Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Riding the Nostalgia Train

We had the good fortune to experience passenger train travel a few times in Mexico before the services ended around 2000. We were on the Chepe Primera Clase (Chihuahua al Pacífico)* run about 3 times. Comfortable and enjoyable; fun companions, cold cerveza and a dining car! (I didn't eat from the dining car but there were enough vendors coming aboard to sell their specialities. A steward came buy at intervals to serve us a pseudo-orange drink I quickly dubbed "Naranjanada".
A highlight was the 20 minute stop at Divisadero mirador, where ladies sold gorditas filled with chcken and other antojitos. You could even see the Barranca del Cobre!

The first train trip was from Cd. Júarez to Chihuahua, and the following year from Cd. Júarez to Zacatecas, a 24 hour trip, Pullman class car, through mostly desolate wasteland. We did make friends with an interesting family. It was fun to explore and deploy the foldout furnishings in our Pullman roomette, but after that, it was nearly unremitting boredom. We stopped for what seemed hours in the middle of nowhere. Maybe we were ahead of schedule.These are probably one reason Zacatecas looked so good, with its cobbled streets, plazas, fountains and the warm glow of the faroles de dragones. (But it is truly a wonderful city.)

Another year saw us take an overnight train from Mexico City to Oaxaca. No Pullman Service. The most exciting part of that was the boarding, with uniformed conductors to show us to our seats. After a semi sleepless night, the dawn revealed that we were in La Cañada, a scenic section of the trip, not long before arriving in Oaxaca. Another fabulous city.

For some benighted motive, we once the overnight train from Mexico City to Monterrey. It was slow, paralytically boring and uncomfortable. No Pullman Service. We slept athwart the wooden arm rests, waking with our legs like logs.

We didn't always take first class trains; an exception was another overnight trip (No Pullman Service) from Tepic, Nayarit to El Sufragio Estacíon, a connecting point to Los Mochis via 2nd class bus. That particular train coach was dark, dingy and foreboding. The restroom was either nonexistant or out of order, but it was fun to whiz off the back platform.

Even riding the First Class coaches on the Chihuahua al Pacífico, taking a wee in the WC posed a threat for the photographers and others standing in the usually fresher air of the vestibule between cars. There was a definite spray factor when the WC was flushed. It was especially noticeable as the train lurched around one of the many curves.

It's fun to look back on those days of train service, the occasional discomforts and slowness fuzzily obscured by time and nostalgia. These days, I prefer the bus. We can even choose which bad movie to watch, or none at all.

(This post was inspired by a post on Michoacán_Net by David Haun, which set off a flurry of train stories.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Magic Phrase

María Dolores was our hostess at a small (2 bedrooms) guesthouse apartment in Madrid in 2002. She was a kind and caring person, but she was very careful who she admitted to her third floor piso. It was in a nondescript building on a very busy one way street, a few blocks south of the Plaza Mayor. She lived with her then 13 year old son, who played games on a Mac. We found a kinship there.

She gave us juice and homemade quick bread. The room and ensuite bath were small but clean and we were glad to find it, especially at €35, back when the dollar was at par with the euro.

When she saw that I was going to go out into the streets with my camera slung over my neck, she also gave me some advice.

The first part was that it was better not to carry valuables in a visible way.
The second piece of advice was that if anyone accosted us or asked a question, just say: “¡NO LO SÉ!” and walk on.

We never had occasion to use the phrase while we were in Madrid, as we had no problems other than be shorted 20 Euros from an ATM on the Puerta del Sol.

Last Sunday, in Mexico City's Colonia Roma, we were walking back to our hotel from a friend’s house. A dodgy looking guy suddenly stepped out and accosted us with the words, “Discúlpe la molestia, Señor...”

María Dolores’ magic phrase awoke from its long slumber.
“¡NO LO SÉ” came out of my mouth unbidden by conscious effort.
He shrank back wordlessly and we walked on.

What Spanish magic does that potent phrase contain, to work in Mexico City as in Madrid?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Cleaning Out the Whatsit?

Monday, I cleaned out the "Whatsit?" catch-all shelf in our trastero cabinet. We'd bought the two section trastero from a Zirahuen organic ranching couple back in 2006, and it's since served us for clothes drawers, overhead storage space, wine cellar and liquor cabinet, and as a "Whatsit?" catchall compartment.

Doña Cuevas checks the trastero when it moved in
The Whatsit? held a miscellaneous collection of flashlights, candles, mosquito coils, locks, Hallow'een masks and other junk.

Yesterday's big find were the numerous eyeglasses, in their snazzy cases, of which at least two had higher quality frames than the ones we'd gotten in Pátzcuaro. The electric extension cord and surge suppressor went out to the storage boxes in the garage. The goofy looking candle holder, mosquito coils and some other items are going to giveaways. The massive padlock which had originally been the main line of defense at our gate was defective, so we tossed it in the trash.

It was a productive and satisfying way to occupy an hour or so. We had to take a long nap afterwards, but that was partly in response to the change to Daylight Saving Time, and the previous two long but enjoyable days of house cleaning and prep for Sunday dinner.