Monday, February 08, 2010

Take me drunk I'm home

I've been coming to Playa since I was at the impressionable age when wearing a T-shirt with the Corona logo on it seemed like a cool thing to do. There are still plenty of Corona t-shirts to be had here, but the more discerning holiday-maker will typically equip himself with one bearing a slogan not dissimilar to the title of this post.

The 'Quinta' is the main thoroughfare for the acquisition and display of such apparel. Or indeed more upmarket and authentic gear. Just this afternoon I spotted a little notice under a fetching pair of canvas shorts in the window of the Squalo store, which informed interested customers that "If the inhabitants of ancient Mexico had surfed we are sure they used this broadshort."

Seated or standing at the edges of this bidirectional torrent of tourism are dozens of wily modern Mexicans hoping to snag onto something. Some insert themselves into the flow, drifting amongst the dollars for a while. I watched a lone mariachi separated from the rest of his band quietly strolling up and down within the compass of a block, scratching Yesterday on his fiddle.

Most however just call out into the unheeding throng. "Hey buddy!", "Whassup amigo?".

My favourite of these lines is nevertheless "Right here!" I've toyed with the idea of writing a sort of suspense novel set in Playa and this just might have to be the title of it.

I also toyed with the idea of getting a little pied-a-terre here back in 2003. I'm glad I didn't follow up on this, though I gather the real estate prices have since surged considerably.

One condo advertises itself with the tagline "Live Among Life's Pleasures", and therein lies the problem for me. One can certainly gawp at all the gratification taking place all around, but opportunities to partake for the not-so-young-and-trim are apparently limited. Unless of course you fancy asking the Right Here! man what he has to offer.

In 2005 Hurricane Wilma took something away from Playa and I doubt whether it will ever be getting it back* I fancy this was the kernel of its old self, which had somehow survived the dramatic expansion of the 90s. You come across fragments of it still, like scattered shards of a broken mirror, but the pervading mood is now what the late J.D. Salinger's best-known character would probably have dismissed as "phony".

The plane down from Atlanta was a steep-banking 757 packed with the kind of witless vacationers who have to press the button for the stewardess each time it dawns on them that they can't fill out the next box on the immigration form, and who clap like performing sea-lions when the aircraft touches down. This lot are the storm-troopers of the relentless Vegas-isation of the Yucatán.**

They have now almost completely displaced the comparatively sophisticated European crowd, — Frogs and Italians in the main — who, in the years before the town's growth became completely freakish, delivered its unpretentious Saint-Tropez vibe. Such chic beach Bohemians as now remain tend to be the commoditised New Yorky sort. (I've started calling them the OM-lettes.)

Meanwhile those most determined of ersatz Europeans — the Argies — are still here in force. (See pic above.) They appear not to be so turned off by the ghastly Mayan Eco-Disneyland that is Xcaret, just to the south and other paradigms of inauthenticity.

I did find myself sitting opposite a bona-fide Hispanic celebrity in Starbucks the other day. She was on a sofa, staring dreary-eyed at the screen of her Acer laptop. For a quarter of an hour not being able to place her face was completely killing me. I systematically did a mental roll call of former colleagues, clients, people I know in Antigua etc. And then it came....surely it was the lovely Isabel Cristina Estrada who'd played sweet-natured Lizeth in the Colombian telenovela Nuevo Rico, Nuevo Pobre? (V has picked up some lasting verbal tics from the ludicrous Fernanda in that show.)

* I've been reading Maragaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake on this trip and in it Crake expresses the worrying thought that this civilisation we have here right now is the only one we are ever going to get because all the surface metals have pretty much been mined. So anyone harbouring thoughts of an apocalyptic reboot should take heed.

** There's no denying that they were in jolly good cheer however. Which is more than can be said of the doleful bunch of passengers on my earlier flight out of JFK. There had to be something more to such expressive grimness than the mere fact that we'd all had to turn up for a 6am flight and that the plane had to be practically dug out of the snow. (I can count myself very lucky I didn't have to make this connection a couple of days later when 'snowmagaddon' had really got under way up there.)

No, southerners generally seem more upbeat. Whatever else you can say about Atlanta (and there isn't much else to say) its inhabitants tend to smile a lot more than New Yorkers.

And when I got on a Continental flight to Cancún out of Houston three years ago, I was sitting next to a charming young college girl whose first remark to me was "Are you psyched? I'm psyched...."

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