Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17TH, 1999 – CHIAPAS (CONT.)

I'm in a hotel bathroom. There's a funny design that's typical for the region. The faucet spout has an activating level right in the middle, which you have to push to the side for water to come out.

The church off the main square is just called "The Cathedral", or "San Cristobal Cathedral", although there are other churches in this town. The main square has a number of international restaurants. This place feels somewhat touristy to me -- lots of shops in a five-block radius. But outside that radius (especially 10 blocks away) things start to deteriorate.

I go in a hotel restaurant for an early lunch. I order tacos de pollo. The restaurant is 30'x20' with exposed wooden beams above and a bar to one side. The waiter is in a ghastly pink striped vest with a red bow tie and slacks.

The walls contain more of these rounded arches that I've come to expect from Spanish architecture. The top of the wall is stucco yellow, the bottom stucco red, with an uneven variance to the color that is probably supposed to suggest an older time (back when dyes and paints had uneven color!) The paintwork shows the brushstrokes, too. It varies from dark yellow to whitish yellow.

Piano music plays on the loudspeaker. The chatter of people and the smell of cigarette smoke. Paintings along one wall of the Indians. The menu contains many touristy things, including "ensaladas", "hamburguesas", "sandwiches", "de la parrilla", and "super nachos".

Next to me two staff are eating lunch. One is a 25-year-old bellman, hunched over his plate. He has a modern hair style, parted in the middle, and mulatto (mottled) hands, but not face. He uses his hands to eat. He takes a soft taco and wipes up the food.

Weird -- the tacos de pollo I ordered seems to be deep-fried. Small tacos rolled up with feta cheese & shredded lettuc and hot salsa. The feta cheese (if that's what it is) is a little melted and has a potent texture and taste. The salsa is spicy but not too hot. The fried tacos are not too greasy. The chicken inside is shredded.

I get good at saying to waiters, "uno mas", which means "one more". He brings me another bottle of Sprite, a glass bottle with a pop lid. I don't think I've seen any cans of soda in Mexico. He fills my glass before setting the bottle down.

The "super nachos" look a little strange. There are cut up peppers on them, making it hot! They have bean paste, not refried beans, but whole beans. Also chips are thinner than we're used to in the USA. There's a lot of "stuff", and not so much "chips" (the opposite of the usual USA formula).

While I'm waiting for my bill, and old wrinkled guy with a tan hat and tan jacket walks in with a big frown. He looks discouraged. He stands at the entrance and meekly shows a "roll" of what look like lottery tickets. Patrons ignore him. He shuffles out. It's a reminder that, even in this posh Spanish-style restaurant, the poor are out there. We can't forget them, even here. Lunch is only 49 pesos for the two sprites, tacos and nachos.

The weather is not hot, but not cold. There's a warm sun, but it's also windy, causing a weird contrast as I walk into and out of shadow, and into and out of shelter. There are ominous black clouds above, blotting the sun.

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