Mescal Moments: Inspiration
In case you’re not familiar with it, mescal is an alcoholic drink made from the maguey plant in Mexico. It’s the liquor that comes in the bottle with the worm inside.
It’s a matter of taste, but I’m not partial to any beverages with critters and vermins swimming in them. As if that weren’t enough, I knew I didn’t like it as soon as I tried it, in the middle of a day in July in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora – just south of Yuma.
If you’ve lived a full year in the area, you know that people in either town reside just a degree or two this side of Hell in July. So if the sun is burning up your outer hide, it doesn’t sound like a good idea to inflame your innards as well with some fiery fluid like mescal. You might call it dumb.
I’d say it was a moment of enlightment – my mescal moment.
Say what? It’s a long story that goes back to high school days, when I took Spanish every year, not out of any personal desire but because my parents wanted me to learn the language.
Out of high school and into college, I took more Spanish. Finally, it had sunk in that if I planned to make my home in a state that borders Mexico, knowing the language might come in handy. Plus, to give up my studies of Spanish at that point would be a waste of all the time I’d thus far invested trying to learn it.
For a time later on, I lived on the border, where I could use my basic, classroom-taught Spanish. Then I moved to northwestern Arizona, where I had practically no chance to use it. My language skills started to get rusty.
Then a job interview brought me to Yuma, and as I thought of ways to kill the half day prior to the appointment, I decided to take a side trip down to Mexico to shop for souvenirs. Which is how I ended up in a liquor store in San Luis, scene of my mescal moment. Kind of stupid to imbibe and possibly take on the slurred speech effect just before an interview, you might say.
Again, it was my moment of enlightenment.
Walking into the liquor store, I recognized the chance to use the language I had neglected. I grabbed a bottle of clear tequila and one of dark tequila and asked the guy behind the counter, in Spanish, the difference between the two. Actually, I knew the difference, but I figured that would be a good conversation starter.
He answered, in English. I asked another question, in Spanish. He answered, in English. I asked another question, again in Spanish, and finaly he gave up and and answered in Spanish – and continued to speak in Spanish over the next hour or so as the conversation rambled on to other topics besides the color of tequila.
All the while, I butchered his language, but Roberto – that was his name – seemed to appreciate the effort I was making. Finally, he reached under the counter for a drink he assured me would be much better than either tequila I was about to buy. He put forth a round bottle with a label on it that proclaimed itself Monte Alban Mescal. The bottle was dark, so I didn’t see the worm – but I knew it was there.
Roberto poured me a shot, explaining that mescal came from the maguey plant in Oaxaca, down in southern Mexico. I suppressed any gagging and coughing and pretended to like it. What impressed me far more than the mescal was Roberto’s gesture – even if a small one – of sharing a drink with me.
I’d made a friend and opened up a whole new world to myself, just by striking up a conversation with someone I’d otherwise not have met had I spoken only English. And I was reminded of why it was so important that I spend so many years struggling to properly conjugate verbs in different tenses, struggling to pronounce the double-r sound in burrito or perro.
That was my mescal moment.
And if you are struggling to learn Spanish, don’t give up. Persist, persevere, press on. Your mescal moment will come. Then the language will be much easier to learn.
As it happened, I got the job, here at The Yuma Sun. I think I even celebrated by opening a bottle I had brought back from the San Luis liquor store.
It was not mescal, as I recall.