Of all things I found myself, sitting in the main zocalo (plaza) in Queretero, a colorful, historic city north of Mexico City and taking in the panorama of Mexican life, playing out in front of me. And I said mawkishly to myself…I’ve seen this all before, this Mexican scene…the zocalo, the palm trees, the eucalyptus, the cathedral, the food sellers, balloon sellers, the shoe shiners, the families, the kids dripping ice cream, the gazebo in the middle of the zocalo, the heat, the poor. Maybe this was one trip too many. I found myself with a feeling of boredom…something that had never happened to me in the numberless times I had been to Mexico. Maybe…feeling like a heretic…I thought I should find another country to go to.
I got up, walked past a bakery, took a picture of a garish, orange building, turned down gorditas, chalupas and tacos from a street cart vendor and wandered to a small park across from the zocalo. People sat around the lip of a fountain…sitting in the cooling spray on a hot day…as a band of young amped up Mexican musicians played popular Mexican, American and Beetles songs. And then against all expectations, they broke into Havah Nagilah, an Israeli folk song, which was as strange as snow falling in the Negev. It’s not the usual musical fare you’d find beyond joyous Jewish affairs. I’m sure they didn’t know what they were playing. And certainly their listeners didn’t. But they played it with the whiny passion of a true Galicianer, as if they were to the manor born. It was just one of those incongruities that is so compelling about Mexico, like murals painted on the outsides of buildings, since some indigenous Mexicans are afraid to go into big buildings, or the macabre Day of the Dead celebrations, or arranging mummies ominously, but decoratively in a crypt in Guanajuato, or self-flagellation as if it would please a beneficent God, or excavating new subways, only to find the remnants of old civilizations, where the new subway was supposed to go.
Like all coincidences, had I gone into the bakery instead of passing it (and I couldn’t say why I didn’t go in…I rarely miss the opportunity), I would have missed Havah Nagilah. It’s been said that everything happens for a reason. Not everything. But for me not missing Havah Nagilah in Mexico…for that there must have been a reason.
And it isn’t just that kooky eccentricities are all indigenously generated. Mexico seems to attract them from everywhere. I drove from Mazatlan on the Pacific coast, going to Durango and drove into a different time zone over the Sierra Madre. Two o’clock suddenly became three o’clock and Durango became too far away time-wise. Besides, I had passed a small dirt road turnoff to Copala, a town of old, closed silver mines. I had vaguely heard of it and a voice told me to go there. I found the dirt road turnoff, took it, until it ended at a left-right road. To the left through the trees I saw what seemed a mirage of ten or more tour buses…odd for a small, out-of-the-way town. I opted to go right to the what turned out to be the sleepy old part of town with a gorgeous plaza…no one there…and buildings from the town’s salad silver mining days . I had a cerveza at a restaurant, empty but for me, that looked more like a botanical garden, walked around the plaza that could have been a dead ringer for the old American west. It was time to explore the tour-bus part of town.
It turned out that the tour buses were clustered around a large hilltop restaurant, looking over a valley of green. It was named Daniel’s for an American ex-oilfield worker who, I assume, owned it. The buses flock to Daniel’s from Mazatlan with a cargo of passengers from cruise ships that dock there. The drawing card of the restaurant, oddly, is banana cream pie, the house specialite. Not Mexican, you say. Right, but it’s the Mexico of off-beat things. The pie, by the way, was worth not going to Durango.