Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Laredo, San Ygnacio, and Zapata

Laredo was one big place. It's supposedly the biggest inland port in the USA, which is believable considering the amount of traffic this supposedly small town has. Raisin and I spent a happy few days with my folks in a hotel, then with my friend Becky Garcia at her home. All this heat and humidity makes A/C all the sweeter.

I had no one to talk to after seeing Inception with my parents. The movie was just too much for them, and they had lots of questions like "Was the wife dead or alive?" and statements like "I just didn't like all that floating nonsense." I can see how the movie was a bit difficult to follow, but it explains itself perfectly with enough holes to inspire subsequent thought and conversation.

My folks and I ate at a little hole in the wall called "El Something-Or-Other." I remember it meant "The Hunter." It was right next to a closed down restaurant called El Metate. I don't pretend to understand why I can remember the shut-down place that we walked by and not the place we actually ate at, but there you go. It was delicious food. I ordered pozole, or meat stew, and it was thick and wonderful. My mom got some caldo, or soup, and was pleased; my dad ordered a side of beans, which he claimed only had ten or so, and was thus disappointed. Their presentation sucked - we were served in on styrofoam plates and bowls and cups - but the flavor and consistency of the food was superb. And the name? For all you know, I'm keeping this one to myself.

I did a little bit more historical investigation of Laredo with Becky. The area is the only place in Texas which can claim that SEVEN FLAGS have flown over it (once upon a time, Mexican insurgents created The Republic of the Rio Grande which lasted less than a year). As such, it has some very old stories which survive in family histories and - as I was soon to learn - in the buildings themselves.

Casa Ortiz (in the previous post, I mentioned Jesse Gonzalez and Casa Ortiz) is one such place, among the oldest houses in all of Laredo. There was a sizeable courtyard which had a thick staircase which made cutbacks all the way down to the river. Jesse, who lives there and gives tours, told us that the cutbacks were intended to slow down invading indians and give the family enough time to hide. You can say with accuracy that they don't make em like that anymore.

We could see the Rio Grande from the elevated grounds, and the damage from the recent flooding was evidenced by several bent or broken light poles. The river apparently covered a part of Laredo's International Bridge Number One (there are four) and came close to reaching the top of Number Two. Crazy!

After parting ways with Becky, Raisin and I took a few days getting to San Ygnacio. San Ygnacio is made up of a government building (library included), two gas stations, and one restaurant. I hit up the restaurant for an agua fresca (she just had lemonade, which was good), and then later for a meal. There were only two choices on the menu, so I chose the first one: picadillo a la Mexicana. As can be imagined with just a couple of options to focus on, it was fabulous. Soup for starters, corn tortillas and salsa (you had to break up your tortillas to make chips), and then homemade tortillas to go with the meal. Yum! Beans looked to be out of a can, but the meal as a whole was really delicious.

The kids I spoke with in San Ygnacio had a lot to say. One claimed to be seventeen but had the voice of a kid barely thirteen. He asked me about my trip, and I asked him about the Border Patrol. Specifically, did they bother the townspeople? He nodded, and I asked why. Any cars that are too full or hang too close to the ground are suspect, he told me. I had gotten carded earlier that day just hanging out at a picnic area, so I understood completely. He didn't elaborate, and I didn't push, but the entire issue felt like I was touching a local sore spot. An older kid taking a few courses at Laredo's TAMIU showed up and confessed he was doing community service for 8 unpaid traffic tickets. He complained about the lack of things to do in town, confused by the disbanding of a local rec center, and longed to get out. I was impressed with the level of conversation and interest.

The librarian gets a quick mention here. She showed up late and closed up early, BUT she let Raisin relax inside in the air-conditioned room. She gets points for the latter.

Now, we're in Zapata. A few people honked coming into town, possibly because they saw the Texas Country Reporter last week. Makes me smile.

I spoke with a lovely couple at the first grocery I saw. The older gentleman told me about his days as a migrant worker, bouncing around and doing all the picking and digging jobs that machines do now. His wife, who was tending the register and doing the work of the store, listened and commented occasionally. We talked about obesity, charity, and prosperity. We talked about the USA. Again, there was a real sense that the times have changed in this country, some things for the better and some for the worse.

Until next time...

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