The Sound of Mexico: A Few Scattered First Impressions

The first thing I notice about Mexico is the sound of it: constant and unrestrained. There’s no such thing as noise complaints in Mexico. Noise and activity, like many other things, isn’t something that seems like it should register as an annoyance. In fact, Jeanne explains to me that a lot of Mexicans would probably be uncomfortable without it.

I arrive in La Manzinilla – the little town where Jeanne, Brian and Glen spend their winters – on Christmas Eve, and everyone is celebrating. You can buy fireworks at a little stall in the Jardín and people do, and they go all night – loud and sudden as gunshots, coughing out more noise than light. My walk into town on Christmas Eve night is flanked by music from houses and shops, from the loudspeakers on the roof of the church. Dogs bark, roosters wake and crow, people call out.

Mexicans here don’t seem to get drunk and go roaring violently through the streets like Australians do, they get drunk and celebrate: play music, joke and laugh, dance, sing – celebrate. Their mode of celebration seems cleaner, less restrained and caught up than the usual Australian modes of celebration too; unconditional and clean. Unselfconscious. This is my first impression, anyway.

* * *

Jeanne, Brian and Glen’s house in Mexico is huge and open, decorated much like their house in Canada: with colour and a million statues and paintings and wall-hangings collected at a million different markets or shops. There is no real consistency outside quirk and colour, so the effect is one of dense, almost chaotic detail and playfulness. It’s the house of grown-ups who have never really reconciled with the idea of growing up. Here, like in their house in Canada, I notice new things every day.

The house is set high on a hill. The main living area is enclosed only by a roof and a few thick wooden pillars in place of walls, with the dining and living areas set forward and the kitchen set back. This means you can stand at the stove or sit at the dining table or lie around in the cane armchairs and enjoy an uninterrupted view of La Manzinilla’s valley, the tall hill opposite, and a triangular slice of the bay to the right.

I am the only young person in the house, with pretty much everyone else being in their late fifties or early sixties. Even though these aren’t the most grown up grown-ups, there is still the tension that comes from interacting socially, and from accepting the hospitality of, people a generation older who aren’t my parents. The status and authority of age, although not really cemented into modern Western interaction by overt practices and language, is none-the-less deeply ingrained into society. Although I would consider Jeanne, Brian and Glen friends, and good friends, they will always be friends of my parents first.  This isn’t necessarily bad or good, it’s just an aspect of the relationship and another way of relating to people.

Even though they’re happy to have me, and all the other people who come to stay, I’m still very aware that I am living in their house and eating their food for long periods of time, both in Canada and in Mexico. Probably more aware than I would be with people my own age. But there’s always that sense when you’re accepting favours from people, which is one of the exhausting things about travel. The only thing to do is the dishes, I find. Help out where you can, enjoy it, be grateful, and help other people out whenever your in the situation to do so. It all works out in the end, I reckon.

* * *

On my Christmas Eve walk, I notice a large nativity scene out front of the church. Mary and Joseph take centre stage, flanked by a few farm animals, as well as a shepard and a milk maid who are both a few sizes smaller than the others and must have been from a different set. Between Mary and Joseph, the bassinet for baby Jesus is conspicuously empty.
“He hasn’t been born yet,” an American woman, also examining the scene, says to her partner. “Tomorrow. He gets born tomorrow.”

Christmas Day, sure enough, there he is: bright-eyed and loosely swaddled. Mary, who before was turned conversationally out towards her guests, has now been turned to face him and only him – her full, ceramic attention on the Newborn King.

* * *

At Gene, Brian and Glen’s, I am sleeping in the studio at the bottom of the garden. It’s two stories with a bedroom up the top and a toilet and storeroom at the bottom, and Brian’s workshop on the deck. The bedroom is open and set under a palm roof, like a fucking tourist brochure photograph. All four walls are mosquito screens so sleeping in there has much of the visual effect of sleeping outside, which suits me just fine: the temperature, most of the time, is amniotic. The separate bathroom is the opposite of the bedroom in that there are walls but no roof, so I shower and brush my teeth under an uninhibited sky.

Christmas Eve night, I fall asleep to the chorus of celebration radiating up the side of the valley: firecrackers, dogs, music, everything set over the substantial hum of crickets. When I wake, a little after dawn, it is like every living creature within earshot is greeting the light with its voice – announcing that it has awoken alive and ready for the day. Roosters scream in the dawn, a new shift of dogs bark out their existence; birds call, people yell. The gas truck man and the water truck man battle with their loudspeakers for superiority in the soundscape: the water truck with a Tarzan like cry and then “Agua, agua,” the gas truck with a short jingle and then, “Globaal Gaaaas”. More music plays from different houses. Radios chatter through windows. It is the constant clatter and gabble of Mexico – something that is blaring and noticeable now, but will soon ebb down into normality, until anything less would seem loud in its silence.


3 Responses to “The Sound of Mexico: A Few Scattered First Impressions”

  1. 1 Diane Whalen February 18, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Hey Zoe .Diane from Canada.You write a wonderful description of your environment,living in Mexico with Jeanne Brian and Glen. They are wonderful people and are very generous.They are not the norm but it is their norm. Someday it would be nice that we could let go of our ageism and all our conditioned responses to how we have been brought up. Don’t kid yourself I am sure you add alot to their life.I am sure you are a great contribution to their life too. Enjoy.LIfe is short. Diane

    • 2 zoebarron February 19, 2012 at 8:05 pm

      They are – easily, naturally generous. And I loved staying with them, hanging out with them. But I don’t think the ageism thing is necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it’s kinda natural in a lot of ways. People 40 years older than me know a lot more, have had three times the experience, have developed different temperaments, perspectives. I reckon it’s natural for people of such different age gaps to relate differently than they would to their peers. I was just examining this difference in relationships, not expressing discomfort or negative impressions. Hope it didn’t come across that way.

  2. 3 Diane Whalen February 19, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    No your comments were totally understandable .I think I was speaking from my perspective of how people see me at my age.As you were saying how we are conditioned from our up bringing.I find sometimes I miss having good friendships of all ages because of my limited beliefs around age in relation to my conditioned responses from my upbringing.As I get older I find just having friends with my own age is limiting.Then there is the good the bad and the ugly in all age brackets. I think just taking people as individuals is the best. I am enjoying your perspective of how you are experiencing things
    in your travels. I loved your photographs of the sunsets and the downtime around the house.Enjoy your travels.You’re a great writer. Cheers Diane

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