Dating Old Mexico Style – El Paseo

by Judy King 6. July 2010 20:34

plaza-papel The first dating experience for many Mexico teens is the paseo – that’s the traditional Sunday evening pastime  when young people stroll in concentric circles around the plaza.

Under the watchful eyes of extended family members, boys walk in one direction, and girls the other. When a young man sees a girl he likes, he drops away from his friends to walk with her (and often her gaggle of giggling girlfriends).

From Paseo to Golden Anniversary and more…

people-bench I met Guadalupe, a Mexican tour guide, 20 years ago on my first trip to Mexico. He explained to our group of tourists how he had met his wife in a 1937 paseo in his village. When he saw her walking with her sisters, he bought a flower. On the next round when he passed it to her, then his anxiety began.

Tradition at that time decreed that if she kept the flower, the next time they met he could switch directions and walk with her. If she returned the flower to him, he would be rejected in full view of most of his relatives and other residents of the village. With shaking knees and sweating hands he circled the plaza and was delighted to see her smile – a smile that he said still warmed his heart more than 50 years later.

Walking

I like knowing the origin of terms – in Spanish as well as English. I was puzzled when I heard folks using the verb andar (to walk) as we would say to date.

su-domingo plaza-snacks

Su Domingo

Domingo (Sunday) is the big day to be out, doing, walking, going to the movie, having a snack on the plaza after evening Mass, or just having fun. With Friday evening or Saturday pay days, Sunday is also a big shopping day – the day to buy the basic and staples for the week. There’s another interesting use of a Spanish word that accompanies these Sunday traditions. Su Domingo (literally your Sunday) translates to mean “your allowance.”

 plaza-sunsetDating customs

Fathers exercise far greater control over their families (especially daughters) than residents and visitors might guess from their first view of the young girls’ choice of outfits, jewelry, and makeup. Many girls are still not allowed to date until their 15th birthday and their quinceañera (coming out party).

Even then fathers want to meet and approve of young suitors and set strict curfews, even for daughters still living at home in their 20s. Girls are expected to see their novios (boyfriends) at home and to spend a great deal of their dating time in the family living room surrounded by aunts and uncles, siblings, grandparents, and a blaring TV set.

Eventually parents permit a little private time on the stoop – but with other family members just inside. We spot couples who have eased off the stoop and down the street a bit be shielded by a dark doorway or a drooping tree for a few caresses and kisses.

Mexico, the Land of Contrasts

In nearly every facet of life here in Mexico, there are contradictions to the typical traditions and contrasts in the way life works compared to the way folks want it to be. Teenagers are pretty much the same everywhere; girls here sneak out or slip off from the family just as they do up north, in direct opposition to the rules and desires of their parents.

And…the outcome can be just as disappointing and difficult – teen pregnancy. there seem to be just two solutions – a teenage marriage, or the family stepping up to support the girl and her child.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Horse Puppies and Other Reasons to Love Lakeside

by Judy King 22. June 2010 09:21

camino-real It’s wonderful living in a rural environment  and at Lake Chapala, spring and early summer still means the arrival of baby animals.

I think that the profusion of animals with their wobbly new offspring was one of the endearing things that increased my intense feelings of “coming home” in the middle of Mexico – especially since home had once been small-town Iowa.

In that Iowa farmhouse, I stood washing dishes while watching the little calves with their mothers on the hill in the pasture across the gravel road.

The baby pigs lived with their moms in the farrowing house for a time, and then were turned out into a large lot with the clanging automatic feeders out beside the barn. (They were less endearing when they squeezed under the fence and rooted and snacked on the tender, sprouting plants in my vegetable garden.)

Even the mama quail got into the act, parading their family of little ones across the freshly plowed and planted garden and out toward the machine shed.

goats1 goats2

It was one of my own little offspring – about 40 years ago – who coined the phrase “horse puppies.” The origin is obvious – we thought the logic brilliant.

I suppose it is a lot easier for a toddler to call all of the baby animals “puppies” than to learn the whole range of correct baby animal names: calves, colts, piglets, kids, etc.  So while we didn’t encourage baby talk, we adopted cow puppies, horse puppies, pig puppies, and goat puppies.  The family adopted the phrase – one I still catch myself using out of habit, all these years later.

horse-bathThe Horse Puppies Made Me Do It…

So was it just the appeal of farm animals – horses, cattle, goats, pigs and chickens that attracted me to a new life at Lake Chapala?

Well, the animals, small corn fields and fruit trees were certainly was part of it – but I think that was only part of the whole that caused me to fall in love so completely, so thoroughly and deeply with life here.

Daily life here at Lakeside sparked a series of warm memories – the daily scenes here reminded me of how life was in rural American back in the early 1950s.

I think the combination of the simpler way of life, the connection of the extended family. the constant attraction and stream of entertainment in the town plaza all caused me to feel so strongly that I was  “coming home” in spite of the cobblestone streets, profusion of fiercely colored tropical flowers and surrounding ring of mountains.

The Way It Was

There were a multitude of experiences that played into that feeling and into those remembered images. Some have changed little in the 20 years I’ve been here. The Mexican families walking together to church or the plaza on warm evenings continue to remind me of being “uptown” on Saturday night back when Iowa farmers didn’t yet have electric service and needed to come to town on Saturday night to buy groceries, get haircuts, and “do their trading.”

baby-vertcal I grew up in a small town; on Saturdays we parked my grandparents’ car as near as possible to the intersection of Broadway and Main so my mother, grandmother and aunt could sit in the car and “watch the people go by.”

Where did the music originate? It was always there -- Sousa marches, happy late 40s big band, and polkas – there must have been a juke box outside somewhere  on the sidewalk.

Dad and grandpa leaned against the wall between Kelly’s Jewelry store and the barber shop and shoe shine place, or sat on the hood of the car, smoking and visiting with old school friends, customers, and business contacts.

Meanwhile my uncle sold popcorn from his sidewalk gas-powered cart and I ran and played in the courthouse lawn, browsed in the dime store, and poured over the enormous display of penny candy at the Candy Kitchen next to the Ritz Theater.

The Way It Is

Have you visited the plaza in your nearest Lakeside village on Sunday nights?  Sunday in Ajijic is the old Saturday in the Midwest. So much so that a child’s allowance here is called, in Spanish, su domingo (your Sunday).

Folks of all ages still stream to the plaza, all cleaned up and with hair slicked back. Children run and play among the walkways, pelting each other with cascarones (eggshells filled with confetti). The old folks sit on benches and visit with old friends, relatives and neighbors. The teens and young marrieds either walk in the paseo (strolling around the plaza – the boys in one direction and girls in the other) or dance to the band in the plaza kiosko (bandstand). 

The ambiance and intent of these experiences are nearly the same – yet the scenes unfolded 1800 miles and a lifetime apart – reminding many of the expats who venture into the real life of central Mexico of home, and of growing up 50 or 60 years ago.

Ahh…it’s good to have come home – especially when home means I can see a horse being bathed on a sidewalk in the middle of Ajijic while her horse puppy looks on and then go to the plaza on Sunday night, sit on a bench, listen to the music and watch the people go by. 


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Celebrating Palm Sunday

by Judy King 26. March 2010 15:06

palm-sunday-street-alfalfa Mexico is renowned for local interpretations of the Easter events in the form of Passion Plays which portray the last days of Christ as reported in the Bible. The oldest, largest and best known of these meaningful productions at Lakeside which takes place each year in Ajijic.

Cuaresma (Lent), the 40 days before Easter, is a time for Christians to meditate and prepare for the Easter season with its story of death and rebirth. Those 40 days are also the final countdown for the hundreds of Ajijic's townspeople who work each year to produce the elaborate sets for the numerous scenes and days' events that comprise Ajijic's Passion Play.

With the beginning of Lent on Miercoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday), the building of props and sets, the sewing of biblical robes and Roman cloaks, and the rehearsals gather steam with an eye on Semana Santa (the week before Easter Sunday) when the last days and steps of Christ are portrayed through the village and onto the mountainside.

palm-sunday-JesusBlessing the Palms, The Palm Sunday Procession, and Mass 
Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the annual Passion Play begin on a high note with the joyful celebration of Domingo do Ramos (Palm Sunday). Descriptions of Palm Sunday in the Bible tell of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem in a triumphant procession surrounded by His friends while believers follow, singing hosannas and waving palms (and the branches of the fields).

palm-sunday-people On the Sunday before Easter (March 28 in 2010), artisans gather near the entrance of most churches to weave fresh palm fronds into a variety of clever designs from billowing sails, to crosses and even the Virgin of Guadalupe.

In preparation of the procession, townspeople all along Ajijic’s street that runs from the main church to Six Corners (Parroquia and Hidalgo) carefully clean and sweep the street, dampen it with water and then cover the surface with a blanket of fresh alfalfa.

The palms are blessed during the day’s Masses and at Six Corners before the late afternoon procession (beginning about 6:15 p.m.) in which villagers carry the palms, branches of fresh rosemary (for remembrance) and chamomile (representing the purity of Mary and the light of Christ) from Six Corners to the Templo de San Andrés (the large church near the plaza).

At the head of the procession, beginning the week-long traditional Passion Play, is Jesus riding a donkey, surrounded by a group of men dressed as his disciples.

The processions arrives at Ajijic’s main church just in time for an outdoor 7 p.m. Mass in the church atrium.

palm-sunday-ponche

An Old Fashioned Sunday Evening in the Plaza

Later villagers gather in the plaza for an old-time Sunday evening, Ajijic style. Lining the plaza are food booths decorated with palm fronds and tissue paper flowers – reminiscent of plaza celebrations 50 or 100 years ago. Area residents sell old fashioned, homemade treats including arroz con leche (rice pudding), home toasted seeds and nuts, jamaica (a cool beverage made from the dried flowers of the red hibiscus), ponche (Mexican punch) and a great deal more.

Organizers try to keep this truly an old timey event. Most of the treats are served without benefit of plastic cups and plates, and the music flowing from the band in kiosko (gazebo) is beautifully unamplified.

There are other old traditions, too. Children and teens delight in impromptu battles with cascarones (egg shells filled with confetti) flying across the plaza and breaking and showering friends with confetti.

palm-sunday-lotteria There’s a table for children to win old time wooden toys while playing Mexico’s delightful version of Bingo where pictures of common objects and people replace the letters and numbers on the card that must be filled.

As darkness falls, the villages young people, and those who are young at heart, begin the very traditional Mexican paseo (stroll around the plaza).

The boys and young men walk clockwise around the plaza while the groups of giggling girls stroll in the opposite direction. Occasionally a young man catches the eye and approval of a girl and falls out of formation to walk the rest of the evening with her. This explains why the Spanish word for walk (andar) is used  to describes a couple that is dating!

In the heavily not-too-distant old times, many couples met and started their romances and relationships in the Sunday evening paseos, under the watchful eyes of their parents, godparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors. In those days young men presented the object of their attention with a flower purchased at the plaza.  If the girl kept the flower, he knew she was interested. If she returned it the next time they circled the square, he’d been rejected in full view of the entire community.

Watch for our next post on Monday which outlines more Semana Santa (Holy Week) traditions and tips.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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