Monthly Archives: April 2011

Musing At the End of Day 5…

I’m the sort of person who is pretty open to new ideas. I think it’s cool to try on different hats. And I like to find creative solutions to issues I have. It’s always interesting to see the outcome of the experiment.

The idea of a retreat is certainly not my own. Spiritual groups have done them for eons. And the concept of the women’s retreat is very much in fashion. A friend of mine did a personal retreat a couple of years ago and felt it helped her very much.

The lead up to mine bordered on burnout. I felt tired all the time, I couldn’t get the eating under control, made excuses for not exercising, was behind on my novel re-write, not sleeping well and involved in too many activities.

I wondered what it would be like to simply check out for a couple of weeks? The response from friends and family has been varied – with some scoffing at the concept and others, championing it. I myself wondered if I could handle the discipline, and reach my goals.

I am 1/3 the way through now and I am extremely pleased with the results so far. So next time you (or someone else) hatches a unconventional plan – give it serious consideration. I’m glad I did.

Here is Part 3 of “The Odyssey”:

 

An Odyssey

Part Three

It seemed as though the buildings were besieged by omnipresent green. They strained toward the sky, attempting to release themselves from the sinuous vines that tethered them to the earth. The stories of King Pacal, The Red Queen, and Chaac Balum swirled through my head as I immersed myself in their sculpted company and read splendid testimonials to their greatness. At one point, it poured rain. We huddled together in the recessed cavern with the Foliated Cross, mesmerized as steam rose, veiling the ancient city in gossamer.

After cavorting with the kings all day, we returned to the same second floor table we’d occupied the evening before and wondered over all we’d witnessed. I cannot describe the depth of joy that bubbled up through me. I told my husband that I wished that I’d brought my sketchpad instead of my camera on this trip.

“Why?” he asked.

I answered him as best I could. “A camera locks an image in. Drawing creates a memory but allows the subject to stay free.”

He frowned in confusion, then gave me a hug and said, “I’m sure we could find some paper and pencil crayons somewhere.”

“I’d like that,” I replied.

After one more sound sleep in our musty third floor nest, we made our way to the bus station and, not too much later, hunkered into seats 12 and 13. Almost immediately, the bus began climbing through first lush, then increasingly arid foothills.

My inner flower child seemed to be alive and well. Only 60’s lexicon could adequately describe the ride that day – Mexico’s magnificence blew me away! On the pages of my new notebook, I drew madly in great, swirling, colorful swoops.

“That doesn’t look like anything I’m seeing,” said my pensive husband.

“No,” I told him, “It looks like how I’m feeling.”

As I gazed out through the dusty window, I heard the motor groan, and in my pelvis I felt the strain as the bus forged laboriously through the mountain range known as La Sierra Madre. My breath came short and quick as we careened wildly around hairpin curves on what the driver euphemistically called a highway. It took seven hours to lurch over about two hundred topes – speed bumps – and ascend over two thousand meters to San Cristóbal de las Casas. But it didn’t occur to me to feel afraid. I was completely enthralled with the entire experience.

*** Note: The short story “Four by Four” has been uploaded to the “Writing” page. This is located just below the header. Click there to read the full text.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Day Three

Day Three and all is well… Here’s Part Two of  The Odyssey…

An Odyssey

Part Two

As our bus splashed through puddled wetlands – bananas, heliconia, and dieffenbachia grew right up to the pavement, and the steamy, humid air heralded the proximity of the rain forest and Palenque. This Mayan city is considered to be the most spectacular of southeastern Mexico’s more than 1,600 archaeological sites.

 La Posada Tucán, located a block off Palenque’s main plaza would be our home for the next two nights. Soaping myself in the tiny shower while hot, sudsy water washed down over my body, I realized that it doesn’t take very much to make me happy.

Off to find food, we felt like two kids playing hooky. Brightly colored scarves, wall hangings, pillow shams, and table cloths tempted me to put off finding sustenance until he said, “Don’t buy anything here.  You’ll see all the textiles you could ever want when we get to the highlands.” Not fully appeased, I nonetheless set down the placemats I wanted and followed him up a flight of stairs. He claimed there was a restaurant on the second floor and he was right. Not for the first time had my husband’s prodigious memory served us well.

Seated on a breezy balcony that overlooked the action, we drank several very potent margaritas and ate a hearty meal of carne a la tampiqueña – seared flank steak accompanied by refried beans, cumin-seasoned rice, tangy guacamole and a crispy golden enchilada.  Too, too good!  We watched the bouncy marimba band and the enthusiastic gyrations of the dancers until our eyes could no longer stay open.

Back to El Tucán we crept, and crawled gratefully into the two twin beds. Flat out exhausted, we slept like the dead, but woke up fully refreshed, long before the sun had risen over the distant hills. Slinking to my side of the room, he filled my head with stories of the wonders we’d see today.

Dressed and out on the street by six, we felt lucky to find a still-operating night shift taxi; the sleepy driver smiled, happy to accept his last fare before heading home to his café con leche and a comfortable hammock.

On site at first light, we stood humbled by Palenque – the City of Kings, soaring up through the dense and bountiful forest. Howler monkeys cried out and bright green parrots darted between the sunbeams that shone through the branches of the broad-leafed breadfruit trees. All-pervasive creepers twirled up and hung down from every tree trunk, and dewy moss coated the flat rock roadway into the site.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Day Two

Day Two is almost a done deal. And how am I? Well… I won’t say this is a day at the beach… But I must say this cleanse is not nearly as difficult as I had feared. I already feel better and that’s enough for now.

The writing is great. I have rough drafts for 1 ½ of the 12 chapters I hope to finish reviewing during my retreat. A friend sent an email saying that “Virginia Wolfe would be proud”

In the exercise category, I’m also getting full marks today. I walked for an hour and swam laps for 30 minutes. I did some laundry too and hanging out the wash has to count for some major credit.

I almost forgot about not using the phone and started dialing a friend but I remembered in time… Be sure, all of you are in my thoughts.

Keeping in mind that this is a writing blog, I will share another story with you… this time in five parts. By chance a hurricane is also part of this one but it’s oh so different from the last.

An Odyssey

Part One

I tossed most of the night. My body felt taught and I couldn’t bear how my spine and the backs of my thighs stuck to the damp, rumpled cotton sheets. I pulled my hair up off the back of my neck and splayed it over the pillow but no matter how I positioned myself, I could find no relief from the oppressive heat. Finally, in surrender, I threw my legs over the edge and slumped down onto the cool floor.

He let out his own defeated sigh, lifted himself up and piled into the hammock. One bare foot protruded from the blue striped cocoon and rhythmically pushed against our bedroom wall, producing an irritating thump-pause… thump-pause… thump…  I gritted my teeth as I lay spread-eagle on the somewhat cooler but terribly unyielding pasta tiles.

It had been four days since Hurricane Isadora slammed hard into Mérida. The power was out and it would be at least another 72 hours before it returned. No AC to cool us down, not even a fan to move the heavy, humid air. We had no running water, telephone, or ice. The room fell silent – no more thumping.

Lying in front of the wide-open window, I tried to catch the breeze that blew teasingly outside in the night. I begged, “Take me somewhere cool.” By that I meant maybe the Holiday Inn for the rest of the night and tomorrow… I knew they had a private generator.

He said “Let’s go to Chiapas! When can you be ready?”

Thank you Jesus, Mary and all the saints! While stumbling around the moonlit room, foraging for a few pieces of clothing and sundries to stuff into my pack, I answered, “Twenty minutes – tops!” I wouldn’t give him half a chance to change his mind.

I felt guilty leaving everyone behind.  I could be helping in the citizens’ clean-up campaign, but no – I didn’t feel quite guilty enough. The ADO motor coach with servicio directo to Palenque would depart at 7 am.

It was to be a modest trip.  We like small hotels and eateries just as well as large chains. We actually prefer bus trips to driving. Some years ago, in South America, I became seasoned to travel on the spring-less seats of salvaged school buses. Since then, riding long distances has never been an issue.

It had been too many years since we last passed along Campeche’s lazy stretches of jade and emerald colored coastline. As we snaked through the fishing village of Champotón , we snickered over the name of the shrimp bar we saw on the left-hand side of the road – El Viagra. That quirky naivety, unique to people from the pueblos is something we’d missed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

One day down, fourteen to go!


Today I began my much anticipated “personal retreat”. The idea is to take a break from all the socializing and running around I do, and stay home for two weeks. I want to write a lot. In fact I’m hoping to finish restructuring my novel to the point where I have a complete manuscript and editing can commence.

It seems that I’ve been writing this story for a long time. I have “finished” twice and I’m hoping that “third time’s a charm”.  Today, I did manage to get quite a bit resolved so if all the days go like this one, I should meet my goal.

In Mexico, every type of social interaction involves food and I have not been too successful in taking off the kilos I want to take off. While out of circulation, I’ll be away from food temptation. Good time to do a cleanse! What can I say; it may be a good “time” to do this, but I’d hardly call it a “good” time. Quite frankly I’m not yet feeling the “renewed energy and vigor” like the websites say I will but, it’s just the first day…

Physical exercise every day is another goal during my retreat. Today, I did Yoga and went swimming, so feel I did well there.

Many friends have been most concerned for Jorge. “What will he eat?” “Are you going to cut him off too?” Never fear – he is fine. I told him I’d cook for him but he said he’d fend for himself. He has a cold and isn’t too hungry anyway…

How would I rate the experiment so far? Definitely positive – not easy, but positive. I am looking forward to Day Two.

6 Comments

Filed under Writing

Four by Four: Part Two

Victoria had never experienced a storm like this! She could hardly see and in less than ten seconds, her clothes clung to her body like the wet T shirts the gringas wore at the hotel’s poolside bar. But she’d have to ignore her modesty right now; she needed help and headed for the neighbor’s home – an identical dwelling to her own. Victoria could see it looked as endangered as hers.

“Ines, you’ve got to come outside and see what’s happening to our houses.”

The eyes of her only friend in this hopeless place looked so frightened.

“Victoria what the hell are you doing?”

“Ines look up. It won’t be long before our roofs are blown away. Where is your husband?”

As soon as the words shot out of her mouth, Victoria lamented them. She didn’t want to make Ines feel worse. She reached out her hand and rested it briefly on the other woman’s cheek. Stoic and unsentimental, Ines simply said, “OK, let’s get on with it.” It seemed clear to both women that the roofs were of primary importance. Ines’ five children cried and tried to cling to her as she stepped out into the raging wind. “Get back, you’ve got to stay dry,” she said.

Clambering over a pile of tree trunks, that had been left lying on the ground after the last bad storm, Victoria’s vision just reached the edge of her hut’s window. She saw her children in there –resigned to whatever would come. Equal amounts of fear and fury rose up and out of her and she said to her friend,

“Ines we have to get some of these heavy pieces of wood up on the roofs to hold them down.”

” And how will we do that,” asked Ines.

“We’ll pile up these logs and stand on them.”

When they had three solidly stacked on top of one another, Victoria climbed up and told Ines,

“Help me raise one of the big round pieces.”

For half an hour the two women stretched, pulled, lugged and thumped down weight onto their flimsy roofs.

Their worry for the little ones, waiting below produced an energy and strength that neither of them imagined they possessed.

“You are as strong as one of the porters at the market,” said Ines.

“And I bet you could beat most men in the arm wrestling contests they hold down at the cantina,” Victoria told her friend.

When eight large thick branches had been firmly thumped into place – four atop each roof, Victoria said,

“Now we’ll lower the wash lines, throw them over top and anchor the whole works.”

After many attempts to get them positioned, the long ropes finally lay crisscrossed over the wooden weights straddling the humble homes.

“The rest is up to God,” said Victoria.

Too tired and too anxious, the women didn’t say goodnight but Victoria mouthed a kiss as she turned back to her four by four. Ines pantomimed a catch and held her hand to her heart. Verbal thanks and congratulations would come later – maybe.

Pati held back the crying toddlers while Lois opened the water sodden door and let her mother back inside. Rain seeped through wall cracks and Victoria stuffed her wet clothing into them. Naked but for her undergarments, sweat oozing from her exhausted body, she mopped up the puddles on the floor. Taking dry clothes from the shelves of the wardrobe she dressed each child carefully, cleaned their smudged faces and placed all four in the pink hammock. She then removed the vinyl cloth from the small table in the corner and loosely draped it over her bewildered babies.

“It’s like a game… help Mama… go to sleep now… it will be better in the morning.

The girls, lying foot to foot, hugged their brothers close and almost in unison, the quartet began to snore. Soft little nasal sounds. Like kittens purring

After scraping off the mud and grime as best she could, Victoria slipped a cotton house dress over her head and lit the stub of a candle beneath the image tacked up on the wall. The faint flicker would be enough to show the Virgen de Guadalupe where she hid with her four treasures. The nuns from the mission where she received her First Communion told her that when the Queen of Heaven had appeared to Juan Diego she asked, “Am I not your mother?” Victoria took comfort in those words. She had to, there was nowhere else to look for it.

The wind came in wild waves; the rain seemed intent on soaking through every fissure in the plaster. When one of her makeshift dykes sprang a leak, Victoria would rise from her hammock and jam in whatever she could get her hands on. Clothing, towels, a cushion cover. The whole night … it went on and on. Victoria did not allow herself to sleep. She heard the storm growling above their heads and increased her prayers. The flame continued to burn, the candle stub did not go dark.

At one point, the whooshing seemed to abate, only to surge again. Later she would learn the name for the quiet period. The next day the neighbors would call it, “the eye of the storm.”

Dawn arrived and the wind wound down but rain still beat hard on her beleaguered building. When they were sleeping, she thought her children looked like four little tacos. Now they stretched and peeked out through the mesh.

“Girls, stay in the hammock until the day light shines enough for you to see your way through this muddy mess.” One baby tucked in her arms, Victoria crossed through the debris and retrieved the leftovers from last night’s windfall. Pati and Lois gratefully grabbed the plate. She leaned out for her other son who tumbled into her ample arms. While drinking their fill, as they’d done every day of their lives, the brothers took positions that accommodated one another.

Today would be hard. But what day was not? The mental checklist started:

Check on Ines… Find out about work… Get more food…  Clean children… Clean floors,

Clean, Clean, Clean…

No sleep last night and it seemed doubtful that there would be any today.

So much lay ahead but right now, with her four children feeding and feeling full in the still standing four by four, she felt so powerful, so resilient, so… VICTORIOUS!

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

This is about writing, right?

I am poised to start my retreat. In just two days I will retire from my usual activities and indulge in writing… for two weeks. While I am “down under” I will still post. I hope you’ll enjoy the updates, short stories, essays and poems that I’ll share with you from now until May 9th.

This first short story will be told over a two day period. It is based on a true account… Victoria lived in Cancun during the 1980s.  Not much more than a girl herself, she found herself raising four children on her own…


FOUR BY FOUR

PART ONE

I’ll be on that bus so soon! Fifteen minutes to four. A quarter of an hour from now, Victoria would check the hotel time card, quickly peel off the very efficient-looking maid’s uniform, remove the regulation hair net, and step into the clothes she was used to.

She’d open her tattered tote for inspection, and then move towards the door set into the side of the building. The final indignity before exiting involved the security employee’s pat down. She figured he wouldn’t bother going too far today. He wanted to be on his way as much as she did.

She ached to see the four children waiting for her in the miniscule four meter by four meter shed. By rights, their house should be called a room. A total of sixteen square meters, the place featured nothing more than a rough cement floor, four leaning concrete block walls and a rusted tin roof.

Two hammocks slung from one side to the other, the clothes closet, a small table, two plastic chairs, a cupboard and her sewing machine comprised the entire household inventory.  The kerosene burner and wash tub sat outside under a tall tamarind tree. The privy could be found still further back, by the rock wall.

Her two girls, Pati and Lois slept in the tattered blue hammock, and she, with the twins,  in the  faded pink one, They still nursed and fleeting thoughts of their slumbering moon-shaped faces filled her with such emotion that her eyes welled and she could feel her breasts filling. Crossing her arms, she applied firm pressure to her chest. The rushing abated. The wind picked up stronger with each minute and the rain drummed steadily.

Earlier this year, she became the sole provider for her four young children. Her eldest would be desperate by now. At six o’clock this morning she’d left the seven year old to look after them all, “Lois, you’re in charge but your sister will help you with the twins.”

The worst of Victoria’s anxiety centered on the fact that she’d been unable to leave much food. Just a loaf of bread. They’d gone all day with only that, and by now they surely waited for her like famished fledglings in a nest.

The sky looks so grey and the frothy clouds circle the horizon.  Is it true what everyone is saying? Will a hurricane slam right into us tonight? ¡Ay Virgencita! How much more can I endure?

Victoria held on tightly to the bag she’d carry out of the hotel. Food. Her children would have their fill tonight. A large group of tourists cancelled their mid-day feast and the restaurant manager distributed the sumptuous dishes amongst the personnel – like Jesus with the loaves and fishes. A funny thing… the man told them his name. Jesús Santos – a saintly man. One of the few Victoria had ever met.

The driver of the employees’ bus dropped her at the downtown terminal and luckily, the one she needed to take to the “Zona Obrera” was just departing. And after forty bumpy minutes, Victoria stepped through her flimsy front door. Lois’ eyes widened with relief.

She and Pati passed the babies to their mother and the whimpering mouths rooted until they found Victoria’s nipples. They clamped on like tentacles. Stroking the bobbing dark haired heads, she felt sad to think they already knew how hunger feels. They’re a year and a half; soon I won’t have more milk to give them. How will I find the money to pay for it at the cooperative?

Too patiently for tiny girls, Lois and Pati begged permission to open the bag. Victoria nodded and laughed out loud when she saw the surprise on their faces. Meat! Lots and lots of meat!

And for a few treasured minutes, Victoria and her children felt supremely content in the four by four “first home” that she and her husband had been awarded upon their arrival in Cancun.

“Welcome Settlers!” the government official had said to them. She remembered the comparisons she made between the slapped together, shade-less workers compound and her traditional home in her pueblo, with its orange trees and leafy hibiscus. She immediately told her husband, “We need to go back where we have chickens, corn and comforts.” He grew angry when she said that and told her, “We’ll stay for one high tourism season and then, we’ll leave.”

One season turned into five, and six months ago, the leave taking finally happened – for him at least. He went north with his buddies – la banda. His farewell note, tucked up beside the serene face of the framed Virgen of Guadalupe simply stated, “I will make my fortune in Gringolandia, you’ll see…” So far, not one peso had come to her and the children.

How the wind blows!  Victoria herded her small flock into the corner of the single room. Lois and Pati’s frightened faces convinced Victoria she needed to secure their fragile refuge.

I have to find the cause of the terrible racket! She passed the baby boys to their sisters. “Stay here and don’t even think about coming out, no matter what happens!”

The rusted tin roof raised and slammed down, raised and slammed down. The gusts of horizontal rain poured in. Just six-thirty and almost completely dark. She’d have to hurry! Looking up, she realized that the roof could be blown off at any moment.


4 Comments

Filed under Writing

Easter Weekend in Yucatan

Jorge and his brothers on the train to the beach (about 1960)

Easter weekend in south eastern Mexico is full of tradition… but so different from mine growing up in western Canada. There are towns like Izamal and Mani where you can see an outdoor reenactment of the Way of the Cross.

When our kids were little, Good Friday saw us packing up everything we could possibly need into the VW bug and we’d join the other 1,000s of Meridanos headed for the beach. The Rosado clan numbered at least 40 and although the family beach house was big, all of us had to find a place for our hammocks. Vats of fish chowder; kilos of fried fish, bowls of ceviche and of course beer in copious amounts were all consumed by men, women and niños with very healthy appetites.

Easter Saturday in Yucatan… involved more beach and a repeat of the day before’s activities… plus a candlelight midnight Mass. Easter Sunday… more food, more sun, more beach and then on Sunday night, most of us would head home on the perilous Progreso – Merida (2 lanes) “highway.” At the time, drinking and driving was not an offence… it was the normal thing to do. Imagine how treacherous that road could get by about 8 pm… Every year there were horrendous accidents. I’m grateful we survived!        Last Easter Jorge and I saw Elton John at Chichen Itza

Jorge says his Easter at the Beach memories, although decades earlier were more or less the same, except they took the train to get there…

My kids look back on their Easter memories as some of their favorites. Every country has its traditions and whatever they may be, Kids all over the world love a good party, lots of family, special food and the feeling that they belong.

This Easter, we’re having family over for lunch – Chicken Pot Pie will be the entrée (my daughter’s special request…) If you celebrate Easter or other holidays this weekend, what special traditions will you follow?

The Rosado house at the Beach

Leave a comment

Filed under Family and Friends