Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day 2012

And so this is the day after Christmas....and in the "what have we done?" spirit it is time to think about New Year's resolutions, like blogging more, and also about who we are and what we want to do in the world. In that spirit, I offer up this poem I recently came across, from (Pulitzer winner!) Edwin Arlington Robinson:


Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.

And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

-- from Edwin Arlington Robinson, Poems, Everyman Library copyright 2007, p. 19

Monday, December 03, 2012

How to Start a War With Syria in 24 Hours or Less

They talk a lot about the "24-hour news cycle" (they who?) but today I experienced it in a new way. I was listening to NPR news off and on all day, much of the time while working on other things in my mother's house or running errands. I was thus able to repeatedly hear their news headlines and news reports as I went about my business.

In the morning, the reporter informed me that the U.S. - including Nobel Peace Laureate Obama himself - had officially warned the Syrian government that if it uses chemical weapons on its own people, there will be consequences. (At that time, I rolled my eyes and sarcastically commented to my radio, "Well, then I am sure we'll find a way to make sure the Syrian government does just that, so we can stir up some consequences."  Little did I know.)

Midday, it was reported that the Syrian government had officially stated that they are not crazy, that they have no plans to use chemical weapons on their citizens, and basically that they are in the middle of a total shitshow but give them a little credit, would you? That kind of thing.

Then, in the afternoon, the newscaster kindly informed me that the U.S. and intelligence sources were looking into a suspected chemical weapons site in Syria.

Conveniently, the BBC had a packaged feature story in their afternoon program about some people who experienced a chemcial weapons attack (in Iraq, I believe) years ago. This was followed by two or three repeats of Obama's stern warning that there will be consequences, just in case we had forgotten how this story ends.

Isn't that remarkable?! In less than a day, the media cheerleaders for war can take you right through the steps leading to our next effort to defend freedom/fight terror/uphold liberty/make the world safe for democracy.  Brace yourselves, young men and women! They've found another country where your blood needs to be shed!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Farewell, Querétaro!

Here are some things I will miss about Querétaro 

Sada y el Bombon: Only my favorite revista independiente de cultura urbana that I have ever read. Countless examples of simpatico...this magazine is witty, clever, informative, creative, artistically minded, socially conscious, and completely and totally on my wavelength. I miss it already. I have missed it since the first day I ever read it, by merely thinking about not reading it.

The plazas by day: Careful readers of this blog (if there are any left) will know that the plazas of Querétaro are one of its chief attractions. I should have spent more time wandering the plazas of the Centro during the afternoons in between the commitments of my (horrible, exhausting, I'm-so-glad-it's-over) split shift schedule. I am glad for the time I did spend strolling in them. There is something magical about sunlight on the multi-colored, colonial architecture buildings, the spray of the fountains, and the dark gray cobblestones. By the time of my farewell plaza walk, on my last full day in Querétaro, the city Christmas decorations were up and I stood and stared at the sun-sparkled tinsel that spelled out "Querétaro les desea un feliz Navidad" and I felt full of joy. 

The plazas by night: Then again, there is much to be said for nighttime on the plazas. I am just glad we lived across the street from the Centro so we could spend a lot of time there. I loved the music, the arts, the random creativeness, the restaurants and the coffee shops that I found on the plazas, and I loved strolling through them at night to partake of these things.

Volcanes: I am not sure how this secret of Mexican food has remained so well kept, but this was my favorite discovery in the cuisine of Querétaro. Essentially, a volcan is two small, round, crispy tortillas with a whole bunch of melted cheese in between, and some meat usually, which is why I feel guilty about loving them, but holy schmoly are they delicious!!! It's basically a little sandwich with what look like tortilla chips instead of bread. And don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not at all sure why Taco Bell has not jumped all over this. They have totally done their part to co-opt (and slightly alter) gorditas, chalupas, and so on. Volcanes are absolutely meant for Taco Bell's menu, and without even much alteration, although the cheese would never be as good. My mouth is watering just thinking about all the volcanes I am not going to eat anymore. 

The aqueduct: This is Querétaro's pride and joy, and I made sure to take a walk up the little hill to take one last look at it on my final full day, too. I will miss driving past the arches every day...and I won't even be there to see the fancy new expanded lanes of the thoroughfare that goes through the arches when they are completed, although I did get to witness the majority of their construction (didn't I just love my evening rush hour commute!) 

Learning about Mexican history, especially indigenous history but also the interesting Indpendencia and the Revolucion: Sometimes I did this by visiting museums. Sometimes I did this by reading. Sometimes it was by talking to people or by just being there to soak up cultural awareness. To paraphrase Suzanne Sugarbaker, there was quite a bit of Mexico that I did, indeed, want to soak up.

Nevertheless, it is time to move on and actually try to earn some money and make a living in the world again (what a concept). That's OK. I like to think Benito will continue to keep watch over Querétaro in my absence.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mi día de acción de gracias

Allow me to set the scene: in the home stretch of my stint in Querétaro , I have been afflicted with a severe case of senioritis. I have low motivation to do anything, whether work or social or shopping or whatever, and the dumb little things are bugging me, like my local Oxxo on the corner being completely out of coffee at 7:30 this morning (what?!)  Let alone the more annoying stuff, like buses not stopping to pick up passengers at the bus stop, which is just a thing they (fail to) do sometimes, or even the bus stopping at the bus stop because it is at a red light, but still refusing to open the door for passengers, as happened today. Because that, my friends, is the horrible logic of the Querétaro city bus system sometimes. Add to this my so-close-I-can-taste-it flight, and I am just a recipe for grumpiness and "get-me-the-heck-out-of-here!" MAJOR senioritis.

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S.A., but here in Mexico it was another Thursday and I headed off to my morning ritual. In the late morning, I had a conversation with a lovely friend in which we both lamented a few frustrations and I mentioned that in my senioritis/low motivation/high irritation state of mind it is probably better if I just don't say anything at all, as Thumper's mother would advise. From there, I headed to the bus stop, with Songs--->Play All on my MP3 player, listening to whatever was next in alphabetical order. I was in the Ds. As I approached the bus stop on the sunny sidewalk, I listened to Indigo Girls' "Deconstruction." Although the song reflects on a relationship, it has some nicely constructed lyrics that make a person think about ALL the things that make up her life, lyrics such as:

As we sat stuck, I could hear the trash truck
Making its way through the neighborhood,

Picking up the thrown out, different from house to house -- 
We get to decide what we think is no good.
We're sculpted from youth; the chipping away makes me weary
And as for the truth, it seems like we just pick a theory
And it's the one that justifies our daily lives...
                 --lyrics by the one and only Emily Saliers

So, that was the slightly self-indulgent, highly contemplative mood I was in when the bus came. I relaxed to the next song, letting the music of Enya's "Deora Ar Mo Chroi" wash over me (not really knowing what her lyrics were saying because it's one of her Irish language songs), and so the wistful mental stage was set for Concrete Blonde's cover of Woody Guthrie's protest song "Deportee." 

Written by Guthrie, popularized by Pete Seeger, and covered by many, "Deportee" talks about a small plane crash in 1948 in Los Gatos canyon, near Fresno, in which 28 migrant workers who were being flown to Mexico died. The news reports apparently named the U.S. flight crew but did not mention the workers' names, dismissively noting that those passengers were just deportees. (Read more here if you like Wikipedia.)

I rode the bus down Constituyentes, thinking about being in Mexico, and thinking about how all of my peeps back in the U.S. of A. were already gathering with family and friends, munching on appetizers, preparing turkey and potatoes and vegetables, a bountiful spread, a cornucopia. Everyone would be ready to eat the plentiful harvest, food likely gathered from the earth by the hands of migrant workers who probably won't be thanked on this Thanksgiving day. Concrete Blonde sang Guthrie's words:

Well, some are illegal and some are not wanted
Our contract is out and we've got to move on
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves
Adios a mi Juan, adios Rosalita, 
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria

You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane
And all they will call you will be deportees...

I knew that when I got back to my apartment I would log on to Facebook and see thankful status updates, and pictures of beautifully set tables, and the occasional plea to not spoil this day by shopping or, as we call it now, "door-busting." I would think about everyone enjoying a day of warmth and tradition and gratitude. I would grapple with thoughts about the celebration of an idea -- a mythical but inspiring feast, a feast of sharing, a feast in which the immigrants were welcomed and helped to survive in their new land.

I felt small. I felt alone. I also felt suddenly grateful in yet another new way to be able to look around and see and know Mexico -- even when I'm sick of being here and the bus driver infuriates me and the Oxxo runs out of coffee (seriously). I offered my thanks to the universe that I could know that Mexico is history and mountains, highways and industrial parks, museums and cathedrals, poetry and folklore, Nezahualcóyotl and Fuentes and Kahlo, fashion and magazines and film, guitar strumming at parties, jukeboxes, comida corrida, the weird bird that squawks outside my apartment window, and so much more. Even at the end of senior year, one still has lessons to learn and things to think about, but the more important question is how to share one's knowledge with the big, wide world.

Normally, my Guthrie Thanksgiving song is Arlo's "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," but this year, I'm all about his father's song instead. I don't have a video of that Concrete Blonde version to share, but here are the Highwaymen:

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A short list of things I am REALLY not into*

*list is not all-inclusive

1. Being cold in my apartment.
2. Being cold when I wake up in the morning.
3. Being cold while getting dressed in the morning.
4. Being cold in the shower.
5. Being cold after a shower.
6. Being cold indoors, ever, really.
7. Being cold in an apartment/climate where there isn't even any heat source/system (apart from the sun) because it's not really supposed to be that cold.
8. Being cold on a boat on the Yangtze River.
9. Being trapped in a meat locker, with or without Bobby Brady.

Most of the above have happened to me. There is one exception. I bet even the least among ye can pick it out. But did you also know that the first seven are happening to me right now?

I heard that Tropical Storm Rosa in the Pacific was to blame for our rain-filled weekend, but this whole cold front thing? So not OK. What am I supposed to do, light a fire on our tile floor? And the way our apartment is built, apparently the warm afternoon sun has no way of reaching inside to eradicate the damage of the overnight cold. So I'm sitting here wearing a sweater and hat inside whereas if I walked outside I could be in a tank top and shorts. What the huh...?! This tells me I need to either: a)buy a new laptop battery so I can go work outside  b)leave Mexico before it gets any colder.  Oh, guess what? One of those things is in the works....

Just to end on a positive note, I would like to point out that I have been generally grateful for our overall temperature-consistent apartment (everyone knows that the temperature is SO not the real flaw of this apartment building) and I would also like to point out that I am very appreciative of cold things, often, including but not limited to: snow, skiing, wintry Christmases and iced coffee. But when one is inside one's shelter, one should be warm. Period.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Regarding Guanajuato

No other city in the world looks like Guanajuato. Technically this is true about every town and city of course, because they are different cities, so necessarily there is something different, but I mean in the first-glance way. You could throw a few downtown buildings pictures or random neighborhood pictures or highway pictures in front of me and I might be hard pressed to tell you from just a snippet whether it was Dayton or Terre Haute. (I can't picture either of these cities in my head right now, so there you go.) Or, frankly, Denver or Kunming -- you all would be surprised how much China looks like the U.S., or was that the U.S. looks like China? You've seen one sprawling highway oil-fueled superpower, you've seen them all, I suppose. But my point is ---> Guanajuato. It doesn't look like anything else.

The city of Guanajuato, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, is nestled in between mountains and built up the hillsides and full of old buildings and lookout points and stairs and slopes and colors, so it ends up looking like this:
Guanajuato. Photo by Brian!
This is one of the pictures Brian took during our recent weekend sojourn. We arrived in time for the tail end of the Festival Cervantino, which is a big festival of visual arts and literature and music and theatre and whatnot that happens in Guanajuato and also a bit in some surrounding cities. Our weekend getaway began in San Miguel de Allende, and then we had Sunday, October 21st and part of Monday, October 22nd in Guanajuato. There were sooooo many (drinking) festival Cervantino people (drunk) piled in the streets -- sometimes, actually piled in the streets, sleeping on their jacket/sleeping bag/duffel bag before heading back to the bus station or whatever. Loads of young people, college students, rock music fans, creative types, pierced types, people from Mexico City, people from Guadalajara, and whatnot. But all ages and all sorts.

We stayed at a hostel right in the Centro, about a four-minute walk from my new favorite building in the world, the Teatro Juarez. Our time in Guanajuato consisted of lots of strolling and some good eatin' (of course, because that is what happens everywhere in Mexico) as well as climbing the hill for some great views, admiring buildings and plazas, drinking a beer or two, wandering the streets, eating some more, and so forth.

Lord knows I have not been a prolific blogger during our Mexico stint, and I regret to say that part of the reason for this is we have been less mobile than I generally like to be, and I have not been too keen on blogging about my day-to-day schedule and duties. We often stay put in Querétaro, with only occasional galavanting. This is due largely to our exhausting schedule, lack of weekends, lack of holidays, and lack of funds. But the few weekend getaways we have had have been very nice. And this was one of them!

For those keeping the body count, Guanajuato is also one of the Safe Cities, as it were... one of the places around here where, when we tell someone we're going there, we don't get the raised eyebrow or any warnings about being safe. It's not as if we've even considered taking a spontaneous Monterrey-Durango-Juarez road trip or anything like that, but there is the occasional unrest in various other parts of the country, too. Not really Guanajuato, though. And yet! AND yet! Brian and I managed to see our first dead body in Mexico. On the bus from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato, we were rounding the curve at one part of a sprawling lake and I glanced from my bus window down to the patch of dirt where waves lapped the rocks, and there it was  -- a body, lying face down on the sand, partly but not very muchly covered with some blue tarp/blankety thing. There were a half dozen police on the case and a bunch of bystanders around, too, and it could have been anything -- accidental drowning, or foul play, or suicide, who knows? But hey! How often does that happen on your little highway bus journey? "Look out the window, honey, at the pretty trees...the sunny blue sky...the wildflowers on the side of the road...oh, don't miss the dead body right there..."

No dead bodies once we got to the city of Guanjuato. You know what they do have, though? These amazing roads that are built into and under the aforementioned hills. I've never seen anything like it. Tunnels and tunnels and gray brick arches of more tunnels and roads under roads and rock...I've never had a city bus stop in a tunnel to let people on and off before, but there we were. You can just kind of wind your way down and in and around beneath parts of the city. It's fascinating.

Central Mexico. It's where it's at, yo! And I don't just say that because our schedule and salary don't allow us to travel any farther...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I'm With the Band

It was a spectacular Saturday in San Miguel. We are definitely trying to utilize these last few weekends here that are actual weekends (i.e., when we don't have Saturday a.m. duties) for galavanting to nearby towns and cities here in Central Mexico. On Saturday, October 20th, we headed back to San Miguel de Allende, the pretty little colonial city beloved by expats and others that is nestled in the hills about an hour's drive northwest of Querétaro. We had never stayed the night in San Miguel before, but this time we were planning to make a whole state-of-Guanajuato weekend out of it, so we booked a cute little hostel a few blocks from San Migeul's central garden/plaza. 

During the afternoon, I walked around in perfect sunny weather partaking of the city, the expats, the galleries, the shops, the plazas, the newspapers and posters and other announcements of evening events, and just so much art. For decades I have known about the artist/writer expat scene in San Miguel de Allende, and I have even known a few people who have come to Mexico to spend some time there, but it's another thing to just wander around in it and be confronted with the many gringos, the Texas accents, and the rather polished and shiny manner in which they carry themselves through their afternoon. Cultural centers, art and craft fairs, yoga classes, embroidered bags, brightly colored clothes, not a few items that are - frankly - overpriced...all these things are part of the scene of course. I just kept walking into galleries when they caught my eye, at least one on every block, and I loved all of the Day of the Dead themed stuff making its presence known. 

I become curious about people who settle permanently/indefinitely in other countries. Not because I can't imagine being an expatriate, or because I would miss the U.S., or because MURrica is the best or anything silly like that. No, it's because I can't imagine how on earth they decide. With so many countries on Earth, how do they pick just one?  (Note: I can't figure out how people decide on just one city IN the U.S. or other home country in which to live, either.) 

As the early evening began, Brian and I headed out together to San Agustin Chocolates y Churros, which was just a little bit of heaven served on a plate, and with a great view out the window to a UNESCO World Heritage temple, to boot! The "chocolates" are drinks -- you know, like hot chocolate, only so not at all like hot chocolate you've ever had, but so much more! I got the Spanish style - less sweet, more yum. I also had a churro filled with caramel. OH MY GOD. Yes, I said a churro filled with caramel. Even after Brian and I finished our treats we stared at the churro-making guy through the window from the sidewalk for a while.

Night had fallen, and we did a bit more wandering and rambling, making our way back to the central garden plaza, as usual, where we enjoyed people watching, expat watching, and mariachi watching. (Of course, expats and mariachis are people, too, but the act of watching and the different things you care to observe are what differentiate these.) After a while, we headed down Hidalgo street to a bar I had discovered on my afternoon ramble; it caught my eye because it was a blues bar with 2-for-1 Dos Equis specials. (Insert "I don't always ___ but when I do ____" joke here.) It turns out to be owned by an expat who previously had a bar in Acapulco but who wisely moved on when that city turned to a violent, dangerous, scary place a couple years ago. We asked him about that a little bit, and he replied that he watched it turn from a nice place to a bad place. "I remember when it turned bad. I remember the day," he said. Ahhh, the war on drugs. Good ol' violence, solving problems. Totally not at all. 

I had a place picked out for dinner, but we also had vague plans to meet up with one of Brian's students who is in a band and had informed Brian that they were playing in San Miguel that night at some "event." Not a bar, we knew that, but our directions were kind of strange and bilingually confusing. Nonetheless, we intrepidly set out and continued to enjoy our strolling and people handing us flyers about karaoke and whatnot. After a long, arduous search for "the arch" (which I knew! I knew where to find it! I was right, even though the doormen threw us off!) and a conversation with the doormen who were like, "No, this is a wedding" and a trek too far up the hill when we didn't believe enough in ourselves to insist we had found it, we ended up getting in contact and the band was, in fact, playing at the wedding -- at a really cool wedding spot on the hill overlooking San Miguel de Allende. SUCH a great spot. I absolutely must have a party there someday. The musician-student-friend came down to meet us when the band was on a break and we went in with him past the doorman ("hi, it's us again, we were right after all!") and they gave us a free drink (thanks!) and then we went up to the dance floor/plaza/band set-up (AWESOME lookout over the lights of the town) and we just kind of sat back"stage" which was basically like two chairs up these little steps from which we could watch the good times roll. It was completely and totally random. There was no real reason to be there, really, other than just hanging with the band. Just enjoying the view, man. 

At midnight I turned into a pumpkin even though the band kept playing (they were going to end at 1 a.m., they, at midnight...well, maybe not at midnight....who knows?) because I was starving and so we parted merrily and headed back down the hill to the restaurant that serves food until 2 a.m. On this walk, we were able to check out even more of the San Miguel nightlife, and my goodness! There's quite a bit of it. People dressed to the nines, pulsing music, lines spilling out of clubs, people spilling over sidewalks, drunk people, happy people, pretty people, a great time being had.... it is definitely worth spending a night in San Miguel de Allende in addition to days. 

Sunday morning we stopped at the Starbucks on our way to the bus station. Let me just say right now that I'm pretty sure the San Miguel Starbucks is the coolest Starbucks ever. It's right down in the center of the town across from the plaza in an old building and it has arches and high ceilings and wood and it's L-shaped and the collection of colonial architecture buildings has a courtyard and iron-barred windows and whatnot. Indescribably awesome for a Starbucks. Love it. Totally wished we had time to stay and sip our coffees there, but we had to hustle to catch our ride to the city of Guanajuato.

So, the first half of the weekend? Lots of thumbs up! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Querétaro with six weeks to go

It's a relaxing Friday evening at home. I've got the baseball game on TV (trying to decide which of the Atlanta Braves' recent playoff nemeses to root against, San Francisco or St. Louis?) and I'm attending to various tasks, both functional and creative, on my to-do list.  I'm also rather enjoying some cookies that I bought at the Mercado Escobedo earlier today. I have time to get a bit of writing and reading done.  All in all, like I said, a relaxing Friday evening at home.

And that's the weird part. We've had so many homes over the past few years, and in so many different countries, to boot! I've always moved a lot (home ownership and settling down are maybe the last two things on my list of life priorities) but I've also enjoyed my recent periods of (what passes for) stability of two to four years in the same place, in Brooklyn and in Boston. (Hmmm, B----n, coincidence? Perhaps I'm destined to settle down in ... Bhutan! Or Bahrain. Maybe Berlin?)

We've had some really great homes during these years of galvanting, Brian and I have. Even our short-term homes, like Baan Suwaan in Phuket, Thailand. (There's that B------n theme again, although in that case it's the name of the hotel/apartments.)  I wanted to stay in Baan Suwaan forever! If we hadn't made post-Phuket plans, like with an already booked plane ticket, we would very likely have kicked it there for a few months. Ahhh, Phuket.

Our main apartment in Andong, Korea was awesome, too. We really dug living in Ok-Dong (Ok-Dong kitties! and the restaurants, my goodness) and if we hadn't been moved to the new and improved digs above the new Avalon school location, we just might have been persuaded to re-up for one more year teaching at Avalon.

And Chicago...sigh. I miss living there a lot. Our apartment was in the Best. Location. Ever! (thanks, Sara and Houston) and I loved it, and I did all sorts of things and I barely scratched the surface of that city in one year. I mean, we are definitely planning to go back, but when I start thinking about Chicago I start getting really depressed, because it reminds me that there is such a big world to live in and I just want to live in all of it. I want to live in the U.S. (in Chicago, and L.A., and New York, and Boston, and sometimes Tucson and Atlanta and D.C. as well) and I want to live outside the U.S. (ZOMG! So many choices!!!)   Why is that so much to ask?

I'm sure you can tell why I'm thinking about these things. Our Mexican time is ticking, and with only six weeks until my Next Big Move, I have definitely started getting that mix of thrill and anxiety that comes with determining just what exactly the Next Big Move is.

Meanwhile, let's review. What are some of the things I have most enjoyed about living in Querétaro 

1. The PLAZAS!  We live right across the street from Querétaro's Centro Historico area, which is thanks to Brian ensuring he got us a great pad in this area, when he was here for two weeks before I came, so kudos to Brian! I love, love, love strolling across the street and wandering around the andadores amid the colored colonial architecture. I love that there is pretty much always an event happening on the Plaza de Armas -- music, art, literature, crafts, concerts, festivals, performances of some sort, all the time. And that doesn't even mention the other plazas I love, like the Jardín Zenea or "our" plaza, the one on our cross street of Ezequiel Montes, with the fountain and light show and dramatic opera-like music.  Yay, plazas!

2. The food - obviously. And I can't even try to summarize it all here, but let's just say I was clearly meant to come to Querétaro because their local specialty, enchiladas queretanas, are cheese enchiladas with potatoes. I mean, this basically screams "Linda! Eat me!"

3. It's the little things, but I sure do like it when people as they leave a restaurant/cafe say "Buen provecho!" to the other patrons who are still eating. Brian and I are pretty proud of ourselves every time we provecho our fellow diners on our way out. 

4. I could keep talking about food and restaurants for a long time, so let me just give a few shout-outs: Tacos Tucson. Our dearly departed guajolotes/enchiladas queretanas place that seems to have recently closed. Bisquets. Cafe del Fondo. Tacos El Pata. Cafeto. Tacos Goyo. Other street tacos places and holes in the wall and little random discoveries. ChilaKing (do I have that right? our local chilaquiles spot). THE BLUE MASA GORDITAS PLACE!!!! Yes, I am shouting. None of you have really lived, because you haven't been to the blue masa gorditas place. 

5. The Arcos. That's what we call Querétaro's aqueduct, because of its many 20-meter high brick arches. It's awesome. It's a symbol of the city. I see it all the time. I dig it. 

That's just a taste. I have not been a prolific blogger from Querétaro, for reasons that I shall elaborate upon once I'm out of here, but just so you know: if you're on the fence about coming to Querétaro, I do recommend it. Bring an appetite. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Cockroach Scale of Misery

I believe there has been some misunderstanding about just how many cucarachas we are dealing with here in Mexico. Since not everyone in the world thinks the same way I do about the little !@$%^&*s, it appears I need to clarify just what I mean when I say that I am sick of the roaches.  It goes something like this:

1 cockroach = WTF?!
2 cockroaches = Someone needs to deal with this. (Not me. Someone.)
3 cockroaches = I'm moving out
4+ cockroaches = bloody murder what the hell jesus save  me what i can't go on there is no life there is only the agony make it stop the roaches the horror THE HORROR!

That basically sums it up.

By the way, this is not [# of] cockroaches per month or week (are you crazy?) or anything. This is, like, ever. In any given apartment/house/living situation.

And we have waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay surpassed those numbers here in Queretaro.

And there has definitely been more than one week in which we reached three during the week.

And there has been ONE day - only one, but still - when there were four. Four! In a day!!

So, even though I can truly say that the majority of my days here in this apartment I have not seen a cockroach, it is not a 99% majority or anything like that. AND I HAVE SEEN MORE THAN ONE! Which is all I need to know. More than one cockroach = misery and pain and fear and loathing forever.

Are we clear?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Printing! And other stuff!

Today I visited Querétaro's Museo Nacional de Artes Graficas, aka MUNAG. I would translate that for you, except that if you speak English and you can't reasonably figure out what that translates to, then I don't really have a lot of sympathy for you, to be honest. Anyway, the coolest thing about this museum is that it contains the oldest printing press of the American continent(s). It's from 1539 ish. I couldn't believe I got to just stand there looking at it and I could even touch it. It is made of wood and has a giant screw in the middle (I mean, really big) that twisted to press the plates. It was cool. I like printing presses. So revolutionary!

In fact, this museum had lots of information about the history of printing in Mexico, both pre-Hispanic and during the colonial terrorist period and during the independence century and the revolution and so forth. There were stone and wood (I think) and maybe clay stamps and other tools that were used centuries ago by the indigenous peoples, and there were lots of old things and lots of information about the various printers who did their thing during the 1500s or 1600s, sometimes infuriating the Catholic powers that be. There was a list of which kind of books were unacceptable to the Church and which were acceptable. The acceptable list was about a fifth as long as the other list.

All in all it was a nice museum visit, and it's located in a beautiful old courtyardy colonial architecturey house in the Historic Centro. It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in downtown Querétaro, as usual.

The rest of my day has consisted of a lot of reading (newspapers, my new Borges book) (in Spanish, btw!) and catching up and watching the Yankees lose (always a good time) and so on.

Seven more weeks in Querétaro! I might have to start a serious countdown of things that remain, Like, only three more annoying Friday evening shift/Saturday morning shifts...only 42 more car rides that have the potential to make me want to stab myself in the eyeballs with a toothpick ...definitely fewer than 50 possible days on which I will have to deal with cockroaches...and so on. But then my countdown is also a little sad, considered from the other perspective: only six more weekends to galavant...and fewer than 50 days on which to eat all this delicious cheap delicious delicious cheap delicious food.  I kind of want to eat enchiladas queretanas every day for the next seven weeks. And also everything else.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

It's the Final Countdown

OK, well, maybe that's a little premature. But we could possibly go with the home stretch?

I am officially past my 2/3 point in Mexico; in fact, I have been for a few days. There was some consideration of us staying longer than six months in Mexico (answer: no) but now here we are with imminent November staring us in the face, demanding to know what's next.

You, too, may be wondering what's next. Since we are still hashing out details of our potential next gig and it is not exactly set in stone, I shall refrain from blogging about it in a lot of detail at the moment. Suffice it to say, we are probably going to head to that other thorn-in-the-side-of-'MURRica country that perennially pisses off people who hold weird-conservative-isolationist-they-took-our-jobs-but-I-shop-at-Walmart-at-least-I-know-I'm-free-to-guzzle-gas-and-64-ounce-sodas viewpoints.

Meanwhile, eight weeks remain for me here. Eight weeks, people! Eight!  Do you even realize how many things I have left to cross of my Querétaro things-to-do-list?!  Not to mention how many more times I need to go do karaoke. 

We crossed off one thing from our to-do list on Saturday: we took a walk around Querétaro's local pyramid, El Cerrito, which was built and added on to over a few hundred years 1,000 - 1,500 years ago. Seriously, that is some oooooooold stuff there, people. It's actually in Queretaro, too -- we just ride the city bus for 25 mintues and don't really leave the city, but just across from a little foothill neighborhood and some shops and a taco stand, there it is, the entrance to the zona arqueologia containing this massively old group of Toltec structures and plazas where skulls and other things have been found in the past.  Here's the Wikipedia link, if you're interested. 

Eight weeks left! That's all. I'm still startled by this. I have to get cracking! 

Friday, October 05, 2012

Why did the pedestrian cross the highway?

Have I really not blogged yet about the highway crossers? I meant to blog about them the first week I was here!

Here in Mexico, I drive or ride as a passenger for nearly 200 kilometers a day, mostly on the highway outskirts of Queretaro to go to a couple of different industrial parks. On the way to said industrial parks, one passes suburbs, gas stations, little towns, a church or two, and various businesses, and there  are many, many, many pedestrian bridges over the highway so that people can go back and forth.Despite this, there are still many, many, many, many, many people who cross the highway. On foot. On the asphalt. The highway. The highway on which cars are driving 120km per hour, or maybe even faster. DESPITE THE FACT that there is a pedestrian bridge probably 20 meters away, and another 100 meters in the other direction. Naturally, having lived for seven years in Southern California, I immediately thought of this:
In California, we basically called these the "immigrant crossing" signs. You see the signs when you're driving on Interstate 5, from San Diego to L.A.  Like many in So Cal, I always figured the problem was Camp Pendleton right by the highway there, and the checkpoint on the freeway.  Naturally, we assumed, undocumented border crossers would have to dodge the military base and maybe cross the highway, then cross back to the beach, or whatever.

Now, I'm not so sure calling them the "illegal immigrant crossing" signs is at all accurate. (Well, first of all, the colloquial term "illegal immigrant" is not accurate, because it should be "undocumented alien," because the word immigrant means an intention to immigrate, as in permanently, as in legally, and technically there's no such thing as an illegal immigrant, but I digress.)  I mean, I'm here to tell you that in Mexico, darting across the freeway is apparently normal behavior. Or at least not at all surprising to drivers. I now see that it could have nothing to do with Camp Pendleton or evading checkpoint authorities.  Apparently, the 5 is just another road to cross. It was really eye opening for me to come here and realize that it maybe wasn't entirely about being undocumented, but just about the complete and total culture clash, where most U.S. natives would be bewildered by the mere idea of running across a freeway.

But I suppose calling it a "Mexican crossing" sign would be even more offensive than an "illegal immigrant crossing" sign, eh?

Here's a link to a very interesting San Diego Tribune article about the signs, the illustrator, and the various meanings the sign has come to have to different people.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Monday's Horrible Football Referee Call That Ruined Green Bay's Life Forever

In case you hadn't heard: apparently, on Monday night the replacements did their worst ever refereeing and stole a game from the Green Bay Packers and basically ruined life as we know it and brought down the wrath of the universe upon all mankind, or maybe all footballkind. Or, maybe, they made a call based on the rules that other people couldn't see or understand, and it was devastating but in fact correct. Whichever the case, we know this much: U.S. citizens are ANGRY! I mean, is it possible to declare war on NFL refs? 'Cause we'll do it, oh yes, we will! What could we invade? (And is there any oil under there?) 

I wasn't watching the game in question. As it happens, I was at an entirely different football game, specifically, a fútbol game (you might say "soccer") here in Mexico. But when I got home and innocently did a little Facebook check before bedtime, there it was, all over my News Feed: the outrage! the horror! Could we invade Seattle, maybe?

I actually have nothing to say about the call in question because 1)I didn't see it 2)I don't care. But here's what I think is interesting: the ease with which we comment on how others do their jobs.

I don't just mean sports. I mean everything. Sports are definitely where this happens frequently: we, the masses, feel fully entitled to comment and judge what the players, refs, coaches, and managers decide on a daily or even minute-by-minute basis. OK, fair enough, we are spectators who, in a way, make the events possible. You could say the same for movies or books or performing or visual arts. But I'm talking about other jobs, too. Like customer service. Many of us feel super-entitled to comment on how the customer service agent did his/her job. Now I, like many, have worked in customer service, and when I comment on customer service, I try to explain specifically what the person failed to do (usually, it's that they failed to offer what they can do and persisted in telling me what they can't do, which was, like, the first lesson I always taught my Borders traineers: don't say "No"/"I can't"/"We don't have that." Tell them what you do have! So simple.)  But I hear a lot of people tell the story quite differently: "She was a jerk" "He was terrible" "I was pissed" "That sucked" and so on.

Teachers. Lots of people think they know how teachers should do their jobs. Politicians and parents are the two main culprits there. But why aren't we listening to the critical analysis of other teachers?

We even do this to doctors, sometimes. I think doctors are pretty sick of patients who have smugly diagnosed themselves using WebMD and a Google search or two. I know they are sick of patients demanding antibiotics for viruses.

I'm just so curious as to why we all feel totally comfortable declaring what some professionals should or should not have done,  but we rarely ask the other professionals in that profession to weigh in.

I think that I am qualified to comment upon how to do the following jobs: writer, editor, ESL teacher, legal intern, corporate trainer, bookseller, merchandising/inventory supervisor, public radio editorial or production assistant, customer service/reservations phone agent, Disneyland cast member, babysitter, paper carrier. But how many other jobs do I weigh in on?

OK, granted, you could also be a qualified hobbyist. So, I can comment a little bit on: theater (acting and directing), gymnastics, yoga, softball, novel writing, poetry, a handful of musical instruments, choir singing, etc. But still, I really have no place to dictate how a yoga teacher "should" teach, because I am not certified or as advanced in my practice. And a few poetry slam prizes don't really mean I should lord it over the Poet Laureate.

I just think it is interesting to ponder how very much we think we know about how other people should do their jobs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Consider Cat Stevens

Today I thought quite a bit about Cat Stevens. I don't want to end up like him. Allow me to explain.

So, like, Cat Stevens is awesomely talented, and he made a huge contribution to the world with his music, not to mention his charitable, social, etc. contributions that came after his pop star days.  I mean, let's just take Tea for the Tillerman. That is an incredible album. It is so easily a desert island disc. It is in fact such a desert island disc, such a masterpiece, that I can't imagine anyone not liking it. There are some albums I would bring to my desert island that I recognize might not go to everybody's desert island, but this one? No, this one is sheer musical truth. If someone were to listen to Tea for the Tillerman and not like it, I would really, seriously ask that person what the hell is wrong with him or her.

And by the way, to explain that it contains "Wild World," "Sad Lisa," "Miles from Nowhere," "Where Do the Children Play?" and "Father and Son," among other amazing songs, does not even do it justice, because it is an album album, to be listened to as such, in one big flowing fell swoop. It will move your soul, if you listen.

OK, so then on top of that Cat Stevens has a million other musical hits, AND he has collaborated with loads of great stars, AND then he quit the music industry to go soul-searching, AND he has tried to make the world a better place, AND, of course, there's the whole fact that he is not even named Cat Stevens anymore -- well, I mean, he never was, as that was a stage name, but now he is Yusuf Islam -- and he is all about his personal spiritual journey.

And despite all this, you know that in his obituary in The New York Times and wherever else, they're going to hit on the "Salman Rushdie controversy" within a few paragraphs.  (Note: it's ironic that I'm totally having a Cat Stevens moment in my heart and on my MP3 player this week, because literature-wise I am having a Salman Rushdie moment this week -- what's up with that, universe?)  I mean, you can decide for yourself whether or not Cat Stevens was misunderstood and whether or not he actually ever "supported" even in theory the idea of the fatwa against Rushdie, but the bottom line is that he's in the mix. He's associated with it. People burned his albums. (Record albums!!! Remember those? How could the kids today ever even protest a recording artist so fervently? No wonder Chris Brown has got off so easily in the public eye--what are the kids supposed to do, a mass deletion of his song from their iTunes? Not the same effect, I'd say.) Designing Women referenced the burning of his albums as the epitome of free speech mental gymnastics in one episode. The Cat Stevens-Salman Rushdie controversy is famous, famous, famous. I personally don't really think all that entirely much about it, because 1.)I do think he was partly misunderstood 2.)I think all religious fervor is f****d and more attention should be paid to all of it, not just highlighted examples in famous people and 3.)as I mentioned, when I listen to Tea for the Tillerman, I am transported to a higher plane, regardless of subsequent actions of the man who recorded it.

Even so, someone who also likes the Cat Stevens music asked me on Monday, "Do you know much about his life?" and I said, "Yeah, some" and I found myself talking about the alleged support of the Rushdie fatwa within a few sentences. What gives?!  This is why I know it will come up in any and all Cat Stevens remembrances. It's just such a pop culture touchstone.

And that is why I say that I don't want to end up like Cat Stevens. Not because I don't want to end up Muslim (well, that either) but because I don't want to end up with this one random incident always being brought up about me. I want my contributions to be diverse and far-reaching and not overshadowed by any one thing, especially one thing that might be a foolish mistake. I mean, it's like Bill Clinton, who could have been a truly great contributor to the world but will always have Monica Lewinsky haunting him...some things just will not go away. I think one of my goals is to get my art and self and creations out there in the universe without ever having that one unfortunate disrupting incident.

Now, as for a series of rebellious and crazy incidents over the years? This is definitely on the table.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's the stupid economy

I'm not really sure when we turned the job of President of the United States into the job of Man in Charge of the Economy. (And no, it should not be a job description with "man" in the title, but that's how the powers that be like it. It should not be a man in the White House now, and it should not have been a man that won the Democratic nomination in 2008, but none of this is the point of this particular blog entry, so let's focus.) We are obsessed, it would seem, with the economy, and more importantly with the idea that it is the president's job to manage/control/"fix"/be blamed for the economy. I'm curious about this.

I mean, for example, there's the Constitution. That's a good place to check for presidential job duties. In that document, the prez is more of a foreign powers/treaties guy, who should make recommendations to Congress. Obviously, the federal budget and the national economy are great subjects about which to make said recommendations, but that would simply mean hundreds of People in Charge of the Economy, not one.

I'm not saying that this is a new problem. Grover Cleveland, James Buchanan, and Martin Van Buren are just a few of the presidents who were blamed for dire economic circumstances during the 19th century.But why? What happened? When did we decide that one guy (guy, ugh) is in charge of it all? It's not as if he is called the Economist in Chief, even.

I'm also curious about the way the self-styled conservatives, specifically, talk about this right now. Their general discourse seems to be that Mitt Romney is the better candidate to "handle" the economy. (Notice there is no question as to whether it's the president's job to do this.)  But I also hear most of these small-government fiscal conservatives talk a lot about individual responsibility. They like to perpetuate the idea that every man (and sometimes, if we're lucky, every woman too) has the same opportunities to make money, start a business (as if all of us want to/are meant to start businesses), go from rags to riches, "build that," be successful, and maybe even get his own reality TV show one day. Personal responsibility, individual responsibility, freedom, liberty, and don't let those commie-liberals get their hands on my money! Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility, that's the rallying cry. Oh, except the economy sucks. So we need someone to fix it for us.This is what I hear them say: We don't want so-called big government to take away our money/guns/freedom or give too many services to anyone else, because we totally believe that we should be individually responsible. But, the president is In Charge of the Economy.

Doesn't that seem a little bit hypocritical?

Thursday, September 06, 2012


I don't always cross post my recent Literary Supplement updates here on my "main" blog....

...but when I do, there are copious amounts of beer involved and the story kind of usurps the book that was supposed to be the point of the blog entry. Yee-haw!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Self-Hating Google

Just how useless is Google+?  This question has haunted many people over the past year or so. I try not to be a hater; I have always had Google's back. I was an early adopter of Gmail (July 2004, thank you). When they wanted their trademark protected? I chastised everyone for turning "Google" into a verb and, god forbid, a generic. Aaaaaaand yes, last year I dutifully signed up for Google+, created a few circles, and then promptly went back to Facebook to see what all my friends were doing.  I usually am reminded of Google+'s existence when I get those little emails in my inbox that say "So-and-so shared with you on Google+"... except... those emails really need to be in my INbox, you see.  But today, while cruising through my spam folder, I found this: 

Right. That would be a notification email from my Gmail spam folder.  How incredibly awesome is that? Google+ is so annoying that even Google thinks itself is spam!

This totally made my day.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why you sound stupid when you talk about war

I always wonder why people don't realize how absurd they sound when they talk about war, particularly when they glorify soldiers in war. You know, the whole Dulce et decorum est... crowd, which seems to have been updated in the last few decades to "Freedom isn't free."

Freedom isn't free. Pithy, eh? So clever. Well, except for the fact that it IS free. I mean, it easily could be. Freedom just exists. It is not until after someone takes freedom away that there is a cost to get it back. We are all, to get a little sappy-70s-film-song about it, "born free."

But what really gets me about the whole freedom-isn't-free mentality is when these U.S.A. people start talking about their "ancestors" and the Founding Fathers who "sacrificed for our freedoms." I mean, you people do realize that you're talking about fighting England, right? It's freakin' England! The country that now, in all of your modern, racist, immigrant-hating, Iraq-invading, b.s. war-on-terror imperialism, you are constantly allied with! But then you get all gung-ho militaristic and remember the good ol' times when we were even shooting at the English, in order to gain our "freedom"? I see.

And by that, of course, I mean that I don't see at all.

It just so happens that this past 4th of July I was here in Mexico, and I spent the afternoon grilling, watching baseball, and drinking Coca-Cola in our impromptu Independence Day celebration with a few other United Statesians and a few international folk, including a Brit. Of course at some point during the festivities we had the obligatory "Ha, ha, King George, ha, ha, you're just sad you lost, ha ha" conversation, and then we moved on to the next hamburger or whatever.

But I wish that more of my U.S. peeps would take a moment, using the special alliance with their English friends to help them, to realize how goddamn horrible it is to kill anyone based on their nationality OR their taking up arms in "defense" of that nation when you yourself are also taking up arms in "defense" of your nation. Because in a mere 100-200 years, that "enemy" nation might be your new best friend, and you'll kind of look like an asshole jabbering about how blessed and honored and sacred your great-great-great-grandfather was for blowing a bunch of 18-year-olds from that other country to smithereens.

Seriously, people. Stop killing.

Yes, that includes Iranians. Stop ALL of your killing.  

And save the back-and-forth frenemy nonsense for Gossip Girl

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Querétaro Block

I'm in one of those blogging funks, wherein I just don't seem to have that compulsion to share my thoughts with the world, as The Wonder Stuff sing. I hate it when that happens. There is a tiny little part of me that worries it's because sharing pithy comments on Facebook and Twitter gets my venting and ranting out there into the world, leaving no more desire to blog, but as much as I want to push that thought away in a great fit of denial, I truly don't think that's what's behind the blogger's block. I think being in a relationship is the single greatest difference between my current blogging and my blogging as I once did, because in the beginning I was very much a this-is-me-against-the-world blogger, and now I'm not like that. Which is interesting.

There's also the fact, however, that I CAN'T blog about some of the things that are foremost on my mind. I mean, besides the cockroaches. I could blog endlessly about cockroaches. But believe it or not, there are many other things on my mind here in Mexico, despite what James Taylor would have to say about that, and unfortunately I can't put some of them on the web for the world to see and that is annoying to me. I don't like doing things and being in situations that I can't openly blog about. I'm not into secrets like that. (This, in the end, is why I really can't be a politician or work for the government. I'm just not into being secretive about what I'm doing.)

So, apart from the annoyances that have to stay under wraps (and apart from the cockroaches) Querétaro is actually all right!  Festive red, white and green decorations have stated popping up around the Centro, and I am getting excited about the upcoming Independence Day celebrations. (We've been over this, but for those of you who have forgotten: no, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day; rather, it's Sept. 15-16.)  The rainy season seems to have sort of stopped, but we still get occasional rains, and rain in Querétaro tends to be a torrential downpour of biblical proportions that can really cramp your style for a fewhours. Brian and I have been enjoying our weekends in town by hitting up restaurants, plazas, and so on here in the historic Centro area where we live. I've pretty much become comfortable and even occasionally rather zen about driving the stick shift. Also, I've been running. The first few weeks here I was not at all into running because even when walking around the neighborhood in shorts listening to my MP3 player I did not like the looks and comments I got from men, all machismo-ed out and reminding me of the Latin-male catcalling in Brooklyn when I ran, only worse. But Brian discovered a great path on which to run to the big Alameda (park) just over a mile from our place, and now that I have that running route it's all good and I can do my running thing without being bothered. There's a Querétaro marathon (and half marathon and 10K and 5K) coming up in a little over a month, and I'm pretty sure I'll run the 10K.

All I want to do is read and have more time to read and write. I was actually supposed to have more time to read and write here in Mexico, but that's one of the annoyances actually - I don't have as much time for those things as I thought I would. However, I am reading cool stuff, when I have time to do so, and even sort of regularly updating my Literary Supplement with my book thoughts, most recently Grover Cleveland, and now I'm in the middle of a Salman Rushdie book.

We've met interesting people here in Mexico, including a couple of people who are currently in the midst of a bicycle trip through Mexico. Bicycles! On the highways! Isn't that so totally awesome and fearless?

But time marches on, summer has come to an end, my nephews and nieces have started school back in Phoenix (not that I ever get updates from them or my sister, but I know that they have), kids have started back to school here in Mexico, food here is delicious, the prices of eggs are in crisis because of a strain of avian flu in some Mexican state or other, I more or less get to keep up with all the batshit insane politics back home in the states (and the shocking level of ignorance about basic human biology that passes for acceptable in our elected officials), and there's still so much to see and do and learn in the world!

One very interesting thing I came across recently was a man named Xokonoschtletl.  He was speaking to a small crowd in Mexico City, near the Zocalo, about Tenochitlan and the destruction by Spain/Cortes etc. of the Aztec civilization, and how Montezuma's crown/headpiece is still in Austria, and how good-but-ignorant so many modern-day people are, and how people buy hook line and sinker the propaganda of the powerful, continuing hundreds of years of imperialist terrorism. I could have listened to this guy forever. Later, I looked him up (based on his book, Juicio a Espana) and discovered that he is in fact a somewhat known activist and speaker and whatnot. He should be even better known; he's awesome. You can watch him on YouTube or visit his web site. I'm so glad I randomly came across him. I loved Mexico City, p.s. I love learning about Mexico and its past.

Because really, the best thing about being in Mexico has been learning more about Mexican history, and the indigenous struggle, and the pre-Hispanic civilizations, and the continuing traditions, and all of that. I mean, don't get me wrong, I REALLY like the food here. But the food has been exported. I really think this historical cultural knowledge has not been exported at all. Even in neighboring Arizona, where we think we have so much experience with Mexico/Mexicans, we are missing so much of the story.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ciudad de México

Finally, finally, finally, we spent a couple days in Mexico City.  Two thumbs up!

Isn't it the worst when you've had a layover someplace, a place that actually comes up in conversation and people actually ask about, but for years and years and years after your layover you don't actually visit the city so then whenever it comes up, which seems to be, like, all the time, you have to say, "No, I haven't been there. I had a layover..." and then you just sound like an idiot who actually thinks having a layover equals visiting a place, which, no, you don't think that at all but you just want to somehow convey that you have passed through that space on the globe's just the worst. My Mexico City layover was in 1997. (Even longer ago than Tokyo-Narita, which gave me five years of fits every time someone asked if I had been to Japan, and which I remedied during 2011 by traveling for reals twice to Japan, which, by the way, is the greatest country in the world.)

Fun fact: Brian and I have now been to seven world capitals together! We have also been to one same world capital separately and each of us has been to a few world capitals the other hasn't visited.

In short, Mexico City is awesome and it was really nice to be in a large city again. It reminded me that Querétaro is in fact a small city, which I don't really think about when I'm here in the Q, but which I thought about in comparison. Querétaro has a million people and nearly that many industrial parks and all, but here are a few things the Ciudad de México has that Querétaro doesn't have:

Speaking of seeing the plaza, we had dinner and drinks in a cute and totally not expensive restaurant overlooking it all. I highly recommend that when you are in Mexico City you go to Pura Corazon, on the 6th floor across from the street between the plaza and cathedral entrance. Delicious food, friendly servers, and the view! We had first tried the fancy-schmancy hotel down the street but its terrace restaurant was only serving expensive brunch on Sunday, and I was sad to not be able to have a drink with a view, but then further down we could absolutely have a drink with a view, and it was lovely.

So anyway, the subway. Three pesos. THREE! That's, like, a quarter. Less than a quarter, right now. I was in heaven. I cannot stop marveling at its three-peso-ness.

We stayed in a nice hotel (thanks, Agoda!) in the Zona Rosa area, just a hop skip and jump from Reforma, the wide boulevard dotted with sites and on Sundays filled with bikers and joggers and skaters and dogs. We had lots of wandering time, and we saw Bellas Artes (magnificent), the Bosque de Chapultepec (paddle boats!), and many an old building. We had a Saturday night out in the Coyocán area, all trendy and nightlifey, but not disco-nightlifey, just with throngs and restaurants and bars and snacks and coffee and down-to-earth-ness. My new favorite bar in Mexico is there: El hijo del Cuervo. It's a bar with a cute raven logo (did you know "cuervo" means "raven"? well, now you do) and loads of witty literary quotes on the menu.

The *only* problem (not Mexico City's fault or anything) was that it rained sometimes, although even that wasn't like our recent Querétaro rains wherein the sky opens up for four-hour deluges, but rather, just little sprinkles that would stop after a few minutes, during which time we'd pop into a restaurant for tacos or something. However, I would like to address something: the rainy weather was cool weather. I had to wear layers and never even wore the shorts I brought for our weekend trip. There has also been cold rain of late in Querétaro. Well, I have a problem with this. Mexico, as careful readers will recall from my last post, has cockroaches. Cockroaches that are tormenting me by daring to show up in our apartment occasionally. I have already acknowledged that the dastardly insects/creatures of the devil are the price you pay for tropical paradise (see, e.g., Cuba and Phuket) but tropical paradise is also WARM. Mexico, listen up: you can either have cockroaches or be cold, but you do not get both. Pick a side.

Aaaaaaand, the day we headed from Q to Mexico City was the day Mexico beat Brazil to win the gold medal in men's Olympic soccer, so the streets were even more lively, filled with people and flags and hats and painted faces and horns and cheers and happiness.

Indeed. Viva Mexico!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

"Porque me falta, porque no tengo..."

I suppose the whole cockroaches thing should have been clearer to me sooner. Just think about the music. What is the one song associated with Mexico that everyone in the U.S. knows?  Well, that's true, there's "La Bamba." OK, so what are the two Mexican songs everyone in the U.S. knows?  "La Bamba" and "La Cucaracha." If a song about the godforsaken creatures is (one of) the most famous thing(s) about a place, you can pretty much expect them to be everywhere.But I'm still traumatized, every time. I am just not meant to co-exist with las cucarachas, and I am certainly not meant to cohabit with them!

Now, don't go getting all holier-than-thou with me about all creatures great and small or anything like that. I have repeatedly explained my theory that cockroaches are actually miscategorized in the animal kingdom, that one day scientists are going to discover that the suckers are really something else entirely, just like they did with protozoa. (If I'm remembering my 8th-grade biology correctly.)  Or, for the more religiously inclined among you, think of it like this:  be nice to all of God's creatures, right? But cockroaches aren't God's creatures; they're clearly the spawn of the devil.

And don't go getting all traveler-than-thou with me about Mexico's latitude and biodiversity and climate. No. I have spent quality time in the tropics (the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, thank you) and I am well aware that  the price you pay for paradise is insects.  But these roaches currently traumatizing me are nasty urban dwellers that have no need to exist, but because they are evil and horrible, they subsist on crap and junk and garbage and dead cells and dirt, and they make their way through the crowded Centro city streets and old buildings into every crack and cranny and crevice, only to emerge in my living space.  No, thank you.

Spiders? Beetles? The occasional random unidentified six-legger? Brian and I will happily scoop them up in a cup or something and toss them outside. I give cockroaches no quarter. They are evil, horrible invaders that are more virus-like than lifelike. I would happily replace them in the food chain with ten other kinds of insects to make up the difference to the animals that (shudder) eat them.

Speaking of which, does anyone know where I can get a pet bat?

I really want a pet bat. And a frog. I love frogs anyway, and those two things would solve my cockroach problem. But see, this is the thing: my city dwelling is really not a good habitat for frogs or bats. Cockroaches are particularly troublesome because they take themselves out of the food chain and go live somewhere else, far away from their natural predators. And we have three different kinds that have reared their ugly, ugly heads in our kitchen and bathroom. Have I mentioned how evil they are?

A friend suggested bay leaves. We spread bay leaves everywhere, as if in some kind of ritualistic incantation ceremony, and they seemed to reduce the cockroach sightings for a couple of weeks, but in the last few days the demons came back. If they have somehow figured out that the bay leaves aren't actually going to hurt them, I simply won't be long for this world.

By all means, share with me your tips for how to get rid of cockroaches, once and for all!

Friday, August 03, 2012

In which it all makes sense now....

OK, I *loved* Depeche Mode when I was an adolescent. Basically what happened, as I recall, is that I heard the song "Strangelove" one day and I immediately had an epiphany, began buying all their albums (mostly on cassette, p.s.), and learned what it means to have a favorite band and care about music.

But you know what I didn't know when I was 12?  British English. I mean, there I was, growing up in the U.S. of A., and although I bought Smash Hits whenever I could get my hands on it, it would be years before I was the highly educated, well traveled, ESL-teaching, friend-o-Brits that I am today. So back then, sure, I may have known that those English folk said "flat" when they meant "apartment" and stuff, but I didn't know everything. And although these days I have definitely passed a British English quiz or two (these generally involve a bored British friend, beer, or both), I am still surprised every once in a while when I'm teaching English from a textbook full of British vocabulary and I discover in, say, an automobile vocabulary lesson that windscreen is their word for windshield.

I mean, I knew about boot (trunk), and bonnet (hood), and indicator (signal), but...have I heard windscreen used in that context? I mean...that means...a windscreen is....wait! It ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!

"Death is everywhere
There are flies on the windscreen
For a start
Reminding us we could be torn apart

  -- Depeche Mode, "Fly on the Windscreen"

Cripes! Dead bugs on the windshield?! Is that all?  When I was a 12- or 13-year-old listening to this song, by which I of course mean obsessively playing this song over and over in a darkened room while brooding about the meaning of life, the word "screen" meant, you know, a screen. Like a screen door. (Hello, raised in Arizona, land of patios.) Or possibly a screen in a window. So if it was a windscreen, then I guessed it was just, I don't know, some big screen. With flies on it. Flies that were symbolic of evil, the minions of the devil, Beelzebub trying to get into our hearts.  Flies that covered an entire window, like in The Amityville Horror.  But all he was talking about was dead bugs on the windshield? I mean, the song's still really profound and thoughtful and all that, but it's certainly not as creepy or grotesque of an image if it's just a smashed bug or two while you're driving down the highway.

I had no idea.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

+52 (442) I-N-F-L-A-T-E

I have had a flat tire while driving exactly twice in my life, and both times have been in the last two months. That's not the weirdest part, though! I will now tell you the weirdest part.  Keep in mind that I mean while I, myself, was driving, as opposed to other times when I was a back seat child passenger on a road trip or whatever. No, I mean flat tires with me behind the wheel: two, and here's what's weird.

First, in May, Brian went to Mexico. I was still in Phoenix for two more weeks. On my last Thursday in Phoenix, there I was scooting along the 101 when I heard a really loud noise which I thought was the engine dying, turned off the radio, pulled off the (luckily close) exit, and only then realized I had a flat tire that was flopping and grinding along. Luckily, I had joined Triple-A upon my acquisition of said car after returning from Korea to the U.S., and I called them to come help me out. While I waited in the hot, dark desert night on the side of the freeway in lonely 7th St/Loop 101 north Phoenix, I received a text message from Brian from a new phone number: "This is my Mexican phone!"  To which I of course replied something along the lines of "Can't talk right now, stranded by the highway with a flat waiting for triple-A."

Fast forward to July. I'm in Mexico, and as you will recall from recent blog posts, I have been forced here to learn to drive a stick shift (wheeeee!) and I perform this task for five round-trips per week. And wouldn't you know it? On Monday afternoon, almost back from that day's duties, as we crawled along in stop-and-go (mostly stop) highway traffic (I stayed in 1st gear! that's how much "stop" there was), the driver in the car to our right suddenly waved until he got our attention, then did the whole pointing down to the ground below your car thing while mouthing something unintelligible, which is the universal symbol of "You've got a flat tire!"

But here's what's so weird: I just got my Mexican cell phone number that day! Finally. Isn't that bizarre-o?!?!?! The only two days ever that Brian and I have ever got our Mexican cell phones are also the only two days ever that I have ever been driving and got flat tires.

What does it all mean?!

Friday, July 13, 2012

My landlocked travels

"The sky pours out biblical rain
then days so still the beauty gives you pain
The heat waves kills the green
and she remains unseen...."
                    --- indigo girls, 'she's saving me'

I am familiar with rainy seasons. Tropical rain, desert monsoons, four straight days of drizzle in central Korea, the daily afternoon shower in the Caribbean....and as luck would have it, we arrived in Querétaro pretty much just in time for rainy season. Two months, I'm promised, of rain. Lots of rain. Let me tell you a few things about the rain in Querétaro:
  1. It can be astonishing. This morning (happy Friday the 13th!) the rainfall has been so hard and steady for so many hours in a row that I'm a little worried about why Noah didn't contact me. Also, I'd be perfectly happy to leave these !#%&* cockroaches off the ark this time.
  2. I have to drive in it, once every week or so, and this wouldn't suck nearly as much if a.) the drivers on the highway didn't insist on still careening around in their fast, aggressive Mexican highway fashion, complete with rumbling 18-wheelers and cars whipping around the curves and b.)I wasn't just three weeks in to my whole driving-a-stick-shift stop-and-go thing and c.)we had anything resembling decent windshield wipers on the car. You know, like maybe more than two speed settings. Or maybe if one of them didn't have a flapping piece of rubber peeling off of it. Stuff like that. 
  3. It's so - patchy! (despite being a deluge) The weather in the hills ten minutes away can be different from the weather down in the city. As those hills are part of my commute, it fascinates me to feel the ten-degree difference in temperature and the huge shift in a matter of minutes. In the city itself, you can often walk in sunshine, then feel the sprinkle while still feeling sun on your face, and you can watch the clouds shifting above you and see the patch of blue sky a few hundred yards ahead. (Note: today's downpour is not one of those sprinkle days.)
OK, well, since I haven't washed away yet, I'm off to continue the productivity of my Friday the 13th. My apologies for actually writing an entire blog post about weather. But what a great soundtrack I have for it in Become You!

"Headed back to the flatlands, 
and you're headed up to the hills-
rain brings you home middle of July..."

                               --indigo girls, 'nuevas senoritas'

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

When in the course of Queretaro events...

As my mom reminded me today, the old joke goes: "Do they have a 4th of July in [Mexico]?"  Ha, ha. If you don't know the answer, um...I can't really help you. But seriously, today was actually a good day, the lack of fireworks notwithstanding. Irony alert: after years of holidays in Arizona and California on which many illegal fireworks were heard to be launched in random city neighborhoods, including the occasional Mexican holiday and thus, presumably, the occasional launching of fireworks by Mexicans/Mexican-UnitedStatesians/people celebrating Mexican something or other, I find myself IN Mexico on my homeland's holiday without a firework to be found.

A fellow United Statesian teacher here in Queretaro hosted a lovely afternoon barbecue to celebrate the ol' U.S.A. independence. The majority of the guests were teachers of business English, and our schedule is basically this: teach corporate classes in the morning (beginning of their workday) and then have a long break and then teach corporate classes in the evening (end of their workday). That long break in the middle? Is long enough for a 4th of July barbecue! Said barbecue included four of us red-white-and-blue-lovin' peeps, a few Mexican friends, our friend from Argentina, and even an Englishman for good measure.

We had hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, Coca-Cola and Coors Light in the fridge (plus some Mexican beer if you didn't want to stoop to Coors Light, you commie swine), and baseball games on the computer, including the Nationals and the Phillies, such appropriate Independence Day cities. A good time was had, even if I had to leave and go do English teacher things, although I must add that my students and I had a great discussion about the 4th of July, holidays, Mexican Independence Day in September, and perhaps most importantly the vast amount of food and tequila to be consumed on that upcoming day.

In a further tribute to the greatness of 'MURRica (ahem), I would like to report the following exchange from my morning beginning-ish level corporate English class on the topic of Difficult Colleagues:

Me: (having discussed various "difficult" characteristics and listed them on the board) Do you know anyone like that, who blames others for their problems?
Students: No, not here. At my other company, yes! Not here.
Me: (starting to fish for "politicians") Well, what about in the outside world? Can you think of a famous type of person who often blames others for their problems...?
Student: Britney Spears!
Me: Well, yes. I see what you mean. A celebrity might blame others for her problems. Can we think of another...?
Student: Lindsay Lohan!

I mean, you really have to hand it to them. They got the concept and ran with it.

All righty then, I'm off to pursue some happiness.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Monday Madness in Mexico

Tomorrow is the four-week anniversary of my arrival in Queretaro. To recap, here are some things I have done in that time:
  •  Learned to drive a stick shift
  •  Found a book group
  • Bought and read a book in Spanish - my first Vargas Llosa! 
  • Eaten a lot of tacos. 
  • And tamales. 
  • And enchiladas. Especially the local dish, enchiladas queretanas
  • Sung karaoke (duh) (although, this was actually kind of a fail in that we went super late after the evening was kind of already over and I was out of cash and in fact super exhausted and I kind of need to redo my Mexican karaoke inauguration)
  • Stood at the very table where the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed
  • Graded tests
And, you know, lots of other stuff besides. Not to mention my Spanish speaking! It's fun to speak a little español again.

There was something weird about today, though. I don't know what it was -- a post-election hangover? That would be ironic what with the election day dry laws and all. A full moon? Maybe. But there was just something about Queretaro this evening. First of all, on my (forced, stick shift) drive back from my last duty of the day there was no traffic. There is always at least one time I must slow to a crawl, but not today. I stayed in fourth gear through the police checkpoint! THAT is how little traffic there was! (Why, yes, there IS a police checkpoint on our evening drive returning to Queretaro proper, but it's just a little official one and so far -- and please join me in knocking on some serious wood here -- we have always been waved through and/or they are already looking in the back of someone else's vehicle, usually a truck or U-Haul-type thing.)  Anyway, where was I? Right, today was weird! First there was the whole fewer-cars-on-the-highway thing, and then there were fewer cars in my Queretaro streets too, and I was wondering if people took the day after the elections off, or something.

Then as I was about to arrive back at the Institute, the destination for the car and myself, I came across the remains of a pretty nasty car accident -- you know, loads of police cars, a small crowd, people with furrowed brows, and a car totally crunched under the back of a bus. No vehicle occupants in sight, having already been taken off, alive I hope. So, after being traumatized by that accident right by the school, Brian and I got home and at the intersection by our place a street was blocked off by police, who were shooing cars left and right and not letting them pass, and I could only see that there were more police cars behind them, and I couldn't tell if someone got shot or something exploded or what. Then, Brian was about to head to his weekly soccer game with other Institute peeps but his ride called to cancel so he was going to drive by himself, and we decided (roundaboutly) that I would also go along and be a soccer spectator, partly for companionship and partly because I had been idly meaning to go see the weekly soccer gig at some point (even though they won't let girls play) but mostly because seriously I was like, with all these random acts of police around Queretaro tonight you're going to probably get stuck in some roadblock somewhere and need my Spanish. Ha ha, but we saw several more cops in our 'hood on our way to the game, including an 18-wheeler randomly pulled over on our busy road and stuff like that. I'm convinced something big and bizarre was happening and the police were hot on someone's trail.

OK, cheap thrills, cheap thrills, I know. It's actually been an interesting day even without the weirdness because it was interesting to discuss the results of the presidential election with people, particularly the predicted (enabled?) election of Enrique Peña Nieto as president over Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador and Josefina Vázquez Mota. (Here's a sketch of the basic people and results, very basic, if you'd like to learn a bit. But it's just one prism through which to view the situation, and some people I've talked to would tell the story differently.)

Anyway, as usual time is flying but I am happy every day to be surrounded by so much delicious food.  I realized that I've been going about this all wrong -- clearly I should have been teaching one year in Asia, then hanging out in Mexico for a few months eating, then another year in Asia, etc. My timing has been off. If only I'd hit on that perfect plan sooner!  Yum.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Upcoming Elections - July 1st!

No, not the U.S. election brought to you by Obamney Inc.  I refer to the elections in my current locale of Mexico. Having arrived here two and a half weeks ago, I came just in time for the election frenzy to be reaching its fever pitch in anticipation of the imminent vote el primer de Julio.

The most interesting thing to an extranjera (you know, a "fur-inner"--taking their jobs--oh wait, did I get that backwards?) such as myself is of course the squadrons of teenagers that are deployed at intersections throughout the city to wear t-shirts, wave signs, shout, rally, and motivate on behalf of a candidate. Nice part-time gig for the kids, and visual saturation for the politicos. We see the most people out there for two of the Queretaro mayor (I think) candidates. We also see loads of signs and rallies for the national presidential candidates, plus lots of district representatives and whatnot. Apparently PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto  is way in the lead and extremely likely to win the presidency. I've heard that he will be able to lessen the drug-related violence, and that some people think he will do it by "cutting a deal" with the cartels.*

There are actually other things that happen at crosswalks as well. There are advertisements, windshield-wiper sellers, jugglers, and the even the occasional child performing cartwheels and handstands while the adult guardian-like-figure collects coins. (I was thinking I could start up such a little side business myself! No?)  Basically, stopping at busy intersections in central Queretaro is far more entertaining than doing so in most other cities in which I've lived.

Anyway, back to the political candidates: they also have billboards and signs around the city with their slogans and campaign promises, and I've noticed something about the specificity of the campaign promises, namely, that it exists. When is the last time you heard a specific campaign promise in the U.S.? Maybe Obama's pledge to close Guantanamo -- which he hasn't done. U.S. politicians don't make a whole lot of specific comments, that I can see. They just blather on about things like "restoring America" or "hope" or "change" or who the hell knows what Dubya blathered on about.  But here, the signs actually talk about their various promises, like potable water, or city-wide internet, or "36 new recreational parks."  Thirty-six! It's so specific! As if someone actually has a specific plan about something to do. What a concept!  Obama, Romney, Johnson, Stein, I dare you to try it!

*I personally envision a future in which the U.S. and Mexico's "deal" is an end to the profitability of cartels by ending the Prohibition, and I hope that future comes soon!