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Tasting the World’s Flavors, City to City
"Life is a journey." - Citco Oil Company commercial
"Each day is a journey, and the journey itself home." - Matsuo Basho
The use of a physical journey as a metaphor for one's spiritual passage through life isn't new, and it is universal. While browsing through a National Geographic in a physician's waiting room, I read an article about Matsuo Basho, Japan's most beloved poet.
World-weary after his home burned down, he became a hyohakusha - "one who moves without direction." In 1689 he made a 1,200-mile pilgrimage through Japan to places that he wanted to see before he died. Afterwards he wrote a collection of haiku-short poems - Narrow Road to a Small Province. To this day, thousands of people hike his trail.
Rosa Angelone didn't encounter problems as bad as the monsters that Odysseus had to defeat during his wanderings around the Mediterranean, but she had her share of difficulties to overcome. The first obstacle was homesickness. "Were you homesick when you went to Mexico all alone?" "Homesick! I get homesick if I go to Chicago!" Even so, she was courageous enough to set out for a far-away place.
Last week we left a frightened Rosa wandering around the Mexico City airport all night when no one was there to meet her. Eek! This is the stuff of parental nightmares. Picture this: a 19-year-old girl stranded in a foreign land with only a minimal knowledge of the language.
And in Mexico City of all places! Everyone knows how dangerous Mexico City is - and the entire country of Mexico, for that matter - along with Paris, Rome, London, New York City, the continent of Africa, Indianapolis, Chicago, Berlin, India, Los Angeles, the Australian Outback ... Cluck, cluck, cluck! That certainly would be the reaction of many parents.
When Rosa phoned home, all her worried mother could do was to resist hysterics and say, "I'm sorry. I can't help you with this. You're going to have to get on the phone and track down someone." Just as Kathleen found help when she sat penniless and sobbing on the floor of a German airport terminal, Rosa got herself out of her predicament and safely arrived in a town about three hours south of Mexico City.
She didn't have a leisurely ramble like Basho's. A jet plane rapidly transported her to a land that was vastly different from Irvington. She underwent a sudden immersion in a different language, food, climate and culture. Many North Americans think of Mexico as a backward place, envisioning sleepy people eating nothing but tortillas and beans and riding donkeys. Rosa discovered that Mexico has an excellent transportation system that's subsidized by Penex Oil and uses all sorts of buses from school buses to huge mega buses.
"The food is absolutely delicious! Lemons and limes and wonderful fruits and vegetables so that you have fresh summer food all year long!" Her description of corn tortillas stuffed with a little meat cooked on a spit with onions bought at street stands reminded me of the wonderful Cornish pasties - meat and potato turnovers - that we bought at a stand in the courtyard of the Tower of London. Sure beats hotdogs! She was also surprised by the graphic art in the churches with vivid depictions of torture and suffering that grossed her out.
Rosa is an intelligent, well-read young woman of strong opinions that she freely expresses. "NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) hurt the ordinary people of Mexico and destroyed the farm community. There were tortilla riots when I was there."
As we chatted, I thought about how different the land of tomorrow of which she is a citizen will likely be from the world that I have known. Rosa's travels have led her to have a different world-view from mine. She said, "I believe that we should completely open our borders. What we've been doing isn't working." I have various reasons against her idea, including my conviction that we should be able to make the decisions about our own country.
However, as Rosa is no starry-eyed twit, I must consider her ideas seriously. As is so often the case these days, I have many more questions than solutions. They say that travel broadens one. Rosa's experiences have broadened me.
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