Thursday, January 6, 2011

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Lists

Almost every time you tap into the media this week, you’ll hear how the first baby-boomers are turning 65 this year. And just as frequently, you hear how this generation is re-defining aging and retirement. Today on one of the morning television shows, some psychologist was talking about how we should all be making our “bucket lists;” a term I’ve come to have an aversion to.
I dislike it for the same reason I’ve never bought that book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz, which has been a best-seller for years now. The title is certainly compelling and when it came out I thumbed through it several times in the bookstore. Undoubtedly it has a certain Arabian Nights appeal: “Sorry, Grim Reaper, you’ll have to come back another day; I haven’t seen Angel Falls yet.” But I resisted buying it or any of its many spin-offs.  I figured the pressure would be just too great. The book would sit on my shelf making me feeling guilty for vacuuming the rug or walking the dog instead of exploring the Kasbah or hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I have to confess, though, I did make a photocopy of the Mexico section of the book in the library before I left California. There are 20 entries, including the town of San Miguel De Allende.

Our lovely town of San Miguel de Allende
made the 1,000 Places list

Apart from that, I’ve experience two of the others: the market in Oaxaca and a Mexican Day of the Dead. I’ve never really paid much attention to the other 17 as I don’t want to limit my experiences here to a check list.


Day of the Dead

I frequently had out-of-town visitors in California. Nothing made me crazier than people who refused my offer to take them on a guided insider’s tour but would say, “We’ve ‘done’ Hollywood; now we want to ‘do’ Malibu.” They were often so busy keeping score and peering through a camera lens that they missed the essence of the place.
I’m not sure if Schultz’s book and that Bucket List movie are responsible, but there’s also a big craze for people to make lists of 100 things to do before they die which show up all over the internet. Most are singularly unimaginative: if everyone who claims they want to sky dive actually did, the heavens really would be raining men.


Was Magritte thinking about his bucket list, I wonder?

And to the person who has “make soap” at number 12, I say, “Did you know there’s a whole aisle full of it at Walgreens?”
Others provide fascinating reading. You have to admire the lofty ambition of the person who wrote “learn the meaning of life,” and the baser goals of the one who aspires to “fart in a crowded place.” I particularly appreciate the whimsy of the listee who wants to “hide a dollar where a kid will find it.” But I was stumped by “go snout hunting.” I wondered if it was a hunting method or whether a snout is some poor critter that’s unaware its demise is number 98 on a to-do list. However, when I Googled it, I discovered that it’s a fishing thing. When trout raise their noses out of the water to catch flies on the surface of the river, fishermen know where and when to cast for them. The things you learn on the internet: I could have gone my whole life without knowing that and I bet you could have, too!
But I digress.
While one hundred to-dos seem more manageable than one thousand, I worry about what happens when you finally cross off number 100. I’m too Irish and too superstitious to tempt fate that way. Besides, contemplating all this makes me aware of my mortality, and who wants that on a daily basis? I’d rather put the emphasis on being alive.
For my part, while I do think that to be truly alive, I need to keep having novel experiences, challenging myself in fresh ways, making goals, and thinking about how to improve my sense of well-being, not every experience needs to be a list-worthy event. I think when I focus on the big-ticket items, I stand to miss those little special micro-moments that occur every day. And lord knows, San Miguel de Allende offers those opportunities in spades. Every day here is something of a magical mystery tour if you just go with flow.
Take this day for example. I decided to go along for an early morning ride with a couple of friends, one of whom was looking for a gadget for his gas heater. Before we got to the store, he needed to stop off at Senor X’s house. Senor X turned out to be fabulously wealthy and his “house” was a mansion, practically a castle, filled with exquisite antiques and art. Yes, folks, there was a Picasso painting leaning against a sofa because there was no room for it on the walls.  We had breakfast in his kitchen and after a tour of the breathtaking property, Senor X insisted we accompany him to an old hacienda he was restoring.  After a wild ride into the countryside we arrived at the beautiful, half-ruined ancient compound.

A 200-year-old yucca tree in the
courtyard of the hacienda

One of the rooms that was finished was the bar! More people joined us and by 11am we were having a tequila party. I was introduced to a new drink: a charro negro, which is tequila and Coca Cola. (Someone really ought to write a song about it.) Then it was time for comida.  We all piled into (now chauffeur-driven!) cars and went to a nearby town that I hadn’t been to before. We had a long, leisurely meal in a lovely courtyard restaurant. More people came and went as the afternoon spun out. Our original little group got home about eight hours after we left on our errand: and no, my friend never did get his gadget!
 Now whoever would have put a special day that on a list?

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