I love Mexico for its colors, for its variety of cultures, languages, traditions. Did I mention its diverse scenery and lovely colonial architecture? But what I love the most is how people follow customs that are a mélange of indigenous beliefs, secular ceremonies and Catholicism and blend them effortlessly – even the strangest ones – into their daily life.
Because I am in New York City, I can find small pieces of Mexico everywhere, like this small deli in the heart of Brooklyn that I want to tell you about. I went in looking for a carton of milk. I said hello, and then headed towards the back, passing one refrigerator after another: beer, juices, eggs. But before finding the milk, I found Virgin Mary! There she was, at the end of the refrigerator row, the real life-size flamboyant statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the protector of Mexico, effortlessly held by a tiny baby angel. A dozen cans of beer – Coors Light and Budwiser – were carefully arranged on her side and I was not sure if they were an offering to the Virgen, or a misplaced product. What confused me slightly, was the garlic head placed in front of the mouth of the poor angel. Unless in Mexico garlic has a different meaning, you don’t give it to angels. Not where I come from.
Amused by the setup, I contemplated for a second the cacophony of faith and deli produce, I snapped a quick photo (see below), then turned around to search for my milk. I squeezed on a dark and narrow aisle. On the white shelves, among pasta packs and pickle jars, I saw an eclectic collection of bottles with colorful tags, filled with equally colorful liquids.
I took the fattest bottle on the shelf, which turned out to be a money making kit: a green liquid (great choice of color) in a bottle adorned by a 100$ fake bill, a green candle and a Turkish evil-eye key chain. I was confused so I called the lady at the counter to shed some light on the use of this mysterious product. With a serious face, she started: you wash yourself or the floor with the detergent in the bottle, and while you get yourself (or your floor) cleansed, you must burn the green candle. Ah, got it! And, I thought to myself, if I am still alive after the magic bath, I should wear the evil eye keychain, to fend off people envious at all the money I would make. Man, I thought, for the mere price of $8.49, I could get rich.
It turned out I landed in the spiritual section of the deli. The bottles were filled with esoteric oils, that, for $3.49 a piece, could solve one’s many problems. For financial freedom, there was Lucky Don Dinero (translated as Lucky Mr. Money, which sounded more like a Chinese bank) and Don Juan del Dinero (yes, Don Juan but of the Money). For men, there was the Siete Machos cologne – need to work on your manhood? Sprinkle that Siete Machos on your clothes daily. Then there was the Abre Camino potion (Open Road) and Destrancadera (Unlock) that helped open roads and doors to opportunities in life, although it seemed that the Destrancadera could also help unlock someone’s heart. For enemies, there was a choice of Contra Maleficios y Salaciones oil (Against Curses) or the more straightforward and probably more far reaching detergent Contra Enemigos. For entrepreneurs, the Llama Clientes shampoo (Call Clients). I think this could be a seller in Silicon Valley. The good luck selection was pretty varied, there was the regular option of Buena Suerte, but for fast results and the same price, one could purchase Suerte Rapida (Fast Luck) or Doble Suerte Rapida (the mother of all luck, you get it fast and you get it double). There was literally a bottle for every need. The best of it? They were all Made in China!
I followed my path through esoteric oils, rice bags and tomato sauce cans. I found my milk, took it to the cashier, purchased it. I could not decide if I needed money, love, luck, or clients. Once I decide, I could always come back.