Say No Evil

February 2, 2022

So the story goes, when the first people in this village caught Covid-19 in 2020, a few of the neighbours wanted to burn down their house with them in it. This medieval method wasn’t used, thankfully, but there has been a lot of denial around catching the virus ever since. It’s a little like in the early 1900s when a man came back from a business trip with an ailment indicating he’d had a dalliance with a lady of the evening. The family hoped the Salvarsan would cure the disease, but it was never, ever to be mentioned.

Susan Sontag, photographed in 1979 by Lynn Gilbert. See below.

Quite why people here are held responsible for infections more than the virus is, I can’t really say. I suspect it stems from general ignorance of how disease is transmitted, abetted by the flakiest of New Age theories on the topic propagated by superannuated hippies who live here. They are often confident enough in their beliefs that these bleed through to the native community around them. Thus, (you will hear) diseases can’t infect you without you having some karmic imperfection, some imbalance in your aura, or a similar idea. I’ve had someone shout at my face that without such an auric weakness, I couldn’t possibly get sick, so why did I wear a stupid mask? I did, I confess, savour the schadenfreude when I heard he too had a bad case of Covid.

Whatever the reason, to get the virus is a mark of shame, like a punishment from God.

All this was underlined last week when a Mexican friend came to stay at my place for a couple of days while attending an arts course being held locally. On Friday morning, she told me she had pain all down her body, a dreadful headache and fever. I was despatched to acquire Naproxen, Prednisone and vitamins from the village pharmacy; and like other substances made by the evil guys at Big Pharma, they worked – and without any auric adjustments. I was hopeful my recent booster jab, something she’d not had, might keep me safe, but by Saturday night I too felt low, and my throat was sore.

By Monday, it was plain she was on the mend, and my symptoms had become standard for a typical winter cold. I sneeze from time to time, my throat is a bit irritated, and my temperature is just under fever-level. Tylenol and plenty of fluids are my basic food-groups this week.

But she was insistent we create a cover story, and I had already reported to two friends who live elsewhere, plus my son in Toronto, that I probably had the bug. She let me know a mutual acquaintance of ours, who lives a ten-minute walk from this house, had Covid a few weeks ago, and has never told a soul. I had initial concerns about it getting serious, but it was almost a badge of macho pride. “Hey, I’m finally in the C-club!”

Monday, I was out of cash to buy food, and went into town, duly masked. I had the Titanic, the ancient Ford Explorer I drive, so I didn’t have to infect people, provided I was cautious. I did run into one American friend, and waved him off with hand-signals that he quickly grasped. Do not approach: I am a centre of pestilence. He signalled back: No problem – thanks for the warning! I still didn’t know I had actual Covid, and not a simple cold, but the probability lay with the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, since I’ve had an inflamed knee for a couple of months, my friend back at the house was telling people I was incapacitated by this, and I needed her to care for me.

She’s recovering – it doesn’t seem to be a bad case – and she has gone home. I’m still sneezing, but the thermometer tells me I’ll live. 

But it has been an odd lesson in attitudes to disease. It has reminded me of an old book, Susan Sontag’s remarkable Illness as Metaphor, which focused on tuberculosis and cancer, but examined how people view diseases generally, especially those they don’t understand.

This all means, of course, that any caseload statistics from Mexico are meaningless. My cleaning lady, asked by my friend to postpone her weekly visit because “Edward has a bit of a cold right now” remarked that there were a lot of such colds around the village right now. But, naturally, no Covid-19. The C-word must not be uttered.


Vaccination Day

March 18, 2021

The past year has been hard on friendships. Some of us decided early on to mask up and avoid group situations, while others became anti-vax and anti-mask evangelists, and began delivering a relentless sermon that lasted all summer, all fall, and all winter. I now know every silly, unscientific theory in existence about vaccines, viruses and mendacious governments. And, of course, all about Bill Gates and his microchips. My social circle has been judiciously pruned as a result.

Finally, just before last weekend, Tepoztlan announced that the Pfizer vaccine would be made available to people over 60 for three days starting on Tuesday, March 16, the day after Benito Juarez Day. Two locations, a school in town and a soccer field, were being used for this.

There was widespread anticipation, and I planned to go in with my friend Ixchel as soon as a long-awaited plumber had turned up to install a water filter. However, by the time he was done and had left with my cash in his pocket, she had messaged and phoned me to tell me that the lines were insanely long, everything was backed up, and she was going home. 

A spontaneous protest by angry people who had waited in the sun with aging relatives closed the day’s operations, I heard. The cult of the abuela, the grandmother, is a strong one here, and protecting family matriarchs, or at least looking like you do, is a significant part of the social structure. 

The line-up on the first afternoon. Cannier people brought chairs for family matriarchs (and patriarchs) to sit on.

We both considered waiting for an opportunity next month, but decided to give it a second try today, Thursday, the last of the three days. So, this morning we put ourselves in the line for the school vaccination centre, and waited.  And waited.

After 20 minutes, the line had not moved. Fortunately, the staff for this operation, which was admittedly a big one for a town this size, were now on top of what was going on, and came to recommend we go down to the soccer field, where there were few people waiting. We did this, and while a couple of hundred people were already there when we arrived, people were moving on through the system. Just getting under the protective awning past the entrance gate felt like hope. We kept having to shift forward one row of seats as people moved through the system, so we finally had the sense of making progress.

Sure enough, around an hour later, we had moved to the fronts of two different lines, and the anticlimactic moment of the actual jab happened. We were asked to wait another 20 minutes to ensure we had no adverse reactions, then left after receiving a basic certificate of vaccination, and a provisional date for the second injection.

We had to play musical chairs under the awning, moving ahead to the next row of seats as others received injections.

The feeling of freedom from anxiety wasn’t what I’d expected. But finally, other than being careful and avoiding the conspiracy-theory crowd entirely, we had a realistic protection against the wretched disease. After just one jab, it’s not the whole deal, but my body now has the tool it needs to build advance resistance to the virus, assuming I’ve not already encountered and defeated it sub-clinically. 

And the day just looked brighter as a result. We walked to a place for lunch, ran into a mutual friend who had also just had her jab and was feeling similarly relieved, and felt more gratitude than we had in months.

I had to go home to wait for a man to deliver a load of water, as I mentioned in my last post, so home I went after finishing my enchiladas. He came when expected, and later so did Jorge, our local blacksmith, who was coming to examine the front gate of the small house I’m fixing so I can rent it out. 

Indeed, if the pump on the water truck hadn’t surged fiercely, making the hose jump so that it bent the inner security gate out of alignment, and soaking the garage area, I’d have had a perfect day. But jump it did, and Jorge has to see if he can fix that gate, too. And Rem, my canine anarchist for whom the inner gate had to be installed in the first place, tried to bite Jorge, though thankfully he only chomped on a mouthful of jeans.

Rem, the canine anarchist.

So, apart from facing a combined 1,300 peso repair bill, and having to apologise for Rem’s over-protectiveness, this was a semi-perfect day. Either way, I have the jab now. If I do run into anti-vax evangelists in town, I can tell them I put my deltoid muscle where my mouth is, and I now consider myself a superior human as a result. Or at least a pandemically insulated one.

Mask Wars

August 17, 2020

Most people I know are trying to keep things polite, but friction does emerge from time to time. Even the modest level of quarantine we have here produces a sense of being crammed into a tight space, psychologically speaking, and irritation is never far from the surface. This is being multipled by anxiety over political problems in the broader world.

The masks, or their absence – cubrebocas in local lingo – are my own constant trigger. Officially, anyone riding a combi microbus is required to wear one, but often it’s just the driver and two or three passengers who comply with that. There’s no enforcement.


Sunday market in Ixcatepec: staff at the stalls are policed on their use of masks, but not the customers.

The anti-mask factions seem to fall into three broad tribes, the biggest of them being people who are indifferent. They have no symptoms of the virus, so they don’t worry about it. The concept of being an asymptomatic carrier is unreal to them, and they believe if they or people round them get sick, it’ll be God’s will: end of story.

Then, there’s the militant Clan of the Ideologues. They’ve seen forty-seven Youtube videos saying it’s all a conspiracy, or caused by 5G (which we don’t have in Mexico), or (boo, hiss) Bill Gates. From such unimpeachable sources, Plandemic being merely the most infamous, they’ve determined that masks are useless, or they make you sick, or they’re a plot to take away your freedom. Or all three.

Thirdly, there are the hippie kids, some of whom are pushing forty. They’re not that numerous, but by dress and lifestyle, they stand out. Many of them came here to live amid the physical beauty and the vibes of ancient Toltec spirituality, while flouting conventional local rules of conduct. They refuse to consider any form of social distancing, and since many of them appear to come from wealthy families, they carry that secure sense that they’re superior creatures (while fervently denying any such thing), as well as knowing they can always go back home or call for cash if they need to.

Like anyone, I dislike masks. They make my face feel hot, loose fibres become itchy, and overall they’re a nuisance. They’re far from infallible as systems of mutual protection, but they’re a key option for keeping infections to a minimum.

Officially, our municipality has only a dozen or so currently active cases of Covid-19. However, from anecdotal evidence, the numbers are far higher than that. A close friend of mine told me two days ago of a conversation with a local healer who treats the sick with a mix of modern and traditional methods, and who has handled several suspeected cases in just our village. People are reluctant to get formally tested, because of a fear of being placed in isolation, away from family. As a result, the official numbers across Mexico – today they’re at well over a half-million cases, with 57,000 dead – are wholly unreliable, and way below a true total.

I try to contain my frustration with the maskless tribes, but I don’t do well around demonstrated stupidity. I simply avoid the ideologues as much as possible these days, mostly by avoiding the town. But I occasionally want to choke some of the hippie kids. Last week I was riding the combi after shopping, and a young woman without a mask got on, immediately embracing a couple of guys she knew, who also had no masks. Soon, she was launched quite loudly into a discussion about her “camino spiritual,” making me wonder how any spiritual path could include callous indifference to the well-being of other people. But then, the sort of vacuous New Age nostrums many people here espouse tend to exist in co-dependency with an underlying passive aggression. Question their positive, Light-emanating and “non-judgemental” philosophy with any serious questions, and watch the hackles go up. “Negative” skeptical attitudes like mine aren’t tolerated.

At least that gives me an excuse to avoid these folks. For yes, such people are my bugbear. And since I’ve chosen to live in place with a high concentration of them, my bear is bugged frequently. Be it so: I am Boomer, hear me bitch.

At some point, the pandemic will ebb, and we’ll all try to make up again. I’ll even stop being ticked off as much as I am right now, which would be nice. But currently, I’m disappointed and fed up with people who refuse to perform a simple act of good citizenship in a dangerous time. What their attitudes have to do with any meaningful concept of freedom, I’ll never understand; nor do I want to.

The Door Creaks Open

July 1, 2020

Canada is celebrating its national day today, something I’m marking by taking my dog Punky for a clip of his straggling wool. Yes, the Punkster and I know how to party.

Punky Jun 20 copy.jpg

There is a dog, Punky,  inside this shapeless wool rug.

Our town of Tepoztlan is trying not to party, but might flunk that effort. After three months of more-or-less quarantine, and a small but continually growing caseload of virus infections, it’s opening more restaurants today, albeit with well-spaced tables, while hotels that carefully check their guests can also open again. The barricades at the two entrances to the town remain in place, but I’ve been noticing more outsiders showing up since mid-June.

I blogged earlier about how difficult it would be for a community with an economy heavily dependent on weekend tourists to stay locked down for long. My neighbour’s taxi often just sits outside his house these days. Some people have had to move back in with parents or other family to cover living expenses. Street vendors struggle to get by when there are no visitors. I’ve not even seen the musicians of varying talents who normally haunt the market in town, because they’d have no audience anyway.DSCF2387

Naty’s restaurant, named for the owner’s grandmother, has been a Tepoztlan institution since 1987. But until this past week, it had been shut since March.

Yep, same story as everywhere around the world. Now it’s supposed to change, though by gradual degrees. But as other governments in other countries have found, many people take any easing of restrictions as a green light to drop all caution. Add to them the people I know (and am avoiding) who still think all this is a hoax, or something overblown (cue those 5G Facebook memes!), and you can see the emerging problem. Our municipality’s case numbers to date were under 30 just ten days ago, and yesterday the tally was 43. That number should probably be multiplied by three or four to give an accurate figure.

So, my more sensible friends are nervous, and so am I. At the same time, the idea of having a meal at an outdoor restaurant is irresistible after the monotony of my own cooking since March. I’ve been to a couple of outdoor places that have remained open because they can distance their tables, but the hunger we all get is for variety more than for lunch.

Nobody has found a good answer to all this. Or rather, no-one had managed to convince enough people to be cautious enough for any decent answer to work well. Infection curves might be flatter, but in not many places are they actually flat. Mexico has been particularly bad, and most of the country is still seeing serious increases in cases. Our official death tally is just under 28,000, while the national case count is 226,000. But many cases in smaller towns go uncounted, and there’s always the problem of whether an older person who died did so because of the virus, or because of the virus plus an existing condition.

Whatever the numerical reality, we’re not at a good news point yet. I’m glad I’m in a village when plenty of open space and quiet trails where I can go for a walk. It does makes things easier.


Here Comes the Rain Again

May 5, 2020

This year, our rainy season appears to have started a month early. Normally it hits in the later part of June, but a small storm on the night of April 30 began an intermittent pattern of rainfall that, combined with lightning strikes, has twice knocked out our electrical power.

I’m not a great fan of the rains, which tend to breed flies and mosquitoes, as well telling the plant life in the dogs’ corral that it now has permission to overgrow all the available space. This year, I also wonder if the drop in temperatures they bring, combined with less sunshine, will enable to virus to spread more easily. Covid-19 is a very strange disease, as we’ve all read, but there are indications it doesn’t like heat or sunshine, which we’ve had in abundance since February. That advantage now dissipates.

That said, the rain fills our cistern, running through a triple filter system that keeps out vegetation and small bits of stuff in general. That means we don’t need to buy non-potable water for a few months. It also produces aesthetic effects such as evocative cloud formations, or full-on Wrath of the Gods lightning storms. Those terrify at least one of the dogs, and I’m quite likely to find she’s disappeared yet again, only to show up cowering under my bed while sharp claps of thunder resound off the cliffs surrounding the village.

Clouds June 2019 copy.jpg

Evocative cloud formations: misty wraiths stalk the hillside opposite my house. Photo from June 2019.

This May, after a long dry winter, there were fears of a vintage year for forest fires breaking out on the mountains behind us. That possibility is now drastically reduced.

While the barricade outside the village is still manned by solid numbers of volunteers, 24 hours a day, there is anticipation that the town of Tepoztlan might relax its police-enforced separation from the rest of the country in a few weeks. That would mean the barricade, which is legally a very dubious enterprise, would follow suit. Anticipation is in the air along with frustration, but I’m sure we’re not yet ready to drop our protective measures.

And this assumes, of course, that the drop in temperatures, combined with possible relaxed social and commercial restrictions, doesn’t bring a surge in infection. In a week Tepoztlan has gone from two cases to five, which is not a lot, but is also isn’t encouraging. Everything this year is in question.

Hence, the rains themselves are reassuring, simply because they remind us we’re connected to a grander cycle of nature. That cycle doesn’t follow an exact calendar, but its existence, demonstrated most recently by last night’s brief storm, is one of the things we’re all clinging to in this bizarre, disorienting spring.

Muddling through

March 20, 2020

We’re into the rumour season now. Yesterday, I was reliably informed that while the combi microbuses would continue to operate, taxis would come off the streets. Also, all the restaurants and hotels in town were to close by Monday

Today,Gabino my neighbour, who drives a cab for a living, says he’s heard of no such plan. The restaurants are taking some steps, one having closed, and another I went to yesterday (daring fool that I am!) was spacing out its tables so our small group couldn’t get too close to each other. But shutting down hotels and restaurants in a town that lives off tourism would of course push hundreds of people into destitution. Which doesn’t mean it won’t happen. But right now, it’s unlikely.

Av Tepozteco, Carnival 2019.jpg

Tepoztlan in carnival season. Even on a regular Sunday, the place is this full of visitors.

One article I’ve read (there’ve been scores, at the least) points out that governments are all proceeding on their way here on the basis of rather limited information. Additionally, I suspect, elected officials charged with doing something are, unfortunately, doing “something,” rather than doing useful things. I do wonder if many of them have ever actually looked after kids when a bug is raging through a classroom, and parents learn fast about infections and how they spread. I suspect not.

At the same time, regular people are bombarded with far too much information, and we can’t organise it. When our electrical power cuts out here, as it often does in the stormy rainy season, we think about food in the freezer spoiling if it lasts too long. Otherwise, we accept that there’s no internet, that we have to break out the candles we keep on hand, and so on. We can organise the information, and organise ourselves. With this, there’s too much information to prioritise, much of it contradictory or unclear, and that doesn’t help.

Should I isolate? I do much of the time, anyway, thanks to my lifelong membership in the Dedicated Introverts Society.

Should I avoid other people? Only to a limited extent, because friends are very useful in a crisis. I ran into one this morning, and we pretended to shout at each other from 10 feet apart, in a spontaneous street-comedy routine. No doubt such scenes have been replicated around the world. But she and I don’t live far from each other, so if one of us gets the bug, the other would be the one to bring food or supplies to the afflicted person’s door, because there’d be no official body to aid us.

Mexicans are loath to abandon physical greetings, and I feel like a gringo party-pooper by refusing to hug or shake hands. It is, though, is a sensible step, like heavy-duty hand washing, even if it doesn’t offer very much protection. Like flimsy face-masks, which are starting to show up in town, such refusal does a little something, and the little somethings might make the difference.

But the truth is, most people here aren’t going to do a lot to protect themselves or  – the real point of quarantining or isolating – protect the community as a whole. Mexico’s official case tally is around 100, but since you have to travel a long way to get a test, that figure is doubtless misleadingly low. All of us, natives and expats, are largely trusting to God (in some form), sunny weather, and fresh air, to get us through. Plus luck.

Some people have gone back to their home countries, but a lot of us are gambling that the odds of safety are a little bit better here than in the US, Canada or Europe. People won’t do a lot more, not for now. And maybe not later.