Friday, July 26, 2013

On Which Side Of The Border Wall Are People More Free? Profiles From Sonora, Mexico; Anais Nin's Reflections on Mexico (1947)

So many people in the U.S. are afraid to travel to Mexico. It's too dangerous, they conclude. Or could it be they have imprisoned themselves with this fear. Despite it's problems, Mexico is still a wonderful place to visit and most who do, and who stray from tourist hotels, will find some of the most hospitable, friendly, and fascinating people anywhere. This edition of the Hobo Dispatch is devoted to some of the great friends I've made in Sonora, Mexico. 


Eugenio and Olga Ruiz
Here's a good candidate for one of the freest men in Mexico,  Eugenio Ruiz, or Genio as most call him. He stays with his sister, Olga, most of the time now but he still likes to hit the road, traveling by foot. Genio and Olga are of indigenous roots and lived in the Pajarero culture of Sonora which is similar to the Gypsy lifesytle. They would travel in horse drawn wagons and set up camps outside towns, and do work or sell items. Genio made himself a little cart which he pulls along on his occasional trips.

In the video Genio talks about places he likes to visit, how he likes to travel to avoid "getting bored", how he picks up cans to earn money, that people give him food along the way, and that once  railroad workers gave him a lift. His sister Olga can be heard in the background.


From the "Diary of Anais Nin, Volume 5, 1947-55"  The writer Anais Nin wrote in her classic Diary about her love affair with Mexico, something that happens to many, myself included. But who could top her brilliant writing about Mexico. I won't attempt it. Enjoy.

Acapulco, Mexico  Winter (1947-48)

I am lying on a hammock, on the terrace of my room at the Hotel Mirador, the diary open on my knees, the sun shining on the diary, and I have no desire to write. The sun, the leaves, the shade, the warmth, are so alive that they lull the senses, calm the imagination. This is perfection. There is no need to portray, to preserve. It is eternal, it overwhelms you, it is complete.
Doña Olga in her kitchen in Imuris, Sonora

The natives have not yet learned from the white man his inventions for traveling away from the present, his scientific capacity for analyzing warmth into a chemical substance, for abstracting human beings into symbols. The white man has invented glasses which make objects too near or too far, cameras, telescopes, spyglasses, objects which put glass between living and vision. It is the image he seeks to possess, not the texture, the living warmth, the human closeness.

Doña Olga being interviewed with Maria Garcia of Tucson, AZ and her mother-in-law Elena. Doña Olga is shown selling medicinal plants which she gathers and sells.


Doña Olga's house in Imuris, Sonora
Here in Mexico they see only the present. The communion of eyes and smiles is elating. In New York
people seem intent on not seeing each other. Only children look with such unashamed curiosity. Poor white man, wandering and lost in his proud possession of a dimension in which bodies become invisible to the naked eye, as if staring were an immodest act. Here I feel incarnated and in full possession of my own body.

A new territory of pleasure. The green of the foliage is not like any other green; it is deeper, lacquered and moist. The leaves are heavier and fuller, the flowers bigger. They seem surcharged with sap, and more alive, as if they never have to close against the frost, or even a cold night. As if they have no need of sleep.

…Nature so powerful and drugging that it annihilates memory. People seem warmer and nearer, as the stars seem nearer nearer and the moon wamer.

Everardo and Victoriano: Two friends I've made while waiting to cross the border. They are vendors (Everardo sells hammocks and Victoriano sells gum and candy) who sell to those sitting in their cars in the long lines at the border crossing in Nogales, Sonora.


The first human being I see in the morning is the gardener. I can see him at work through the half-shut bamboo blinds. He is raking the pebbles and the sand, not as if he were eager to terminate the task, but as if raking pebbles and sand were a most pleasurable occupation and he wants to prolong the enjoyment. Now and then he stops to talk to a lonely little girl who skips rope and asks him questions which he answers patiently.

Festivities. Fiestas. Holidays. Bursts of color and joy. Collective celebrations. Rituals. Indian feasts and Catholic feasts. Any cause will do. Even the poor know how to dress up a town with colored paper cutouts which dance in the wind. What has happened to joy in America? The Americans in the hotel spend all their time drinking by the pool. The men go hunting flamingos, which they shoot for the pleasure of it. Or they fish for inedible mantarayas and weigh their spoils to win prizes.

Farm Day parade, Imuris, Sonora: Once I pulled into Imuris and found myself in the middle of their annual Farm Day (Dia del Rancho) parade with homemade floats carrying pigs, goats, etc, and folks celebrating rural life. 


Tonight I met a young man who hitchhiked all the way from Chicago and was picked up by the patron of the hotel and given secretarial work. His candor, bewilderment, and wonder at everything rejuvenates the most indifferent visitors already accustomed to the beauty.

The flow of beggars is endless. A few change their handicaps. When they tire of portraying blindness they appear with wooden legs, concealing their good legs under them. The genuine ones are terrifying, like nightmare figures: A child shriveled and shrunken, lying on a board with wheels which he pushes with his withered hands; an old woman so twisted that she resembles the roots of very ancient trees; many of them sightless, with festering sores in place of eyes. They all refused Dr. Hernandez’s help.  They want to remain part of the religious processions, the fireworks, the funerals, the weddings, band concerts, and the display of foreigners with their eccentric costumes.

But custom will not allow me to sit alone in a restaurant. Not Mexican custom. A man came and threw some money on my table, and sat down. The patron of the restaurant had to explain that foreign women went alone and it did not mean they were prostitutes.

Manuel Valdez, basket maker in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora: Manuel learned how to make baskets from his mentor Don Epigmenio. He is the only man still making baskets in Magdalena.


Dr. Hernandez comes to the hotel several times a day for the tourists. He carries his black doctor’s bag. He is my first friend here. After his visits he likes to sit on the terrace and talk a little and sip a drink.
He was written poetry, had a book published. He studied medicine in France. When he was first assigned to intern in Acupulco, he fought malaria, elephantiasis, and other tropical diseases. When his internship ended, he decided to stay on and practice.

He built a house on a protruding rock, extending out to the sea on the left of the Mirador, married and had children. But his wife hates Acapulco and is always going to Mexico City because there are no schools for their children in Acapulco.

Since more than half of his life is given to the poor of Acapulco, to dramas and tragedies of all kinds, he does not like tourists. “Because they live for pleasure only, because they pamper themselves, because half of their ills are imaginary. Most of the time they call me because they are frightened of foreign countries and foreign food.”

Manuel Sácuhi Mirasol, Cucurpe, Sonora: Don Manuel is one of the most fascinating people I've ever met, living on the land outside Cucurpe. He's a combination of his indigenous roots, Mexican farmer, and Marlboro Man. He lives most of the year in his rock cliff dwelling, spending the hot months under the stars by the river. If you don't understand Spanish scroll through the video to see his house, him making a lariat and keychains from cowhide, and taking a hike near his home.


Anais Nin visited Hatcher, a man from the U.S. who was living in Acapulco and who had married a woman from Mexico. Nin goes for a swim in the ocean by Hatcher's house,  and then has this profound reflection after returning to Hatcher's house.

Hatcher’s place was deep in the jungle on a hill overlooking the sea. On a small open space he had built a roof on posts, with only one wall in back. The cooking was done out of doors….They had their bedroom in the back, protected by curtains. Visitors slept in hammocks on the terrace.

When I came out of the sea, I felt reborn. I longed for this simplified life. Cooking over a wood fire, sleeping out of doors in a hammock, with only a Mexican blanket. I longed for naked feet in sandals, the freedom of the body in summer clothes, hair washed by the sea.

After a dinner of fish and black beans, Hatcher offered to show us the rest of his house. Behind the wall there was a storage room of which he was immensely proud. It was an enormous, as large as the house itself, with shelves reaching to the ceiling. There was in it every brand of canned food, medicines, tools, hunting guns, fishing equipment, garden tools, vitamins, seeds. He reveled in the completeness of it. “…..I felt immensely tired and depressed. I lay in my hammock pondering why I was so disappointed. I had imagined Hatcher free. I admired him as a man who had won independence from our culture and could live like a native, a simplified existence with few needs. And here he demonstrated complete dependence on complex and artificial products. America the mother and father had been transported into a supply shed, bottled and canned. He was not able to live here without possessions, with fresh fish and fruit in abundance, with cow’s milk and the products of hunting.

His fears made me question: was there no open road, simple, clear, unique? Could I live a new life here in Mexico, free of all that had wounded me in the past, and free of dependency?  Hatcher was not free of his bitterness about his first marriage, nor free of America. He was not free of the past.

Mexican Whitewash: Here's Manuel Valdez, the basket maker, and his brother José making white paint from lime and crushed prickly pear cactus.

Nin moved into a cottage overlooking the ocean
But several things happened in the little house. The tank on the roof which supplied water for the bath and for cooking would either run dry or overflow during the night. The insects I pursued with Flytox turned out to be scorpions, who liked to nest behind the straw mats. Rats came at night, ate the food, ran over my body and frightened me to death.

Then came time to leave.

The taxi driver who had sworn to come for me never came, and I had to drag my valise down the hill to take the bus. The day before at the beach I had witnessed cruelty toward a dog, who had fallen off a surfboard and was tottering on the beach, inflated with water, suffering, while the Mexicans lauged. I screamed at them and forced them to help the dog expel the water.

But when I left, the beauty was uppermost in my eyes. I could only remember the softness, the gold patina over everything, the  long, unthinking, memoryless days, days filled  with the scent of flowers, sunrises and sunsets to eclipse all the paintings of the world.

The return to New York was brutal. Grit, harshness, anger above all, the anger of the bus driver, the anger of the subway ticketman, the sullenness of the taxi drivers, the angry tone of newspapers, the anger on the radio, in the street, from the policeman, the doorman, the delivery boy, the shopkeepers. The mechanical service at cafeterias, unsmiling, not looking. No one looks at anyone. People are like numbers.

Link to read more from the Diary of Anais Nin

Diary of Anais Nin, Volume 5, 1947-1955

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing! After traveling in central and southern Mexico, I have really come to appreciate the rural beauty of our neighbor state of Sonora (Sinaloa & Nayarit too). Jim Hannely (my stepdad) shared this link with me. I would love to hear more about your travels. Will you be going to Magdalena for the St. Francis festivities?