Mexico: The World's Most Complex Torta!
Snaps of a complex brothClick thumbnail to view full-size
It's hard to worry in the sunshine
A Sip of a Complex Broth.
This humble scribe lived in Mexico, on and off, for nearly 30 years, full time from 1990 until 2003, working as a reporter and columnist.
Now I have semi-retired and spend much of my time in bland England, what memories I have of Mexico!
This a huge and glorious Republic of 31 states, plus the Federal District of Mexico City, not a state, officially, but with about one fifth of the nation’s 110 million population.
This vast and unruly neighbour of the United States, to which it is welded by a nearly 2000-mile-long border, still very porous, despite attempts to police it and fence it against a tide of immigrants who are little deterred. Mexicans still feel they have the right to be in at least parts of North America after so much of the country once belonged to them and was more or less expropriated.
For the visitor, Mexico’s poverty is both its Achilles Heel and its saving grace. Because of it, the country avoids much of the ugly materialism seen north of the border. It also holds prices down making the country still a bargain to visit.
There are really two distinct classes of Mexicans and are as separate in the main as are Africans from Europeans. The rural Indian peoples have had little interest in the country since the Conquest in the 16th. Century. Why should they? The nation has developed without them accruing many benefits; they have no effective voice in government; they still live as they have done for centuries and speak their own language and dialects. And they lacked unity even in pre-Hispanic days. But it is an uneasy situation; like the menace from Popocatepetl, the huge volcano overlooking the capital, eruptions occur from time to time and the indigent populations march on the Capital, camping in the huge Zocolo until they can be mollified and chased-off with some government lie or other.
The rest of the Mexicans, its modern day citizens, live mainly in huge cities: The Capital, Monterrey and Guadalajara are the largest and hold around 30 million or more souls. Most of the other population centres are along the Altiplano, the enormous high plain between the two mountain ranges of the Sierra Occidental (west) and the Oriental, (east).
Wealthy Mexicans are like the rich everywhere in the world; not “different from you and me” as Scott Fitzgerald said, in any radical genetic sense, but just better educated, making them clever, manipulative and spoiled, continuously justifying their right to having more than anyone else of the diminishing resources of this tired old planet.
The real Mexican, among whom I number all my friends, has little in a materialistic sense, but much in a real sense; the values which count and endure. That of putting people before grubby wealth of which he has little and cares not a jot; a warm and open being who truly loves his family of all ages, ensuring that they have adequate shelter and food in their mouths, even if the clothes he wears are threadbare and his car is held together with baling wire and hope. His kids live with the family as long as they wish, and the aged are not abandoned in “Shelters,“ perish the word. These are extremes, of course, and not what the visitor will see in Mexico City’s teeming downtown streets, jammed with late model cars, or in the plush resorts along the Pacific Coast: poverty tends to hide its face from the visitor more and more as the gap between haves and have nots ever widens.
The middle class are the same in Mexico as everywhere, pressured to survive on the shaky plateau they have attained or aspire-to; paying the bill for all, without the baubles of the rich and without the philosophical acceptance of the rest.
Mexico is sadly changing all too fast, of course. The kids want what they see on TV and on the internet. The world mega-market seduces and corrupts. This is nowhere more obvious that in the fast-food sector. You see families paying court to Ronald MacDonald and the King of Burger, as well as Colonel Sanders and Pizzas Galore. And this in a country that has the most nutritious and delicious fast food of all: tacos, burritos, tortas, and all the rest, cooked fresh while you wait; marvellous soups and markets overflowing with local produce. And so inexpensive! Perhaps we should bless MacDonald’s! They are keeping the price of real food down for those of us in the know. How anyone can gorge on this poisonous gringo trash when good food is everywhere…well, it’s not that hard to understand, that’s the power of advertising, aimed at kids in the beginning and finally brainwashing whole generations. Any good government would keep them out, but one of those hasn’t been invented yet! (it’s worse in the UK where this type of fast food is the best a traveller can do apart from a plastic sandwich from Tescos!). You can only guess at the bribes that have been paid when you see the golden arches of Mac’s next to a 16th. Century cathedral in Puebla’s magnificent colonial square. Hail to the Grand Poobah of Beef! One billion sold so far!
Perhaps worse, is the influx of resort hotels and golf-courses in places like Cabo San Lucas in South Baja California. I often wonder what a little brown Indian cleaner from Chiapas makes of this corporate largess when she passes in a bus, her $150 monthly wage clutched in a calloused hand. There is nothing more conspicuously elitist than a golf course cut out of the desert. An emerald oasis rising from the sere sand and scrub, and sucking the life-blood from the failing water reserves, if you‘ll excuse the mixed metaphor. And there’s never enough of them! There must be at least 8 top courses, all professionally designed and built, at huge cost, in this small area alone. Green fees for well-heeled tourists are astronomical, or included in the $1000 -a-night cost of a room in the premium resorts, of which Cabos has a plethora. The little lady from Chiapas might well wonder why little of this munificence has filtered down into her wage packet. The owners have their reasons, we have already discussed the rich, haven’t we!
Mexico still has a high birth rate compared to the US or the UK. With the median figure for a stable population taken as 2 children per mother. The UK is lower, at about 1.84 babies and the USA just over, at 2.14 (a surprising result). Mexico’s rate has fallen in the last 5 years from 2.53 to 2,37 births per female. But this is still too high in a country with little useable space and a huge problem with potable water (so enough with the golf-courses, yet!). These figures also give a clear indication where Britain’s alarming population increase is coming from: immigration. Let’s be clear on that, Brown, Meddlesome, et al. , as you spin the figures to hang on to power, while what we might call the British birthright, along with current Anglo-Saxon genes, for better or for worse, are being watered-down significantly.
(I have obtained these statistics from the internet, they may vary depending on exact dates and whose damned lies you believe!)
Mexico could have rivalled the Saudis in the level of how its people live, if the country’s nationalized petroleum giant, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, had been run properly since its establishment in 1937/8, after President Lazaro Cardenas kicked out the foreign oil companies. Instead, the company has been a complete and utter disaster since the outset, continually rocked with one scandal after another, riddled with fraud, crippled by strikes and abused at every level by bad management. Mexico sits on huge oil and gas reserves. And at the current rate of around $80 per barrel, the country is raking in billions of US dollars a month in oil revenue. There is so much money, that the company survives, despite being bled white by thieves. I was not surprised to find that Pemex right now is loosing a “mere” two billion dollars a year from fuel theft as crooks tap into the aging pipelines and siphon-off tanker loads. In 2008, 396 such illegal connections were found! And this in front of an armed police and standing army of thousands often called in to safeguard the company’s interests.
All too often, extortion and other crimes come from the top. Mexico still runs on the “mordida” (bribe) culture, from the policeman on patrol, all the way into the National Palace. Politicians and business leaders take advantage of this, turning a blind eye to bribe taking at lower levels as it enables them to pay lower salaries to police, etc., ensuring the vicious circle continues.
As some 20% of the country is unemployed, or underemployed, many depend on the one wage-earner who does have a decent income to support or help the rest of his or her extended family. At government and presidential level, this sees huge dynasties develop within which friends and relatives seek favors and positions of influence. This allows them in turn to help their intimates and family and so the whole grows like some sort of benign mafia, if that’s not an oxymoron. When the tenure of the succeeding paterfamilias, or the “Dons” if you like, has come to end through change of political party, the whole collapses like a pack of cards and is reshuffled into other zones of influence. This is why, like some social black hole, so much money is appropriated from the country’s resources such as Pemex, draining into the pockets of so few for as long as that particular dynasty survives. In the case of the PRI, (The Institutional Party of the Revolution), the party that ruled for 70 years in Mexico until the late 1990‘s, the drain on Pemex and the nation as a whole, became, indeed, institutional.
Despite all the problems of the Third Millennium, Mexicans remain a happy people, a state helped as much by the nearly permanent sunshine as much as any other single factor. If they had Britain’s gloomy weather, their smiling equilibrium might be replaced by national suicide. They also have wonderful places to go and relax like the beaches and the ever present mountains. Life in Mexico City can be pretty drear, but an hour’s drive in any direction takes you to a pretty village in the hills or valleys. To many, the café culture in the Capital makes up for a lot; along with the huge parks like the great, green heart of Mexico City, Chapultepec; the pretty colonial squares and just the sense of life and laughter. In a world marred by hatred, terrorism and fear, the welcoming friendliness of the Mexicans still remains. So please go and visit and take your own sip of this wonderful, complex broth.