Wednesday, December 15, 2010

tuning up my attitude


I am turning into a grouchy old man.


You know him.  Stands on his front lawn shaking his cane at unruly children. 


The relative who shows up at every family function constantly complaining about the president -- any president -- and how corporations are more interested in selling packaging instead of products.


Let me give you an example.


Last week I was having trouble with one of my posts.  The Mayas kept slipping from the grip of my pen.


What I needed was a change of venue.  So, I packed up my pad and pen, and headed around the corner to La Rana, one of my favorite eateries, for some peace and quiet -- and a nice serving of sopa tortilla.  A writer's dream.


The change worked.  While I was grazing on chips and pico de gallo, sentences began flowing.  Even the arrival of my soup didn't staunch the prose.  Pyramids grew.  Heads rolled.


But every tale needs conflict and a protagonist.  And I saw mine saunter into the restaurant.  Boots.  Cowboy hat.  And the dreaded guitar.


Let me pause here for a second.  I love music of almost every type.  Philip Glass is laying down a soundtrack for this post as I write.


But I long ago learned to dislike roaming troubadours in Mexico.  For good reason.  Actually, several good reasons.


One.  They push a product in my ears and ask me to pay for something I do not want.  The moral equivalent of street corner windshield cleaners.


Two.  Almost always, they are terrible singers and worse guitarists.  Faults they attempt to disguise through the fall back of the untalented throughout the world -- they sing and play as loud as they can.


Three.  They are almost never original.  They play a limited number of tunes -- usually two Mexican folk songs and a handful of American top 40 pieces.  You know them.  La cucarachaGuantanamera (not even Mexican).  La bambaCumbaya.  The type of songs your sister makes your niece sing at Christmas dinners.


You can always tell if there is a person who does not like cats in any crowd.  Just toss in a cat, and the cat will be drawn to that person like some kind of kitty lodestone.  I must have the same draw for restaurant musicians.


The moment he entered the small dining area, he made a beeline for a spot right behind my chair.  And started singing trite tunes without a bit of talent -- loudly.


No scowl tossed over my shoulder was going to shoo him from his perch.  Because the tourist crowd was eating it up with peso tips and silly photographic poses with The Local Color.  "And here I am Mary with a local musician.  Those people can all sing beautifully.  And I knew every song."


I came home that evening out of sorts.  I sought peace and quiet and got Charo in the body of a 54-year old Mexican man. 


And then I realized I was falling into the same fallacy I find humorous in Americans and Canadians who come to Mexico and try to "fix" the country.


You know them.  The people who want to stop other people from smoking in public.  Who want to reorganize grocery stores.  Who want the local traffic flow to be as logical and tidy as in Victoria. 


I realized the mistake was mine.  For thinking I could find peace and quiet in Mexico by going to a public place.  Good grief.  I can't find peace and quiet behind my garden walls.


The musician was only trying to earn a peso or two in the way he could.  And I treated him worse than a beggar.  After all, I don't glare at the elderly woman who stands with outstretched hand in front of my grocery store.


Having admonished myself, I headed back to La Rana on Saturday night.  With a plan.


I knew he took requests.  If I had trouble with his tourist-pleasing repertoire, I could ask him to play something I wanted to hear.


After he flayed Con te partirò (to the point I did not recognize it other than the syncopated beat on his guitar), I asked him if he would play a request.


"Of course, señor."


"Could you play anything you have written?"


"No,
señor.  I don't write music."


"Could you sing a Luis Miguel piece? 
México en la piel?"
"No,
señor."


"How about a Chavela song?  Luz de luna?"

"No, señor."


"La Llorona?"


"Sorry."


"Macorina?"


"No."


"Esta bien.  You choose.  Something nice and new."


"Do you like Guantamera?"


All right.  I tried.  His singing was no better.  His guitar technique was more Ted Baxter than Ted Nugent.  But I enjoyed him.  His music.  And the evening.


Will I tense up the next time I see him enter a place I am dining?  Probably.  In the same way most of us tense up when the dentist drill begins its whine.


But I have learned to find the joy that each moment offers.


After all.  That is one reason I moved to Mexico.


Note:  The photograph above is not of the restaurant musician.  It is Vincente Fernandez.  He knows how to sing.

19 comments:

Jonna said...

I'm so glad you put in that footnote. Don Chente is one of my favorites, he is the consumate performer. I cherish a night I spent with him in the bull ring in Merida, just him, his band and a few thousand others.

I salute you Steve, you are getting it. It's always all about us, and when we change our attitude, the world changes. This is the real gift of being an expat, we can learn to change ourselves and thus how we perceive the world or we can become bitter. I tend to believe that the same choice is available NOB but it is easier to see in a new environment.

Tancho said...

Gee Steve, you could have described the big plaza in Patzcuaro to a tee. There is a trio that comes by every day or two, that were trained by feral cats, I think they get paid just to leave...
When you do visit us, there is one artist with a guitar that has original music and even sells a few CD's. He is listenable...you have something to look forward to!

Rick said...

I hate to bring this up but in San Miguel the music in the restaurants and bars is world class. Not to mention the world class chamber music, orchestral and opera in the theaters. The street musicians are out in the Jardin and they are also pretty good.

Calypso said...

Youthful tolerance ages into mature acceptance. When we get over that hump life mellows out. Oh there is plenty to grouse about- but we must learn to save that for the big stuff like war, bigotry and unkind acts towards animals.

The real issue here is your internal health and well being. Those who take life too seriously usually find it ends way too early.

One world, One people

MD in Texas said...

"Good grief. I can't find peace and quiet behind my garden walls."

Did that sentence ever make me chuckle.....so true!

When we see the roaming "singers" head our way, we immediately prepare ourselves with the "no gracias" in hopes they will at least move a few tables from us.

Donna

Darrel said...

Here you are staring in the lead role of the “UP” sequel. A coming of age (all be it old age) story where the grumpy old man finds beauty and joy in the people that annoy him. I love the “His guitar technique was more Ted Baxter than Ted Newgent” line. How does a person who spent most of his life without a TV know every character from every TV program every made? Now you just have to come up with a line to top my favorite line from “UP” where Jiggs says “It is funny because the squirrel gets dead”.

Merida Mikey said...

I know I've said this to you before, but I must say it again: I could have written that post! Not nearly as precise and as eloquently as you did, but with the same spirit and intent!

A good lesson for all ex-pats!

Well said and well received.

Leah said...

I accepted that anyone out in public is fare game to the roaming entrepreneurs here. What makes me tense and cringe above everything are the people in parking lots waving a towel and blowing a coach's whistle. I know there's no changing this system, so I deliberately park far away and walk so they won't come out to "help" me out of a space.

Anonymous said...

You should have asked him to play 'Free Bird' - all my musician friends used to hate it when the drunks in the audience started yelling up at the stage "Hey - play Free Bird". 14 minutes and 23 seconds of h*ll...

Felipe said...

Philip Glass does not make music. He makes noise.

Linda Lou and Senor, Too said...

Ahh, ha, you have come so far in a new land, and what a very, very great post (as yours always are!)!!!LL

Nita said...

I have an idea that what you have described is just one of the reasons that Americans love to visit Mexico. It's different. Singing in restaurants in the U.S. is not done unless it's planned entertainment. But street musicians can be found. I have seen them in Nashville, TN and even in Old Quebec City in Canada.
Nita

Howard said...

Sadly the scenario plays out in many countries. I rememeber many years in Canada learning a question with which to respond to such players: "Can you play 'over the hill and far away'"?

wyntopia said...

I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you didn't ask him to play Teddy Bears Picnic. Grump indeed!

anm

Steve Cotton said...

Jonna -- He symbolizes what a lot of us think when we conjure up Mexican music. A bit old hate, but then so is Mozart.

Thanks for the "getting it" compliment. I am still working at it.

Tancho -- I will have my peso bills in hand to bid a fond adios.

Rick -- If the la bamba quotient is any higher than once in every 10 hours, I will give it a pass. But, of course, there are good singers in SMA. Disney would have it no other way.

Calypso -- There is only one worse malady -- taking oneself too seriously.

Donna -- Let me know your secret. I really seem to be a magnet. My first land lady is surprised when I say some of the singers are not very good. She likes them. But, then, she is in love with anything Mexican. There is something to be said for that.

Darrel -- Only my brother could so correctly sum up the elements of my life. If you are not careful, you just may end up in another blog of Cotton Family Secrets. If we had any such thing.

Merida Mikey -- Thank you very much, sir.

Leah -- We seem to have missed that bit of marketing over here. Instead, very polite young men roam the parking lot of Comercial and ask very kindly if I need a car wash.

Anonymous -- No. But if I hear one more rendition of California Hotel, I may stay in my garden.

Felipe -- On this point we differ. Glass is one of my favorite musicians -- when I have the opportunity to sit and really listen.

Linda Lou -- I appreciate it.

Nita -- I love the spontaneity. I just wish the talent came close to the willingness to make an income. But I am over most of that. I am going to enjoy it for what it is. The equivalent of the church Christmas play.

Howard -- Did you buy a cane to wave?

Wyntopia -- But you have all those great cultural opportunities in Guanajuato. We are stuck with this.

ANM -- You are opening windows into my soul again, aren't you?

Steve Cotton said...

Jonna -- He symbolizes what a lot of us think when we conjure up Mexican music. A bit old hate, but then so is Mozart.

Thanks for the "getting it" compliment. I am still working at it.

Tancho -- I will have my peso bills in hand to bid a fond adios.

Rick -- If the la bamba quotient is any higher than once in every 10 hours, I will give it a pass. But, of course, there are good singers in SMA. Disney would have it no other way.

Calypso -- There is only one worse malady -- taking oneself too seriously.

Donna -- Let me know your secret. I really seem to be a magnet. My first land lady is surprised when I say some of the singers are not very good. She likes them. But, then, she is in love with anything Mexican. There is something to be said for that.

Darrel -- Only my brother could so correctly sum up the elements of my life. If you are not careful, you just may end up in another blog of Cotton Family Secrets. If we had any such thing.

Steve Cotton said...

Merida Mikey -- thank you very much, sir.

Leah -- We seem to have missed that bit of marketing over here. Instead, very polite young men roam the parking lot of Comercial and ask very kindly if I need a car wash.

Anonymous -- No. But if I hear one more rendition of California Hotel, I may stay in my garden.

Felipe -- On this point we differ. Glass is one of my favorite musicians -- when I have the opportunity to sit and really listen.

Linda Lou -- I appreciate it.

Nita -- I love the spontaneity. I just wish the talent came close to the willingness to make an income. But I am over most of that. I am going to enjoy it for what it is. The equivalent of the church Christmas play.

Steve Cotton said...

Howard -- Did you buy a cane to wave?

Wyntopia -- But you have all those great cultural opportunities in Guanajuato. We are stuck with this.

ANM -- You are opening windows into my soul again, aren't you?