Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lessons Learned

Have you heard it said that a change is as good as a rest? Well… I would certainly concur with that… The ten days I spent in San Miguel Allende and Mexico City have me energized and popping with new ideas.

I met original thinking individuals who have not allowed themselves to slide into their dotage. And I ask myself:  What is it that makes a person act and feel old?

As I look ahead, a new decade is not so far off but some of the vibrant people I’ve recently met passed that watershed thousands of moons ago. They assure me that “age is a state of mind.”

So how does one convince the mind to get with the program? From what I’ve seen it has to a lot to do with opening up to new experiences. So what if you have never painted before… you’ll never know what you have in you until you give it a go.

If you want to write, or learn to tango, speak another language, play a musical instrument, cook French cuisine… what’s stopping you?

Ah-ha… is it a little nagging voice that taunts: “Are you kidding? You? You’ll make a fool of yourself… you’ll be throwing your money away… you’re too out-of-shape…too old for that silly business…”

Refuse to pay attention to those conventions. Emulate people who have gotten over themselves and are saying: “Yes! I can do that!”

I had a taste of this freedom last Saturday… I went to Bazar del Sabado – a weekly craft fair held in Mexico City. My companions were two “ladies of a certain age” (who don’t realize they have reached that certain age) We tromped everywhere… talked to everyone… and took a city bus back to our digs…

It started to rain. The water poured in through the windows on both sides, through the rooftop and up through more than one hole in the floor. 70s and 80s music played (very loudly) through the scratchy speakers and one of those ladies started to sing along… Pretty soon, I joined her… and so did a young guy named Hugo who told us he’s a social sciences major at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) Others on the bus got into it too. We all had the best time – under circumstances that could have been dreary, dreary, dreary…

I plan on looking for more opportunities like that! Fun (like rain) jumps up where and when you least expect it…

I hope you enjoy the slideshow.

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Elena Poniatowska II

I am back in Mérida (happy sigh).  It was wonderful to be away for ten days but as “Dorothy” said when she clicked the heels of her ruby slippers:  “There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home…”

However, before I get back into the groove here in Mérida, let me finish telling you about last Thursday with Elena Poniatowska…

At 10 years of age Elena moved to Mexico. WW II had made life impossible in her native Paris. She learned English at the British high school in Mexico City and a boarding school the USA. She says that she mastered Spanish through her heartfelt conversations with the people who worked in her home. In 1953, she took her first job as a reporter, and she also began writing novels.  She soon gained a reputation for her tenacity and honesty.

Elena spoke to me about her life in Mexico City as a young married woman. Like all working mothers, she always felt       stressed by the demands of her work, social commitments, writing and activism.

She became well known for her social consciousness, and she received threats. “It is difficult,” she said, “and you must be careful all the time.”

But she could not remain silent, especially after the student massacre at Tlatelolco in 1968. Her book gives voice to the everyday people who were involved in the tragedy. The book has been translated into English under the title, “Massacre in Mexico.” I highly recommend that everyone read this chronicle. Our knowledge about Mexico should also include the controversial and painful past.

As Elena and I sat together, other people drifted in and out… her son, a person for whom she’d written a prologue, a delightful physical therapist named Silvestre. She seemed so calm and receptive to all. I could see that her life is a series of days that are full of interesting people, good work, her family, and her causes.

Elena said that she felt this July would be critical for the country and she hopes that the public will inform themselves and then show up to vote. “Of course people feel dissatisfied but if they don’t participate and take a chance, there can be no change.”

She openly supports Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador (AMLO) because she feels he is the only candidate who offers any hope for transformation.

She opinioned that we need to concentrate on the present and the future. It does no good to look back all the time, we need to move forward.

“Will corruption in México ever be eradicated?” I asked. She shrugged her shoulders, “Who knows…” she answered.  “It certainly won’t happen if the people do not speak up. But protest also needs to be pragmatic; passion is a start but it has to be backed up with persuasive reason…”

When I glanced at my watch, I could not believe that four hours had elapsed. I must say they had been among the most stimulating ones of my life. Carlos had arrived to collect me and as I said my goodbyes, I felt supremely grateful.

I admire all that Elena Poniatowska represents. I applaud her bravery and I thank her for defending México during this difficult time. I will remember my afternoon with her for the rest of my life.

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A Little Update

I am unable to use my own computer right now because of of an Internet glitch. But I will be leaving Mexico City soon and once I’m home, I’ll be able to resume blogging.

I have loads of stories about these past few days in La Capital… so keep checking:

http://www.writingfrommerida.com

I’ve been meeting some “interesting” people…

Actually this picture isn’t what it looks like… these boys are from the “Plantel Xochimilco del Politecnico” They were at Bazar del Sabado raising money for their football team. They were pretty cute though!

More to come…

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An Unexpected Afternoon

Mexico City is chaotic, crowded, and confusing. The traffic is so congested that it can take hours to travel just a few kilometers by car. Frenetic drivers weave in and out, horns blare, and red lights are ignored in a desperate attempt to reach one’s destination.

But nonetheless I absolutely love this city. The energy is infectious and although I often think that I’m totally lost, I find myself swept along with the throng. Sooner or later I know I’ll get to wherever I need to be.

But yesterday I needed to be somewhere special and crawling through the traffic had my nerves on edge. My determined driver did his best, and finally delivered me to my destination just ten minutes late. My feet hurried over the cobblestones and I stood before a charming entranceway in Colonia Chimalistac. As soon as I rang the bell, the door opened and an energetic young dog rushed up. He gave me a good sniff, and then excitedly nosed me forward into a room filled with framed family photographs, Talavera vases, memorabilia and music.

I looked to my right and down the stairway came my hostess.  She had dressed in a comfortable pink and mauve ensemble that set off her fluffy cap of silver hair, sparkling blue eyes and broad smile. Taking my hand, she ushered me into her living room. Hand-embroidered cushions and sunshine-yellow covered chairs invited me, artwork hung everywhere… “Sit over here so you can see the garden,” she said.

The view through a large bay window delighted me: orchids, hibiscus, green vines and blossom of all kinds. Truly, it looked lovely, and I wanted to pinch myself… sharing an afternoon with Elena Poniatowska is not something I ever dreamed I’d do. “Una tequilita?” she asked as she poured from a decorated bottle into a faceted shot glass. How could I say no? I sipped on the smooth fire and we talked about the “San Miguel Writers’ Conference.”

Elena had enjoyed it immensely, and seemed to be particularly impressed with the organization and quality of the event. She takes pleasure in the opportunity to meet other writers – the famous and the unknown… Elena is interested in what everyone has to say, and this quality sets her apart.

We moved into a sunroom for lunch, where we were served a wonderful creamy soup, picadillo with dried fruit and rice and an apple torte for dessert. Everything tasted delicious and I had fun talking about recipes with the accomplished home cook who had prepared the meal. She said she wanted me to send her my recipe for Pork Chops with Figs and Chipotle.

I told Elena about an unusual photograph I took at the conference…

Several people had gathered ‘round for her autograph. One of the kitchen workers also wanted a remembrance of her visit but because he was working, he had no paper or pen…

Not wanting to miss his opportunity, the enterprising young fellow took a plate from the pile beside the buffet, and then borrowed a Sharpie pen. He passed both to Elena and she wrote a special message for him on the plate.

The preceding vignette perfectly illustrates why she is not only Mexico’s premier journalist, but also the most beloved. She cares about everyone and does her utmost to make them feel at ease.

Tomorrow I will write more about my memorable afternoon with Elena Poniatowska…

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San Miguel and Mérida

When I travel, I always find it interesting to compare the place I am visiting to the place where I live… The first time I visited San Miguel in 2007, I felt that I had found a completely different city to Mérida and I still feel that way.

Starting with the climate; San Miguel’s is temperate. The winters are a little cold for my taste and the night-time single Centigrade digits had my bones aching, my feet and the tip of my nose feeling numb, and my teeth chattering. This of course rarely occurs in Mérida where a slight sheen of perspiration is almost always present under one’s upper lip and “older adult” joints don’t get all seized-up in the warm, humid air.

In San Miguel, a pool is a yard accent rather than an integral part of     one’s lifestyle.

The economy: In San Miguel you need a restaurant reservation – even on a Tuesday night. The quality, service and selection are excellent and many places are in close proximity of one another. I did not see any “Fridays” “Bennigans” or the like. In Merida, except for the chains, the eateries suffer terribly from lack of regular patronage and they lack a consistency of quality. Merida’s international community does a lot of home entertaining outdoors on their patios in the balmy Yucatecan evenings.

Shopping in San Miguel is a delight if you love handcrafts. There is a rich choice of tinwork, blown glass, Talavera, textiles and so on. I wished I’d had a truck to cart it all home. In Merida, the selection is limited… enough said.

The tourism infrastructure in San Miguel and Mérida is of similar quality. Good organization and frequent departures to multiple places of interest is common to both cities,

Mérida is flat as a pancake… San Miguel cannot claim very many level streets. The gardens in both cities are fabulous but I know Mérida citizens spend a lot more time watering.

The local San Miguel population is very used to foreigners and they seem to go out of   their way to be helpful. In Mérida they are somewhat stand-offish at first but once they get to know you, they are very friendly. It is up to the new resident to make the first move…

San Miguel abounds with groups of volunteers helping the community and in Mérida there is also a spirit of giving. The Library in San Miguel is thriving… whereas it’s best not to dredge up Mérida’s current issues.

The preceding account might lead you to suspect that I am all set to convince Jorge to put our García Ginerés home on the market and move to San Miguel. The way I have described it, one would deduce that the mountainous enclave is a pretty fine prospect for permanent residence … and indeed it is.

But the place where one chooses to live is a very individual – sometimes inexplicable choice. I love Mérida. It is my home. I feel so lucky to be able to visit other destinations but my roots have dug deep into the peninsula’s limestone. I am an urbanite, and Mérida is a much larger city than San Miguel. Although there are many amenities in the central Mexican town, they are not big-city. There are no Mayan ruins nearby and no white sand and pounding surf lies less than an hour away.

And so it is in México… many of those who live abroad think of México as a single entity… but it is so much MORE! The diversity of this large country is amazing. I thank my lucky stars that I have the opportunity to travel and enjoy much of it.

Today, I am headed for México DF… the capital of the nation. Just 4 hours from San Miguel, I will once again be immersed in an altogether different environment.  ¡Viva!

Photos: Orchids from my garden , swimming in the pool , Chichen Itza , Yucatecan children , Poster of “Lost and Found in Mexico” – an excellent film!

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Here in San Miguel de Allende this week many questions have been asked about the place of writers in our society.

We are meant to tell stories, report facts and record history. But in doing so, many other issues come into play. Are our facts undisputable and fairly presented?

It has been pointed out that once an idea is written down, it becomes an opinion, and that can be a dicey thing.

Elena Poniatowska urged us to be more aware… At her keynote Margaret Atwood prompted us to be advocates for change…  We were also asked to use our voices effectively by Naomi Wolf.

These concepts swirled through my head: awareness, advocacy, effectiveness As a writer … how should I meet these challenges?

(Patience Little Grasshopper… put a query out to the Universe and an answer will soon come your way…)

Anyway our group of four dined at a popular restaurant and to my amazement, the party sitting next to us gave me a living example of what I pondered.

The adjacent foursome was discussing abortion (yes over dinner…) their comments were graphic, strongly right-wing and very loud. I wanted to turn around and tell them to pipe down. But in the spirit of “open mindedness,” I tolerated their behavior and “took it”… but really, what they did was equal to bullying… and I concluded that I should not write like that that group behaved.

I need to be aware … to observe reality and form an opinion.

I need to advocate for change when I feel it is needed

But I need to be effective… by writing with respect.

In this year of political importance, and in these times of insecurity, we need to think, not jump to emotional conclusions… our opinions will influence others, but if we are not judicious about how we express them, the effect will not be what we’re after!

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Meeting Michael Schussler in San Miguel

Have you missed me? I have not blogged for several days because the 7th Annual San Miguel Writers’ Conference has completely absorbed every minute of my time since last Wednesday.

At one time, I imagined that a writers’ conference would involve a bunch of highbrow types dressed in black… peering suspiciously through horn-rimmed glasses… manuscripts clutched to their chests…slinking around from one deadpan lecture to another…

Uh… wrong!!!  At the 7th Annual San Miguel Writers’ Conference: Cultural Crossroads of the Americas I have met vibrant creative people wearing very funky glasses, and dressed in colorful multiple layers (it is COLD in San Miguel…) And everyone is most eager to share their work and their knowledge. The workshops, keynotes, break-out sessions and socials have been as varied and interesting as the cast of attendees.

I would have to write pages upon pages to even list the activities that the conference organizers provided for us. I had the chance to meet crime writers, memoirists, poets, novelists, humorists, journalists, travel writers and even erotic literature writers.

At breakfast yesterday morning I spoke with one of the conference’s featured authors,          Michael K. Schussler. His adventure (the only word that describes his life in Mexico) began with a train ride from Nogales to Guadalajara… While still an undergrad student at The University of Indiana, he participated in a program at the University of Jalapa, and eventually received his Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literatures from UCLA

And like so many of us, after his first trip to Mexico… he was hooked .

Michael K. Schuessler is currently a Professor of Humanities at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City, where he teaches courses dedicated to Latin American art and literature, pre-Columbian Mexico, and colonial Mexico.

At the writers’ conference he spoke about two U.S. Women and the Mexican Cultural Renaissance: Alma Reed, “La Peregrina” and Frances “Paca” Toor. However he and I and I discussed his book, “Elena Poniatowska: An Intimate Biography”  © 2007 The University of Arizona Press. He explained that he used E.P.’s own technique so it would be, “a homage to her in both form and content.”

Elena Poniatowska is Mexico’s premier journalist and writer. Born in France (and a direct descendent of the last king of Poland) Elena Poniatowska moved to Mexico as a young girl. She was educated at a British grade school in Mexico and a Catholic high school in the United States. She speaks English and French as well as Spanish.  Her vast collection of published works began in 1954 with the publication of Lilus Kikus, a collection of short stories. And she is still writing today.

Michael Schuessler befriended Elena Poniatowska more than fifteen years ago while he was researching and writing about her aunt Pita Amor. She generously allowed him access to the family archives and albums, and of course he became captivated with her.  The biography is available in English and  includes 40 photographs and drawings and an annotated bibliography of Poniatowska’s works.

Photos: Michael with Elena, Conference organizer Susan Page, Yours truly with celebrated Mexican author Araceli Ardón, the biography cover, Mérida attendees Marianne, Deanna and “Moi”

 

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