This is Part 2 of an ongoing series of correspondence from contributor Tampico John, who spent time in this busy city on the northern gulf coast of Mexico.|
In keeping with the contrasts of the rest of Tampico, the town square was both loud and quiet at the same time. The children insisted that I go there with them and I was happy to oblige.
On one side of the square there was noise and color, life all around. Brightly paint micros and taxis lined the curbside, some honking, others starting and stopping, pulling out into the road or angling sharply in. Passengers stepped off the buses, walking hurriedly in one direction or another. Street vendors were selling fresh fruit and juice in clear, plastic bags, their carts packed with cold, crushed ice. Others sold tacos or tortas (greasy sandwiches) with smoke from their sizzling stoves spiraling upward.
Everywhere there was movement, people shouting to each other, children running, holding hands together, laughing. A barefooted, ancient beggar in tattered rags sat in front of a bank with large clean windows. Inside, a clean-shaven, uniformed guard stood at attention, solemnly holding his long-barreled shotgun. On each side of the bank, men were coming in and out of the bars that sold Corona beer at an amazing 25 cents a bottle. Interspersed between the bars and the banks were far too many zapaterias and clothing stores with overcrowded racks of colorful dresses and blouses. This side of the square was confusion; here was the chaotic life of the downtown economy.
The other side of the square seemed to be on siesta. Here, a hushed silence hung in the hot and humid air, weighing and slowing down all signs of life. Here, the magnificent Catholic cathedral dominated the street, its two steeples towering far above everything. Its wings spanned the entire block and its wide doors were swung open, inviting in all to worship. The presence of the church on this side of the square was imposing. Here, there was very little activity.
Those in front of the church and the park inside the square seemed to move more slowly. A few older people sat on evenly spaced park benches facing the church. Some sat in pairs or groups of three and some sat alone, with only their canes. Those in groups spoke slowly and quietly, pausing often. Those alone seemed lost in thought. They all seemed to be waiting for something. A stray dog slept near the corner, either too hot or too tired to move. This side of the square seemed to be in slow-motion. It seemed safe, and this is the side of the square that I chose to sit on with the beautiful girl the children had earlier dragged me to meet.
For two blocks the niñas had tugged me, pushed me and literally danced around me as they led me by the hand and with their smiles and laughter to the Arteli's on the busy corner. Like other department stores in Tampico, this one had attractive young saleswomen dressed neatly (but not overly provocatively) at the head of every aisle. Because of the abundance of cheap labor (the girls make about $3 an hour), multinationals such as Clairol and Gerber are able to place a girl in every store where their products are sold.
The young woman I was brought to wore a tight navy blue skirt, a white blouse, and pumps (the others wore similar "uniforms"). I learned that she was the neighbor of the children and they had obviously embarrassed her. Nonetheless, she was friendly and somehow, though she spoke no English and I spoke no Spanish, we communicated enough for me to understand that I was to come back at 2pm when she received her break.
Although she was Mexican in every way, her father was Arabian and her mother Indian. This gave her a different look from the other exceedingly small women in Tampico. I fell in love with that look immediately and as we sat in the sweltering heat of the park, I thought that maybe she had an interest in me as well. But, this hope was based more on misunderstanding than fact. I did not yet understand that in Tampico, the lunch break lasts for two hours rather than one, as in the United States.
Accordingly, I grew more excited at my good fortune as the 2nd hour arrived, thinking that this beautiful Mexican girl was so attracted to me that she could not bring herself back to work! We finally made a date for that night. She was to call me at the Posada Tampico, a cheap but nice hotel ($20 per night) I was staying at. As we parted, I felt much more confident at my prospects for surviving in Tampico....
Our Story Continues in the next issue of the @migo! Newsletter...