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July 24, 2013 / la otra Mexicana

Hamburguesas Pili!

Hamburguesas Pili!

For our last comida at Urtxori-Bi, Pili made us her super-duper hamburgers!

April 21, 2013 / la otra Mexicana

Patzcuaro on the B Train

Last week, waiting for the B train at the 81st Street downtown platform, a forty-ish woman, elegant and well groomed, came up to me, and pointed to  the blouse I was wearing, a heavily embroidered Guatemalan huipil, full of flowers and parrots and joy.
‘Is that old?’ she said
‘Yes” I smiled, ‘It’s from Guatemala.’
‘And this!’  she said,  pointing to the black wool cape I wore over the huipil.
‘You have beautiful clothes!’
‘It  is from Mexico!’ and then as the train came,we were lost to each other.
And I was taken back ten  years to a stand on the cobblestoned plaza outside Nuestra Senora de la Salud, where my friend Joanne and I each bought a wool cape to ward off the evening cold and damp coming up from Lake Patzcuaro -Patzcuaro, Purhepecha name for place of the fish I was told once, there are other translations. ‘Cuaro’ definitely means place. It is one of my favorite places on earth. It was the capital of the Purepecha  kingdom before the Spaniards  and although it is noble, it bears no other trace today of royalty.The lake in the forests in the mountains. The enormous old houses with three foot thick adobe walls, the red tiled roofs, the warmth of wood columns in the interior patios, patios filled with orange trees and lush semi-tropical plants. The evening brings cool mist from the lake which lingers till morning.
The statue of Don Vasco de Quiroga, Tata Vasco, leans over the town in blessing, still trying to undo the evil brought by Nuno de Guzman, evil even by 16th century Spanish standards.  Tata Vasco healed with art and music and weaving. Patzcuaro is named one of Mexico’s magical places. Perhaps it is also like one of the Celtic thin places, where the bounadaries to another world are open, where the spirits from the past seem to walk easily’ bringing with them a sense of peace and tranquility.
March 26, 2013 / la otra Mexicana

Las Embajadoras

Las Embajadoras

Las Embajadoras

This hotel restaurant in the upper center of town, on the way to the Presa de la Olla quickly became my favorite place when I came here forty-five years ago. Coming from the green hills of Connecticut, it was very hard to adjust to the months of dry weather and the barren hills surrounding Guanajuato. Las Embajadoras is built around a wonderful patio with bougainvillea, orange trees,
mulberries, a fountain and potted plants everywhere. A little ocean of green.
When I first came here, the patio floor was grass, and the tables and chairs were the folding variety supplied by Corona. The Sunday Comida, or main meal of the day was taquitos, consome, rice, chicken with mole, or just baked, with salad on the side, desert (flan) and agua fresca, and it cost 15 pesos, the equivalent of one American dollar and twenty cents.
Garth Williams, the illustrator of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, and many, many more children’s books, would come with his wife, Alicia.
He said over lunch one day, “Every license but a marriage license has to be renewed. Doesn’t it make sense to renew your marriage license every couple of years?” He was married four or five times…
When Bernardo was born, we would bring him in his little Moses basket, set him down under a tree, where he slept peacefully while we ate.
Later, we celebrated all birthdays, anniversaries and important dates here, like Bernardo’s First Communion breakfast, Mario’s successful thesis exam defense.
And when, I came back to Mexico, it was here that I was welcomed with open arms.
I used to rent a house when I came down with students in the summer, but then I got smart and just decided to stay here. It is in the middle of town, easily accessible, everyone knows where I am. The waiters know how I like my coffee. The food is fabulous. Dona Cata, the owner and force majeur, and I have a storehouse of memories which we share of an evening over hot chocolate or chamomile tea with much love and laughter. The owners are more than kind, saving me and mine from many a pickle.It is my home away from home.

March 25, 2013 / la otra Mexicana

Singing Scorpions

Singing Scorpions

A long time ago a friend told me that you could tell the difference between the songs of crickets and scorpions by the length of their chirrido, I have to use the Spanish word no English word that I can think of gives the same effect. Crickets chirrup chirrup chirrup, scorpions chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrriiiiiiido – their song is long and uninterrupted. Of course very few people know that scorpions sing.
My friend told me of someone who was so lonely she was comforted by the sound of the scorpions singing in the woodpile.
Not so long ago as that story but still over ten years ago, when I was staying in the old Hacienda de Santa Ana, I would sleep with the lights on and sometimes sit bolt upright in the middle of the night seeing a scorpion on the wall. There were many. I became very fast with my sandal. My summer helpers, Maura and Cassandra knew this. They never saw scorpions. They said it was because I was a Scorpio that I saw them.
One night I became very ill with a high fever. The girls had to walk out to the pay phone down the street to call our friend Victor who took me to the hospital where I as diagnosed with an intestinal malady most likely from eating too much highly spiced, greasy, delicious food. I was given medication and sent home to bed with both girls sitting watch. I still had a high fever.
‘Can you hear the scrpions singing?’ Iasked somewhere in the night.
The two girls looked at each other in terror, sure that I was hallucinating.
I am afraid that I was too sick to tell them the whole story until morning, and they spent a much worse night than I!

March 24, 2013 / la otra Mexicana

Viernes de Dolores 2013


I dressed early in a long huipil embroidered in red – animals and flowers – red shoes and grabbed my red rebozo as I ran out the door, down the cobblestoned streets to meet Betina on our way to the Paseo de las Flores. She wore a simple white dress, blue rebozo and blue heels. Tradition demands that everyone wear ropa tipica, something truly Mexican, but now, it is only ladies of a certain age, like me, who are completely outfitted a la mexicana. When we see each other, we smile. The young women nod to the custom with a pretty shawl. As we approach the jardin we hear the municipal band playing thr 1812 Overture. They have been playing since early morning. Representatives of all the political parties hand out flowers. We are given roses and carnations.
In earlier days, young men would promenade in one direction around the jardin handing out flowers to the young women who promenaded in the other direction. Such artifice is no longer needed to make social contact! I am happy to receive flowers from anyone!
The flower sellers have been at their posts since Thursday afternoon, selling great armloads of white and purple alhelies. Everywhere we see people carrying these flowers home to decorate their altars. The Virgin of Sorrows is someone evryone can relate to.
One the steps of the Teatro Juarez a large altar has been erected to  Our Lady Of Sorrows – Nuestra Senora de Dolores.  Today is the day that is set aside to pay condolences to Our Lady for the death of her son, which is remembered the following Friday. For these important days, time is bent a little. And, this day is only celebrated here in Guanajuato, perhaps another small mining city or two. Our Lady of Sorrows is the patron of miners.
Every store and government building has an Altar. The sorrowful Virgin, surrounded by papel picado – cut paper banners; branches of Alamo – Quivering Aspen; and pots of new wheat. The altars are decorated with bananas and oranges, sometimes large crystal from the mines and pots of copal incense. At every altar, there are vats of agua fresca – fresh fruit ade  –
which represent the tears of the Virgin. It is said that you can knock on any door and ask for Agua fresca and it will be given to you. We drink agua de betabel  – beet ade – delicious and the correct liturgical purple. It is garnished with lettuce and orange slices and chia seeds.  When we visit our friends at our favorite restaurant, Truco 7, they ask  “Agua o cereveza?”   Fruitade or beer? The old customs demanded no alcohol and a lot of church going on this day.  At Truco 7,  there is a lively group of celebrants!
December 2, 2012 / la otra Mexicana

My Chabela story

It was at the end of my first visit to Mexico. A lyrical month spent in old Morelia, getting to know Mario’s enormous family. We would walk together down the Avenida Madero and he would point out cousin after cousin. My plane left from Mexico City and to get there, we could travel by bus over Mil Cumbres, a thousand passes- a twisty turny high mountain road, or take the over night train. We chose the train. We each had a sleeping compartment. Somewhere in the early morning I was awakened by a strong jolt. I was slammed into the train wall. Not too hard, but enough to be a surprise. I called out to Mario. Neither of us knew what had happened till we heard other passengers ‘Que se cayo el tren’ – the train fell. ‘Y nadie murio?’ -and nobody died? At this point we crawled out of our berths to learn that the cross ties had rotted and broken, right next to a pile of strong new ones the railroad was eventually going to replace. This caused the rain to simply fall over on one side. A major inconvenience, but not a disaster A woman passing through our car reached into her large basket, under the napkins and brought out corundas -those typically Michoacan tamales in pyramid shape and wrapped in banana leaves. We ate them as we climbed down onto the ground. All around us, other passengers were climbing up a hill to a slat sided truck waiting to take them into the nearest town. I was walking through the muddy field, gathering wild flowers. Everything was beautiful with Mario, even a train wreck. We were so much in our own world that someone from the last truck had to call us from our reverie. We scrambled up the hill and got into the truck which took us to Atlacomulco and a small truck stop restaurant. To me, it was blissful to eat breakfast, staring with love blinded eyes at the man I knew I was gong to marry. The last bus carrying the remaining train passengers left, left us in Atlacomulco, and we were blissfully unaware. Someone let us know, and before Mario could begin to worry about how we were going to get to Mexico City, a gravelly voice from the next table said: -Yo los llevo. I will take you. The voice came from a middle-aged woman in dark glasses and long braids, very straight and strong. Chabela Vargas.Image

February 2, 2012 / la otra Mexicana

My! What a lovely scarf!

Oh! What a lovely scarf!

Recovering from the cold in DC, 20 January 2009