Conrad Fox

International reporting projects, migration and robotics


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May 24, 2015

Everywhere the air has a smell in Mexico. Sometimes it is unpleasant, car exhaust or even open sewage canals. Usually it is neutral, dust, humidity, salt sea. Often it is pleasant and evocative, like the boiling fat of the taco stands, the sidewalk creperies, the mango sellers in the city or the overloaded mango trees in the country, the soft warmth of the tortillas shops, or the crispy perfume of the jungle in the rain. Whatever it is, smell permeates everything.

Mexican Spanish is also pungent. Every conversation is littered with sayings and expressions, loaded --- that reach back into time, . Here are a few that I remember: "Cuentas claras, amistades largas" (Clear accounts, long friendships), "Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho", (there's a big difference between words and action), "cada niño nace con una torta debajo del brazo" (every child is born with a sandwich in their arms, ie. with every child, the family will be blessed with a new form of sustenance[1]), "barriga lleno, corazon contento" (stomach full, heart content), "Camaron que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente" (the shrimp that sleeps is carried away by the current.) Many of them have to do with food: tacos, nopal cactus, tortillas, corn, chile. They bring to mind images of old kitchens, a clay pot of beans on the stove, tortillas on the fire, and hunger never too far away. For example: "Más vale tortilla dura que hambre pura" (better a hard tortillas than great hunger); "como agua para chocolate" (as hot, ie. angry, as water for making hot choclate); "Quien se quemó con sopa de verdura, hasta la sandia sopla" (he has been burnt by vegetable soup, will even blow on the watermelon.) A picaresque sense of humour lies in many, a kind of license to poke and jibe with an anonymous voice. -----. Some are similar to English, although to my mind they have more ---.

Certainly, they carry more authority in Mexican Spanish. A conversation can be concluded with a wisely placed: "---" Everyone will nod in agreement, as an argument has been conclusively demonstrated. Even when they don't, they are kind of verbal flourish, --- intonation --- flap of the hands while speaking.

They contrast to English. Sayings are not so common, and in terms of heft, are closer to um and ah ---. I did hear run recently that is going around. "It is what it is." Something insipid. Rootless. Sprung from internet chat rooms, like "strawdog arguments", "---" and something else. Mexican refrains come from a deep popular well of folk wisdom that is almost tangible. It might be said by a hipster in a Condesa cafe, but it still recalls old kitchens. etc. From there it is a short trip to the ranch and pueblo, to the people, to revolution, to the conquista. A kind of sociology lives in the language.



1. It's true. I was unemployed when my eldest was born. i got a job offer as a journalist within days.


For 15 years, Conrad lived in Mexico, where he worked as a freelance radio and print journalist. His work took him into a minefield, a gunfight, a dugout canoe and the homes of many fascinating, brave and generous people. He is also an avid teacher and has led classes in radio, robotics, soccer, physics and anthropology in a diversity of places, including office towers, lecture halls, fields and palm thatched huts.