10/14/16: As I currently write this, I am siting in a condo in Playa del Carmen, Mexico finishing up a six-week run of shows in the various resorts that intermittently dot the coastline from here all the way up to Cancun. Well, intermittently might not be the proper word as the resorts are EVERYWHERE along the coastline and they are still building more. I find it to be a mixed blessing. I love the fact that I can come here and work once or twice a year, see old friends who are the the other performers and staff members who I interact with, and enjoy the beach and Mexican culture. However, with each returning visit I see more and more American influence impacting the businesses that make up this wonderful beach community. I remember three years ago sitting in a quaint, street-side cafe/bakery enjoying coffee, a freshly-made cinnamon roll, and some delicious burritos with champinones (mushrooms). Now, that entire block of privately-owned shops is gone — as if it never existed — and in it’s place is a major shopping mall complete with a Starbucks, Forever 21, and a Victoria’s Secret. What I don’t understand is why you would pay to fly to another country just to visit the same stores you can visit at home? Isn’t that why you travel to another country — to experience culture and offerings that you can’t find anywhere else?
It’s a bit disheartening.
This year is the second year I have been able to experience Mexican Independence Day here. No, Mexican Independence Day is not Cinco de Mayo as many people believe. Cinco de Mayo here is not much of a celebration. In fact the U.S. celebrates it on a much grander scale than Mexico does.
Mexican Independence Day is, officially, September 16, but the celebrations begin the night before at about 11:00pm and at midnight huge fiestas with large fireworks displays go off all throughout the country. Here in Playa, there is a gigantic party that happens in the town square with music, dancing, all sorts of food, alcohol, and, of course, fireworks. You haven’t lived until you’re walking through a grocery store parking lot and a giant firework goes off 10 feet behind you. Cerveza and unregulated fireworks —that’s an exciting time!
The tradition involved with the celebration includes Mexico’s president ringing the bell in the National Palace and re-enacting a famous speech called “Grito de Dolores” (Cry of Dolores) that called for the end of 300 years of Spanish rule in Mexico. The speech ends with three shouts of “VIVA MEXICO!” which is repeated by everyone who has gathered.
While I by no means speak fluent Spanish, I do try to communicate in the native language as much as I can during my runs here. The problem I run into is the fact that my formal training in learning the language ended in the 9th grade. Therefore, I quite often find myself in the following predicament: I, armed with my junior high Spanish and determined to communicate my question correctly to a local, feverishly construct what I assume to be the correct phrasing (quite often looking up a particularly troublesome word or word combinations whose Spanish translation I am not familiar with by Googling them on my iPhone, if need be), and then throw it out there, hoping I said it correctly. In the split second that follows, I scan their face to see if I can detect either understanding (YES! I was right!) or smirking (Damn! Now I’m the ridiculous, gringo tourist…). In the off-chance that I should be correct with my phraseology, they begin to answer my question, thrilling me with the knowledge that I have successfully communicated with another human being in a foreign language, only to have those thrills doused like a smoldering campfire when I realize that while I was so focused on properly constructing the sentence, I had no contingency plan on what to do if they actually answered my question! They rattle off their response with the expected and rightful ease of someone who was born speaking this language, thinking nothing of it. If this goofy-looking cabron didn’t understand the language, why would he have asked his question in Spanish when he is in a tourist town with Mexican residents who can converse in enough English to understand one another? Their response is met with a blank stare, and they inevitably end up answering me again, in English, and with a hint of condescension.
It’s going on a week now since I lost my phone here. “Lost” isn’t really the word for it seeing as how it was actually stolen. And “stolen” is a much more simplistic word for what really happened to it since it was taken from my pocket. Yes, that’s right, the magician’s pocket was picked! And not even 15 seconds after it happened, I knew I’d been had, and, of course, by then it was too late. I was — fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your fashion sense — wearing cargo shorts at the time, and luckily, approximately 3,000 pesos, plus my ATM card, was in a pocket, just below the hip pocket where the phone had been placed. The pesos and card were safely buttoned up in the pocket where I had placed them after leaving the ATM where I had begun my trip that evening, and therefore escaped theft. As a citizen, I was annoyed at the inconvenience this incident caused me, but as a magician, I’ve got to say, I was impressed with the technique in which the whole incident went down!
I have never felt unsafe walking home at night during my past trips to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, and I don’t intend on that changing. I will, however, make sure my phone and other valuables are safely buttoned into my lower pockets in the future.
Because, let me tell you, with my phone stolen, it sure put a crimp in my speaking Spanish for the rest of the trip…