Sunday, March 25, 2001


Art lovers won't let Tijuana go to the dogs

        TIJUANA, Mexico — “You like gold chains, sir?”


        “Come in. I have much gold chains.”

        He shows me anyway.

        To the back of the open air stall we go. We are on the Avenue de Revolucion, which is just across the street from San Diego.

        A man can get anything he wants in Tijuana, as long as it's jewelry, handbags, a burrito or a pinata.

        “You try this on,” he says.

        It is a gold-appearing chain the size of a python. The individual links look like manhole covers. “Solid gold,” he says.

        There isn't this much gold in Fort Knox. “Look, senor, I . . .”

        “I make this myself,” he says. “Last night. Is all I do for my life. You try this one.”

        I'm walking out, feeling a little bad, until, lo and behold, the store right next door has the same chain! And the store next to that, and so on, for about 56 blocks. It was a whole world of hand-crafted, solid gold chains made just last night!

        Mexico: Land of Goldsmiths. Who knew?

        All I wanted was a dogs playing poker painting to hang on my wall. That's right, 3 feet by 5 feet of sheer class and subtlety. Solid velvet. We had one in our college apartment. We draped it proudly down the living room wall. It was the first thing anyone saw. It let everyone know we weren't just beer-guzzling, empty-headed frat boys.

        We had culture.

        Other guys pointed proudly to their Farrah Fawcett posters, or their black-light renditions of pirate sailing ships. They were children. They knew nothing of fine art.

        I don't know what happened to our dogs, but I've been seeking a replacement ever since. Flea markets, antiques shops, yard sales. It's a quest.

        It's like they say: It's not the destination. It's the journey.

        I figured Tijuana for the mother lode. Ground zero for all goods aesthetically questionable but profoundly amusing. If any place had dogs playing poker on the finest velvet, it would be Tijuana.

        They laughed at me.

        These merchants, with their wheelbarrow planters, their sombreros bigger than Iowa, their lawn jockeys that looked like belly dancers. . .

        Ho-ho-ho, senor.

        “Dogs playing cards? Oh, no. Not for many years.”

        Understand: They had velvet Elvii hung from the rafters like streamers at a Fourth of July picnic. Velvet James Dean, velvet Madonna, velvet Jimi Hendrix. Velvet Dale Earnhardt.

        They had blankets decorated with every animal in the kingdom, in a place where it's 90 in the shade.

        On every corner there was a man sitting with a burro. This was true. The burros were painted to resemble zebras. White with black stripes.

        They didn't have truck tires filled with petunias or little fake cedar jewelry boxes or Betty Boop. Though I bet if I'd asked for any of those highbrow tributes to Western civilization, they wouldn't have laughed at me. They'd have gone home and made a bunch that night.

        Not the dogs, though. I ask for dogs, they laugh.

        Tijuana has dropped a notch or two in my book.

        I think I'll look in Paris next. Or maybe Vegas. Places where they respect fine art.

        Contact Paul Daugherty at 768-8454; fax: 768-8330.


All about Oscar
Exploring with Roger Brucker and James Borden
Rich melodies flavor CSO's Rachmaninoff
Dancer Womack steps into teaching
- DAUGHERTY: Everyday
DEMALINE: The arts
KENDRICK: Alive and well
MCGURK: Film notes
Prize possessions
Concert review: CSO
Theater review: 'Art'
Theater review: If Theatre Collective
Get to it