Saturday, March 8, 2008

News from Mexico

Cruz is to lecture next. I concentrate on the screen, trying to figure out the Spanish powerpoint presentation. Then I look over towards him.In one hand he has a microphone, in the other a gun. Definitely, no doubt about it, a small silver pistol. I soon put 2 and 2 together and realise that it is his laser pointer, but the effect is well – striking to say the least. Saw some in the market later, and thought about getting some as presents for those who work in the further education biz , but then realised that a case of them would be a surefire ticket to Guantanamo. Which almost happened at the next airport security – Cruz had left it in his hand baggage and nearly missed the flight.

Lots of exciting new plant introductions seem to come from Mexico, so it is interesting to get an invite to do a lecture tour there, and see if they do anything with their local flora. Thanks to Cruz Gaali, an irrepressibly enthusiastic PhD graduate from the landscape department at Sheffield University. Cruz had organised a whole series of lectures to teaching institutions, professional bodies and public events - on public planting design. I am away that my main role is to show people that “Cruz is not mad”, that in Europe and in other countries landscape designers and horticulturalists are creating nature-inspired, sustainable and bio-diverse plantings. As opposed to the standard Mexican public space plantings: beds of brightly coloured annuals, and clipped trees. And clipped trees. Clipping trees is clearly as Mexican as drinking tequila or going on strike (February is when everyone goes on strike). Even shrubs in the middle of  dual carriageways are clipped – squares and blobs for the most part, with the occasional basket, or possibly even….. is it a handbag? Private gardeners of course are far more adventurous – mariachi bands in greenery are a favourite. Needless to say there are more Mexican natives in a British garden centre than in a public park in Mexico.

Just done lecture no.3, in a tent in what appears to be a clearing in the jungle, but is in fact part of the best tropical zone public park I have ever been in. It is the tip of a wedge-shaped wilderness area which penetrates almost to the town centre of Uruapan in central western Mexico – it functions as a tidied-up, horticulturally enhanced bit of monsoon forest, with paved walkways and seating and other amenity areas around dramatic whitewater streams, waterfalls and water channels. A lovely way for people to experience natural environment in a very controlled way – very important in a society where very few appreciate wild landscapes or see native plants in a positive way. There is so much water, in channels, fountains and cascades that in some ways it is like a 1930s Villa d’Este. It is spotless.

There are nine of us crammed onto a long table on the stage, speakers and various Important People, who have to make introductory speeches for ‘Green Day’. Most important of all is ‘Il Presidente del Ayunciamento’, ie. the mayor, who I sit next to – as foreign mascot person for sustainable public horticulture I am clearly very important. I love that word ayunciamento – its where we get ‘junta’ from – I always think of sinister Pinochet type generallissimos. This guy has the well-oiled urbanity of the professional politician; I wouldn’t buy a second-hand car off him. He speaks, the event is opened, we all stand. Ohmygod, they are going to play the national anthem. No, they don’t. Whew! Then we have to get down from the stage while they get the powerpoint ready. This, as always it seems in Mexico, involves around 6 young men clustered around the computer and projector, huffing and puffing, pulling cords out, pushing them back in, arguing, gesticulating – it is clearly some sort of male bonding exercise.

The photographers of the local press descend, Il Presidente del Ayunciamento and I put our arms around each other’s shoulders and smile. He then departs. Lecture begins, and with Cruz interpeting, goes very smoothly – although he clearly has his own agenda, often elaborating greatly on what I say. Just as well I trust him. Occasionally the PA system flips over to a local radio station. No-one stirs. Clearly a normal occurrence.

 Anyay, come the end – we all get a basket of presents (avocadoes, coffee, local delicacies, big bottle Kahlua-type liquor). Last place delivered us a dubious-looking little plastic character in local costume and a handful  of slightly-leaking miniatures of the local mezcal. Oh, and a big certificate from Il Presidente to commorate our participation.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written article.