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...

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