Fish out of water

A vacation trip offers fresh perspectives

Have you heard the saying, “Whoever discovered water, you can be sure it wasn’t a fish”? I thought of it when I was reading our cover story this week.

In it, former CN&R Managing Editor Meredith Graham takes us with her as she begins life in France, where she and her husband are both fish out of water. But they’re resilient people, so they adapt—and in doing so gain a fresh perspective on America.

I had a similar, if much briefer, experience last week. My wife, Denise, had rented a beach villa about 30 miles north of Zihuatanejo, on Mexico’s Costa Grande. We were to spend a week there with our three young-adult offspring, Evan, Sophie and Liam.

It didn’t happen. It turned out Liam’s passport had expired, and he couldn’t board the plane in Sacramento.

That was on Saturday. Denise returned to Chico with Liam, but she didn’t give up. First thing Monday morning she was in line at the federal building in San Francisco. By 3 p.m. Liam had a new passport. They flew out of San Jose the next morning and were in Zihua by 2 p.m. We had four full days of vacation left to enjoy together.

My wife is an amazing woman.

The villa, which is owned by a Seattle couple, was designed for spending all but sleep time outdoors, mostly under a huge palapa. Whether eating the delicious meals our housekeeper, Aurora, prepared, hanging out on the couch reading, or swimming in the blue-tiled pool, we could see and hear the ocean right outside our compound and watch pelicans diving into the water, fishing. Colorful tropical plants and coconut palms swayed in the breezes.

Aurora and Bernardo, the gardener, were there most days. They were lovely people, very helpful and friendly, and their presence gave us a good opportunity to practice our Spanish. But we couldn’t help feeling like gringos ricos when we visited Buena Vista, their nearby village, with its dirt streets, tiny cement houses and utter lack of anything like a “good view.”

The beach town of Playa Troncones, up the coast a couple of miles, offered similar contrasts. What was once a fishing village has become a tourist hot spot, with local folks looking on as wealthy Americans build resort lodges along their beach.

If they resent it, they don’t show it. The tourist dollars are welcome, and enterprising entrepreneurs have set up shops and outdoor restaurants to attract them.

Similarly, for Aurora and Bernardo working at the villa is a good deal. Their jobs are easy, the pay is steady, and you can’t beat the scenery. I also got the impression, talking with Aurora, that life in Buena Vista was good, too. The village looked impoverished to me, but to her it was home, a place where she knew and was loved by everyone and where people took care of each other.

Americans like to think of the United States as the greatest country ever. But who’s judging? And how do you measure such things? That’s the perspective I brought home from Mexico.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.