Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

During the past year or so that I have been writing this Blog I have gradually developed a “once removed” relationship with you – the readers, who choose to visit this site and follow my ramblings on a more or less regular basis. It is one of the unique (and humbling) aspects of authoring this on-line diary that every week approximately 500 people are reading what I write. I can divide my audience into two distinct groups – the ones I know; friends, family and the people who I meet on a day to day basis, and a much larger group; the strangers who have come to the site through a variety of circumstances, word of mouth, Google or whatever other means, and now have made “Living Loreto” part of their on-line routine.

I have become aware of the reality of this voluntary exposure, when I have had the occasion to meet people, sometimes in the course of my day to day work, who are able to assume a level of familiarity with me that I do not share with them because, as they are usually quick to declare, they read the Blog. Now, before anyone gets the wrong impression, I am not complaining about this – in fact I have always found this experience of “one-sided familiarity” very gratifying. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be writing, which, obviously, I continue to do. But the experience of meeting people who already know a great deal about me and my life here (when I first meet them, and know little or nothing about them) is one of the consequences of writing a personal Blog that I have become used to over the past year.

The reason that I have chosen to write on this subject is because this week I had a particularly enjoyable experience of this unexpected familiarity. It began a couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing to return to Loreto from my Holiday visit back to Canada. I received a brief email from a reader who declared himself a fan of my Blog and said that he was heading down to Loreto to spend some time in his home there and expressed interest in getting together and meeting me while he was there. He suggested that we could get together for dinner, and, somewhat modestly, described himself as “a pretty good cook”.

Now although the Blog has become surprisingly (in my mind) popular, the occasion of unsolicited “fan mail” is a relatively unique experience, so far, and so after some brief consideration, I replied to the email and said that I would be pleased to meet with him and suggested he get back in touch when he had arrived in Loreto to confirm plans. About a week ago I realized that, according to the dates he had mentioned in the email, his visit to Loreto had begun and so I anticipated that I would be hearing from him sometime this week – and then other events occurred and it slipped from my mind. Until Thursday night, when I received another brief email from him, explaining that he had tried to call my cell phone a number of times but had not been able to leave a message because my inbox was full, but he was still looking forward to getting together and gave me his cell number to call.

I will digress here, briefly, to say a few words about the challenge of cell phones in Mexico. I have had a cell phone in Canada for over 20 years, and while I don’t claim to be a particular geek, I am normally adept at using it and have had few problems with the technology, north of the border. For me, cell phones are a completely different experience here in Mexico. Aside from the fact that they operate on a separate, if parallel, system that requires using different prefixes for the number you are dialling, depending on whether you are dialling to, or from, a cell phone; and to, or from, a landline. (If you are not following this description, don’t worry, if I understood it myself I might have some hope of explaining it to you, but under the circumstances, you’re on your own.) In addition to this fundamental complication, the helpful instructions that guide the user through the menu of options that are necessary to operate the phone are – of course – in Spanish, which, much to my shame and regret, I am still functionally illiterate. (In spite of a recently pirated copy of the Rosetta Stone that remains safely hidden in my briefcase, regardless of the best of intentions made most recently this past New Year’s Eve! But that’s for another Blog – maybe.) Therefore, I was completely oblivious to the fact that my inbox was full, and, now that I knew, I was equally helpless to figure out how to remedy the situation. Fortunately, at least I was able to ask a kind and helpful Spanish speaking friend to assist me and I am now pleased to be able to report that, as of now, my inbox is pristine!

But, back to my story, Friday morning I was able to call my intended host and we quickly made plans to meet that evening at his house in town where he had invited me to come to dinner. This brings up another peculiarity of life in Mexico – the all too common instance of “sin numeral”. Many addresses, particularly in small, and old towns, like Loreto, do not have a numerical address – hence, the aforementioned term. It was explained to me once before, that the prevailing attitude here is that the actual location of one’s home is often considered a matter of personal privacy. “I know where I live, my family and friends know where I live, and no one else NEEDS to know where I live” so there is no need or desire for a numerical address that can be easily located by anyone with that information. Such was the case with my host’s home in town. So, after some fairly detailed instructions, and with his cell number carefully recorded, in case I became lost enroute, I headed off to my dinner invitation.

John had built his home within the past five or six years on an oddly shaped lot, just off the Malacon near the town Marina. Although he is only able to spend a few weeks of holiday a year here, he has set up a simple, but charming, get-away retreat that suits his needs perfectly. Although it is three stories high, with a fourth level Palapa commanding a spectacular view of the Marina and Ocean beyond, each level consists of only one room. The ground floor enters onto a guest bedroom with it’s own ensuite. Up two flights of stairs brings you to a small, but efficient kitchen with a dining table and large windows facing north, sliding glass doors onto a small balcony facing east with a view of the water, and another set of doors onto a large shaded deck, that is as large as the room it is attached to. The third floor is a comfortable Master bedroom, again with an ensuite and even better views from several large windows and a door onto a staircase that wraps around two walls and arrives on the top floor which is the full size Palapa with a thatched roof and comfortable seating around a large square table at it’s centre and a convenient wet bar, complete with fridge and well stocked liquor cabinet. Truly a unique, and perfectly planned retreat for John’s too infrequent visits back to Loreto, from the demands of his business responsibilities back at home in San Diego.

When John had modestly described himself as “a pretty good cook” in our previous correspondence, he had failed to mention that in fact he is a professional cook (he shuns the word chef) and he runs a small, but popular Mexican specialty restaurant in a suburb of San Diego. After my experience at dinner last night, I assure you I will take advantage of my next opportunity to be in San Diego and I will make a definite point of visiting John’s establishment – his culinary skills are nothing short of spectacular!

Our meal began with a fresh salad of Romaine leaves with perfectly ripe tomato slices and garnished with diced accents of I think, onion and perhaps jicima, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. The main course was a succulent, fork tender beef bourguignon, or as John referred to it “pot roast”, that he had given a subtle Mexican twist to by adding some peppers to the sauce and giving it a satisfying added heat. The vegetables; baked potatoes and oven roasted Mexican zucchini provided the perfect compliment, along with fresh baguettes and we finished with an assortment of local pastries and rich strong coffee. When I asked about the source of the beef, recognizing that this was like nothing I had ever seen in Loreto, John explained that it came from personal friends of his, who raised organic cattle near San Francisco. Coming from Alberta, where beef is a source of considerable local pride, the idea of raising cattle anywhere near San Francisco, let alone organic beef, is just one of the pleasant surprises the meal held for me.

As if the culinary delights were not enough, John proved to be a fascinating host, and we kept up an almost non-stop dialogue about his love of food and cooking, his training in Europe, his many years of working as a professional Chef (I`ll say it, even if he won`t) and finally his experiences running his restaurant – which includes catering to a rather select clientele that includes, among many others, Paula Abdul and Martha Stewart! In fact John is now a repeat contributor to Martha`s satellite radio channel. A ``pretty good cook`` indeed!

And so ended my experience of meeting with one of my heretofore anonymous readers, thank you John, for your compliment and generosity and for giving me one of my most memorable meals here in Mexico, and giving me a glimpse of your fascinating life – great rewards truly can come from the kindness of strangers, and that is a happy lesson of ``Living Loreto``!