Culture Vultures Part III: Nobody Warned Me About the Tuba

Just finished reading a book, Mexico Days by Tony Cohan. It was similar to his “classic” On Mexican Time in that it was evocative and lyrical, an attempt, largely successful,  to “capture” in words the mood and spirit of Mexico and Mexicans. On Mexican Time tells the story of Cohan’s temporary escape from the Los Angeles rat race to the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, and then his ultimate decision to live there permanently. The latest book, written five years later, is a emotional travelogue of sorts, chronicling a magazine writing assignment through the Mexican hinterland in a post 9-11 world. A little cynicism had crept into Cohan’s new narrative, as if some of the magic had worn off his Mexican experience and as if life for him had reverted to a routine of eat-sleep-work-drink, albeit in more exotic locales. It helps that Cohan was a successful publicist in the music industry before launching his writing career, and that his wife is a successful author/photographer. Lyrical evocation is always more fun when you’re not worrying about the ol’ dinero.

But this is Rosarito Beach, not San Miguel, so it’s more difficult to be evocative and lyrical, and easier to just be descriptive. See, we don’t have any 16th century cathedrals here, or quaint cobblestone streets, but we do have tuba bands on the beach. Yeah, tuba bands. They usually consist of a tuba, a bass drum, a snare drum, and a clarinet, but I saw one today that featured an accordion and guitar. The music is oom pa pa, oom pa pa, ratatatatatatatatat , accompanied by a shrill snake-charmer riff from the clarinet. From a distance, it sounds like halftime at a high school football game, only worse. I don’t know why tuba combos on the beach are big down here and I don’t know if they exist on any other beaches, but I think they are popular because they’re loud. 

Loud is big here. On the beach after sunset the obnoxious tuba music is replaced by the sound of firecrackers, the big loud ones like M-80’s that sound like gunfire. That noise may come from 15 or 20 different directions at one time and continue for hours, not stopping on the weekends until as late as 3 or 4 in the morning. Most nights, the concussive blasts of the firecrackers compete with loud screaming coming from the kids who camp on the beach at night. This is not the enthusiastic caterwauling associated with high spirited revelry. The girls unleash blood curdling screams, as if they were in imminent danger.  The  guys chant loudly and in unison, almost ritualistically. This is all followed by hysterical laughter and wild animal calls. Followed by more blood curdling screams.  It can be fucking loud and sometimes I’m driven to violent thoughts when I hear too much of it.  The tuba, the snare, the firecrackers, the screaming, the car alarms. All of it.

Did I mention the commercials blasting from loudspeakers attached to the roofs of cars?

By the way, Mexico does have laws and regulations on the beach concerning fireworks, bonfires, drinking, and dog leashes. But the laws are not enforced because the beach is the state’s jurisdiction, not the city’s, and even a minor infraction would warrant prison time, at least until the matter is straightened out. So, instead, to save trouble, the authorities choose to ignore the whole thing altogether. The result is a beach DMZ, a libertarian’s wet dream, where dogs are free to roam the beach eating garbage, where herds of horses shit in the sand, where guys smash their brandy bottles into the campfire, and small sticks of dynamite and car alarms go off under your window at 5 AM. 

Will someone please get those loud Mexicans off my lawn?!

It’s my anglo-protestant cultural hang-ups, I’m sure, which also explain why I’m bothered by the garbage, broken glass and abandoned dogs in the streets. Mexicans pay very few taxes and in return receive virtually no government services. Every shopkeeper in town is out with brooms and mops each morning cleaning off the sidewalks  in front of their businesses, while the “city-maintained” streets are littered with beer cans,  broken bottles, dog shit, and styrofoam.

Of course,  latinos have their own cultural stereotype to live down to. Supposedly, they’re loud because  they’re prideful and excessively emotional and it’s all tied up in that macho thing, which has something to do with being  a conquered people.

Who knows? Maybe there’s a lot of truth to both stereotypes. The sense of boundaries, both physical and psychological, was drilled into me while growing up. If my ball accidently rolled onto a neighbor’s lawn, I was expected to ring his doorbell and ask  his permission first before I could walk on his grass to retrieve it. My father was especially hung up on the concept of personal acoustic space. Summer afternoons when I was a kid, I’d listen to baseball games on a portable radio in our backyard. My father, if he happened to be around,  would walk to the nearest neighbor’s house to do a sound check. If my radio was even slightly audible there, I’d have to turn it down. My old man would have gone bat shit had he survived into the car stereo sub-woofer era.

So, yeah, it’s messy and boisterous down here, especially on big weekends on the beach. Here’s a stereotype that has some truth to it: Mexicans love to enjoy public spaces with their families and friends. Hell, even in the states, it’s latinos , mostly, who arrive early at the beaches and parks on big weekends, to stake out their spaces for cook-outs and parties. They pay their taxes, so more power to ’em. I think the average gringo is more inclined to enjoy the cozy and less messy confines of patio, backyard pool, and a few close friends, rather than  commingling with the hordes. Maybe fewer  latinos in Southern California have patios and backyard pools. But there I go, stereotyping again.

They say that the blood of two races course through the veins of the mexicano, the Spanish and the aboriginal indian, the Conquistador and the Aztec. This is supposed to explain things. But why just stop at two bloods? Spain was occupied  by Muslim Arabs for centuries before the conquest of the New World,  and Arabia over the previous centuries had been conquered and occupied by Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Macedonians, and Persians. That’s a lot of blood mixing.  So whether you’re cold and detached or hot-blooded and emotional, whether you like to curl up on the couch with a good book or blow up jelly fish with cherry bombs , it probably has a lot more to do with your social conditioning and upbringing than your bloodlines. Let’s face it, we’re all mongrels.

And, besides, none of this explains the tubas.






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