Continuing our celebration of books in Buddhism, here’s a great video of Nagapriya and his friends at El Centro Budista De Ciudad de México talking about the benefits of reading and how Sangharakshita’s books in particular have influenced their spiritual life.
Mexico is a highly taxed economy. I’m not talking about the kinds of taxes that we are used to paying in Europe, which we pay to the government in order to enjoy various services. No one pays those here if they can possibly avoid it. In fact, there’s a complex industry exclusively concerned with avoiding paying the government anything at all. Little wonder then that the infrastructure of Mexico is a mess. But that is a whole other story. Right now, I’m talking about the informal, at first invisible taxes which we are expected – and sometimes forced – to pay every single day if you happen to be someone who has a few pesos in their pocket, and above all if you’re someone who drives a car.
First of all, there is the classic viene viene tax. This provides an alternative to formal car parking charges. In Mexico, it is rare to be charged by the local municipality to park on the road. Of course, there are plenty of private car parks and these usually charge 18 to 50 pesos per hour. However, on the road there is a different economy: the economy of the viene viene. What is this? The viene viene is a characteristically Mexican institution. While Mexico may not be the richest country in the world, I’m constantly struck at how resourceful people are at making money. They see opportunities where I see piles of rubbish, they see a business venture when I see a line of parked cars. The viene viene is usually a middle-aged guy who takes it upon himself to control a stretch of pavement and set up his own informal car park along the side of the road. As far as I can see, he is not regulated in any way and I’ve yet to understand how viene vienes divide up their turf. Are there, for instance, viene viene turf wars?
Anyway, take the viene viene who works outside my building. He controls a stretch of maybe 100-150m of road real estate. Any time a car comes to park (on what is in fact a free road), Israel ushers the car into an empty spot, removing before he does so one of the markers or boxes or lumps of concrete that he uses to block the spaces when there are free spots. He even controls the entrance way to our building. After an unfortunate incident in which he crashed one of our cars when in the midst of one of the perpetual car shuffling operations, he now takes it upon himself to do extra little chores for us. For instance, if one of us arrives by car, and there is already a car parked outside our front door, he will remove it immediately shuffling it along the line and allowing us to park. After the car crashing incident, he has never asked us for any money. In addition, if he happens to be nearby and we are unloading something he comes across to help carry it into the building for us.
A viene viene will normally expect perhaps 5 to 10 pesos for allowing you to park your car on a public road. A particularly enterprising viene viene may also offer a car washing service to boost his income. But the work of the viene viene is not confined to the public road, he may also operate a line of parking spaces outside a shop or even in a supermarket car park. In these contexts, his role is actually completely useless but he will make a great show of directing you into a parking space that you could easily have found by yourself and that requires no guidance to park in. However, because he has waved his arms a bit and ushered you into a space, you are more or less required to pay the tax. Of course, you can always refuse but then you will be faced with the pitying look of the scorned viene viene. This look is hard to explain unless you have seen it and is called upon by various other informal tax agencies, which I will come to later. It basically makes you feel like you have just stolen chocolate from a baby. It should noted, of course, that the vienes vienes themselves are required to pay a tax to the local police patrols for allowing to them to operate what is in fact an illegal business.
Actually, the viene viene system has many advantages. First of all, it enables you to find a parking space, which is not always easy to come by. Secondly, you can be confident that someone is keeping an eye on your car which means that it is less likely to be stolen or damaged (unless of course you leave your keys with the viene viene and they themselves crash it). Thirdly, as already noted, you may be offered additional services such as window cleaning, or even a full car wash.
To be continued…
This clip from SAMSARA showing food production and consumption has been getting a lot of attention.
No sé si cortarme las venas o dejármelas largas (‘I don’t know whether to cut my veins or leave them long’) is a Mexican film which is clearly informed by its origins as a work of theatre. All the action takes place within an apartment block amid the bubbling emotions of a group of neighbours. The film is in turns quirky, stylish, funny, and moving and presents a closely observed portrait of human relationships, loneliness, desire, and aspiration.
The ensemble caste don’t put a foot wrong in portraying a rapidly shifting landscape of emotions and relationships. The end result is a rewarding study of human relationships as they transform over time.
No me llevo ni una sola gota de veneno. Me llevo los besos […] y un asombro por todo esto que ninguna carta, ninguna explicación, pueden decir a nadie lo que ha sido.
I don’t carry even a single drop of poison. I carry kisses […] and a wonder for everything that no letter, no explanation, can tell anyone what has been.
It is the shadow of water
And the echo of a sigh
Trace of a glance,
Memory of an absence,
Vanished woman behind a windowpane.
She is closed up, dead - finger of
the heart, she is your ring -
Far from the mystery
Simple, like a child.
Drops of light filled
and a body of leaves and wings
dissolves to dew.
Take her with your eyes,
Fill her now, my love.
She is yours like nobody’s,
yours like suicide.
Stones that I sank in the air,
Logs that I drowned in the river,
See my heart floating
Above her austere body.
Translation: copyright, Nagapriya
Es la sombra del agua
y el eco de un suspiro,
rastro de una mirada,
memoria de una ausencia,
desnudo de mujer detrás de un vidrio.
Está encerrada, muerta -dedo
del corazón, ella es tu anillo-,
distante del misterio,
fácil como un niño.
Gotas de luz llenaron
y un cuerpo de hojas y alas
se fue al rocío.
Tómala con los ojos,
llénala ahora, amor mío.
Es tuya como de nadie,
tuya como el suicidio.
Piedras que hundí en el aire,
maderas que ahogué en el río,
ved mi corazón flotando
sobre su cuerpo sencillo.
I don’t know for sure, but I suppose
That a man and a woman
Fall in love one day
Bit by bit they grow lonely,
something in their hearts tells them that they are alone,
alone on the earth that they seep into,
slowly, they are killing each other.
Everything happens in silence. As does the
Light inside the eye.
Love unites bodies.
In silence each one fills the other.
Whatever the day, they wake up, arms around;
they think they know everything then.
They see each other naked and know everything.
(I don’t know for sure. I suppose.)
Translation: Nagapriya, copyright
Yo no lo sé de cierto, pero supongo
que una mujer y un hombre
un día se quieren,
se van quedando solos poco a poco,
algo en su corazón les dice que están solos,
solos sobre la tierra se penetran,
se van matando el uno al otro.
Todo se hace en silencio. Como
se hace la luz dentro del ojo.
El amor une cuerpos.
En silencio se van llenando el uno al otro.
Cualquier día despiertan, sobre brazos;
piensan entonces que lo saben todo.
Se ven desnudos y lo saben todo.
(Yo no lo sé de cierto. Lo supongo)
The ‘Heart Sutra’ in Sanskrit (seemingly a back-translation from Chinese).