Les Grooms in Mexico

18th to 27th April 2008

La Groomex ltd - Guadalajara

The trip recounted by Laurent Searle, trombonist with Les Grooms


In Mexico, there are the rich, the poor...and the Grooms : photo !

There is, if you like, business class and economy class...

Business class : The sun

The sun is everywhere

The temperature is bearable. 35° of dry heat.

The evening freshens up because of the altitude.

How can you feel unhappy ?

Economy class: The 20 pesos bank-note.

Business class : we get our expenses in euros but spend in pésos.

A cunning plot to get rich quick in Mexico.

Business class : the good, the noble Mexican.

You arrive in Guadalajara.

And you just know you'll meet Mexicans on every street corner.

Bingo, gringo.

They're everywhere.

When you meet them, nothing's said. The Mexican seems to keep to himself. Impenetrable.

But not true ! When you do speak to them, no problem.

The Mexican is really sociable. And chatty.

Smiles, service with a smile, kindness, and more smiles. Just great.

Business class : The festival and its cascade of fruit

The festival site looks like some dusty commercial fair with stages wilting in the sun.

There are shows in the evening : clowns, puppets, concerts.

To get to the stages you pass through narrow passage-ways crowded with white tents.

They're full of stands with an incredible mixture of products on offer : banks, trinkets, telephones, houses to build, cushions, sofas, pineapple juice, religious tat, sexy underwear for men...

But shopping in Mexico has nothing to with the Paris Fair.

From the outset we fear the worst from all this tawdry excess, but it's an excess which has its fascinations.

There are street hawkers who have very little of value to hawk.

We especially like a little woman on the wrong side of sixty, who sells pieces of fruit in big plastic glasses. Every day we rush to buy mangoes, pineapple and water melon from her which cost us less than a euro (paid in pesos).

Fruit's in plentiful supply.

Its all over town

Fruit, fruit and more fruit.

It's served sprinkled with salt, with chilli and with lime.

If you're Parisian, you say no to the chilli. Or worse, you refuse the salt and the lime too.

The little woman won't be persuaded otherwise – the French are just over-fussy.

Economy class: Doubts.

The aisles of the festival are noisy; each restaurant is playing its own music and they've all programmed different groups. Trumpets, mariachi music, all at full blast.

All the commercial stands are squeezed into the narrow aisles. There's no room, nowhere which is pleasant to be, no imagination.

It's as if we're about to perform in a market selling local specialities in the south-west of France.

What's the point of having travelled across half the world for this?

And what's more, our first performance is really pathetic.

Inauguration: we have to play for the important people of the festival, but the important people prefer to go and see Opposito's huge parade that's happening at the same a different place.

The important people are...somewhere else. Where we are doesn't matter, and there's hardly a soul to see us. A disaster.

Business class : Luckily, the organisers begin to believe in us. Hugely. Big smiles and lots of compliments in Spanish which hardly anyone understands. We don't think we merit such enthusiasm, but we accept it gratefully.

And they really have tried to create the best possible conditions for us, which is no mean feat given the state of things here.

Business class : The people who act as our guides and security really take care of us. Each time we perform they try to make sure there's not too much noise. There are always two or three of them and they manage to get the bothersome sound systems turned off. So we can perform where we want, and we relax into it. Bit by bit, every day we have more fun.

Economy class: This description was, frankly, idealised. We're all about 45 -50 years old. The Grooms have been going for 20 years. It takes a bit more than this to really cheer us up. The dressing room is an open tent, very far from being the lockable dressing room mentioned in the contract, and we're all sitting cramped up on our chairs waiting for our next show. We are not sure if we're going to be able to generate any enthusiasm. Maybe, maybe not.

Business class : Little by little we begin to feel more at home. There's not always a lot of people, but the audience like us and people listen attentively. They're exuberant, vivifying! Caramba! We do set after set (10 days, 2 sets per day), no problem. We do what we have to do. And the doing is fun.

The longer it goes on, the more we have contact with the, women, translators, singers...

Ah, Mexico! It makes you glad to be a Groom!.

Business class : Telmex , pemex y dios.

The economic model is simple.

Petrol is Pemex

Telephone is Telmex.

Regarding petrol they have a great situation in Mexico.

There is loads of petrol which is not commercialised but which is carefully kept apart.

Then they can dip into this reserve just enough so that national consumption demands are met.

But the Mexicans don't know how to refine this petrol, which is sent to the States before coming back in the form of liquid gold which can be sold by Pemex.

If you want to put petrol in your car, it has to be Pemex.

All the petrol stations are Pemex.

It operates like a state monopoly except that it's private.

Maybe that's the same thing.

Pemex seems to be operated by the unions.

Who knows if that's good or bad.

If you compare it to the Esso station 60km down the A13 near Paris, the petrol is very cheap.

(everything's cheap when you pay in euros).

It appears that Pemex makes a loss. I'm not so sure.

Same thing for the telephone company.

Privatised to the advantage of Telmex.

The guy who runs Telmex possesses a vast fortune

He's about the 10th richest man in the world.

Maybe it's shared between two people but it comes down to the same thing.

There's a guy in Mexico who owns the telephone.

And a guy in Mexico who has 1000 times more money than you could ever imagine when you pay your taxes. Plus he owns the sun.

It's him who's forking out for this festival. He's the one who pays the Grooms like you would buy a coffee for a friend.

Economy class: the Grooms becoming a rich man's plaything.

That puts artistic ambition into context and shakes up your political thinking.

Economy class: Gas heating

Here heating by gas doesn't work at all well.

And even in the kitchen it's hopeless.

The gas is sold off the back of a tatty lorry which drives around the poor areas of town

to the accompaniment of a rasping sound system like the one which announces the arrival of the circus in your village some Wednesday morning

In Mexico gas is sold as a lost cause

Business class : Then there's God.

In Mexico everyone believes in God

God is undoubtedly the richest man in the world in this country.

Economy class: Organisacion' y désorganisacion.

It's a shambles!

We're worried by the organisation

We're halfway through and everything is going fine.

Organisacion', représentacion', satisfaccion', congratulacion'

Mexico likes the Grooms

The Grooms like Mexico.

Except that promised payments are not coming through. Décepcion'.

We are promised them for tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

The Groom rediscovers his Grooms reflexes. Contestacion'

We're worried about our money. It's normal. We can't cross half the planet at a right angle squeezed into a tiny plane for no money!

The contract! We want our contract!

Business class : Finally everything works out.

We're paid just in time

We can get on our plane reassured, and cross our legs once more under our chins.

Economy class: : El camion.

We take advantage of our tourist time to take the bus.

There are buses everywhere, going in all directions. Like a big rodeo.

The bus is king: it tears along, takes incredible risks, slalom-like.

Buses operate on the same lines as taxis. The driver has his own permit and each is responsible for his bus. The driver keeps the proceeds.

So of course the driver does just as he likes.

If he doesn't want to stop at a certain stop he just flies pas, leaving would-be passengers flailing in his wake.

He might also stop in the middle of the street to check oil and water levels.

For five minutes no-one gets on or gets off. The driver stops the motor and waits. The traffic behind can't move. Suddenly a man throws himself under the wheels of the bus and gets up again armed with a cloth and with his face covered in oil. He gets on the bus. The driver gives him a few coins. It's the mechanic.

Business class :

The drivers have little altars in their cabins. God is everywhere.

Business class : goulou goulou y Colo colo

We play in front of a Coca Cola stand.

The Mexicans drink huge quantities of the elixir of Doctor U.S.

And get all the accompanying problems of obesity.

You don't have to look very hard to see that the Mexicans have feelings of repulsion and at the same time desire with regard to their powerful neighbours. A feeling which is constant without every being fiercely explicit. Difficult to understand completely.

However, it appears that the wall of shame constructed by el profesor Bush is really hated. It points up the power of one country and the humiliating dependency of the other.

People say to us: life might look easy here, but it's really difficult to survive in Mexico. There are lots of poor people, and you have to work constantly for not very much money. Lots of people have insecure little jobs : sellers of newspapers and phone-cards, and clowns who do their numbers at traffic junctions when the lights are red. Nobody laughs.

In every family there are people who leave for the US to earn more money. Lots of them come back disappointed. But then we hear the opposite story too. Who knows?

Other things we hear: the average age is low and life expectancy too; the tap water isn't drinkable and not everywhere has running water. In the poorest areas (which we didn't see) there's only the sun, désolacion'... y Dios.

Economy class: all the references to profesor Bush we make during the performances are greeted with whistles.

OK, it hardly amounts to a revolution, and not even a crowd disturbance.

Just a feeling of fuck me fuck you between friends.

Business class : We manage to get the crowd to sing in chorus to the aria Casta Diva. Usually, it's enough to sing's classic, it's international. But here they change the words : Cooca-coola-cooca-coola. Still a success, just different.

Economy class: Not sure we'll be able to change the world like that.

Economy class: Marvellous...with God and the sun ruling things, Mexico is immortal.

No welfare system, no taxes.

(that is to say...of course there is a welfare system but it's incredibly poor; of course there are taxes, but no-one pays them. And school! No school for the least well-off, it's too expensive or too worthless...and so on and so forth...and nobody's surprised. That's perhaps the worst aspect, that no-one's surprised. It seems that public morale is in free-fall everywhere, just like in Sarkozy's France, and that no-one believes in anything any more, not even in God or the sun).

Business class : Positive!

Satisfaction. A great deal of energy here goes on making things work out. If you ask for something, people will do their utmost so that you get it. This is true in business but also in life in general. Here, people want to help, with a smile, efficiency, and a relaxed attitude. Here there is very little stress.

The preferred response of a Mexican to any request : Yes.

Business class : Muchas gracias.

When you give a tip to a waiter or a taxi-driver, smiles with a big: thank-you.

Economy class: La ecología no pasará !!

Not even the shadow of an ecological thought.

Plastic everywhere.

Huge cars at 3000 euros (let's get rich in Mexico!)

No water recycling

It all ends up in your bath-tub

Not the faintest inkling about what global warming means

(35° for starters)

And as for GM products...

It has to be said, there are other pressing causes. For example, to live.

Business class : Viva la muerte

Death is cheerful, death is beautiful

It's part of Mexican life

People dance death and play death

It's far away from the western concept of injustice

As if death was unjust!

Not at all!

There is nothing more egalitarian than death.

It's the fate of all and sundry and that's a good thing

Business class : Memories

Death's-head sweets

Statues of skeletons

Knick-knacks in the shape of coffins

And the good lord everywhere

Crosses, icons, candles...

Economy class: Lost!

And France, where is France?

Who is it? What is it?

Here people only have a vague notion of what France is.

You have to travel to understand the true dimension of France.


Laurent SEARLE


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