MY New Year’s resolution is for my family to get out more.
We’ve already made a good start. We spent the Christmas holiday in Mexico, partly because who wouldn’t if they could -- but mainly because this was our first year without my parents, with whom we had almost always celebrated Christmas.
Puerto Vallarta is glorious. It was made even more so by reports that Edmonton had posted its lowest temperature ever, at minus 47. We Canadians get a whole lot of schadenfreude for our tropical vacation buck. Our travel ads should probably use it as a lure. “Your package includes complementary continental breakfasts and bottomless delight in the abject misery of those you’ve left behind.”
Honestly, you get to Mexico with its balmy air, its
cacophony of birds, its clouds of bougainvillea and its blissed-out dolphins
and have to wonder aloud, why did any European explorer ever forego the tropics
in search of deadly northern climes? My 15-year-old son Bart, who is studying
Canadian history, claimed explorers came here “for the beavers.” Then he added
bitterly, “I’ve never even seen a beaver.”
And I’ve never eaten one. There you have it – settling Canada was a huge mistake. I hereby proclaim that my family must try to rectify this catastrophic error yearly, from November through January.
I hope this mission will make us more refined, and more single-minded. As is the case in many families, each member of ours has disparate vacation goals. Mine is reading books and enjoying scenery. Petunia’s is tanning and scouting for Mexican amigos. Bart’s is skateboarding and spotting wildlife.
Stanley shares Bart’s interest in birds, fish and reptiles but also wants to eat local food and “relax” over cocktails. So for him, Puerto Vallarta fulfilled his wildest dreams when he discovered a restaurant where a half-blind bartender mixed a regular vodka martini, the only thing he drinks, with about six ounces of vodka.
He was already on his way to becoming the Canadian version of National Lampoon’s bumbling Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase). The first day, the Mexican man at the front desk of our condo building introduced himself to us as “Juan José.” Repeating what he thought was the man’s name, Stanley said, "Nice to meet you, Juan Hossein," remarking to us later that Middle Eastern employees must be rare in Puerto Vallarta.
That night he dove wholeheartedly into the vodka (“Vitamin V,” as he calls his beloved tipple). As the evening progressed, four local musicians approached our table, offering to serenade us with their acoustic guitars and bongos.
“Play something for the young people,” Stanley said grandly, indicating our teenagers. “Perhaps some Nirvana.”
Not that our children are remotely interested in Nirvana. The alternative band fronted by Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) was just the most contemporary group that tipsy Stanley could think of at the time. Vitamin V is like that. And Stanley is even more like that.
The young men, a.k.a. Los Bambinos, proceeded to play some music from their actual repertoire.
Stanley enjoyed the songs, as did we. The rest of us were able to savour them without going off the deep end. Stanley, however, felt the fact that he could order up live music on a whim meant he had magically transformed into a Hollywood mogul, on the order of P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean John – what have you. Well into his second martini, he informed the band that he wanted to hire them to "play my birthday party" on the rooftop of our condo building.
This was the first we’d heard of any such event.
Stanley’s birthday is December 23rd. Despite its proximity to Christmas, his late mother, a kind and generous woman, always planned a party for him. Stanley thinks it’s the perfect time for a birthday, because everybody’s in a festive mood. He is therefore addicted to the idea of an annual soiree.
Unfortunately for him, I am always at the nervous breakdown stage after two previous December family birthdays and Christmas on the horizon. Besides, our house is too small for a bash. Thus, our celebration of his big day tends to be understated.
This year, the kids and I had been thinking of something along the lines of Stanley doing an unusual activity on Dec. 23rd, like deep sea fishing, and, later, going out for tacos.
But P. Daddy had other plans. "It will be a party like none other," he declared, with a pronounced slur, to this quartet of impressionable strangers. He forgot that we knew no one in “P.V.” so it would be a party like none other for four people who had already spent eight days in constant togetherness.
“Who are we going to invite? Juan Hossein?” I asked sarcastically.
“Maybe he’ll bring his brother, Saddam,” suggested an even snider Bart.
Oblivious, Stanley elaborated, dangling the prospect of a festive pre-Christmas barbecue gig in front of Los Bambinos, ignoring the minor detail that the rooftop of our condo had no barbecue.
The Vitamin V continued to flow. When one of the musicians, flattered by all the attention, asked Stanley if he’d like to buy their self-produced CD, he replied magnanimously, "No, I think I'll save that and give them out as gifts to the people at my party."
I have a sick feeling that these young artistes rushed home and promised their families a cruise on the basis of P. Daddy’s lavish fantasies. He himself marked the occasion by taking a half-hour video of the inside of his shorts pocket.
Truth be told, I was no better behaved on this trip. We should have arrived in Mexico knowing some basic Spanish, for one thing. It’s rude to go to other people’s countries and expect them to speak to you in your own language. Yet my feeble range consisted only of “hola” and “gracias,” often mispronounced.
Stanley, however, seemed to think that Spanish was a language that was easily guessed at. When ordering beer for our daughter, he’d say in a hopeful tone, “Birra?” But at least one Mexican fellow was convinced by his attempts to fit in with the locals. Sitting across from Stanley on a boat, this inebriated stranger chattered on and on in Spanish, with our hero nodding appreciatively whenever it seemed to be expected. At the end of Mr. Talkative’s remarks, Stanley summoned up what he felt was a suitably Spanish-sounding response. “Exactamundo,” he said.
We buffoons will return to Puerto Vallarta, if it ever allows us back in. First, though, we’ll study the language – and impose a maximum allowance of one Mexican-sized martini per night.