Sometimes I wonder what country I’m living in. I have been repeatedly told that it isn’t Mexico. Or perhaps that should be Mexico – italicised to emphasize the slight nod and smug smile that goes with the understanding that anything south of the suburbs is the true Mexico, and where I’m living is therefore presumably elsewhere entirely. I really do wish someone would tell me where, because I’m not sure I have a visa to be here. And quite a lot of it feels pretty damn Mexican to me. Admittedly I’m living in a city where I’ve discovered not only Walmart but a whole other host of US stores that I never had an inkling existed. English accents are American accents and I would be truly in denial to deny the strong influence from the United States. But that is hardly surprising being two hours from the border. In a city where you can clock the Chevrolets, six lane roads and McDonalds (other fast food outlets are very much available), you can also hear cumbia and salsa (much to Julia’s dismay), laments to the Mexican outside of Mexico, add cheese to your crisps and subsist entirely on a diet of corn tortillas and avocado, and celebrate with carne asada. There is true pride in being Mexican. Perhaps no-one has told them they aren’t living in Mexico.
I understand what people are saying. Up here is not heavily influenced by the indigenous population; we have no ruins and temples. The city is new and many buildings are hardly celebrating their fifth birthday. Life is more expensive and the city is more modern. How do I defend this claim? Once you leave the centre you can pretty quickly come across areas that are by no means wealthy or modern. Perhaps people reckon poverty is required for the truly Mexican experience.
The more popular Mexican cities are the colonial ones, and for good reason. They, as far as I can tell from my extremely limited experience, are beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. And, of course, built on the European model. And strangely, again, based on my limited Zacatecian experience last week, you see many more actual Americans, more gringos, more gueros, whatever expression you chose for that old chestnut, white person, in these popular, pretty, true Mexican towns. I may be living in a city heavily influence by its bloated neighbour from above, but unless you buy into and live the ex-pat community life style, incidence of meeting another guero is actually surprisingly rare. In general wealthy and middle class Mexicans populate this city in the North, surrounded by mountains, so it’s lacking the kudos for backpackers and the hostels that serve them. This doesn’t mean that every man, his dog and his uncle don’t speak a couple of words of English that they helpfully shout after you.
In an attempt to uncover all the subtle intricacies of Mexican culture, Julia, Becky, Aline and I spent the first part of Saturday night in Zacatecas drink long shots of tequila whilst wearing sombreros. Secreted away in a corner of the hostel with sofas (the joy – I have no furniture, so it has been many a long day since I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on a sofa). We found two sombreros hanging in the corner, and the hostel dueno came to visit us regularly enough to fill the glass. Coming from the land of pubs, where tequila is drunk in the early hours with the ritual of salt and a lemon to bite through the pain, I was not entirely mentally prepared for the tall shots on only a beer or two, plain tequila. No ritual. And a sombrero to concentrate on holding on to. This was all a little too much to cope with – I flung my head back (hoping gravity would take responsibility for the tequila.) The combined experience of the sombrero flying back off my head, and Becky saying something amusing caused me to convulse with laughter. The tequila in my mouth (my head still flung back) exited it quickly, in an intriguing and rather impressive fountain effect. I sprayed the room. Beautiful. It is tough being elegant.