As we amble through our 13th day since Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a shelter-in-place order for our state, the new normal is neither new, nor normal. To be frank, life for many is becoming cruelly bleak; for the sick, the dying, the grieving, and those who care for them, it is an unceasing nightmare.
Covid-19 numbers from across the globe stubbornly continue to rise in all reporting countries; there are currently a total of 1,192,962 Covid-19 cases, with 64,236 deaths. Of these, measuring total closed cases against fatalities, 21 percent were “resolved” by death. In the US at large there are 306,768 total cases with 8,347 deaths; of 22,996 closed US cases, a staggering thirty-six percent were resolved by death.
Closer to home, Michigan’s MDHHS reports 12,744 total Covid-19 cases and 479 deaths. In our neighborhoods, car traffic is way down, careful foot traffic is way up, heading out for supplies is a life choice and it is no longer unusual to see folks donning masks and gloves, giving each other a very wide berth. Most of us across the board are working from home in some fashion, which makes for a snow-day feeling. A snow-day plus homework, minus friends, minus joy, minus snow.
It is against this despair that I again endeavor to distract.
It Doesn’t Look Real
When I first started this writing exercise four episodes ago, I had laid out just how difficult it was to even prepare and execute a departure for Puerto Vallarta at all. To say nothing of getting back home safely.
So as we last spoke I was relating that Valkie and I were finally ready to step out into the steamy world of PV on March 5th, a lifetime ago. As we strolled across the pool deck, past the bodega and out onto the seaside cement boardwalk, we beheld the sight we hadn’t seen for over a year. A bay comprising 62 miles of coastline, two enormous arms of lush, tropical highlands reaching out in a big, open oval for the sun. I turned to Valkie and said “it’s so beautiful it doesn’t look real.”
To color this remark in a bit, my three sons and I have a game we call “real or fake,” which is played when watching a film or television program. If in a particular scene, a director has made use of background or matte painting, or a set design to depict a faraway castle, feature, or facade, Dad generally asks whoever is present, “real or fake?” This is only for older productions, as in the modern era of CGI, so much of what you see is digital, and the game is no fun. For quite some time while coming of age, the fellas could get stumped easily, believing everything they saw through young eyes was real.
As they got older, more savvy and have actually worked in film, the game naturally devolved to the satirical; the worse the art direction, the more fun the game, which is why I routinely send clips of obvious model train layouts to the boys over Facebook with the tag of “real or fake?”
The English Romantic Poet John Keats said, “Scenery is fine–but human nature is finer.” I’m not really sure what he meant, but in my humble dime-store of philosophy, I have come to find that our memory of scenery, or its artistic depiction, are often more vivid, more moving, more beautiful than the genuine article. However, these two are not binary; on occasion most of us have beheld something that is so wondrous, it confuses the brain, and looks so strikingly ideal it must be art and nature at once. This is the emotion you feel when gazing at Bahia de Banderas. Real or fake? Yes.
That first day on the ground, we walked quite a bit, enjoyed a good supper at our hotel’s restaurant and ventured out afterwards to make our way at a stately pace to a favorite piano bar and its mainstay musician, our friend Dennis.
A Place and its People
Around one-half the labor force of PV and its environs work in tourism-related jobs, including hotels, restaurants, personal services, and transportation. The area continues to have strong agricultural, fishing, industrial and commercial sectors, but servicing visitors from the the world, the US, Canada and other points in Mexico drives the local economy.
What this means is that both the sowing and reaping season for folks trying to take care of you runs from late November through March, about one-quarter of the year. While the average monthly salary in PV is near 26,000 pesos or $1,000 USD, pay can run as little as 3,500 pesos, or about $139 per month USD. Compared against the average US salary of $3,714 per month, the people of PV are not on easy street.
And yet, walking through open-air markets, along the beach, enjoying food, beverages and other services, you are astounded at just how goddamn happy so many of these people seem to be. In fact, PV was once named La ciudad más amigable del mundo, or friendliest city in the world, and this appears to remain so. Despite the yearly invasion of Yanks and Canucks, gays and straights, the occasional classic Ugly American, the random cheapskates and disagreeably entitled twerps, the people of PV are, in the main, as beautiful as the place where they so happily reside.
Strolling the several blocks through the Romantic Zone to the piano bar, Valkie and I relished the absence of vacation-buyer’s remorse, greeting, engaging, haggling, meandering and enjoying the evening’s lively streets. There are vendors, shops and a bevy of eating and drinking options along the way. And since I’ve lavished some attention on the locals, let’s talk about our fellow visitors for a bit.
In an entirely unscientific, eyeball survey, your travelers to PV tend toward middle-age and higher. Dress is quite casual, and while there is wealth out there, no one is lording their largess over others, at least not too much. In the straight realm, there are mostly couples and groups of couples, and you get the sense that a fair number are in town for long stays. In the LGBTQ class, there are also plenty of middle-age couples, but this demographic also features spirited groups of younger and youngish men celebrating life and contributing a disproportionate share of the night’s energy and clamor. And expatriates are everywhere, of varying stripes.
For sheer, ear-splitting, thumping, ebullient madness, La Noche is a preferred off-the-charts LGBTQ-friendly bar in PV. It is so seismic, you need not go in, and we never have. On our first night’s venture, turning down my hearing aid to work past the very happy men spilling out of the place, Valkie and I were headed for a gay-friendly piano bar at the opposite end of the scale, where, if you play it right, you can sing with an extraordinary pianist. So it is here at Incanto that I leave you for now, ‘till the saga(s) persist.