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 But I just found this previously unpublished entry, my last one from Mexico.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

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