instead we chose the difficult and although he shook his head, Eustorgio led us upwards and helped us in places where we needed to climb. We complained of tiredness and he simply told us that the long walk back would be three hours at least.

Eustorgio showed me the flowers and plants of the mountains. Rosa de la Montagna – a kind of thistle. Mushrooms that were good to eat. Plants to cure eye infections. Herbs that would cure certain illnesses.

Eustorgio had two daughters but never mentioned a wife. He was raising a fish farm on a piece of land on the mountains. He showed us the fishfarm on our long walk back. Without telling us that the land was his, he disappeared inside the cabin and walked over to the pools a pregant dog on his heels.
-Is this your cabin? I asked.
-Yes, he replied.
-Itīs pretty, I said.
He was scattering food on the waters so the surface became a tumult of fish.
-Do you eat all these fish? I asked.
-Yes, he replied.
I must have looked startled because he began to explain that the fish would be his food in winter.

Eustorgio led us all the way back to the town. Once there he left us at the comedor to eat chicken and chilli stew. When we had eaten he led us back to teh cabins and built a fire. He painfully wrote down an e-mail address and said that he would not be there in the morning. He was driving to the city. He sat in silence for a few moments as if unwilling to leave.


September 12, 2005

Mexican Independence Day

Follow-up to The Reason for Being in Mexico from The Midnight Heart

Part of my reason for being in Mexico is that I wanted to research into Mexican fiestas or festivals. Oaxaca is a very important city for the Mexican Day of the Dead which I have been researching, but this week it is also Mexican Indendence Day. In Labyrinth of Solitude, Paz describes the festival as an hour long of shouting echoeing the Grito Dolores when Hidalgo called out to the people of Mexico to revolt. In the local newspaper however, an American woman wrote that the best strategy for a traveller in Mexico is to drape yourself in as many Mexican Independence Day accessories as possible, but she says that it is still likely that you will be pelted with flour and eggs!


September 09, 2005

The Reason for Being in Mexico

Follow-up to Poetry in a Welsh Dialect from The Midnight Heart

The resaon for being in Mexico is to finish my first collection of poetry The Secret which has been the fruit of three years' efforts. The last section to be completed is a kind of prologue which will encompass the themes of the different sections of the book: the Lesser Secrets which considers Wales and its relationship with Western culture and the Greater Secrets which interrogates Wales and Central America. The prologue will unite the two halves with their interpersonal and intrapersonal concerns. There is more to be said about this but I have run out of time.

Poetry in a Welsh Dialect

Follow-up to Sierra Norte from The Midnight Heart

While re-reading The New Poetry as preparation for my teaching in the new year, I re-encountered Tom Leonard. The question raised its head, why haven't I thought more about writing poetry in a Welsh dialect or accent? The kind of Wenglish spoken in the Welsh valleys could be good material.

Sierra Norte

Follow-up to The Pachuco from The Midnight Heart

On Wednesday, we caught a bus heading out of Oaxaca to the Sierra Norte. It was cold and wet, but very beautiful. You have to have a guide up there, because the forests are fierce and you can easily lose your way. The community up there rent out cabins and offer their services as guides for some extra cash. The good thing is that tourism is not the dominant industry up there, so the locals were very friendly and happy to talk.

When I was in Mexico in 2004, I passed through the Sierra Madre stopping at a place called Creel. The locals were not very friendly and who could blame them. The tourists generally went up there to stare at the Tarahumara indigenous peoples. The only way to make money was through tourism. I think that this has happened in some parts of Wales to a lesser extent, but wherever it occurs I think it is to the detriment of the place.

I never take photographs of the indigenous peoples. I have seen tourists taking photographs of the indigenous people and they are very uncomfortable. In some ways, by doing this, tourists are taking away their pride. In order to take photographs of people in any situation, you need to build a relationship of trust as Gertrude Trudy Blom did in San Cristobal with the Mayans.

I generally make it a rule never to take photographs of people unless they ask me to.For example our guide in the Sierra Norte, Eustorgio Martinez, was keen to have his photo taken and I have promised to send him prints once they have been developed. They will then be able to use such photos in their promotional literature about the place and the guides thatthey offer. It's nice to give something back.

The Sierra Norte reminded me of a small town in Belize that we visited called Bermudian Landing. The town was a monkey sanctuary – howler monkeys to be precise. The townspeople ensured that the monkeys were not disturbed in a community run project. Nature lovers would then go to the town to wtach the monkeys in the wild and the community leaders farmed out the tourists fairly to stay with different members of the community. However, as in the Sierra Norte, this was not the total of Bermudian Landing's industry.


The Pachuco

Follow-up to Monte Alban from The Midnight Heart

I have just started reading Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz. In the beginning of the book, he writes of the pachuco, a being charcterised by 'a lack of spirit' (13).The pachuco 'does not want to become a Mexican again; at teh same time he does not want5 to blend into the life of North America' (14). Paz continues:

Since the pachuco cannot adapt himself to a civilization which, for its part, rejects him, he finds no answer to the hostility surrounding him except this angry affirmation of his persnality…the pachuco actually falunts his differences. The purpose of his grotesque dandyism and anarchic behavior is not so much to point out the injustice of a society that has failed to assimilate him as it is to demonstrate his personal will to remain different. / It is not important to examine the causes of this conflict, and even less so to ask whether it has a solution. There are minorities in many parts of the world who do not enjoy the same opportunities as the rest of the population. The important thing is this stubborn desire to be different, this anguished tension with which the lone Mexican – an orphan lacking both protectors and positive values – displays his differences…His disguise is a protection, but it also differentiates and isolates him: it both hides him and points him out (14 -15).

I find the idea of the pachuco very interesting and I relate to the character. Far from suggesting that my experiences as a Welsh person living in England have been the same as those of the Pachuco, I do recognise some elements of Paz' description. When we live outside of what we have known and been comfortable with all our lives, there is a choice to be made. Do we hang around the skirts of the known and the familiar or do we immerse ourselves in what is not familiar? Once we are immersed do we pass as a member of that particular community with the secret knowledge of one's own difference or do we flaunt our difference and force the other to admit that we are not one of them? Paz thinks that the outcome of flaunting such difference predicts that the identity 'spotlights and isolates him but at the same time it pays homage to the society he is attempting to deny' (16).


September 07, 2005

Monte Alban

Follow-up to Mexico from The Midnight Heart

An interesting incident today. An elderly gentleman, Victor, was showing us around Monte Alban, some ruins on top of a mountain near Oaxaca. There were some strange exchanges. He told us that the indigenous tribes had not used pottery initially at Monte Alban and he asked if we could guess how they made soup. We didn't know and he said, 'Everyone thinks that the Indian cannot think and the Indian has a small brain, but he can think.' I was a little taken aback. I think that perhaps Victor was used to people having a low opinion of teh indigenous peoples of Mexico and he certainly did not look as if he believed what he said. Anyway, he explained that the indigenous peoples used gourds and hot stones to make soup.

I asked what he thought about why people were so unfair to the indigenous people and he turned to me at last and said, 'The white man always thinks that he is better than other races. Don't you think? He always thinks he is better.' I found this incident very distressing and I felt a powerful guilt over the terrible legacy of white Europeans.


Mexico

Due to the generosity of Academi, the Welsh Academy, I am able to travel Mexico during September this year in order to complete my first poetry collection The Secret . The collection is a culmination of the work of three years and the section to be completed during this trip is a kind of prologue which sets up the premise of the book.

In my research project, 'The Crinoline Tree', I investigate different strategies used by Welsh women poets in their interrogations of identity. One strategy is to retreat into a specific culture or a specific marginality and the other is to estrange oneself from that culture or marginality. Both of these strategies are used in The Secret and it surprises me how much my research and my poetry feed into one another. The first half of the book retreats into Wales through considering Welsh literature, culture etc and it considers Wales' relations with Western culture. The second half of the book relates Welsh culture to that of Mexico.

It is a very difficult task to write about another country and one's experiences of it. I was wondering today why I wanted to go to Mexico in the first place. The answer that presented itself suggested that to estrange oneself from one's culture or in the case of being Welsh, from a specific marginality, can be useful. Julia Kristeva talks about this in relation to her ironist in Strangers to Ourselves . I am also reminded of the residents of Baucis in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities because their city does not touch any part of the ground, but they scan the ground with telescopes as if searching for themselves.

I must be specific about what I mean here because I do not want it to be thought that I am using Mexico for purposes of transcendence in the same way that a man will use the image of a woman to present an idea or thought. Alice Jardine's Gynesis thinks about how women are used in this way in detail. But to return to my line of thought, it is true to say that in writing about Mexico, I am exploring my own culture and marginality, yet this is not as cold as it may first appear to be. It is about empathy to some extent. It is also about recognising differences and similarities.

Also, I am not without political purpose in writing about Mexico. I remember reading an article by Susan Sontag in which she said that the first job of the writer is not to be an ally of lies and misinformation. It is true to say that by highlighting a country's difficulties and struggles, it may be of some help. However, when I read what other writers have written about Mexico, I am often disappointed – the shifty Mexicans of The Power and the Glory , the violence of All the Pretty Horses , the racial stereotypes of Under the Volcano . I think one purpose of my writing might be to combat Orientalism and think about how such countries are the same as our own rather that exoticising them into an alien species.

These are some thoughts that I have as I begin my journey in Mexico.


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