The poor will always be with us, but not here

As soon as you set foot in this sanctuary of privilege, you know this is no public park where the hoi-polloi would gather on a hot Sunday afternoon, to spread old blankets on the grass, drink Coronas and cook ribs on a beat-up Weber grill.

At the end of a five- or six-kilometer dirt road, you run into the first of two security gates, where guards with clipboards ask for your name, if you have reservations, and at which one of the three restaurants, jot down your car’s license plate and probably take your picture with one of several cameras mounted here and there.

Someone’s idea of a weekend getaway place. 

Then you proceed to the second security gate, with a terse sign  warning,  “No bodyguards (escoltas) allowed on premises.” Indeed, a couple of drivers or escoltas leaned against gleaming white Chevy Suburbans outside the gate, smoking, chatting and waiting the return of their patrones.

Once inside San Lucas Vineyards, only 10 or 12 miles from our ranch, you enter the rarefied world of the Mexican upper classes, the really rich. At first, the grounds strike you as a Potemkin version of Tuscany, except the massive stone mansions are not make-believe, and neither are the other accouterments that decorate this playground, such as man-made lagoons surrounded by stately pampas grasses and  stocked with fish, and a chapel that looks 200 years old even though it probably was built no more than five or six years ago. There are naturally cooled wine cellars, half-buried in the ground, plus hundreds acres of grapevines, meticulously trussed on wire supports, with irrigation hoses running at their feet. CDMX license plates dominated the parking lot.

A small stocked pond for fishing.

There’s nothing sinister about the place, once you get used to it. It’s just the sudden leap across the chasm of Mexico’s economic inequality and class divisions, from the ramshackle towns that surround our ranch to the opulence of this faux Tuscany, can leave you a bit breathless. It’s like riding the elevator of a 100-story building, from the basement to the penthouse, in five seconds flat.

San Lucas is but one of a dozen or so vineyards that have sprouted on the periphery of San Miguel, along with dozens of subdivisions, offering everything from ticky-tacky townhouses crammed next to one another like dominoes, to multi-million dollar mansions. There are two vineyards visible from our ranch, and several larger ones on the other side of San Miguel, on the road to Dolores Hidalgo. I haven’t tasted the local wines, but drinking friends assure me that they are quite good.

A small hotel or someone’s house?

A number of these vineyards also serve as one-stop “destinations” for extravagant weddings, that include a hotel, restaurants, riding stables and, in the case of San Lucas, even a chapel.

We had lunch at the main restaurant with a friend, and we all agreed the food was extraordinary, and the price nearly so, at $900 pesos per person, including tips. Not a bad deal if you factor in the quality of the food, the luxury of the dining room and the chance to casually stroll the grounds, apres-comida, and pretend you belong there.

The splendor of San Lucas left me thinking about the South Korean movie “Parasite” that won this year’s Oscar for best picture. It’s a morality play about greed and income inequality, told through the story of a family who lives in an opulent mansion, and a group of impoverished grifters, who live in a hovel that’s half basement, and finagle to be hired for various jobs around the mansion. Things go very awry and the story doesn’t end well.

At a rally in Colorado, President Trump denounced the movie and said he prefers movies like “Gone With the Wind.”

The wine cellar, which you can rent for comida.

I also thought about the Mexican movie “Roma,” last year’s critical hit, which dealt with the relationship between a middle-class family and their peasant-stock household help.

Although improving slowly, Mexico still ranks very high in income inequality, and I suspect class resentments may have been responsible for the rise of the current populist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who doesn’t seem to be making much headway in his promises to tackle the country’s economic inequality and the top-down corruption that lubricates the both the economic and political system.

But to be fair to Lopez Obrador, confronting such ingrained problems might be beyond the ability of any political leader, regardless of his or her political affiliations. It’s a task that may well nigh require an act of God.

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