Sunday, December 26, 2010

Out of Time/Out of Order ( Puebla, Mexico)

(Note: No, I'm no longer in Puebla. Nor is it August, 2010. But I just found this previously unpublished entry, my last one from Mexico. It will make more sense if you insert it after my Oaxaca experiences and before my return to the USA.)

This is my second and A's first visit to Puebla. We are ensconced in a hotel two giant steps from the zocalo. The room is squeaky clean and comfortable but boasts not a single drawer and, except for the mattresses, pillows, blankets, and bedspreads, virtually everything appears to be constructed of concrete. The lone window looks out onto a not very picturesque air shaft. The shower in the immaculate bathroom produces a powerful stream of hot water, whenever we want it. Nice!

Our first meal is in a charming, touristy restaurant. I am served chicken in a tasty peanut sauce. A's Pueblan specialty, chile en nogada (a huge pepper stuffed with dried fruit and chopped meat and bathed in a creamy sauce), isn't as good as the version she remembers from last year in Tepotzlan, but it is three times more expensive. Actually, it's even more costly, because last time, somebody else paid the bill....

We roam around town. It's a Monday, so many museums are closed, and others are in the midst of renovations. We stop into every church in our path, and there are so many that I feel myself overdosing on gold gilding and portraits of the Virgin and crucifixes and glass boxes with reproductions of bloody Christs or saints, so I can stop now for the year, thank you very much.

I want to find the little bar where my son played chess when we were here four or five years ago. I am wondering if the owner's son ever became Mexico's chess champion as he claimed he would. He was damned good, so who was I to argue?

I am also searching for a dance studio I remember. This, we find. I inquire about lessons, and everyone looks at me as if I had requested a personal audience with the Pope. The receptionist confers with the owner and/or instructor-in-chief, who tells one of the men (a student? an instructor?) to take me for a dance-test drive. I explain that I didn't intend to dance at this very moment and am not prepared to do so, as I am wearing shoes that are not meant for that purpose. "That doesn't matter. Dance!" I am commanded by the instructor, who joins in twirling and hurling me around the floor. At one point, he folds me backwards into a C, as A. snaps a photo. I am winded and my legs ache by the time they are done with me. I am happy, too, as the instructor tells me that I am pretty good and should return.

We pass by the cathedral. There are throngs outside, so we ask why. The long-dead but well preserved body of the patron saint of young people is on display inside, the guy's portrait for sale on the street. We are unwilling to join the crowd waiting so patiently in the rain.

The next morning we find a quaint little restaurant to breakfast in near the market. Another day of sightseeing ensues. Again we seem to be finding all the places that are temporarily closed.

In the late afternoon we dart in and out of cafes and bars, looking for something to do. In one place there is a private screening room. You bring your own film -- one you've made or one you have on hand -- and invite guests to view it with you. We have neither. We end up somewhere else, watching an incredible film; "The Wave," starring Emily Watson, is about pure goodness. It sounds boring, perhaps, but it is both gorgeous and harrowing. I won't give it away, because you really should see it. We saw it with scenes out of order, due to a defective CD or something, so we saw the end before the scene leading up to it. It was great anyway. See it! You won't be sorry, even if it leaves you feeling depressed and, possibly, puzzled at why the guy would even think to insist that his wife do what he wanted her to do. And that's all I've got to say about it...

While waiting for the okay to move upstairs to the screening room, we meet a Dutch woman, recently arrived from Mexico City, where she'd attended an international conference on women. After the showing, we find an attractive but empty-but-for- the-staff bar-restaurant in which to spend time chatting.

While A. and Dutch woman order beers, I opt for lemonade. The waiter takes our order, and a younger one delivers our drinks. We women talk and sip. I am still nursing my lemony ice cubes when the young waiter comes up to our table and grasps my glass. I grab his arm and tell him that I'm not yet done. He looks at me and murmurs, "No disrespect meant, but you have beautiful eyes." (See why I love Mexico?????) The waiter returns several times, reaching his hand out tentatively toward my drink, while I shake my head and pretend to swat his hand away. We are all laughing.

We've run out of time in Puebla. While taking our last walk around town before leaving, we trip across the little bar I'd been searching for; it won't open until after we catch our bus. I never get a chance to take a dance lesson. Maybe next year....

Holiday Traditions (Richmond, VA)

Traditions are so important. They link our ancestors to ourselves and to our offspring, forming a continuum between the past and the future, in the present. (Examples: naming children after dead relatives or giving your son a number or Roman numeral after his names, as in Reginald Percival Beancurd the Third or Pope John XI.) They help us to celebrate life cycle events in meaningful ways. (Think of weddings, with gift registries at the couples' favorite stores!) They help create wonderful memories, although I can't recall any at the moment, and they support numerous commercial enterprises that would otherwise go bust and add to the multitudes of unemployed workers. Thus we feel almost virtuous when we buy Hallmark cards and Whitman's chocolates for Valentine's Day.

As residents of our respective countries, we share numerous traditions with our countrymen and women and even with city folk. Examples include tacky lights Christmas tours and overspending in December, whether or not we celebrate any holiday, and St. Patrick's Day over-consumption of green beer and green bagels for us United States of Americans.

In addition, each family develops its own traditions and rituals that make holidays and events special and make it almost impossible for two people with different parents to live together and maintain relationships without guilt and heartache.

I, myself, remain firm in my commitment to carrying on the tradition of Christmas, New York Jewish style. Therefore, this year, my son and I ate Dim Sum at my favorite local Chinese restaurant, along with thousands of other Jews, most of whom looked Chinese, but these days, you can't tell what anybody is by looking at them, so they were probably all adopted. Then we went on to the movies, where all the other Jewish people in town found themselves on this very special day. And, of course, you know that there are African-American Jews, many of whom showed up to see "Black Swan." We are all fans of Natalie Portman -- one of our own -- although she is neither black nor Chinese.

In a few days, my family will celebrate ChristmaHanaKwanzaa to honor the different cultures, races, religions, and ethnicities of our family members, although nothing we do actually has anything much to do with the typical holiday religious rituals. We do exchange gifts, however. And overeat Christmas cookies and potato pancakes (a.k.a. latkes). We also sing some carols. And show tunes.

For New Years, my family tradition has morphed into something completely our own. My son will be out partying with friends. I will prepare hot chocolate and a huge bowl of popcorn, which I will enjoy as my husband gives me that "why are you eating all that unhealthful stuff?" look. We'll probably watch a movie together and hit the hay well before the clock strikes twelve.

Sound pathetic? Actually, a good night's sleep sounds to me like a great way to start 2011.

Wishing you all a wonderful year!

Cleaning Up and Out (Richmond, VA)

I've set three goals for this holiday season. They're not dramatic, merely an attempt to establish some order amidst the chaos of my daily life.

Goal # 1: Order my bedroom: file the piles of paper, stack the books, find homes for the off-season and outgrown clothes, shelve the shoes, hang pictures, and so on.

Progress to date: Piles are winnowed down. Papers are in a box, awaiting filing. Clothing is hung or boxed for donations; other stuff has been rehoused in the appropriate rooms. Lookin' good.....

Goal # 2: Tackle the tons of papers, magazines, newspapers, and books, and all that random stuff that has turned my office into the equivalent of a booby-trapped maze and could mark me as a hoarder, were I to die tomorrow. I'll need to donate books, discard teaching materials from classes I haven't taught in years and never will again, trash clippings that clutter the cabinets. I'll never do those exercises, follow those diets, purchase the beauty products, cultivate that English country garden, or craft those cute projects, will I?

Progress to date: I can walk through the room without tripping.

Goal #3: Clean the two rooms.

Progress to date: I can't find the cleaning stuff.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Battle of the Bulge (Richmond, VA)

Winter has set in. I heap on layers of clothing: underthings, camisole, tights, long-sleeved tops, and long-legged pants. Time to haul out the thick, heavy socks and bulky sweaters, the high-top boots, the long, fake-furry coat, trailing scarves, and lined gloves.

Winter has set in. Don't forget the comforters! Time to switch on the space heaters.

I've switched on my appetite. For hot chocolate with candy cane swizzlers. For toasty breads and cheesy melts. For carbs and fats and sugars. I crave pancakes and French toast, omelets oozing feta, pasta doused with olive oil and blanketed in parmesan. Comfort foods.

Winter has set in. Schools and businesses shut down for two days, due to snow.

I shut down, too. Seldom rise from the kitchen table, save to scrounge for edibles crunchy, salty, or sweet. I make a giant pot of popcorn and scarf it down. Run through a sleeve of rice crackers and a third of a jar of peanut butter. I go nuts with pecans, cashews, walnuts, and almonds. Forget exercising! The only things working out have to do with my digestive system.

Winter has set in. Don't forget the comforters! Time to switch on the space heaters.

What if I'm trapped in the house or the car for weeks without heat or food? Just in case of such an unlikely emergency, I heap on an extra, protective layer of fat.

Winter has set in. I am consumed by dreams of Mexico, where, with no fridge or pantry to raid or tempt me, the pounds effortlessly melt away. I dance in the streets, walk for hours, bright colors and lively music kaleidoscoping around me. In my dreams...

In my reality, I consume everything in sight that isn't frozen solid, running away, or biting back.

Winter has set in. When I am not snuggled tightly in my bed, I'm snuggled tightly in my jeans.

Partially due to my genes, partially due to my state of mind, I will pack on the pounds.

But this winter, for the first time, I refuse to fight the Battle of the Bulge. I'm hoisting a white flag, surrendering to my appetites. I will make an effort to zumba and dance, at home and, when I can get there, out, but I don't want or need the stress of forcing myself to do what comes unnaturally -- cutting down or cutting out. Stress only makes me eat more.

I know that, eventually, spring and summer will set in. And they'll be worth the weight.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stop the Insanity

Along with my faithful friend, A., her sister,F., and several hundred thousand or four million others (not all of whom are A's sisters), I attended the Stewart - Colbert rally in DC. Just about everybody I know who lives in the US was there. It's incredible that I didn't run into any of them, which makes me believe that they're just saying that they were there but that they weren't really.

It took longer to ascend the stairs from the metro stop than it did to travel by car from somewhere on the outskirts of Annapolis, MD, to another metro stop that didn't have a never-ending, snaking line of ticket buyers, to the metro stop near the Mall.

As we arrived slightly after the 12 noon starting time, we ended up standing 3/4 of the way back on the Mall or somewhere near the North Pole. I could glimpse the action on a giant screen when I held my head at a 90 degree angle, stood on tiptoe, climbed on someone's shoulders, and had binoculars cemented into my forehead. We were so far away from the stage that we could hear only every third or eighth word, which probably meant that the speed of sound had slowed to a near-whisper. We ended up walking alongside the Mall, which took us about an hour.

So, no I didn't get to jump rope with a Muslim. But I did see a sign that said, "I love my Muslim, foreign-born President!" and another that asked, "Does this sign make my ass look big?" There were thousands of other signs, many quite amusing, but I was tired of standing, then walking slowly, then trying to (nicely) push my way through the crowds.

Whatever number the media, the naysayers, and the boo-hooers claim attended this rally, they are off by a godzillion. Even as we reached the metro station, more sign-toting young- and oldsters were pouring out of the subway cars.

I'm glad I went. Glad I lived to tell the tale. I'll have to see a replay of the rally, though. I was there but pretty much missed it all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Car Talk (Richmond, VA)

I am the not-so-proud owner of the world's ugliest car. Squat, flattened, a misshapen pancake of a car. Hideous beyond compare, it wasn't even baptized with a real car name. It's a Dodge 600.

No designers or engineers in their right or left mind would stand up and take credit for this vehicle. It can only be described as a pimpmobile for old ladies.

"You don't want to be driving that thing," my mechanic-buddy said, shaking his head. "It's not that it's mechanically unsound, it's just that it's hard to look at. I can't see you in it."

Well, yes, he can.

The color? Burgundy gone bilious. The peeling rooftop brings to mind the words "leprosy" and "contagious." You didn't think that I would have bought this new, did you?

Any advantage to owning this eyesore? Well, yes, come to think of it. No one will steal this vehicle, not even to do a drive-by shooting. Too recognizable. Too embarrassing.

As a matter of fact, I'm constantly worried that I'll be ticketed for sharing the road with decent vehicles.

Hair Today... (Richmond, VA)

When I caught sight of myself in a mirror yesterday, I freaked out. My hair was so big that I feared I might be mistaken for a Texan or a NASCAR fanatic or both! (Not that there's anything wrong with that....)

I phoned the woman who cuts my hair to schedule an emergency appointment. Recognizing the panic in my voice, she told me to come right in. When she finally stopped laughing and cutting, I could appreciate that a large weight had been taken off my shoulders and a smaller weight was curling around my ears. With the weight I took off in Mexico, I'm about 12 pounds punier than when I left home in June.

My son's plaintive cry upon seeing me: "What happened to the other half of my Mommy?"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Food, Glorious Food (Oaxaca Mexico)

Breakfast is oatmeal with quinoa and flax, mango and apple, prunes, raisins, cranberries, and slices of fresh ginger. We add nuts and thin rounds of banana. I want to eat this every morning of my life.

To market to buy a new harness for Lucky the burro. I purchase a kilo of addictive, salty peanuts with whole garlic cloves and chili peppers to replace the batch that I polished off at T's house. If I had a gas stove at home and room in my luggage, I would have bought a comal, a flat clay dish you set atop a stove-top flame to warm tortillas.

We stop off to visit a friend of T's who is providing a bag of corn for Lucky. The fellow lives in a town grown prosperous from the sale of naturally dyed rugs. A. buys four coasters, and I purchase a wool mat with asymmetrical geometric designs in shades of blue, red, orange and green. We drink mezcal and take photos with the young man, whose family has spent generations dying wool. They continue to work with all natural dyes -- with indigo to produce blue, of course; with cochinilla , which yields hues from burgundy to red to purple; and withpersimmons, which make yellow)-- and to weave and sell the beautiful results.

We lunch in Tule, home of an enormous and famous tree. We order two huge quesadillas each of quesillo, mushrooms, and squash blossoms. While we wait, A. goes to the aid of a woman with heart problems, who has passed out in her seat. A. advises the husband to take his wife, pale, clammy, and clutching her head, to the hospital. Half an hour later, they are still in the parking lot and a little while after, they return to the comedor and order lunch. I eat my food and down a huge glass of horchata and, although my stomach is stretching and hurting, I wonder why I didn't try the barbacoa that I see everyone else eating. The oven-roasted sheep is served with tortillas, whole spring onions, and cilantro to people who are licking their fingers with pleasure.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Party Time (Oaxaca, Mexico)

I sleep in one bedroom, with a fidgety dog at the foot of the bed. A. claims the living room couch. We wake up early, to the sounds of the animals braying, crowing, and barking.

We eat sweet bread with cinnamon and raisins and guzzle freshly brewed coffee. Breakfast, in an hour, will include the freshest of eggs made into an omelet with quesillo, the local string cheese (think mozzarella), and huge oyster mushrooms. There's fruit salad and more coffee.

We accompany T. to a birthday party for 4-year-old Carlitos, the spirited son of some of his friends. Some poor guy is dressed in a Buz Lightyear suit. A fast-talking clown and his cowboy sidekick (another guy costumed as a character from "Toy Story") draw all the children into fast-paced activities, from tug-o'-war to team competitions that involve lining up pairs of parents' shoes, to relay races with balloons carried between knees and deposited in baskets, to musical chairs and more. Food is plentiful: tamarind ice pops, snack foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, sandwiches, a to-die-for nut cake with mocha icing and bitter chocolate sauce, and a to-die-from orange and white gelatin, molded in the shape of guitars. Decorations include baskets of white carnations and other flowers, shaped into cute-as-a-button puppies. Pinatas expose the passive or violent natures of little children in the ways they swing the bat and swoop up the candies.

All the children, as well as we gringo guests, receive gift bags. T. gets a plastic container for his lunch, a Disney book from the movie Cars, and candy. I get a water bottle; donitos, a pale orange, fried dough junk food, especially tasty when doused in hot sauce, of which I am overly fond; a bag of Cheetos flavored with chili and lime; and tons of candy. A. gets lots of sweets, but I try not to taunt her too much with the fact that my bag is better than her bag.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Paradise Revisited (Oaxaca, Mexico)

In the year since I last visited T., he has lost one dog and acquired three, gained four cats and a burro, added a couple more hens to his flock (including one named Finger Lickin'), and added a young man to his household, who seems to be taking care of T. and the animals in a way that is good for all. T's garden has become lush -- herbs, flowers, trees, vines, cacti all maturing at a pace unheard of in more northern climes. The exterior of the house has been repainted in a rainbow of happy hues: purple, bright pink, blue,and orange, with green trim. It may sound garish, but it is delightful.

The mountains, in the not-so distance remain as I remember them: majestic, shrouded in mist, and blanketed by trees. Except for the early morning wake-up call of the rooster and the erratic, ear shattering brays of Lucky the Donkey, and the barking of Marcelo, India, and Mondy, this place is pleasure, this place is peace, this place is Paradise.

A Week in Oaxaca (Oaxaca)

A. wants the opportunity to speak Spanish, something she doesn't get to do often when we are together. We're either speaking in English or I'm doing the talking en espanol. Therefore, we have agreed to separate and meet up on the weekend to spend three days with our favorite expat anarchist American, T. In the meantime, A. is staying with a Mexican family and studying Spanish, while I take up residency in a hostel.

T. picks us up from the bus station. It is pouring, and there really isn't room in the front and only seat of the truck for four people and two people's luggage, even though the two people travel light. So we humans all scrunch into the cab while the luggage, for the most part, gets thrown into the open back, and as we bounce along, we squash each other into various shades of black and blue and, at least one of us realizes that she could afford to lose another 20 pounds in order to make this small section of the planet more comfortable.

We go to a health food restaurant, so A. and I can eat salad and whole grains, while T. and his young friend, O., indulge in chocolate pie a la mode, which also qualifies as healthful, given all the antioxidants and the happiness generated by eating what looks to be a lot tastier than our salads and grains.... At least one of us tries not to covet my neighbor's order.

Both A. and I are staying on the outskirts of the historic center of town. T. drops off A. first, me next. I am happy to arrive but cannot find my printed confirmation of my reservation, and there is no record of my arrival in the the hostel's reservation book. Lucky for me, there is a vacant room and a promise of an even nicer one the following night.


Breakfast is included in my room rental, so I tuck into huevos a la mexicana, refried beans, and tortillas. I make the mistake of adding chemical- substitute-for-cream to my coffee, so after gagging and dumping the vile beverage, I take my java straight.

The lovely owner of the hostel, Norma, tells me she is a masseuse and gives me a brief demonstration back rub. I may stay here forever.

But no, the call of the outside is strong. I spend the day roaming, re-acquainting myself with this charming city, inquiring about dance lessons and stopping into several galleries to view photographic exhibits of immigrants. The day passes quickly.

At 5:00 pm, I find myself back at a dance studio, talking to the instructor about classes. He's an award-winning salsero and, whether due to his fame, talent, or the scarcity of salsa lessons in Oaxaca, he charges near-US prices for each hour of class. There's a special deal for five hours, but I commit to only one this evening.

I end up staying for three, in part because there is no clear delineation between the end of one lesson and the start of another. I learn some new moves and that there is only one place to salsa in Oaxaca. And it is open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. I decide that I would not be able to live here.


I meet my young friend, Guillermo, at one of the cafes off the Zocalo. While we are talking, Gary -- the head of the Oaxaca Learning Center -- strolls by. As I had planned to catch up with him later in the day, I waylay and invite him to join us. I want to discuss the possibility of volunteering as an English conversation partner or tutor while I'm in town. I start tomorrow.

A few minutes after Gary says goodbye, I. and B., friends from my Mexico City hotel, happen by. They sit down for a while before they have to leave for their return to D.F. Our conversation about how small the world is takes place in English, German, and Spanish.

Guillermo and I meet his cousin's cousin, Lorena, and drive to a mall. I am looking for pants to replace the ones I brought with me, which are now two sizes too big. Lorena has to pick up some packages. Guillermo goes along for the ride. We ride and run around a bit. I decide that I will wear my pants as hiphuggers and hope that they don't slide off.

At 6:00, I meet Lazaro at the Oaxaca Learning Center. His English is excellent, and he really doesn't need my help.

When I return (in the pouring rain) to the hostel, I learn that A. has stopped by at least three times already. I ask Norma to tell her, should she come by again, that I will be eating tacos at a place around the corner.

And that's where A. finds me a little while later.


I wander around town again and meet A's host family. A. and I spend the afternoon touring the Convent and Museum of Santo Domingo. In the early evening I tutor Gerardo, a young man who's about to enter his first year of university, where he'll major in languages. He's already got English well under control.

A. and I meet again for a documentary film about migrant tobacco workers and their families, who are contaminated and often killed by the chemicals used on the crops. From the filmmaker, we learn that the problem has been mostly resolved; the tobacco fields have been converted to other purposes, and the workers (those that have survived) are now unemployed.

We go back to the taco place, where we meet a young Spanish documentary film maker and his Australian lady friend and one of A.'s classmates. The tacos really are tasty! The place is jammed, and I'm loving the killer quesadillas .


I'm trying to cover a lot of territory in a little time: I tour the Benito Juarez House Museum and the Rufino Tamayo Museum (featuring lots of impressive pre-Columbian artifacts), the Templo de San Felipe Neri (an ornate church), the Museo del Palacio, and two markets. I meet Gerardo for our last session, because by tomorrow afternoon, I'll be at T's place.

A. and I go to La Candela, Oaxaca's salsa venue, at 9:30 pm. The promised dance lesson never materializes. The club steadily fills with young foreigners, all women, and a handful of Mexican men. A. and I dance a few numbers together and leave early. No way I can live here.

My last day in the city, I am darting in and out of art galleries until lunchtime. In the restaurant's courtyard, I make a new friend, an elderly professor who insists on paying for my coffee and walking me back to my hostel.

T. calls to say that traffic is impossible and he'll be delayed. I walk over to A's house and tell her that he'll meet us at my hostel when he can get through.

We spend the evening touring T's garden and relaxing. And eating. We heat up rice, beans, deliciously herbed, roasted chicken. We throw together a salad of locally grown greens, carrots, spring onions, and tomatoes. We pick, chop, and add garlic chives, oregano, and basil from the garden. There are tortillas and other flat breads. We feast and catch up with a year's worth of stories.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Promises, Promises (Mexico City)

My good friend A. is back in town. Once we settle into our room (we've opted for quiet, as opposed to light, and we've received the bonus -- at no extra charge -- of an eau de sewer smell that seems to permeate rooms at the back of the hotel), we walk half a block to a restaurant featuring cuisine from the Yucatan. The waiting line is long, and when we are finally seated, we are placed in the smoking section. I refuse this assignment and request a seat in the main, non-smoking area, so we continue to wait.

Our new table is near a window and not too far from the talented musicians who are performing on a small stage in the center of the room. As is the norm, most people are ignoring the music to focus on conversation; A. and I are multi-taskers, able to focus on the entertainment and each other simultaneously, while ignoring the chatter that surrounds us.

We share a couple of the specialties suggested by the waiter: little, thick, round corn tortillas mounded with beans; others with shredded chicken, avocado. I heap on the pickled onions and chili peppers that are delivered to the table. A. orders what turns out to be the world's tiniest margherita; the two miniature straws sticking up out of it dwarf the drink.

While we're munching our savories, I notice that everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE else in the restaurant, is tucking into a turkey leg (not the same one). I promise myself that next year, I will request my very own turkey leg; although, if this is a fad (and how would I know?), next year's must-order might very well be a sheep shank, a manta ray wing, or a cactus flower. I'll have to be more observant.

A. is knocked out from her travels, so she returns to our room, but not before I've extracted her promise to go dancing with me tomorrow. In exchange, she's made me promise that men will ask her to dance. "Of course, they will," I swear. Of this, I am certain.


We are all dolled up, with someplace to go. It's two-for-the-price-of-one night at the dance hall, so men are waiting three deep to find women with whom they can enter. Two guys appear out of somewhere and escort us inside.

A.'s escort asks her to dance as soon as we settle into our seats. We both end up dancing with few breaks over the next couple of hours. All promises should be so easy to fulfill!


There is little that is quite as decadent as churros and chocolate. We eat a light, yogurt-and-fruit breakfast, so we can indulge our sweet teeth.

El Moro features nothing but these long, ridged donut fingers dusted with sugar, and five types of hot chocolate: Mexican, with cinnamon and vanilla; Spanish, dark, thick, and sweet; French, less sweet, less thick, and not dark; another type which the sugar overload has expunged from my head; and the Special, which is higher priced, less sweet than the Spanish, and highly recommended by the woman who waits on us. We both go for the Special, although I still remember fondly the addictive richness of the Spanish drink I practically overdosed on last year.

The frothy chocolate arrives, accompanied by two week's worth of greasy, luscious carbohydrates that we alternate between dunking in our cups and plunking straight into our mouths. The waitress brings over half a cup of Spanish chocolate, so we can taste the difference. I am immensely enjoying what I perceive is my last day as a nondiabetic. I promise myself that I will not do this again until the next time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Pleasant Interlude (Queretero, Mexico) Precedes the Taxi Ride from Hell (Mexico City)

Art and I meet Kim and Guillermo, two of my acquaintances from the US, in a popular downtown Queretero cafe. The couple, she a type A gringa and he, a more laid back Mexican national, live just a few blocks from Art's house. I haven't seen them for about a year and a half, since they left Virginia to spend six months on Guillermo's family's farm in the middle of nowhere (according to Kim) and their subsequent search for the right city in which to build their future. I had heard they'd been living in Queretero from one of my occasional dance partners, but had only just managed to get in touch and arrange our meeting a few weeks ago.
It is a treat to see them.

Guillermo, with Kim's marketing expertise, is starting up a quality house painting service: written estimates, no thinned-down paint, we show up when we say we will, and other things taken for granted, perhaps, in the USA, but not necessarily givens in Mexico.

We eat dinner in a funkily graffitied, grotto-like eatery, where a ladder rises to a loft above our heads and from which a fork falls, tines downward, almost skewering Kim. We enjoy our sandwiches and conversations, and I have the feeling that, in time, my three companions will become good friends.

Art leaves to attend a meeting concerning his work on the upcoming bicentennial celebrations (he's involved in painting a mural and scripting a sound-light-dance-orchestra-theater extravaganza that will run through all of Mexican history in a couple of hours). Guillermo -- tired, after a full day's physical labor -- heads back to the apartment. Kim and I walk back to the center of town, to listen to a band playing jazz in the plaza. We knew each other only superficially in the States, having worked on some community projects together and greeted each other at meetings; tonight we have the opportunity to sit and really talk. I will look forward to seeing her again when she returns to the US and will enjoy catching up again when I'm back in Queretero.

In the morning, Art drives me to the bus station. In several hours, I'll be back in D.F.

The bus ride goes smoothly. I purchase my cab ride into downtown, historic D.F. and get in line for a "secure" taxi. The cab driver grabs my two bags, places them in the trunk, and gets into the vehicle. I am already seated in the back, digging for the seat belt, which I never manage to unearth.

We take off and drive a little ways off, when the cabbie requests my ticket. I hand it to him and tell him the address of my hotel. He swivels all the way around, looks me in the eye, and says, "Senora, do you speak Spanish?"

When I say yes, he tells me that, due to the demonstrations taking place downtown, there is no way he can drive me to my hotel. He can drop me at any of four locations which I've never heard of, but I'm likely to be attacked and robbed, once the demonstrators notice that I'm a foreigner with luggage.

I ask why they didn't inform me of the problem when I was purchasing my ticket and he says that the people there don't know anything and wouldn't say anything if they did. I point out that I've paid to go downtown, and that he needs to take me somewhere I know and from which I can safely reach my hotel.

The driver starts arguing about the impossibility of my request. In the meantime, I dial my hotel and ask the clerk if the streets are closed off. She tells me that there's no problem getting there, and I relay that information to the driver.

He is becoming increasingly irate. At every red light, he mumbles under his breath. If a car passes in front of us, he leans on his horn and curses. He weaves in and out of traffic, dangerously close to nearby vehicles and pedestrians. His back becomes stiffer with every passing second, and I am becoming more and more concerned about his sanity and my safety.

Although traffic appears no worse than at any other time I've taxied in from airports or bus stations, the driver has started ranting. "Who will pay me for my time? Who will pay me for my gas?" He shoots angry looks at me via the rear-view mirror. These are obviously not rhetorical questions. "Are YOU going to pay me for this?" he yells.

"I've already paid to be taken to my hotel," I tell him.

"I only get part of that money!" he screams and seethes.

"It is your job to take me to my hotel," I insist, but I am scared. "You can drop me off right here," I say when we've reached familiar territory. "I'll just walk the rest of the way."

"It won't make any difference!" he shouts.

When we pull up, across the street from the hotel, I am wondering if he will drive off with my belongings. I hop out of the vehicle and stand next to the trunk. He opens it but doesn't make a move to help. I pull out my bags, as he stands over me, glaring.

I am shaking but I am safe.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Margheritaville (Guadalajara, Mexico)

Day One.

I am staying in the nicest hotel I will experience in Mexico. That's because I am being treated to the accommodations and a per diem, in exchange for accompanying a colleague to meetings in virtually every department and with every employee of the impressive and enormous University of Guadalajara. The hotel boasts an exercise room (a closet, really, with two stationery bikes that I could bend and break by merely staring at them) and a kidney-shaped pool about the size of 1,372 bloated kidneys. My room is actually a suite, with a large living area and a good sized bedroom with a working TV and my very own bathroom. There is a door leading to a kitchen, but it is locked and unavailable to me. I am not upset by the thought that I won't be cooking or washing dishes.

After settling in, I go outside to scout out a restaurant in which I can enjoy a leisurely and delicious late lunch. Ambling around the residential neighborhood, I discover several interesting possibilities. Unfortunately, none is still offering eats at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon.

I wind up at a Chinese buffet that looks like it will either kill me or make me stronger. The food tastes better than it looks, although I am unable to identify half of what I eat as either Chinese or food.

I retire early. Actually, I'll probably retire 20 years after my death, but in the meantime, I go back to my room, watch movies and music videos (the closest I get to the mariachis for which Guadalajara is famous), am foiled in my attempt to swim in the pool -- which has closed for the evening, read, and go to bed early.

My colleague and friend, McK will arrive sometime this evening, and I anticipate a full day tomorrow and during the rest of our stay.


Day Two.

I am up and about at the pre-crack of dawn. (I can't sleep late unless I'm deathly ill or just plain deathly.) After bathing and dressing, I go downstairs to partake of breakfast in the lobby.

Breakfast is served on the latest in stryro-ware. There's yogurt, in flavors ranging from nut to prune; cereal; juice; toast; and airline-approved coffee (read: weak). I read a newspaper, eat my carb allotment for the day, and chat with a young Mexican American, who invites me to join him for a walk to a nearby mall. I turn down his offer, because I am uninterested in malls and because I am sure that my colleague and friend, McK, who arrived at the hotel sometime last night, will be appearing at any moment.

Two hours later, my new friend returns from his walk, surprised to see me in practically the same position as when he departed. He tells me that they've closed off the major thoroughfare to allow people to bike, skateboard, and walk for miles and how the whole of Guadalajara appears to be taking advantage of the beautiful weather to do so.

In the interim, I have read the last month's newspapers and every brochure for every restaurant and tourist attraction in Guadalajara, checked to make sure that McK actually arrived (he did), and flooded my body with dishwater (read: coffee).

New friend goes up to his room, but I continue to wait. At noon, I have reached the outer limits of my patience, and insist that the desk clerk ring McK's room. He's either dead or unconscious, and I want to know what to do next. McK doesn't respond to the call, so I am beside myself.

"He could be in the shower," the clerk suggests.

We wait 45 minutes before calling again. No answer.

"He could have gone out," the clerk says.

I am ready to do the same, when McK comes in the door. He'd sent me an email to say he'd meet me at around 2pm for lunch, but as I had no access to a computer, I hadn't received the message. Up even earlier than I, he'd gone for a run, along with the rest of the population. I am relieved that he is alive, well, and back.

McK goes up to his room to clean off and re-dress. Within half an hour we are outside, joining the masses, and on our way to downtown.

We debate taking a bus or a cab, but we're so engaged in conversation that we don't catch a ride until we're two blocks away from our destination. We pop in and out of every historic building in the centro, including the theater, museums, and the sites of murals from all the famed muralist native sons of Guadalajara.

Having worked up both a sweat and an appetite, we start scoping out likely lunch spots. We end up asking someone for a recommendation, and we have a satisfactory experience at La Chata. Afterward, we grab a cab to visit just one more museum before we head back to the hotel, but it's already past museum-closing time. Instead, we go to the "Shoe Mall," where we drown our sorrows by buying Flexis, a Mexican brand of comfortable footware.

We return to the hotel with plenty of time to swim before the rain hits.


Day Three.

Our driver, Ismael -- with his background in hotel hospitality -- is an intelligent and interesting character who gets us where we need to go by the skin of his and our teeth, and relates funny stories well, in Spanish and/or English. Our schedule is tighter than a pair of size 2 jeans; every hour we find ourselves at a different Facultad. There are speeches of welcome and tours. A highlight is a meeting with the heads of pediatric and adult emergency services at the university's hospital and a look at the isolation unit in which victims of failed suicide attempts, exuding poisonous vapors that would kill anyone coming into contact with them, are hosed down and the oxygen in the room exchanged every couple of minutes.

We are taken out to lunch -- at La Chata. As Guadalajara is known for its tequila, I am easily convinced to down a Margherita. I am a cheap drunk, but I hold my own, to the best of my knowledge. After more meetings, we are treated to a lovely dinner, where I drink a tamarind Margherita and finish the tequila-infused sorbet that is served at the end of the meal. I do not have any memory of the rest of the day...


Day Four.

See Day Three. Skip the hospital visit, add more welcoming speeches. After a while, I tell McK that I finally understand why he invited me along on this trip; he has been giving me small boxes to store in my purse, which he requests whenever we meet with people he's known from previous trips or with new, important folks (like the Rector of the University or the Director of Directors). I then pass him the package, without ever discovering what is contained therein. "I am the mule," I say.

Sometimes McK and I are given our own packages. I get a key chain, a pen, and three books that I "mistakenly" leave in my hotel room. To the best of my recollection, the titles are: Feminist Writings in Early 18th Century Mexican Letters to the Editor; Rural Road Construction in Places You Still Cannot Access; and The World's Most Beloved Bedtime Readings About Educational Topics.

We end our meetings early. McK reunes with one of his colleagues, while I go to lunch with a Cuernavaca friend's partner. He offers me a choice of venues, including Chili's, which I give the cold shoulder to. In a lovely, non-US, non- chain restaurant, we dine on fish, and I don't drink anything stronger than lemonade.

When I return to the hotel, McK suggests that I join him as guest of a friend and some colleagues for dinner. "There should be some interesting conversation," he tells me, plus there will be another woman there who will probably welcome my presence.

The evening consists of long waits for the other people to show up; long, drawn-out speeches; long, drawn-out monologues; and a longing to return to our respective rooms. I am actually amused, but McK's eyeballs have been rolling for several hours, and he is tired.


Day Five.

A fond goodbye to McK. Taxi to the bus station. Back to Queretero.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fewer than Two Short Days (Guanajuato, Mexico)

K's directions from the bus station are quite clear. I instruct the cabbie to drive straight through a tunnel, turn left, pass two sleeping policemen, then let me out. I am atop a hill and must enter a passageway tucked behind a storefront and wend my way down steep steps and slippery inclines, until I finally locate her house.

I ring the bell and wait; I am earlier than expected, so K is not yet home, and the Australian woman who is renting the apartment on the lower level opens the gate, lets me in, leads me through the lovely patio (filled with blooming container plants, a bench, chairs and a cafe table), and serves me pineapple juice. We relax in her living area. Chatty and nice, she fills me in on the essentials: where to go for salsa lessons and coffee.

K arrives and takes me upstairs to where I'll be staying. A designer, she bought her house in a working class neighborhood. Despite the appeals of her friends to save her time and her money, she renovated the space. And did a lovely job of it.

My bedroom is located immediately off the kitchen, where K leaves a bowl of lychees (!), a croissant and a sweet bread, and tea bags for my breakfast and snacks. A counter separates kitchen from dining area. A door leads to another bedroom. All rooms are simply furnished and uncluttered, with beautiful, jewel-toned linens, cushions, and fabrics.

Next to the dining area are a shower room and a (separate) half bath in which the toilet is topped by a Japanese style sink. Every time you flush the john, clean water exits the tap, allowing you to wash your hands before the water recycles into the tank. Brilliant!

The dining area's arched windows offer a view of the the surrounding rooftops and of the colorful houses situated on various hilltops, but it's even better to exit onto the cool, sheltered terrace to chat and enjoy a glass of wine. That's just what we do.

I never have a chance to see the upper floor, where K has her bedroom, a living room, and an even better view of the city and surrounding mountains.

Unfortunately, I have little time to spend with K, who has just returned from her own travels and whose schedule is full. But the Australian woman shows me the path into downtown, past the fetid river, over cobblestones, always wending downward. She leads me to the place where I will take a dance lesson, and that's where she leaves me.

Approximately 50 people populate the room. All the women are American students. The men comprise an even mix of Mexicans and Americans. The average age is probably 25, but that's only because I'm pulling it up.

After a warm-up, beginners are asked to move to the left, where they will work on the basics. As the teacher doesn't know me, he dances me for a minute to see which group I should be assigned to. I pass the test, remaining with the intermediate group. We learn a series of steps, which we practice for the rest of the hour, the men rotating so that we women always dance with different partners.

On my way back to the house, I stop at a little corner seafood place and order two tacos, one of shrimp and another of fish. I'm disappointed by the tastelessness of the uninspired and indistinguishable doughy blobs with which I am presented. I eat them because I am hungry, but I have the queasy feeling that I've stumbled into the hideout where exiled "Master Chefs" of Captain D's and Shoney's continue to churn out faux food, everything bland, breaded, and fried.

My stomach laden and leaden, I leave. It is raining, and the ground is slick and mossy. I lose my bearings amongst the sloping steps and high walls in the winding darkness leading up to K's house. Nobody else is out and about in this weather, in this warren, and I can't read the street signs or the house numbers. I am weary, sopping, and increasingly desperate, when finally I find the tiled step, the gate that I've been looking for. I slip my key in the lock, and after several tries, am home away-from-home.


Waking up to my full day here, I shower, polish off the lychees and a croissant, and head down the steps to town, searching for the recommended best cafe and hoping to be there sipping coffee, before a caffeine headache catches up with me. It's pouring.

I'm parked at a table overlooking the street. The coffee is strong enough to lure a parade of expats into the doorway. An American retiree searches for the baseball cap he might have left behind the last time he stopped here; he realizes that it's in his car, but he forgets the canvas bag he's brought with him. A Canadian student I strike up a conversation with an Australian couple, he a nurse, she an adult and art educator. She sits at another table and works at her laptop, while he joins me and spins some salty tales.

The rain lets up, so I get up and go.

First stop: the lovely, ornate Teatro Juarez, known as one of Mexico's most beautiful theaters. The highly embellished facade features angels, muses, lyres, garlands, and Doric columns, guarded by stone lions who might be related to those in front of the New York Public Library. The Art Nouveau foyer leads to the smoking room, populated with sculpted (dead)writers and musicians, among them Dante and Mozart, and an impressive staircase leading to the various levels of seating.

In the lobby, I talk with a Mexican man, a sports doctor from Monterey, and end up joining him, his psychologist wife, and their two high-school aged daughters, for the walk and a self (selves?) tour of the Diego Rivera House Museum. The muralist's birthplace and childhood home, it now showcases some of his artwork and other exhibits.

Taking my leave of this lovely family, I move on to the Mercado Hidalgo. I pass by the displays of vegetables and fruits, cheeses, spices, and animal innards and outards. I sit at a market stall and eat a 40-peso lunch of chicken sauteed with onions, green peppers, tomatoes and jalapenos, salad, and rice and beans, washing it all down with horchata.

I wander the charming streets and peek into a few churches. I spend about an hour in the museum dedicated to all things Don Quixote, home to sculptures, paintings, and decorative items based on the errant knight, his squire, and windmills, as interpreted by artists and artisans from many countries. I think about how little time I have to see this charming city and its treasures. My Mexican students will be crestfallen that I did not make time for the mummies.

The rain persists. The smell of my moldy shoes percolates up to my nose. Stopping into a shop that I passed on my way into the historic area, I buy a pair of black canvas shoes for under four dollars. They will not be mistaken for designer wear and will probably not last very long, but they will give my feet a fresh, new start. When I get back to K's house, I double-bag the old shoes and throw them into the trash.


The only way I can think to thank K. for her hospitality is to invite her out to breakfast on the day of my departure. We end up at the Holiday Inn buffet, on the road to the bus station.

When we enter, the host asks us for our room number. We have none, I say.

He asks if we're with a group. No, I tell him. We just want to eat breakfast.

He looks puzzled, as if I had ordered a turducken or a veinti skinny, double-shot frappuchino with no whipped cream.

"We'll pay," I say.

"It's 70 pesos each," he responds, looking less puzzled and rather pleased.

We help ourselves to chilaquiles, scrambled eggs in salsa, and papaya, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon.

The host comes over to me and whispers, conspiratorially, "If anyone should ask, can you tell them that you're with a group?"

"Which group?" I ask.

"Los alabastros." I don't know if I've heard him correctly or who they are or what they do, but I shake my head yes. Are we part of a group working with alabaster or albatrosses? K, a charming redhead and I, a sometimes charming but never a redhead, will willingly and proudly be alabastras, if that's what it takes to eat breakfast.

When we finish eating and pretending to be alabastras, I pay the host with a 500-peso note. He disappears for about half an hour, apparently trying to dig up change without churning up suspicions that he has allowed two women to crash breakfast for a price that will go directly into his pocket. K. leaves him a healthy tip; if we ever do this again, the wheels will certainly run more smoothly.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hanging Out with Art (Queretero, Mexico)

The cabbie wants to charge me extra because Art´s place, where I´ll be spending the night, is two blocks outside of the Historic District, on the other side of the river that forms the boundary between a $3.40 and $4.50 ride. I call Art to confirm the location, and he says that he does, indeed, live in the district.

I forget to turn my cell phone off, so Art overhears the conversation. He´s shouting, "Don´t pay him any more! Don´t pay him any more!" but I don´t hear what he´s saying, because I´ve stuffed the phone back in my purse. And even if I did hear him, I probably would assume that the voice was just one of many in my head.

The phone must be tired of the whole argument because it hangs itself up. Art calls and instructs me to tell the cabbie to stop on the $3.40 side of the street. By the time we pull in, I see him there, already waiting.

As we walk to his beautiful little house, Art explains that all is not well in his corner of River City. His neighbor to the left is an ugly man who invites young drug addicts to his house and bed; lately the youngsters have been jumping the fence between the two houses and helping themselves to items in Art's patio. Meanwhile, the neighbor to the right allows (encourages?) her little dog to poop all over the street, leaving piles of steaming doggie doo-dads at Art's doorway. Fed up with the mess, Alex boomeranged some of its own caca into doggie doo's face, in the hopes that doggie won't anymore. The animal seems to have learned its lesson, but the owner is furious.

Despite neighborhood quarrels, Art´s house is as peaceful as it was when I stayed there last year. The orange tree in the patio is heavy with fruit. A glorious, almost neon-purple bourgainvilla cascades over a fence. A tree with huge purple leaves and agray trunk stands out among the the others in its unnamed beauty.

Inside, the light flows through two-story high windows and through a large porthole cut into the living/dining area. Sparsely furnished, the room brims with original artwork. One part of the wall sports caricatures of the staff of a museum where Art exhibited last summer. His abstract oils march along a short wall, while another in the series rests on an easel. The back wall features several life-sized astronauts. Drawings and paintings by other artists fill in some of the blanks. There is a small, sheet-covered love seat, a rocking chair, a TV, a long dining room table and chairs, and, behind the circular stairs leading up to the loft where I sleep (and below several miniature airplane replicas, sits a table covered with fossils and a large, eclectic selection of music tapes.

The kitchen is small, but functional, with its junior-sized fridge and sink. Art displays a bunch of cow-kitch, creamers and the like, but it seems that he's not responsible; people see his collection and think he likes cows, so they keep gifting him more.

As soon as I drop off my luggage, we leave the house. We walk half a block to the home of a neighbor. The front of her house is a restaurant. The food is simple, filling, and inexpensive; today we dine on chicken in salsa verde (green sauce), preceded by soup, accompanied by salad, and followed by a bite of dessert.

We wander around town. Every time we dart across a street, avoiding the speeding -- often careening cars -- Art yells, "Run, run for your life!" The few times when we don´t encounter near-death experiences, I shout, "Walk, walk for your life!" We laugh hysterically, as if we were actually saying things that were funny or even half witty.

Art points out the preparations being made for the upcoming Bicentennial Celebration (of Mexico's independence). Telephone cables and other wires have been rerouted underground, which makes this city, full of beautiful, colonial architecture, even more appealing.

At an outside table in a bustling cafe, we share coffee and conversation with one of Art's friends. The man bicycles up and down a mountain to and from work each day -- over a two-hour commute each way. Our discussions cover concerns about the environment, the possibility that downtown Queretero will lose its UNESCO designation (and economic support) as a protected historic site (because people have to actually live in the designated area, and the residential population has plummeted), recipes for ketchup, and the Slow Food movement (i.e., a return to natural, organic, and native foods). Art and friend talk about the possibility of opening a shop that would sell seasonal Mexican fruits and vegetables that are becoming increasingly rare, in the interest of spurring demand and preventing the produce from disappearing altogether. Friend shows me photos of his beautiful computer-generated depictions of flowers. We share a beautiful afternoon.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Rain Drops are Falling on My Head and Everywhere Else (Mexico City)

There´s a museum that I´ve been wanting to visit for years. Located about three blocks away from my hotel, the Museo de Estanquillas is unexpectedly fascinating.

Two and one half stories of a gorgeous building are chock full of political cartoons dealing with Mexican history, particularly social causes ranging from fights for independence to women´s rights and the Communist movement. I spend two hours and don't see all the exhibits.

I can´t stay any longer because I´m meeting an American soon-to-be friend at the Spanish Cultural Center. Over the course of several coffees, juices, and hours, G. (name has been abbreviated to protect a fellow CouchSurfer -- not to be confused with couch potato)and I find common and uncommon ground.

G. was a journalist. Among his interesting adventures was his time embedded with American troops in Iraq. (I will leave his stories for him to tell.) He lives in Mexico City now, working part-time from home in the financial sector.

We briefly tour the exhibits at the Cutural Center. One features images of immigrants, the other displays disturbing photos of various countries´ "disappeared ones" -- or what is left of them.

After this, we run errands. G. has to find a part, which doesn´t seem to exist, for his two-year-old cell phone. I buy more minutes for the one I purchased in Cuernavaca. We then walk, in the ever-increasing rain, towards someplace else that G. has to go. Despite the good company and conversation, I decide that I had better head back to my hotel; G. continues on his way alone.

It takes me about two hours and thirty ducks into doorways to get back to my neighborhood. Apparently, all I don´t have all my ducks in a row because I am completely soggy, despite the "protection" of my $2.00 rain poncho.

What can I do? It is, after all, the rainy season, and Mexico needs the water. I peruse books in several used bookstores and end up camping out (sans tent) at a Chinese restaurant that offers a buffet. I´m there for at least an hour and a half, chatting with the wait staff and eating much too much. I slog back to the hotel. The rain continues, but I´ll stop here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jesus Saves (Mexico City, Mexico)

I'm on my way to Salon H. It's 5:30 pm and I figure that I'll be back in the hotel by 9 or so. There's no one in the kiosk to buy a metro ticket from, so the guard comps me through to the train. A good start to the evening.

I reach my stop and am surprised to see a crowd amassed at the exit. As I elbow my way through, I realize why nobody is leaving. It is pouring. I go up the stairs, anyway, and quickly take cover under the nearest awning. The rain is torrential. And it keeps getting worse.

The awning protects me, but a river is running over my feet. I rest one foot on the rung of a nearby stool while I try to figure out how to get to the Salon. I don't quite know exactly where I am in relation to it, and the sheets of water don't allow me a clear view of my surroundings.

People are huddled under every overhang offered by every vendor in the area. Some bravely venture out and run, often shrieking, through the rain and to the subway steps or to wherever they need to go. Some have thought to carry umbrellas, but the wind is strong and the rain whipping at them from all angles; they get soaked anyway. Someone is selling flimsy little rain capes and making a fortune. Those that have bought them get soaked anyway.

Over the 20 or so minutes that I am outside and not drowning, I recall that the dance hall is across the street from a huge church. The church is barely visible from where I am standing. I determine that it will take me approximately 10 minutes to swim there. (I'm not a particularly strong swimmer.) A better alternative, I tell myself, is to wade back to the subway and try to find my way, underground, to the proper exit.

I am drenched by the time I reach the bottom of the subway staircase. I thread my way through all the people who were smart enough not to leave the station. My contact lenses seem to be operating at 40 percent capacity -- or perhaps they've been washed off my eyeballs by the storm -- because I can't read the signs in the metro and am wandering around, accompanied only by my lousy sense of direction, trying to find my way out.

When I reach what I believe to be my target exit, I find a mere handful of people waiting for the rain to let up. I wait with them. As we watch the pounding precipitation, I smile at a woman standing next to me. I turn to see if we are becoming a crowd and catch the eye of the man behind me. We both shrug and smile.

I ask the woman if she knows where Salon H is. "It's just upstairs and down the block," she replies. We decide to brave our way out, under the shelter of her umbrella. In the meantime, the man behind me has offered to lend me his umbrella, an offer I politely decline.

The woman and I giggle over the man's offer of the umbrella. "When would you give it back to him?" she says. She tells me she is going to attend Mass in the church. I thank her for keeping me more or less dry and assure her that the rain will neither melt me nor cause me to grow taller.

As I cross the street, Umbrella Man is at my side, insisting that I can keep his umbrella. I thank him again and tell him that I don't need it; I'm a few feet away from my destination. He says that he would like to accompany me but has a prior obligation, and I encourage him to hurry on to where he must go.

With all this rain, I wonder if anyone will be at the salon tonight and if anybody will ask me to dance. I pay my 25 pesos (approx. $2.25) and go upstairs. The big hall is emptier than I've ever seen it, but there are plenty of people dancing and sitting at tables.

A waiter ushers me to a table in the back. I change into my dancing shoes. Then I walk to the front of the hall to see if my dance friends, Jesus and Enrique, might be around. The only person I recognize is a woman from the park with whom I've never shared a word.

As soon as I return to my seat, a man asks me to dance. I'm not warmed up and/or he's not as good a lead as he thinks he is. I don't follow one of his attempts to turn me, and he rolls his eyes. A bad sign, which probably means that no man who has seen my blunder will request a dance. I sit down again and hope that I will not spend the rest of the evening achair.

A Bud Clampett look-alike holds out his hand. I tell him I'm a beginner, and he tells me it's no problem. He leads well, and I acquit myself without stepping on his feet or my own. I thank him and return to my table.

No one asks me for the next dance, however, Mr. Clampett returns and we hit the floor again. When I sit down, I see him hovering nearby. He is getting a little too friendly for my taste, so when he approaches again, I tell him that I would like to dance with others. As he walks away, I imagine that I'm in for a long sit.

I'm wrong.

A short, trim man with a triangular-shaped head, dressed in a suit (his body, not his head), and looking as if he had been left out in the desert for years, asks me to dance, and I accept. His skin is tanned to the point that he could serve as a human model for a prune. Too late, I notice that he smells strongly of cigarettes and slightly of urine. We dance, and he will not loosen his hold of my hand until I yank it and myself away.

Several other men dance with me, and I notice that there is a sort of ring forming around me; Prune Guy, Bud Clampett, and others have taken seats at neighboring tables, trying to move closer so they can dance or sit with me.

Next up: a fellow dressed in a shirt so bright it practically blinds me, invites me on to the floor. I say I'm not a very good dancer. "Neither am I," he replies. This doesn't bode well, but the band starts up, and so do we.

I wouldn't exactly say that the man I will refer to as "Agent Orange" can't dance, but rather that his movements don't quite translate into any I've seen outside of sci-fi or fantasy films. His head weaves back and forth in jerky a-rhythm and seems to dart towards me at odd moments, like the snakes writhing atop Medusa's head. He hops and turns up behind me, and I realize that my shaky steps probably resemble an infant's startle reflex. The song goes on forever. Agent Orange is smiling fixedly at me, as if I were prey; I am afraid that I will be bitten or turned to stone before I can escape.

Jesus saves me.

My friend, Jesus, with whom I danced so well two years ago, shows up in the nick of time. He whisks me onto the floor and asks why I didn't call him to let him know I was back in town. I tell him I saw a friend of his in the park and sent my regards via him. There's obviously no communication between the two of them, either.

After several dances, Jesus has to go home, but he was there when I needed him. Agent Orange is scaring the spit out of someone else. The other men have drifted away.

I walk over to the bartender; I recognize him from last year and we've been nodding and smiling at each other since I entered. "This year you didn't have to ask your cousins to dance with me," I say.

"No," he replies. "This year, you're doing pretty well on your own." With a little help from Jesus....

Me, Myself, and I. And Others (Mexico City)

I arrive in Mexico City in the late afternoon, tired and a bit out of sorts. I haven't been sleeping well, usually waking up at the pre-crack of dawn and unable to fall back asleep.

While checking into the hotel, my friend I., a German-as-a-second language teacher who spends summers here, pops up behind me, welcoming me back and admiring my handbag (made of yellow and apricot colored oil cloth imprinted with brightly colored kiwis, pineapples and watermelons).
An hour later, I join I., and her friends B. and R., at a table in the lobby. B. is a psychotherapist who owns an apartment in the same building as I. (Not me, but I.)I (not I.)am afraid that I will have to monitor what I say around her in order not to be psychoanalyzed and found psychotic or something; B. assures me that she doesn't work when she's not working. I am relieved.

R. is a Canadian who lives in Mexico City, proctors exams, teaches English, and trains English teachers. I. introduced me to him last year, but this time I find him more droll, ascerbic, and witty.

The others go to the hotel restaurant for dinner, but I need to stretch my legs. I wander around the neighborhood, checking to see that my old haunts still remain in business. I'm greeted and briefly flirted with by the rotisserie man from whom I often purchase chicken that I take to my hotel room for a late-evening, succulent dinner (the chicken, not the man). I pass the funky bars and restaurants teeming with university students and the tiny holes in the walls from which people sell tacos stuffed with shredded or chunked cow heads or feet or turkey sandwiches on big white rolls or cubes of papaya, pineapple, and mango, and more.

I finally settle on a restaurant located on a pedestrian street near my hotel. When I ask the waiter for a suggestion, he says that I should order the fish quesadillas. I take his advice, forgetting that I'd eaten fantastic fish quesadillas only yesterday, when I took H. out to lunch in Cuernavaca, and we ordered them as the prelude to our huge and delicious bowls of shrimp and octopus ceviche.

The first part of my evening meal is a tasty shrimp soup, featuring two huge shrimp and a potato chunk that looks as if it has grown a goatee; I don't eat the hair-sprouting potato. A plate of steamed green and yellow squash, green beans, cauliflower, and broccoli follows and gets a bit of oomph from a spritz of lime. The quesadillas are disappointing, even when I undo their toothpick sutures to blanket the fish with lime and hot sauce. They are greasy and heavy and I wish that I had bought a quarter of of a roasted chicken from my flirtor, instead.

But I have plenty of time to savor that and other delights. I'll be here for another four days.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dancing Fool (Cuernavaca, Mexico)

My salsa and cumbia teacher (I'll call him "Rubber Legs" because that's what I call him)in Cuernavaca is nowhere to be found. The studio where he used to teach has been taken over by others, none of whom can tell me his whereabouts.

Okay, I tell myself. I'll take classes at this new school. After all, they offer not only salsa and cumbia, but a whole line-up of different types of dance instruction, so I can try even belly dancing, should I be so inclined.

The problem is that the schedule hanging on the door is wrong. And nobody seems to know when which classes will take place. I stop in for salsa and they're doing jazz. I try for cumbia, and it's capoeira. I show up for belly dancing and wait for an hour and a half, along with three students and the teacher, for the studio door to be unlocked. We wait in vain.

I end up taking not one, but two belly dancing lessons. Another name for this artform might be "looking like a fool, while sweating like a pig." Whatever you want to call it, I enjoy myself. I love the music, and when I can mimic the hip, belly, shoulder, chest, and whole-body rolls, I feel pleased. It's only later that every part of me hurts.

After the second belly dancing session, I stay to watch the jazz class. The music is fabulous, bluesy and driving. The teacher is adorable and charismatic and, from the looks of things, has trained in classical ballet. He leads his students through an hour and a half of torturous stretches that cause the floor to be slick with the the sweat streaming off their noses and other parts of their anatomy. They moan and groan as they attempt the body twisting movements that the teacher executes with a smile, with ease, with aplomb, and without any apparent discomfort. The routine that they practice for the next half hour challenges and delights the dancers. I am happy to be their audience.

I can't say no to the invitation to join the salsa class that follows. The main teacher leads us, a group of about 50, through a short routine which I am able to follow without much difficulty. Then we divide ourselves into three groups -- beginners, intermediates, and advanced -- for the remaining hour of instruction.

Confident that I already know the basics, I join the intermediate group. We couple up, switching partners every few minutes. By the end of the session, I almost understand how I am supposed to move. I am grateful that I didn't have the nerve to choose the more advanced group, as I watch the women do multiple spins that would have landed me on a chiropractor's or a mortician's table. Even minus such spins, I am tired and achy and happy to be able to walk home without keeling over.

Eventually, because I run into a former student of Rubber Legs, I find out where the missing instructor has set up shop. His new studio is a quarter the size of and about 10 feet away from the old location. I attend a dance there, partnering several times with a young man who knows his way around the dance floor. Big and tall, he whisks me around as if I were a rag doll. A very wet and exhausted rag doll. I actually am panting by the time I sit down. I have to rest through at least two numbers before I can work up the energy to dance again. This is what I call a good time.

I take a two hour class later in the week and dance several times with a talented young dancer (whom I've tried to imitate, without much success, over the years). This 20-something reminds me of a Mexican version of Michael Jackson, only cuter and alive.

Now I am looking forward to dancing more in Mexico City.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What´s Cooking in Cuernavaca (Cuernavaca, Mexico)

Back in Cuernavaca, a city I´m coming to know quite well. This time I´m staying with my friend, H. (name has been abbreviated because changing it would be a waste of time). The house is part of a complex, owned by his grandmother, which includes several rented-out rooms and accompanying outhouses, grandmother´s house, and what seem to be a couple of apartments. All this behind a gate; it´s true that you never know what lies behind the fences and walls of Cuernavaca.

In exchange for almost two weeks of free room, I´ve been paying for groceries and preparing meals (pastas with different sauces, big salads, Middle Eastern stuff) for H. and me. Although I´ve never felt very comfortable cooking in other people´s kitchens, this has been working out quite well. After shopping at the Mega (a huge department-like store, part of which is a supermarket) or at the mercado (a lot more fun and cheaper, H. washes, disinfects, slices and dices the produce. I direct, stir, and monitor.

In previous years, I´ve met many members of H.´s family. I´ve been invited to his mom´s and stepfather´s house, along with my son, to have lunch. My friend A. and I traveled to Tepotzlan with his mother and one of his brothers, where they treated us to a lovely meal.

I finally meet H.´s father and stepmom, who own a hole in the wall restaurant with excellent home cooking. I lunch there twice with H. and enjoy chicken with chimichurri (an Argentine sauce that combines parsley and garlic and whose results are so much more delicious than the sum of their parts sounds) and tortillas with cactus paddles or nopales. I take my teacher to eat there one day, and dad whips up a steamed fish with a side of red peppers, onions, and garlic that I might request as my last meal on earth or as a constant menu item in heaven.

I see a movie (The Man Who Loved Women, by Fellini) at the Brady Museum and go to Los Arcos, a restaurant-bar in the zocalo or main square, with H.´s grandmother. At 80 plus, she is young and vibrant, and although she doesn´t venture onto the dance floor, she does put away four small bottles of beer without my having to sling her over my shoulder and carry her home.

I dance at Los Arcos with an older gent, who cuts quite a rug. He invites me to join him at his nearby table, where he is surrounded by five women of a more certain age than mine. He tells me they are all his danzon partners and friends, but that he would like to be more than that with me. I tell him that I am happy to join his circle of friends, thank you very much.

As I do every time I´m in town, I tour the Brady Museum. While there, I run into the curator and restorer, the classically Mayan-profiled S. (name is abbreviated to prevent every woman I do and do not know from rushing out to find him). He shows me works that I´ve previously missed (intricate collages of native bird feathers) and his favorite piece, an anonymously painted portrait of a nobleman circa 1600, which he meticuously restored. He also promises to take me on a tour of art in the houses across from the museum next year.

I attend Spanish language classes (9am to 1pm every day) the first week with a priest and a Spanish teacher, and the second week, with the priest, a young German woman working on her thesis (topic is immigration), and a Spanish teacher I met last year. The first session´s topic is immigration, and our guest speaker, a three-time undocumented worker in the US, shares his stories of sacrifice, loss, and courage with us. We talk with one of the founders of a human rights group at his cafe, a communal effort that serves to fund the group´s work and feed the group´s members. Topics during the second week range from politics to cinema. We watch an old movie (The Golden Rooster)based on a story by Pedro Paramo, with a screenplay by literary greats Gabriel Garcia Marcos and Carlos Fuentes. We stop by the sites where environmentalists (including the school director´s wife) won struggles against corporate goliaths (such as WalMart), where the land will continue to be home to trees instead of malls and big box stores.

The class is taught by my favorite teacher, G. (name has been abbreviated to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome). Afterwards one day, he and I take a dance class together. I learn some basic cumbia steps and a type of salsa that I haven´t ever seen or engaged in before (lots of hops and big steps). We are the only students until a smelly, rhythm-challenged man with two left feet shows up. I have to partner with him for a while. Next time I think I´ll take a class in belly dancing...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Full Dance Card (Mexico City)

Saturday and the band is playing. Live. In the park. The music is son cubano, so I have no idea how to dance to it, but I´ll try.

The first gentleman to lead me onto the cement is two very long heads shorter than me and, possibly, four times older. Although fearing he´ll drop dead on the spot (or worse) on me, I try to follow him. I don´t think that I do a very good job, but I must be wrong because, apparently, I´ve become his last dying wish. Others are asking me to dance, and I take them up on their offers, but each time I leave the floor, this diminuitive dapper don re-appears at my elbow, like a shadow cut off at the knees.

Speaking of leg parts, I have left my belongings under the feet of several people seated on the rim of a huge, empty fountain. When there´s a lull between dances, I chat with a woman who bears an uncanny and somewhat disturbing resemblence to the Katerinas or skeletal figures popular here in Mexico. A young couple asks where I am from, and I ask if it´s the color of my eyes or the way I speak Spanish that has given me away.

"Ït´s that you can´t dance," replies the young man.

I am squashed but not crushed.

Meanwhile, out of the middle of my eye, I see my wizened admirer moving stealthily towards me. I neither want to hurt his feelings nor encourage him, so I ask my new acquaintances to rescue me from a situation that they are finding rather amusing. The young man who just insulted me takes my hand.

We dance. Quite well. So there!

I dance with the emcee, a hippiesque guy whom I´d met the year before. I had danced with him (here) only yesterday. When my foot started aching, I´d told him I couldn´t continue dancing with him or with anyone else. He suggested a foot massage. In a jacuzzi. With him. Now he asks if I´ve read the pamphlet he wrote about the park´s history and which he´d given me yesterday, prejacuzzi offer turndown. I haven´t.

I dance with my friend Jose. He´s the macaroni-shaped man I danced with frequently last year. He makes me look better than I am, which is the role of a male lead.

Everytime I go to sit down by my newly fountain friends, someone else requests a dance.

As he´s turning me, a man I recognize from last summer tells me I´ve improved. Compliments always challenge me to disprove what the person has just told me. So, naturally, I mess up. I´m the bella donna of the ball.

When the band winds down, I follow a woman I´ve gotten to know over the last couple of days, a livewire from Veracruz, to another part of the park. We do a couple of zumba routines, led by an energetic teacher and his many talented fellow-minions. It´s raining a bit, so when we meet up with some of her friends, we all decide that we´d prefer to dance someplace where we won´t get wet.

Everyone´s debating where we should go (Romo? The Convention Center?), even as we pull into a parking lot. The Convention Center it is. Live band, lively crowd. As soon as we sit down, those of us who haven´t come accompanied by husbands or partners are whisked onto the dance floor.

Three men keep coming back for me, pretty good dancers all. It´s early, but I have to pack. Leaving tomorrow for Cuernavaca. Ciao for now.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Art and Artistry (Mexico City, Mexico)

At 11 a.m., I meet my friend Art (name has been changed to show that he´s an artist) for coffee. Although Art is quite worldly, he has never been to a Starbucks, so that´s where I take him. He orders a medium latte with caramel syrup. I order a tall shade-grown Mexican (coffee). He samples the raspberry cheesecake and I buy him a slice. I start to tease him about being a Starbucks exvirgin, telling him that I will still respect him in the morning and that it will be better next time. He says it was pretty damned good the first time. We leave, satisfied.

(Note: I am not promoting Starbucks, nor do I suggest that anyone go to another country and eat or drink at any chain restaurant, cafe or fast food outlet from your home country when you should really be eating and drinking at local places, And I don´t even frequent Starbucks that often at home, although I do have a gold card, which I got by going there more often than I care to admit. Anyway, sometimes you just do stuff for friends.)

We go to the Museum of the City of Mexico, one of my favorites. A Mexican impressionist painter, Clausel, had a studio in the attic and painted thousands of tiny portraits, landscapes, monsters, Madonnas and Christs, and animals on the walls, rather than lose or destroy the paint left on his brushes. This time the museum is also displaying the works of French painter (whose name has been omitted because I can´t remember it and) who works in basic and not so basic black.

At first I am, at best, disinterested in the abstract work, but after much discussion with Art (Rule Numero Tres: Always take an articulate, patient, thoughtful artist with you to art exhibits), I start to appreciate the textures, plays of light, and the objects or creatures that my mind conjures up when I gaze at the pieces on display. I end up deciding that I would actually like to add several of the canvases to my imaginary art collection.

Art has to attend a family post-funeral gathering to say goodby to some aunts, who are not the dead people but the people whom he sees every 15 years or so and who are going back home until there´s another death in the family, I guess.

I contnue on to the park where I take my annual dance lesson. But the only instruction is in danzon. I wander around, searching for old friends and finally run into Jose (name remains unchanged for no apparent reason), who gives me the Saturday dance schedule.

I´m baaaaack!

Buenos Dias! (Mexico City, Mexico)

Be forewarned. A living creature has actually died -- but was not intentionally killed (not by me, anyway)-- in the making of this blog entry. Those of you with strong ties to PETA or weak stomachs may wish to skip to whatever comes next and wonder, for the rest of your lives, what you missed....

I´m breakfasting at my usual eatery. This time, however, there´s a surprise in my soup. I´m relieved that the roach I fish out is not missing any parts. (Rule Numero Dos: Always examine your food before you eat it.) I place it on the side of my bowl and continue eating. Note: I´ve eaten lots of insects over the years, so not eating one is no big deal.

I do call over my waitress, however, and report that I´ve found some fresh meat in my soup. I point out the cucaracha. She smiles.

I say,¨Ït didn´t eat too much.¨

Obviously delighted that I would be able to enjoy my full portion, she gives me an even wider smile and walks away.

I finish the soup.

And so, a beautiful day begins.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

En route to Mexico (Somewhere, Overhead)

I'm at the airport, boarding pass in hand, my quart-sized plastic bag bulging with more teeny bottles, tubes, and 3-oz. or less containers of creams, conditioners, contact lens solutions, toothpaste, and everything but shampoo (which I forgot) than anyone else could ever cram in. I remove my shoes, jacket, and hat and place them in one bin, manage to lift my suitcase without giving myself a hernia, add my laptop case (no laptop, but lots of room for my stuff) to the conveyer belt, and breeze through the security check. Except I don't breeze through.

The guard is talking through his headset and asks me to wait, while two female security guards approach. They explain that they will escort my belongings and me into a screened area. There's something on my person that is suspicious.

Lesson Numero Uno: Do not wear your money belt when you go through security.

"It's my money belt," I say, as the two exchange glances. I start to lift my shirt (a little, just to prove it), but they caution me (whether out of fear of my drawing a weapon or fear of my doing a striptease, I don't know), "Not here!"

We enter the roomlet, they close the door, and they pat my middle. They are actually quite polite and we joke around and it's not terrible or scary for me -- or for them.

I wait to board the plane. And wait. And wait.

We take off on time. The airplane is crammed to the gills (yes, I know that planes don't have gills....)with humans. The one seated next to me is an unhappy camper. He wants to change seats, but there are none available. He's critical of everything to do with the airline, our fellow passengersand life in general: the pilot is speaking too loudly when he announces our route, somebody crushed his jacket under their bag, the seats are too small, blah blah blah. He calms down when we start talking about what he does, his travels, how he should have learned Spanish instead of French, and so on.

We arrive in Charlotte and, after grabbing a coffee and bagel with cheddar and egg, I'm really off to Mexico.

Due to a hurricane, we take a round-about route, which will bring us in to Mexico City about an hour later than planned.

I'm seated next to two lovely Mexican women. One works in a plum processing plant and shows me a thousand pictures of her workplace and the plum assembly line. She also shows me photos of her family, and we find common ground in discussing the wonders of yard sales. The other woman is a white-knuckled seat gripper. Her body is so tense that she looks as if she'll break every time we hit an air bump. She snagged the window seat but refuses to open the shade because she's afraid to look out. (I hate to fly, too, but I have handed my fate over to the pilot and my prayers; I become religious when I fly.) The other woman and I finally insist that White Knuckles close her eyes and open the shade. The two of us watch as Mexico City sprawls out into forever and ever.

No problem with Customs. I'm here!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hello, Dalai! (Richmond, VA)

"Our perceived enemy's ability to inflict harm on us is really quite limited. If someone challenges us and we can muster the inner discipline to resist retaliating, it is possible that, no matter what that person has done, those actions do not disturb us." -THE DALAI LAMA

Laura calls me back. I have a bad feeling about this. From my previous conversation with her (during which she repeated the same things over and over, and I ended up yelling at her), I realize that she is neither sympathetic to my situation nor interested in finding a way to help me. I do not trust Laura to have made my case. She claims to have spoken to the owner of the gym, who has insisted that I present proof of a change of address or hotel reservations for my entire trip in order to put my membership on hold.

"As I've told you," I respond, "I'll be on vacation. I won't be staying at hotels the whole time and I'm not changing my address. Do you want affidavits from the friends I'll be staying with?"

"I don't think that will work," Laura chirps.

I am glad not to be standing anywhere near Laura, because my inner bully is quickly rising to the surface; I try not to hiss.

"What if I bring in receipts from all the restaurants I eat in and dance lessons I take, all my movie ticket stubs, museum entry tickets, subway fares, and everything else I do while I'm gone; will THAT be sufficient to prove that I will be out of the country?"

"No, because you need to give us everything before you go, and the receipts would be after the fact," she chirps perkily.

I am quite certain that I am foaming at the mouth. "How about if I give you a copy of my plane ticket and reservations for hotels at the beginning and end of my trip?"

"I'll have to check with the owner," she perks chirpily.

I am most certainly foaming at the brain; however, I do my utmost to reply sweetly, perkily, and chirpily: "Okay. Please do that" -- while secretly calling upon evil spirits to haunt and torture Laura for the rest of her life and beyond. (I know that there are probably no evil spirits or that they won't be listening, but I can dream, can't I? Or, perhaps, Laura IS an evil spirit...?)

My mind is running wild with revenge fantasies, little ways I can take my frustrations out on Laura. The Dalai Lama would not approve.

I've actually already decided that I am not going to pay the $25.00 "Hold Fee" (equal to what I pay for my monthly membership), when I'll be returning two weeks into the next month's hold and will be refused entry to my zumba classes for the second half of August. I'm also convinced that Laura is going to come back to me with another negative response, anyway.

Two weeks pass. Laura has not called, and I will not confront her. My ire has subsided, my inner discipline restored. Hello, Dalai!

A Visit with Baby Doc (Richmond, VA)

I am miserable. I can't walk comfortably, which means I can't salsa or zumba. The ball of my foot is aching, so I find an orthopedist (orthopod?) who specializes in problems of the foot and ankle.

If you're like me, you never saw the TV show "Doogie Howser"(sp?), but you might be familiar with the premise (or perhaps I'm making it up): a 15-year-old is a brilliant medical practitioner.

Well, my foot doctor looks like that guy's younger brother.

Doogie, Jr. lopes into the examining room and, without niceties or preamble (such as: "Hello, how are you?" or "What brings you here today?"), asks: "How old are you?"

The response I want to give is: "How old are YOU?" but I refrain and tell him, instead, my age.

"Diabetes?" he asks.

I barely resist the urge to reply, "Cancer?"

My back is up. Of course, now that I'm in his office, my foot doesn't even hurt, but I'm upset about wasting my time and my co-payment on a young whippersnapper who lacks any discernible bedside -- or even roadside -- manner.

X-rays reveal no broken bones (even as a result of the stiletto-ing I received from somebody's heel a couple of months ago). Junior starts pressing different areas of my foot. When he jabs his finger so far into the top of my foot that I fear it will emerge through my very soul, I yelp.

"Your toe is swollen," he says.

"And you're the one who swolled it!" I want to shout. I resist both making the accusation and using the incorrect verb conjugation. The ball of my foot doesn't hurt a bit; the toe throbs.

"You need a splint," he says. "If that doesn't work, come back next week for a cortisone shot."

I am not into needles and don't want them into me. "If the splint doesn't work, what are my alternatives?" I ask.

He picks up one of my shoes and bends it until it almost breaks in half. "You need a shoe with a stiff sole. Buy one from us or go through your closet."

Little Doogie has, obviously, never gone through my closet, and I don't have all year to search for a hard-soled shoe, so I ask to view his collection. He leaves, leaving me to ponder whether the styles will resemble running shoes or comfortable but hideous, old-lady shoes.

His assistant returns with something that you'd wear after a major skiing accident.

"This will not work for me in Mexico," I think. "What's another option?" I ask the mock doc when he returns.

"A metal plate you put in your shoe," he says. "If that doesn't work, come back next week for the cortisone shot."

Baby Doc's obviously stuck in an eager-to-inject mindset. I'm in escape mode.

I go straight-away to the pharmacy where Doctini said I'd find the splint. He wrote down the name of the item, but when I reach the store, I can't find the note.

"I'm looking for a something for my toe. A bindi splint? (Some kind of henna-painting device?) A Burundi splint? A banana splint?"

The guy behind the counter looks at me as if I were crazier than I am. Whatever it is that I want, he doesn't have it -- or a clue.

I approach another employee. She Googles and identifies what I'm searching for: a budin splint. We both scan the shelves and locate something by another name.

When I go out the next day, I wear the booty splint for about an hour. My digit is red, swollen, throbbing -- in such pain that I tear the thing off (the splint, not the toe) and ditch it. Wow! I feel better!

A little while later, the original pain returns. What am I to do?

The cortisone shot's a no-brainer; I'm not going to get it for my toe, either.

Forget about the metal plate. Trying to explain that it's not a weapon, as I am forced out of the boarding line on the way to my airplane to Mexico, is about as appealing as trying to get through Customs with a thousand condoms. (See my first blog entry.)

I'm going to try the rest-and-hope-for-the-best method. Hopefully, it'll work, and I'll dance my way through Mexico.

And if I'm still in pain when I get back to the States, I'm going to find a grown-up, mature, professional doctor who'll greet me before he suggests splints, metal plates, cortisone shots, or amputation. A nice "hello" and a smile always make me feel better...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Do You Follow Me? (Richmond, VA)

I don't have many (admitted) followers -- you 12 wonderful people know who you are -- on this blog (which I just typed as "flog"), and you guys (if you are even reading this) are not very vocal. What I mean to write is that you don't talk or write back much, if ever.

So, I'm feeling somewhat amazed that, although they don't list themselves as followers, I seem to have developed a somewhat dedicated group of Korean readers. They comment on virtually every entry I post, and although my Google translations of their reactions are at best, thought-provoking and perhaps even philosophical, and at worst, utterly nonsensical, I am pleased and proud to know that someones, somewhere out in cyberspace, are responding to my prose.

I mention this to my son and add that, for some mysterious reason, the Korean comments have disappeared -- leaving only my responses to them. He bursts the bubble of my disillusions. "Mom, that's just spam," he tells me, eyes rolling at my unbelievable naivete.

Now, what you need to know is that my son, as is true of others of his age and generation, as well as of most people alive today, is completely at ease with every possible form of technology, even those that are yet to be invented.

I, on the other hand, am an anachronism. I am still afraid of breaking my laptop or PC every time I turn them on. Computer languages, when I made the mistake of trying to study one (COBOL????) years ago, were Geek to me. To this day, "byte" conjures up a misspelled word referring to snacking or dental problems. "Bit" means little to me, whether or not it refers to computers. I don't understand the concepts behind the internet, the ether net, or how or if any network works.

If you think all this is strange and pathetic, I'm going to make my lack of knowledge and skills even more apparent by admitting the following: I've never learned how to use the DVD player or VCR; now I can't even remember how to operate the TV. (Excuse/rationalization: I'm rarely home and would rather read than watch television or movies when I am. Give me a good book or allow me to go to sleep.)

Given my total lack of technological savvy, I suspect that someone, perhaps the Head of Acquisitions for Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, will some day request and taxiderm my body -- after or before I die. He or she will, no doubt, post several signs around me in the exhibition, in which I will be posed, brow-furrowed, shoulders shrugging, elbows bent, arms ending in upturned palms. The signs will read: LAST PERSON ON EARTH TO NEVER GET TECHNOLOGY; DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO TEXT; STILL USES A CAMERA WITH FILM; NOT ON FACEBOOK; and ??????????.

Whether or not you visit my shell in the museum, please try to understand that I find the very idea of blogging incredibly intimidating, the thought of sharing my outermost thoughts (surely you don't believe that I would tell you everything when I might not even know you, whether or not you live in Korea) challenging, strange, and scary. If you're really out there, please let me know. Preferably, in English.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

On Hold (Richmond, VA)

Before taking off for Mexico, I've got to put my gym membership on hold for two months. I stop by the desk and ask if I can inform them right then and there. "No," I'm told. "You've got to call the number of (let's just call the company:) MotionSick. They handle that for us."

I spend half an hour on the phone the next day, waiting to speak to a MotionSick representative. When I finally do reach a human being, he informs me that I have to communicate directly with the gym. "They told me to call you," I tell him. "They gave me this little card with the company name and number on it yesterday."

"Well, they just changed their procedures and, as of today, we no longer handle holds."

I call the gym and am told to call "Laura" (let's call her that because that's her actual name), the general manager, who'll be back in a bit. I call her four times. The last time, I leave a detailed message: "I want to put my membership on hold for July and August," I say. I know that I have to do so a month in advance, so I'm adamant about the message reaching her, even if I don't.

Laura's message is on my answering machine when I arrive home. "Call me!" she chirps.

I call her. She's unavailable. I leave a message.

Laura returns my call.

"I'll be out of town for a month and a half," I tell her, "so I'd like to put my membership on hold for two months."

"We'll need to see proof of your new residence," she replies.

"I'm not moving to a new residence; I'm going on vacation," I tell her.

"We'll need proof of your hotel reservation," she says.

"I don't have any hotel reservations. I'm not even sure where I'll be when, but I'll be staying with friends and traveling around the country," I say. "I've been doing this every year since I joined the gym, and I've never been asked for anything like this before."

"It's a new policy. Plus you have to pay $25.00."

"What???? I've never heard of this and haven't received anything in writing about it. There was nothing in the contract I recently signed..."

"It's not in the contract and we didn't notify anyone."

"This is ridiculous!" I am shouting now.

My husband, overhearing my rising voice and growing frustration, is saying, "Tell them you're canceling your membership!"

"Well, we need proof of your being out of the country," Laura says.

"I don't have an address, but I can bring a copy of my electronic plane ticket," I suggest.

"We can't accept that. We need proof of where you're staying," she chirps.


I ask to speak to the gym's owner. She is not available. "I'll discuss this with her," Laura says. Just what I need!

I wait a day and don't hear anything, so I call (let's call her) Naomi (because that's her name). I want to request a meeting, but the person who answers the phone says that Naomi is unavailable. I can leave a message, she tells me, "or you can speak to Laura."

I'm still waiting for a call back.