more thoughts on mexican lateness and the term ya

Although I do still appreciate punctuality, I don’t really mind the stereotypical Mexican concept of time. I think I have discussed this before, but I have always seen it as just a less rigid concept of lateness. Five or ten minutes late isn’t “really” late for a lot of people. Unless the bus leaves without you I guess. But I prefer to think of the cultural tolerance for lateness as them being flexible.

As a comparison, looking at my native culture’s punctuality, I have considered the risky, “northerly cultures” argument. Germany, Switzerland, Scotland. In places where the length of a day fluxuates dramatically with the season, perhaps cultures develop a heightened sensitivity to time. If you sometimes only have three hours of daylight you tend to schedule it pretty carefully. And in places where there isn’t too much variation throughout the year of when the sun rises and sets, perhaps people think less about racing minute hands. The day is pretty much always twelve hours long, big whoop.

I recently read an article in the magazine Algarabía about the 19th-century German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who studied the Aztecs. That article, written by Jaime Labastida, got me thinking a little bit more about the historical roots of this phenomenon. From that article I learned that, studying the Aztec calendar, Humboldt observed the Aztecs measuring time and space together, as one measurement. They didn’t deal with time but rather with space-time. Concept not popularized in northerly cultures until the 1930s mas o menos, by another German.

First off, this blows my mind, yet I am not surprised. I kind of already thought the Aztecs knew how to travel in time, and that feathered serpants are dinosaurs.

But secondly, it made me realize Mexicans are descended from a culture whose conception of time is not so much as a scheduling tool. It’s broader than that– Mexican, Aztec time consciously tracks movement. It’s not fixed in space. It is relative.

I recently got a Mexican to confirm this for me, with respect to the term “ya.” I have experienced countless frustrations with “ya,” which translates as “now” but not really. Now I think I understand it a bit better, haha, contemplating it from a space-time perspective. “Ya” = the present time and SPACE of the person speaking. So “I’m getting there ya” could actually mean “I’ll get there when I get there.” Which I had already learned from experience anyway, but still. I find it satisfying to be able to articulate why. It’s because the Mexican “now” is four-dimensional.

Thank you, Dr Labastida. And Aztecs. And Humboldt.


“silence,” by marianne moore

I actually posted this poem a year ago in an entry about a somewhat, but not completely, unrelated subject. The post wasn’t very good, either, and my Spanish was way worse then than it is now.

Anyway I’m not the biggest poetry fan, but I did study literature in college so I had to take some classes in it. I inevitably found some good ones and remembered them. This is one that I liked, from my Modern Poetry Since 1950 class with Professor MacGowan:


My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth—
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “Make my house your inn.”
Inns are not residences.

Marianne Moore, 1951

Recently I was hanging out with someone who cares about etiquette enough to talk about it. It made me think of this poem, of how to define decency, of poise, of the idea of word versus deed. Somewhere along the line, maybe in Modern Poetry class, I developed a sense that following etiquette properly, being decent, entails not talking about it.

I was going to say Moore’s father is breaking this maxim of silence with the line “superior people never,” but I guess as her father, he’s allowed. To instruct his daughter on how she ought to act.

Not sure what my excuse is for talking about it… I’m a blogger? I’m sharing a nice poem?

From the collection of glass flowers at Harvard (Hahvahd):

banana republic/dreams

I guess it’s true that it feels kind of irrelevant when other people recount their dreams, so I will try to keep this short. Last night I dreamed that Banana Republic was opening a store in Mexico City.

There aren’t any Banana Republics in Mexico, although I think you can buy some of their clothing in the nicer department stores, Liverpool, Palacio de Hierro, Sears. Which I would never do because the prices in those places do not reflect the fact that the products are made in Malaysian sweatshops.

But yeah, there is a real demand for Banana Republic here. Which is I think partly why I dreamed that. And because I am going to the US next week and plan to make major wardrobe purchases while I’m there. In fact, that was my dream– I was coming out of a Banana Republic in the US on my trip, and the shopping bag listed the cities in which new stores will be opening. Mexico City was one of them.

Another thing, the dream reflects my anxiety about gringofication tendencies in Mexico. There’s already like 160 Starbucks in Mexico City alone, a Pinkberry, a California Pizza Kitchen, etc.

Although I would be kind of happy if a Banana Republic opened here, I still doubt I would shop there. The 16% value-added tax, limited availability, and unlikelihood of quarterly sales would probably rule out ever finding any bargains.

My dreams are often this realistic and practical. I am not sure if that indicates anything interesting about my psyche, but I will say that sometimes it leads to confusion: I can’t always distinguish memories of my dreams from memories of reality.