Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hanging Out with Art (Queretero, Mexico)

The cabbie wants to charge me extra because Art´s place, where I´ll be spending the night, is two blocks outside of the Historic District, on the other side of the river that forms the boundary between a $3.40 and $4.50 ride. I call Art to confirm the location, and he says that he does, indeed, live in the district.

I forget to turn my cell phone off, so Art overhears the conversation. He´s shouting, "Don´t pay him any more! Don´t pay him any more!" but I don´t hear what he´s saying, because I´ve stuffed the phone back in my purse. And even if I did hear him, I probably would assume that the voice was just one of many in my head.

The phone must be tired of the whole argument because it hangs itself up. Art calls and instructs me to tell the cabbie to stop on the $3.40 side of the street. By the time we pull in, I see him there, already waiting.

As we walk to his beautiful little house, Art explains that all is not well in his corner of River City. His neighbor to the left is an ugly man who invites young drug addicts to his house and bed; lately the youngsters have been jumping the fence between the two houses and helping themselves to items in Art's patio. Meanwhile, the neighbor to the right allows (encourages?) her little dog to poop all over the street, leaving piles of steaming doggie doo-dads at Art's doorway. Fed up with the mess, Alex boomeranged some of its own caca into doggie doo's face, in the hopes that doggie won't anymore. The animal seems to have learned its lesson, but the owner is furious.

Despite neighborhood quarrels, Art´s house is as peaceful as it was when I stayed there last year. The orange tree in the patio is heavy with fruit. A glorious, almost neon-purple bourgainvilla cascades over a fence. A tree with huge purple leaves and agray trunk stands out among the the others in its unnamed beauty.

Inside, the light flows through two-story high windows and through a large porthole cut into the living/dining area. Sparsely furnished, the room brims with original artwork. One part of the wall sports caricatures of the staff of a museum where Art exhibited last summer. His abstract oils march along a short wall, while another in the series rests on an easel. The back wall features several life-sized astronauts. Drawings and paintings by other artists fill in some of the blanks. There is a small, sheet-covered love seat, a rocking chair, a TV, a long dining room table and chairs, and, behind the circular stairs leading up to the loft where I sleep (and below several miniature airplane replicas, sits a table covered with fossils and a large, eclectic selection of music tapes.

The kitchen is small, but functional, with its junior-sized fridge and sink. Art displays a bunch of cow-kitch, creamers and the like, but it seems that he's not responsible; people see his collection and think he likes cows, so they keep gifting him more.

As soon as I drop off my luggage, we leave the house. We walk half a block to the home of a neighbor. The front of her house is a restaurant. The food is simple, filling, and inexpensive; today we dine on chicken in salsa verde (green sauce), preceded by soup, accompanied by salad, and followed by a bite of dessert.

We wander around town. Every time we dart across a street, avoiding the speeding -- often careening cars -- Art yells, "Run, run for your life!" The few times when we don´t encounter near-death experiences, I shout, "Walk, walk for your life!" We laugh hysterically, as if we were actually saying things that were funny or even half witty.

Art points out the preparations being made for the upcoming Bicentennial Celebration (of Mexico's independence). Telephone cables and other wires have been rerouted underground, which makes this city, full of beautiful, colonial architecture, even more appealing.

At an outside table in a bustling cafe, we share coffee and conversation with one of Art's friends. The man bicycles up and down a mountain to and from work each day -- over a two-hour commute each way. Our discussions cover concerns about the environment, the possibility that downtown Queretero will lose its UNESCO designation (and economic support) as a protected historic site (because people have to actually live in the designated area, and the residential population has plummeted), recipes for ketchup, and the Slow Food movement (i.e., a return to natural, organic, and native foods). Art and friend talk about the possibility of opening a shop that would sell seasonal Mexican fruits and vegetables that are becoming increasingly rare, in the interest of spurring demand and preventing the produce from disappearing altogether. Friend shows me photos of his beautiful computer-generated depictions of flowers. We share a beautiful afternoon.