Towns are planned and maintained differently in Mexico than from those of our native California. When it comes to zoning, which type of establishment should stand adjacent another, such seems freely decided by a property’s owners, not city planning. If a residence is found standing adjacent to a butcher, metal working place, or restaurant—so be it. And unlike the U.S.’s Protestant edict of “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” theirs is a Catholic culture—“If it works, performing its needed function, then consider it maintained. Life is short. Spend your time with family, not fixing property.”
So, as with many Latin American towns, earthly dust covers all and everything within the town of La Cruz, except the most modern of establishments and vehicles, which are typically owned by the wealthier few. The sediment-coated buildings are often incomplete, in disrepair, and/or thickly painted with bright colors, bringing creativity and/or masking imperfections, or both. Stains, cracks, and exposed construction are the norm. The more dusty and disheveled a place, the more authentic it feels. If a property owner strives to manicure too perfectly his or her structure, he or she somehow foregoes Mexican culture, seeking instead to serve those outside the native community. Polished floors behind air-conditioned glass doors seem the domain of visitors and other, more seasonal inhabitants.
As an example, take some of the establishments surrounding the town’s plaza. La Cruz’s central square is relatively new, perhaps less than 15 years old. It is joyfully designed and proudly multi-colorful, well used by the community. There is no celebration this week so it is not swept. On its quietist corner resides the town’s church. Bells in Mexico are not decoration. In California, bells hang in the bell tower, but the bells one hears are that of a recording through a speaker. In Mexico they actually ring their church bells, with gusto, long ropes are pulled from in front of the church, on Sundays and for religious celebrations.
Two blocks up, a 7-11 type convenience store, with its glass doors and neatly stacked beverage trays, “Sale” sign adhered, has a beverage-truck driver unloading its U.S. made product.
Back at the plaza, diagonal to the church, on the corner lot, across the main square, a half painted two-story building misses its second-story roof. Only dilapidated brick columns stand above its first floor “roof.” The downstairs is treated like an open-air storage unit of plastic lawn chairs and wooden tables, with what appears to be a misplaced but active cooler. An LED reading indicates its cold Celsius temperature. Its brilliantly lighted door advertises a beverage that’s not contained within its chilled chamber. Is that a kitchen in the corner?
Two doors down, a one-story establishment is painted freshly white. The quiet, likely pane-less windows are closed shut with white wooden planked panels. It looks new. No telltale brown dirt creeps up the base of its wall where it meets the public walkway. What is this place?
La Cruz, like much of Mexico, has much magic about her. Your eyes ignore what is not active, what is not attractive. During the day, corners, small cafes, and shops come to life. But it is at night, when the humid tropical air cools, lifting the weight of its daytime burden, that the town transforms into an enchanted village, her people coming out into the streets, populating the square. What was a motorway intersection is now a communal volleyball court for all to join, rotating in and out, laughing and cajoling under a solitary amber streetlight.
Under the cloak of the evening sky, dust, rust, exposed rebar, and peeling paint are invisible. The tables and chairs stored below the derelict looking storage unit are pulled out into the street and neatly arranged. Downstairs, opposite the simple kitchen, in the corner to the left . . . behind the mop, buckets and brooms . . . spies a hideaway circular cement stairway that brings you to the rooftop, offering a ‘skybox’ view of the volleyball action directly below. The bare columns hold up strings of small circular light bulbs. The overall transformation reveals a romantic rooftop street café. Music fills the square from the now opened windows of the newer, whitewashed establishment, unveiling a restaurant-bar. Live Latin and popular American music emanates from its small lit stage, a bold seascape mural painted on the white wall behind its bar. Gone are thoughts of construction deficiencies—the structures are perfect, their simplicity, enviable. We love this place.