Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Adios, amigos! (Mexico City, Mexico)

Final days in Mexico, 2011.

Adios to the construction workers whose table I join, in order to enjoy my final servings of barbacoa. One man wants me to adopt him. One pays for my breakfast. All wish me safe travels and a quick return to Mexico City. May you always find yourselves among friends!

Adios to my taco, sweet potato, and fruit vendors, to my favorite waitress, to my best chicken roaster, to the cooks and servers in my greasy-spoon holes in the wall, and to my least favorite restaurant owner. To the staff and guests of my D.F. hotel, to the workers in the internet cafes, the gum salesman, the hawkers in the subway, the shop clerks who sell me my spicy snack foods, and the used-book sellers, whose wares I peruse more often than buy. To the museum guards, the street musicians, the human statues, adios!

Adios to eating creatures with a face and four legs! Back to birds, fish, seafood, and a (principally) plant-based diet.

Adios to Ingrid, with whom I've shared visits to museums; coffee, ice cream and frozen yogurt shops; crafts markets; stores selling beads/jewelry, shoes, gourmet foods, and stationery; restaurants, churches, and all over town. We've shared stories and laughter to sustain us until (hopefully) we see each other next July in D.F. May you travel home and back safely, meine Freundin.

Adios to the much-too-little black dress and the other clothes that I leave behind. May others enjoy you!

Adios to the ten pounds that have left me without any effort on my part. May you never return!!!

Adios to all of my salsa, cumbia, and son cubano partners, from dance halls, clubs, and public parks. To those who've showed me patience and new steps, to those who've stoked my ego and those who've made me laugh and to all who have given me so much fodder for thought and for blogging. May you always step lightly, lively, and lovely!

Adios to all my Mexico-friends, old and new, Mexican, gringo, and others. Thank you for your hospitality and warmth, for showing me around, for inviting me in and out. I will miss you and hope to see you all again, in Mexico and/or the USA. Mi casa es su casa.

Adios to a country that continues to challenge, enchant, delight, and thrill me, to capture my heart and my imagination. I've immersed myself in the richness of your language, food, music, dance, art, and crafts. I have explored just a fraction of your natural and man-made beauty and look forward to digging deeper and to seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, doing, and learning more. Until next year? Now and forever: Viva Mexico!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Vegetating (Mexico City, Mexico)

August 8, 2011

I've heard mixed reviews about this place, but my body is demanding that I atone for my recent spate of meat-eating madness. So here I am, lunching at the vegetarian restaurant on Molina.

The salad bar boasts fresh greens and beautiful, ripe, red tomatoes; slices of cucumber; alfalfa sprouts and pea shoots; yellow squash and zucchini slivers with onion, tomatoes, and grated cheese; amaranth and granola for sprinkling. The vegetables are all raw and refreshing.

I take the recommendation of the waiter and order the cream of celery soup. It doesn't sound all that interesting but turns out to be light and pleasant. I take the recommendation of the pigeons hopping off the balcony railing and onto the table where a couple has left some of their bread, and I nibble on a whole-grain roll that's big enough to feed two humans and three pigeons.

A pastate de zanahoria, a block of shredded carrots bound together in a creamy souffle, follows. It is my favorite part of the meal. My main dish is two huge soy meatless balls, bathed in a pool of thin tomato sauce.

I return to the salad bar for a dessert of fresh chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe, and papaya. I've already downed practically a full carafe of watermelon water. I am happy. And no animals have been sacrificed on my behalf.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Full Day (Mexico City, Mexico)

Carol and I breakfast at Cafe Rex. She can't eat the soup; she's allergic to seafood, and nobody is sure that leftover paella hasn't been added to the mix. With or without consomme, our morning repast is hearty enough to sustain us throughout a very busy day -- Carol's last in D.F.

We start out by elevating up to almost the top floor of the Torre Latino, where we are treated to an assortment of (glass-enclosed but live) tarantulas and carnivorous plants. Despite the fascination and icky factor inherent in such flora and fauna, the main draw behind our attempt to overcome our fears of height is the 360-degree view of Mexico City and beyond. With some trepidation, we look out at the landscape, noting volcanoes, government and religious buildings, the sports stadium, airport, and lake -- a fantastic panorama which the clear, beautiful day has revealed. I am able to take in the breathtaking views without plastering myself against the interior walls; perhaps I've overcome my phobia, but I'm afraid to find out for sure.

Next stop: the Museo of Artes Populares, one of my favorite museums since my first visit there, not long after its opening. The temporary exhibit of mini-train cars, each one showcasing an important event in Mexican history, is evidence of the incredible talent, imagination, and skill that endear this museum to me. Pancho Villa, Father Hidalgo, Porfirio Diaz, and other people, as well as horses and dogs, are rendered as skeletons in different media: sheet metal, ceramic, tile, papier mache, and more. I love this museum for its stellar examples of Mexican folkloric arts and crafts, from the cigar-smoking skeleton-granny to the fabulous pottery, dolls, miniature instruments, papel amato, and textiles. We spend lots of time oohing and aahing in the galleries, as well as in the on-site gift shop.

Walking along Reforma, taking in the strollers, cyclists, and vendors, we buildup a little bit of an appetite for food that has no nutritional value and will probably precipitate our deaths. I've talked up Mexican junk food enough to entice Carol into buying us a bag of doughy rounds, to which the friendly seller adds chili, lime juice, and salt. Carol finds the orangey circles disgusting, and I am inclined to agree with her assessment that they resemble Styrofoam, in both taste and appearance. (Carol actually compares them to "plasticine" or "Pleistocene" or some other South African term I've never heard of but have taken the liberty of translating into something I can understand. But she also could have meant some kind of Ice Age icky stuff. But you'll just have to take my word -- i.e., Styrofoam -- for it.) She then buys a compensatory bag of chili-coated "crisps" (American-English translation: potato chips), which she finds equally revolting. I eat some of them -- they're salty and spicy and more reminiscent of cardboard than of Styrofoam -- before throwing away the soggy and truly horrible orange thingies and offering the remaining chips to a grateful old man. Carol will never trust my food recommendations again and is probably relieved and eager to be leaving for Acapulco tomorrow.

We're not done yet, however, with our whirlwind tour of some of Mexico City's treasures. At the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we view the magnificent art deco building and its impressive murals by Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco, as well as items from the permanent collection. Sculpture, paintings, and photography by some of the most renowned artists from around the world, including Picasso, Louise Nevelson, Dali, and Miro, are on display.

Carol, tired and needing to pack, returns to the hotel. I metro on to Parque de la Ciudadela, for an afternoon of dancing. But first, I stop off in the ladies' room, where my new purple bracelet sails off my wrist and straight into the toilet. I fish it out. Luckily, I'm packing both soap leaves and antibacterial liquid, which I apply liberally to bracelet, arm, and hand.

I'm actually too beat to dance much. Ismael swings me around a bit and an elderly man twirls me with skill and enthusiasm, but my feet hurt, and my left shoe is falling apart. I'm just not up for the challenges my partners present. Instead,I roam around the park, listening to singers interpreting romantic ballads, watching dance lessons, and admiring skilled dance partners as they practice complex patterns. Someone I don't recognize calls out my name.

In the mood for roast chicken, I swing by the 5th de febrero rotisserie. Unfortunately, it's closed. I find a holier than hole in the wall, enter, and -- who would imagine this? -- hit my head on the door frame when I go to wash up. (Being of average height has its downside and dangers.)

I order a taco al pastor and one of cochinita pibil from the tiny taco place (21 pesos for 3). Although they don't help my head, they satisfy my stomach. I get my just desserts at a nearby bakery: a cashew pastry that is crumbly and not too sweet, but absolutely addictive.

When I arrive back at the hotel, Carol is sitting in the lobby. She has a bag for me with "washing powder" (translation: detergent). She's already gifted me a South African woman's magazine, which she says she buys only for the crossword puzzles (which have another name in South Africanish), and a book that looks intriguing, as well as a bunch of cranberry Slim Slabs, which she says are delicious and will give me a jolt of energy. It's unlikely that I will see Carol again -- given the cost of and time involved with travel to and from South Africa -- and I will miss her. I don't give her anything, but I think she'll remember me whenever she comes across packing peanuts or glaciers.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Revenge of the Animals (Mexico City, Mexico)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What is going on with me?

Simple answer: Mexico is a difficult place in which to be a pseudo-vegetarian. I've given up and in.

I join the crowd sitting at tables set up in front of a doorway on Calle Regina. This morning's breakfast is a savory consomme with chickpeas and rice and a tasty taco of barbacoa (sheep or mutton!), to which I add cilantro, salsa, raw onions, pickled yellow and green peppes, and lime juice. No coffee here, so I take several giant steps to the Cafe Emir (on the corner of Isabel la Catolica and Regina). I don't know what possesses me to order a medium-strength coffee. I need diesel to fortify me for the day ahead.

After spending several hours on the Internet, I stroll over to Celaya, Mexico City's most famous candy store (according to the guide books). There are lots of intriguing sweets, but WHERE'S THE CHOCOLATE???? I run into fellow United Statian and hotel mate Jim, who buys a bag of what little chocolate items they sell. The verdict is "thumbs down," so we look for and find another sweets shop. Alas, although they carry a wider selection of chocolates, they all look ancient and unappealing. We resolve to get the scoop on the city's source from Ingrid, who's been coming here since the early 80's and will surely know where to direct us.

We walk through the Zocalo, where we split paths. I wander into the maze of streets surrounding the market near this historic central plaza. Thousands of vendors tout their wares, yelling the virtues of what they're selling to lure in us passersby. Thousands of us plow through the crowded streets and through piles of clothing, toys, pocketbooks, perfumes, and other merchandise. I am tempted by some fabulous little hat-hair pins, decorated in feathers and sequins. And the scarves. And the food. I resist everything but the candies, buying one block of amaranth studded with raisins and pumpkin and sesame seeds, another of peanuts united by honey or another sweetener, and a disc of caramelized nuts (3 for 10 pesos). No, they're not chocolate, but they will satisfy my sweet teeth.

I practically trip over the Museum of Jose Luis Cuevas (Academia 13, Centro Histórico). Cuevas' art is the stuff of dark thoughts and nightmares. He depicts people as deformed and monstruous. Lucky for me, there's a concert of sacred music taking place here, so I am serenaded by ethereal voices as I roam through the exhibitions. I develop a crush on the male soloist, a tenor. The crush fades whenever he stops singing.

Continuing my meat-marathon, I lunch on pork, Yucatan style -- a juicy taco of cochinita pibil (Here's a recipe, if you want to try it at home:
I must confess that I am enjoying my carnivorousness, but -- animals can heave a sigh of relief! -- I don't intend to keep eating this way when back in the States.

Back at the hotel, I prepare for an afternoon of dancing in the park. Gerardo is going to accompany me. He'll take salsa lessons, while I dance to son cubano.
I'm running late due to my unexpected foray into the museum, but I wouldn't keep my friend waiting had I not inserted a contact lens into my eye with a finger that still held traces of lunch's chili peppers. Ouch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think the animals I've eaten have taken their revenge.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Full Day (Mexico City, Mexico)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ingrid and I visit what promises to be one dud of a museum. We are pleasantly surprised by the Museo del Calzado El Borcegui -- the Shoe Museum (Bolivar 27, first floor, betwen Madero and 16 de septiembre). Not that we don't like shoes. Au contraire; I think shoe-love is in our genes. But we are charmed by much of the footware on display.

Fifteen thousand miniature shoes, made of materials as diverse as glass, porcelain, plastic, wood, ceramic, and animal hide, are delightful to see, but they are not what set our hearts a-pounding. There are 2,000 pairs of shoes on view -- Eat your heart out, Imelda Marcos! -- and, although the exhibits of sports shoes and astronaut's boots are nice, what interest us more are the shoes from different ages and from around the world (those itsy-bitsy foot-scrunchers from China, sandals from Mexico, high-walkers from Japan). Even better are the absolutely gorgeous 20th- Century shoes, many manufactured and designed in Switzerland (I didn´t realize they had a shoe industry there), Mexico, and Spain, which boast real leather and suede and brilliant details and fine workmanship from heel to toe. Luckily, the shoes are shielded behind glass showcases, because we might have slobbered all over them had we been able to examine them more closely and actually (Ooooh, the thought of it!) caress them.

At the Ciudadela this afternoon, a dance instructor and I discuss relationships. He is recovering from his fourth failed marriage and has sworn off serious entanglements. Probably a good idea.

The man who runs the weekly dances here has embarrassed me by calling out my name so many times that practically everyone knows who I am. People I don't recognize greet me as if I were their long-lost gringa. I dance with new and familiar young and old partners, including a former boxer-turned-professional-dancer, a fragile-looking elderly gent whose style and stamina astound, and a gum-chewing, dyed-blond wrestler-type, who laments that he hadn't met me earlier. As I leave the park, I receive one of the nicest compliments ever. "Traes tu luz," says a man with whom I've only danced once, and badly. "You bring your light."

It's still light out when Ingrid, Carol, and I set out for a farewell dinner. Carol is leaving shortly for Acapulco, after which she'll return to South Africa. We are dining at Cafe Tacuba, a "real" restaurant, about 40 notches and three stars above my usual eating establishments.

We begin the meal with a basket of good bread and -- something I haven't seen in my entire stay in Mexico, and rarely use at home -- butter. Carol treats us to a bottle of good red wine and, as we are serenaded by the talented resident musicians, we each offer a toast: "To our friendship!" "To our meeting again!" "To Mexico!" The combination of music, bread, and wine is... intoxicating. Or maybe it's just me, a.k.a. a cheap drunk.

Tonight we are determined to feast on Chiles en nogada (a seasonal specialty from Puebla), which comprises a mixture of ground beef, dried fruits, and pinenuts, stuffed into a large, mild green pepper, bathed in a creamy sauce, and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Interestingly, none of us are meat eaters: Carol eats poultry but not beef, lamb, or fish; Ingrid´s a full-blown vegetarian at home in Germany; and I'm a pseudo-vegetarian, eating poultry, fish and seafood but no red or the "other" white meat (i.e., pork).

Carol and I are a bit squeamish about the idea of eating an entire serving of beef, so we agree to split the Chiles en nogada with an order of chicken in mole poblano (the rich, dark sauce, also originating in Puebla, that contains chocolate and numerous other ingredients). After mopping up the sauces with warm, handmade corn tortillas, I am as full as my day has been.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dancing It Off, Eating It Up, Drinking It In, Wrapping It up, and Mixing It Up (Mexico City, Mexico)

Back in Mexico City. Highlights (Through August 4th):

Dancing It Off
My clothes are baggy. That's because I've been dancing at the following locations:
At the Park La Ciudadela
Ismael teaches me new moves.
Ricardo (a.k.a. Steven Segal, Jr.) makes me look like I know what I'm doing.
A dance instructor asks if I have a background in ballet. I do. As a little girl, I took years of lessons. Lacking rhythm, talent, grace, coordination, and ability, I never moved on to toe shoes. Although I did look rather fetching in the red tutu my grandmother sewed for me, the clothes never did make me a ballerina. My mom would be so proud of me now! Or, perhaps, the instructor was being sarcastic....

At Salon Hidalgo
My lovely buddy, Martin, dances well, even as he recuperates from a devastating elevator accident in which both feet were crushed and broken in multiple places. He tells me that I dance with sabor (flavor) and better than most. I love a good liar, don't you?

At Salon de Convenciones
Some excellent dancers are spinning me around the floor these days, among them, a heavily tattooed guy; a tall dance instructor with indigenous features who tells me I have "ability"; and a huge, overweight guy whose feet seem to be attached to springs.

At the PRI's Headquarters
New friend and good sport Gerardo accompanies me to a dance at the PRI (a political party) headquarters, although he's neither a dancer nor a party member. At 43, he is, however, the youngest person present.

Eating It Up

I continue to indulge in and relish the cultural richness of this city. Along with Ingrid, I revisit the Diego Rivera Mural Museum (http://www.museomuraldiegorivera. "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central" is a dream of a mural, featuring people from Rivera's life, archetypes of Mexican culture, and famous personages from Mexico's history in Diego's provocative and inimitable style.

Museo de las Intervenciones (
Ingrid and I tour the former convent for the first time. This museum offers a history of foreign powers' interventions in Mexico. The gardens are gorgeous, the photos on exhibit are both familiar (if you've spent any time in Mexico) and memorable.

My friendly neighborhood vendor sells me delicious potato and cheese tacos de canasta. When he asks if I'd like another, I tell him I would love one but I'm hoping my weight will go down rather than up, something that won't happen if I indulge in an extra serving. "With all due respect," he says, "you are very beautiful." A great way to start the morning, eh?

I eat chicken with a fabulous peanut sauce one day and with an incredible green mole sauce another in one of my greasy-spoon holes in the wall.

The tiny hotel porter asks me when I'm going home, then requests that I send him a postcard and a photograph.

The sleazy owner of Cafe Rex greets me and doesn't say or do anything obnoxious. What's going on? Possible explanations include, but are not limited to, the following:
1) He finally got the message that his attentions are unwanted.
2) Someone told him he was chasing away female customers.
3) Someone told his wife about his (failed) attempts at womanizing.
4) Someone cut off his...attempts.
5) His wife is now working at the restaurant.

Drinking It In
Ingrid, Carol (a South African psychoanalyst, in town for a conference), and I meet each night at "our" table in the hotel lobby. One of them brings a bottle of red wine, one of us secures glasses from the hotel restaurant, one of us brings something to nosh (Japanese-style peanuts, peanuts with garlic and chili, etc.), and we all drink and chat for a few hours before bed. We discuss opening frozen yogurt shops in our respective countries to sell the horchata-flavored frozen yogurt we've become addicted to. We talk about what we've done all day, compare our home lives and our lives here in Mexico, and they good naturedly blame me, as the sole representative of the USA, for all that is wrong with the world. We do this all in three different brands of English (Ingrid's is British), which often sets us off into spasms, hoots, and howls of laughter.

Occasionally, Jim from China by way of Virginia, joins us. He teaches and tests English-as-a-Second-Language students, translates and edits, and is writing a novel. He tells me that the owner of Cafe Rex stares at him incessantly when he stops in; perhaps the sleaze has found a new love interest and that is why he no longer bothers me. (Thanks, Jim!) Jim accompanied Ingrid on a tour to hear ghost stories and legends. During the tour, his mother called from the US, to tell him that she'd just seen a TV news program showing how dangererous Mexico City is. I don't think she felt at al lreassured when her son told her that he was, at that moment, in a cemetery.

Wrapping It Up
I go shopping with my friends. My budget is so limited that I look and touch more than I buy. But I do pick up some cute bracelets and the figure of a woman/flying insect at La Ciudadela's wonderful crafts market.

Because my woman-insect is fragile, so Ingrid brings down some bubble wrap and tape one evening. While we're talking, I only burst 12 of the little bubbles. Had she brought the bigger-bubble wrap with the ultra-satisfying pops, I wouldn't be able to spend the night alone in my room with it.

The tour vendor in the hotel invites me to the movies. I tell him that I've got plans for the rest of my time in Mexico. He asks if he can go home with me and live in my house. "I'll fix things and help you out by getting a job and paying expenses," he tempts me. I tell him I've got plans for the rest of my life.

Mixing It Up
Lingering too long at Starbucks, I'm enjoying the gorgeous day. I sit here nursing the dregs of my now-cold coffee, just people watching and staring into space. If it weren't for the street noise -- ear-splitting sirens, a competition among songs emanating from each storefront, sales pitches for fresh fruit and politicians blasting from the megaphones in passing trucks -- I would be utterly at peace.

I have mixed feelings about going home. I love my relaxed, stress-free Mexican life but miss my family and friends. I want to stay here forever. I want to travel to other countries, see new places, taste different foods, and learn about different cultures. I want to go home. I want to know, for certain, that I'll come back here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kicking back (Guanajuato, Mexico)

Thursday, July 27, 2011 Don't hate me because I'm comfortable!

Another beautiful day, cool and comfortable. I hardboil some eggs for today's and tomorrow's breakfasts. With a little salt and freshly ground pepper, they are simple and simply amazing!

Nikki's off to Zacatecas. K and I drop her at the bus stop on our way to Dolores Hidalgo. We wind our way along the picturesque mountain highway, reaching the "Cradle of Mexican Independence" in plenty of time to take in three shops loaded with Talavera tiles, tableware, and tchotchkes (translation: knick knacks -- and, no, it's not a Spanish word). K buys a bowl in a purple peacock-feather pattern. I purchase painted ceramic knobs that will, I hope, transform a blah chest of drawers into a work of art.

We stroll around the main square and pop into the church, to view its ornate, guilded altars and its bloody Christ figure. Then we pick a pretty restaurant in which to dine on entomados de queso in (a, for me, too-sweet) mole and breast of chicken stuffed with squash blossoms, in a huitlacoche (corn fungus: sounds yucky but, trust me, it's yummy!) sauce. While waiting, we eat the escabeche (pickled cauliflower, carrot, jicama, chili peppers, and a tiny potato -- quite picante!) and sip our huge goblets of aguas (i.e., fruit waters: K's is watermelon; mine is tamarind). The delicious chicken comes with a side of mixed vegetables that would have been more welcomed had they not been previously frozen. The eggy, cumin-scented bechamel-sauced pasta, also on the plate, is sinfully rich and luscious.

K wants to check prices on some tiles that she'll use to form table tops, so we step back into the first Talavera shop we visited. We return to the car, which has, thankfully, not been ticketed nor booted nor towed --despite threatening street signs warning of the contrary. Shopped out, we don't bother stopping at a large store, which sells beautiful ceramicware and foodstuffs from a women's cooperative, that K. had pointed out on our way into town.

K. drops me off in downtown Guanajuato, so I can buy my bus ticket back to Mexico City. I wander around the beautiful city's center for a while, as it's my last opportunity to do so this time around.

Back at the house, I fill a glass with clamato juice and help myself to several lychees that have appeared in the fridge. (I don't advise you to try this at home, as the combination is truly disgusting; however, they are quite good when taken separately.) K comes downstairs and tells me to help myself to anything and everything in the kitchen.

Later, I do: A slice of lovely, gamey feta cheese. Some almonds. Blackberries. A spoonful of chipotle-jitomate sauce. A few black olives. A ripe fig. A glass of mango agua. I love eating this way!

I'm sitting on the terrace, feasting, when I hear pinging on the metal roof. Finally! A much needed, torrential rain obscures the view and cools down the already temperate temperature. Should it continue, I'll sleep really well tonight.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Dead and Unburied (Guanajuato, Mexico)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The bus ride from Queretero to Guanajuato is only about 2.5 hours long. Long enough to sit through multiple episodes of a TV series called "Mental," which I find entertaining, if far fetched, and better than some of the usual bus-movie fare. It is followed by a raucous French version of "Puss In Boots" that teeters between brilliance and obnoxiousness.

In the taxi up to K's house, I realize that I've left my sweater on the bus. Oh, well. One less thing to pack and carry.

The cab takes me through a tunnel, along the Panoramica, past two topes (sleeping policemen), and drops me off in front of the blue and white storefront, behind which stairs wind down to K's door.

I ring the bell and she opens the gate. I meet Nikki, from New Zealand, a fellow couchsurfer who's staying in the patio-level apartment. K leads me to the second floor, gives me keys and the same, lovely bedroom I stayed in last year, shows me the eggs and juices (watermelon, grapefruit, guava, and clamato), and leaves me to settle in, while she goes to tutor English to a young man (who never shows up). When she returns, we sip red wine, while she throws together a delicous Asian-style soup with beef broth, noodles, zuchhini, and onion.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I walk down numerous steps to the fetid-smelling river, turn left, and find a place to breakfast on huevos a la mexicana, coffee with hot milk, and warm bread that is so delicious I scarf up the entire basketful. Stomach full, I meander through the center of town, past the Quixote Museum, into and out of a crafts and jewelry shop that K thinks might be a front for money-laundering drug smugglers. I stop and go into other, less impressive shops with more reasonably priced merchandise, into churches, and past the theatre, market, parks, beautiful restaurants, and hotels. I continue my walk out of the more touristy sections of town as I go up, up, up to the Museum of Mummies, the one site my Guanajuatan students always recommend that I visit when I find myself in their hometown.

The mummies, including two French doctors and the world's smallest (fetus) mummy and its mommy, are 100% naturally preserved, all but one in wooden caskets, by the minerals present in the soil of the cemetery in which they were buried. Exhumed and exhibited years later, when no family member claimed the bodies, they are either prone or standing up (strone?), protected within glass showcases. (When some of the earliest ones were displayed, viewers made off with souvenirs (sp?) -- clothing and body bits. So, museum staff no longer take the chance that we will look and not touch and take out.)

Even leaving aside the purple-tinged fellow who died of asphyxiation, the man who was shot to death and whose deadly hole is gapingly apparent, and the woman whose raised and crossed arms prove she was buried alive, none of the leathery, papery corpses look pleased to be the subject of my and others' curiosity and scrutiny. Most of the eyeless faces bear anguished, pained expressions. They are definitely not resting in peace.

I come back downhill. Coming to a doorway where clothing and some ceramics are displayed, I step inside the little shop. The prices are reasonable, so I figure that I will replace my lost sweater. Half an hour later, I emerge still sweaterless, but with five new blouses (for less than $5.00, total).

Next stop is the market. It's lunchtime. A seafood soup bursting with shrimp, clams, oysters, fish, octopus, potatoes, and carrots is garnished with chopped onion, cilantro, and slivers of avocado. Accompanied by a crusty, fragrant roll, the fresh, but dead seafood helps bring me back to the land of the living and the hungry. I want to lick the bowl clean but remember my manners.

The climb back to K's house is exhausting. My panting and breathlessness prove that I am not quite as aerobically fit as I thought. I am relieved to know that 20-something Nikki finds the uphill hike equally challenging. She joins me on the second-floor terrace, and tells me about the decision she faces upon her return to New Zealand. Will she go back to "uni" to study biotechnology or wine science? (I know which one sounds more appealing to me!}

K joins us and we climb the stairs to her third floor digs, where the sun won't beat down on us with such furor. From her living room, an even better view of the brightly colored houses that dot hillsides and hilltops unfolds. K gives me a tour of her bedroom/office with its walk-in closet and promises that we'll go up to the roof at some point, to see the 360 degree view. Eventually, she'd like to put a structure there that will withstand substantial winds and rain and offer protection from the sun -- a perfect place to sit and enjoy a glass or two of wine, whatever the weather.

It's the rainy season, but it has not rained. The clouds look ominous and we hear thunder, but the much-needed downpours that will keep water flowing through pipes and revive the stinking river do not come.

K and I drive to an Italian restaurant she's been wanting to try. We share ravioli with mushrooms in a rich, rosemary-scented cream sauce and ziti with shrimp and (unfortunately, canned) black olives in a tomato sauce. With glasses of wine (she goes for white, I opt for red), we are quite satisfied.

It's still early when we arrive back at the house, but we retire to our rooms. I am looking forard to doing some reading and getting a good night's sleep.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Out of Town (Queretero, Mexico)

Sunday, July 24, 2011 Queretero

Art meets me at my hotel, so we can travel together to Queretero. As we catch up on a year's worth of goings on and off, we overshoot one of the 87 metro stations at which we have to change trains. It's simple to get back on track, and we arrive at the bus station, purchase our tickets, and have a full 30 seconds to scramble to our bus.

Art waits in line to stow my wheeled bag in the vehicle's luggage compartment. When I attempt to board the bus, I am told by the hand-baggage-checking official that my little carry-on won't fit. I assure him that it will, and we argue until I show him that I can shmoosh the bag into the space allotted and even squish it into the size of a postage stamp, if that's what it takes. I don't know if, with my rabid refusal to kowtow, I've scared him into submission or disgust, but he lets me through. Then I have the same argument with the guard who does the pat-down-weapon-search-wand-wave. I hold my ground and my bag -- and triumph. I mount the steps, laden now, too, with a plastic bag containing a refreshing BOING tropical fruit juice drink, a sweet chocolate sandwich cookie, and a disgusting sandwich sandwich that the refreshment lady gives to everyone who's traveling in our direction.

Before we pull out of the station, the camera guy videos each of us passengers. I don't know if this is an addition to his personal, G-rated collection of people in bus seats, a precaution just in case a terrorist or an over-sized carry-on has managed to get aboard despite multiple screenings and arguments, or a record of our almost-last moments should the bus tumble off a cliff, but it seems to be standard bus take-off procedure.

Once we're rolling, the movie begins. It's a subtitled, cop-buddy flick that looks both stupid and funny. Unfortunately, the driver decides that funny isn't at all necessary; he switches to a dubbed Brad Pitt-Martin Scorcese film that is predictable, forgettable, and stupid. I'm happy that the bus ride is quick, but slightly disappointed that we don't get to view the excellent Israeli film, "The Band," which starts just in time for our disembarkation in Queretero.

After dropping off our bags, Art and I eat dinner at the new Italian restaurant boasting a wood-burning pizza oven near his house. We chat with the owner while indulging in our individual, thin-crust pizzas with mushrooms and red and yellow peppers; an order of salty but tender, fried calamari on a bed of French fries (I did not want fries with that, but that's how they come); and some prize-winning gelato. I love my scoops of chocolate and Nutella so much that I don't even know what Art asked for.

To "bajar la comida" (make the food go down), we stroll the city streets. Every plaza is crowded with young people, families, musicians. In one of the plazas, we meet Art's charming girlfriend, Guadalupe, an educator-guide-graphic designer for Queretero's art museum ( She uses her insider-status to gain us after-hours entry into the museum. She then gives me a fascinating tour of the gorgeous Baroque patio: Columns represent the three stages of life (childhood/youth; maturity; old age). There are carvings of animals, plants, and mermaids, and religious symbolism abounds.

Monday, July 25 Queretero

I awaken to a cacaphony of church bells, rooster calls, and train whistles. Art and I breakfast lightly on sweet rolls and coffee, as we're meeting Kim and Guillermo for brunch at 11:00 a.m.

At a "typical" restaurant with a chess theme, I dig into my huevos divorciados (divorced eggs), my ritual Queretero breakfast of one fried egg covered in tomato sauce, separated by a refried-bean barrier from another fried egg covered in green sauce. A glass of orange juice, a cup of cafe con leche, and a bite of of Art's half of a bready, not-too-sweet donut complete the meal. While eating, the four of us chat.

Although I introduced my friends to each other last year and despite Art's twice- daily walks past Kim and Guillermo's apartment, the three hadn't crossed paths again. Our conversation ranges from mutual friends in the U.S. to the progress of Guillermo's quality painting business (slow, but promising) to Kim's beginning search for a communications position that will permit her to either telecommute from Queretero or return, temporarily, to Virginia or Washington, D.C. My three compañeros exchange phone numbers, to facilitate their get-togethers between my visits, and Kim promises to let me know when she returns State-side -- which she must do every three months or so -- so we can grab lunch or coffee.

Art and I take a long, sunny walk from downtown to the aqueduct to view the huge, papier-maché alijibres (based on the fantastical animal figures, carved of wood and painted by Oaxacan crafters) beneath the arches. By the time we head back to his house, we've worked up an appetite.

On our way to see the sculptures, we pass by a Yucatecan restaurant that we might like to try, as well as a place with a pretty garden, where we spend time chatting with the owner. Unfortunately, both eateries are closed when we need them.

But there is always somewhere to eat. As we love seafood, we stop at a place near the market. It's near closing time here, too, and some chairs have already been upsided-down on tables, to enable floor mopping. The service isn't overly friendly. Still, it's the food we came for, and we are happy with our ceviche tacos, cheese quesadillas with shrimp and octopus, and seafood cocktails (a combination of mollusks and crustaceans in a tasty sauce of catsup and lime juice, with avocado slices). Art drinks a beer, while I down half a liter of horchata -- turning a low- calorie feast into a high-calorie one.

We meet up with Guadalupe again and stop at a mall on the way to dropping her at home. We walk around the center, recommending hideous pairs of running shoes for Art to buy and trying to figure out which Spanish word is the most beautiful, based on sound, not meaning. In a competition, a Mexican actor had just judged that "Queretero" was the most lovely. Our judgment was that he was paid off by the city's politicians. I suggest almond -- "almendra." We crack up as I repeatedly bark out ¨Queretero" -- as if it were a curse -- and practically sing "almendra," so they can truly appreciate its obvious superiority in the beautiful word category.

Tuesday, July 26 Queretero

After the same breakfast at the same place as yesterday, Art and I tour an exhibit of paintings. He's got a piece in the show, a multi-colored abstract entitled "Coral Reef," which includes dabs of orange and red which my color-blind artist friend can't see. He comments that he'd tempered the brightness of the colors and that one of his friends (or, perhaps, frenemies?) had said that the painting "looked better in the dark." I like it (in the light), as well as two other thought-provoking pieces. One is a mix of delicate line drawings, words, and collage; another ia an oil that suggests images of people as I see them when I don't wear glasses or contacts -- fuzzy, indistinct, faceless, and melded together into hilly formations.

With time running short, Art drives me to the bus station and we say our goodbyes. I'm off to Guanajuato.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Woman vs. Machines and Other Highlights (Mexico City, Mexico)

Highlights of the last week (July 21 or thereabouts):

The Good Stuff:
Evening talks with Ingrid, who's in the lobby when I return from dancing. She´s a great listener, is always interesting, and has a great sense of humor.

Museum of Memory and Tolerance, another new museum, in its second year. Exhibits cover the Holocaust, as well as the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Guatemala, and elsewhere in the world. Five stories (include an attractive restaurant/cafe and gift store, from which proceeds go to pay for the entry fees of children who can't afford to attend the museum)

Strong design and use of colors in a temporary exchibition of posters around the corner from my hotel.

The owner of Cafe Rex is keeping his distance.

The Bad Stuff:
The TV in my room refuses to cooperate. I turn it on; it turns itself off. I want to watch something; it thinks the time isn't right. We are constantly arguing. My hotel room safe is so safe that I can't open it. I have to make multiple attempts before it (grudgingly) allows me access. The housing of the soap dispenser in the lobby restroom falls into my hand. I want soap; it gives me plastic. Then the paper towel dispenser's front falls off, hitting me in the head. The worst is yet to come....

The ATM teases me. I enter my PIN, indicate the account from which I want to withdraw money, tap in the amount, confirm the amount, confirm the fee I'll be charged for the process, request a receipt for the transaction, refuse to donate money to a scholarship fund for bankers' children (Sorry!!!), confirm my refusal, and confirm my confirmations. The ATM then refuses to gurgitate my money.

I am down to my last 100 pesos -- three days of eating one meal a day, nothing to pay for my hotel room, museum entrance fees, or other amusements. Concerned, I send messages to family, assuring my son that I am not attempting to "friend" him on Facebook, but that this is an emergency.

In the meantime, I contemplate how I'll spend my years in a Mexican prison cell and ponder what I can do to earn money. Start charging for the free English lessons I'm offering a friend's friend? No, too tacky. Sell my back-up roll of toilet paper and my convenient plastic case of soap leaves? They would buy me a subway ticket. How much can I get for my clothes? Not much. The (very) little black dress might bring in something -- even more, if I wear it. No. Much too tacky.

I spend the night trying to remember what the acronym ATM stands for: Another Tawdry Monkey? Autocratic Tsar Matures? Ain't Tellin' Mommy? After Tonight, Methadone? Asteroid Targets Me? After Tonsillectomy, Medication? Angling Towards Mecca? Agitated Teacher Monitored? Alternative Treatments Mentioned? Aren't Twins Magical? Aspiring Tomato Mutates? Arthritis Topples Matador? I come up with thousands of possibilities and no ZZZ's.

The Happy Ending:
Turns out I was asking for more than the ATM could give. The next day, I ask for less and the machine cooperates. Thank you, Automatic Teller Machine -- or something like that.