Sunday, March 9, 2008

Guadalajara Bound

Since we clearly have not been doing enough traveling, Mary and I decided to head off for Mexico this weekend. Such is our busy life that we actually flew in separately from opposite sides of the country; she's been in Oregon for more corporate veterinary brainwashing, and I was back in Philadelphia. (although only a day after getting back from Texas, having visited a friend in Austin after SAM.)

The occasion is that Mary's identical twin sister Anne lives in Guadalajara, where she works and teaches at a campus of the Tecnológico de Monterrey. She lives with her boyfriend Roi (a native tapitio, or Guadalajaran) in a huge shambling building in the center of the city, shared with like ten other housemates and a constant stream of late-night parties. We've been having a fabulous time. Yesterday she and Roi bought us tickets for the "Tequila Express," a tourist train that takes you to a historic hacienda that still makes Herradura Tequila, and where you have lunch and watch a carefully constructed stream of mariachi, traditional dancing, and charreria. And, of course, all the tequila you can drink, as had been true on the train, the tour, and again on the train home. By the time the train was coming back to Guadalajara, our well-lubricated car was having a fine time harassing the musicians who kept tromping up and down the aisles, and forcing unwary bathroom-searching gringos into impromptu dance-offs. Good times.

Actually, it really was fun. I'd love to know more about how the spectacle we saw was put together. Mariachi is the supposed national music of Mexico, and legitimately so--all of the Mexican tourists, who came from all over the country (they did a kind of state-by-state roll call at lunch) knew the words to every song. But one of the points of the Tequila express is an attempt by the Jalisco tourism folks to kind of re-regionalize this music, which originated in Guadalajara and is a local pride sort of thing. Similarly, a video we all had to watch at the tequila factory made much of the fact that Mexico's national drink comes from Jalisco ("God's gift to the world!"), and there is a lot of rhetoric involving Guadalajara being the most Mexican part of Mexico. Part of this is that Guadalajara is a famously conservative city, very wealthy and long strongly influenced by the church. So I guess it is the same project that has been going on for a long time in Mexico, that is common to any kind of nationalist project: trying to control what cultural traditions, and therefore which people, get to become the national image. It was interesting to see this show just a week after being at the Society for American Music conference, where there was a big showcase of norteño, or conjunto, music at the banquet. Two weeks ago I could not have differentiated it from mariachi, of course, but norteño openly embraces the stylistic diversity and rapid changes that happen in any border area, and the result is a far grittier music that didn't seem aligned with a nationalist project of any kind. (Said authoritatively by someone who knows nothing about this. Side note: how sad is it that anytime we academics talk about something only a tiny bit outside of our expertise, we get all nervous and cautious about saying anything?)

The next day, after a breakfast of chilequiles at Lullio, their local hangout, Anne and Roi plopped Mary and I on a tandem bicycle they own. We spent a cheerful hour pedaling up and down Avenida Vallarta, which the city closes down for cycling on Sundays. I suspect we were quite a sight.

Back to the dissertation now!

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