It is a fact that when you live in an exotic locale, your friends may tend to think that you too are on vacation and have nothing better to do than entertain them and show them around. But our e-mails to friends about the raffish nature of our Mexican paradise have the effect of making our roster of visitors self-selecting. Those who generally take their winter vacations in a Caribbean luxury hotel are not the ones who will show up here first. Those who do decide to take the cobblestone pledge are a hardy bunch, and sensitive to the fact that we are living here, not merely taking the waters. My wife and I are busy overseeing the house construction and our other activities. Our guests are welcome in the second bedroom, but, with all respect and friendship, we are busy making a life here.
So we are visited first by my sister, Michele. She flies in one bright January day and stays for a week. When I drive her into the village, she gets out, coughs up a bit of dust, looks around and says, "Hey, this is great!" She is the kind of guest we adore, a roll-with-the-punches explorer. When the lights go off the first evening that she arrives, she is the one to find a candle stuck in a tequila bottle, and when I cannot find a match, Michele improvises: "Hmmm...gas stove....there must be a pilot light." When Thia has to do evening volunteer work, Michele and I go off to fish dinners. The fact that we are here, in this transformative period, leads to long brother-sister conversations about topics we haven't generally gotten around to Stateside.
"Hey, big brother," she says to me one afternoon at our secret beach. "It's beautiful down here, but not everyone in the family understands why you two chose to do this. This is a lot more basic, and there are lots more hassles, than the New York crowd would tolerate at this age."
I say that is true, life is in many ways less easy. The everyday things of life take more time and energy. But, I tell her, I think often about my general state of mind in the States. "I would take it all for granted," I say, "and complain about the little stuff. A long line at the deli, and I'd stomp off irritated. No taxis in the rain, and I'd get nuts."
I tell her about the power outages that occur regularly. In the States, I'd call Con Edison and demand to know what the hell was going on, when the hell the power would be back on, and hang up mad. Here, when the village goes dark, candles flicker on, and the dark hills sparkle in pin lights. Nobody gets upset, neighbors walk in the moonlight, candles are brought out to the cafe tables, and if anyone asks—few do—nobody can really say when they'll come back on. The flash point for irritation is different in Mexico: there is nothing that can be done, so you let things happen at their own pace.
"You know, Miche," I say, "here, there are so many inefficiencies, you're grateful when something goes right—as it usually does, by another route. Things always have a way of eventually working out in Mexico. So on average you end up happy more of the time."
"Pretty deep," she says, but she knows what I mean.
Excerpted from Gringos in Paradise by Barry Golson. Copyright © 2006 by Barry Golson. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc. More on this book at www.gringosinparadise.net.