Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Sexual Misbehavior

Sexual Misbehavior
The news continue to be full of accounts of sexual escapades of prominent men (who cares about the schlump down the street). Ditto from the women named and unnamed. We have entered an era—not of more or more widespread sexual activity, but of vastly more public revelations of such.
   Well, we can do without it. It may briefly change behavior, but not for long. Both men and women will soon revert back to the way things have been for a long time. What has changed is not actual behavior, except the degree of openness and ineffectual, if even genuine, disapproval. If there is any domain where “le plus ça change, le plus c’est la méme chose” makes sense, it is about human sexual behavior.
   What did change is the readiness of getting widespread publicity. It is of course no news that real privacy is a thing of the past: live with it, buddy!
   So, as I now think of it,--contrary to what I said before—I don’t think we are entering into a new era, but into a brief patch of greater openness. Yes, brief, I think. And then we’ll go back to la même chose.
   Change comes easily. Progress is hard.
When You Move Away

   It is well over five years ago that I left Pittsburgh for Mexico City to live with the Salazar family—consisting of my daughter, Ellie, who has been living in Mexico for well over a quarter of a century with her husband, Miguel. It’s been a remarkably smooth transition for me and I hope that it is not sheer insensitivity or self-deception that I don’t sense a notable strain in the Salazar family. The two grandchildren are now both off in college in the US, but we remain in touch via email and phone.
   But not surprisingly, I feel that my connection with friends and relatives in the North is fading. I remain in touch with some of my cousins, though not with all, and with a slowly decreasing number of friends. Email is the savior in all the successful cases; it would never happen if our connectedness depended on the telephone—in small part because of the fees, but mostly because it is invasive. If, in these days, staying in touch depended on writing and posting letters, forget about it.
    Still, the current situation is more favorable to continuing communication than the past has been, although there is clearly also a loss. To put it somewhat glibly: quality has to a degree yielded to quantity: most of us are in communication with more  people than our parents were and probably less intensively so than were our forebears. More thought went into handwritten or typed letters than tends to go into emails.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A New Period in American History

I am becoming convinced that we now at the beginning of a new chapter of American history. There is something, call it basic, about the confessions and/or revelations of male sex offenders and the to me remarkable revelations by a huge range of women of a large variety of unwanted—and worse—incidents, going back for a span of a great many years. I suppose that it is possible that after this spurt dies down, things will go back to what was normal squelching of such talk, but I very much doubt it. A closet has been opened and is very unlikely to be shut again. Historians like to divide the past into different “periods”; I think we have just entered a new one in American history and now must just wait for someone to give it a name that catches on. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

About Mexico

Mexico, My Third Country

   A few months ago, it was five years since I moved to Mexico City to live with my daughter and her family. She had settled here over a quarter of a century ago. When I told an old friend about my moving plans—a person of my vintage and also a German-Jewish refugee when in her teens—she emailed me, surely smiling, “emigrating again, I see.”
   Well, my friend was right. Five years away from the US (where I had lived for about 70 years, are sufficiently significant, even if it unlikely that this Mexican stint will add up to my original German stay, where I had lived until I was twelve. While, given my advanced age, I am dubious that my Mexican years will last that long. I have no intention of leaving , since I am happy in my Mexico City abode.
   Of course, repeat, of course it is different from anything that has gone before in my life. But when I take stock, much more of the difference from the years preceding can be attributed to geography than to age. Here I only want to mention a couple  of characteristics that are peculiar to the fact that I live in Mexico and on those that are not a matter of choice or discretion.
   Most obviously, the biggest difference from my past is the language. Yes, I had to learn another language moving from Heidelberg to New York, but boy! how different learning English in the 6th grade in New York from coping with a new language in my late eighties. I made very little special effort to acquire Spanish, since a little effort would not have gotten me very far, given the age of my brain.  Moreover, I haven’t had much of a motive to learn a new language, since I live with a family that is wholly bilingual, allowing me to be totally lax about learning Spanish. Thank you, my family!
   Now to a second structural difference between now and what has gone before, from what was familiar to me in the US. Let me get specific.  In the morning, around eight, Antonia brings my breakfast to my room, after I shout that she should come in, in response to her discreet knocking. In short, the Salazar family has a full-time, live-in servant—at this time an efficient young person.
   (Daughter) Ellie and her husband are more than full time musicians, both with orchestra posts and other concert gigs, both with many individual students and other teaching duties, as well as more sporadic chamber music performances, but quite a few of those.
   Such careers would call for household help in the US, but in Mexico, a society with distinct classes, nothing could be more normal than to have a full-time live-in servant. And nothing makes that more clear than the fact that middle class housing has clearly designated servant quarters.
   These two structural differences between my earlier existence and now just scratch the surface of what the change is like. But these two traits are even more fundamental than the difference in food and the like.

   But I should also mention the climate. You can’t beat it!  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sex or Power?

   The news is full of—overflowing with—accounts of middle-aged and older men engaging in sexual activities with (or to) women who had not consented to those acts. While I never thought that I was an “innocent,” I had no idea how widespread such behavior is. So I asked myself, why was I never tempted to engage in similar strong-arm behavior.
   I am doubtful that during my mature years I was less motivated to engage in sexual behavior than the next guy. I read pornography and had sex phantasies like, what I assume, any normal male—if there is such a creature.
   Why, then, did I not react with sympathy or at least empathy, to the revelations about a Weinstein or the many others who are now coming—or, more often, be made to come out—to confess about their “sinful” past?
   Let me get to the bottom line: because for most of them, the issue is not sex, but power. What all those stories have in common is that a “superior” male is imposing his ego on a “lesser” female.

   The relationship of men to women is a huge issue I won’t try to tackle here, but it is at the bottom of this latest squabble.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Eating in Mexico City

Mexico City as a Place to Eat

Mexico City is green, very much so, as I reported in the last post, though it is not often noted. I now want to point to another distinction that doesn’t get much publicity either. The city is really a  good place for eating.
  I don’t mean that it sports an unusual number of multi-star restaurants, though, for all I know (and I don’t), it does.  What I do mean is that wherever you turn there is a restaurant where you can eat a decent meal at a price you can afford.
   And the variety is great—from sausage-based to French. I’m no foodie, so I won’t try to evaluate this cornucopia, if that’s what it is, but I can make a few comments.
   I am talking about real restaurants, a great many of them, not just places where they dish out food. The establishments I have in mind present their customers with menus that vary a lot in size and types of dishes. A Japanese restaurant within easy walking distance ( it does not seem to employ a Japanese person) but it has a veritable book listing Japanese dishes with their Spanish translations; I’ve concentrated on their many imaginative salads, each a meal in itself. I have no ideal whether they resenble Japanese fare.
    Besides the restaurants I can walk to—especially Gipsy Fish, where I am a “regular,” in part because they have learned to produce a proper martini—we usually go out for one week end meal, with Miguel driving us there. I’ve never not liked any place we have gone to.
   None of them is “above” middle class, but what they all have is service, competent service. The people who wait on you are not bored students making a buck, but are (mostly) “professionals,” doing their thing for which, obviously, they have received training.
   While I have typically American reservations about the status of servants in a class society, I have to acknowledge that being taking care of competently and politely—and not ostentatiously—is most pleasing.
   I can’t be the only one whose ideology conflicts with his day-to-day preferences. I suppose that’s hypocrisy.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Green Mexico City
   You read that correctly. Yes, there is exceedingly heavy traffic, though it is orderly. Yes, the air is sometimes polluted, though not as much and as often as it used to be. These are features that are often written about. Not so what I will report here. My topic sentence, as it was called in my high school writing class, is this: Mexico City is the greenest large city I have ever visited—in the US and a sprinkling of countries around the globe.
   Start with trees: they are everywhere, mostly deciduous of species I haven’t tried to identify. That prevalence of trees, most of them mature, should not be surprising, since some years ago the city planted huge numbers of them in their fight against pollution.
   But those trees, while they are the bulkiest green patch on every view, are by no means the only green and not even the most eye catching. There are plantings everywhere you look, both private and public. And what I think to be most remarkable about both categories is the fact that both public and private plantings are groomed, really attended to.
   That means that numberless (literally) bushes and small trees are shaped, that plantings on the edge of most roads are cared for, presumably by their owners when on private land or by the state, if public.
   Most remarkable, in my view, are the many walls—vertical expanses—that are covered with leaves, often even in designed patterns. These expanses, and there are many, require more care than standard horizontal ones, but they all seem to be thriving. 
   Whatever it is, universal practice keeps Mexico City green. Since these bushes, small ornamental trees, and border plantings are both private and public, one can only conclude that the keepers of  these many levels of green are professional gardeners, of course also both private and public.
   My observation: the Mexico City ethos is to treat its soil as a garden, to whomever a piece of land belongs, private citizens or the government alike.
   But the cultivation of all that greenery depends, in turn, on a large class of “working class” gardeners; the class structure makes it unlikely that many home owners themselves tend to the land around them.

   This laudable concern for appearance may in the future, probably fairly near, give way to more laissez faire scrambling. In short, when better jobs become available to those now tending to the city’s greenery, Mexico City may become as disheveled as most major cities of the world.