Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tlaquepaque with My Parents

Yesterday, I drove in Guadalajara. I drove all over and it turns out...I can do it just fine! It's not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. The GPS worked reasonably well and you have to keep your eye on the road at all times as sometimes lanes appear or disappear and the lines we paint on the roads in the USA are purely optional here. But I did it! Granted, my mother was in the back seat repeated "I want to go home..." quietly to herself, but still...

Today, we picked them up at the Hotel de Mendoza and jetted over to Tlaquepaque for an early lunch (12:30ish). We were the only people in the whole restaurant. Our waiter, a slow paced but quick witted heavy set man told us joke I didn't quite understand and wrote our order down as carefully as if he were taking dictation from God. Credit cards are hit and miss here and some places just can't take ours since we don't have chip (puts us in an elite club consisting of us...and Uganda). Luckily, they did take cash and so no one had to stay behind to wash dishes.

We spent the rest of the early afternoon shopping, somewhat to avoid the direct sunlight - although I was wearing an enormous hat. We stopped into a lovely silversmiths and then peeked into the Augustin Parra gallery. He's supposedly a big deal, but I could do without his work. It's mostly large scale, sentimental work that seems to be so impressive only because it is so big and surrounded by so much gilt furniture. We barely poked around before it became obvious that it was time to wander off.

We were delightfully surprised by the Sergio Bustamante gallery. I have always thought of his work as being too commercial, but I really enjoyed looking around the gallery. I couldn't take any pictures in the gallery, of course, but his work is quickly recognizable. Violet had apparently seen it several days before when we went to Tlaquepaque the last time and had been walking around talking about these people with "chip faces." Given the richness of her imagination, I chalked it up as another invention, but when we went in today, I knew exactly what she meant.

The gallery itself is wonderful and leads out to a rear garden as well as containing a central patio complete with fountain. The prices on the works are really reasonable and my mother got a beautiful silver ring with one of the typical Bustamante faces on it that looks stunning.

I didn't walk away empty handed, although it wasn't a purchase at the gallery. Instead, I found an adorable pair of embroidered heels and a pair of flats to replace my broken sandals. I found a store that sells those beautiful silk wrap around skirts which I love...they have the rustle of fabric that I always long for when I see exhibits of historical costume. We also picked up our miniature tequila bottles, including one made of gorgeous blown glass.

After exhausting ourselves in Tlaquepaque and having used up all of the free courtyard shade we could gather, we headed back to my parents' hotel to have a dip in the pool. It was surprisingly cold but we made the plunge, despite the fact that I have yet to find a bathing costume option here that doesn't become almost completely transparent upon contact with water. I guess you're not supposed to actually swim in them.

After a gin on the rocks on the room's balcony, we had a great dinner at a place in Oblatos, with a round of brain tacos for mom, dad, and I. Dinner for six people cost just under $20 and that's only because Pepe splurged and had a meal that was about $7.50. Violet, of course, ate tortillas with lime.

We had a big day and I managed to avoid having to drink tejuino (fermented corn batter with salt and lime) so I always count that as a win.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Guadalajara Museums: Huichol Arts

This is one of those rare museums where the gift shop is in stiff competition with the exhibits for the attention of the visitors. Located through a door beside the main entrance to the cathedral of Zapopan, it's not hidden and yet it is not obvious. Walking in seems a bit like entering a back of house room for storing a few odds and ends that nobody quite knows what to do with. A saint with perfect eyebrows is shown holding the virgin of Zapopan during a miraculous moment. Unfortunately, exactly what the miracle is is somewhat unclear.

The museum costs 10 pesos to enter (including children) and after signing a guest book, you step through a curtain made up of dried bamboo. The museum itself is a good effort, but clearly desperately in need of assistance. No photos are allowed and the only reason I can possibly imagine for such a rule is the fear of ridicule the curators carry with them. But in Mexico, rules abound and so it is. The exhibits themselves have signs in Spanish and in something that could be misconstrued as English but that has an odd poetic quality to it, rendering it useless as a vehicle for conveying information but somewhat musical as an accompaniment to the displays.

The signage throughout the space is sprinkled with bits of wisdom from someone named Lumholz (the identity of this person is never clarified) who wrote some things about the Huichol in 1904 and apparently it has never been considered necessary to update or re-examine any of those proclamations. After all, when I want an in depth and culturally aware explanation of indigenous cultures, I turn to Aryan men at the turn of the 20th century, don't you?

A series of dusty and distorted coati are sprinkled about the place giving the odd impression that they lived among the Huichol, possibly even as pets, although that is not confirmed by even a single mention of the creature in any of the signage. A grouping of three mannequins in what appear to be varying states of intestinal distress ostensibly show the customary clothing...and provide the entertaining translation of 'curandero' as 'quack doctor.' Probably not the most sensitive way to depict the medicine men.

The mannequins appear to have come from Sears and with their long limbs and Caucasian features look particularly out of place, if not downright insulting. The final tragedy of the museum is a display case in which some of the elaborate bead work for which the Huichol are particularly famous. Unfortunately, the approach they decided to use is one I would entitle "intricate things in a dark box" and even the addition of a flashlight would significantly improve its didactic quality.

In the gift shop, there are dozens of yarn art creations by various Huichol artists. Those are indeed worth going to see and an apt reward for the curatorial mayhem that preceded. The prices have increased significantly since the last time that I was there (the only thing in the museum that seems to have been updated in the last 20 years). However, given the beauty of the pieces and the efforts required to create them, they are still very reasonable. A couple hundred dollars and you can go home with a 20 x 20 work of yarn art positively vibrating with color and intensity of feeling.

There are also fantastic examples of the beadwork surfaces as well as a book that purports to be about the museum but somehow manages to avoid including a single image of the museum or anything in it. It is a guide the museum in the same sense that this is a set of direction for making vanilla pudding.

So...I don't have any pictures...yet.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Day 3 in Mexico City: Xochimilco, Xoloitzcuintle, and more Peacocks!

This morning we made the bold decision to drive to the Museum Dolores Olemda Patina a 60,000 square foot hacienda named after the woman who turned it into a museum after having lived there and been Diego Rivera's model. A lot of the museum is dedicated to photos of her and what are absolutely under no circumstances to be misconstrued as her natural eyebrows. She took Frida to the opposite extreme...but without the redeeming talent, I fear.

The grounds are owned by the dozens of peacocks that wander around flashing their feathers and vibrating in demonstrations of masculinity. There were also peahens haphazardly leading around small flocks of baby peacocks which occasionally would end up being shaken violently in the beaks of the adult males. It didn't seem particularly fatherly. In fact, I think the message was: If I kill you, I can mate with your mother. Nature is so sweet sometimes.

The museum is not very large and a portion of it was closed because someone was showing a powerpoint about the importance of understanding pre-colombian culture. We were told to come back at 2:00 so we went to get a beer and some snacks and watch the peacocks either fall in love or maim each other. When we came back after 2:00 we were told that we still couldn't come in, but we insisted and were let in, although they told us we couldn't go into the galleries. I told them I thought this was ridiculous, that they had charged me full price and that they misunderstood themselves. Maybe I should go into diplomacy.

It can be truly frustrating to deal with people of small authority in Mexico because they love to make up rules. What I have learned is that you have to lie back to them. So, when the woman told me I couldn't go into the gallery, I went in but said that I wasn't. She could see that I was going in, but she was stuck arguing with me about whether or not I was in the gallery long enough for me to see it. This is why the rules are held in such contempt here, because they are constantly invented and reinvented by every petty tyrant who wants to apply them simply for the joy of exercising their will. That's why you have to deal with the people in your neighborhood and why life can be so enjoyable - people don't tend to mess with those they have to live with. Outside of those webs of life long connections, people lose their humanity to each other.

In any case, when I was done making enemies - and being interviewed by the umpteenth high school english class student group - we went over to the canals at Xochimilco. As we were entering the area with the canals, a man on a bicycle came up and offered to escort us to the dock. He showed us a laminated 'pass' from the government so that we would know he was legit. Because clearly nobody could forge a laminated pass! He seemed to be going where we wanted to go and soon we were following him as he attempted to circumvent not only all traffic laws but occasionally those laid down by physics in order to get us to the boats.

At first they were asking 3,000 pesos for a two hour trip, we negotiated down to 1,500 (about $100 for a private boat) and we were off. The canals are a floating economy with mariachi in boats that sidle up to your offering a song and floating vendors hawking memorabilia, sodas, and food. Every so often, a gentle accident jars you but on the whole it was extremely pleasant. We didn't hire any mariachi but did eavesdrop on their performances for others. It was also possible to hire a marimba player, something we also declined. There were actually bathrooms all along the route at which we could stop, which surprised me and may actually be the highest concentration of public bathroom facilities per linear foot of any passageway in Mexico. Also, it's the first time I've ever been offered a bonsai by a sales person in a boat.

The drivers of the boat punt down the shallow river using long, thick bamboo poles. Our driver managed to lose his pole at one point and was desperately trying to direct our boat back towards it by using one of the chairs as a paddle. Luckily, the river is never without a group nearby and so another boatman was able to recover our guy's lost stick...but not his lost dignity.

We were nearing the docks when the sky started to darken and had managed to land and disembark just as the clouds broke. This sent the guys watching the parking lot scattering to find shelter and so we didn't have to pay for parking (a rare freebie in Mexico). Back at our apartment, we set out for a walk around the square and to see the local church, a surprisingly beautiful place in which a wedding was being held. On the outside, the church appears as a heavy, hard mass with little to promise, but the paintings on the walls and ceiling on the interior are well worth the visit. And I'm not just saying this because I had finished possibly the best ice cream ever just before entering.

The church is enormous and has not just one, but four creepy Christ statues. That's some serious investment.

We stopped by a wonderful little store that had a variety of delicious looking sauces and bought some chorizo to mix with our leftover potatoes and mushrooms from yesterday and dined like kings.

Tomorrow is our last day here and we're already saying that we need to come back - there is so much to do and see here that 5 days isn't enough, five months probably still wouldn't be, but I don't think my heart could handle the stress of driving in this madness for that long, so better to do it in chunks.

But I hope I don't have to wait too long.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Day Two in DF: Barragan, Teeth, and Rules

This morning we ate breakfast at the Coyoacan market and Matt nearly managed to eat it without looking green. We bought a lot of fruit from a saleswoman who gave us tastes of everything...some of which were gross and some of which were divine. Eventually, I had to walk away for fear she would continue to cut pieces of fruit for me to eat. What a tough life, right? Oh and the cut flowers! A dozen roses for $3 - I can have flowers in my house every day!

We ate breakfast in the market as well at a place called La Perla Perdida (the lost pearl) which had excellent enchiladas although the coffee wasn't worth drinking. They also had french fries and so Violet was able to stave off starvation for a little bit longer.

We had a 12:30 appointment at the Luis Barragan House Museum, we took a taxi which started to drive us all over the city before the driver realized that Pepe was watching google maps and so then he pretended he was lost. We still got to the museum an hour early and so we went to a playground which smelled a lot like what I imagine hell smells like.

30 minutes before our entry time to the Barragan house we started our walk back up the street where we saw a 4 car accident. It apparently required 30 police officers to address the accident. Three of the officers were dedicated to simply asking that passing cars no longer park and stare, but at least pretend they were still moving.

The Barragan house was amazing, we took a tour in Spanish that I tried to translate for Matt but managed to miss enormous chunks of. I have no idea how those simultaneous translators do it because you have to be translating what you have already heard at the same time that you are listening for the next thing to translate. I'm sure I sounded like a kindergartner as I forgot all of my English grammar and turned into Google translate.

After the Barragan house we walked over the park Chapultepec and took a circuitous route to the palace. We saw the baths of Montezuma and the Monument to the Ninos Heroes as well as a wonderful relaxation garden where water is misted, silence is golden, and the chairs are all loungers. The squirrels are very friendly and hardly frightened of people. They range from frosted gray to black and brown and I wished that I had brought handfuls of nuts because I could have made an enormous number of furry friends.

As we continued our walk to the palace, I had to stop and drink a coke because I hadn't had enough coffee and I get withdrawal headaches. Sad. I hate coke, so I drink it really fast, but the carbonation makes that difficult, so I swirl it around until it's flat...and I can't think of anything more disgusting than a flat coke. So, I suffer. In any case, the palace is really beautiful, the views from the terrace are amazing if nothing else. You can see the whole city laid out before you...well, what is visible despite the smog. There are such a number of helicopters pattering around that it looks like something impressive is happening, but it turns out that is normal, as is the jammed traffic, and the bizarre rule enforcement.

So, what I have noticed in Mexico is that you can get away with rubbing your hands on the works of art but when I tried to use a handicapped bathroom stall, despite the fact that there was a long line and not a single person in it needed that stall, I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not use it. Better apparently for the stall to remain empty. They seem to believe that a handicapped stall isn't something offered but rather reserved. I also tried to go right when circulating through an exhibit but apparently left is the only way...and a line of tourists all believing a certain opening was the point of entry and each having to be individually told it is not, doesn't require any rethinking of the circulation or additional signage.

When we left the palace we skirted over the Museum of Modern Art. Violet and Pepe waited outside because Violet was eating some sort of chili covered junk food and, frankly, Pepe was sick of modern art. Despite the fact that over 70% of the galleries were closed, the remaining portions were fantastic and so it was well worth the fee. It was such a refreshing way to view modern art, each piece being so unique and each absolutely enthralling. The museum building itself was worth the visit as the center is domed in such a way that the slightest whisper is elevated to a resonating command. I decided to sing in the center and it was as if the sound became 3 dimensional, I hardly had to raise my voice and yet it filled the air. I wasn't just making the sound but completely enveloped in it. It was wonderful.

After the museum we found what may be the only honest taxi driver in all of Mexico city. It was an accident, of course. We learned that all legitimate cabs will have plates that start with the letter A, B, or M and if they don't they aren't on the up and up. We also learned that instead of 260 pesos, it really only costs 60 pesos to get to our house from the center. Pepe has started sitting up front with the taxi driver and being obvious that he is checking the route via google maps so that they know we know where we are. We got this drivers number and plan on calling him whenever we need a cab.

The taxis in DF are being painted pink as part of the new government's plan for...something. Apparently every time there is someone new in power, the taxis all have to be painted as part of their plan. Of course.  There isn't anything else more demanding of the attention of politicians, clearly.

Once we were home, we headed out to get ice cream and by luck found an amazing place - the cheesecake ice cream was hard for me to stop eating. I will be enormous when I get back to the US, but I will be happy! I bought a beautiful skirt made with Indian silk (because I come to Mexico to buy clothes made in India...) and afterwards the sky turned menacing so we turned for home.

In the morning we had bought squash blossoms, mushrooms, potatoes and a variety of other things to cook for dinner, which I dutifully did. However, given that we are using a guest kitchen, it was hard to find enough bowls and plates to prep and cook, so it took a long time to throw the food together. It was good though! Add a little tequila bought at a local store to the fresh squeezed orange juice and we were having a good time. Of course now the apartment smells like garlic, so we'll see how enjoyable that is over the long run.

By the way when we were at the palace, Violet's gums started to bleed near her loose tooth. Well, when we got home, after eating chocolate ice cream, I was cleaning around her mouth with a baby wipe when it accidentally hit the tooth and out it came! Finally! Although she is disturbingly upset that she no longer looks creepy. I have tried to reassure her that she still looks creepy to me, but to no avail.

Violet is sleeping in her own room which is pretty amazing, but I'm not sure Pepe can handle her independence. He misses her when she doesn't need him.

And another bit of good news: it turns out my father did NOT break his ankle, instead the x-ray showed an old break and since he had been told not to put any weight on it, he didn't know it didn't they are still going to be able to come and visit us! So, more adventures to come in the mid-term future too!

I feel like I do more in a day here than in a month back home and that here I haven't even written about the half of it. I need to do it thought to jog my memory because life is so much, well, 'lifier' here in Mexico. It's exhausting but invigorating at the same time. It's late now and yet I will still be up early in the morning, ready for another full day, the real challenge is to see if I can capture and convey even a tenth of it.

Good night!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Surviving Mexico City

We have drawn our first full day in Mexico City to a close. We were cheated slightly by a taxi driver, but other than that, all went well. I even hailed a taxi off the street in desperation near the center of the city at 9:00 when we couldn't find a taxi stand and had already lost our cell phone so we couldn't call one.

We set out this morning for the National Museum of Anthropology and History, the place where seemingly all the treasures of Mexico have come to be displayed. It was a tour de force - we spent four hours there, with Violet who wins a 'museum super trooper' award for being so well behaved the entire time. The museum was amazing! Everything you have ever seen in a photo is there but the space itself is also very cool. It seems like they may have a bit of a hoarding problem though, since they have more things than they really need, it feels like they could have left a couple of things at the original sites.

The signage was as worthless and/or nonexistent as we have come to expect. Whenever there is signage, it tells you things you could have guessed on your own and when there is something really interesting and unusual, they is usually no sign at all. Basic jist: "you are looking at things that were made in the past, not in the future. They have shapes and forms of the things they look like. They were made by people. They have a particular color and may or may not have been important."

Despite the lack of signage and the strange idea that the security guards had about priorities - for example, people could rub their hands on the stone objects but when Violet sat on black and yellow tape around a plastic model of a faraway archeological site, she was told to get up and move off - the museum was amazing. Around every corner there are just hundreds of treasures. It only has 23 rooms which makes it seem like it is so much smaller than it really is because each room is the size of an airplane hanger.

Matt has a tendency to forget to drink water and so last night he ended up pretty dehydrated and without any bottled water in his apartment. For some reason, he didn't want to bother us, so he suffered for a good long while until he discovered a britta filter in his place. So, he wasn't feeling to snappy this morning and we dragged him back from the light through regular infusions of fresh orange juice and papaya yogurt.

When we were leaving the National Museum, the voladores were just beginning their performance which involves men in imaginary traditional clothing climbing up a ridiculously tall pole, winding rope around it and then jumping off, letting themselves fall against the gravity and centrifugal force, I nearly felt motion sick just watching. Our plan had been to head over another museum or possibly the Chapultepec palace afterwards, but as Matt had lost his will to live, we decided to seek food instead.

We took a taxi to the center square, no small feat as many of the major streets were closed for a protest by educators against ridiculous government reforms (it felt like North Carolina for a bit...) When we arrived, businesses around the square were just lowering their metal curtains and police in riot gear were getting into position. At the last moment, a man from a sixth floor restaurant asked us if we would like to come up and eat on the terrace. Oddly enough, I think it doubles as a men's club or something of the sort because the women were wearing laced bodices, high altitude heels and appeared particularly disappointed at our presence. In any case, the wind was heavenly, the views were stunning, and it was certainly the best venue for watching the protest.

I think there is something to be said for choosing a square that is too small for your protest - it makes it look like there are more people. The central square in Mexico City is so large that even though there were about 800 people at the protest, it looked like a handful. It seemed even more ridiculous in comparison to the number of police and transit officers who were stationed around the perimeter. We got great views though, so it was well worth the overpriced meal.

Afterwards, we walked around and through the pedestrian zone where we saw a couple of fairly magnificent churches which were still small fry in comparison to the cathedral which was, unfortunately, closed. The area was busy but not packed and the walk to the end and back was enjoyable. We couldn't quite figure out how to get home since we had been warned not to hail a taxi cab and didn't know if the metro was safe but we couldn't find a taxi stand. Finally, I got tired enough that death seemed a small price to pay for the possibility of getting home.

So, we have had some pretty good touring so far - yesterday we went to the Frida Kahlo museum which was amazing. Then we ate dinner on the square in Coyoacan...where, unfortunately (or hilariously depending on who you ask) the waiter spilled an entire tray of beer on my head. I've been less soaked after swimming. The meal was good, despite my sticky and soaking condition but, to my surprise, they still charged us for the beer. Matt stepped in and explained the ridiculous nature of the charges until they were willing to give up and give in.

I had really been looking forward to the beer because just before we left for the center, Violet managed to get herself locked in the bathroom in our apartment. The small window in the bathroom only opened about 3" and I had to stand on the kitchen counter and tell her soothing stories while Pepe went to the car, brought back a flat head screw driver, and removed the door from the hinges to let her out.

Needless to say, we have an open door bathroom policy now.

Tomorrow, we have an appointed at the Luis Barragan house museum and hopefully will get to see the Chapultepec Palace.

We sent Matt up to his room laden with water bottles. Wish us luck!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Morelia and the People in the Street

We are in Morelia today. We left at the crack of dawn…or at least by 11:00. We stopped by the Ya Dijo taco place and the chicharron tacos were exactly as divine as I remember them being. The tortillas, made there as you order, are as close to perfect as it is possible to get and the filling just melts in your mouth (and all over your hands!) The personalities are as strong and fresh as the tacos, the husband and wife team have been on the same street corner for 30 years and she says he must be addicted to her because he keeps complaining but he always comes back!

We bought dinner for a boy who asked us for food. He is probably Jack’s age and he wasn’t asking for money, he asked if we would buy him some food. I asked him if he wanted enchiladas and he immediately said yes. Pepe asked if he wanted chicken and he said whatever we thought to do. I took him up to the lady working at the food stand so that she would know that he could order and that we would pay. He was so hungry, he ate the food without question while Violet complained of being hungry and rejected the food that we gave her. 

At the bar later that night, after wishing there was more that I could do for that boy, a woman winding thread placed on my shoulder a looped bundle she had wrapped around her fingers like a lock of hair. I didn’t know what she wanted from me, but she quickly reeled off two more rounds of the stuff for Pepe and for Matt. We gave her a peso for her thread and she continued happily along, winding, winding, winding. 

A man, bent nearly double with age was searching in the trash cans for aluminum and plastic bottles. We watched him for some time as he went from bin to bin with a walking stick and his right angle gait. I couldn’t help but think that at some point he was five and ran like children do, with his whole life before him. After paying our bill I took fifteen pesos to him. “Hey uncle!” I called to him, “so you can get yourself a soda, if you’d like.” I handed him the money and his face lifted in a smile, my hand on his back and I felt the bones of his shoulder blade as it jutted against his skin. He blessed me and crossed himself. 

I can see Pepe as he watches these people and recognizes their lives from the inside. Watching a child selling gum and he remembers being 10 and selling chiclets in front of the Luz del Mundo temple in Guadalajara. Looking at the child eating dinner we bought and he remembers a drunken father and the feel of hunger. I don’t like to say no when people ask for money and so I most often do not. I walk around with loose pesos so that I can give them away. I could give 100 people one peso per day and have done something helpful. 

Why not? 

I wanted to take that boy home and let him sleep in a bed, eat good food, and worry about unimportant things. I wanted to take that old man home and let him sit with his feet up and bring him his dinner. I wanted to take the woman giving thread home and give her something shiny and a safe place to watch the world through her child’s mind. 

I saw a rat and I wanted to give it a crumb. I saw a dog and I wished I had some scraps. 

It’s not possible to help every creature, I know. But as I listened to the mariachi on the street corner, and the ribald songs of the cafe racer motorcycle club - who were, by the way, hauling around Mexico’s second largest telescope in private hands and used it to show us the rings of saturn and the four moons of jupiter - it seemed, more than ever, that I might at least be able to do my part.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Break On Through to the Other Side

There. It’s done. We have finally crossed the border into Mexico and, once again, managed to avoid all of the horrible things that people warn us about. We weren’t bribed, beaten by the police, shot, sold drugs, or overcome by explosive diarrhea. We navigated the passage easily enough, paid our fees to have a permission sticker for our car, and went to the bus station to wait for our nephew Jorge and his girlfriend Yazmin. They would have gotten there about 11:30 except for the earlier bus from Guadalajara, the one they had originally decided to take, crashed horribly on the road. So, Mexico hasn’t changed.

We left my brothers house around 5:30 this morning, he was in rare form and I laughed until I cried as we pulled away. I consoled myself with a cup of the world’s weakest coffee and some of the best buttermilk doughnuts that money (or love) can buy. Just before we left, Violet finally lost one of her front teeth; one that has been hanging on by only the barest memory of a physical connection. Pepe put it in his pocket so that we could put it under her pillow for the tooth fairy when my brother suggested, not unreasonably, that Pepe might not want to cross the border with a little girl’s tooth in his pocket.

The trip to the border was completely uneventful. After finally managing to collect our family, we spent 6 hours driving to Matehuala in San Luis Potosi where we almost always stay when we are driving through. Actually 100% of the time we have stayed there and at a hotel called Las Palmas. This time, we were almost out of luck because some sort of massive volleyball event is occurring in the not just sleepy, but positively narcoleptic town. There was one room left, it had not been rented because there is a leak in the ceiling. However, the leak is not over the beds and we are. We like this hotel because the rooms are large and clean, there is a very nice pool, it is directly on the road we travel on (and yet quiet!) has a restaurant and a fantastic playground. We ate way too much while the kids played on the playground equipment and made new friends. 

For dinner, Violet, as usual, ate nothing. Jack and Pepe had ceviche. I ordered fajitas but ate so much of this really good appetizer that we ordered that I was barely able to eat the food at all. It was something called 'cabuche a la Mexicana' with cabuche being the flower of the cactus. It had a wonderful smokey flavor to it with a hint of bitter. I ate more than I should and washed it down with an ice cold Negra Modela. In other words, it was a success. 

The kids are bedded down on an air mattress while the adults enjoy the luxury of actual beds; that's the price they pay for so brazenly flaunting their youth. 

Tomorrow, we will make the rest of the drive to Guadalajara.

I am exhausted. Pictures will have to wait until I have a better internet connection...

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Peacocks of Austin

I did not realize there was a significant peacock population in Austin. I absolutely adore peacocks...and for me, even one peacock is a significant population, so you can imagine how happy I was to find myself at a park in which there were at least 15 of the creatures wandering around. The males were doing what they do best, wandering around in glorious iridescence with brains the size of shrunken soy beans vibrating their tail feathers at a frequency designed to communicate 'hey baby, can I fertilize your eggs and then abandon you?" It is hard to resist such a plea. I also can't resist taking their pictures even though every one of them looks exactly the same AND there are more photographs of peacocks than there are actual peacocks. In any case, it's this kind of thing that makes Austin so cool.

If only it weren't so g-d hot. It could do with a reduction in real estate prices too. The neighborhood that my brother lives in, Crestwood, is a cute little thing with a bunch of 2 bedroom/1 bathroom houses built in the 50s and now going for $300k+. That stings. The parks here are great though and there are so many adorable places to eat. Yesterday had breakfast at the Taco Deli and this morning had banana muffins that actually tasted like bananas. There's a place specializing in doughnuts that opens at 7:30 at night for some reason, and yet that is perfect timing because we needed them exactly then to get ready for our big drive tomorrow.

We got a babysitter for the evening and the four of us (Pepe, me, my brother, and his wife) went out to eat at a place called Contigo which is just this side of pretentious. If the food weren't so good, I don't think I would have forgiven them for it. I had rabbit with dumplings and it was divine, despite the carrots (something I'm still not convinced is a food) and we shared a bunch of different munchies, the best of which was cauliflower in gruyere and that is not normally the kind of thing I would expect to find exciting. We shared a bell jar of pecan mousse and it was better than it should have been. Unfortunately, I chose that moment to visit the bathroom and when I came back my brother had eaten all the candied pecans. I guess that's karma though since I engaged in quite a candied pecan holocaust at my friend Matt's house in Savannah.

We're mostly prepared to hit the road tomorrow. I'm drying a last minute load of laundry and once that's done, we can pack the suitcase in the car. We have the alarm set for 4:45 in the morning to get us out of here at 5:00...we won't be pretty, but we'll be moving. It is about 5 1/2 hours to the border from here and we'll be crossing at the Lincoln-Juarez bridge. Our nephew Jorge and his girlfriend Yoselin (?) will be meeting us on the other side and we will cram everybody into the car and get as far as we can. After we stop for the night, the next day we will drive all the way to Guadalajara! Matt, of the candied pecans, will be saving himself a lot of trouble by arriving in a plane only one day after we do, hopefully his trip will be more restful than ours has been.

I won't have access to the internet until Sunday night, so you'll just all have to wait with bated breath for the next stage in this adventure.

Oh...and the kids have, shall we say, matured a bit during the trip.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Harrowing Night in Louisiana

I have to admit that Louisiana has never been a state that has conjured up anything particularly positive for me. It's the thing in between me and Texas (which is the thing in between me and Mexico), although it's not Arkansas so it does have that going for it.

It took us a lot longer to get to our campground in LA than we thought and for some reason traffic snarls were a-plenty on the interstates so we didn't get in until about 10:30. First we stopped for dinner at a place called Boudreaux & Thibedeaux Cajun Cuisine. The decor was cute, but the food was fairly worthless. I imagine that we ordered the wrong thing - most of the people there seemed to have big silver trays filled with crawfish and buckets to throw the husks in. We ordered other things and ate every bit of them because we were hungry. I took a picture of the place in case I ever got deluded enough to think I should go back.

Our GPS, who hates us, sent us 16 miles down a dirt road. Just when we were starting to lose hope we found the entrance to the camp site and, luckily for us, the gate was open so we drove in. When we got to the site we had reserved, the tent pad was an island in a flooded marsh. So, we pitched our tent on the paved driveway and called it in for the night.

The frogs were cantankerous and I wore my ear plug to block out the fierce poetry they were reciting at the very tippy top of their amphibious lungs. The ear plug wasn't enough to block out the sound of the howling wind and the explosive thunder. At 1:00 in the morning, the whole tent started to shake and sway; the ceiling moved over to a position that would normally be occupied by a wall and the center of the inner canopy collapsed. The wind sounded like the roar of the fans at a world cup soccer match and swirled around our little tent like a tidal wave. The kids were asleep on either side of the tent and we were in the middle and it was only the weight of our bodies that prevented the tent from disappearing completely. I imagined we would awake to find ourselves stripped of tent, clothing, and possibly the out layer of our skin.

In short, it was terrifying.

The next soggy, sloshy day I had a cracking headache for the entire day. I spent it sitting on the dock behind our campsite, rubbing my temples and watching the alligators pretend to be logs. One of them got caught by an alligator trap while we were out watching. An orange pool noodle that must have been bated with catfish suddenly snapped its steel trap shut and the alligator twisted it around in its effort to perform the dance of death. Unable to free itself from the ghastly metal works, the alligator floated away with the pool noodle oddly bobbing just above it. It seemed a tragedy, but I couldn't exactly say why.

The alligators were beautiful, I thought they would just be a muddy green but actually they were golden with black spots and stripes and eyes like amber. They seemed vaguely interested in us, in other words you could tell that people had fed them before. Once they didn't receive any enticing gestures of food throwing, they turned lazily away and continued floating around the rivers. We also saw a water snake pretending to be a stick floating in the stream...except that the water was flowing in the opposite direction of his movement, so it didn't fool us!

Jack immediately became best friends with the children of the people at the next camp site, Violet studiously avoided speaking directly to anyone despite being desperately interested. The camp hosts who had a silver airstream in the lot across from us had a string of hummingbird feeders and the diminutive fliers were busily sucking down nectar and chirping obstreperously.

In the evening, we ate with our neighbors who had been kind of enough to take our kids fishing and had caught enough catfish to share their dinner. None of us knew what the weather was going to be like, so they invited us to knock on their camper door if things turned ugly. Luckily, it was a peaceful evening.

When I get hot and humid, I go a little crazy. Louisiana in the morning was everything I hate about the summer time and so rather than eat breakfast, I set about immediately packing everything up to get us out of there. It's lucky too because it turned as dark as night and hail began to pound the earth - the winds were gusting at 60 mph when we left. We were concerned that we would only just get away from this storm in time to be caught in the flooding in Austin, but that had largely resided and the majority of our trip was sunny and easy.

My brother's trip home wasn't as easy as our and his flight, which would have gotten him home just after midnight last night, was cancelled and so he didn't make it home until 11:00 this morning. We spent the day working and in the evening ordered some great food and complained about local real estate prices.

Just before bed, we all gathered around to listen to Rammstein and Outkast while the kids danced, their 14 month old Vivien can really rock out. Now, it's late (10:00) and I'm ready for bed. I'm reading Lolita by Nabokov and it is intensely creepy, but hopefully it won't bother my dreams. Tomorrow I may go the gym (and pigs may fly)...

Good night!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

We Begin

Really it should read, 'we began' because we started out on Thursday and it's Saturday now, but if you are going to be hung up on those kinds of details, this might not be the most satisfying forum for you...

The first leg of our journey took us to Savannah, GA to visit our friend Matt at his super cool condo. I didn't even think about the fact that it was Memorial day weekendish and so it took us approximately as long to get to Savannah as the first trip to the moon. Traffic was at a dead stop on two separate interstates and we managed to get ourselves involved in both.

When we finally got into Savannah, Violet had a fever of 101. Pepe got her some tylenol at the pharmacy and by the morning she was largely better. I think it might be related to these two front teeth that are extremely loose but that refuse to take the final leap and come out of her mouth. One of them is sticking out at 90 degrees and the others are coming in behind them. It's a bit backwoods West Virginia looking if you ask me.

Matt made us a wonderful pasta dinner and a salad with toasted pecans that I could have eaten by the bucketful. The next day we sat outside most of the day on his balcony and looked at the shrimping boats on the intercostal waterway while I did my writing for Then we ate another fabulous lunch of linguini and fresh caught shrimp.

At about 3:30 we headed out for Tallahassee for our next stop with Pepe's brother Rafael and sister-in-law Berta. When we got here, the grill was already fired up and the guacamole ready. We've got good food timing...

Pepe has helped them with a lot of work on their house: a really cool bar and a wonderful outdoor kitchen. Tallahassee spring weather is so rewarding and after sufficiently lathering myself with bug spray, we had a great time talking and drinking and eating and eating again. I kept up until about 1:30 am and then I went off to sleep. When I woke up (late!) Pepe and Rafael had already gone off to Home Depot to get some stuff to work on tiles for the backsplash in their kitchen.

We were treated to a lunch of handmade tortillas hot off the comal, crispy on the outside and filled with grilled chicken and guacamole. After lunch, the guys started work and I took Violet to Lake Ella where Pepe and I used to walk around all the time when we first met and when Jack was just a baby. Violet and I decided to come up with terrible names for people's pets. Our best work was:

Mini Air Conditioning Unit
Rat Bladder
Dirt in My Eye
Frog Face
A Tree Fell on My Head
Lizard Butt
I Picked Up a House with Weak Muscles
Dead Possum
I Got Squished by a  Pole
Gravel Head

We were laughing so hard that my stomach hurts. She is funny! I don't know where she got that from...

We also drove around Tallahassee to see some of the places I used to 'haunt' back in the day. The place has changed a lot. Some of the places don't exist any more...or possibly I couldn't find them because I have never been accused of having the most finely tuned directional sense. There has been a lot of construction downtown too, many taller buildings put up. There's still not really any place to walk and window shop though.

By the afternoon it was hot enough to remind me why Florida becomes unbearable in the summer. It's 5:30 now and I'm sitting in the shade sweating (I'm so pretty!)

Tonight we are going to eat Posole which is a fantastic hominy soup that Berta makes and that I love. This will add to the protective layer of fat I'm developing.