Candide Tending My Garden
October 16, 2002
I receive innumerable offers to sign fruitless peace petitions. Or maybe not fruitless? I have been so discouraged that I reverted, like a modern-day Candida, to tending my garden. We rented a small house with more biodiversity than I really care for, and to reduce somewhat the terrorist attacks by our fellow creatures, first I bombed with insecticide and then I simply cut down their homes. Like the USA, that left me with a lot of rebuilding to do, or should I say reconstruction or even nation-building?
But we’re peaceful folks. This afternoon we chatted with Constantino, He trained as an engineer, but since few engineering jobs exist in Oaxaca he does something administrative. He’s a cheerful fellow and very friendly, washing his lovely red pickup truck on the street across from our house. He thought probably it won’t rain, and one thing leading to another, he put down his polishing cloth and crossed the road. His family (mother and innumerable aunts and uncles) live behind the kind of black metal door typical here, which hides automobile, chickens or little burros; always the extended family, generations, siblings, and histories. Constantino brings his wife Angelica and the new baby Angelica daily, to let his mother hold her granddaughter. While the women visit he washes his pickup.
Constantino told us the names of plants we still have. It turns out the big bushes in front of our house are tulipán (not hibiscus) and poinsettia! The plants we thought were dandelions are lechuguilla, and the succulent that looks like a belly button is an ombligo. The vines on the fence which produce flowers as bright as morning glories are quiebraplato: burning plates. Our friend Juan says no, they’re Aztecs shields blazing in the morning sun.
But seeing how well the lesson proceeded, Constantino invited us into his family’s gardens; clearly he learned all his botanical information at home. The family lives in a typical arrangement of rooms extending around several patios. The mother grows ferns, roses and herbs; an orange tree, a níspero tree with round small yellow fruit, a tangerine tree with one tangerine; a coffee plant, two banana plants; she also tends a plum tree and a jojoba tree; jasmine and honeysuckle, vines galore; pots of everything including a plant whose flower looks like a duck, and several mysterious others. He pulled out of the ground two tiny jojoba which I put in a pot to prevent their growing too big. His mother told me I can cut them like bonsai. His mother handed me a branch of jasmine for their aroma and white flowers, his aunt gave me two leaves for cooking pollo amarillo.
Then his uncle Santos showed us his racing bikes. He and Constantino have both: racers (with enormous wheels), and mountain bikes. Santos told us that in the 1980-something Olympics in Canada, Mexican bikers won because they were drinking some herb decoction which provides extra energy. The Gatorade herb? The uncle and nephew ride to the surrounding countryside on paved road, or drive the marvelous red pickup up to the mountains.
Last night on the internet I read an article from “The New Yorker”. I gather the gist of it is, hegemony is okay but one must be diplomatic and polite. Or else people in other countries won’t like you.
My friend Sally says my gardening effort reminds her of Neville Shute’s On The Beach. The man who sweeps the streets, Genaro, stopped to chat, leaning on his broom and barrel-on-wheels, in which he carries away small bags of trash from people like us who can afford a few pesos. He stopped in the hour between the morning with our Canadian friends who visited to exchange plants, and the afternoon botany lecture with Constantino. Genaro shows little interest in native plants. Instead, he explained that he saves his street-sweeper salary from the city plus the on-the-side income from garbage, to go to the United States. But, he says, he wants to go with a passport and visa. It’s too dangerous to cross without documents; there are bad people in the USA who will kill and rob you on the border.
His conversation also included some queries about women in the US, women’s equality. Genaro admits women are smarter than men, because we don’t start wars. George assured him, women in the US do all sorts of work previously reserved for men, and I suppose if we had power, George implied, we’d be starting wars too. But, Genaro said, men are stronger; no woman could manage to push his trash barrel. I opined that most likely his job is secure. Then we practiced counting in English and he reached seven. George taught him eight nine ten.
Eventually, Genaro told us he was late and must get on with his work, this treat of standing in the street chatting must come to an end. He took away with him the cut branches from our tulipán and palm. Gardening creates such a mess.
I have see-saw exchanges of positive and negative views regarding the end of the civilization; those conversations started the day I achieved adulthood. Where do we stand now? With the clear recognition that the United States of America does not represent civilization, and gardens are forever.