It began ordinarily enough, with a private tour of the Cinterplex, a sprawling, multi-leveled building with vaulted ceilings. Most of the workshops and panels will be held in one very large hall which has been partitioned into several rooms, each capable of holding about 200-300 people. But they’re just partitions, with no ceilings, so it appears that there could be a lot of sound overlap between adjacent rooms – we’ll have to see… In between the tour and a brief orientation meeting, I made friends with Pal Ahluwalia, one of the Sikhs I’d met at the airport, who spends half the year teaching political science in Melbourne, and the other half at the University of California at San Diego.
Afterwards, most of us had lunch together in the hotel’s dining room – a typical buffet with the predictably bland American fare (it is, after all, a Holiday Inn), but just enough Mexican touches to make it tolerable.
At lunch, several of my tablemates asked me to tell them about my religious background. Over the years, the most effective way I’ve found to address such questions is to say that I practice one of the indigenous European pagan traditions. So many people have 'stuff' with the word 'pagan' that, used by itself, it can easily put people off. But the indigenous traditions are usually very much respected in the interreligious movement for what should be obvious reasons, and putting paganism in that context can help people look at us from a different, more accurate, and (apparently) often unexpected perspective.
After lunch, my 'assistant,' Susana, was supposed to take me somewhere to change some money and to buy a cheap cellphone that would work locally. She was not free, however, at the time when I was, so she asked her friend Silvia to take me on my errands instead. Silvia was very nice, and extremely patient while we dealt with a clerk at the cellphone store who couldn’t figure out how to sell me one that worked.
On the way back to the car, while walking through the shopping mall, I had an unexpected flashback to the days of my youth. I had stopped for a moment to look at something in a window while Silvia kept walking ahead. As I followed her, I noticed a bunch of young guys ogling her as she approached them, and sure enough, when she drew near them they started making kissing noises and whistling at her. I took a few quick steps to catch up to her, took her arm so they would know that she wasn’t unaccompanied, and turned around and looked straight at them. Immediately, the young guys lowered their heads and looked away, pretending they hadn’t been doing anything. I guess all those childhood lessons in Hispanic alpha male behavior never quite totally fade away…