You Only Live Twice - In VeracruzWednesday, April 29, 2009
Some of the happiest moments of my life happened in Veracruz. I first saw the sea as an adult there. After having lived for some years in Mexico City’s high altitude I had forgotten that sound travels through the air.
My mother quit her job as a teacher at the American School in Mexico City in 1963, because of health reasons. She had a terrible case of Meniere’s disease with a constant ringing in her ears, a horrible almost constant nausea and the rapid deterioration of her hearing. Doctors told her that living at sea level might soften her symptoms. So she applied to work for a small American School in Veracruz where she would teach the children of the American workers of Alcoa.
After my first night sometime in 1963 I woke up to sound. Every sound seemed to be precise, clear and loud. It took me while to grasp that at sea level, sound really traveled not like in Mexico City’s thin air at 2224 meters.
For breakfast, my mother’s cook and helper prepared the most fabulous cheese omelet I had ever had. This was after my mother had said, “Favor, Petra, prepare un desayuno para el joven.” Please Petra prepare breakfast for the young man.”
In 1967 I traveled with my soon to be bride, Rosemary. I told my mother jokingly that I would need some 3 in 1 oil to oil the hinges of the bedrooms. That first morning I heard my mother say, “Favor, Petra, prepare un desayuno para el señor.” Rosemary was still asleep and suddenly I had graduated from being a young man to a man! I remember that Rosemary spent most of the day taking showers. A native of New Dublin, Ontario she had yet to be accustomed to the humid heat of Veracruz.
It was in Veracruz where Rosemary and I went for walks on the malecón (a Spanish word for a seaside boulevard) and had tall cafés con leche at the Café de la Parroquia in the centre square of Mexico’s oldest city. We would watch the noisy trams go by and noisy but still pleasant marimbas would play on the street. For a few pesos you could request them to invent lyrics on the spot. They would sing to the merits and beauty of my blonde Rosemary. I smoked cigars and pipes at the time so I would go to the tobacconist on the Hotel Diligencias and pick some long thin Flor de la Costas. This was life at its best. We were young and it seemed that we could dream a world even if we had little money. We liked to sit on the zócalo (main square plaza) on Sundays. The young men would stroll in a clockwise direction (I am not too sure of that) and the young women in the opposite direction. On Easter Sunday these youths would throw at each other eggs that were full of confetti.
It was in 1963 when I first went to Veracruz that I first met three of my mother’s friends. One of them was German and she had a big clunky Toyota jeep like vehicle. She owned a store in town that sold Mexican curios. The other two were delightful American women (one of them looked like actor Strother Martin) who loved to read Ian Fleming and play bridge. I learned to play bridge from them as well as being handed down every Ian Fleming, James Bond novel as soon as it became a pocket book. I never bothered to notice that there was something odd. It was only in retrospect and many years later that I found out that my mother had befriended a coven of lesbians! There were some protests from the parents of the children she taught but somehow my mother stuck to her friends.
My grandmother lived with my mother for a while in Veracruz. Then she went to visit her son Tony in Egypt. When she came back she did not recognize us. In this picture my grandmother seems to be in that second stage. I must have taken it around 1965 when I returned on leave from my military service in Buenos Aires. It was around then when Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice appeared as a paper back. I remember my mother trying to read it in the glare of the sand of Mocambo Beach.
My mother’s house, which was also the school was on Martín Alonzo Pinzón. He and his two brothers had sailed with Christopher Columbus. Pinzón had been the captain of the caravel, La Pinta. For those who believe that Columbus discovered America there are now rumblings from those wanting to name Pinzón (who was an excellent mariner) as the co-discoverer.
It was in Veracruz that I first learned to drive. My mother had purchased a brand new blue VW Beetle. She also had a very large boxer called Antonio whose tongue was so long that part of it was always sticking out. Rosemary and I would take the car and Antonio and walk him on the beach. When Rosemary and I got married, a few months after my mother most generously helped us buy our very own VW. To this day I remember with warmth and excitement those Friday night trips where Rosemary and I would drive, after our last English classes of the day from Mexico City to Veracruz. The trip took us from those 2224 meters to a sudden downhill to sea level by the time we crossed into the Veracruz State border near Córdoba. We would open the windows and we could smell that wonderful humid air that smelled of wet earth with a hint of the nearby sea. We could hear the insects and see the fireflies. Arriving very tired sometime around one in the morning to the welcome of my mother and Antonio’s barking was paradise.
Paradise it was until one night when Rosemary went to the bathroom and I heard her scream. It seemed that the bathroom had been invaded by flying cockroaches. She soon learned to share our paradise.