Departure and Arrival
The evening before we left California, we drank a bottle of Champagne and went to a sushi dinner, the six of us. Amber and Patrick are pros and were ordering stuff for the children while we were still sitting down. Later, when we got a chance to look at the menu, we ordered more food along with some sake for Dawn and myself. A sweet occasion. We walked back to the house in the rain with umbrellas flying and children's boots stomping. We all said goodnight and goodbye with long and deep hugs because early this morning after quick kisses as they awoke, we Ubered ourselves to the airport with Joe our driver and flew first to Los Angelos and then to Leon, Mexico. At the gate in Los Angeles during our layover, we meditate for twenty minutes even though just as we started, I heard the woman at the desk make an announcement that they needed some volunteers to sit in the exit row. So we sat and afterwards I hurried up the the desk to find that there are two seats left. So we flew with lots of leg room, something that we are not acustomed to. Going from group three to group one turned to be as big a perk as the flight was full and we avoided the fierce overhead space battle.
Guanajuato is on this map at the bottom of the "L" of Leon above and to the left of Mexico City. It is about 6,500' above sea level. It is a mountain valley and therefore has steep sides on the two sides of town.
Costa Rica and now Mexico are the only places where people take other peoples bags off the baggage carousel, then I assume that other people line them up in some attempt to find their own bags. My white gaff name tags and Dawn's ribbons are now hidden and it takes a while to find the bags even though Dawn's is a rare color of purple.
But when we wheel out of the Customs area, Ramiro in his black hat and white shirt awaited us. He grabbed one of Dawn's roller bags and led us out to his car and we headed toward Guanajuato, about thirty-five minutes away. Just south of town, we make a stop at the Mega for olive oil, beer, wine and milk, the heavy things we might not want to carry up the hill. The Mega might be the biggest store I have ever been in. It has a bag check desk and it seems we walked a long way even before we got to the food. But we find enough food and get my bag back which had all my camera and computer gear and headed into Guanajuato itself. We drove through a tunnel and when we came out it was like drivig onto a Orson Welles set for one of his noir Mexican films. We go in and out of numerous small plazas and down many one way streets before we worked our way up the hill.
Suddenly we turn and come to a stop. A few feet in front of us is small chapel, door like a garage-door wide open. Inside and spilling out onto the tiny plaza are folks attending a wake. We see the candles, religious icons, and the coffin in front of the simple altar. Ramiro removed his hat immediately out of respect. He could not park anywhere, so we hurriedly got the bags and groceries out of the back of the car, with the help of a neighborhood boy and carried/rolled everything down the callejon (a narrow street impassable by cars) to Casa Palma. I was very self-conscious, feeling like it was disrespectful for us to be doing this during a memorial service, but Ramiro said such open-to-the-street services happen often in Mexico, not to worry about it. Later we heard from Rachel that it was a girl who had died, and since she was poor, the neighbors all chipped in to get a coffin and have a service for her. Sad, but so sweet that a group of not so well-off neighbors cooperated to give dignity to her transition from this life into whatever she/they believe comes next.
We live in an alley. Here is a small part of a mural about the history of Mexico that is on our wall. It is about 60' long on a curved wall soyou can not see all of it at the same time. When it is done we will try
to post the whole thing.
It must have been 9:00 p.m. by the time we finally set foot in Casa Palma. We left Amber's in San Francisco at 7:15 a.m. However, we did fly east so it really only felt like 7:00 p.m. to us. (We are now two hours later than Pacific coast time so only one hour earlier than eastern time.)
We were warmly greeted by Rachel and Adam, our landlords here. They felt like friends already since we had exchanged a number of emails and phone calls about food safety, getting here from the airport, their grey-water irrigation system, etc. It was a lovely welcome, and Rachel had prepared a nice bean and veggie dish with a few shrimp thrown in, a pickled cabbage salad, tortillas, some cheese and cream to put on top, and some cold cerveza.
1969 VW bus owned by Rachel and Adam. This how they arrived in Guanajuato 10 years ago.
This is what we see from our terrace. People often compare Guanajuato (GTO) to a Tuscan hill town. In the Centro historico, one can certainly feel all that Europen influence. It is beautiful. However, we live in a truly Mexican neighborhood, and you would never mistake it for Tuscany, although the little streets and shops uphill from us reminded us of Raffadali, Sicily. GTO is a pretty wealthy town for Mexico, but this is still a poor country, and one can feel and see that. Still, I must emphatically add that everyone we meet here is very friendly and welcoming. Strangers greet us in the street.
Our son-in-law Patrick often calls us hippies, but he has to meet Rachel and Adam! Although at least twenty years younger than we are, they lead more of a hippy lifestyle than we do, with no permanent home address in the states and a lovely 1969 VW bus parked next to our casa. These people really want to change the world, and they do it by starting close to home. For instance, they have commissioned a Mexican neighbor, Pepé, to paint a mural on the wall outside the house that we are now living in. It deals with a kind of history from pre-Biblical times to Adam and Eve, to the advent of agriculture, to social customs and the landmarks and everyday life in Guanajuato. Rachel gives Pepé the ideas, but it is Pepé who realizes them in his own way. In fact, in the Garden of Eden scene,
A close up of
our solar oven
it is Adam who picks the apple. Rachel likes this "mistake" because her husband, Adam, is very tall, and she thinks it's a humorous comment on them. I think the mural is stunning. It is folk art at its best in my opinion, and it's the first time Pepé has ever been paid to paint. He is thrilled. In fact, I think he is having a hard time finishing the painting because he doesn't want to stop doing it. He keeps adding more and more details. He has four children and lives in the house next door with various other family members. Rachel wants to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for him to do more murals throughout Guanajuato.
Another example of how they act on their world view is a website that Adam is developing where people can offer services to each other, swapping one person's talent and skill for another. Called WikiWonga, he is beta-testing it now. For instance, one person might offer some plumbing services in exchange for some expertise and help with developing a garden.
First Six Days
Casa Palma is at once beautiful and idiosyncratic. They did a lot of the work in it themselves. The tiles throughout the casa are delightful and especially dense in the bathroom. Adam created plant-like lamps out of metal and built-in sofas out of wood. I believe he also made the three-burner gas range on a metal rack from which the pots and pans hang.
While there is a small electric device like a toaster oven, without the toaster function, the only other oven is a UiTzi, a solar oven that they have designed and have a business selling them. As you can see from the photo, it is a big box-like affair mounted on the corner of the terrace railing with mirrors and corn husk insulation. It is set up so that you can swivel it to follow the sun as the day progresses. We've had some pretty good success with baking sliced potatoes and making sun-dried tomatoes in there. Of course when it's cloudy, it doesn't work.
They also have solar-heated water (with a gas backup) and a somewhat elaborate gray-water system, with some drains going directly into the garden/orchard and others into a tank for filtration. A month or so before we got here, Rachel did some research to find out why her fig trees were looking unhappy. It seems that the elevation, dryness, and sun here make for a very basic soil. Apparently the sodium in detergents and soaps, especially sodium laurel sulfate-type ingredients that were coming through the gray-water are not good for a garden that is in low-acid soil. So we went hunting around San Francisco and came up with the old reliable Dr. Bronner's which we are using for dishes, showering, and mostly for laundry, with a drop of something more potent. It seems that no shampoos are entirely without sodium products, but I found an Aubrey Organics one that seems petty good. For you detail-oriented folks, the only thing that does not go into the gray-water system is the toilet which goes into city sewage.
One of the best parts of living here is that Adam and Rachel live only a few hundred yards away. They have been so generous in showing us where to get good veggies and other foods, introducing us to lots of folks in town, both Mexican and Gringo, and generally taking care of us. For instance, there's a man who sits at the entrance to the Mercado Hidalgo and sells the most wonderful yogurt made from cows on a nearby farm. The yogurt comes in a terra cotta jug, with a paper cover over it it. It's only 25 pesos (under two bucks) for the whole thing, even if you don't return the jug. (Right, Rachel in the garden.)
In Spanish, you don't take a walk, you give a walk. We have been giving ourselves many walks during this first week. We have gone to the covered market in the town center and up to the neighborhod butchers and fruit and vegetable stores near us. We went to both language schools in town and interviewed them and decided on Escuela Mexicana. The director gave us a little discount to put his school's prices in line with other. On Thursday we went there and were interviewed in Spanish and then give written tests in order to place us in classes.
We saw a sign for a dance concert by students at the Universadad Guanajuato at the Teatro Principal, seven dollars for both of us. At the beginning there was an announcement that turned out to be a program order change which left us in a state of confusion most of the evening. There was lots of good stuff with some not so good work, but we had a good time. You haven't lived until you have watched one dancer pitch eggs to another who was trying to hit them with a bat into the audience. We were lucky on two counts, the first is that she didn't pitch very well and the second is that they were hard boiled. There was some tango type dancing that wasn't very good, but the evening was lead off by a very nice twelve minute solo. She broke almost all my rules, (like choice of music, squareness of the structure, over use of gesture, etc.) but got away with it because of her beautiful dancing and significant performance skills. She could really dance, and made beautiful seamless transitions to pedestrian movement and back. She connected everything and always stayed inside her body. (Adam, above, is watering the orchard)
First Week in Spanish Classes
OMG, I acted my way so well through the oral interview, that they put me in intermediate-level classes. On one day I was confronted with the imperfect and preterite verb tenses, the latter of which has six groups of irregularly conjugated verbs. I am still trying to keep all those verb endings straight, even after my "graduation."
We became friends with Lily and Tim, both English and in their forties. Lily was in all my classes while Tim was in Stephen's. They were great fun to have around and are just leaving town today. We will surely miss them. They had their motorcycles shipped from London to New York City and spent five months driving and camping throughout the USA, and then on to Mexico. They were held up for a month in Tennessee because Tim broke his ankle and had to rest it before being able to get on the moto again. Lily is taking a year off from her job as a detective with the London police (we call her our own Helen Mirren), and Tim, a multi-talented guy and former plumber, quit his job at the silk factory in order to take this
trip. They plan to continue south, through Central and South America.
We saw a sign for a concert with a Bach piece and Beethoven's Ninth and later with Rachel met Michael wno plays cello in the orchestra. So we made arrangements to get some tickets. Lily, Tim and Gilah from school and Rachel and Adam. We tried to get tickets but couldn't find the box office, so Adam and Rachel got them. They paid fifty pesos and we paid one hundred each (US$7). We tried to get to a pre concert talk in Spanish but it turned out that it was canceled. Anyway, the line was very long and slow so it took 30 minutes to get in. We did get a chance to talk a couple in line behind us, They wanted to speak English and we wanted to speak Spanish, which is what happened. Fortunately when we got into the theater, Tim was waiting for us and led up to very good seats in the orchestra. Rachel and Adam went to get a bite first and later found seats down left in the orchestra. The orchester belongs to the University but is a profession orchestra.
Dawn thought the Bach was too slow, but I was pleased with sound that they got, especially the first violins.
The Beethoven was again astounding. It hardly seemed to be the same art form as Bach. It seemed like a theater of sound, very personal, very emotional. At the end, they played the last section again as an encore. The orchestra seemed to be ready for this but the chorus was not, and there was some frantic turning of pages as they found out where they were going to start. But even this was not the end, as, after more bows, the horn section began to play something to honor the first oboist who was retiring after this performance. The music swelled as other members joined in. Flowers appeared and he slowly worked his way downstage receiving hugs and handshakes from his colleagues until he took his last bow to the audience who responded warmly and appreciatively.
FaceTime with Tess, Chloe and Sydney
We had a long chat with the girls and Tess showed me how to take a screen shot. Of couse, you get Dawn drinking her coffee and me holding down the power and home buttons simultaneously and trying to keep my arms from blocking the camera.
We gave them a tour of the place and discussed our family Christmas present and generally had a good time finding out what they had been doing that fall.
Inside an Incan Sweat Lodge
Soon after we got here we met Rosario and were informed that she did massages and did something on Sunday that included mud, chanting and salt. I didn't pay much attention. On Saturday I found out that I was kind of signed up and I should contact Rosario only if I did not want to go. Under our rubric that life is meant to be an adventure, I silently progressed to what turned out to be a Incan Sweat Lodge Ceremony.
Rosario is a woman, in spite of the "o" at the end of her name. We entered Rosario's property through a gate, then wound our way up through a lush garden that reminded me of Costa Rica. We were greeted by herself and Ana, a young Argentinian woman, both scantily clad and lying on a blanket in the sun. After we established that no one else was going to attend the ritual that day, we stripped down to underwear, and Rosario wafted incense all over each us while chanting. We then entered the igloo-shaped sauna, covered with green branches on the floor, low stools around the edges, hand-percussion instruments hanging on pegs on the walls. There was a pit in the center. Rosario then shoveled, about eight times, VERY hot rocks into the pit while we chanted something about being thankful for life, the water, and the salt that Ana sprinkled over the rocks. Then came the big whammy: Rosario poured water over the rocks, and the first blast of steam just about wiped me out. It was incredibly hot, and she had closed the door so it was very dark before my eyes adjusted. I have been claustrophobic in the past (although mostly overcame that with another strange ritual in New Mexico in 2001.) Still, I felt like I couldn't breathe and craved water but didn't want to interrupt the ritual. After the water-throwing, Rosario played a kunga drum and chanted, Ana joining in. All was in Spanish, of course, so we comprehended about 25% of it. Eventually we started some vocal harmonizing with them, even if we didn't know the words. Rosario was topless by then, and she and Ana danced with the drumming. I was afraid that if I got up to dance, I would keel over!
The rock-and-water bit was repeated three or four times. At some point, Rosario suggested I lie down on the branches which, of course, made me cooler, and I know that one can't faint if the head is at the same level as the body, so I relaxed. She also gave us some mint tea to drink which was very welcome. We got the important gist of the ritual: There are two doors in life, one is birth and one is death. Both are equally important and part of the whole path of existence. Death is very present in Mexican culture in general. We rubbed mud and salt on our bodies, presumably as a kind of purification of toxins. Ana took several turns drumming and speaking, and Rosario asked us if we wanted to add anything. I was able to get out, in my rudimentary Spanish, something I have often shared with my students, a Buddhist concept that if one does not think about death every day, one is not truly living. This is not a maudlin concept but a reminder to be grateful for the gift of human life. Stephen also said something about being present, using the two Spanish verbs of ser and estar in a thoughtful way. Rosario appreciated our participation.
After a couple of hours in there, she left the sauna/steambath and took a cold shower outside, then lay down in the sun. Ana followed suit, Stephen and I next. We drank water and ate fruit slices. After much hugging (and our leaving 500 pesos on the table), Rosario invited us to a mescal/dance improvisation party on Christmas. It sounds like an interesting way to spend Christmas in Mexico where it has been in the low 70's with sun and blue sky most days!
The incense wafting part of the ritual was an exact copy of the hand scanning that one gets at the airport. What I said was, "Yo esto aquí, sino yo soy aquí". The first part mean I am here, the second part means here is me, or I am the here. It is not grammatical Spanish, but rather poetic speech. At least, that is what I told Juancarlos the next day when I had to talk about what I did the day before. Since then, we have been told by Rachel that we may have misinterpreted this invitation. Rachel is investigating. We may end up in the sweat lodge again.
This party was on Tuesday instead of the previous Saturday in a attempt by Rachel to have enough sun for the solar oven to make pozole. The Saturday was cloudy but so was Tuesday so we had food beautifully grilled by Adam and more food expertly made by Rachel and I brought some marinated "Camarones gigantes con cabezas" big shrimp with heads. We ate like kings. Rachel believes that the shrimp with heads are more local because the Chinese won't ship the heads that far. I marinated the shrimp at home and cooked them at Rachel's so they would be hot and ready. We had been introduced to Julian at the Beethoven Concert, but hadn't really gotten a chance to talk to him.
The general discussions were in English but small conversations might be in Spanish. I did get to tell Julian when we were going to be in the Yucatan, using the prepositions and date formes I had learn that day, but otherwise I spoke English.
Above is a picture of a sobremesa (On table) which refers to those conversations over coffe, tequila or whatever at the end of a meal.
People have been clamoring for pictures of this event, but we had to wait for Tim to deliver them.
We celebrated a Posada today at the Escuela and it was also combined with our graduation ceremony and speeches. Posada means inn and what is celebrated is Joseph's and Mary's search for an inn to stay in at Bethlehem. It is celebrated for the nine days before Christmas. Two people play Mary and Joseph and after Joseph knocks on the outside door there is antiphonal singing between the people on the outside and the innkeeper and friends on the inside. In the end, they are let in and everyone sings the last two verses together.
Note Mary's "pregnant" belly supplied by a pair of rolled up pants. We didn't have to do anything except stand at the door outside and wait to be let in. My big part was knocking on the door.
An aside is that Dawn and I played the parts of Mary and Joseph.The young blonde woman is Emily. She was going to pay the part of our accompanying angel but her costume never appeared.
We never did figure out the tune but we sang anyway.
Must have been hard for Dawn, because she had sung in a church choir. She knew at least three verses of every English language Christmas song that we sang while making the tamales and punch for this Posada.
Making tamales. They had a
lot of lard in them. We also made the punch.
Tim, playing the part of the invisible shepherd Paparazi, takes a shot of the semi-reluctant Mary before her big entrance.
The group normally goes on to pray in front the nativity scene but the school skipped to our graduation ceremony. There were adults finishing their classes in Spanish and kids and teenagers finishing English classes. There were Christmas carols in English by the Mexican kids and thank you speeches by the Americans speaking Spanish, with the exception of Lily who spoke Japanese and I am not exactly sure what Tim spoke,
Juancarlos, as the director of the Escuela Mexicana, has been the center of our lives for the past two
weeks. I took a private lesson with him every day the second week to try to get out of first gear. he is a lovely gentlemen who greatly cared about us all.
We graduated also. We seem to be happy about it. Don't know why we took only half our Posada costumes off. Looks like a cruise ship event. Are we crossing the equator?
Dawn looking at her crib sheet
phone. I had thought that I had memorized my part but actually I
have almost no memory of our little presentation. I remember that
people laughed at the right spots and Juan Carlos and I exchanged a big
hug when it was over.
S: En los estados unidos , cuando se recibe un diploma, la ceremonia se hama Commencement.
D: Entonces nosotros comenzamos un nuevo capitulo de la vida.
S: Vamos viajar en Mexico sin la ayuda de nuestras maestras y JuanCarlos.
D: PARA nosotros
S: POR ?
D: Será muy difícil a hablar POR mucho tiempo
S: PARA ?
D; Con la gente de Guanajuato cuando andamos PARA las calles
S: POR (correcting)
D: POR cinco semanas mas aquí.
PARA /POR?? (together loudly)
S: Queremos decir muchas gracias a todos
D: Por su paciencia, amabilidad y conocimiento
We were having some fun with use of Para and Por which both translate as "for" but are used at different times. There are nine rules for each word at Dawn's level. At mine, we learned three. For me, (Para mi), the difficulty in making the speech was in the correct pronunciation of all the vowels.
Why is that man laughing? Because one of his prized students is accepting her diploma with a short speech in Japanese. Lily was in Japan for three years teaching math and science. For those of you that only look at our pictures in this travelogue, she is now a detective for the London Metro Police. She told some great stories, almost none of which can we repeat.
The event ended with the eating of tamales and a traditional punch, both of which we made on Wednesday in the school kitchen. The tamales were OK, but the punch was good, before and after the addition of a little tequila that I purchased for the occasion and shared with some of the adults at our end of the table.
Finally, everybody tried a hand at the Piñata, but we will spare you the seventy five photos and fifteen minutes of video. This picture is after the stick broke about half way through and the reason you don't see anyone else in the shot because it is too dangerous. Juan Carlos and Edith were up on the balcony controlling its height and swing so it was hard to hit, especially after each person had been rotated around a couple of times before having at it.
Photos by Tim Harrington
You have begun to and will hear more about Lily and Tim, but right now I am going to present a gallery of his photograhy with appropriate notes. The Posada and Graduation pictures are also his.
This bar invokes the film noir aspect of Mexico. Bohemia is a bottle of beer. I am holding same. In Tim's and my class, Cerveza was the most often used word when we had to generate an example of some grammatical usage.
The bar was actually more colorful than the black and white photo at the top. I met Brian here, A consultant at the GM plant (they make Silverados). I also met him the next time I was there. He might live here. He told the bartender, "If my head is on the bar just give me a straw." A bar is masculine in Spanish, but the bar itself is feminine.
The bar is in the yellow building behind the boy in the yellow shirt. Tim and Lily ran into Wolfie (from Berlin) in this plaza one day. They had last seen him when they passed him on his bicycle on a road in Baja. This reunion required an adjournment by all of us to said bar.
Tim and Lily came over a couple of times, one, so we could go on to Rachel's and Adam's for dinner, and the second time to deliver these photographs and hang out and drink cervezas on their last night before heading to Mexico City.
A nice shot from our terrace back through the glass wall, which heats the house during the day, into the room we use for Dawn's yoga, and getting to the bedroom which is under the terrace.
From the "Yoga Studio" looking through the hole in the wall that opens into our dining room and up to a sofa that folds out into a bed for people who are used to a bivy sack on El Capitaine, (Rachel's brother)
Studying between classes or something at the school. The classrooms are visible behind us.
Tim's sunset from their house.
We went down to the Plaza San Fernando to see if the Danzon was happening. Danzón is a foxtrot like dance that came from Cuba, mostly dome by people of our age. We were told that it would be tomorrow at some other place. So we sat down at the Cerro de Ranas and had a couple of teqilas, guacamole and a beer. The above picture has three of the five musicians who came and performed in front of our table. The guitar and sax players and are out of the picture. Both of the women sang beautifully. They sang ballads and the band accompanied them with a improvisorial/ klezmer sound. There were only three tables of audience and the other tables sang along, vocalized backup in a high Mexican style and requested songs.
One's reaction to having musicians come to your table to play and then requesting money either for playing or going away is highly personal. We like it, or have so far. Afterwards, the lead singer went over and spoke a few words with a woman sitting at a table in the back. The woman turned out to be the owner and our best guess was that she was getting a cut from their takings. But of coursee, we have to make a lot of stuff up.
If I had found something about dancing on Sunday in Guanajuato, we would have been down in town dancing, instead we were up in our house watching online a kind of goofy movie called "Yes, Georgio" made in 1982 with Luciano Pavoratti playing Georgio. We were feeling kind of disappointed. In the middle of one of Pavoratti's arias, I began to hear a faintly familar tune that was not really a tune but a cadence. I said to Dawn, "I hear the Posada song".
I went to the dining room and opened the door to the terrace. It wasn't any louder. I circled back to the front door and opened it. Closer. We got our shoes on and opened the door to the little alley where we live. There was no one there about to knock on our door, but up the street in front of the house of Pepe, our next door neighbor, were about forty people with candles and sparklers and two children carrying a nativity scene slowly on the street.
We went up to see more of what was happening. The Mexicans, at least in our neighborhood, don't let you lurk, so immediately we were handed two small candles and a couple of sparklers. The song was the same, recognizable by the words and the tune that is not a tune. We didn't have our lyric sheet from the school, so our ability to sing along was minimal. The pattern was the same, sing at the door, then the people behind the door would sing back. But here, the children would march down the alley, swing around and go to the top of the alley, and then return to the door. At some point, they would change bearers, though I never saw it happen. Each time, as they went past me, a different child would look up at me and give me a smile.
I knew what was coming. Once the door was opened, this group of paraders would go in to the house and there would be prayers, maybe long prayers and I was ready to call it an evening.
A little clarification: Instead of people dressing up as Maria and José, the children were carrying a kind of stretcher with small statues of them. Each time they circled around to the door (could it have been nine times?), the singing seemed to get louder and more demanding. The words are something like, "Don't be inhumane; let us in; my wife is about to give birth." Meanwhile, part of the celebration is throwing very loud firecrackers down the street. Finally the people inside open the door and everyone in the street is ushered in. We hesitated, not wanting to intrude on their ritual, but they motioned us in, and I felt that it would be rude not to enter. A couple of steep steps down a narrow passageway, and we could see a small, covered garden area with a creche in the center where the Mary & Joseph statues were placed. A young woman, presumably Pepé's wife, said a series of prayers or parts of the story, each followed by an antiphonal group response. The little space was packed with people. A couple of very young children on the steps in front of us kept re-lighting their candle-stubs and putting them on cardboard holders, with strands of hair getting threateningly close to the flames, bringing out the worried grandma in me.
While this was happening, a couple of teenagers passed out styrofoam cups of puncha to the crowd, the same wonderful hot fruit punch we had made at school. Stephen and I kept trying to pass the cups up to the people behind us, but they kept insisting that we keep and drink one. After the talking/chanting was over, a 20-something man squeezed by us twice to retrieve two piñatas from a room behind us. He climbed a ladder up to the roof and attached the piñatas to a rope on the roof. Then the passagway door was opened again. As we exited, a young woman was passing out bolsas (bags) of candy to everyone on their way out. I at first refused, saying "Por los niños" but when everyone came out they still had some bags left and insisted that I take one. This morning we gave them away to the young woman who comes to clean our house on Mondays. A greater treat than candy for me is the fact that someone actually does clean our house, unlike when we are home in Boston.
We got some video of the ensuing piñata party. They seem to start with the smallest children whacking at the thing, some even in their parents' arms. Gradually the kids get older, stronger, and more aggressive with the stick. Of course the guys on the roof pull the piñata just out of range sometimes as the older kids whack away at it. The song gets louder, and the crowd gets more excited by the minute. Finally the thing splits, and candy comes pouring out to a surge of children clambering to pick up the (wrapped) sweets from the
Returning to our house and resuming the somewhat tacky movie we had started, I thought about what a contrast of singing we experienced last evening, from the amazing range and breath control of Pavarotti's Italian arias to the utterly chaotic, non-harmonic voices of our neighbors singing the traditional Posada song. I was so touched that they included us in their celebration. Although not a rich neighborhood economically, it is a neighborhood rich in generosity and warmth. To me (para mi!), this is what the "Christmas spirit" is all about.
Hike to a Presa
If we are going to walk, we are going to have to drink some coffee. These two beauties are from Café
Tal. I worked on the laptop, (Couldn't get onto the internet) and Dawn looked for a Gym
We were looking for Casa Tia Auna, which we never found, or we found it but it was under renovation.
Anyway, we kept going and began to see the Olive Press place that we found on the map.
Maybe it was time to get out my phone and look up "Presa", because this thing looked like a...
Dam with a reservoir behind it. And in fact, the old house with the Galleries and restaurants in it was the House of the dam. But we moved on, finding this place an odd combination with Atlantic City as one of the components.
Also made me think of Stow Lake in San Francisco, with the paddle boats.-DK
At the other end were restaurants and a boat rental place.
The two girls that were rowing could not conceive that you might row with your back to where you want
to go, so they were working their way down to the other end of the reservoir by back paddling. They were also keeping a close eye on the ducks who were after their food.
When we got to the restaurants, we continued through a small park to another dam, behind which was the
dry, high desert in which Guanajuato is situated.
We walked back down to the Casa de la Presa and had lunch. It was a cute place, but the food was not good enough to warrant a return visit. Dawn did notice the French couple was having lunch around the corner from us
We had seen them at the coffee place in the morning so greeted each other again in French. They are from Montreal. My French has already started deteriorating into something like Franspangnol.-DK
Next door, we found a studio with beautiful walls and..very high ceiling. The French speaking couple turned out to be Canadian as we spoke to them for a moment or two and Dawn began to worry she will lose all her French.
After lunch we had our first experience with the public bus. It cost 5 pesos ($.35) to ride it and it took us back to the Centro where we got off at the market to do some shopping.
The bus is a lot older and more beat up than it looks in this picture...so am I, actually! I love that the driver was playing loud Mexican music...to cover up the loud motor and general street noise.-DK
Two Meals Out
Christmas eve, we went down to find a Mass. We were not sucessful. There seemed to be no signs about when the masses would be so we took a picture of the Casa Ofelia menu and thought we would come back. Juan Carlos touted it as a pretty good restaurant for real Mexican food. We went home and collected our chicken dinner which was cooling its heels in the solar oven. We put it on the slow burner and waited for it to finish.
The next day, Christmas, was busy as we facetimed the children, and then climbed up to El Pipila, the large statue on the other hill. We found our way down and discovered we were hungry so we had a Christmas day dinner Casa Ofelia. It was very nice, Dawn had the Posole verde which is a traditional dish for the holiday and I had a meat thing and a nice tempranillo from Spain. We were the only Gringos there. When we got back, there was an invitation from Adam and Rachel to stop over for drinks and Christmas cheer. We looked up some lyrics of Deck the Halls and seranaded them as they came to the door. We exchanged little things as presents.
The day after Christmas, St. Stephen's day, we were headed to Clave Azul, the Blue Nail, when we decided to stop into Alma de Sol to see if Hugo was there. This is the place where Susan and Andy will stay when they come day for the middle of January. It is a beautiful B&B in the middle of Guanajuato. We know this because he was there, in his small printmaking shop next to the B&B and after we introduced ourselves as Susan's friends, he gave us a grand tour of his shop and the B&B. Since he was waiting to have Margheritas on his roof deck with the two couples who were staying there, he insisted that we join them. In fact, we got a head start on them. They arrived and the conversation roamed widely over a large range of topics. The couple from California left to follow the Callejóneades, which is the minstral show which leads their audience through the streets of Guanajuato. We left sometime after that and guided the other couple to a restaurant that Hugo recommended. It was full.....
So we took them over to La Taula again, the place near our school where we had a nice lunch a couple of weeks ago. We all shared four interesting tapas plates: shrimp, little BBQ ribs, Swiss chard filled with goat cheese and a kind of smoked trout salad. All very good; plus a total of five glasses of the house red. the grand total for the four of us was barely $40 (American). The exchange rate is pretty amazing right now. Hence we left a more generous tip than is usual for Mexico; our camerero was so patient with our limited language skills and long stay at the table. The other couple seemed to think that we are so adventuresome to live up the hill in a Mexican barrio and walk everywhere, carrying groceries, etc. We think that they are way more adventuresome than we as they have been to Tibet, China, Cambodia, Japan, Ecuador, Iran, Afghanistan and had some amazing experiences in those places. They are our generation, and he seems to be retired from something we didn't really get a clear idea of, but his work took him to China "more than one hundred times." Hmm, state department? CIA? She has not yet retired from teaching English as a second language at the university in Madison, Wisconsin.
We walked them back to their B&B. Hugo invited us to have breakfast there today, but we declined as we know we will join Susan and Andy for many a breakfast when they are staying there. All in all, it was one of those completely unexpected and congenial evenings.
The day started of with buying a bottle of Don Simon Seleccione for 45 pesos. We think this is the wine we had a Casa Ofelia which we liked. The internet says it was made for Whole Foods. People seem to like it but we shall see. It has no vintage on it so it must be some kind of blend.
We are looking for a place to have a meal on New Year's Eve. La Vie en Rose, our pain au chocolat, place is having one but we have not gotten to see the restaurant. This day they were closed.
So we walked over to San Fernando and hung out on a bench and watched people. Forever entertaining. Then we walked up to Clave Azul for a drink. On the internet this place is sometimes called a restuarant and sometimes a bar. We walked in a found a table and waited. The bartender was busy and the cook was deliverying food to the tables. This pause gave us time to look over the decorations that filled the place. Old radios, religious shrines, mementos of dream lives filled the walls. The waiter came over and we negotiated a round of margaritas and asked if we wanted the tapas. In this bar, you get a tapas for every drink. I don't think you get to choose. A soup came first, then with a round of cervezas, some garlically paprica potatoes. There was a family at the table from which the picture was taken. A little baby got all the attention. Guitar players wandered in and out, One played a very romantic song for Dawn. We changed seats at our small table so that we had different views. The wall were filled with crazy decorations. When you arrive, go up the right hand staircase to get to one of three levels, (the terrace was closed when we were there. A good place. Probably will be different when you are there, but very definitely a place to try. Let's all keep the adventure in travel.
La Vie en Rose
We have been picking up their
very good french pastries on the way to school and sometimes some sinful thing on the way home to share for dessert. Today we went there for lunch. A very simple place. You order downstairs before you go up the the dining room upstairs. We ate inside and did not eat at this very theatrical table that overlooked the street from a tiny balcony. The place upstairs was very elegant, the wine from Chile very good and we had a long chat with both the patron and patroness. They came to Mexico because their daughter fell in love with a Mexican man. So now they have a French restaurant in a very Mexican town. Good Luck. In order to make her pastries she has to import her butter, sugar, almond paste and chocolate from France. (In Mexico, the butter has water in it, the sugar isn't white enough and the chocolate is too bitter, she says.) We will come back for dinner.
The entire conversation with Nathalie was in French, and as the hour progressed, she spoke faster and faster. Finally Stephen asked her to slow down...which she did for about one sentence! Actually it was a relief for me because I got so much more of what she was saying than when I am listening to rapid-fire Spanish speakers.
They are originally from Normandy. When she heard that we will be in Paris for the spring and have not yet visited Normandy, she gave me her email address and said she would be happy to give me names of places we must see, eat, or sleep in. We three reminisced about sitting by the harbor in Cancale, Brittany, eating fresh-from-the-sea oysters with a nice bottle of Muscadet. A smile came to her face and her eyes rolled up saying, Ah, cela, c'est la vie.
We walk from the holiday crowded streets of Guanajuato up into our neighborhood. The paving gets rougher, the lighting gets darker but the atmosphere gets friendlier. We speak to everyone we pass. When we get to our casa I can't say that it is quiet, but it does give us a respite from the centro. Perhaps like scuba diving or snorkeling. It is great down there but it feels good to come up for air.
We watched 'Under The Volcano" last night on YouTube. It is about Mexico in the thirties. We haven't gone into a cantina yet.
I will never go into a cantina. If you read about them, it is a pretty scrappy men-only kind of environment. Plus "Under the Volcano" is a seriously depressing movie/book.-DK
Feliz Año Nuevo
Last night was "First Night in Guanajuato." We saw a flyer that said the city council and mayor were inviting us to a big New Year's Eve celebration, for free. The flyer said it started at 5:30. Now knowing about Mexican time, we wandered down to the Plaza de la Paz at about 6:15 to find a very high stage set up with lots of trusses, state-of-the-art moving LED lights, and tons of speakers, all in front of the Basilica. Temporary seating was set up and only a few folks occupied the first two rows. So we found good seats in the second row...and waited...and waited. Three different sets of people sat in the seats next to us and left. At 7:00, the show began. Lights popped on to the brightest level of white light I have ever seen on a stage. The emcees were a man and a woman who epitomized the fast-talking, smoothe, hyping each other style of emcees from variety shows the world over. It didn't matter that we only understood about 10% of what they were saying. Their clothes, body language and demeanor said it all.
After several technical difficulties with the sound system, a group of young ladies sporting Santa hats and short skirt Santa suits came out and danced to a Mexican version of Jingle Bells. Meanwhile a tourist bus drove by with huge blow-ups of the Grinch and Frosty tottering around on the roof in the wind. Mind you, it is about 70 degrees with a bright sun just having set...no sign of frost to be found (much to my delight.) There was more dancing by an expanded group of folks costumed in everything from a nun's habit to a bridal dress to hip-hop duds, dancing to a medley of carols in English starting with Deck the Halls.
Then came the troubadour group from the local university that performs nightly in GTO, getting people to walk through the streets with them and sing along. It was real community theater, ocasionally low on talent but always high in enthusiasm. By 8:00 p.m., I couldn't sit in my seat any more so we left and walked through the portico area of the Basilica to find our way out of the crowd. Inside the open church door, we could see that the Basilica was packed with people celebrating a New Year's Eve mass, even amidst the incredibly loud sound system from the very secular show just outside the door.
We walked up our hill and reheated the lovely chicken dinner with garden herbs that we had made in the solar oven that afternoon. We got a couple of internet radio stations that played oldies, rolled up the rug and danced. At some point, I started to doze on the couch and was awakened by loud fireworks. We had the most amazing view of a fireworks display that I have ever seen in my life, right from our dining room and deck at the Casa Palma. 'Twas a clear night with a half moon and stars, and the display was really beautiful. After that, Stephen found a well-shot and edited video of a 40-year reunion concert by James Taylor and Carole King at the Troubador. Oh wow, we were high on nostalgia last night...I feel the earth move under my feet and you've got a friend and all...Went to bed at 1:30 a.m. to the continuing sound of neighbors' parties and "private" fireworks.
First Week of the Year
We started off with a power failure in the morning. It was interesting to find out what we had and didn't have. Solar oven, yes; gas burners, yes; computer, ipad, phones, until the batteries ran out; wifi; no; landline telephone, yes - but the only people we call have a cordless powered phone - so not really. In the middle of meditation the power came back on and our first, but not last, excitement of the year was over. The rest if the day we took it easy, things around the house
The Alhondiga is a granary where the Mexican War of Independence against Spain started. It is now a museum and a very beautiful one, It has a large outdoor sculpture garden surrounded by two floors of galleries. It starts with Pre-Columbian stamps and works its way to the present and leaves a few galleries for current artists. They let us in for free because we are over sixty which is always nice. We crossed Cerro de las Ranas off our list of restuarants after a return visit after the museum where Dawn got canned mushrooms in her quesadilla. We went there mostly because it had the only table in the plaza that was in the sun. Of course, the earth moved and we were in the shade in ten minutes. It is getting a little colder here, but we are not going to say any more about that.
I am beginning to work on a new video for Dawn walking up stairs. This one is the nine minute trip from the Plaza de la Paz to our front door. I have shot a timing video and now have shot Dawn making the trip from the bottom to the top. We are on hold now (see below).
A Bump in the Road
A shoe store in Leon. One of many we visited. Dawn is already grabbing her leg
Dawn is much better. While on a shopping trip on Thursday in the leather district of Leon (the airport city for Guanajuato) a sore knee and hamstring cramp turned into joint pain and then into chills and fever and full body pain. Thursday night was difficult which lead to a visit to the Centro Medico la Presa the next day, once she could walk a little.
(It was kind of bad. It was hard to help her to move around because it was painful for her to be touched. I was happy to see that she was alive in the morning.)
She was examined and had a blood test. Dr. Ricardo Garcia was thoughtful, kind and thorough. Dawn rested in bed in a private room for an hour while we waited for the results of the tests. They came back with nothing too serious and a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories was prescribed along with a lot of fluid. She has been resting since then and we have been taking cabs, and learning how to call them. I need to say that Rachel, from whom we rent our house, came with us to the doctor to make it possible to talk to and understand him and that her concern and bringing teas and pedialyte to help re-hydrate Dawn turned this event which could have been a real problem into just a bump in the road.
Dawn is back to her delightful healthy self and we are both thankful every day.
Stephen liked this blanket they put on me at the clinic, but sorry I look kind of awful. Am definitely better now!
Susan and Andy Arrive
They arrived last night and we joined them for breakfast at Hugo's B&B, Alma de Sol. They looked great. surviving with ease their trip from New England. Sunday at Hugo's suggestion we took a cab to Marfil and went to a jazz concert at the Gene Byron Museum. Gene is short for Eugenia, whose paintings fill her former home. We will send more info after some internet research. We had dinner at El Midi, a French Bistro with Mexican undertones. As the week progressed, Dawn returned to normal, walking the hills and doing some yoga. She is still taking ibuprofen and will be for a couple of more days. The video piece is on hold. We have been going out to dinner with Susan and Any and shopping, (I bought a Panama hat for myself). Hugo has invited us to breakfast any time we want and we have taken him up on his offer a couple of times. The fruit and fresh squeezed orange juice are great and what follows (gorditas, huevos rancheros, fritatas) are truly excellant.
On Friday we went to hear the symphony again. This time they played a short Mozart, The Rodrigo Guitar and Symphony Piece and Beethoven's Sixth. We dressed up for the occasion, (I wore my new hat) and had a
great time. (A cropped version of this photo became our Airbnb photo when we joined them in a few months)
Ceracaly is an acronym for CEntro REgional de Capacitacion del Agua Las Yerbas.
We met up with Julian and a van filled with four young women, two dogs and us. The high road to Ceracaly was beautiful. It felt wonderful to get out of the city and see the hills from the other side. We went through a national forest and then into Dolores Hidalgo where we picked up two young men. Picture this seating arrangement: Two young women sharing the front seat with a large dog mostly on the floor but wanting to be in a lap, four of us in the middle seat, two others in the back with another dog. No one but the driver was really able to wear a seat belt, but happily we all survived the twisty, precipitous drive with Julian occasionally on his cell phone trying to raise money for the foundation.
As the trip progressed, the land became more and more arid, supporting only cactus and an occasional mesquite tree. When we got to the center, which has been there for twenty years now, we were greeted by the administrative head and Manuel, the all-around handy-man. In a brief meeting describing two upcoming projects, Julian introduced all of us: the two guys were studying forestry and environmental studies, one of the women was a cook and wanted to build a wood-burning stove there to bake Quebecois baguettes (I mentioned that this was the ideal environment for a solar oven), another was from some branch of the government and yet another was a teacher...and us. Why were we there??? Because when we first met Julian and he told us about his water conservation/education project, I mentioned the piece that Stephen and I did called "Body of Water." So, there we were.
Manuel gave us a hiking tour of their 50 hectares, pointing out that the side of the fence that they managed had much more growth and vegetation compared to the side that was left to the cattle to graze. Knowing that it rains in the summer in GTO, I asked how much rain they got there in the summer. It seems that they pretty much NEVER get any rain. The aquifer is being depleted, especially by some nearby commercial farmers who are planting things like broccoli and lettuce (not native to the area) solely for export to the USA. On our ride out to SMA the next day, our driver, Marco, said that no one lives in this area any more b/c there is no water and no work. Everyone goes to the States to find work. Global warming, bad agricultural practices supported by a corrupt government? It all adds up to a sad state of affairs for the people of this region.
However, Ceracaly has educational programs in about twenty school districts in the region and in-house workshops and education where kids of all ages come to live there while learning and helping the local communities. They have a nice library and a kitchen where lunch was served, buffet-style, after we returned from our hike. We bought a large container of mesquite-flower honey (delicious and less sweet than clover honey) and left a small donation for lunch. We are going to make a slightly larger donation to the foundation becasue we think they are struggling and doing good work.
San Miguel with Andy and Susan
On the trip to San Miguel.
The action of the nail drivers caught our eye.
On Wednesday, we went to San Miguel de Allende for the day. Hugo their innkeeper, arranged a driver for us and he took us over on the high road so we could stop at a couple of churches. The photo on the right is the church in Valenciana. The alterpiece is made from gold.
Then we stopped at an art gallery on the outskirts of SMA where we also had lunch. The lunch place, except for the guacamole was american food but very good. Susan and Dawn went shopping once Marco dropped us off at the square called the Jardin. I wondered around trying to get a feel for the place, For me, SMA is going to be an acquired taste. Andy went off on his own also.
The Opening Party, 5 -7 PM, Calle de la Palma, Celebrating la Cuenta de la Vida murale
(The Story of life)
This event has been on our mental calendar almost since we got here and on our real calendar for a couples of weeks, so it is one of those "Big Days". When Dawn first saw the mural on the wall in front of our house one of her first thoughts was that when Susan and Andy arrive we should have an opening party to show off the work. So the invitations went out and now we are cooking and cleaning and rearranging. We are trying to be ready for anywhere from three to thirty people to show up. Guacamole, chorizo meatballs, sun-dried tomatoes from the solar oven (it is sunny as promised), broiled mushrooms and sugar roasted peanuts from the store rounds out our food efforts. Still on our list is ice, tequila and paper towels. Pepe, the artist who lives next door, will sell me the beer as we need it.
The party turned out to be a lot of fun. It ended up being about fifteen people all together. Pepe got an old beat up table out in the street and leveled it with a couple of bricks. We put a cloth on it and had food and drink out there in the street, facing the mural. I was really happy that the Mexicans liked my Guacomole! I was afraid it might not be spicy enough for their taste, but they seemed to eat it up and said they liked it. It was a really interesting mix of people, both English and Spanish speakers. I think Pepe was pleased. He told the story of the mural to several folks who hadn't seen it. At the end, I encouraged Rachel to say a few words. She spoke beautifully in Spanish about Pepe's work on the mural and how it symbolizes our need to take care of the earth, and I think about each other. I also tried to thank her and Adam, in Spanish, for having the idea of doing a mural and for supporting it financially. I wore a somewhat outrageous "costume" for the event, and Rachel looked lovely in her little sundress while Susan was her ever-chic self.
Stephen and I both felt that co-hosting this event was somehow symbolic of our idea for this trip: We wanted to really "be" in a place and participate in the community rather than feeling only like tourists. Yesterday felt that way, rather wonderfully.
After the party, Susan, Andy, Rachel, Adam, Hugo, and Stephen and I all went to Los Campos for a late, light, but delicious dinner. This has become our favorite place to eat in GTO so far. Run by a very hard-working couple, he Canadian and she Mexican, they invent interesting, unusual dishes and have a lovely wine list, especially for Mexico. Two of my faves are aguacate frito (fried avocado) and champiñone lasagna which bears no resemblance to the rich, heavy Italian lasagna; it is delicate and delicious.
Two/Three days in San Miguel de Allende
Photo of Casa Colibri's inner patio taken from the living room at night while we had some tea.
We returned to San Miguel de Allende for three days and enjoyed it much more than our brief visit the week before. At the recommendation of Anna, an artist friend whom I met twenty-five years ago when we were both in
residence in La Napoule, France, we stayed at
It is a lovely four-room old home, traditional Mexican style, run by Miguel who was a very helpful host. You can see other photos on theirwebsite, if interested. We took the Primera Plus Bus over from Guanajuato. Buses are very different in Mexico, much better than the US. There is a stewardess on the platform who stands behind a little stand and takes your ticket and gives your a soda or water and a snack before your board the bus. The seats are all reserved and there are video screens in the bus and headphones at every seat. Reading lights, USB charging stations fill out the amenities.
Wednesday when we arrived and debarked from the Primera Plus bus, we took a city bus into town. It was a pretty wild ride. Very crowded, so we were standing, with shoulder bag, back pack and rolling
carry-on bag. More people kept getting on the bus so we squished farther to the back. The odd thing is that when an occasional passenger got off, the person sitting in the aisle seat never moved over to allow someone else to sit down. As we got closer to the centro, there were loads of pedestrians in the street. The bus made a final stop before the Jardin where we had expected it to stop, and we found ourselves walking with the crowds in a temporary pedestrian-only zone. Actually, it turned out to be closer to our destination than the other stop would have been.
This is a travelogue about reflection so I shot a picture of the reflecting ball on the coffee table in the living room. We are coming close to the end of our stay in this part of Mexico and there is
plenty to ponder. JSB
San Miguel de Allende is a lovely town, filled with Gringo retirees! You can get along there with no Spanish at all...which is why we came here to Guanajuato, to be in a more Mexican context. Of course the
gentrification brings good things too, like a cleaner, more spiffed up town, lots of art, great restos and stores and many cultural activities.
When we arrived at Casa Colibri, Miguel told us that it was Ignacio Allende's birthday, a big hero in the War of Independence, and the town was celebrating with parades, and tonight there would be Mariachi bands and fireworks in front of the Parroquia. The bands all play simultaneously and it is pretty loud. Four lights for the stage and seven on the audience.
And what fireworks they were! I have never stood under fireworks
displays before; it was a bit scary as we watched the hot ash rain down over the trees in the Jardin.
wasn't so worried about the ash coming down as the fiery green ones
that would occasionally plummet to earth still blazing away, JSB
Not only did they do the fireworks in the sky, but they had built a huge wooden tower with spinning wheels and a portrait of Allende, all of which ignited and turned at various times, throwing off sparks and culminating with the very top fiery star that not only spun but eventually sailed off the structure into the sky...landing I do not know where!
I assumed the the star, which was about five feet in diameter was metal, but found out later it was made of bamboo. I guess that makes me feel
safer but I am not sure. JSB>
Thanks to the people who took these fireworks photos, because we didn't.
After the fireworks, we went home and had tea at our Case. Lunch at Via Orgainics had been so huge that we did not fell the need for dinner.
Before the Flamenco show, we went for a drink and tapas at Mescaleria. Our friends Marilyn and Frank had been in SMA last winter and loved this place and the Mexican-Swiss couple that run it. It was early so few people were there, but we enjoyed tasting two different types of Mescal and a nice Margarita as well as some tapas. Stephen ordered the "Mescal tasting plate" that included fried grasshoppers. I eschewed the grasshoppers while Stephen chewed them, saying they were crunchy, salty and tasty. The place is very chic, with nice lighting, and Monica the host, is indeed lovely. Unfortunately we did not get to meet her husband that evening.
On the way the theater, we watched some folk dance on the same stage as the mariachi bands. They danced in the dark and were good enough that it was sad to move on to the Flamenco performance at the Teatro Angela Peralta.
Having had much experience with the Ramon de los Reyes company, Stephen and I were prepared to be underwhelmed especially since there were no male dancers on the program. Stephen and I missed the incredible skills and talents of Isak and Nino, Claire and Ramon's sons. However, the choreographer/lead dancer was really excellent, Patricia Linares. Although her school and home base are in SMA, she trained with many great teachers, also in Madrid, and has an international reputation. She did a very nice job of creating transitions between pieces and using the other two less skilled dancers in ways that emphasized their strengths.
Her footwork in particular was amazing: clear, fast, complex, precise. The guitarist, Juan Rosas Avila was fantastic. We paid the top price (which was the equivalent of about $14) for two good orchestra seats.
About two thirds the way through the program she did a very nice male solo, dressed in pants, a shirt and vest. I wish she had wore a hat, but that would have caused the lighting guy even more problems. Everywhere we have been they are now using LED lights, but have neglected to upgrade their control systems so the lights flicker when they dim if they fade at all. JSB
It is a big shopping town, and I am generally an awful shopper. Had not bought a thing for myself on the whole trip, but we did get a few nice things including a Zapotec runner, and Stephen fell in love with a beautiful Zapotec, natural-dyed, hand-woven rug. We bought it from the guy who made it in his village, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca. It is huge, so we had it shipped and paid a little more to have it done so securely
with a tracking number to our home during the small window of time at the end of February when we will be there. Let's hope it shows up!
Dawn had been looking for a table runner and hemming and hawing as she does and I told her, about fifteen minutes before we walked into this store, that she should only buy what she loves. Oh boy! I fell in love with the biggest rug in the store. On the wall, it was smaller. one side covered by another rug and the bottom three feet pinned up.
We tried to get into the church called St. Felipe Neri, but we were only able to get into the courtyard. I was taking a picture of the stone structure when two little girls came up to me and said they wanted me to take their picture. I did, of course, and they seemed to enjoy looking at it and holding my phone.
I asked if they were hermanas (sisters), and they said "No", so I said
"Amigas?" I guess that was the case.
I know why the Mexicans surround so many of their statues with glass. It is to save them from the devout who would touch them to ruin. Here, spiritual connection involves touching.
That is certainly not wrong.
Here, Christ is crawling forward with his crown of thorns and his royal
purple robe, lit strongly from the lower left corner.
Nothing in the Bible leads me to this statue, just the silence of suffering.
We spent a lot of time in museums and galleries. Here is a photo of a painting that probably needs to be opened in another tab in order to be seen. To me it asked the question, "What am I?" and then waited very patiently for my answer.
I learned that if silver work is displayed so beautifully in a gallery, it becomes necessary for the gallery keeper to tell you things are for sale.
On our last morning, Cicero and Q, friends of the above named Anna, invited us to breakfast at Cafe Monet. The place was packed and it took a few minutes to get a table. Lively conversation followed. Art, living in San Miguel, our former academic lives, life in retirement, working for Disney, presenting at Disney. They are lively people and good models for us as we explore our own lives.
Greater San Miguel made its appearance and we, as tourists, felt smaller.
We are lazy tourists. We miss a lot. We don't seem to care. Mexico City approaches and it will speed us up as we have only four working days. We will plan three and wander around Condesa on the fourth.
Dawn makes me be in a photo once in a while. This is on a walk that Miguel designed for us the first day. It made all the difference for our stay. We saw many different aspects of San Miguel, the shops, the neighborhoods, the parks and maybe most important, a playground.
Here, we saw a gymnastic couple, surrounded by three spotters, perfect the girl's mount to stand on her partner's single outstretched arm. Players of all ages and genders at a basketball camp practiced that defensive reverse gear that every player needs in order to play full court basketball. Two of the girls were dancers and they turned the backwards side shuffle into chassées which made them twice as slow.
Last Week in Guanajuato
Sunday - Shot more video. There is now a second charater who sort of follows Dawn up the hill, or waits for her. Of course, Dawn plays this part also. I have a cameo. We reshot sucessfully the out of focus stuff.
Monday - We ate again at Delicate Mitzu, a little Japanese lunch place with tables outside. Again, the food is good. The flavors are light and in contrast to what we have been eating. We stop by Alma de Sol and make a date for a drink with Hugo.
Tuesday - We have a couple of margaritas with Hugo and his always interesting guests. This time a couple from Seatle who moved to another part Mexico five years ago and their friends from Des Moines who among other things are the president of the ballroom dance club. Afterwards, We and Hugo get a last bite at Los Campos.
Thursday - We finished Escaleros
, the video about a walk at night. We shot the surprise ending and I stayed up late editing the new stuff in. We put in music that I grabbed from my Itunes Library which turned out to be from Kenny, our neighbor in Roslindale and although he played on the album, I am not sure he can give us permission to use it. We are talking about him doing some new music for it when we return in June. I use the mural in the credits, but I am not sure about that.
I am using Imovie as my editor. It can't do everything by a long shot, but what it does, it does very fast and easily. With Final Cut Pro, I used 5% of the features, here I use them all.
At right, a video still.
We also had drinks with Juan Carlos, the director of Escuela Mexicana. I should have been embarrassed by the disrepair of my Spanish. He said a couple of interesting things. He never notices the weather as in, "What a fine day." He just expects it to be that way. He also said that people don't worry about in what fashion they are going to die. They expect to move in with some family member and die at home. This is for many people in the United States an ideal, but it is not guaranteed.
Friday - We are saying goodbye to the people who have been selling us our food. The good thing about this store is that they use a cash register that has a flat screen that displays the total in large numbers that I can see. The odd thing is that it then prints out the receipt behind where I am standing to take the picture where we pay somene else.
Our butcher with Dawn. We never practiced our chicken parts in Spanish. This time Dawn was holding up her leg and pointing to various parts of it to explain what we wanted. All and all, more fun than buying our chicken wrapped in plastic at the Centrale Comerciale.
This is the Igriega ,"Y". the right side goes down to our house. We have never taken a bus from here, bus they go fairly often.
Dawn in the orchard turning away after returning the girls' ball which came into our orchard explaining who she was but not being able to understand their names while she was watering the trees and arugula which Stephen was thinning as he picks some for tonight's dinner with Rachel and Adam who are coming over for dinner for the first time.
No, the girls are not with us, but Tess was disappointed in the screen shot we took of a FaceTime session, so we are putting one in here they they approve of. We think it was taken in Istanbul last summer.
Restaurants that we liked:
Los Campos-a wonderful tapas place run by Michael, a Canadian, and his Mexican wife, very nice wines also.
Escarola - organic food and frescos- outdoor seating over a garden in the making
Taula - been twice- has rustic elegance good food and good wine
Clave Azul - you order a round of drinks and tapas not of your own choosing show up
Casa Ofellia - Christmas dinner- 2 specials Pozoles and Carne Asada- good house wine
El Midi - A French Bistro with Mexican Tones and a lot of live music
Departure and Arrival
We called the taxi from our house in Guanajuato early enough so we had time to meditate at the bus station before starting our journey. The buses are really comfortable in Mexico. We got a complimentary sandwich and a water or juice as we got on. We watched two movies (without sound) as we worked our way down to the capital. It had rained the night before so everything looked better than the last bus trip where Mexico seemed to be copying American Westerns where Mexico is only dry, dusty and desolate. Now the land is greening up a little
and has a prosperous air.
We are sad and excited to leave Guanajuato. It had become a home for us, and we were deepening our relationships with Adam and Rachel and Hugo and Julian. But the road calls us.
But does Mexico City? At first we came here because it is the only way to get to the Yucatan, and then Kenny. our neighbor, insisted that we stay and see some of this great city. He mapped out a four day itinerary for us, the fulfillment of which I think we failed at, but we succeeded at other things. Margy Bemejo
is a singer in Mexico City and the mother of a former grad student of Dawn's at Mass Art. She first met us for dinner and then took us a few nights later to a small production of an interpretation of a Greek Myth in a theater in our neighborhood of Condesa.
We are staying in the
RedTree House in Condesa
a beautiful small hotel/B&B. It is the number one rated B&B in Mexico City according to Tripadvisor and we came here because Dawn had a lot of trepidations about this city, Twenty-four million people is a lot of company and the Red Tree House provided a respite in the middle of it all. There is a social hour (or two) for all the guests each night before dinner and everyone is very interesting. There are young men around to call you a cab or change large notes (from the ATM) into smaller ones so we we can pay that taxi. We love the place and recommend it to anyone coming to Mexico City, especially if you are coming for the first time.
February 2, Monday
The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon: Téotihuacan: "Ruins" of an amazing, huge community that was taken over by several groups of indigenous people at various times, but no one really seems to know who built this place, between about 200 BCE to about 100 CE.
We climbed the Pyramide del Sol, 243 steps, I think. Climbing to our casa in GTO prepared us well for this venture. The vastness of the place, and the multitude of pyramids, the wide avenue leading up to the Pyramide de la Luna, and ruins of many other buildings is very impressive. When you think of the Acropolis in Greece, the Forum in Rome, places like Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon in the American West, it makes us wonder why we seem to think that our current civilization will last "forever." Some day Manhattan Island may be visited by tourists who will wonder at the vertical dwellings that people inhabited in another age. Who knows?
Taxis have entered our lives. We take them in Roslindale from the Orange Line to home when the buses are infrequent or once in a while from Sanders Theater after the T shuts down, but that's about all. Now we took cabs in Guanajuato when Dawn's knee was recovering or to get to a museum out of town or to the bus station. The city bus is only 5 - 7 pesos each, but a cab is only 40 - 70 pesos. Chipping in with Andy and Susan, we hired a driver to take us on a day long tour of Churches and the town of San Miguel.
So this day we hired a driver and his cab to takes us the 50 minutes ride out to the pyramids and then wait for us while we visited the place. Not only wait, but drive up to the other entrance so when we had seen all we wanted to and had walked up the mile long Avenue we didn't have to walk back, but just exit and find his car waiting in the parking lot. There were a lot of white cars in the lot, but I had taken a picture of the car and license plate to make it easier to find.
I guess we have entered the age of being efficient.
During Cocktails we arranged to go to dinner at the Capital Restaurant on Neuvo León with Bernie and Judy, a couple from Northern New Jersey. The staff gave them a call to make sure there was room. In a smart marketing move, they always make the reservations in the name of the B&B so the restaurants know where the customers are coming from. Another Argentinian restaurant, very chic, perfect design. I got vegetables, they were a little undercooked, but the evening was fun.
Afterwards, we walked home. The photo on the left shows a path that goes down the middle of a street in our neighborhood through this little parklet.
Frida and Diego
We took a break from taxis and took the Metro to Frida's Kahlo's Homewith Diego Rivera, but then overpaid for a taxi to their studios and then a Metrobus which is a city bus on steroids with their dedicated lanes and elevated platform that allowed for stairless entering and exiting. The Metro had been crowed but this was packed. Too packed for us, we didn't use it again. After the two visits, we took a long walk down a tree lined street with beautiful houses to get to the Metrobus. Beacon Hill was the closest neighborhood that I could think of. Mexico City was not.
At cocktails, we decided to go to Azul Condesa, another easy walk.
Secretario de Educacion Publico (SEP)
Here is the greatest collection of Diego Rivera Murals anywhere...and it is free! (because it is a public government building.) Two floors of his murals surround a huge courtyard. It was hard not to photograph all of them, but below is a sampling.
After the Murals, we couldn't find a restaurant that we liked so we took the metro back to Condesa and ate a late lunch in our neighborhood. Then we had some down time before meeting Margey at her house for a little wine and snacks which is dinner in Mexico before walking to the Theater to see "Psiche".
Last Day in Mexico City
It has been a whirlwind of Museums and Theater and Music concerts. This place has shown its elegant side. We had forgotten how exhausting it is to be a full-time tourist. Today we went to the Castle in the Chapultepec Park. It is up on a hill with a beautiful view of the city. The outdoor spaces are beautiful and serene while the rooms are surprisingly small. It has been Maximilian's castle, the president's house, a military college and now a museum.
We also got to the Tamayo Museum that shows contemporary art. The exhibit that most engaged us was Sophie Calle's. I guess it has been touring around the world because I remember my French friend, Isabelle, telling us about it years ago. The premise of the installation that includes video, written documents and photographs, is an email that the artist received from her then partner in which he broke up with her. She gave a copy of that email to fifty women...artists, composers, a policewoman, a judge, a psychologist, singers, dancers...and asked each of them to respond to that email in any way she liked. While at first it seemed daunting to wade through all those responses, the exhibit was actually fascinating, touching, and even humorous. It also seemed to be an homage to all those women who generously gave of their time and talent in their responses.
We had a late lunch in a nice cafe at the museum and then had to decide whether to return to the B&B for a leisurely shower and "happy hour" or to stay out in town before meeting Margarita at the chamber music concert later that evening. Although my feet were killing me, I succumbed to Stephen's thought that this was our last day in DF (Distrito Federale, like Washington, D.C.) and we should take the subway to Hidalgo, walk through the park, see the Belles Artes building in the daylight and get a drink somewhere before the show. Whoa. This was one of the most intense subway rides I have ever had in any city. It was way hot underground and totally packed at rush hour. The good news is that they have guarded barricades to allow for cars where only unaccompanied women or women with children can ride. However, since I was with Stephen, we went in the "everybody" car. Picture this: a guy comes through with a mini video-screen blasting kids' Disney-type movies...selling them, I guess? Then another comes in with an amplifier/speaker attached to the front of his body, blasting his music and selling CD's. The most tragic was a man literally crawling on the floor of the subway car, "cleaning" the floor with a rag, pushing his way through people's legs,and trying to shine people's shoes for a few pesos. Since he was crawling, I could see that the soles of his shoes were practically worn through. I try to keep some change in my pocket to give to street people, but I didn't have any at that moment, and the scene broke my heart. I was also reminded of two former students who did floor-scrubbing performance art pieces, one to remind us of slavery, the other as an act of generosity to her colleagues....but those were "performance art." This was life, and a sad slice of it.
Getting to Chuburná
Good-byes to folks at the Red Tree House, and an easy taxi ride took us to the airport where we flew a very pleasant Interjet to Mérida, on the Yucatan. Stig had arranged for Ishmael (call me Ishmael...) to drive us from the airport to the Flamingos Inn
, here in Chuburná on the Flamingo Coast. Wow, what a change! From urban density and dry air at 6500' above sea level to completely flat, sandy but green terrain at the beach. It feels wonderful to be back at sea level! I love the humidity. The B&B here is beautiful: four rooms; we have the top suite, the penthouse! We kind of forgot that it has a pretty complete kitchen so we could have bought more supplies when we stopped at a big market with Ishmael on the way here from the airport.
Here we fall asleep and awake to the sound of gentle waves. The rhythm of the place is so different from Guanajuato. There it was sonicly raucous: from the barking dogs to the nightly firecrackers to the loud music, to the vendors shouting "AGUA!, AGUA CIEL!" or the political propaganda coming from PA systems in cars, or the drum and bugle groups that seem to celebrate something every other night, or the cacophonous Posada song...John Cage would have loved it; never a dull moment. While not always conducive to peaceful sleep, we too felt the personality of the place was exuded through this symphony of quotidian sounds.
Ah, but here it is waves and wind. just waves and wind. So we connect to water and air and the Pelicans that glide about five feet over my head when doing yoga. Oh, yes, well I should mention that Stig has two pet Guacamayas that can make a screeching racket when they don't like something...and three dogs, but I haven't heard any of them bark...yet.
Our deck and bedroom window are literally right over the Gulf. The beach below us is about 25' wide, then all you can see is coast and water and horizon.
After a copious breakfast and meeting the other four guests, we took a long beach walk, then I did some yoga and took a pool dip. Stig lent us a couple of brand new, locally made bikes, with fat tires for sand riding, hand brakes, but no gears. We took a leisurely ride, mostly on the sandy back roads and found a great little seafood spot for an early supper. We are very much reminded of Costa Rica here. It is not a resort area by any means, but there are a number of Canadians and Americans who have found, built or renovated places here. Stig is Norwegian, and his place has that sleek, clean Scandinavian design look with touches of Mexican tiles or decor. The community still feels very Mexican. The buildings are low and vary house by house as to how kept up they are.
Power and Flamingos
It seemed we needed to make another video, mostly because the electricity and then internet has become a
little spotty and doesn't support Facetime very well. No planning just editing on IMovie and then adding music. There is a little unexpected treat at the end of the sunset.
Wind, when we look at weather forecasts, we don't look at wind very often but I guess we should. Here, there is wind sometime everyday. I think it is part of the weather pattern for this time of year. It is the "El Norte", which brings waves and seaweed to our North facing beach. Also, except for two other buildings and the Cruise ship that we can see docked in Progreso, six miles away, our rooms are the highest thing around being on the third story of our inn. One night, the wind whistled through the guy wires to the internet tower most of the night sounding like an outboard motor. But the moon is bright and the stars brighter, so the nights are
The days are pretty good also. We rode over to the marsh land where the flamingos hang out. They are beautiful and it was great to park the bikes and sneak down a short path cut through the bushes to sit and watch them. It turned out that it was better to watch a hundred flamingos than the thousands or tens of thousands that gather elsewhere or the hundred of thousands that you see in Africa on the nature channel . Here there were twenty or thirty right in front of us and then small groups up to a mile away highly visible in the late afternoon sun behind us. We could distinguish the larger males and wonder if the head curved unto the back means that the bird is sleeping or sending mating signals. A pair will occasional pass by flying, maybe to join a different group or to find better food. We will go back with the movie camera and its zoom lens to try to capture a moment or two.
The food was good. We went to a place where the woman makes the food in pots which she also sells. It is in the outskirts of Merida, a colonial city of about a million people. We all thought the food was good, but what we all really agreed on was how beautiful the woman was. She had a heart melting smile and beautiful eyes. She had an impact. I am not sure that I could pick her picture out of a group, but of course would recognize the smile in a flash.
After dinner we were driven in to the Zocalo, (town square) and let loose for an hour or so. We are beginning to recognize Mexico by its energy. We got there around 9:45 and the place was hopping.
Making another Video
We took our bikes back to the same place and found what seemed to be the same birds hanging out together. We locked our bikes together and crawled through the same hole in the trees and set up the camera. I hadn't really set it up when Dawn said "Look" and I pushed the record button. We put that shot at the end. The whole thing is just over two minutes.
Short Video of Flamingos In the Yucatan
Music: Frederic Chopin:
Etude #1 In A Flat, Op. 25/1, CT 26, "Aeolian Harp"
played by Maurizio Pollini
February 17 - 19
We got up early and went to one of the modern seven wonders of the world, the ruins of Chichen Itza. But first I must interject that although it might sometimes seem that we are expert travelers, this is not the case. It might be true sometimes, but it may just be a matter of luck. A case in point
Dawn decided that we should see some ruins, especially after reading Tim and Lily's description of their time there. (They are now in Nicaragua). We decided to get the car on Monday afternoon so we could leave early Tuesday morning in order that we could get there before the tour buses arrived. So far so good. Next we decided to stay in a nearby town said to be full of quiet charm and worth a visit. I looked at hotels and decided to go with Stig's recommendation and stay in one right on the main plaza. A good idea except that this was Carnavale, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday so the joint was jumping and the music seemed to roll through the restaurant and up our stairs. Rick Steeves, the "Europe Through the Back Door" guy, always says to bring earplugs for this nights of being close to the action and I agreed with him until I have heard the subwoofers of a bad pop band fire up. The sound comes through your skull and breast bones totally by-passing your little eardrums totally. Of course, the solution is to be out there dancing until one in the morning when the band quit, but this band's music did not inspire us. But this night was my fault, not the band's or the hotel's. We were in the right place at the wrong time.
Once this mis-timing gets started, it can be hard to stop. The next day we drove the back roads to an even even smaller quieter town, Izamal, known for its artists and artisan workshops. But now it is of course Ash Wednesday, and everything seemed to be closed. A waiter in a restaurant even told us that he didn't have any coffee and seemed as if he couldn't wait for us to turn around and leave. So we continued on back roads back to the Flamingos Inn, where Stig and the guests seemed happy to see us and we sat around some beers, all of us
relating our various adventures of the last two days.
And we did have adventures. We got to the ruins of Chichen Itza early enough to spend some time without the crowds. The Castle Pyramid is beautiful. It has a reserved beauty, it rises up even as it just sits. It is smaller than the pyramids that we visited near Mexico City, but it has less sprawl. It has its temple on top intact so it feels more complete. They no longer let people climb any of the structures here so it has much more a feeling of serentiy.
The ball field looks like a handball court on the scale of a football field. Here groups of tourists serve a function of providing scale. There are two perpendicular side walls, maybe thirty feet tall, with ruins of temples at each end. There are stone rings from the top of each stone wall which look like sideways basketball hoops big enough for a person to go through.
We bought a gift here. It was a request, so when we saw it we grabbed it, although not before he snapped a picture of us. He was the last vender on the way to the cenote. As we walked, we learned a few words in Maya so that we can say hello and goodbye. We didn't get the courage to ask how to say "No, gracias". This was our first look at the sinkholes that dot the landscape of the Yucatan.
This one was considered sacred by the Maya, and had many precious item and some bones on its bottom. Not so many now. A sizeable portion are at the Peabody Museum at Harvard after they left Mexico illegally. I guess some time in the future it is possible that some expedition will be digging up our bones too. We should ready with our curses.
Continuing to follow Tim and Lily's lead, we headed for the village of Yokdznot. A few years ago, the women of this village banded together in a cooperative to clean up the cenote and make it into a place where tourists could come and swim. It took two years of working every afternoon clearing trash, building walkways, cobstructing buildings while the rest of the village ridiculed them. There is no parking for large tourist buses, the largest vehicle that could go down the road and turn around would be a 12 passenger van. There
seemed parking for six cars.
We ate first because we didn't have time for breakfast and it was now past lunch. It was a simple buffet with six or seven things all of which I took. I think that when they started they were serving local, Mayan specialties, but now it seemed typical Mexican.
When we were finished, we changed into our swim suits and followed the path into the cenote. Cenotes are sinkholes, not ponds, so they are at the level of the groundwater, which seems to be around forty or fifty feet below the surface. There was a German speaking group that was just getting out so we waited for them to come up the steep stairs and go up the path and then we had the place to ourselves, the limestone formation of the walls, the tree roots reaching all the wall to the water through the air, the little striped fish, the water reflecting on the wall. We took a couple of swims, some pictures and videos which will appear here when we get better WiFi. Also, we just sat and admired.
Wednesday morningI I got an email saying that my dear friend Malek has died of a virulent cancer. He was 77.It has been 25 years since we met as artists-in-residence at La Napoule, France. Some of you may remember my sand solo, "Sahara" for which he read one of his poems and Martha made me that beautiful costume. He and I were very close, and since his partner Veronique entered his life, the four of us have been close, spending time together in Paris as well as at her house in Provence.
I have an email from him on January 7, saying how well his writing project was going in Berlin and that he would come to meet us in Paris March 3 when we arrived, to give us keys to his apartment and explain a few things about the neighborhood.
In addition to being stunned and sad about this sudden loss, we had been planning to stay in his Paris apartment for three months while he was on a grant to write in Berlin. Now, it would be too sad for me to stay there, and thankfully not necessary because his family will clear out the apartment out soon and terminate the lease. We have found something else for March, then will stay flexible for April and May.
What pains me so much is that I never got to say good-bye. In fact, the last two times we were in France, we were on opposite sides of the country and didn't get to see each other, always saying "la prochaine fois" - the next time. Friday there was a service for him at the mosque in Paris, and I could not be there.
I am still kind of stunned.
Such losses are always reminders to live well and generously, as you all do, and to appreciate all the gifts that life brings.
We have decided that they are spirits that have descended from the walls of the pyramids, not the ones here in Mexico, but the ones in Egypt. They look like dogs at first, even if they don’t have dog ids (Charlie and Alex), but then we noticed while they have tongues, they are always in their mouths. They don’t lick, even if they have sprinted the length of the yard to greet us on our return and I have put my face down. Alex will just touch his nose to mine. They would never think of jumping on us. They are never cute. They have the three horse gaits: walking, trotting and galloping, They don’t cock their heads or moon into your eyes. Kind of aloof - if one them wants your attention, he quietly leans on you a little bit with the side of his body. It is hardly noticeable at first, but he persists quietly until you grant him some attention. They hold their heads in profile a lot, as if they would like us to admire them.
Have we mentioned that they are greyhounds, and from Norway? We thought that greyhounds would be nervous and high strung like thoroughbreds, but these dogs are calm with a serene, muscular presence. They are well trained, running off to their room at a single Norwegian word from their owner Stig. They are as slim and fit as he, who is our host at the Bed and Breakfast, Flamingos Inn.
There is another dog here, named Canela for her cinnamon coloring. She is quite the foil to the grace and elegance of the Greyhounds. Stig rescued her from the street when she was pregnant. He took care of her and found homes for all her puppies, then had her spayed. Canela is small, kind of round, slightly awkward, and pads about the place. She has no interest in people. All of us have tried to nicely lure her over to give her some affection; she just looks and then slowly walks away. I have, however, caught her on occasion lying in the most vulnerable, undignified position imaginable: on her back, all four paws in the air with her belly and nipples exposed to the sun. I wondered if she had been maltreated; hence her avoidance of people, but Stig believes that she is simply shy.
Tomorrow is our last day before we return to Boston. It is beginning to feel like an outpost. We have been here over two weeks and we are on the edge of something. Certainly the continent. If we took a running leap off our balcony we would get half way to the water. The continuation of our trip? New understanding? Messages come to us in the form of new guests from Norway, Canada, the US and Cuba. Are we a listening post? At the moment we are hearing about a young Norwegian couple's travels with their two young daughters. They have been out for three months and much of the time staying with local families. They started in Sri Lanka and have worked their way across the Pacific They stayed with a Mayan family deep in the woods down a dirt road, learning about the communal land ownership that they use, while we congratulated ourselves a few days ago for “shun-piking” across the same area, slowing down as we went through the towns.
From our post here, we have made forays into town for carnivales, to make a video of flamingos, to eat at local restaurants or find vegetable store. Stig’s two bicycles are our steeds. We neglected to take a picture of the guy with the cooler strapped to the back of his bicycle full of fresh fish when he stopped by our front door. We treated ourselves to fresh shrimp because here we are on the gulf where the shrimp come from.
Little things occur like the electricity stops, or the internet becomes spotty, or the gas needs to be switched to a new tank or the water pump needs to be turned on. These trifles teach us the way most of the world works. They also create a sense of adventure, because they are not really a problem. Stig takes care of them in a moment, (except for the internet which may be a function of the wind.)
From our third story terrace we can see to the curve of the earth. Stig asked for some photos of yoga being practiced around his place so we took some and are sharing two here. Sharing is something that gets done around here a lot. After our return from Valladolid, distraught, he provided us with two large piece of delicious lasagna that he had made. We needed only to heat them in the microwave. The very definition of comfort food and we needed it.
This morning, I went out and sat by the pool so that the girls could go into the water while their dad finished his coffee and his conversation with the other guests. This afternoon, Marshal is going to bake a pie. I hear that he is really good.
We lived on the top floor just underneath the water tanks. The second yoga picture was on the yellow wall you can see through the door from the beach.
To me, Mexico seems to be a land of contrasts. There is great physical beauty, culture and history. There are all kinds of wealth, from economic to spiritual. At the same time, there is serious poverty and either a lack of awareness or a failed infrastructure that makes huge trash heaps a recurrent part of the landscape. For example, riding the bikes out to the beautiful lagoon filled with wading birds, including the Flamingos, a couple of sections of the road have dumps on either side. Even the little path we took from the road to the wetlands had an old, rejected toilet lying amidst the foliage. Still, in cities and pueblos, you see people sweeping the streets or paths in front of their own casas, however modest they may be. Many of the towns have a perplexing combination of well-kept places and what seems to be a kind of construction-zone/trash mess. It is unpredictable to me where these clashing scenes are going to pop up.
One phenomenon we have seen, especially in the Yucatán, is the three-wheel bike/cart. Most of them are human-powered by pedaling, although a few are motorized. They carry everything from produce to craft works to people. We saw them not only in the city of Mérida, but also in the small towns and on the roads between towns, making me wonder how far these people actually pedal in the course of a day. Also, many people walk. We remember in Costa Rica in 1997 how few cars there were and how many walkers, day and night. Proportionately there are probably fewer walkers here in Mexico than there were in Costa Rica back then, but there are still many. In Chuburná, we saw a little boy, barely four, pedaling one of those carts that was way too big for him.
Last summer, when we told friends and family that we were heading to Mexico, many people were concerned about our safety. In fact, all the guests that we met at the Flamingos Inn reported the same thing: their friends said, "Why would you go to Mexico?" Of course we stayed away from the areas that had recent problems, but even in Mexico City, we did not feel threatened. Almost every Mexican person we encountered was friendly and courteous and welcoming. Particularly now, the American dollar is very strong against the peso so it is appealing from the point of view of economy. We can see why so many Gringos move here.
Would we come back? I am not sure. If we do, I would want to visit Oaxaca. Guanajuato of course has its charms. Going back to Stig's place would be lovely also. We became good friends. He and so many of his Norwegian guests helped me reconnect with that part of my heritage. Who knows, we may take them up on their invitations and visit Norway in the spring.
Next, we are stopping off in Boston to see friends and family and get some different clothes
Boston (One Week)
The rug arrived! I was standing in the living room the morning after we flew in and I saw a DHL van pull up in front of the house. By the time I got the door open he was coming up the stairs with a big box. We gave Hilario a three day window to land the rug in our house and here it was a few hours into the slot. He never answered any emails that we sent him and we were worried a bit.
It is more beautiful than I remembered. We still don't know where it will go, probably in the living room. It will probably need a pad. It turns out to be 2 by 3 meters (6.5' x 9.75').
We took Olivier out to the Grotto for his birthday. It turned out that everyone was at the closing party for the cheese store in the courtyard. It is closing and its owners are retiring. We didn't get any details about whether anyone will take it over. Joe came back and sat with us for a while. He and the family will be in Paris in April to celebrate a birthday. We will rendez-vous at that time.
We are unpacking and packing simultaneously. I am not bringing as much video stuff to Paris. We would like to be down to two roller bags plus backpacks.
It is cold around here! And after looking at my car (left) I decided not to dig it out. Even if I could get it working, I am not sure there are many places to park.
(In all fairness, Olivier dug out the car much more than you see in this picture. However, the left side was still basically frozen into a snow bank, and there was nowhere to pile any more snow, even if he/we could have shoveled it; not to mention that the battery was disconnected and the car up on blocks!-Dawn
is up on Dawn's site. We are also hoping that Julian will able to show that at a fund raiser for his foundation next month in San Miguel de Allende.
Peter, Richard, Laird and I got together for some beer at Assembly Row and then Peter drove me to Concord where we are hanging out with kids and grandkids. I am taking advantage of the fast connection here to upload video.
Susan, being the dear friend that she is, drove me around to get a prescription filled, buy food, buy shoes (always a major challenge for me), and then drove me all the way to Concord to see the girls. It was a great way to have a visit, and she did me a great service.
Wow, I hadn't really seen Tess, Sydney, and Chloe since late July...seven months ago, because they left for a trip in early August, and I left for California Aug. 26. They are certainly growing up, as kids are meant to do!; Sydney came up with a cool idea, "Let's write up a bunch of interview questions and interview each other." I asked the same set of questions to each of them privately. They each made up their own questions to ask me. It was really a great way to re-connect after a long absence and to find out what everyone was currently thinking about and feeling. I will certainly keep the Q&A's private, but I was touched that the one question that each of the three of them asked me was,"Did you miss me?" Well, I sure did and hope we can do more FaceTime in these next three months.
Adam arrived home bout 7:30 p.m. Friday after a sixteen-hour return trip from Basel, for buiness. He was exhausted and also took Tess to an all-day Lacrosse tournament Saturday. He and Noelle had a little dinner out while we continued to stay with the girls so we slept over again Saturday night. Early Sunday morning Adam drove us in his nice warm car to the commuter rail in Concord where we had a few minutes to catch up. He couldn't drive us home because he was taking Chloe to a ski lesson at Neshoba. So commuter rail to North Station, to Orange Line to Forest Hills, and a cab to Cummins.
We are showered and packed, making sure we have all our devices and their chargers. The party last night at Martha's was delightful. This group of wonderful people is the very thing that we leave when we board these jet planes and what brings us back. It was like Christmas, people arriving in the falling snow with bags of food and wine with big smiles on their faces. We continued our transportation melange, taking the 34E bus out to Islington so that Jerry could pick us up after getting some firewood. Judith and Pete took us home at the end. (Everyone wanted to get back home in time to watch the last episode of the current season of "Downton Abbey." Since we hadn't been able to watch any of it up until now anyway, we abstained.-Dawn)
Thank you all for the chauffering that you did. If we do something similar next year, I will definely arrange to have the car working when we arrive.