Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Gregorio Torres Quintero

Rocio left at five-thirty this morning, I kissed her cheek and sent her off to the hospital with her mother. Simple, outpatient surgery, done with lasers. Silent light. After sleeping and awaking every five minutes or so until a quarter of seven, I went to wake up Anna only to find her already awake and scrounging some cereal from the pantry. Another kiss on the cheek and a cup of coffee went by, and as Anna changed into her official uniform for Escuela Primaria Gregorio Torres Quintero, I opened the front blinds and listened to the birds.

"Cheet! Cheep! Chew! Cheet-cheet!"

How can such small-brained creatures have such a vast vocabulary? Bird-brained orators noisily argued and then agreed and then argued some more, all of the while looking for food or bedding material or whatever. Us human beings do this sometimes, we go on and on about whatever thing that comes to mind while we work or eat. Are the birds mimicking us or are we mimicking the birds? One mind-reading bird in the flock outside of the open blinds might have just then been indignantly answering my question, rhetorically asking this:


I closed the blinds, minding my own business, and I got dressed, I had to take Anna to school.

* * * *

Gregorio Torres Quintero was born in Colima, Colima, Mexico, in 1866, eventually reaching the status of Inspector General of Education for his home state. He is credited with the creation of a teaching method known as onomatopoeia, which is the practice of using a vocal imitation from the natural world to associate with, or even merely suggest, a thing or an action or a concept. He is credited with this here in Mexico, albeit the word onomatopoeia is Greek in origin, and then passed on to Latin, and so on. And never mind that the Japanese language itself is onomatopoeic in nature, or so I have read. Here, in Mexico, even as nothing more than a trivial footnote will quickly point to Torres for his revolutionary teaching methods, this Gregorio Torres Quintero was a teacher that perhaps hundreds of elementary schools had named in his honor.

Nevertheless, Torres probably came up with his teaching methods on his own, Mexico is somewhat notorious for a lack of historical educational influence from much of the world. Torres likened the occasional failure to teach history from a book directly to the same affect that opera might have on some sleepy patrons of that particular art. He felt that in many instances some people have no way to relate to what they are seeing, or reading, or listening; that the teachings, "Don’t accommodate the spiritual receptors."

So he related natural sounds to his lessons, in order to accommodate the spiritual receptors of his students.

As should we all?


* * * *

Me and Anna locked the door behind us, and the birds, the pájaros, flew up noisily to seek peace elsewhere. This could have been the sound that their wings made, once startled into a quick flight:


We walked around the corner, into the alleyway and past the sleeping dogs near the granjero, out onto Díaz Ordaz. Catching a nearly empty calafia up the hill, we walked the Tercera, down Calle Haitianos, the main street into the heart of Infonavít Latinos, past broken car windows and graffiti-ridden cinderblock, down toward where Colonia Lomas de Amistad meets the Northwest edge of the Infonavít. The noise from the street made us silent, so I kissed her goodbye and found a route cab, and we slowly made our way through the already crowded Sobre Ruedas and finally down the hill, and when I got back here the birds were all gone, busy with other things.

Or else, the honking truck of the propane vendor had scared them off for a good while.

I picked her up a few hours later, and we walked the Sobre Ruedas hungry and disappointed. I found my avodados, but no food we wanted was there, nothing looked good enough to settle on. So, we came back down the hill and after she changed clothes I took her out to get some pineapple chicken at a local Chinese food joint adjacent to Calimax. And beef chow mein, white rice, egg rolls, and so on.

And chopsticks. Both Anna and me appreciate chopsticks. We brought it all back to eat it here. Rocio was home by the time we returned, resting in bed. She’ll be off for two weeks, undoubtedly listening to the birds every morning.


* * * *

Gregorio Torres Quintero might have also taught word association, I couldn’t say, and I do not have the time to research it. He might have, though. Tomorrow, I will go back to work, and after departing the trolley at Palomar Street, I will walk across a field that, not even one month ago, produced an amazing event. It was a silent affair, I listened hard but could hear nothing other than my own footsteps while it happened.

As I walked across this field one morning, thousands of butterflies emerged from secret cocoons, hidden and undisturbed by anything other than their owner’s own escaping. And they seemed to fly all at the same time, hatching in unison, beckoned by some force beyond my ability to understand, and they gracefully avoided me while all flying north. North, for whatever reason, a reason that only they knew.


And the butterflies made no sound, they simply filled my vision wherever I looked, with the vivid color and the random grace that only a butterfly can possess. Even when I rejoined Palomar Street and crossed the bridge over interstate five, the butterflies still danced like children on a playground, even approaching the salt mines and into the business park on Bay Boulevard.

I saw Rosa there in the business park, but she didn’t see me. She was trying to catch one of the butterflies, not coming close to succeeding, but trying with the unbreakable will of a twelve-year-old girl. Rosa works where I work, for two hours a day, sweeping the floor. Rosa is twenty-four years old. Rosa’s mind is still only twelve. She became one of my heroes a long time ago. She never misses work. She always asks everyone how they are doing. She always says, "Good morning," even when it isn’t. She is bilingual, while some of the normal Mexicans are not.

An hour later, she leaned on her broom as she saw me walk by on the shop floor.

"Did you see them?" she asked, the butterflies still dancing in her eyes.

"Yes. There were thousands of them," I said.

"I tried to catch one, but I couldn’t," she told me.

"I know. Some things are made for us to chase but not to catch," I nodded.


She continued to sweep the aisle.

A caterpillar is called an oruga in Spanish, they eventually turn into butterflies, or mariposas. And when such special people like Rosa recognize such a special process as this magical metamorphosis, wouldn’t anyone be proud, or orgulloso of her?

Maybe even Gregorio Torres Quintero?


Sunday, April 17, 2005


"You begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics."

- Charles Bukowski, 1967.

* * * *

Living so close to boulevard Díaz Órdaz, one would think that the proximity to the noisy major thoroughfare would make for some sort of earsplitting living conditions, but this is not so. In fact, the noise level that we lived with in Infonavít Latinos, from whence we recently came, has dropped dramatically. In fact, all is quiet here most of the time. In fact, most of the time, it is so quiet that it is difficult to comprehend that the noisy main artery running east to west or west to east that feeds hundreds of Tijuana capillaries lies only about one block away.

In fact.

The birds are loud in the morning, every morning; but no music or screaming or barking dogs. Our aguador has made it a point to still sell to us all of the way down here, I have yet to see any another truck with those heavy glass bottles rolling slowly by while the driver yells, "Agua!". Of course, the propane trucks still honk loudly at seven-thirty in the morning, and a tamale hawker merely supplants the elote vendor, and so on.

"Hay tamal de verde y rojo y dulce, bien rico!"

I have DSL now, a much faster connection to the internet than the dial-up connection that I have had to live with for all of these years. DSL is an acronym for digital subscriber line (or digital subscriber loop, as you wish). I have a feeling that, in fact, I actually have something more along the lines of ADSL (the 'A' standing for 'Asymmetric', which describes the difference between the speed of the signal sent and received). This is just a hunch based upon how my browser reacts while loading a web page, and also based on how carefully the sales-monkeys at TELNOR (yet another acronym, for Telephonos del Norte de Mexico) described what my connection would be like when we signed the contract. This high-speed connection is nifty, regardless.

Hunches aside, it beats what I had.

Rocio certainly seems happier here. She comments on this fact occasionally, stressing the tranquility and closeness to Díaz Órdaz, as if she can see some sort of longing in my eyes for something else. And she is not wrong about that, she sees longing in my eyes, but not for what I miss about Infonavít Latinos; the magnificent view of Cerro Colorado, the proximity of the Sobre Ruedas, and so on. What she sees in my eyes is Popotla, and how much that I would rather be building there than living here.

I am not enough of an emotionally evolved human being to put any of Rocio's sound wisdom to use, so she imparts none of it. It would be as, to borrow a Jesus-phrase, casting pearls before swine; so, she says nothing, and I say nothing, and we go on with what we have here at the bottom of the hill. She keeps her pearls of wisdom to herself and I can't trample what hasn’t been pitched in front of me.

* * * *

Jack and Jill went up the hill
to rent a small casita
in Infonavít Latinos.

Many years later
Jill took a cab down
and found a place to rent
for a few dollars more.

And Jack followed.

What does that say about Jack?!?

* * * *

This house, actually more of an apartment, is much nicer than the house we came from. There is an Oxxo, one of a large chain of convenience stores, about one block away. They far too frequently run out of Pacificos but seem to have an endless supply of Tecate. Across the street from the Oxxo is a Calimax, one of a large chain of supermarkets, where I can be instantly disappointed by the lack of canned tomatoes, dry kidney beans, and Crisco shortening.

Calimax does, however, carry no fewer than six brands of canned jalapeño peppers and twenty-five different types of chorizo.

At the tiny neighborhood store in Infonavít Latinos, they all saw me coming up the road, I was entirely predictable. They could have had everything ready for me, bagged and on the counter. Two six-packs of tall-can Tecates, four packages of filterless Pacificos, one avacado, fourteen fresh jalapeño peppers, an ice cream bar for Anna (who almost never fails to accompany me on such excursions), two large tomatoes, one onion, one clove of garlic, and a copy of El Mexicano, one of the daily newspapers in Baja. Sometimes it was yesterday's copy, which didn't matter much to me. Sometimes, yesterday’s news is better than today's news.

Then, it was a short trip over to the carnicería, the local butcher, for some beef or chicken or whatever. Then, a short walk over to the tortillaría for some fresh tortillas. And so on.

So, I have traded away the comfort of familiarity for the glamour of convenience, sort of like trading an old brassiere for some silicone breast implants.

* * * *

One thing that never seems to change here is the seemingly unlimited supply of Jehovah's Witnesses. The first two visits did not get me to the door, but the latest one irritated me enough to have some fun. I had a tall can of Tecate in one hand and a cigarette in the other, so I gently kicked the door open in my black robe and bare feet.

"Buenos días, señor, estamos aquí platicando con personas de Dios y de Jehovah..."

They had religion for sale. I waved my hand, stopping their pitch mid-sentence. I would have rather they sold tamales.

"We would be a waste of your time," I told them in Spanish. "Everyone here is a good-for-nothing Catholic, except me, and my God is a woman who bears a striking, if only coincidental resemblance to Athena."

They couldn't move on to the next house fast enough. Anna has yet to study Greek mythology and so has no idea who Athena could possibly be, but she giggled with embarrassment at my crack on pinche catolicos from the sofa out of view.

Still, it was nice of the hermanos to want to save me. Too bad they didn't happen to be offering up bags of cement and pallets of cinderblock and two-by-fours as incentive to convert over to their way of thinking. Any way to get to Popotla faster than our current route is a temptation that I would find difficult to ignore.

* * * *

I am waiting for some hot water so I can shower. The mighty Maytag seems to run endlessly, sucking all of the hot water out of the tiny water heater out on the front porch. We have no back yard (or front yard for that matter), so we had to purchase a gas dryer for our little laundry room. I can remember the last time that I had a gas dryer, but I have to think pretty hard to recall using it. I miss the clothesline, I got used to hanging out wet clothing on the lines out back.

I got used to a lot of things that are only now so obvious as a clothesline.

In a while, Anna will accompany me to Calimax, since Sunday is my day to cook. She has decided that she wants to be at the scholastic summit of her peer group, so she has been bringing home certificates every semester, congratulating her on being the best student in her school. This summer, we will be taking French classes together (Est-ce que ce n'est pas grand?), assuming that I can find a school that is easy for us to get to. The French classes were her idea, me attending with her was mine.

Someday, on one of our trips to the store, we will be making fun of people in French.

This is a dream I have.

* * * *

Monday, I am taking the day off. Rocio is going in for some minor outpatient surgery, and her mother would like to accompany her. I will go up the hill and pick Anna up from school, and we'll take a long stroll through the Monday Sobre Ruedas and get a taste of what we have been missing since we moved down the hill, a taste of the comfort of familiarity that we left behind. Sometimes I can find avocados up there for ten cents each, a share of bounty from some long haul in Southern Mexico, the driver sells what they let him rake off. And we'll eat tacos de birria or maybe some pizza from the portable ovens on paper plates, and maybe we'll drink some agua de arroz.

And maybe we'll quietly make fun of people in English.

We usually always wind up talking about Popotla. Anna wants a dog, and once that we get to Popotla I have given her permission to get one. She begs me for a puppy and she laughs, knowing that I will only bring up Popotla. Popotla must seem like forever to Anna, it certainly seems like forever to me. Can she see how desperate I am to get to what seems like forever?

And if it takes such a forever to save one man, how long should a take a young girl to get a puppy?

How many forevers will it take, then, should Anna grow up and decide to save the world?