Monday morning last found The Observer having breakfast with a Hujiol Indian woman on a sidewalk in the little high desert mountain town of Real de Catorce, Mexico. The Observer and our 8-year-old daughter had discovered this picturesque town, about two hours north of San Luis Potosi and almost two miles above seal level, during their spring-break ramble.
The Hujiol woman, along with two daughters, was frying gorditas, tortillas stuffed with nopal cactus leave, eggs or chorizo, while politely inquiring in Spanish as to how her customers had ever found this place and where they were from.
She exclaimed at the answer. “Little Rock! I know Little Rock! My husband works in Little Rock. He lives at Geyer Springs and Wal-Mart! He likes Little Rock very much.” Suddenly we had gone from tourists to honored guest.
Such is Little Rock's new-found place in the world of emigres. In almost 40 years of The Observer's travels in Mexico, this was the first time we met someone who knew exactly where our capital city was.
Two days later, we traveled east toward the Gulf of Mexico to the Huasteca region, at the crossroads between Ciuadad de Valle and Rio Verde. Think Newton County with orange trees. The Observer and daughter were standing in line at another sidewalk food stall next to a Pemex gas station. The Observer thought we were doing a masterful job of communicating with the cooks in our UALR Spanish but their bewildered looks said otherwise. To the rescue stepped a young local man who, in very good English, offered to help The Observer order our Enchiladas Hausteca style. Of course the young man asked where the visitors are from.
“Arkansas!” he exclaims, a smile transforming his face. “I was at the University of Arkansas for six months and I have many warm memories of the kind people of Arkansas.”
Luis Venegas Orozco had come to the UA for his master's degree in transportation logistics, but obligations at the family's bus company, Transportes Vencedor, had called him home before he could finish.
Though his family was waiting in their car and their meal was getting cold, Luis insisted on buying a map inside the Pemex station and mapping out for The Observer the grand tour, so we wouldn't miss the incredible waterfalls and crystal clear rivers of the region. Then he wrote down his cell number on the map in case any problems were encountered along the way.
They were kind, but not really strangers.
So The Observer was at choir rehearsal the other night. About half the people in this choir are college kids, so a certain amount of hijinks are to be expected.
This particular night, we're in our usual seat on the front row with the other shorties, and this guy walks in, and he's carrying a chicken.
A live chicken, upside-down, by its feet. Like you do.
He is quickly shooed back into the hall by the director, who is Canadian and soooo did not bargain for this when he took the job, and half the baritones run out after him to see WTH (this is choir, after all, so The Observer tries to maintain a modicum of couth). The women, we just shriek and laugh.
Eventually the accompanist, who is Bulgarian, produces a large cardboard box, conveniently empty, and disappears into the hallway. There are rumors that Animal Control is being called, but a few minutes later, back in comes the guy with the box, now full of chicken and sealed with what looks to be an entire roll of duct tape, and stows it out of the way in a closet until rehearsal is over.
Because hey, he's the one who spotted the bird in the middle of University Avenue and jumped out of his friend's car, chased it through the Walgreen's parking lot and tackled it when it got caught in a bush, right? Finders keepers.
You'll be relieved to know — we sure were — that the guy's family raises chickens, so, he told us, this little stray is headed not for some bachelor-pad frying pan but to a nice farm in the country where he'll have lots of frien… Hey.