Gabo in Nuevo Laredo

Even though this is my third week of living in Nuevo Laredo, I feel like the main thing I want to talk about is all the food I’ve been eating because that’s one of the things I find most exciting about being in Mexico. Like yesterday I went to this giant market with my co-workers and their kids that everyone calls las pulgas (the fleas). There’s a saying that “para calidad, hay que ir a liverpulgas” because apparently there’s a trendy department store in either Mexico or Texas that’s called Liverpool… hence the ironic play on words “liverpulgas.” For lunch we had a big steaming bowl of menudo, or soup made of lining from a cow’s stomach. I’m not going to lie to you… it was hard to finish. I poured on the little green chilis and onions and cilantro like nobody’s business. But yeah, I’m proud to say that unlike the tripe tacos (I could only eat one, and it made me horribly ill), I ate the whole bowl of menudo. Go me. And then we walked for what seriously felt like 2 kilometers through the stalls. I ended up only buying one shirt even though I seriously need more, I’m sure all my co-workers have noticed by now that I wear the same rotating set of six shirts every week.

The main thing I wanted to write about here, though, isn’t so much the food or what it’s like to live in Nuevo Laredo or what I’m doing here (you can read all that on the Kiva Fellows blog). What I wanted to say here was that yesterday I found a plaza right near my apartment that not only looks like a good place to go running, but more importantly, there is a LIBRARY right near by! Well, I guess it’s not really a library, because you’re not allowed to check books out, it’s a “center to promote reading.” But they have shelves and shelves of books of photography and novels in Spanish and English. I spent an hour reading “Richard the III,” struggling to understand how everyone was related but loving the hell out of it. I only left because the place closed.

The coolest thing is that it’s named after none other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez, autor nacional de la tierra de mi alma. Yes, apparently he donated serious monies to build the place and came to the inauguration naming ceremony and everything. Apparently (according to the informative plaques inside the building) Gabo has a special affection for Nuevo Laredo because it was the first part of Mexico that he passed through.

The reading center built right by the railway track, which is where he took the train with his family. It’s an awesome, well-lit space with a snazzy little cafe. And a children’s center that is filled with the EXACT SAME inflatable green turtles from IKEA that I wrestled mightily to blow up for the Boys & Girls Club! A strangely small, surreal world indeed. I wish I’d taken a picture for proof.
Garcia Marquez’s books translated into different languages such as Estonian, Czech and Danish.

Reading = Growing, and lovely old copies of Don Quixote behind a glass case.

Oh, it just all brought tears to my eyes, the sight of books lined up on shelf after shelf. It just seemed like such a tranquil, lovely scene of beauty in the middle of a city that gets such a bad rep from everyone. It’s discovering places like this that makes me so glad and grateful to have the opportunity to travel to cities that are brusquely dismissed as “not worth it” or “unsightly and dirty” in guidebooks. Lago Agrio and Coca in Ecuador. Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo in Mexico. Cali in Colombia isn’t exactly spoken of as a haven of beauty either. But I love these cities! It’s what I’m used to, what I grew up with. Cracked sidewalks covered in grass. Dogs with the dirtiest, most disgusting eye sockets you can imagine, all runny with pus and so gross it just makes you want to vomit. Street food. Sugary drinkable yogurt. Men hissing ooh beautiful white girl wherever I go (okay, this I can live without).

I think something a lot of people get out of traveling is the feeling that they’re suddenly experiencing what it’s like to see themselves through someone else’s eyes. When I moved to Portland I experienced the opposite effect; it was like suddenly and magically becoming invisible. Suddenly, I could blend in, I wasn’t the white girl with the hair that always inevitably stood out in the crowd anymore as an obvious foreigner. In Portland I can lie and say that I’ve grown up in Oregon my entire life and that I’d learned Spanish in high school and no one would ever be the wiser. How weird, right?. How funny that when I travel to Spanish-speaking countries I get the feeling like I’m coming home, that I’m returning to a comforting site of familiarity, that “standing out” as the obvious clueless foreigner is the state I’m more used to.

Some cartoon drawings hanging on the walls of the reading center.



Filed under books, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, library, Nuevo Laredo, travel

5 responses to “Gabo in Nuevo Laredo

  1. fallo

    I stumbled across your blog through Google alerts…it's good to see a google alert about nvo ldo that doesn't talk about death and drugs.
    I, too, am a guero stranded on the frontier.
    I'm glad you dig the library. Have you been to the Centro Cultural? It'll blow your mind.
    How does nvo ldo compare to the big TJ? I've never been afraid here but that place makes me paranoid hah hah hah
    hope you keep writing; it's interesting reading.

  2. julikins

    Thanks for the comment Zach! I haven't been to the Centro Cultural yet, I'll have to try to get one of my Nuevo Laredo friends to drive me over there. What are you doing in TJ?

    Nuevo Laredo feels a lot more mellow than TJ, IMHO. People are a lot more laid back here, while Tijuana had this crazy, hyperkinetic energy that the entire city just seemed to feed off. When I lived in TJ I always felt like something absolutely insane was always on the verge of happening (and it very often did!). The crazy side to NvLdo feels more hidden, though it's DEFINITELY here. I wonder how much of that has to do with California vs. Texas culture…
    paz y bien,

  3. Zach

    Pardon my unclear prepositions…I'm actually in Nuevo Laredo. I work for Laredo's quality (sic) newspaper.
    How long have you been on the border?
    I read about Kiva via your links…is it basically a microloan corporation? How long has it provided assistance to the Tamaulipas region?
    (i was recently told i ask too many questions so feel free to ignore that but I'm curious about this organization)
    Have you heard of Sonia Nazario? Her book, Enrique's Journey, promotes the idea of microloans pretty heavily, and a chunk of it actually takes place in the big NL. It's kind of funny to read about the glue-sniffers on the river and then walk home and get acosted by those same glue-sniffers…

  4. julikins

    Wait… you live in Nuevo Laredo?! You should send me an e-mail! ( I've only been her for four weeks but I'm still trying to meet people and make friends :)

    Kiva is a non-profit based in San Francisco that allows people to make microloans to individual entrepreneurs all over the world. You can check it out at It's an amazing organization, and I'm not just saying that because I work for them (haha). Kiva's been working with its Nuevo Laredo-based partner, Fundación para La Vivienda Progresiva, since October 2006 ( FVP is another great organization. Since you work for a newspaper (which one?), they would make a great story about development in the border region. I would be more than happy to meet up with you to discuss Kiva and FVP in more detail!

  5. Pingback: My Old Friend Onetti « Doubts Best Ally

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