Here & there: Instead of a ‘happy new year,’ have a ‘próspero año’

Lucha libre wrestler statue with traditional costume in Mexico, Aug. 14, 2018 | Photo by Marc Bruxelle/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — I found myself in Mexico twice in 2018. The first time: spring in Mexico City with its millions of people. The second: Christmas and New Year’s in Chacala, a coastal town so small it doesn’t even have a cash machine.

Spring in Mexico City was throngs of people and subways with pictographs, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Mayan and Aztec splendors, street tacos and five-star cuisine. And lucha libre wrestling.

My boys are still talking about the lucha libre. That may be in part because our family Christmas card this year was an elaborate mock wrestling flyer. But we only did that because the two original wrestling events made such an impact. I can almost still smell the pyrotechnics and cheap beer.

Christmas and New Year’s in Chacala was rolling surf and regular whale sightings, beans and rice for almost every meal, dirt roads and cobblestones, wild turkeys and stowaway scorpions, holas and buenas noches. And enormous, handmade fireworks.

My boys are still talking about the fireworks. That’s entirely because of the spectacle my husband made while purchasing the explosives from a make-shift stand in the center of town.

As the purveyor described his wares in increasing degrees of “mas fuerte” (read: stronger and stronger), my husband, who doesn’t really speak Spanish, would respond by miming various body parts being blown off.

Everyone was in stitches. Including the explosives man and the small crowd that gathered in the intervening minutes of my husband’s show.

Everyone except me. I am the Wendy to his Peter Pan and I was too busy making sure that only those less “fuerte” fireworks actually made it into our thin, blue plastic bag.

After surviving New Year’s Eve in Chacala, we loaded our group of 10 into a 15-passenger van with a manual transmission and low clearance for a country road trip. We drove north in search of less beach (and fireworks) and more town.

Enter the small, agricultural town of Zacualpan.

A white, stucco double arch welcomes visitors with a simple “bienvenidos” painted in blue. But it could easily say, “bienvenidos (welcome) to the heart of Mexico.” And it wouldn’t be false advertising.

A few kilometers beyond the arches, lies a simple town square, a faded yellow church at its east corner, surrounded by cobblestone streets filled with horses, tractors, small pickup trucks and what could quite possibly be the most perfect churro maker on earth.

Old men with weathered faces and working hands line the brightly colored benches peppered in the square, their cowboy hats nodding in conversation. Dark-haired children giggle and play on the sidewalks as their parents buy fresh tamales from a woman with a blue Igloo cooler. Dogs wander in the square and also along the second-story roofs of the surrounding buildings.

Becky’s, a florescent green painted dinner spot at the northwest corner of the square, advertises its offerings with a hand-painted menu on the outside wall. And if the wall isn’t convincing enough, Becky has the help of neighbor lady who calls out her endorsement of the place from her living room to passerbys who are clearly deliberating about the cuisine.

Kitty corner from the square on the southeast is a hole in the wall (literally the restaurant entrance is through a hole in a cement wall), that serves two items: pork tacos and pork quesadillas. And they are both incredible.

A rock band plays from the yellow church and a large, fake Christmas tree still stands erect directly across the street, a sentry to the Christmas now passed.

One of the older gentlemen in the town square runs to greet us upon our arrival, our gringo-ness obvious. He wants us to know something very important: “This is a good town. There are no banditos here.

But he doesn’t need to tell us that. We see it all around.

A few blocks off the town square, the surrounding fields encroach from two sides, kept at bay by the tireless tending. An antique, orange tractor lay in one yard of a residence just this side of the fields.

Its engine missing. Not because it rusted out. But because someone carefully harvested it for another machine, a new life.

The entire town is like this. Evidence of industriousness, hard work and care.

Mexicans wish each other “próspero año,” which means a prosperous new year. Not a happy one. There is an important distinction there. And it’s one that Zacualpan seems to value.

This town is simple. But it is prosperous and flourishing. It is alive and authentic and lives well in its own skin, its own stucco arches. That is a higher thing than happiness. Its truth.

So in that vein, may we all have a próspero año in 2019 and beyond.

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  • Chipper January 6, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    I served a mission in Mexico City and some surrounding states, but I spent most of my time in rural areas like Zacualpan. This article is beautiful, and very indicative of what much of Mexico is like. I miss it.
    Thank you for writing this, Kat. Prosperisimo Año.

  • KR567 January 7, 2019 at 11:05 pm

    This is America ! Happy New Year

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