Tuesday, April 12, 2011

La Paz

[Gray whales come annually to the Sea of Cortez to give birth and to mate]

La Paz is an interesting place. It stands in a hard desert like so many western cities, but does not have the diverted waters of the Colorado to sustain it. Instead there are natural springs in the nearby mountains which provide the city with a meager supply of brackish water. The hills around the town are peopled by huge saguaro cactuses but are uninhabitable to everyone else. So much so that there are no Indians indigenous to the area. Nevertheless it prospers, even flourishes.

La Paz is the state capital of Baja California Sur (BCS) and thus has the benefit of the state government offices being here. It is a port with a large ferry terminal connecting Baja with Mazatlan and the mainland. There is an army base here and a navy base, and a university. Which is to say there is substantial government spending here.

There is a substantial tourist trade as well. Various pale people come here as respite from northern winters to loll on soft warm sand beaches, to swim in the shallow aquamarine waters of the bahia. There is another group, who carefully distinguish themselves from the former, the expatriates. Contrary to the received notions of Yanqui imperialism, the majority of these settlers are Canadians.

One sharp dividing line between the two groups is how they feel about the new Home Depot on the edge of town. The tourists are aghast at the introduction of a big box store into their fantasy of quaintness. The ex-pats, particularly the handy Canadians, are delighted to be able to cheaply buy tools and materials to work on their casas, casitas, and villas. The Home Depot makes the ex-pats feel more connected to La Paz, the turistas feel less connected.

As a tourist visiting an ex-pat, I am staying in a lovely villa on a hillside with a vast view of the Bahia and the city, of the sunset and the city lights, from its four terrassos (verandas).

There is a wonderful architectural inversion here. Ex-pats look for traditional old-fashioned Mexican houses - with internal courtyards, breezeways, and ironwork. Those with the money, taste, and/or dedication for it, build or convert houses to the Mexican rustic style of fifty or more years ago. Here there are rich colors and textures, bougainvillea, cool terra cotta floors, vivid colored tiles punctuated by elaborately painted ones. Soft breezes cool the shaded rooms. Rough saw work with deliberately faded colors. In this villa the owner has assembled no end of Mexican folk art artifacts and art works -- here there seems little difference between the two.

The neighboring houses on this hill belong to middle class Mexicans. In La Paz, as elsewhere, higher incomes go with higher elevations. The Mexicans regard rustic Mexicana the same way prosperous Americans regard rustic Americana -- worth visiting but not something to live in. One wonders if there is not in their future the same transformation that changed San Franciscans' attitude toward Victorian houses from dismissiveness to adulation. It is not clear whether this ex-pat villa, named Luna y Mar, is behind the curve or ahead of it. Whether it is a breath of the past or an intimation of the future, Luna Mar is lovely. La vida es dulce y soave.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, to be a capitalist now that spring is here.