Of course, living somewhere is vastly different from vacationing anywhere – nonetheless, I’m going to take a flyer here and say that if there is a culture in which I experienced a joyous compatibility, it was with the people of Greece. What was it I found so compelling there? So profoundly immediate, as if I’d lived there in another life and had returned home?
Greek hospitality is [literally] legendary; after all, they’ve been at it for more than 3,000 years. Yet for me, it went beyond the little kindnesses that put a traveler at ease, for I’ve found that wherever I’ve been lucky enough to travel. Yes. I am talking about a passion for life – the dancing, ‘Whoopa!’ shouting, Ouzo drinking, bouzouki playing, plate breaking kind of passion found in the poorest taverna in Athens, a village wedding on a decidingly not popular island (since I avoided the well traveled path), and in Greek-American nightclubs in Anywhere U.S.A.
Greeks are not quiet people. Despite their reputation for introducing rational thought to the Western Hemisphere – and god knows they’re rational, supremely political people – when their happiness breaks out it smashes the dishes. Somewhere in those twirling, stomping, dancing nights, in the wicked smiles at the grocery store during the day, in the winks and shrugs and world-weary sighs during long political discussions, I found souls unafraid to explode with joy.
I’m like that. I’m not quiet when I’m happy. I whoop. I dance. I pray the night will never end and if it must that I can go out of it like a roman candle. I’m loud and wild, Dionysian if you will, and I’ve always been that way.
So, it’s pretty much about temperament. That’s why I feel like I’ve come home when I’m in the company of Greeks – and, to each her own.
Mexican people, at least here in San Miguel de Allende, are a very different kettle of fish. Undoubtedly their expressions of joy are more colorful, in the literal sense of the word, than many nations, but their temperament, at least in public, is, in a sense, much more dignified. It is if they are aware that the eyes of the community are upon them. Even the teenagers, in my experience, hew to unspoken rules of propriety. The children do not run and shriek in public places. There is a distinctive gentleness in civic exchanges. There seems to me to be a sense of repression in the individual in favor of the community. And there is something a little dark.
I know I’m painting with a very broad brush but this is a blog, not an essay. If you’d like, continue with me.
Many, many expats express a love for Mexico’s spiritual and physical beauty. I’ve no reason to disbelieve them and it is above all in the surprising gentleness of the people here with which I agree with their affections. Yet, for me, there is such a religious overlay on the culture, which as a rationalist I cannot and do not appreciate, that I frequently find the people repressed, engaged as they are with endless religious celebrations which are, in essence, mournful.
Yes, there’s a beauty in them. Particularly when the kids take on the roles.
Ritual and tradition, almost everywhere, can be engaging for the sheer gravitas, so there’s an inherent beauty there. Mexico’s Day of the Dead contains that beauty.
And there’s the other river of culture that runs beneath Catholicism here. It’s celebrated in the light of day,
but even a cursory knowledge of history shows it as a religious system no less repressive toward the individual. There were few more orderly societies in which the individual remained in his or her place than the Aztecs. In my opinion it is one of the reasons the conquistadores were able to organize the colonized as quickly as they did. They killed the lords who weren’t up for sale and bought off the rest of the aristocracy, keeping the plantation system as it currently operated.
Perhaps you don’t find organized religion to be a repressive force. But god knows the Mexican nation has disagreed. Few countries have struggled as mightily to separate church and state. At least, on paper.
So, perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe what I find to be so curiously solemn about the Mexican people is that old plantation system. For as sure as I’m an irreligious gringa, the caste system is alive and well in Mexico and the jobless, vastly over represented by the landless indigenous, struggle to eat. In that struggle they coalesce in community groups, fight desperately for change, and yes … pray to god their children will make it.
In the last year I’ve heard many reports that Mexico is one of the happiest nations on earth. These are studies that severed the linkage between income and contentment, allowing Mexico to rise based on its commitment to family and culture. I have no doubt that Mexicans are happy – how else to explain their gentleness (and forbearance for foreigners like me who really don’t speak their language!)
Yet, for me, their happiness remains opaque. I have no doubt this is a failure in my character … still, I have some suspicions about other conditions that might contribute to what I see, in general, as a somber character. They’ll have to wait for my next entry.
PS – In case you’re wondering, I didn’t retire in Greece because I couldn’t afford it. Just. That. Simple.
And after all, this blog is a whole lot more about me than it is about either country.