Saturday, October 27, 2007

Viva Mexico!

It's taken me a while to start writing about touring in Mexico, perhaps because it smacks more of the familiar than the exotic. After growing up in Watsonville, I am accustomed to the rolled R's of Spanish, smell of tortillas and frijoles, the trumpets of Mariachis in the plaza, and the wide brims of sombreros. If anything, coming to Guadalajara is like a trip around the corner from home.

We're being housed in the El Presidente Intercontinental Hotel, an aging yet dignified accomodation that, despite its chronic inability to provide fast internet access, is cozy and welcoming. Following our harrowing time in Shanghai, with all its discomforts and cultural puzzlements, I can't stop feeling utterly grateful at how outrageously nice everyone seems here. There is a pervasive laid-back-ness in everyday life, yet the Mexicans go wild for Quidam, giving us a full big top night after night. We've been warned over and over about crime and security issues, and I won't deny that it's probably a valid concern, but I feel here like an honored guest.

It's interesting to see, in various countries, whether I will be ogled or ignored. In the Middle East, there existed a type of staring that felt like bugs crawling on my skin, less flattering than invasive. In Asia, it seemed, I was a conspicuous outlier, for the most part disdained and not bothered with. Here, though, there is a culture of suavity and gentlemanly appreciation - a whistle is less a lewd cat call than a gracious nod of approval. Mexicans love the art of wooing. There is a park nearby where, as darkness falls, a small cluster of Mariachi men in full velour regalia gather to await their customers. Lovers in need of a love song can, for a small fee, be serenaded on demand, either by listening in their cars or picking up a Mariachi "to go." The romantic Mexican version of a drivethru.

Now this sounds all nice and sweet, until I came across one wooer who was more cheese than charm. I was in the elevator after a trip to the grocery store, and was bogged down by two giant jugs of drinking water. I was claustrophobically crammed in with about six guys loaded down with musical instrument cases and my patience was supermodel-thin. "Hola Senorita," said the curly-haired man on my left, "Tienes mucho agua." While I have been taking Spanish lessons, I didn't really feel like striking up a conversation about my liquid purchases, so I just nodded. "Hablas ingles?" he persisted in a slightly sleazy way. Exasperated, I intoned in my most flat American English, "Yes, I'm from the U.S." Despite being eager to get out of the small space and the annoying interrogator, I endured a few more questions about what I was doing in Mexico, whether I was a student, etc., before we reached my floor.

It wasn't until later that evening that I recalled the encounter and curly-haired guy's uncanny resemblance to Kenny G , the famous smooth-jazz saxophonist known for saccharine love balads and sentimental Christmas specials. I quickly googled the G's tour dates and found that yes, indeed, I had been sweet-talked by the celeb himself. I only wish my star-sighting had happened a few nights earlier, when The Killers had been playing in Guadalajara, and because they share the same sponsor as our show, were staying in El Presidente tambien! Oh, if only the stars had aligned....

Guadalajara is a quick stop on our Mexican tour. With only four weeks of shows, I have yet to tire of the routine here. The hotel is so close to our circus tent, only a 15 minute walk. At night, it gets interesting, since (Cirque doesn't usually tell us things like this ahead of time), we are situated in a neighborhood somehow distinguished as the hub of Guadalajara's transvestite community. If nothing else, we are given entertaining fashion inspiration nightly. Only last night did my walk home get a little more exciting (and treacherous). Walking along what had been, yesterday morning, a solid-as-can-be sidewalk, I suddenly felt the ground beneath my foot disappear as I sunk knee-deep into wet cement. The construction workers nearby (facetious fellows who apparently didn't believe in orange cones of caution tape), laughed their heads off and thought it a fine time to chat me up. Fearing an iminently-fossilized foot, I demanded they do something about it, and I was soon subjected to a thorough hosing-down in the middle of the street. I squished and dripped all the way home. Dad says, "At least you've made an 'impresion' in Mexico!"