A View From the North Shore 1959-60

A View From the North Shore 1959-60

Before Luis returned to Mexico City, he brought me to a remote beach outside Acapulco called Pie de la Questa according to my Journal. Here he showed me some thatched covered hammocks open to the breeze. Nearby the surf tumbled ashore with a vibrating thump. “For fifty cents a day you can stay here and sleep in the hammock at night. This will keep you off the sand. Strange creatures crawl in the sand at night. The farmer has a mosquito net for you at night if you decide to stay. Use the net. You do not want malaria. The local farmer owns the hammocks and for a few cents will sell you coconuts, eggs, maybe a chicken for a special occasion. You are not afraid to kill a chicken are you?

“With your fishing line you can use some meat for bait to catch red snapper, sea bass, sharks, turtles. Don’t fool with a local woman unless you want to get married. Don’t fool with a married local woman unless you want to get chopped into fish bait. These people will think that you are a rich American at first. You have to make it clear that you are not a Gringo. Do not wear your watch. You are not rich. You are from Canada. You are a poor artist writing a book about this great country of Mexico. They respect artists in Mexico, unlike Canada and the USA.

“Many people here don’t like Gringos---goes back a long way to wars with the USA. Try to learn the local dialect. By trying you will make many friends. Call the young people muchacho or muchacha. Call others amigo, amiga. They will like you. Teach the children English words. You are a good teacher. You have great patience except for the bullfight. Adios amigo.”

That was the advice that I accepted from Luis. My choice was between a short visit in a hotel bed or a very long visit in a seaside hammock where I could meet the people and learn from them. I was at ease asleep in my hammock because I found the sounds of the sea to be a comfort. Manuel the farmer assured me of my safety saying that there were no banditos here. Only in Mexico City did they thrive. But I slept with a borrowed machete that I used for cutting driftwood for my fire. I carried in my pack other essentials such as a multi- utility- knife, a small wooden bowl, a coil of thin wire, matches, a coil of nylon fishing line with hooks, bobbers, sinkers, and a bar of Life Boy soap that was wrapped in a face cloth plus some toilet tissue.

I called him Man to anglicize him. He was Manuel’s son of the same name. About 15 years old, he was a barefoot, handsome kid with a dark skin and a wide, white smile. He brought me coconuts and showed me how to open, drink and eat them. Man asked me to teach him English in return for free coconuts, eggs and a loaner frying pan and a pot for boiling water. But first, I asked why he wanted to learn English. Without any hesitation he said: “Meet rich Gringo girl on Acapulco beach. Marry her. Live happy life. Have many bambinos.”

I was willing to help fulfill his Mexican dream. That’s why I agreed that he should visit each morning and I would begin his English lessons. A fast learner, Man was counting in English up to 25 when little brothers and sisters began to visit with him and listened attentively to the lesson. They learned even faster than Man and soon they all could count to 100. Each morning I let the advanced students draw the numbers in a lateral line in the sand. Then I would let them walk in pairs beside each number and recite it as they viewed it. An advanced student could teach a new student in this way and learning took place at their speed and level.

Margarita, a tiny sweetheart in bare feet wanted to learn a Gringo song. “Margarita had a little lamb” was the first that they mastered. They were confused over the line, “Its fleece was white as snow” They understood ‘white’ but not ‘snow’. And I was just as confused trying to explain ‘snow’ to people who had never seen it. Then followed Christmas songs like Jingle bells and simple other songs like “Jesus loves me yes I know.” These lyrics were printed into the sand as well and after they learned them in English I had them teach me the words in Mexican. They laughed at my mistakes but they loved my attempts to learn what they could teach me.

They tried to teach me the Mexican national anthem as best they knew it and we sang a chorus of it together every day. Other kids joined the group and soon I had 15 students. They learned the alphabet, reciting it in unison and then singing it, concluding with,“Now I’ve said my ABC’s. Tell me what you think of me.” And that is when I said, “ Buena muchachas and buena muchachos.”

Then they drew the alphabet in a lateral line in the sand and recited the letters as they walked the line. One advanced student could teach a new student in this way and learning took place at their speed and level.

Soon we added O Canada, where everyone is standing on guard freezing their gumbos in a blizzard. Frozen solid we stand on guard for thee ad nauseam. When my kids asked if everyone stood on guard in Canada I knew it was time for a quickie revision of the words. I kept the same music without the sexism of the Mexican and Canadian anthems. Thus we sang a mini Rossi version.

Our Canada, the great north strong and free
Vast open lands, kissed by 4 great seas.
We love you so Dear Canada
We love you so today.
We’ll love you so Dear Canada
Until our final days.

The biggest challenge was the American anthem, a pleasant tune based on an old English drinking song but with the most confusing, archaic words in desperate need of a simplified upgrade. In teaching the Star Spangled Banner I explained an old story that little Jose from Mexico visited his cousin in California and together they went to see a baseball game. Before the game began all the people stood up and looked at little Jose and asked him, “Jose can you see?” That question became the first line of the our Star Spangled Banner and all the Americans continue to sing it to this day. Americans are a very friendly people if you treat them as equals. In this way we sang three anthems each day and yes, everybody was singing,” Jose can you see? not “Oh say can you see?”

But the words to the Star Spangled Banner were so difficult that I created a simple version for beginners or for people in a hurry.
I tried it out on my muchachas and muchachos and they preferred my version. But the kids were sad that Jose was not part of this new song. To the original tune we sang my new 6-line version:

Can you see it at dawn
Our flag and our hope?
Midst thunder of cannon
The fire and smoke?
The Star Spangled banner forever shall be
America’s flag, the land of the free.

I explained that I was not a citizen of the USA. Many people call them Gringos. Some people think that the name Gringo came into use when the Americans were at war with Mexico. Their armies were camped on either side of the Rio Grande. At night the Mexican soldiers could hear the American troops singing songs around their campfires. One popular ballad of the day had a line in it that said:

“Back where the green grass grows, grows, grows. Back where the green grass grows.”

To Mexican ears this sounded like Gringos. Thereafter a nickname for people from The United States of America. That was one story. Then I told them that some people believe that Gringo comes from the Spanish word ‘griegas’meaning Greek often applied to foreigners. That was the story that I believed and that made me a Gringo as well because I was from Canada. I tried to teach the kids French but backed off with the difficulty that they had with the pronunciation of Je as in Je suis meaning I am. They have an ‘h’ sound as in Jai Lai. Basic English would have to suffice.

I liked the contact with students and the sharing of knowledge. The only “problem” was nipped in the bud when older girls arrived to learn and did not want to leave when the lesson was finished. They had reached puberty and wanted to help me with my daily chores. One girl wanted to cook for me. I had to politely send them on their way. I told them that I would see them next day to learn in English the names of birds and beasts. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There was no room for anger against a guy who slept alone in a hammock on an isolated beach with only a machete.

I caught, cleaned and ate a variety of fish. With my small coil of wire, I strung my gutted fish on this wire and over my fire. In this way I did not have to scale or behead the fish but rather pulled back the skin and scales from a toasted and tasty red snapper. That wire served as my clothesline as well and I regularly washed myself and my clothes in the salty pacific. But daily short rain showers kept most salt out of my clothes and rinsed from my body. I tried to time my bath in the ocean just minutes before a rain shower. To this day, more than 50 years later, I still smile at those warm ocean baths and cool heavenly showers.

Man and manners. He wanted to know how to behave around Gringo women. I made some basic suggestions:
Do not blow your nose into the sand after swimming. Use a tissue or use the salt water.
Look her in the eye when you talk to her. Do not look at other women.
Wash everyday and wear clean clothes.
Don’t pounce. She will let you know when she wants to be intimate and pounced. Be gentle.
Be polite. Say “Por favore - Please”
If she gives you a gift, say “Thank you.”If she wants to send you gifts say “Muchas gracias.”
Do not pretend to be what you are not.
Have an address for her to contact you and for you to contact her.
Be very interested in older women rather than the young jail bait. Amen.

 


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