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.