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February 2, 2012 / la otra Mexicana

My! What a lovely scarf!

I was attending a wonderful conference last week on Global Education. Another friendly attendee approached me, saying, “What a lovely scarf! Did you get that in London?”  I was completely stunned, and barely managed to stutter out a reply, as visions of the place where I did buy it passed through my mind’s eye.

Dolores Hidalgo is a very small, provincial city, almost city, in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato.  It’s central plaza is pretty,tall,old trees, home to hundreds of squawking birds, surrounded by colonial limestone buildings. There are ice cream vendors on the corner, selling every flavor you can imagine, including beer and avocado. Strolling vendors sell balloons and small toys for children. Old men pass the afternoon seated on the wrought iron benches.

Dolores is nationally famous for being the birthplace of the Independence War against Spain in 1810. It is from the belltower of the central church, carved pink limestone, that Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave out the first cry for freedom.

The Course of Mexican History  says, that although the exact words are unknown, “the essential spirit of the message is…’My children: a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once… Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the gachupines!'”

It is required that every Mexican President spend one Independence night, of his six year term, in Dolores, giving the Grito or Cry, which is followed by massive fireworks and much celebration:

Today’s version:
Long live the heroes that gave us the Fatherland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Morelos!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long live Allende!
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live National Independence!
Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico!
Viva Mexicoooooo!
Dolores is also internationally known for its pottery. If you have seen Mexican tiles

 in kitchens or bathrooms, they probably come from Dolores. Everyone in Dolores makes pottery. A kind of cheap, but lovely majolica, nowhere near the quality of that of Puebla or Guanajuato City.

But I love to go into the real, every day Dolores, so when I go there, after an hour of twisting turning not exactly highway with no guard rails, through the beloved woods of Santa Rosa’, ‘alli no mas tras lomita’ up, around and finally out into the plain, I walk away from the main plaza and go to the market where they sell live chickens and sombreros meant for workers, not tourists.

I found a pair of huaraches there once, that I loved. The kind that people in Dolores wear every day. I wasn’t sure about the size, so the vendor, a smiling older woman, braids of grey hair, and checked apron covering her dress, pulled out a tiny child’s chair, placed it in the middle of the aisle, for me to sit on and try  the sandals. We both laughed at me, this tall, (in Mexico, I am tall)

gringa, out of place in the mercado, but still welcomed, trying on the shoes of another world.

Well, by now, you know that it was in this humble market that I bought my scarf, far away in miles, kilometers and centuries from London 2012.


October 31, 2011 / la otra Mexicana


Sunday afternoon Labor Day weekend, near tea-time, I made myself a tomato sandwich, (tomahto, I had a Scottish Granny). Sliced white Pepperidge Farm bread, gobs of mayonnaise, thinly sliced fresh farm tomatoes, a sliver of red onion, salt and pepper. I only eat tomatoes in August and September. The poor, watery, tasteless things that go by the name of tomato and are sold at other times of the year, cannot compete, or even sit on the same counter with a fresh August or September tomato. When I was ten or twelve, no one had to ask me twice to go down to the garden to pick tomatoes for the evening salad. A salad of iceberg lettuce and French dressing out of a bottle, but still accompanied by superior tomato flesh. I would run barefoot across the lawn, to the vegetable garden. My feet feeling the warm soft earth. I put my hands into the vines, stirring up the tangy, sharp scent, searching for that very ripe tomato which would fall off into my hand . Smell it. Ripe and delicious, perhaps a little earth on it, splashed up from the rain or the watering. I would always find another smaller, ripe tomato, bite into it, sun warm and juicy. The first frost comes early in Northern Connecticut. All the tomatoes, ripe and unripe, had to be picked.The paler, almost ripe tomatoes would sit in the kitchen, on the window sill, taking their time to ripen. The green tomatoes became green tomato pickle and green tomato relish, but the very best was fried green tomatoes to accompany fried mush and bacon. My grandfather made breakfast in the mornings, while my grandmother had her coffee in bed. He had spent a year at the University of Virginia, and there acquired a taste for corn meal mush. You boil the corn meal, add lots of butter, let it cool in a loaf pan, then cut it in slabs and dredge it in flour and fry it till crispy delicious. The green tomatoes were dipped in egg batter and fried along side the bacon and the mush. Those cool mornings leaning into fall, my cousin and I bounded down the back stairs of my grandparents’ house to the breakfast room, to the small walnut trestle table. After the green tomatoes, there was no thought of a tomato again until next summer. The year I went to Ireland, (it was in August), driving up the West Coast, Shannon, Ennis, Doolin, and a stop there to play a tune with the never ending music, and then, lost and tired and grouchy later in the afternoon, we stopped at Ballyvaughan. In the dark paneled and comfortable pub, at that late hour, all that was available was potato leek soup and tomato sandwiches. Oh not enough to assuage the hunger and the weary heart! The revivifying soup brought a better mood, but the sandwich – thin sliced white bread, lush Irish butter and a tiny sliver of white onion, and the rich, sun-filled Irish tomato was heaven. It was the best thing I had ever eaten. (Well, almost. The absolute best thing I have ever eaten was ketchup soup one afternoon in Mexico. Because we lived on a mountain, without a telephone, one hour from the hospital, el Sanatorio Moderno, where I expected to have my baby, our first child, my husband had bought a car. An old Renault that had belonged to his cousin Catalina, in Mexico City. The car behaved famously well on the drive to the hospital in Leon, past the purple jacarandas, and back again with our baby, Mario Bernardo Ruiz Catharine Santillan McGuire. We sang all the way home, lullabies, and joyful songs and most especially the welcome song of the city of his birth, Entre Sierras y Montanias, between the hills and the mountains, and under the blue sky, there is my land . The car quit after that. It became temperamental and spoiled, demanding to be pushed down the mountain road till it kicked into gear. My husband became adept at this maneuver, jumping in at just the right moment. When out baby was a week? Two weeks old? We had an appointment in Leon with the gynecologist who had delivered the baby and the pediatrician. We put Bernardo’s baby basket in the back seat, [there were no baby car seats, and there were no seat belts either,] got in the car and rolled off down the hill. The highway, a curvy, busy, two lane affair, was crowded with heavy cargo trucks and speeding cars. Our Renault didn’t like it. It stalled on the level roadway going through the center of the Bajio. We were able to get it off the highway onto the shoulder. My husband suggested that we try pushing the car,Well, that he push and that I steer the car back onto the road, and that he would jump in and take over when it kicked in. This of course only really worked when the car was facing downhill. Mario pushed, the car chugged onto the highway as trucks zoomed past us making our little car shake and sputter, and it would stop again. We tried this in the hot March sun for over an hour. I was hysterical with fear and heat and exhaustion. It became clear that we were never going to make it to our appointments in Leon. Somehow we got the car onto to the road and turned around toward home, and like an old horse headed toward the stable and the feedbag, the Renault kicked into action. Weak from the fear and the heat, we looked for a place to stop for comida, that life sustaining all important mid-day Mexican meal. There were no restaurants. No taco stands. Nothing. But over to the right was the dirt road that led to the rancho where our friends Esteban and Lucy lived with their little girl Olivia. They like us were a bi-cultural couple, Mexican husband and American wife. We knew by the unwritten law, that all who present themselves are to be treated as Christ, that they would feed us, so we turned down the dusty road. Esteban greeted us warmly explaining that Lucy and Olivia had gone to visit friends. He made us sit down in their kitchen and gave us lemonade while he quickly made a soup from his bachelor days – ketchup and chicken broth, and that was the best thing I have ever tasted.) After the divine tomato sandwich of Ballyvaughan, we were converts. We asked for tomato sandwiches in every pub up the West Coast of Ireland, from the Burren to Westport, County Mayo even if there were no tomato sandwiches on the menu. Outside Galway on our way to Connemara, we stopped at a roadside pub near Spiddal, asked and waited expectantly. And waited. And waited. Until we saw our waiter, the pub owner, run out the side door and across the neighboring field. A few minutes later he came hurrying back with a small brown paper bag. And then we had our tea, and another tomato sandwich.

August 14, 2011 / la otra Mexicana

The Spiritual Side Effects of Trying to Make Coffee in Mexico

I wake up in the morning, put on the coffee, feed the cats, go back to bed and snuggle in with my perfect cup of cafe au lait, and wait till my eyes open. Everyone knows this. That is why my ear friends at Las Embajadoras, here in Guanajuato, store my coffee maker, and mug. So I can contineu my morning wake up routine, minus the kitties who remain in NYC. So, I forgot to bring coffee this trip. No problem. I walked down the the unbeatable Cafe Tal on Tuesday morning to buy a half a kilo of their very best. Oh, oh, coffee filters? Well, none of the small stores in this area carry such a thing. It took me until Friday to get to the Mega – the monster supermarket I would have died for when I lived here – they have everything! So, I found the right size Melitta coffee filters, at precio de exportacion of course. I went to bed happy Friday night contemplating my cup of Cafe Ole in the morning. After a good night’s sleep, I woke up stretching, smiling, reaching for the light switch…oh, electricity!!! I laughed so hard. Dona Cata had told me that the electricity would be turned off between 5 am and 11 am, but in the delicious anticipation of coffee in bed, I had forgotten. So, once again, Mexico reminds me that I am not in control. The only thing to do is laugh.

(BUT, this morning, I had my coffee!)

March 10, 2011 / la otra Mexicana

The Original

 I went to look for a pitcher for an exercise I participated in the first weeek in February, a retreat based on the teachings of Parker Palmer, a Courage and Renewal Workshop. We were asked to find an object in the old house, draw it and then write about it. The previous post is my drawing of this pitcher, and some of my meditation.

This is my post for Ash Wednesday. I, too, am a pitcher, empty, waiting to be filled with good things. You cannot be filled with good things if you are full of yourself. Ste. Therese of Lisieux wrote that what mattered was that we be filled, not that we be grand. I want my little pitcher to be filled with good things, to be full of life.

March 10, 2011 / la otra Mexicana

Little Pitchers

February 25, 2011 / la otra Mexicana

The Latinization of New York?

I was in Manhattan the other evening, in between one thing and another, and so decided to find a diner where I could have a snack and study my Italian lessons. I walked down Broadway looking for the usual Three Brothers or Pearl of the Adriatic or Olympus, the typical no-coke pepsi, kind of place, where perhaps the waiters, Stavros and Nicky, would be shouting energetically over the heads of the patrons – patrons who would be at six p.m. the frail elderly, dining on poached egs or overdone fish. I found what I thought was a suitable place, entered and sat down. My waiter approached and offered a drink. ‘Oh, no!’ I said. ‘I have a class!’

“Well maybe a beer?’

“No, you probably don’t have the beer I like – Mexican beer’

“Ah! We have Corona!’

‘No! Bohemia! Tecate!’

‘Y Dos Equis’ he said, as he switched to Spanish.

I ordered a chicken Cesar Salad, and a cup of coffee.

Then, I noticed, as the regulars walked in, yes, all people of a certain age, that the waiters greeted each of them with a KISS!  What?  A kiss? I thought ”where are the grumblings of the typical diner waiter?’

When my waiter returned, I asked him where  the others were from –

“Oh, Honduras, El Salvador, me I am from Puebla!”

I sensed a slight cultural shift, and wondered just what might happen to New York’s reputation as a brusque and aggressive city!

December 29, 2010 / la otra Mexicana

El por que de la otra Mexicana

Or the reason this blog is called La Otra Mexicana, the other Mexican.I lived in Mexico for so long, and lived such a saturatingly Mexican life, that while I am most notably a Gringa, I speak Spanish like a Mexican. I teach Spanish, I love Spanish and I slip into speaking Spanish as easilyas into the most comfortable pair of shoes. In the school where I work, most of the maintenance people are Latino, – Central Americans, and a few Mexicans. I speak to them every day. How’s it going?How is the family? Don’t work too hard! The small change of every day conversation. I speak Spanish with my colleagues as well – a diverse community from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico.

One day, Jose had a package for me, and not finding me in my usual place on the Foreign Language Hall, asked

‘Donde esta la mexicana? Where is the Mexican?’

A colleague directed him to Maite, the teacher from Mexico City.

‘No! no! la OTRA mexicana! the OTHER Mexican!’

I am proud to be the other Mexican!