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.


  1. Wow, yummy food! I am, however, exhausted by all your travels. hasta luego y dime su direccion y envio una carta!

  2. I'm not even traveling that much this time around!