Mexico Calling

I’m dreaming Mexico – perhaps because I’m back in my fleece shawl this mid-May morning with the early temperature only in the 40s, and perhaps because in the end-of-semester chores we always clean the house and I dusted the little Mexican figures on the built-in corner shelves that came with our 1924-built stucco house, or because in yesterday’s photo post, I mentioned Durango.

In 1984, I went to Durango, Mexico to make a movie and fell in love – with light, with shadows, with a laughing, generous people, with mystery, and after going back to visit a couple of time, moved there in December of 1985. I didn’t know I was moving – I thought I was going for another visit to escape New York City and late December cold, but when it came time to return, I didn’t go back. Mexico’s pull is magic.

Here’s part of the magic – these are two little figures, each about an inch tall, and hand-crafted. How can human fingers do something so exquisitely detailed and so tiny?

the lady and her drummer
the lady and her accompanist


This little box below is a 2″ x 1″ glass box with a mirror at the back and three little figures inserted into a glass tube and mounted in front of the mirror. As near as I can tell, it’s a dancing bull with a monkey and a — well, I’m not sure what. A toreador and sword? A hunter and a rifle? A laughing farmer and a pole to prod the bull? Maybe a broom to sweep up the glass when it breaks? If you can imagine what it is, please let me know!

a dancing mythological bull

I laughed a lot in Mexico. Everyone laughs a lot in Mexico – or at least they used to. Mexicans love to laugh, but I’m no longer sure the laughter is the same since the drug wars. It makes me sad to think of how the drug market in the U.S. and the lack of useful wages in Mexico created such a disaster.

I got a job in the Zona Rosa working for a tourist office and lived in an apartment on the top floor (4 stories) of the building. I earned the equivalent of $150 dollars in pesos per month and the apartment was rent-free. It was a glorious place to live.  Loud but glorious. From my front patio – which stretched all across the front of the apartment and fifteen feet out to the ledge, I could see across the street to the Banana Republic store where King Kong stood on the roof holding a dangling blond in his hand. Truly. Every time I looked across the patio, I’d laugh. Beyond King Kong’s head, I could see the Angel of Independence shining golden on her high stand several blocks away. And then one rainy season, King Kong’s arm fell off and Fay Wray dropped to the floor and dangled her blond hair over the ledge.
A half-block from where I lived – and worked – taking an elevator to work was the shortest commute I’ve ever had – there was an alley-way that connected to a market. I bought fresh fruit and cheeses, vegetables, flowers, liquados (smoothies) and all manner of things including clothes (a fabulous white gauze flounced skirt that I still keep in the closet although two sizes too small these many years later), and crafts: hand-built tinys.
The table with the skull below is about three inches long; the candle holder longer, and the little stand with the skeleton leaning against a tree about four inches tall. Mexicans love to build skeletons, and they laugh at death. I wonder now, with the cartels killing so many, if the laughter remains. The real ofrenda table is used each year for the Days of the Dead celebrations. This hand-built tiny reminds me of the night my friend Kate and I walked though a cemetery lighted by tall candles and decorated in elaborate flower-petal images on the graves.  
bell, book, and candle

And there you have a story of my life in miniature.

Mexico re-invented my understanding of the religious and spiritual at a fundamental level. I lived there three years, finally ending my ex-patriot sojourn because I had a six-month old grandson back in the States. Funny how family and love will change the course of a life! But Mexico taught me – and allowed me to experience – the in-dwelling spirit in a way that has remained with me.  

So as you do your spring cleaning this year, look at the tiny things that changed your life. They may still carry the spirit that once called you to be who you are.


6 thoughts on “Mexico Calling

  1. I love the way you invite us to join you on your Memory Lane of dusting chores. I have always enjoyed my family’s tradition of “breathing a prayer” for the ones who gifted us with our treasures, as we dust. Reverie is good for the soul. It revives our subconscious.

  2. Art needed. an explosion of it. those huichol colors, they must be lived.
    i miss your Mexico Janet and i hope present struggling will heal. Does not take a great number of people to send a country spiraling down

    … and the good news is that the same is true of up. Intentions are important, the crux of the new matter, so to speak

    and laughter helps, O G-d, Yes, laughter inspires.

    Que Bueno mucho, ce rire qui s’eveille… Aw, thanks Janet, thanks Elizabeth.

  3. Que bueno! The miniature ofrenda table is lovely, but I LOVE the candle holder.

    I had a local artist who is on commission with Mattie Rhodes come to my class this week to instruct the children on bark painting. How interesting it was to me that they understood well the concept of using images to represent where they have come from, but how timid they were with using color vividly to let the message speak loudly. I spent much of my time “assisting” our Latina instructor by encouraging them to use more color – even the Latino children in my class!

    Looking back, I realize the ones who did not need any encouragement were also the children who have a much greater sense of themselves as individuals and are more confident.

    We all learned something new this week.

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