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Jane Austin meets Jacques Cousteau (from a letter)

15 November 2003

It is a truth universally acknowledged that foreign teachers, in possession of a good chunk of time and not much dinero, must be in need of reading material.

Classes tend to drop off at the end of the year, so there’s not a lot to keep me busy, and checks are – as all too often – late. Some of the books you find for 5 or 10 pesos in the used bookstores had more interesting adventures than the story’s characters. An American spy novel, in a British edition, with a sales receipt from the Tegucigalpa, Honduras airport gift shop can still be boring. C’mon you touristas! Leave better reading material behind!

Somehow we’ve ended up with various Jane Austin novels here in Colonia Gertrudis Sánchez. I’ve done some strange things here in Mexico, but discussing Pride and Prejudice is one of the weirder. For Mansfield Park (which I’ve never read, and no literate, slightly befuddled tourist has yet to leave behind) I might go as high as… oh… 25 pesos. My mother keeps suggesting the public library. Good thought, but our public libraries – even when they have the funding for more than a few hundred books – tend to buy books in Spanish.

My niece, Andrea the Oceanographer, is coming down Mexico Way, but she’s headed for Cozumel, a good two days from here. She worries that the island is not the “real Mexico” (She’s under the impression that I’m one of those third-world purists who eschews the tourist industry. Hey, English-speaking tourists are what drive the demand for English teachers!)

Besides, the first “real Mexicans” were from thereabouts. Cortés found two Spaniards there in 1519. Gonzalo Gonzales and Padre Jeronimo Agullar were the only survivors of a shipwreck. Gonzales had married into the local gentry, a much better job than swabbing the deck on galleons and a passel of little Gonzales at home. He was the first – but certainly not the last – tourist to never leave. Padre Agullar was another pioneer: the first cranky tourist complaining about Mexican food. The guy copped an attitude when the local Mayans made tacos out of the other padres – hey, they offered to share! He was young and healthy and had a decent trade (he was also a carpenter, which is why the Mayans didn’t just serve him up for lunch). The local Mayan girls saw him as a suitable husband and he really, really wanted to be rescued. He was either very uptight or he took his vows of celibacy seriously.

Other than a few stray pirates, there weren’t a lot of tourists until Jacques Cousteau made a Undersea Special about the local reefs in 1961, followed by everybody who wanted to be Jacques Cousteau, and everybody who wanted to look like deep sea divers and… those guys needed someplace to eat and sleep and rent diving equipment and buy beads and trinkets – the usual story. It’s an island, and it’s a tourist resort – you’re not being overcharged, it’s the local (loco) rate. But, the people cleaning the rooms and working at McDonald’s – and gringa graduate students — have to eat and sleep and buy beads and trinkets too.

The generic tourist advice applies. If you need to save money, remember that the less “English spoken here”, the better the prices. In tourist zones there’s an unofficial “tourist tax”. Watch what Mexicans are charged (if you can find Mexican buyers – who are probably tourists themselves, and, so, also pay the tax). If the difference is only a few pesos, or dollars or Euros, pony up. It takes years to learn to swear like a Mexican, and even then, you don’t always save that much. Beads and trinket vendors are not currency traders: they’ll take dollars and Euros, but you pay less in pesos (and an ATM transaction give you the best exchange rates). Oh, and home cookin’ usually doesn’t include foreign tourists (or if it does, it’s only the obnoxious ones). Enjoy your tacos!

One Comment leave one →
  1. 18 July 2008 8:02 am

    I got curious about Pride and Prejedice by Jane Austen after many years. I read it and loved the description of the class structure in England, so similar to that of rural Latin America. So I bought one in Spanish for my wife to read in her own language although her English is great. I broke my rule of trying to read in the language the book was wrtten in but this time it paid off. The translation was great. With Austen you want all the irony and picardía in the expressions used. This edition of the collection Narrativa of Edimat Libros was great and inexpensive.

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