In my last weeks in San Miguel de Allende in 2010, I set out to write 20 posts about things I would miss about it. I wrote 18, then followed up with #19 some months later, and as is my way, never wrote the twentieth. I felt a strange pressure to make sure it was about something really important, maybe about the thing I’d miss the most of all, and what was that? Now that I’m back in Mexico, it’s abundantly obvious.
The best thing about Mexico is Mexicans. Of the ten or so countries I’ve visited or lived in, Mexico’s people are the most generous. Most notably, they are generous with their time. Our experience today was a case in point. We went to Teotitlán del Valle, a town half an hour east of Oaxaca that is known for its weaving. At the final shop we visited, we asked if we could look at the looms. The man who’d woven the rug we were buying, Jerónimo, not only eagerly showed us his loom but invited the munchkin to have a go. She loved it, and he was a natural-born teacher. He didn’t just show her how to run the shuttle back and forth a couple of times; he worked with her on several inches of weaving, patiently showing her every step and letting her do them all.
While they worked, Julián, another member of the family (like all of them, it’s a family business; I think they are brothers) chatted with us about the process, with as much patience with our (especially my) limited Spanish as his brother had with Munchkin’s novice weaving. We had a dozen questions about the dyes, the wool, the designs, etc., and he was eloquent and thorough. He showed us a couple of his wife’s designs, abstract at first glance but actually a reference to the Pleiades, and explained why the Pleiades were significant. (I missed this part–my Spanish wasn’t up to it–but Joy says it was about his grandmother, who never wore a watch but always knew the correct time within 10-15 minutes by looking at the sun or the stars: specifically, often, this cluster.) Then he told us about his grandfather (grandmother? the two of us heard it differently and Joy’s Spanish is far better), still alive and still weaving, and the teachings he/she had passed on about the significance of a spiral motif that appears often in Zapotec art. Altogether they spent over an hour with us, sharing their knowledge as if there were nothing they would rather be doing.
Not every encounter with people here is like this, of course. They can be rude and impatient and I’m sure they aren’t always generous. But an experience like today’s, which would almost never occur anywhere I’ve lived in the U.S., is not at all unusual here. People are very quick to give of themselves: their expertise, their time, their attention.
And I don’t really have to say it’s something I’ll miss when we go home in December, because there are plenty of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans and a strong presence of Mexican culture right in the Bay Area.