Monthly Archives: October 2010

In my humble opinion…

In my humble opinion… there are some real whackos out there.

 Today’s topic is not one I want to address but a recent article I read on someone else’s blog got me all fired up. I’m not going to cite the site but I will tell you that it proposed a “novel solution” to the illegal immigration issue. Simply finish what President Polk “so admirably did in 1848”… This guy actually advocates invasion and the annexing the rest of Mexico to the USA! Another of his surprising solutions is to overdose all the drug addicts “so we won’t have to look after ‘em no more…”  

God, give me strength!

There are many injustices in our world. So many in fact that our pea brains cannot cope. We tend to tune out because; well… we have to continue functioning. If we allowed ourselves to dwell non-stop on our planet’s failure to live in harmony, we’d soon be blathering away in some psych ward. It’s too daunting.

But from time to time I need to take stock. There are unending news reports about the war on drugs, the war on illegal immigration, the war on poverty, the war on corruption, the war on arms escalation… Yea Gads there are a lot of wars raging – right here in my back yard! And I blithely go about my business. With these five wars plus the other ones that are out there such as war on diseases, the war on obesity, the war on aging etc., etc. –  how is it possible that I’m out walking around? Shouldn’t I be holed up in a bunker?

Obviously I’m not because the aforementioned are NOT wars. These are issues our region faces and our society is attempting to resolve them (pardon me) ass backwards. The whole mess we’re in continues to worsen, despite the billions of dollars our governments spend. Why?

If there’s one situation I cannot abide it is missed opportunities. I get so upset when I see people carry on feuds that could be laid to rest through negotiation… money squabbles that could be resolved by sensible spending… relationships that could be rewarding if there was mutual appreciation. None of this is rocket science. It involves pride. “Pride goeth before a fall” …  and are we ever groveling around in the dirt!

Pride and arrogance – the root of all evil in my books. Why can’t our leaders accept and admit that the established patterns are NOT working. Our nations need to negotiate, budget sensibly and respect one another.

’Want to see something really frightening this Halloween? Take a gander at http://www.drugsense.org/cms/wodclock  You’ll see that the “war” on drugs has cost $42,356,788,965 so far this year.

 In August, US Congress authorized an additional $60,000,000.00 to be spent on border control. Come on people! Doesn’t the expression “throwing good money after bad” ring any bells?

Maybe we’d see much more progress if these astronomical amounts of money were spent on drug rehabilitation? Or if the wretched stuff was legalized and the “forbidden allure” was lost maybe less people would get hooked in the first place. If the heinous border security allocation was invested in business on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande productivity would rise and jobs would be available here. Except for the “adventurers”, Mexicans would not leave their villages to live as despised “aliens” north of the border.

And finally, it is NOT entirely up to our governments… we have to take personal responsibility too. Most people are just like me… we let others fight the dragons. Our lack of activism allows the dinosaurs to remain in office and thwarts change.

I do not advocate marches and mayhem… I’ve realized that the power of the pen is so much more effective. Make your voices heard. When you vote, demand change. President Obama was elected with a “Yes we can” rhetoric. Since his election, the voice from Capitol Hill has been a resounding, “Oh no-o-o-o-o-o you can’t!” He says over and over again he cannot affect change on his own… and he can’t. No one can. We need to help.

For a global overview… check out some of these links:

http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/blogs/index/column/7

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/tedxchange/Pages/tedxchange-2010.aspx

If you want to help real change, boot up your keyboards and tell your elected officials how you really feel or if you want to, forward this post to them.

The image at the top is Carlos’… the one on the bottom is mine.

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“Hallow´pixan”

  

Like everything in life, the Day of the Dead is undergoing changes – it isno longer celebrated only in the traditional way .  Some argue that this is a shame, but I see it as a reflection of our BIG multicultural world.

Take our college for example. The students spend as much time online as they do in the “real” world. I think it stands to reason they will be impacted by all they see there. And so we have (as one student put it)  a new “fusion” holiday called “Hallow´pixan

This new name comes from combining Halloween (our Anglo name for the holiday at this time of year)  and Hanal Pixan (The Maya name that means food for the dead)

Some groups held fast to tradition with their altar displays while others carved pumpkins – very creatively! Certainly there’s room for both in our world…

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                           

Photos by Aris and Pamela at TTT                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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Todos Santos



On Friday evening (October 29th) about 200 altars will be set up along the roadside, from La Ermita (the Pilgrim’s Church) to El Panteón Florida (The Cemetery). Everyone is invited to stroll and visit between 6:30 and 9:00 pm.  The streets will be closed to traffic.

Villages, schools, government agencies will all take part in U Xiimbahil PixanoóbEl Paseo de las Animas (The Departed Souls’ Way).

This is a chance to partake in one of the most beautiful traditions of Yucatan. Those new to the area may wonder what it is all about…

In all corners of Mexico, Los Finados – the Last Days, (also known as Días de Muertos or Todos Santos ) is a cherished tradition. Celebrated in Yucatan from October 31 – November 2; this three day period is dedicated to the memory of the faithful departed. (Los Angelitos –  dead children are remembered October 31, los Santos – the saints on November 1st, and las Animas – all Souls on November 2nd)

Where I come from in Canada, death is rather a solemn topic but solemnity was not what I witnessed during my first year living in Merida (1976). Of the many new customs I learned about, one of the most unusual was Los Finados.  Jorge was on a trip and my mother in law insisted I come to spend the day with the family…

I helped her to drag an old table into the living room which she quickly covered with one of her best, bright white table cloths. On top of this, she placed vases of flowers, candles, framed photographs, a big crucifix and I didn’t have too much trouble figuring out that this was an altar of some kind.  Then we went into the kitchen where all manner of food prep was in progress.

I was given a huge pile of bean pods and asked to shell them – I was told that my job was “muy importante” – very important. I shelled and shelled for more than an hour, after which I had a couple of cups of small black beans. “¡Excelente!” Doña Bertha said.

The beans (espelón) were worked into a huge pile of corn dough… spices and lard got mixed in too and the huge blob was pressed into flat tin sheets, lined with banana leaves. Pieces of chicken, tomatoes, onion, long yellow peppers and herbs were laid down. A corn gravy was ladled on and then all was covered with another layer of dough and banana leaves. Into the oven the great pies went…

Atole (corn gruel) Calabaza Melada (candied squash) a chocolate drink and other accompaniments were also lovingly prepared. I had no idea what was going on but after several months, I’d learned it was better not to ask. The torrent of Spanish explanation was pretty much lost on me – better to wait until Jorge was around and could explain in English.

After a couple of hours, the crispy “pie” was ready and a big chunk was cut off and placed on the altar with the other food items that had been concocted that morning. To my surprise, a bottle of rum, cigarettes, a pack of cards and a domino set was also laid down. “Para mi papa,” I was told. “For my father”… What was she talking about?

And then it dawned on me what was happening. Today was All Saints Day! I could hold back the questions no longer. As slowly and carefully as possible, Doña Bertha explained that the altar was for the spirits who would visit over the next two days… She was ready to receive them with the food, drink and entertainment they had loved during their lifetimes. Did she really believe the faithful departed would cross over? Yes she did and so did everyone else in the household. I was careful not to let my suspicions show.

We went to the cemetery to place flowers and say prayers at the gravesites. Doña Bertha actually introduced me to the occupants of the tombs – “Look Mama, this is Joanna, Jorge’s girlfriend from Canada.” I was getting pretty freaked out.

Back from the graveyard, I found Jorge waiting for us… “Are we going to eat the pib now,” he asked his mother. Ah that’s what the pie is called, I thought… We all said a few more prayers at the altar then left the spirits to dine in peace in the living room while we ate in the kitchen. The pib was delicious. As we ate, the family talked about “las animas.” They seemed to believe the spirits were actually amongst them. I chose to believe it too and why not?

Doña Bertha told me once, “Sometimes when I least expect it, a little breath of air blows down my arm and the face of someone who has passed jumps into my mind. I know the puff of air was their greeting.” This seems to comfort her and she doesn’t pine for her loved ones who are gone. To her, especially during the days of the dead, they are present and accompanying her como siempre – as always.

Images: I do not have any digital photos of our family’s celebrations. What I’ve included are a sample of typical shots  taken during the Days of the Dead in different parts of the country. The black & white image (Yucatan) and the night time cemetary shot (Michoacan) are  from the Internet. The others are from my albums, taken by my son Carlos… 

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My book is…DONE!

YIPPEE!

Benjamin Disraeli said, “‘An author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children.”

Mr. Disraeli was married but not blessed children. If the faithful Mary Anne, his wife for 34 years had borne them, certainly he would have forgiven her occasional lapse… So I hope that he will also (from his now higher consciousness) bear with me yapping on and on about my book.

The final copy is now ready to go to the printer and I think I am almost as happy as the day my son and daughter were born. Oops… now I’m talking about the book and the kids.

As all readers of this blog know by now… “Magic Made in Mexico” will be available as of December 4th at independent book stores, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and as a Kindle version.

Here are a few quotes from famous writers that any novice could take to heart…. I did.

Mr. William Falkner is always, to the point:

Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

  Et mais oui, who has more right than M. Henry David Thoreau to say the following,

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.’

 The gentle Ms. Barbara Kingsolver says,

 “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”

 And who could be more poetic than William Wordsworth?

 “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.’

 But… Gene Fowler is the one who tells it like it is

 “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

 Write on …

( Thanks to my son Carlos for this splendid picture of the bird in flight… it looks just as I feel  )

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A multi-cultural world?

In 1976, when I moved to Mérida, the stars shone in my eyes and butterflies fluttered in my belly. Yes, I was totally in L-O-V-E and I just knew life would be absolutely P-E-R-F-E-C-T.  In actuality, living abroad has proven to be so much less and so much more than I anticipated.

Expecting utopia is a tall order and of course I soon became disillusioned. As my reality check adjusted I discovered that this path I’d chosen would not be easy. Learning Spanish; navigating the complex social networks; adapting to the hot, humid climate; fitting in with a family who did not fully embrace me –indeed, the rapid assimilation I had imagined was certainly not to be.   This is what I mean by less.

What I’ve gained through this life-long process is invisible to the outward eye but all-encompassing to me. Like a pre-embryo that splits to form twins, my very being developed two distinct ways of perceiving, evaluating and reacting. While still fully intact, my Canadian core now shares space with an equally developed set of Latin values. Over the decades, I have become a bi-cultural person who fully understands and deeply feels the northern and southern perspectives. This is what I mean by more.

As a west coast girl, I grew up in a naïve, mono-culture. Very little racial and cultural diversity was to be found in my North Vancouver habitat. When I went out into the world, I felt intrigued by the differences I encountered. I’d not been raised with negative conditioning. From what I can see, now-a-days, young people reside in a multi-cultural Petri-dish. Yet in many cases, they are not taught to respect and value one another’s differences.  Because of rapid changes in the west’s racial mix and the economic downturn, some parents tend to equate one, as the cause for the other – mistrust has grown and been passed on to the young. There is an atmosphere of fear – xenophobia actually.

A tendency to look for a scapegoat is also firmly in place. It is easy to point a finger at other nations and blame them for social problems that exist in the backyards.  México being the case in point…

The country certainly has its issues but contrary to established beliefs, most of the population is young and ambitious. They want a better life for themselves and their families. But they are saddled with political corruption, inadequate education, stifling religious rules and a stagnant economy. Many possess an exaggerated idea of what would be available to them if they lived in another country. They travel northward by the tens of thousands, hoping to enter the USA and from there, some go on to Canada.

And so we have a check-mate. Blame ricochets across the borders. For their own benefit, politicians and the press fan the flames of controversy; and the problem escalates to the point where serious effects are felt by citizens who have nothing to do with the underbelly of society.

In México, the wave of damaging media reports has impacted all economic activity. In the northern countries, there are dire warnings about travel to the south. The tourism industry is in crisis and manufacturing, food services, entertainment venues and retail are floundering. Jobs have been lost and families are hard pressed to stay afloat. This leads to still more illegal immigration and crime – the cycle continues to repeat itself in concentric circles.

While it is true that Mexico has violence, this is not the case in the tourism areas. There is a very visible police presence which alone is a deterrent.  Over the past few years, I have visited many states in the country and have not been confronted with difficulties. Mind you, in a foreign country, one needs to be a prudent tourist. Years ago, an “old Latin American hand” gave me some excellent advice,

“If you see a bunch of people gathered around, turn and walk the other way. If it is important you will read about it in the paper the next day. And always, keep your wits about you!”

Isn’t it time to stand up and defend ourselves? Those of us who live in México and those who appreciate the country as one of the most culturally diverse and wonderful places on earth need to fight back. When we read an offensive or unbalanced article in a newspaper or magazine, we should write to the editor and make our opinions known.  We need to shut down the negative attacks. We also need to petition our leaders to work towards an equitable solution to the immigration problems between our nations.

One person alone cannot have much effect but many can do so.  If informed citizens from the developed countries would take just ten minutes, once a week to counteract one biased article or write to their congressman and petition a change in the misaligned immigration act, I think we’d see BIG changes occur.  We cannot live our lives in a society based on fear, we need to open our hearts to the world beyond our borders and embrace the concept of a multicultural world.

 Photos by Carlos Rosado, from my albums and from Google Images

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Magic Made in Mexico

What do you think of the cover of my new book?

Magic Made in Mexico  will be released on December 4th of this year and to start with, will be available in Merida at Amate Books and the Merida English Language Library. The book will also be for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and as an eBook for Kindle users.

To say I am thrilled is an exaggerated understatement (there’s an oxymoron for you!)

In 2007, I self published my first travel-memoir called Tomando Agua de Pozo – A Neophyte’s Guide to Yucatan. The copies sold out quickly and since then I have been repeatedly asked to do a second printing. I did not think there was much point in reprinting and decided I would re-write. This gave me the chance to add a lot that I wished I’d included the first time… and to remove a few pieces I wished I’d left out!

I was extremely lucky to catch the interest of “Editorial Mazatlan” (and as they say…) the rest is history!

The new book is quite different to the first one. To start with, it touches on more of Mexico’s customs, foods, and history than the first one did. There is about 60% new content, so even those who have a copy of Tomando Agua de Pozo will get a lot of useful information from Magic Made in Mexico.

Magic Made in Mexico vividly describes the country and explains its nuances. This information will increase your comfort on many levels. It will allow you to see the humor, revel in the wonder and at the same time, realistically examine the challenges that moving to Mexico has brought (or will bring to you.) The book consists of three main sections—each almost a book in itself! It also features a condensed account of how my husband and I started our own business in México.

To further increase your enjoyment and knowledge, a suggested reading list provides the names of other informative and interesting books about the country.  I’m certain that Magic Made in Mexico will validate some of the doubts you may have and at the same time, will strengthen your resolve to forge a new path and build a completely different, exciting life for yourself.

I feel lucky to live here. Although I love the country of my birth, in this one I feel more alive. For me, moving to México was like waking up from a long sleep. Such a change…at any age…is a very good thing!

 

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What’s your pleasure?

Checking my favorite Mexican blogs today, I am struck by how different the themes are – home renovation, politics, bicultural pratfalls, self improvement, gardening, sailing, and on and on. But there does seem to be one common denominator; there’s one topic everyone touches on, at least every three posts or so. That would be FOOD.

And no wonder! In this country with all its delectable delights, it is difficult to avoid becoming (just shy of) obsessed. The first time that I raised my forearm to my mouth and licked-up the juice that ran down it from the perfect mango… I knew I had discovered my favorite fruit of all time. I soon found myself emulating companions who close their eyes in contentment as they suck the last morsels from the great seed and pick the sinuous fibers from between their teeth. I almost go into mourning when the mango season is over (as it is now)

But, Dios es muy grande… The Divine sends us avocados, pomegranates, chico zapotes and mandarin oranges to tide us over. In the spring, as we salivate in front of the mango trees, waiting for the fruit to ripen, we are comforted by roly-poly pineapples, (the big golden ones from Veracruz) so sweet that jelly beans would seem tart if eaten after this prickly produce.

Another thing about food in México… it is not served up in easy-to-eat, delicate pieces. There are great bones you must chomp on in order to get to the tender meat; fish served whole, with eyes, that you’d best keep yours off; big, bright pink shrimp that must be peeled, using both hands before the enjoyment can begin. Tacos must be filled and rolled; the dicing and chopping and spreading of 6 or 7 condiments is often part of the pre-eating ritual.

Portion-control is very necessary if you don’t want to look like the Goodyear Blimp within a shockingly short period of time. It is so hard to keep track of all those yummy calories. Bakeries lie so close by; as do bars that serve abundant botanas – complimentary snacks – with your drinks. The beverages themselves, even those without alcohol are not usually “lite”.

Add music, sunshine and sweet people to the culinary delights and you’ve found Paradise.  Just ask the 1,000s of northerners who spend part of every winter in Yucatán.

One year after a month with us in Mérida… my sister returned (very tanned) to the frozen north. She went to an outdoor event where the wind howled, snow blew and her tan faded by the second. She spotted another golden-toned Canadian who huddled by the wall trying to look like he was enjoying “Wonderful Winterfest”. He looked at her, shook his head from side to side and said, “I never should have left!” She knew what he meant…

If you are facing too many long, cold months and dreading them – be kind to yourself and book some time in the sun… Merida’s restaurants, markets and beaches are stocked with all kinds of sumptuous fare. What is your personal favorite?  

(All these photos are from Google Images…)

And now… one more question.

What will it be…

This?

                                                                       Or this?

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