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.