Today has been a glorious day. It started out on the iffy side but my run out in the valley mid-morning quickly changed my point of view. What is it that makes running in just shorts and a pair of sandals so positively liberating? I don’t know, but somehow to run half-naked through the totally unpopulated agriculture valley that lies east of town is something that makes my heart positively sing with happiness.

Of the four people that I saw on my run, one was a cowboy who was managing the grazing aspects of at least 50 head of cattle. He rode his horse across the waist deep canal to say hello and introduce me to his horse. He was the real deal. One tough son of a bitch. And I got to pet his stallion. (Side story: Have you ever watched a stallion piss? It redefines the concept of intimidating. It’s like watching a high pressure fire hose discharge. I suspect that there is a lesson there. Through the act, the horse is reminding the cowboy just who the real heavyweight is.)

I got up before sunrise and made myself a cup of coffee using the same cheap old plastic Melitta coffee drip. The coffee beans I buy are 1 part dark roast (Veracruz) mixed with 2 parts medium roast (Chiapas) and ground to espresso fine. It adds up to an extremely fine cup of coffee. There are better beans and as good or better cups of coffee in other places in the world; Indonesia, Jamaica, and Vienna come to mind. But I am in Mexico and I enjoy these local beans brewed the simple way, made sufficiently strong and drunk black. And for me that’s a good cup of coffee. It reminds me of being asked from time to time which country has the most beautiful women and the answers are simple. First, the country with the most beautiful women is just where ever I happen to be at that moment. And if pressed, the other (real) answer is Brazil.

Black coffee, a quiet house, and a keyboard. Heaven on earth. I am back working seriously on my second novel. 50,000 words and counting. It will end up at about 65-70,000 words. But it’s a variation of the old 80/20 rule at work. The last 20% of the work will take 80% of the real effort. As I sit here at my work table it is a given that running, cocktails/meal-planning, and writing are my three amigos. Sandal-making is a very important part of my life here in Mexico too but the first three are my pole-stars.

And on my run today I got to thinking [again] about poverty. And I recollected my first trip to Mexico City in ’88; the year that my daughter was conceived. I needed a break. My ex was pregnant and couldn’t travel so I concocted a mini-break where I drove from Corpus Christi to Laredo. Walked across the border and got on a train for the 700 mile/24 hour trip to Mexico City. The last 3-4 hours was early morning rolling through the unending slums of the approach into central Mexico City. The poverty as seen through the grimy window of my train car was apocalyptic. People living out of over turned rail cars. Indiscriminate trash fires burning everywhere. Single 40 watt light bulbs illuminating landscapes straight from the nightmares of Bosch. Skinny, naked kids playing in the filth. My mind recoiled in horror.

As the sun was rising I opened my cabin door to check on the availability of breakfast. At the same time a woman was emerging from another cabin presumably to do the same thing. In all my naivete I blurted something to the effect ‘How can so many people manage being so poor’?

She looked at me with a mixture of amusement, scorn and pity and said, ‘They have their fiestas. Their families. The church.’ And before walking away not wanting to waste anymore breath on this gringo fool said, ‘They don’t know they are poor.’

Mexico City has changed a lot in the last 25 years and those slums are long gone. But what that woman said to me has stayed and I’ll probably remember the truth of her words until the day I die.

I’ve been in Mexico something like 20 months now. And by N. American standards most of the people that live around me are poor. Obviously not dirt poor like those people I saw all those years ago but still poor. Poor in the sense that they don’t take vacations, own automobiles, and in some cases possess only the bare necessities.

But [again] what is poverty? These neighbors, these simple Mexican people are happy. Truly happy. You put my extended family in the same house for a simple Thanksgiving dinner and it’s only a matter of hours before someone gets cross or some unpleasantness happens. Yet these people somehow manage to work side by side for years on end, 6-7 days per week, 10-12 hours a day and chat away happily with each other like they’ve only just met. I want someone to explain that to me.

These people by far and away are my preferable companions. I eat at Maria’s 3-4 times a week in the Mercado. Her mother at the age of 83 still works. In the Mercado. Selling newspapers. I hope that I can spend the next 20 years here. Because there are so many things that I still do not understand.

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