Monthly Archives: January 2011

Is a picture worth a thousand words?

If a picture’s worth a thousand words then the many I’ve taken in the last few days would make up a big fat book!

The city of Guadalajara is exciting and beautiful… Music is everywhere… We watched this young woman playing

classical violin at the University of Guadalajara’s School of Music.

 

Music is a family affair on Sundays when

the “Renacer” trio entertain on the plaza

This wonderful fellow seemed to love that his music makes people happy

 

 

 

 

And of course, sooner or later everyone morphs into a mariachi


 

The architecture is breathtaking and the flowers… simply gorgeous!

The art is sometimes verywhimsical and sometimesvery bold!

 

 

 

 

 

Outside the city limits, there are more fascinating places to visit and you learn a lot! I surely did not know all that’s involved in the production of tequila… At the Tres Mujeres and at the Herradura distilleries our guides explained how the agave are harvested and tequila is made.

And certainly, the members of our group are fine ambassadors for Yucatan.

Tomorrow we’re off to Lake Chapala, Ajijic and Tlaquepaque. ¡Hasta pronto!

Sorry about the screwy positioning of the photos and text on this posting. The program was NOT cooperating today!

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Zihuatanejo to Guadalajara…

As regular readers know, I attended the Zihuatanejo Writers’ Workshop last week. John Reed and Elizabeth Engstrom were very generous with their expertise and we seven novices all learned a great deal. During the five intense days, we had little time for anything but writing which I hope adequately explains the dearth of postings as of late… But happily, I am more energized than ever and eager to write on!

Throughout this coming month, I will lead two Life Long Learning groups and Guadalajara is the first place on the itinerary. Arriving into the city was a huge thrill for me because my great friend Mary was there waiting. She will be participating in the tours that will take us through Mexico’s Independence Route and later to Mexico City Puebla and Oaxaca. Jorge will join us in La Capital for the second portion of the journey…   

When I taught English in Peru, Mary and I were introduced by mutual acquaintances. We exchanged letters and finally met in person at the airport in LIMA, Peru , on January 31, 1971. I remember seeing her get off the plane and I thought  I think we are going to be friends…We did indeed become instant friends and embarked on the first of our many travels together… The five months of shared experiences in South America created a bond that has deepened steadily through (I can’t believe it…) 40 years!

In those days, it was not at all common for two young women to be trekking around unescorted through Latin America, but we looked out for one another. With my Spanish language and Mary’s unerring sense of direction, we tripped from one adventure to the next. And here we are 40 years later… still meeting in airports, climbing onto buses and sharing our friendship. What a gift!

Now back to Guadalajara… The charro – ranch culture is a very important aspect of Jalisco’s and Guadalajara’s identity.  Ranchero music and elegant mariachis are symbolic of this region. Last night our merry band of transplanted internationals spent the evening in the city’s world renowned mariachi district. Some of the revelers urged me not to detail the evening but I will say we had FUN!

Our hotel is located in the historic downtown of Guadalajara, the oldest section of the city, There are a large number of beautiful Squares and public parks, markets, lovely buildings and monuments that we’ll be visiting today. Among them is the cathedral.

Construction began in 1558 but was not finished until 1616. Its two towers were built in the 19th century after an earthquake destroyed the originals. They are considered one of the city’s symbols.

After today’s thorough tour of the city, we we’ll set off tomorrow on an all day tour to see the blue agave fields. From there we’ll tour the Herradura distillery and learn (still more) about – Tequila!

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This is Zihuatanejo…

Early morning in Zihuatanejo and I am at the keyboard honing yesterday’s assignment. This workshop is intense but after all, I came here to write, didn’t I?

However, we did take a lovely walk at sundown…I will write something more about this charming place on a day when it is just a little less stressed. Meanwhile, here you have a few photos…


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Zihuatanejo… me estremezco!

It has been quite some time since I last visited Zihuatanejo but tomorrow I will reacquaint myself with the Pacific port. I doubt it’s still the sleepy village with burros parading up and down the beach but from what I hear, the pace remains relaxed, the sun feels hot and the margaritas taste icy-cold.

I’m attending a fiction writers’ workshop led by John Reed and Elizabeth Engstrom. I am hoping that what I learn will help me to put the finishing touches on my novel “If You Only Knew”

Want to see the first page?

Prologue

Mexico City, October 2, 1968

Nightfall spreads over Mexico City like a dark sarape. From my third floor living room window, I watch the Mariachi wrapping their falsetto throats in thick wool as they move towards Garibaldi Square. Some of them wink and lift wide sombreros to the coy señoritas clustered around a popular taco stand. And for a while, the flirting, giggling and the charcoal fire’s warmth seem to relieve the autumn cold. Also feeling the chill bouncing off the large clear panels, I turn away from the sidewalk dance below.

A long stemmed glass of tinto is what I want. But as I move through to the kitchen, my ears pick up a strange scraping, stumbling sound. At thirty-one, I don’t usually form fast opinions, yet I immediately sense the commotion coming from the landing will alter lives – mine included.

Eyes wide open, neck muscles as tense as rubber bands, and blood throbbing hot in both my temples, I now hear hard breathing in the hallway and an agonized voice calls out,

“Amalia! Let me in!”

Who could be out there?  It’s after ten. Sweat beads on my upper lip and my trembling palms go clammy. My breathing reduces to uneven puffs yet I force myself to move through the living room. I place both hands on the varnished wooden door, raise one eye and look through the peep hole.

Alejandro Méndez stands there like a phantom from another time and I feel as though I’ve been socked in the stomach. Many years ago, when we were way too young, we became one another’s first love… At the time he told me I’d forever changed his life. And perhaps that’s true, but I’m of the opinion, he completely ruined mine. Like day follows night, if he’s here, trouble will come…

Yet I know I’ve no choice but to release the dead bolt and face him. Face my past.

**********

When I’m away from Merida, it is harder to write as often as I’d like but I’ll keep you up to date by posting as often as possible.

Image credit:      http://www.shorpy.com

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Books I love…

What would the world be like without books?  Wars have been fought that conserved our rights to read whatever we want… and thank God the good guys won!

For me, books are an escape valve, they are my teachers, a substitute for a sleeping pill and mesmerizing sirens that keep me from doing really, really important stuff. From time to time, I do read history, political essays, classics, biographies and poetry. But I must confess, most of my “best friends” are novels that transport me to another time, usually a romantic one. They tell tales that I can relate to… or wish I could relate to… or am glad I don’t have to relate to.

I have books everywhere. Office, car, purse…  But in my room, I have a cabinet with glass doors and that’s where I keep some of my favorites… Although I read most of them quite some time ago, I just like having them around. Which titles are in my bookshelf right now?

Sixteen Pleasures    Robert Hellenga

The Poisonwood Bible    Barbara Kingsolver

A Thousand Days in Venice    Marlene di Blasi

The Secret Life of Bees    Sue Monk Kidd                                                                                                                                                                

Stones for Ibarra     Harriet Doer

The Lady and the Unicorn    Tracy Chevalier

Year of Wonder   Geraldine Brooks

Waiting      Ha Jin

The Kitchen God’s Wife    Amy Tan

Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion   Edited by CM Mayo

Tell me what your favorite books are? Why are they your favorites?

***Have you looked at my other blog? Visit:  http://magicmadeinmexico.wordpress.com You’ll find information about my book “Magic Made in Mexico”

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Twenty-six years ago…

Tonight, I am thinking back… 26 years. My mother had been with us for Christmas and still had a month of visiting time left. As afternoon turned to evening, little did I imagine what an incredible experience we would share… in just a few hours time.

I remember tucking three and a half year old Carlos into bed (with his customary 3 stories and 3 songs…) He went right to sleep and I joined Jorge and Mom for some TV and what we thought would be a relaxing night.  NOT!

I began feeling crampy but didn’t think too much of it…  And then, about midnight I started to shiver. “You’re cold,” said Mom.

“Actually, I feel warm but weird…”

“Weird’s what you think? Labor is what I think!”

“No, it can’t be… there’s still a week to go.”

A  couple more hours snaked by and my increasingly anxious mother insisted that we should go to the hospital… “just to check that everything is OK.” With that decision made, my water broke and we hurried our pace. Jorge drove very carefully…

“Hurry up!” my mother uncharacteristically shrieked. He picked up the pace – pronto.

“I think we’ll examine you in the delivery room.” said the admissions nurse.

“But I just got here… Please let my mother come with me!”

I explained that Mom was retired from nursing but in Canada she had worked in obstetrics for more than 30 years… The doctor was not at the hospital and my anguished face convinced the hospital staff that they should allow her to stay with me.

I felt incredible pressure and five minutes later my mother delivered my daughter. Mom placed her in my arms and right then and there, I named her. “Welcome to our world Margarita,” I said. (Mom’s name was Margaret) The nurses said it was one of the most beautiful births they had ever seen.                                                                                                 

“Not many women have such an easy time,” said one as she wiped her eyes.

“Not many women have their mothers looking after them,” I added.

“A girl…” Mom sighed with such satisfaction. “She will be the best daughter!”

And she is MORE than that… so much more.

3:20 am, January 18, 1985 marked the first of many unforgetablel times Grandma, Daughter and Granddaughter would share over the years. Mom died in 2004 and especially today, I’m missing her very, very much.

That baby who couldn’t wait one more minute to make her entrance onto life’s stage is 26 today.  She’ll marry this year and already, we are enjoying the preparations for her very special day.

From his first glimse of her, Jorge was smitten and promptly started to call her Maggie. Just a few minutes old, she already had a nickname… and of course it stuck!

Jorge, my son Carlos… all my family and friends have brought me great joy. But each time the calendar page reads January 18th, I give thanks for my double blessing…  a wonderful mother and a wonderful daughter.

“Happy Birthday Maggie!”

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Full moon mode

I do love life in YUcatan, but does it seem to you, that lately… the drivers cruising our streets seem to be in “full moon mode.”  Is there more than the usual frantic horn blowing, blocking the view at intersections, tail-gating by buses and kamikaze  motorcyclists with a total disregard for human life? My book MAGIC MADE IN MEXICO, points out a few strategies you can use to cope with the daily “Demolition Derby”



D is for…DRIVING Are you up to it? How can you develop the nerves of steel you need?

My friend Theresa has suggested that the erratic driving in our city is perhaps due to the fact that few people take actual driving lessons. They learn from their parents, older siblings or from their friends. They also pick up all these people’s bad habits, and the problem compounds. They know how to operate a vehicle, but they don’t know—or care about—the rules of the road. I’m sure you’ve noticed people driving with small children on their laps… and talking on cell phones.

The drivers seem to take personal offense if anyone is ahead of them. They need to pass and get in front, no matter how perilous this may be. It’s as though they’d rather pile into you than let you emerge from your driveway, slip into a parking spot or change lanes.

This same friend says it is sheer folly to drive “if you’ve lost your nerve”. You do indeed need nerves of steel to navigate the roads of México. What to do if you don’t have them? Can you learn to drive à la mexicana?

If you do need to take to the streets, first be absolutely familiar with your car and how it will respond to your sudden moves. Practice in a less congested area to get the feel of the wheel. At all times be sure you know where you’re going. Be certain of what lane you should be in and watch out for anyone coming your way. His blinking signal light cannot be trusted…expect the unexpected! Next, hold your ground. If you let another car force you into a different lane, you might never get back. Keep your speed up; whatever the other cars are doing, you have to match them, or you’ll likely cause a pile-up. Finally, do not let your attention wander. Driving requires constant vigilance. You never know when a motorcycle will speed up on your right, a pedestrian will wander across the road or a giant bus will tailgate your rear! While driving, you will definitely have some unexpected “cultural moments”…

What if you commit a traffic violation and get stopped? Know the law—it’s very simple. You can obtain a copy of el Ley del Transito – The Rules of the Road – at a police station or where the driver’s license tests are given. Study it from cover to cover!

Following is some common-sense information that will help you to feel secure while driving; it will also keep you safe if you run into problems:

• It is important not to drive anywhere without a charged cell phone.

• You should program your insurance agent’s number into your cell phone contact list because if you get in trouble anywhere in México, he or she really will help you.

• What should you do if you’re in an accident and worse yet, someone is injured? Contrary to what you hear, you should not flee the scene.

• Stop, stay calm. Call your agent first! He will dispatch an adjuster (usually English-speaking) posthaste. The adjuster will then handle everything for you and explain what’s going on—step by step.

• Stay inside the car and quickly gather up all the valuables you may have there, especially documents like the car registration, insurance papers, etc.

• If you are alone, get on your cell phone again and ask a friend to come and help you, especially if it looks as though you will be detained—hopefully Spanish speaking in this case—for either medical or legal reasons.  If you’re being detained, give all your valuables and impor-tant documents to the person who comes to your aid. If you are hurt, it is even more urgent that you get someone you trust on the scene as quickly as possible.

• Don’t speak, don’t sign ANYTHING and stay put until the adjuster arrives.

I hope the preceding has not made you decide to never get behind the wheel! Really, it isn’t all scary bad news. Many drivers and police officers are very kind. I have been lost countless times and when I’ve rolled down my window to ask the person in the car next to me how to get to “such and such a place”, quite often, they smile and say, “Follow me; I’ll take you there!”

Once my car stalled in the rain, and a young fellow got off his motorcycle, and, all by himself, pushed my old VW to the side of the road! “I’ll call your husband for you, if you like,” he said. Another time when my car wouldn’t start, two patrolmen came to my aid. I had a trunk full of groceries and my two small children with me. They called for a tow truck, then loaded the shopping, the kids and me into their vehicle and delivered us home.

The Mexican government is just as helpful to drivers on the highways in México as are its citizens, and you will be pleasantly surprised should you experience car difficulties. There is a cadre of mechanics called los Ángeles Verdes – the Green Angels – who patrol the federal highways in green trucks to assist motorists who have a breakdown or other sort of calamity. If they cannot resolve the problem, they will call for backup. And, believe it or not, this service is completely free. The only thing that might be charged for is the gasoline furnished for those who run dry. If you do develop those nerves of steel, you’ll enjoy the independence and convenience that driving allows you. You’ll find yourself on roads leading to wonderful places and you’ll have enchanting days. You will be pleased with yourself!

D id for Driving is an excerpt from MAGIC MADE IN MEXICO. In the book you’ll read anecdotes and practical advice ‘from other letters of the Alphabet’, such as: H is for HeatL is for Love … and  T is for Tipping. The book is available at many independent book stores and online using this link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Magic+made+in+mexico You can also order directly from the publisher, who provides free shipping;. Contact Editorial Mazatlan at: mazbook@yahoo.com Theier website is http://www.editorialmazatlan.com On the website you’ll see some of the other titles they have published, such as Richard Grabman’s superb hitory of Mexico, GODS, GACHUPINES Y GRINGOS.



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