Sunday, June 19, 2011

lounging with the tiki

One of the things I enjoy most about Mexico is its celebration of the individual.

If you want to express yourself, Mexican society generally lets you get away with things that Nordic culture would declare beyond the pale.  In one sense, it is my own private libertarian refuge.

Now and then, something comes along down here that challenges my own acceptance of that concept, though.

When I lived on the beach, there was an ancient beach hut just two lots from where I was staying.  A small brick shack with a palm frond roof.  It was representative of the shacks that once lined the beach. 

Most are now gone.  Replaced with the type of houses that would be indistinguishable from any California beach.  Houses that blare the owner’s self-importance.

The beach shack had some nightmare memories for me.  A young couple lived there that treated one another badly, but they treated their baby much worse.  I won’t even mention how low on the totem pole their German Shepherd puppy was.  Every time I walked by, I was treated to some new horror.

But they are gone.  And so is the shack.

Apparently a woman from north of the border bought the lot.  I thought she would attempt to incorporate the shack as part of her building project.  A friend of mine did that to great effect.

But that was not to be.  She tore down the little brick shack with the thatched roof, and is building what appears to be -- a larger brick shack with a thatched roof.

Now, this is Mexico, and people can build whatever they darn well please on their land.  But I am curious what advantage came from tearing down something with character to replace it with what looks like a cross between the Disney Jungle Ride and the Tiki Lounge in Seattle.

But there is one advantage.  As you can tell from the photographs, it is a small place on a narrow lot – tucked between two much larger houses.  Nothing about this revamped beach shack will ever shout anything but humility.

And it is an individual take.  In that, it fits with Mexico.

I just purchased a new  book for my Kindle: Mañana Forever?: Mexico and the Mexicans by Jorge G. Castañeda.  According to the review I read, Castañeda, a former foreign minister, sees three traits of the Mexican character getting in the way of the nation’s future: an individualist streak, a discomfort with confrontation, and a suspicion of foreigners.

It is the individualism trait that fascinates me the most.  I celebrate it; Castañeda seems to denigrate it.

As I read the book, I will share more.

In my individual way.  


tancho said...

Another trait I have observed overwhelmingly of the inability to trust their own countrymen. Even families who you would think should be close have multiple conflicts and issues stemming from envy and the inability to trust each other.
NOB it seems that you will trust someone until they prove you wrong, down here it is trust no one, and maybe after 30 or 40 years you may.....
But that's just my opinion.

Felipe Zapata said...

I utterly reject this notion of an individualist streak, which is something that exists in the U.S. far more than down here. The cultural element that lets you get away with most anything, wrongly interpreted by both Cotton and Castañeda as an individualist streak, is the powerful tendency to mind your own business in Mexico. It is that trait that allows people to get away with most anything.

Historically, in this troubled and often violent land, not minding your own business could get you killed. So now people mind their own business whenever they can, not objecting to the bad behavior of others. We look the other way.

It's not because we are a land of John Waynes or individualists of any stripe. It is totally the opposite. It is Castañeda's No. 2, a discomfort with confrontation, that sends this mistaken individualist notion into the minds of some. Take it to the bank.

Steve Cotton said...

And it too often manifests itself nationally.  The 100 years of war between independence and the revolution is a perfect example.

Steve Cotton said...

I am not certain there is a big distinction between "individual streak" and "minding one's own business."  But I am looking forward to how Castañeda handles the description.  He is a good writer. 

Felipe Zapata said...

By minding our own business, we set free everyone else, so to speak. It's not the same thing as true individualism, a heartfelt respect for the individual or the rights of others. Castañeda is fooling himself. I imagine he's too close to the subject to be objective. Mexicans are herd-minded, not individualistic in the slightest.

Felipe Zapata said...

And the 100 years of somewhat-toned-down war from the Revolution to 2011.

Steve Cotton said...

I often translate "herd-minded" to "community-minded."  That is why I think we are agreeing more in substance than on terms.  Because I see little "community-mindedness" in this fishing village.  That is why trash cleanup  days are so jarring.  This will be a good topic for a future coffee discussion -- or a post or two.

Steve Cotton said...

Yup.  There is that too. 

Felipe Zapata said...

We have a definition conflict. I don't interpret herd-minded as community-minded. One is good (the latter), the other far less so. But you are correct. Some other day.

John said...

Don't mean to change the subject of your interesting takes on individualism/mind your own businessism... but I think the little shack is kind of cute, although I'll bet the neighbors are horrified. 

Steve Cotton said...

I don't think any of the neighbors are horrified. For neatness, the new place looks better than the old. But I do know some are a bit disappointed that the old shack could not have been incorporated in new construction. I will be interested in seeing what it looks like when it is done.