Missing Mexico

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I lay awake last night missing Mexico. These nocturnal visions were of neither the beach nor buckets of Dos Equis. I’m talking about the parts of Mexico that got under my skin and into my heart in dozens of quiet, reflective moments over the course of many years.

There is just something intangible that pulls you to one place over another. Maybe it was the mood you were in at that particular stage of your life that made such a deep connection. You can go back and often find it isn’t there anymore because, I suppose, you’re not the same anymore. But that has never happened to me in Mexico. Whatever reached me then..reaches me still. I suppose I will be forever smitten.

I produced two television documentaries in Mexico and both were handed to me on a silver platter. The boss, whom I think had just finished a round of golf with the Mexican consul general, called me into his office and said, ‘ The Mexican tourism people want to show Canadians the parts of their country that we rarely visit. Do you want to go?’ God bless that morning tee time!

So I went. I took a very talented cameraman, Mark Filmer (perfect name for a cameraman) and we were off to the heart of the country. We worked our way through some of Mexico’s colonial treasures and trundled across the Sierra Madre. We got hung up at train stations and bus depots and tried to stick to an impossible schedule while sometimes jamming our equipment into Volkswagen Beetles or into packs atop donkeys. And through it all we saw the kinds of things that you’ll never see if you never pull your toes out of the sand and emerge from under the palapa.

And there is no doubt that it spoiled me a bit. So what I am left with is a kind of sentimental slide show that flickers across my field of vision and reminds me of how much I miss the place. Here’s a random collection of images that reside in my mind’s eye. If you’ve got an ounce of sense you’ll get off the damn beach and seek some of this for yourself.

I see a dark, empty street around midnight in Los Mochis where Mark Filmer is able, somehow..without a single shred of Spanish…to persuade a group of teenagers in a nearby park to turn down their car radios so we can get a perfectly quiet audio track.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=mexico+city&iid=208719″ src=”0205/2c379785-df72-4d77-ba03-cf11c76664e5.jpg?adImageId=12751852&imageId=208719″ width=”234″ height=”350″ /]  I see an elderly woman devotedly crawling on bloodied knees toward the main alter in a basilica in the colonial town of Tlaxcala.

I see a hoard of gleeful, uniformed schoolchildren running rampant in the subterranean confines of the Tepanapa pyramid in Cholula.

I see a wedding party of bride, groom, a local band and people holding live turkeys walking a dusty country road somewhere outside a village near Oaxaca and I remember the unflinching hospitality as they invited both of us, complete strangers, to tag along.

I see the two of us bouncing along while sitting atop a pile of propane tanks in the back of a pickup truck trying to make our way from one remote mountain village to another because the train simply didn’t show up that day. I remember wondering if we would hear our final boom.

I see countless smooching couples in countless Mexican parks and zocalos. I remember feeling a tad envious of all that unbridled latin lust.  I can’t recall how many times my head damn near spun off trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of some passing Mexican beauty. I remember their eyes. Boy, do I remember their eyes!

I see myself crawling on a ledge of the Copper Canyon, looking straight down into an unbelievable void, feeling a little weak at the knees and hoping that Filmer would hurry up and get the shot before I just pitched, like a flailing Wallenda, into the bottomless crevasse.

No guts, no glory

I see a man standing in the centre of his family cave near the mountain town of Creel. It was his father’s cave before him..and his grandfather’s cave before that. I remember thinking that it was a damn cosy cave as caves go and then wondering, coming where I came from, if I had any right to feel that way at all.

A third generation cave near Creel

There is much, much more of course and I have two documentaries that I can watch anytime to refresh my memory. But I don’t need them. I prefer to play it in my mind rather than watch it on a screen. It somehow seems a little purer that way.

Did I eventually make it to the beach? Oh sure. We took our two sons to Cancun and watched them disappear into a swirling haze of tequila volleyball tournaments and nightclub foam parties. That wasn’t Mexico to me..but try telling that to the kids.

Then there is Puerto Vallarta which I have found to be a suitable blend of both the old and the new. When we go we stay right in the old town and one night ,on that last visit, long after my wife had gone to bed, I remember standing on a hillside balcony and watching a massive thunderstorm knock the entire Bay of Banderas into blackness. It doesn’t happen that often, they say. Within a few minutes there were thousands of candles being lit in the windows below. And I had to smile because it was another moment. Another gift. Mexico always fills me up whenever I’m feeling low.

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A postscript. Mark Filmer died of lymphoma a few years back. We had shot five documentaries together. Overall, he was the best cameraman I’d worked with in more than thirty years of broadcasting. And he was a damn fine travelling companion too. I guess you’ll have to take my word that everything I say happened in Mexico really happened because the only other guy who can confirm it is gone. I miss him a lot.

Filmer, the filmer, at the Copper Canyon


4 Responses to “Missing Mexico”

  1. Mr. Froehlich Mr. Gerry Sir, how civilized we have become. It’s too good to be true.

    Like you i love Mexico for all the right reasons because it is so sophisticated, deep and with it. No more need to be said

  2. An excellent piece… I’ve never been there but you painted such vivid images that I saw them (or a version of them) in my mind.

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