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.


The Week After Next

April 2, 2020

As waitresses go round here, Reina is good. She’s alert, she knows how to smile, and she doesn’t mix up the orders.

Once a week, I’m at the restaurant where she works, hanging out with friends for a couple of hours. Our group went elsewhere for a while, to somewhere run by one of our members; but that place closed in March, so we came back. The food is okay, we’re there for our own company anyway, and Reina still remembered our names.

I often wonder how we seem to people like her. She’s young enough that life might not have been very rough on her yet, but we must seem so privileged. Mexicans generally are remarkably tolerant toward the outsiders in their midst, but we must grate at times. Us older types don’t draw much opprobrium, but some of the younger ones, who seem to exist on indiscernible means, sometimes amuse and sometimes irritate my more conservative neighbours. The pretty children of wealthy Mexico City parents often sport elaborate tattoos as they come to “Mystical Tepoztlan” to search for the meaning of having grown up rich. A decent tattoo here costs weeks of Reina’s salary,  but these wannabe hippie mystics can manage that. Most local people can’t.

The average wage for a waitress around here is 80 to 100 pesos a day, or five to six Canadian dollars. Wait staff need their tips, which are customarily around ten per cent. Sometimes people offer less; some of us leave more. My latest lunch bill, without any alcohol, was just under 200 pesos, or about what she could expect to take home after a whole day right now, tips included. I think she gets a free meal as part of her contract, but she can’t really afford to buy one in the place where she works.

This topic has been on my mind as businesses, restaurants included, start to close. As everyone here notes, it’s just not feasible for most Mexicans to stay home for a month or two. There’s no meaningful government assistance, and the economy largely functions on a just-enough-to-make-it basis. I’ve talked about this with friends, and we can’t understand how people survive. And as things get tighter in the next few weeks, I wonder how the folk here will feel about the expats among them.

Theoretically, as a person over 60, I’m under government orders to stay home until the end of April. But when this was announced, it was stated that there wouldn’t be any arrests or charges for older people found outside. It was a Mexican compromise: voluntary compulsion. Yesterday, with a friend, I went to the market in town to get some fresh food, and nobody even looked at us funny. They need customers, or they’ll starve.

While there, we decided to indulge in an ice cream (Mexican ice creams deserve a whole blog post), and sat in the grounds of the former Dominican convent, which is still undergoing repairs from the 2017 earthquake. After a short time, we heard a live band, which indicated a funeral was coming. Sure enough, the procession came in for a blessing, with maybe fifty people trailing the coffin, then headed down Avenida Revolucion to the cemetery. And we just gaped, like tourists. Social distancing doesn’t happen in a funeral procession.

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It seemed intrusive to go too close to the funeral procession to take a photo, so I kept a distance. The metal structure serves for religious services while the main church is repaired.

From an epidemiological perspective (try saying that after a third tequila…), what people are still doing is disastrous. From an economic and a social one, it’s a whole different matter. And while I monitor every small cough in case it’s a symptom, I’m more concerned about what happens if and when everything actually closes, and people begin to get desperate. How will people like Reina make it? Will she resent her former customers because we still have our pensions or our social security, while she has nothing very much?

I hope my personal answer to the question is too pessimistic.