Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dias de las touristas...

Leaving San Augustinillo and the Pacific behind me once again was not an easy thing to do. I was just beginning to find my footing and was rediscovering my connection to the ocean; my last session, I felt, took me to the next level of surfing.
I travelled with Nina and Veronika on the overnight bus to San Cristobal de la Casas, it was an arduous ride but at least we saved a nights rent. Our intention was to go see the Dias de las Muertos celebrations, one of the most important times of the year in Mexico. It consists of two days of ceremonies, the first to remember children, and the second adults. On the second day of celebrations families eat and drink in the cemetaries, not necessarily to mourn but simply to just remember loved ones and celebrate their lives. Someone later pointed out to me something so obvious yet seemingly hidden from our everyday thoughts. In North America we have nothing to keep us remembering those that died except for our gloomy cemetaries and pictures on the wall. The one cemetary that I´ve seen here in Mexico was multi-colored, and flower filled, and lit every night of the year by candles around the graves. Here both life and death seem so much more sacred, and times like Dias de las Muertos show that the people here don´t take either for granted.
For all of these reasons, it was hard for me to approach this time of importance as a tourist. I felt like I wanted to be a part of it, but I wasn´t, because I had hardly spent enough time there, and I knew very few people. Dressing up in a costume and getting drunk in a cemetary was not going to cut it, and so I sat aside while foreigners from around came and took pictures of themselves with celebrating locals, as if they were close friends remembering a common loved one. Perhaps one day I will actually be a part of Dias de las Muertos, but I didn´t want to treat it as Disneyland.
San Cristobal is teeming with tourists and travelers from around the world, and rightly so as it is an incredible little city with a unique vibe. The markets there are quite interesting, with a sprawling food market, and another market that I will call the "Western Exploitation Market". This market has all kinds of things to buy, from ridiculously cheap parkas to native crafts. While there were a few things that even I was tempted to buy, I couldn´t help but notice how many useless things could be found. As I walked through the market I started looking around in bewilderment, confused because I couldn´t understand who in their right mind would buy most of these things, but surely somebody was keeping the market going. Then the obvious came to mind, the bitter truth, we are the ones buying this stuff! All of the things being sold there are just as useless as so many of the things North Americans buy all the time. This market was staying afloat buy exploiting the Western sickness of materialism and consumerism, it was exploitation that I couldn´t help but appreciate.
I rendezvoused with Liam in San Cristobal and then we made our way over the border into Guatemala, surprisingly free of hassles or border guard bribes. About ten minutes into Guatemala I instantly felt as though I was in a different nation, if only because of the geography and the way things were organized. Now we are here in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala studying Spanish and enjoying Guatemalan culture, which is much different by the way, than that of Mexico. I´ve moved into a home with a Guatemalan family, so as to become entirely immersed, and I´ve also started volunteering with an NGO out here, but more on those next posting...


Tristan said...

next post!!

Tristan said...

I was thinking about it a bit, and I want to say that I think the consumerist urges can be linked with our species' need to record our own history. We collect things in museums and libraries, and fill hard drives with virtual information. People consume things in part to record their own personal histories. Those figurines on that shelf link their owner to personal events from his passage through life. All their owner has to do is look at them to be transported to a moment that exists only as a memory in his past, but that exists again through whichever small trinket has come to signify it. The items hold only minute importance, which is why they all look so cheap and strange. It is the care invested in crafting the linking feeling or memory that is important. Have you ever taken a breath in through your nose and suddenly been transported to a distant, but distinct space by the smell you encounter (and I'm not making a fart joke here)? Certain perfumes can do this to me, but also the way the air can smell in Spring, or Autumn, or Summer, etc. In any case, you're right that the whole thing has become rampant, but I don't think it helps to observe it from an upturned nose, or a lofty promontory (which is to say, look down on it, and people who are occupied with it). Judgment should be reserved, I think. I didn't like the smell of burning garbage all along the Mexican highway we rode, but I understood there was little else to be done with the massive amounts of it dumped on the rural people from the North. Likewise, I don't criticize Liam for being a fag, but I like to make fun of him for it. I don't think you need to remove yourself and your own inclinations from the spectacle of your species in order to observe and enjoy. I bet you'll eventually wish you had a memento of that vision you held at the market, if only to burn somewhere on the side of your road. With this in mind, I recommend the movie "Dogville"
[to anyone reading who doesn't know, my friend Liam is not actually a fag.]

Anthony P. said...

You may be right, but even if people are rampant consumers only to obtain mementos, that does not negate the fact that this practice is destructive. Further, buying useless items is a luxury that only the "developed world" can partake in. Where I am now, people generally buy things of necessity, albeit with the very rare superfluity when possible. Is that to say that people here do not hold memories of the places they go or the things they see? I do not need to buy something in order to remember a moment, on the contrary it is the moments far removed from anything to do with consumerism that are most vivid in my mind. Excess garbage in Mexico, and here in Guatemala, is something completely different, but at the same time completely related to the topic at hand. It would take an essay to write, but the reason for the excess garbage is directly linked to rampant consumerism, and I think that is obvious.
I understand your point, but I have to disagree. I did not intend to sound like I was talking with an upturned nose, but admittedly I believe I am making my observations from a mental promontory. This is not a promontory exclusive to myself though, and I only publish my observations from this promontory with the intention of raising as many people up to it as possible.

Tristan said...

yeah I was rethinking it, but only wanted to shine my own light. It is disgusting and rampant, and I do not know what the entire scene was that you found yourself an audience to there in the market, but I imagine it was not the paradise of blue tarps strung over top tables organized with knickknacks all hand painted with love. I meant no insult but a poke in your ribs, to offer too that promontories are lateral of one another.
The garbage is a buzz kill.
I am countered by the people you are living among who do not buy in to the consumerism as rampantly, but also maintain valid and fulfilling lives full of memories.
Maybe the dream is like those toys we used to crave when we were kids. When they were still inside their wrappers, they looked so perfect--like the absolute, living embodiment of the fantasy we wanted to live for ourselves. More often than not, these toys sucked. Once they were out of their packaging, the reality of their limitations became apparent and they were quickly set aside for whatever new dream was spotted on the television.
Maybe that yearning is what matures into the repetitive consumption of junk all these folks are in the habit of carrying out. On a side note, I bought some new shoes!