Where Am I Now?
(Brightly colored doors and bafflingly numbered houses in Ajijic)
By David Perry Lawrence
I stood lost, cell phone in hand, in the middle of Hidalgo, just a few blocks west of the Ajijic plaza. I had left home scarcely a few minutes earlier, foolishly thinking I could find my friend’s house in a Mexican part of the village with ease. After all, I had his address. But the more I searched for his street number, the more I believed it simply didn’t exist! Not on the north side of the street, where I could swear they were going up as I walked west, nor on the south, where I was certain they were going down. Not on the south side, where they were in the 70’s, nor on the north, where they were in the 80’s. His house was nowhere to be found. I felt like a soul in limbo, caught between the numbers.
It wasn’t any of these
I’ve run into this problem time and again in Ajijic. Street numbers just don’t make any sense to me. They go up when they should go down, they go down when they should go up. That the streets change names from block to block doesn’t help either. El Parrroquia becomes Hidalgo. Camino Real becomes Constitucion which becomes Ocampo. 16 de Septiembre, home of the Lake Chapala Society, becomes Independencia. Even Colon, named after Christopher Columbus, becomes Morelos. How is anyone expected to find their way around Ajijic?
But let’s return to my bewilderment on Hidalgo, searching fruitlessly for my friend’s house. As I said, I’m standing in the middle of the street, cell phone pressed to my ear. I’ve reached my friend on it. “I can’t find your house,” I mumble, feeling like an idiot who has been in this predicament one too many times before. “Where is it? I’m on Hidalgo. I just passed Aquiles Serdan. I thought you said it was just down the hill from there, but I can’t find it. What’s the number?” I uttered, trying to disguise the slight panic and frustration I felt.
“‘It’s the blue house with red trim just down the block on the left,” he answered. “I’m standing out front waving at you.”
This was his house
That’s when months of befuddlement ended for me. The street numbers in Ajijic hardly mean a thing. Maybe they were once intended as a way to guide people, although I can’t say now that they were doing a spot-on job of it. It’s the COLOR of the house that is important! Or the statue placed carefully in a niche above the door—or some accent or artwork out front. “The blue house with red trim on the left.” At last I understood why every house was painted a different color: petunia blue, honeysuckle orange, tarragon yellow, chili-pepper red…it was to differentiate each from its neighbors. A simple need created vibrantly painted houses.
OK, I’ll admit, I really don’t know if this is why the houses and shops are painted such vivid colors. In fact I doubt it, but it helps me find my way around town and keeps a smile on my face.