Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fiesta Wear

The cohetes (skyrockets) began shooting upward and exploding at about 4:30 a.m. It's the Día de La Virgen de Gudalupe, celebrating México's Patron Saint.

The Mole Circuit* has started up again with the beginning of December, and we're riding it, but somewhat reluctantly. Fiestas are fun but they also wear us out. There have been so many fiestas (many of them celebrating weddings), that I've decided to just make a digest of those we attended. I'll give more detail about the first one, then compact the others.

*Really, it should be called the Barbacoa Circuit, becuase the local variant of barbacoa is the most popular main dish for serving a crowd. Here, it's a huge stew of calf meat cooked in a light chile gravy.

It's not that we don't enjoy a festive occasion, with merry families and friends gathering to toast the happy couple. A more important reason is that full participation requires steadily drinking Tequila, brandy and an occasional cerveza for relief. It's true, there is Fresca or Coca, but those are mere vehicles for the hard stuff. All that booze often results in declarations of undying friendship, seasoned with jovial, manly insults. It's machismo at work, supported by an alcohol-induced fog.

Our first boda of December was on the 5th, a civil ceremony wedding at Tzintzuntzan, followed by a merry, tipsy feast at Ucazanastacua.

The drinking and toasting began early, on the steps of La Presidencia (county courthouse) in Tzintzuntzan immediately after all the extensive papeleo (paperwork) was completed. The ceremony was conducted by a young, lady judge. I noted that she mentioned in her advisory remarks to the couple the importance of family planning.

After an hour or two, we headed out of the town for the drive along the winding lake shore cornice road to Ucazanastacua. The name comes from the Purhépecha language, and means something like "tiny place with a gorgeous view."

We hombres were separated from the mujeres, and we entered the lower level patio first, and
were seated at long, trestle tables. The customary shower of confetti was dusted over our heads and shoulders by pretty muchachas. (At least, they looked pretty to my fogged brain.)

There were a limited number of chairs, so many of us hard case types sat on long beams, covered with newspapers, and supported by stone and brick cairns.

We were well supplied with bottles of Tequila and Fresca or Kas (a tart, grapefruit soda which I do like) were brought out, and the drinking and toasting started anew. It would have been rude not to join in, ¿no es verdad? Fortunately, it wasn't too long before the food arrived.

I'll skip over the food details, but this meal did include mole de pollo, corundas, a thin caldo de pollo and the inevitable rice and tortillas.

The appearance of long-necked bottles of Cerveza Victoria (a favorite) falsely signalled a withdrawal from the hard stuff, so I accepted a bottle. I'd scarcely had a few sips, when a bottle of Tequila Sauza appeared. My new amigo told me that I should taste it for its superior qualities, but I passed. Then came a bottle of brandy to mix with Cokes. I passed on that also. I held my plastic cup of Fresca in a tight grip.

Doña Cuevas and I were ready to leave, but our amiga, María, said that we needed to stay until "la fruta" was brought out. Before long, men and women, bearing large platters of half pollos con mole y arroz, and baskets and even crates of fruits, waggle-danced in a line around the tables.
Yes! It was the long awaited Chicken Dance, plus fruit. This time I was there to capture it on video of sorts. See below. It was pretty cool.

The air was also getting pretty cool as the sun dipped toward the mountains on the opposite shore. We gathered up our riders and started back toward the van, 100 yards up the road. One of María's sisters was the big winner of a large, uncovered platter heaped with mole con pollo (in this instance, more like pollo with mole). I was dreading having it along in our vehicle. But then she covered it with a plastic bag. Even better, a colectivo combi van pulled up, and she and her children got on.
(That photo of a combi is, of course, not what they really look like here. But I used it because it's colorful.)

We gathered our few passengers for the drive home in the dark.
The trip was slow, as we had to watch for ladies standing chatting in the road, topes and road paving machines, still working away.

We dropped off our riders at their house. After we left,we decided to limit our participation in these events to a select few, only within walking distance of home.

As we drove up our street, we saw young Sra. Irma pushing her daughter Vanessa in a stroller up the roughly paved street. She hailed us, and handed us an envelope, and verbally invited us to her wedding on January 3, at the La Capilla de Las Cuevas. We expressed regrets that we couldn't attend, as we'd be away. ¡Lástima!

Coming up next, El Día de La Virgen de Guadalupe, on December 14th.
You've seen the photos from 2006. The ones from 2008 are similar. (I noted some minor differences in serving trays.) I didn't even drink a beer!

Next, we accepted an invitation to the Wedding of the Year, Sra Lupe, Sra Chucha's sister; and Sr Fernando's daughter, Montserrat will get married to Javier on the 20th of December. It was easy, right down the street from us. It was also well organized, with a seamless transition from the church to the outdoor dining area. Of course, they are only about 200 feet apart.
My score: 1 cerveza, 1 shot of Tequila.

More: Magdalena's quinceañera (15 year old girl's coming out ceremony and party), just down the road, on December 25. Just keep clicking the forward arrow for more pics.
I went to that yesterday, while la Sra. C. stayed home to nurse a cold. The Mass ran late, but the music and singers were especially good.
My score: 1 cerveza.
(Food note: the barbacoa was chopped instead of served in chunks, which made it much easier to eat. It's usually quite a challenge to cut pieces of meat off the bone with a plastic soup spoon in one hand and a rolled tortilla in the other.)
(I want to make special mention of the papas fritas and paletas vendors, who not only sell outside the church, but also in the forecourt, and mingle with the guests, hawking their delicacies.)
There's another wedding, I think on the 28th, of Srta. Amparo and her young man from Las Vegas. But we won't be here.

Then the Irma and Ramón wedding on January 3.
These fiestas have been fun, but tiring, and I'm looking forward to Lent, some 40 days of relative self-denial.

A few days ago, I discovered an envelope on the porch that held an invitation to another wedding the next day, in Coenembo, across the ridges to the northeast of us. We stayed home and rested.

(I haven't mentioned the bailes, held in the evenings, after the comidas.
Another day, another post. These highly amplified extravaganzas shatter the nighttime tranquility. I think it will be quieter in a Mexico City hotel.)

¡Próspero Año Nuevo!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Smell of the Paint, the Lure of the Hardware

We finally visited the Ace Hardware store in Morelia yesterday. We first heard of it a few years ago, when someone was looking for canning jars and lids. We'd passed it a few times when driving along the Avenida Acueducto in search of culinary and other pleasures.

I must be honest. Do-it-yourself projects are not in my repertoire. I do enjoy visiting the amazing, seemingly cluttered ferreterías of Pátzcuaro, grouped conveniently about la Plaza Chica for the most part. They are a time machine back into the hardware stores of my youth, but in Spanish.

Nothing therein is self-service. It's a studied ritual of waiting at the counter for help; waiting while the employee looks for the item, often back in the bodega, then comes back with the item(s). If you decide to buy it, they give you a ticket which you take to the cashier's window, where you wait a moment, pay, get ticket slip stamped, return to the pickup window, where your purchse is waiting upon surrender of the pagado ticket.

Ace Hardware Morelia is a bright, modern store with shiny fixtures, broad aisles and gadgets that gringos like. It also has at least one cheerfully helpful saleswoman who goes out of her way to assist you.

At Ace Hardware, you checkout as in a supermarket; your purchases are scanned; credit and debit cards are accepted, and off you go, out the automatic doors.

We entered hoping to find Rid-X, which they didn't have, but left with two metal flyswatters, a hanging soap dish for the kitchen sink, suction cup hooks and a 40 foot retractable clothesline reel.

We ran the gauntlet of tempting 1/2 gallon (and smaller sized) canning jars, canning lids; frying splatter shields, OXO kitchen tools, barbecue and grill tools, heavy duty fireplace gloves; Coleman Camp Stoves and fuel, and too many more items to list here.

This morning I started to think about where inside the house to mount the retractable clothesline reel and quickly eliminated most locations as inappropriate and awkward. I finally found one spot in the second bedroom (which is also my computer room.) where we might get 10 feet of the line extended. I also realized the almost the same thing could be accomplished with some clothesline and two hooks drilled and screwed into the wall. Cost of lesson: about $30 USD. (However it's retractable. Wow.)

But it was possibly worth it for the entertainment value of visiting an American style hardware store in Morelia.

Avenida Acueducto # 3175 A,
Colonia Matamoros C.P. 58240
Tel: (443) 315 8161

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Two Years in Las Cuevas

August 3 was a red letter day for us. It marked the second anniversary of our life here in el campo, specifically, in La Casa de Gloria en Las Cuevas.

To celebrate, we made a party for our neighbors and friends on Saturday, August 2nd. They have been so friendly to us and had shown us many kindnesses.

We had no idea how many people would show up; we estimate from 25 to 75. As it turned out, we had about 35 guests. Our neighbors, Sra. Chucha and Sr. Mateo lent us tables and chairs, as did our neighbors on the other side, the venerable Sra. Jesús and Sra. Praxedes. Our Alabama American neighbors brought us a tent and 2 chairs. We were set. Guests began to arrive at 2:15 and by 2:25 all were present

The menu was simplified from a similar party from December 10th, 2006:
Two salads, 4-bean or Italian coleslaw; pasta mushroom and cheese bake; pizzas. We also served soft drinks and beer was available, but almost no one took a beer.

The expected tormenta de lluvias arrived, but we were dry under the entryway where the guests gathered.

When it was over, Susan and I were tired yet happy. It was worth the work.

I'll give more details of the pizzas and recipes for the salads on my food blog, My Mexican Kitchen. (coming soon).

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Street Corner Economics

Here is an observation, made without judgement.

I was waiting yesterday at the corner of Calle Iturbe y La Paz by the pila (water tower) at Pátzcuaro's Plaza Chica. A cab pulled up, the driver got out, and after some difficulty with the key, unlocked the trunk. Meanwhile, his only passenger, a lady of some years, also got out of the car.

They both began to unload several items from the trunk, including a large metal pot, of the type used to steam tamales, a charcoal brazier, a plastic pail containing a pineapple and several other small items, and a few things I don't specifically recall.
She dropped a few coins in the driver's hand.

So much remains unknown to me, but my immediate reaction was to wonder what kind of sales she could achieve to justify a taxi ride, and not take the less expensive combi. From her cook ware, it would seem likely that she was going to vend tamales y atole, although the hour, about 11:30 a.m. seemed odd for those foods. Usually that spot is occupied by a tamales vendor in the morning, and at about 5 in the afternoon, by one or two of the atole de grano ladies, who seem to have cornered that location for the evenings. (Fortunately for us, who appreciate their quintessential soup of rough
corn seasoned with anicillo.)

In the end, I realize that I have almost no grasp of street corner economics nor of economics in general.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Tale of Two, no, Three, no, Four Comidas

Do I hear FIVE??

We have just emerged with chile stained fingers from another round of fiestas and their attendant comidas. The big, really big fiesta time is, of course at Christmas. Two or more weeks of visiting, eating barbacoa, mole and sopa seca de arroz.

The impetus behind this semi-minor round of parties on the carnitas and mole circuit here was the end of the school terms. These are not celebrated in an "efficient", North of the Border way, like all at once, but extended over as long a period as possible to extract maximum enjoyment.

This period of fiestas and comidas also falls during an optimum time, when the "Summer People" (as I call them) have come for a visit, "del otro lado", that is, taking time off from their jobs in the U.S. to come home. The Summer People are really the local people, but those who went north to work and improve their fortunes. Some have been gone from here as many as 18 years.

Our fiesta and comida schedule started a week ago last Friday, on the 20th of June, with a Mass followed by a big tent party in celebration of a a pair of kids who had attained their third birthday. There were carnitas, soda and beer, then later, cake (which we didn't stay for.)

Last weekend, the Fiesta Circuit ratcheted up: Friday night we went to a pre-graduation/birthday pig pickin' at the house of Rubén and Isabel. The affable mechanic Rubén gave us a warm welcome, then filled our bowls with heaps of pozole. We could have had carnitas instead, but it seemed prudent to avoid those meaty morsels a couple of hours before bedtime.

Saturday evening brought a change of pace and of tastes; an expat party. Susan D invited us at to a birthday party for her husband, Doug, at their lovely new house. That was principally an expat gathering. Guests contributed a wide array of tasty dishes dear to us, the extranjeros. I brought a sort of Cheese and Salami Pizza Bread and a jug of Ginger Beer.

Restored by this contact with "home base", we launched into the Sunday final stretch with renewed vigor.

But a minor social crisis loomed over us. Both my wife, Susan and I had separately accepted invitations to two different comidas a half mile or less apart. We gave the original one priority, and enjoyed a terrific mole made by Señora Carmelina, as well as a tasty sopa seca de arroz. That was at the house of young Sra. Irma and her husband Sr, Ramón, just down the street.

By eating wisely (for once!), then excused ourselves with thanks, to walk up to our second fiesta at the house of Sra. Paz and Sr. Daniel. We made it inside even as freshet of rain broke upon us. We were greeted by more salutations and familiar faces, including those of Rubén and Isabel. I accepted a beer, but Susan couldn't eat anything. Various guests came and left, and then our hosts seated themselves in front of us, and we learned the various family relationships of people we knew and those new to us. This subject requires long and laborious study to fully grasp, assisted by a Cerveza Corona or two.

La Señora Paz made sure that we didn't leave her house empty handed. After we went out and admired their garden, she brought us a substantial bowl of mole de pollo and arroz, topped with a few tortillas.

Now we can rest from fiestas and comidas, with the exception of next Saturday, when we will fire up the charcoal grill in honor of El Día de La Independencia de Los Estados Unidos, and welcome back our neighbors, Geni and Larry.

Then we have a month to prepare for the fiesta and comida we will host for the community in celebration of our two years living here and in appreciation for their amiable kindnesses. It will be a pizza party plus. No mole. I leave the making of that to the cocineras expertas.

For you ladies, here are instructions from another website as to "How To Dress For A Mexican Fiesta". You can take these with several granos de sal.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

¡Menudo Free Delivery!

Our ranchito in Michoacán, México gets quite a few vendor vehicles serving the area with bread, tortillas, fruits and vegetables, cleaning supplies, and groceries in general. They usually have taped spiels (Sometimes intelligible, more often not) accompanied by music. It's very charmingly old fashioned.

Just now was a first for me. I heard the music and announcement of a loudspeaker. I went out to see what it was. Our landlady, Sra. Chucha, was buying menudo de becerro (Calve's tripes in chile broth) from another woman who had it in a large pot in the trunk of her car. The customers bring their own containers. The actual tripe pieces, rather gray and unattractive, sat off to the side in a large bowl. I don't know what it cost, as it didn't ignite my appetite. I didn't particularly like the smell, either. But it was the first time I'd seen Menudo Free Delivery out here in el campo.

My previous posts on "Confronting Menudo" are here.

(Today's menudo wasn't as attractive as that in the photo above.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Chicken Dance, Part 3

The Management of this blog regrets to inform its readers that there will be no Chicken Dance in this episode. There will, instead, be a Bull Dance.)

After passing the carved portals of the Salon Diana, showered with confetti, we stood in awe at the upper tier of the site. Along the wall to our back was the small kitchen, which would somehow feed and assuage the thirsts of an estimated 500 guests. While waiting, the visitors could snack on churros, papitas (delicious thick potato chips), or nieves y helados. With the exception of the nieves seller, who was limited in range by his cart, the others wandered about freely in the venue, mingling with the merrymakers, and keeping starvation at bay. We bought some papitas.

Below, the vast cavern sloped down in gradual tiers. I'll make a wild estimate that it is at least 50 meters wide by 150 meters long, with a ceiling ranging from 3 meters to 15 meters in height. (Please, don't hold me to this.)
I'll also wildly estimate that there were 50 to 75 long tables, each capable of holding 8 guests easily. The folding chairs were notably comfortable.

The Pastel de Boda stood on a pedestal at the far end of the hall. It was unusually spare and elegant. I assumed that the caterers had a few full sheet cakes in reserve, as that cake wouldn't serve more than 35-50 guests.

María made sure to point out the location of the baños, down and to the right of the Pastel de Boda, in their own semi-subterranean crypt. I had to be careful to duck my head when stepping down under the low hung lintel. Inside, the facilities were basic but clean and functional.

Enough statistics.

We were entertained by a small but wild band, who played the loopy, merry, even frenetic music; the tuba holding down the bass line, while clarinets, and brass instruments wheedled and noodled the manic melodies in a crashing cacophony of cymbals. I was somewhat reminded of the tone and tenor of Klezmer music.

A beefily built jóven held a small set of bulls horns at waist level and made a show by dancing a repetition of tight steps as the band and banner-waving women circled, keeping up with his macho display. They moved from outside to the Salon, where the women's increased efforts to "capture" him finally succeeded and "ensnared" him with long scarves or cloth streamers.
Dr. Freud would have enjoyed.

We took seats at a table in the upper tiers, far from the blasts of the band down by the Pastel de Boda. The table was set with a paper tablecloth, adorned with two miniature, wooden donkey or ox carts, each holding a green potted plant. Napkins nested in a little "tiara" servilletero. There were tortilla baskets with little lace rings around the waist. Very sweet.

Waiters began to fan out into the hall; first distributing cervezas, 2.5 liter bottles of Coca o Fresca, then plastic bowls of lightly pickled sliced vegetables. These were carrots, potatoes, jícama, onion, a very little chile, and the Número Uno Coveted Prize: Pickled Chicken Feet! That was as close as we got to a Chicken Dance, due to our premature departure. I willingly gave up my chicken feet to Sra. Chucha, who greatly enjoyed them.

Hot, foil wrapped stacks of tortillas came and were duly nested in the dainty baskets. Then unwrapped corundas of an unusual yellowish hue and a coarser than normal texture. Heavy but good.

After we toasted each other with our Coronas or Victorias, filling up on corundas, nibbling pickles and chicken feet, glomming an extra, unclaimed bowl from an adjacent table, the main course began emerging from the kitchen.

At first, the distribution system was made of of enthusiastic volunteers, forming a "bucket brigade" and passing plates one at a time from hand to hand.
Points for good will, points off for inefficient use of personnel. :-)

Then waiters took over, carrying several plates on the large, round pot lids; then they caught fire, loading up an entire table with plated food and schlepping the whole table down into the hall. ¡Bravo!

And the band played on, a loud, weird, disharmonious cacophony. We were content to sit as far away as possible.

Our main course arrived: "Churipo", as it is called locally, does not fit the classic definition of churipo, but that's what it was and is here; a very simplified stew of beef in red chile broth, without vegetables. We've had it similarly prepared at La Fiesta de La Virgen de Guadalupe, here in Las Cuevas.

We also had a very simple sopa seca de arroz. Surprisingly, after eating one serving, half the stodgy rice, and two tortillas, we were full.

I was running out of energy, so we said our good-byes, leaving the chicken dance and a slice of Pastel de Boda to the lucky and hardy majority who stayed. Our companions started divvying up the table favors; the tortillas in the basket, the oxcarts with plants, and we settled for the plastic napkin holder.
Estuvo una boda inolvidable, y les agradecemos por la experiencia.

(Now, I don't have to ever do it again. Unless the children of friends are getting married.)

Just one last thought: what do the newlyweds do with all those nut and candy dishes that they received from 500+ guests?)

This just in: I was searching for ways to use capulines, a sort of small wild cherry, and I came across this "paper" written by Robert V. Kemper of SMU,, Dallas, Texas, on "FOOD IN TZINTZUNTZAN, MICHOACÁN, MEXICO: TRADITIONS AND TRANSFORMATIONS", with intriguing references to geographical locations such as Sanabria and Chapultepec, two places which which we are quite familiar.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Chicken Dance, Part 2

On arriving at Tzintzuntzan, we easily found parking near the Presidencia. The siren's song was a taco stand, wafting tempting smells of onions and sizzling beef from across from where we'd parked. Little Alejandro was already hungry, so he, María, Amparo and Socorro each ate a few (about 3 each) tacos. With hindsight, I now realize that they knew something we didn't. To survive a big fiesta, you fortify yourself in the early stages.

We then strolled onto the beautiful church grounds amidst gathering wedding guests and slow-moving strings of guided tour groups.

Then we waited. The Padre had not arrived yet. After about 30 minutes, I went back to the gate to a tienda de abarrotes (small Mom 'n Pop grocery) and bought some cacahuates enchilados and a delicious "Doblón" snack cake to tide me over. It would be several hours before we'd eat again.

The Padre arrived, and he blessed the congregation, sprinkling all with Holy Water. La Misa proceeded well, with a chorus in the loft. It turned out to be a sincere and enthusiastic group of young mariachis. The wedding was an emotionally moving experience for me, as it always is. The whole ceremony lasted less than an hour.

We then gathered outside again to wait. The wait was made interesting by conversations I struck up with the mariachis, and with a young man, originally from Puebla, who's worked in Seattle for many years. We chatted variously, especially about pulque, its varieties and its health benefits. He claimed that his abuela lived to the age of 133, crediting her longevity to daily pulque consumption.

Una jarra de pulque

The Pulque drinkers

After perhaps 30 minutes, we left the church grounds and ambled along the streets of Tzintzuntzan to a small building, probably a tortillería, across from the PRD (a political party: "Partido Revolucionario Demócrato") offices, where chairs and light refreshments awaited us.

Then we waited. A long time. About 2 hours. It felt like more.
Time passed like inspecting lentils for pebbles.

Studying the surroundings. Cardboard wall partition to the right.
Chatting about making pizzas.
Going to the semi-open
baño at the back of the still under construction building.
Wandering out to the street for relief from the occasional fumes of insecticide drifting in.
Looking at the several attractive women among the various others waiting.
Going out for snacks. (see below.)
Turning down offers of Tequila being passed down the line by our gracious hosts.
Another store, across the street, held more waiting guests. They also waited in chairs along the sidewalk.

After more waiting, the newlywed's party finally arrived, banners waving. While everyone else went to the Salón de Eventos La Diana, we walked the 6 or 8 blocks back to our car, in order to pick up the gifts.

Vendedoras with large baskets of pan dulce walked by, and we bought a few breads to hold off increasing hunger. I bought a largish flat brown bun that was too coarse and dry to eat without some beverage in which to dunk it.

Farther along, we were saved by a stand selling hot freshly cooked chicharrones—fried pork skins). They are in large, curly pieces and delicious with or without a dash of Valentina Salsa Picante. Hunger was relieved.

Good sense prevailed and we drove back streets to within one block of the Salón Diana. Maidens showered us from their baskets of confetti as we entered the impressively carved doors of the Salón. The huge interior, large enough for a livestock exposition, was beautifully decorated with festoons of white "stalactites" joined at the junctures by hearts. Far ahead in the semi-gloom I could see table after table. There may have been more than 50 long tables.

There were also several pre- main event diversions, which I'll discuss in "The Chicken Dance, Part 3"

The Chicken Dance, Part 1

I've said it before: you have to be strong to party with Mexicans. They have the fiesta thing down, while we extranjeros feebly struggle to keep up. Fiestas seldom happen as one off events. No, they at least come in pairs and more often than not, series of parties over a week or two.

For example, we'd been invited to a small family get together on Friday at the home of our neighbor, Sr., Jesús O. and his wife, Praxedes. Only 15 or 18 guests, family and friends, gathered to celebrate Sr. O.'s Día del Santo.

It was a nice, quiet, family affair, with home made mole de pollo y arroz, the ubiquitous 2.5 liter refrescos bottles, and some cookies and bread pudding that I'd made. Our tablemates and I conversed on Las Vegas, Nevada, its attractions and its downsides.

Ah! the first Cocteles Margaritas I'd ever seen served at a local party made an appearance. (It's those gringo influences, learned al Otro Lado, infitrating La Cultura Mexicana.) I will say, however, they were done in a distinctively local interpretation, served in vasos plásticos deshechables.

Later in this intimate gathering, our amiga, María de la Luz B. asked if we'd like to go to a dance the next day, in Tzintzuntzan. I didn't understand at first, thinking she wanted me to dance with her. If so, she was joking, as I have a well-deserved reputation for two left feet. Our landlady, Sra. "Chucha" B., seated next to me, further explained that there was to be a wedding at Tzintzuntzan on the morrow, and that we should attend. The big draw would be the performance of La Danza de Pollos.
Wow! The Chicken Dance???

I was, of course, intrigued. They sank the hooks deeper as they skillfully played the line, with mentions of The Cerveza Dance and the Dance of El Torito. The clincher was that these dances were unique to Tzintzuntzan (only a few miles away over the ridge or a bit longer by highway) and not available here, in Las Cuevas.

Who could resist?
"O.k.", I declared. "¡Estoy convencido!"

We made plans to pick them up for a ride
at 10:15 Saturday morning to the mass, scheduled for 11:00, and after to the festivities. (No one really believed that we'd really leave at such a ridiculously precise time, but we all went along with the concept.)

At 10:20 Saturday morning, Sra. Chucha was ready. María and son were not to be found. We rode down the street to the highway, turned towards María's house, and found her by el vado, walking towards us, with Sra. Amparo and her daughter, Socorro. After turning around, we stopped in front of the house of Sra. Lupe, one of Sra. Chucha's many sisters, and offered her a ride. The van was able to comfortably carry all as we'd put in the rear bench seat earlier in the week.

By 10:35, we were off towards Tzintzuntan's venerable churches, set in a lovely area of
ancient olive trees.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Upper Las Cuevas Cinema Society

I was reading Todd McIntosh's blog, "Life In The Corazón" about the launching of the new, deluxe, VIP Cinépolis theater at Morelia's Plaza Las Américas. I left a comment, one long enough to cause me to realize that it was really the beginning of an entry for this blog.

We haven't been to a movie (in a theater) since we moved to the area in September, 2005. It's not that we haven't tried, it's just that the selections on the playbill are so...unappealing.

I don't think that First-Class reclining chairs, with Crepas de Sushi a la Cajeta are a big enough draw for me. They have to get some decent, interesting films. I don't mean Alvin and The Chipmunks Take el DF. Also the ticket prices are at least the same, or higher, to what we were paying back in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Lately, on various bus trips to Mexico City and Oaxaca and back, the quality of on-board movies seems to be rising They're not just the stock, chop-socky: Predator, Rambo Meets The Vampire Gang, and Danny The Dog Gets a New Leash On Life. Now there are some love stories, family fare, and Becoming a Man Aboard a Sailing Ship In The Summer While Losing My Virginity. There was a pretty good movie, which we saw twice, about the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI in France. It had these little aeroplanes in it. That was cool, once.

Now Todd, if you and Shannon are old enough (60 years +), you can qualify for an INAPAM Senior Discount Credencial that will give you movie theater discounts as well as half price bus fares between cities. You don't look anywhere near old enough, but Wait!, When you qualify, you can take the AutoVías bus to Mexico City at 1/2 price, while watching two free movies, sipping your BOING! natural fruit drink or agua embotellada. Sometimes, there's a sandwich, too. This is something to look forward to. Trust me.
No, nosotros los extranjeros of Upper Las Cuevas have the pleasure of seasonal movies under the auspices of our peregrinating friends and neighbors, Larry and Geni. Larry has rigged a projector to his computer so that we may watch quirky Film Classics, often of the Noir genre, beamed onto the white-painted walls of their Sala Grande. We sit in Director's Chairs, with cup holders, and munch popcorn while watching a knockoff version of Casablanca, for example. These are incomparable, home-grown type cinema experiences. I really doubt that Cinépolis VIP can even come close to equalling these evenings with our friends next door.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Capuchinos, Cortados y Canciones de Pájaros

Yesterday, sitting in the Café La Lucha, off the Plaza in Uruapan, we were sipping capuchinos fríos and cafés "cortados" (really cafés Americanos with hot milk foam on top, as served there)

As we enjoyed the strong, flavorful coffee, we saw an old man walk in. He stood in front of the table nearest the door and began to make bird songs. His only instruments were his mouth and throat. His skill was remarkable.

After a while, he came to our table and entertained and delighted us for a few minutes. We gave him a modest tip, and he thanked us with blessings.

After he walked away, we realized what an opportunity we missed. Three of us had digital cameras with video and audio recording capability. We'd have gladly given him a more generous tip in order to record him doing "Lullaby of Birdland".

Due to our oversight, you, dear readers, will have to be content with a photo of a capuchino frío.

Below is a slideshow of photos taken last year, in Uruapan's Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruíz. More, and better ones from yesterday coming eventually to this site.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Spot; A Dog of the South

"Life in Mexico for the retired American is not all cerveza and totopos with your guacamole. But the rewards are worth the occasional annoyances."

A recurrent theme here is that sometimes there're bugs in the guacamole.

So it was with mild disgust that we learned on return from our trip to Oaxaca, that the outside of our brick perimeter wall was (dis)graced by a perro muerto. My immediate instinct was to ignore it, for the bichos y los zopilotes would soon consume it.

X Marked The SPOT

That was not the case. As the week passed, the odor grew more fetid. I considered burning it with gasoline, but that would leave a big stain on the wall.
I had some calcium carbide, used in old miner's lamps, but I doubted that was enough to have any positive action.

Finally, the day before yesterday, I asked Sr. Mateo if he could do something about it.
He said that he's drag it off "arriba", and he did. I don't want to know where "arriba" is.

The smell still lingered at the spot where Spot once lay. I resorted to tossing buckets of cold water, heavily laced with Pino Sol. The smell is starting to dissipate.

I want to know why are the zopilotes so picky, and where were they when their services were needed.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Las Señoras Suben Al Cerro

Yesterday evening.
I'd just returned from an evening walk with the Señoras of the community, up the road towards Sta. Cruz. I'd gone out idly, just to take a little air. En route, I stopped by Sr. Santo's cow lot down the street, where there were two, newborn calves, a black and a black and white. They were eagerly suckling leche, while one mother cow licked her young, the other stood quietly, even as he lunged for the udder.

Down by the capilla, the ladies gathered prior to their walk. They receive a monetary encouragement from some governmental department. Their custom is to make this walk every Monday and Wednesday at 6:00 p.m.

I'd gone with them about a third of the way up on a previous occasion, but this time, walking paso a paso, I found it quite easy. I was surprised when the vanguard turned around before la última subida.

They conversed quietly among themselves in their small groups, or walked silently. They were in every type of physical condition and ages were from a child to an bisabuelita (Great Granny, I'd guess.) All are invited to participate, but los hombres almost never do so. I'm the only one I know of. When I once asked about this, I was told "Ellos prefieran sus cervezas." —They prefer their beers.—

When I said to María, who recently lost her mother, that the walking was "Buena para la salud.", she answered, "Buena para la salud, y para el alma." She was correct.

At evening, the views of the valley and the mountains beyond, fill the eye with their beauty, and gladden the soul.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Dust of Tzurumútaro

Nose to the ground, north of the tracks, back on his feet...

(Where your blogmeister has an intimate encounter with La Tierra Mexicana.)

On the way back from getting a gas cylinder filled at Global Gas, we stopped in Tzuru just before the pollos asados al carbón place. I checked out the attractive watermelons nearby. The prices for them seemed high (I don't know, is 50 pesos a lot for a small one?) I decided not to buy any, thanked the man for the generous sample, and walked away.

Suddenly, the ground rose rapidly to meet me.
BAM! I hit the ground, my nose the impact point. I lay there a moment or two, assessing the damage. Susie came over and the watermelon man gave me a wad of clean toilet paper to stanch the copious bleeding. Mi sangre mezcló con el Polvo de Tzurumútaro.

I then went to the car, where I reclined, pressing a couple of wads of paper against my nose. After a little while, the bleeding stopped. There isn't much pain. I guess nothing is broken, gracias a Dios.

We went ahead and bought a chicken and a bag of ice to help if there's any swelling.

Once home, I cleaned up and changed clothes. Took a couple of Ibuprofen for starters. I don't think I'll need medical attention. (For a change!)

It was nowhere near as bad as the fall I took near Don Chucho's store in 2006. My appetite is unimpaired, and we're about to tuck into the great Tzurumútaro pollo asado al carbón.

I can't decide if I want a Tequila or a beer with it. Maybe both?


The pollo asado never tasted better. We ate the whole frickin' chicken. The salsa roja supplied by the roasters was unnecessary The accompanying slaw-like cabbage was clean and zesty.

Maybe this is a new technique for enjoying one's food to the max; something like burning down a house to roast a pig.

I had a beer, 2 more ibuprofen and a lie-down. Next, the ice pack.
Nose on the rocks, anyone?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mexican Fireworks

On the Thorny Tree Refuge forum, we were discussing what made us want to travel.

" Many of us have travelled whether we wanted to or not -- being hauled across countries or continents by our parents, or being forced to relocate for some other reason. However, the fact that we are on this website after having been on the previous one would appear to indicate that travel is now in our blood. So, what made you want to travel? - "Kerouac2"

This was my answer, which I'll elaborate here. It's not the only reason.
As a child, I lived/visited in Montreal, Quebec for a couple of years. Nothing exotic about that, really, except for a holiday to Quebec City.

But in another place, I was enthralled by a children's book, called "Mexican Fireworks" . (I'm sure that it was very romanticized and "unrealistic".) In my adulthood, I had the pleasure of seeing real Mexican fireworks.
Near the town of Tepoztlán, Morelos, I even saw the fireworks being assembled by coheteros create a "castillo".

The brilliant moment came the night of our arrival in Pátzcuaro, Sept. 28, 2005. It was my 63rd birthday and the 300-something years anniversary of the city. We went to the Plaza Grande just before 10 PM, where we stood amidst the cannonading and bursting pyrotechnics. It was a wonderful bienvenido.

¡Gracias, México!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Alcatraces y Cenizas

Yesterday, we experienced our first Mexican funeral. It was different than I anticipated. It took place in the small, somewhat isolated village of Sta. Cruz.

The deceased, the mother of a friend of ours, had died suddenly ten days before. It seemed odd that interment would be so long after death, but from our bereaved friend's laconic comments, we thought that perhaps the body was cremated.
This was the case, as we saw yesterday upon reaching the humble home of
la difunta y su viudo.

The mourners inside were gathered around a black box a little wider than a shoebox. In it were the mother's earthly ashes. The box was on a chair, flanked by tall candles and lovely, long stemmed
alcatraces lilies. A rosary was recited by the gathered friends and families.

We stood the entire time outside in the yard, then, when the prayers were over, went in to comfort our friend and her sisters and brother.

We then adjourned to the nearby church, where the Padre had already begun
La Misa. The church was incongrously still festooned with Christmas decorations, including pink and white balloons on the walls. The Virgen de Guadalupe looked upon the congregants with a benevolent smile.

We'd been to several masses since moving here, but I'm not familiar enough with Catholic liturgy (especially in Spanish) to distinguish the variant types. To me it seemed that only at the end of the service was attntion specifically directed to the deceased and her family. Afterwards came the usual announcements by the Padre about fiesta dates.

We returned to the house, where we took seats and were served
corundas de pollo con salsa y crema, y arroz.

When all had eaten, the debris was gathered and the folding chairs stacked inside. Most of the visitors left, except for the immediate family and a few friends.

We then carried several passengers to the
panteón near Las Cuevas and Nuevo Rodeo.

The interment was brief. The
viudo, an adult son, a young granddaughter and others scratched out a shallow hole in a grave mound. The black box was placed in the hole, and earth brushed over it. They said few more prayers, the Padre Nuestro, then a hymn was sung. The flowers were distributed over the grave mound.

The family then departed for Quiroga, some 20 minutes away, hoping to arrive in time for the next
misa. We, instead, carried two amigas back to Las Cuevas in our van.