Thursday, February 10, 2011

Unexpected Mexican Talents


When we buy a certain amount of dry beans, or potatoes, or fresh pork, the vendor measures out the product into a plastic bag and then ties a knot to close the bag. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but when we get the stuff home we often have difficulty untying that knot. Mexican women, in particular, can take the tiniest stub of plastic and turn it into something impenetrable. Twisties are unknown in the mercado. It's just one more thing for a vendor to buy, and they don't need it when there's a perfectly good little bit of plastic for a knot.


Whether it's the man in the parking lot whistling to help you back out of the parking space or the teenager on the street, Mexican men are experts at the piercing, ear-splitting, through-the-teeth whistle. In the Morelia Wal-Mart parking lot each row of cars is attended by whistlers, and it's expected that you will tip them a few pesos for their (unnecessary) assistance. It's hard to make a living in Mexico and people do what they can to make money, so we usually comply.

A young man who wants to catch the attention of the departing car that was supposed to take him home will produce a shrill whistle that could wake the dead and split the ear drum. No need for a plastic whistle or even fingers--just through the teeth. And the car stops, and the young man gets home.

The transitos (traffic police) stand on busy street corners, whistle in mouth, creating a variety of music-like sounds to indicate when traffic should proceed (or not). Each one has developed a unique style, and I suppose if you lived long enough here you would be able to recognize individual patterns.

Dicing Vegetables in the Mercado

This may not seem like an unusual skill, but try it without a cutting board. All day long women sit on short stools or upturned buckets, dicing tomatoes and onions for salsa.. They hold the tomato in one hand and cut down toward the palm one way, then 90 degrees in the other direction, finally cutting horizontally so that little cubes of tomato tumble into the bowl. Same with a bunch of cilantro to add to the mixture--held firmly in one hand while the knife slices through the stalks, just missing by a whisker the thumb below. The knife has to be sharp enough to cut cleanly, but after years of training women know just how far down to go without injuring themselves. We've tried this at home with absolutely no success. I guess we're just too worried about the opportunity for blood and what my mom used to call "a little extra protein."

1 comment:

  1. More sharp observations, especially the onion cutting. ;-)

    One of my favorite scenes is watching the wrappers in Mexico City's Pastelería Ideal tie up purchases.

    Don Cuevas