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 But I just found this previously unpublished entry, my last one from Mexico.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.