Every society has its social gathering points. In the US, it’s the mall and church. In London it’s the pub or mosque. Definitely ‘or’, not ‘and’, if you know what I mean. In Mexico, traditionally it is the town square and church, which usually sit side by side. Every town has a square. Except in Mexico City, which has the most giant square of them all, but not so many as you reach the suburbs. The old colonial towns that have been swallowed by the growth of the city still have their squares of course. Like Coyoacan or Tlalpan. And they still work well as meeting spots.
I live in the suburbs. My town has no square. We have a church. And a shop. The shop sells normal run of the mill groceries and a few basic hardware products, but it is a special shop. Firstly, because you can go inside it and choose your goods, rather than stand on the sidewalk and tell and man or woman behind iron bars what you want. Secondly because one side of it has for many years been a giant canvas for the towns graffiti artists. Some of them are really good.
I could tell you what time of day it is from a brief description of the people outside the shop. If there’s a woman in her 40’s sitting outside vomiting, well it must be earlyish. Before 10am. That’ll be the local alcoholic revealing to the world her choice of poison the previous evening. Van sales men? Must be 10am to noon. Old ladies? They’re getting what they need for that day’s dinner – must be noon to 3pm. A woman in her 40’s lying flat on her back, clutching a bottle? Usually between 3pm and 5pm.
Groups of youths, all reasonably well behaved, several in sports kit having played a game of football in the park next door will appear from 6pm to 9pm. Shortly before closing time at 10, a woman in her 40’s, completely sozzled and barely able to stand will be leaning up against the shop door hurling abuse at whichever member of staff happens to be on duty. She’s ignored, unless she needs to buy more booze.
And every now and again, invisible to the naked eye, in the the middle of the night, making barely a sound will appear a stealthy graffiti artist, armed to the teeth with cans of paint, ready to give the shop a brand new look. But it’s always the same old shop.