A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Lettuce, Mother's Day, Major Dundee & Begoña Palacios
Sunday, May 11, 2008

A seemingly unlikely confluence of events led to today's scanning of a small bit of lettuce. The bit of lettuce is what was left from Rosemary's lettuce, carrot, tomato and celery salad from last night's mother's day dinner. Perhaps it was precipitated when I opened the refrigerator this morning and the remnants of the salad, in a bowl we purchased in Málaga many years, ago fell out and broke.

It all began a couple of weeks ago when Rosemary and I watched in the Turner Classic Movies channel, Sam Peckinpah's 1965 Western Major Dundee with Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Santa Berger, James Coburn, Slim Pickens and Jim Hutton. Ben Johnson and Warren Oates, two future staples of Peckinpah movies played understated (most uncharacteristic) roles.

And there was also Mexican actress Begoña Palacios.

One of the most often repeated and comforting scene of Peckinpah's Mexican Westerns (The Wild Bunch is certainly another) is a group of rough and tough gringos entering a Mexican village. They soon befriend the villagers and there is a party. There is a cheerful farewell in the end. Nasty Mexican Federales or in this case French imperial forces take revenge on the poor villagers for helping the gringos.

As I watched this fully restored (all the cuts were reinstated in a movie that caused so much uproar because of the director's overbudget and alcoholism) I thought of the fact that Heston went without pay to convince the producers to keep backing the production of the film. But I became melancholic and nostalgic when I noticed Mexican actress Begoña Palacios who convincingly (most demurely) competed with the much more voluptuous Santa Berger who proudly showed her cleavage while strategically pushing her Mexican rebozo to one side.

Begoña Palacios married Sam Peckinpah an extraordinary three times. Here is a short biography:

Begonia Palacios, in spite of being a well-known actress in her native Mexico, was better known as the three-time wife of director Sam Peckinpah. The actress and the director first met when Peckinpah cast her in his 1965 film, Major Dundee. The duo shared an extremely volatile relationship, as evidenced by their unusual three marriages. Palacios and Peckinpah remained close, despite their differences, until his death in 1984 -- he was reportedly journeying to see her when he was stricken, on her birthday no less, with his fatal heart attack. Palacios died in early 2000 and her ashes were scattered off the shores of Malibu, CA, the same location where Peckinpah's ashes were strewn. ~ Ryan Shriver, All Movie Guide

The next event that has led to the bit of lettuce happened yesterday in the afternoon when Rebecca asked me to play any music of my choice. I chose Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait directed by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra. The piece was narrated by Charlton Heston. Rebecca had never heard of Heston, Ben Hur, A Touch of Evil and, much less, Major Dundee. We will have to see Ben Hur together. But Rebecca did comment that Heston's voice was most interesting.

For mother's day dinner the chicken I was making in the outdoor barbecue had to be finished in the oven when the gas was exhausted. I placed the chicken with the basting liquid in a pyrex dish and the result was a resounding and juicy success. After a dessert of apple flambé (with Pernod, butter and cream) we watched Rossini's Ghost from the series called The Composers' Specials . When Hilary was about to leave she said, "This has been an unusual mother's day."

I thought about it overnight.

Begoña Palacios would have been called "a lechugita" (a small head of lettuce) by Mexicans to describe her vuluptuous and lively nature. But better still she would be called "a mamacita" (little mother). Mexicans have a complex relationship with motherhood, and with diverse meanings of the word. This complex relationship was best explained by Mexican writer/poet/diplomant Octavio Paz in his book (1950) El Laberinto de la Soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude).

It all began when Doña Marina (as Spaniards affectionately call her) or La Malinche, the disdainful Mexican epithet "sold out" her country by translating for Hernan Cortez and then complicating it even more by bedding the conquistador and having a son. To this day a "malinchista" is a Mexican who prefers foreign goods.

Mexicans have some strange expressions related to mothers and motherhood. "My mamacita" can be an endearing term describing one's dear mother or in most cases one's dear mistress. A mamacita is a lechugita , a beautiful young or not so young woman. When Rosemary would walk home from teaching English to our apartment in Mexico City's Zona Rosa, bricklayers and construction workers would shout "¡Mamacita!" at her. I don't blame them. Rosemary had beautiful legs and wore extra short mini skirts. That she was close to 8 months pregnant at the time had no bearing.

A papacito (or little father) has nothing to do with fatherhood and all to do with a man who is cool and can pick up women. A papacito has many mamacitas.

The most complex term involving the word mother in Mexico is madre or mother. "Te voy a dar en la madre." which losely translates to "I will give it to you in your mother, " means, "I am going to fu-- you over, and get even with you." Octavio Paz mentions the curious fact that this fictitious place, this abstract place (the mother in you that I am going to get at) is nowhere and cannot be found anywhere. Mexican's will commonly utter, "Me dieron en la madre,", when they suffer a financial problem, had an automobile accident or failed a test in school.

Yet "a toda madre" (sort of all mother) is used to denote something fantastic. ¡Vancouver "es a toda madre! would mean that Vancouver is a happening place. But "no vale madre" (it's not worth a mother) means that something is worthless and shoddy. To confuse it further, "Vancouver es un lugar padre," (Vancouver is a father place) means the same thing as !Vancouver es a toda madre!

Such is the alternate almost obscene meaning of madre and mamacita that Mexicans reserve another variant "madrecita" (little mother) which has not sexual meaning and is pure long and sufferning and kind mother.

Such is the Mexican obsession with motherhood that the ultimate insult is to state that your oponent should have sex with his mother. The perennial American (Frank Sinatra used it a lot) finish to a song "ta, ta, ta-ta-ta - tá-tá" means just that. For many years Mexicans would honk their car horns to insult those with lesser motoring skills. Expensive fines were instituted by the authorities to counter this vehicular obscenity. So ever-so-quick Mexicans simply honk their horn twice, tá, tá. Everybody knows this is not an endearing motherly term.

And yes, Begoña Palacios in Major Dundee, is a lechugita, a mamacita. Her performance is "a toda madre" and Charlton Heston "les dió en la madre a los Franceses" soundly defeated the Frenchies. In fact since mother's day in Mexico is always celebrated on May 10th and the Mexican defeat of the imperial French forces in Puebla happened on May 5th, the Puebla holiday is sometimes called "La Media Madre" or "half mother".

¡Begoña Palacios, mamacita, mamacita!


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