Monthly Archives: June 2007

Pain in the neck

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My neck hurts – It has all day. Maybe I slept on it wrong. Our double bed is outfitted with one big long pillow that we both sleep on. Not that I’m blaming the pillow…

This was one of those days when Wheat and I decided to get something done besides sleeping in the afternoon. There are a couple of museums in Morelia I haven’t visited. Today, I thought we might visit the Museo de Artes Regionales (Museum of Regional Arts) and see if there were any new crafts I could report on. First, we went downtown to Subway (yes, Subway – the little nook had a mini McDonalds, a sushi shop, a subway, and a coffee shop) and halved a BMT on garlic loaf.

Then, after consulting my map from the apartment (a former Baden-Powell student left it there), we set off to find the museum. We got to the block where it was located, according to the map. We went to a likely entrance – a double iron gate that looked on a courtyard garden. There was a lady cleaning the tiled floor of the courtyard, and she came to the gate. I asked if this was the Museum, and she said it wasn’t. But she urged us inside anyway.

Like I said, it was a beautiful courtyard, be we still needed to know where the museum was. The lady told us to go upstairs and into a room across the way. It was a chapel, and the other rooms seemed to be piano practice rooms. We decided to just thank her and leave. We asked at a couple of places, and even went around the whole building, and found nothing! It started to rain, so we sought refuge in the waiting room of a hospital. Then we made it to the Centro de la Cultura and stayed under cover there for a while.

We then headed home via the Casa de las Artesanias, where I bought an issue of Artes de Mexico on Huichol Art to study up on for our trip to Guadalajara. Then Wheat went to Baden Powell to wait for the Conversation Club to begin. I went home to take a Tylenol and lie down.

Oh, last night, we finally went to the REAL Lupita Restaurant. It was very nice – with a good menu. Very bright and clean, with an open kitchen so you could see the cooks (all women) work. I took advantage of the opportunity and ordered a plate of four fried tacos in all flavors: picadillo, beef, chicken, and sesos (cow brains). As if I were not a mad enough cow as it was! They felt and tasted a bit like cooked oysters – okay, but I don’t have to have them again!

Wheat ordered flautas, and then we decided to have dessert. I ordered chongos Zamoranos, a regional pudding made with curdled milk and sugar. I had already had them in paleta form, and really liked that, but the real thing was too much. It was like eating cheese that was floating in a pool of syrup. Put that stuff in a blender and put it over cake or something! Wheat had the bunuelos, which were fried flour tortillas soaked in honey or syrup. It was good, but also very sweet. I can’t wait to go back for the enchiladas.

Got to go get ready for our trip to Guadalajara tomorrow. We finally got tickets through the resources office at the language school and leave at 2:30PM. It will be fun, I know!

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Just another day in Morelia

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I haven’t spoken too much about what we do during the week here in Morelia.  That’s because we don’t do a whole lot…  Wheat has classes that begin at 9AM, so he gets up and eats breakfast, then gets ready for class.  I have classes that begin at 10AM, so I often don’t get up until he’s gone.  Then, depending on how late I want to sleep, I have breakfast or I don’t.  I have a bowl of Raisin Bran if I eat breakfast at the apartment or I have a Diet Coke and a Polvorone (okay, it’s a cookie.) if I don’t.

I have explained to my teachers that I am not a morning person and this is why, when asked the question “How are you?” early in the morning, I will usually answer “tired”.  After I get out of classes – at 2PM, Wheat has already been out for an hour.  He can usually be found in the computer lab, and we usually go back to the apartment to eat lunch, which is often a sandwich, or leftovers.  Yesterday, I made Philly Cheese Steak sandwichs – the beef here is sliced really thin.

Then, quite often, we take a nap (siesta)!

Sounds pretty exciting, huh?  When we wake up, I will usually start preparing dinner.  We do have a small kitchen in our apartment, and I have whipped up simple foods, like spaghetti and (Classico) sauce (adding chopped bell pepper, onion, and poblano with whatever meat we have on hand.  Last night, I had leftover rice, so I just opened a can of black beans and we heated this up in the microwave.  I had meant to go to the market to get avocado and other nice chalupa-y things, but didn’t have time.  I have also bought shrimp, fish, and even carnitas in the market and made something with them.

We have done some things, though.  Last week, when we went to Walmart, we ate lunch at KFC! I know its cheating, but at least we didn’t have McDonalds (yet). Also last week, Wheat was invited to go to a little gathering at the offices of the Church of Christ missionaries(one of which was in his class), so I went with him.  We went in a taxi, through flooding rain, and arrived before the conversation club began.  It was pleasant enough, and we did meet some Mexicans!

Now, yesterday, we did NOT take a nap. Instead, we decided to try out a restaurant that was highly recommended by the school.  It is called Lupita, and is very near to our apartment.  We had gotten directions from our landlady and her husband, but when we got there on Sunday, it was closed.  So, we went back yesterday.  What we had thought was Lupita (cocina mexicana) was actually another Lupita (cocina economica), but we didn’t quite know that at the time.  I entered and asked what was being served, and understood half of what the old woman at the stove told me.

We went ahead and sat down, because it would have been rude to just turn around and leave.  Just like the cocina economica where we ate last week, there is a fixed menu.  We were served the “agua del dia” – which was flavored with jamaica (hibiscus blossoms) – and a sopa de pasta.  Which is – you guessed it – soup with pasta.  It had a lot of pasta shaped like little flowers in it, and not much else.  When we finished that, we had a choice of beef stew (Wheat chose that) or mashed potatoes stuffed with cheese and ham (I had that).  We were also served a side basket of tortillas, but we really didn’t have anything to wrap in tortillas – and I was on the high carb lunch plan as it was!  For dessert, we were served cups of red Jello.

We were very disappointed, to say the least.  At least two or three people had talked about how good the food was at Lupita.  Also, I was hesitant to ask whether this was the Lupita they were talking about.  What if it WAS?  But, of course to answer the daily question (to practice our past tenses): “What did you do yesterday?” I had to ‘fess up.  I found to my relief that is was not the Lupita they were talking about.  Next time we will not just assume that there is one place in a neighborhood named Lupita!  We are going to try to go to the actual restaurant tonight.

After our lunch, determined to see more of Morelia, we set off in search of the big park, called El Bosque (de Chapultepec?).  When we got there, we found a lot of renovation going on!  Part of the park was off limits as workers repaved and repaired.  There was a new playground and also a new Fitness Trail.  That was pretty impressive.  I also forgot that the Aqueduct is found parallel to the eastern end of the park.  We crossed the two lane street straddling the Aqueduct, and found ourselves at the Plaza Morelos.  Morelos was the man that Morelia was renamed after.

Wheat took a lot of pictures of Morelos and the rest of the monument, and then we finally found the Sanctuario de la Virgin de Guadalupe.  The outside is fairly unpretentious, but the inside is decorated in high Baroque style.  There was gilt everywhere.  It may have been too much for some people’s taste, but I loved it.  Somehow, two pigeons had gotten inside, and I wondered how they were going to get out!

After all of this exertion in the hot sun, I insisted that we stop at the cafe of the Hotel Plaza Morelos and have something cool.  I ended up getting a bowl with one scoop of mango ice cream and one of lime (more like sherbet) and Wheat got an Italian soda with peach syrup.  Then we completed our big square tour by going down Madero, which is the main street of El Centro Historico.  We got rained on a little bit, but made it home without getting drenched. Wheat went to the Club de Conversation at the language school and that is when the rain really started coming down!  I took a short nap (I know, I lied!)

Sunday – back from Guanajuato

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Now, I have some bad news for you: we did not go to Dolores Hidalgo. I really wanted to go, but it was too unwieldy. In case I haven’t mentioned it before I was not going there for the history of the famous “grito” of the Mexican Independence. I was not even going there to buy ceramics (after all, we are going to Puebla later!). I was going for the ICE CREAM. Here’s a quote from an article on Mexico Connect.com:

“Ice cream stands abound on all four corners of the main plaza and, in what seems to be a local tradition, each tries to outdo the other in their offerings of unusual flavors. Aside from the usual and more mundane flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pecan, how about something a bit less common, like avocado ice cream? No? Then try some corn ice cream. And if that doesn’t appeal to you, how does fried pork skin ice cream strike you? Still no? Oh, maybe you’re in the mood to imbibe at the same time as you eat your ice cream, then perhaps some tequila ice cream or, another popular fermented drink, pulque appeals to you. But the final word in unusual flavors, it would seem, must be shrimp ice cream. That’s right,shrimp ice cream.”

Saturday night, I was contemplating our options. My first plan was to take a taxi there, let it go, and then take another taxi back after we were done. I had asked the taxi driver who drove us in from the bus station, and he said that the charge to drive from Guanajuato to Dolores Hidalgo would be 200 pesos (and, I assumed, 200 pesos back in another taxi). Then, Wheat and I passed a tour service that advertised a group tour by bus to Dolores, San Miguel de Allende, and some other small town that was supposed to be picturesque. That was 200 pesos per person – and it would have ended up costing the same as the taxi. The complication was that the tour would end at around 7PM, and we still would have to get back to Morelia.

I next asked the woman at the front desk of our hotel if she could suggest something. Almost immediately, she summoned one of the many bell guys that work at the hotel and who had already offered to find a guide for us when we arrived. He stepped in to say that he had a friend who would meet with us in the lobby and give us a quote. I just had time to get out of the shower when he called up to arrange a meeting.

He was surprised that we didn’t want to go to San Miguel de Allende, but I explained that there was a time factor. He told us that to drive us to D-H, stay there for four hours, and then drive us back, it would cost 1000 pesos. I said that that would be too much. He explained that he knew a lot of people who worked in ceramics there and that he would show us around the city as well. I explained that, while we were interested in ceramics, of course, we had another reason for going to Dolores – we were going to videotape the ice cream vendors. He finally came down to 850, but that was still too much, so we thanked him and he went away.

So, the strange and wonderous ice cream concoctions will have to wait for another day. I may still write about them – although I am a daring taster, I didn’t know how my gag reflex was going to handle chicharrone (pork rind) ice cream!

We slept later this morning (Sunday), ate a leisurely breakfast, then Wheat was going to nap while I did some last minute shopping. We had been told that checkout time was at 1:30, so I figured I would have an hour to shop, my things were already packed, and when I got back, we’d check out. Thank goodness I stopped to ask the front desk clerk (the same one who told us checkout was at 1:30) to make a wake up call to our room at 1:00. She hesitated, and looked at me, and then started to explain in Spanish that we needed to be checked by 1:00. If we waited until after, then the hotel would charge us for a half a day!!! I was so annoyed and shocked that I asked her to repeat this in English. I explained to her that SHE had said that checkout was at 1:30, and she repeated the spiel about the extra charge.

I said, go ahead, let’s check me out, then. She explained that we both had to be out of the room, with all of our luggage with us at the desk in order to check out. Highly annoyed (okay, pissed), I went back upstairs to explain this to Wheat. When we went down to check out, the front desk clerk said that they would be glad to hold our things for us, but by then, I knew it was time to go back to Morelia.

It all worked out. We took Flecha Amarilla, a second class bus of the Primera Plus line, to Morelia at 1:15. I already knew that there would be 6 stops in between – actually, more, because right in the middle of nowhere, people would ask the driver to stop and let them off. People got on and off at Irapuato, Yuriria, Moroleon, Salamanca – and a few more I didn’t remember. There was no movie, but I got a lot of typing done. Twice, I got off at a station: one time to go to the restroom, and another to get a snack. We got home by 5:30, and it took only a half an hour more than the first class bus.

After we got back home, we went to eat in downtown Morelia. We decided on the Best Western Hotel Casino, which has a pretty nice “slow food” restaurant. I had Sopa Tarasca, and Wheat had a selection of regional foods, like corundas and uchepas with a salsa that had rajas (green chiles), cream and cheese. While we were there, I said hellow to a Canadian couple at the table next to us. By speaking slowly and being careful not to insert Spanish words into the conversation, I found that I was able to communicate in French!

For dessert, we had paletas. I had the chongos Zamoranos again – but this paleteria had a much tastier version than the one I had tasted before! Wheat had ciruelas pasas, which are – uh, prunes (dried plums, whichever your prefer). I expressed disappointment that they were out of both rompope and ceresa (cherry), and insisted that they have them when I came back!

So now, it’s off to bed. The connection is very slow tonight, and I already lost the links I was putting in the first post. So I will wait until tomorrow to work on those. Also, Wheat will upload the photos to Flickr ASAP. Thanks for reading!

Guanajuato, Day 2

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We woke up reasonably early and went down to the restaurant for our complimentary breakfasts. The choice was limited, but I opted for the Hot Cakes with Bacon, and Wheat had the chilaquiles with chicken and salsa verde. We were also served a plate each of seasonal fruits before our meal. I immediately ordered a Diet Coke, and Wheat sat by in disgust while I received the news that they only had Coke Zero. I ordered it under duress – I needed caffeine. I knew I would have to pay extra, but it was 20 pesos for a can! Ouch!

We set off after checking our e-mail, and went to the Mercado Hidalgo. This market is situated in what looks like an old train station, and has two levels. On the main floor, there are food vendors, but there were also craft booths on the outer periphery. Up stairs, on a balcony level overlooking the first floor, was a row of souvenir, t-shirt, and other touristy items for sale, including crafts. We did a turn to check out the place,as I was going to come back later and buy stuff. Still, I couldn’t resist snagging a few pulseras that looked like Distroller knock-offs. I paid 20 pesos for each and got two with the Ave Maria on it, one with the lords’ prayer, and two others with various saints and the Virgin of Guadalupe on them.

From there, we made for the funicular that takes people to the base of El Pipilo – a huge statue on a vantage point overlooking the city. Because it was such a deal, we purchased the funicular/museo de leyendas pass for 35 pesos (we saved 15 pesos by doing this). When we got to the top of the funicular, we needed to climb up a bit more to reach the scenic overlook. For 3 pesos more, we could have gone into the statue itself, read about the legend of El Pipilo, and maybe even climbed up to his shoulders – at least it looked like that. Instead, we went to the deck with the scenic overlook, and Wheat set up the cameras in turn on the tripod to get a panoramic view.

While he was doing this, I pondered the show we were about to see. Guanajuato is apparently famous for its many legends, including that of El Pipilo and the Callejon de los Besos. I almost bought a book filled with them – maybe I should have! But they were in Spanish, and I have been able to find English versions of five of them already on the internet. Still, I insisted on going to the Museo de las Leyendas. The build-up was huge: it was going to be a multimedia representation of about 9 or 10 of Guanajuato’s most famous legend. There would be life-sized mechanical characters and sound and light. So, we lined up in the little lobby, waiting to start.

There was one couple sitting in the waiting area when we were ushered in. When a final couple arrived (the woman carrying a chihuahua over her arm), a door was opened and we were directed into a pitch-black room. Before closing the door, the usher flipped a switch, announced the legend we were about to behold, and our animatronic adventure began. I am going to tell you right up front that I understood little of the recorded voices accompanying the tableau (I also did not understand the usher, so I didn’t even have a clue as to the legend being animated. Of course, Wheat understood even less.

Programmed spotlights in turns lit up two heads that were attached to opposite walls to our right and left. The center was left dark. Apparently, the two heads were having a conversation. After the two heads talked back and forth for a couple of minutes, the center was lit up to reveal – a man holding a knife! A woman manniquin dressed in white was rolled out onto the scene, and the man stabbed her. The lights then dimmed and showed yet another manniquin of the man hanging by a noose! The music came up, and we went on to the next booth, where there was a story of a man who wanted to die, but demons were waiting for him. A priest finally came out and blessed him with holy water so that the demons disappeared (or their spotlights turned off…) and the man was able to die in peace.

We went on like this through 3 or 4 more theaters. They did do a portrayal of the legend of the Callejon del Beso (the Alley of the Kiss). The two lovers leaned over the balcony and we heard a recording of their conversation. Unfortunately, one could see the mechanical attachment on the top of her head and that was a little distracting for me – also, a bit of her nose was missing. Just as they were about to kiss, her father glided down behind her – with a knife!!! and stabbed her. No one ever says what happened to her boyfriend!

While this was all going on, the other couples were laughing every once in a while, but not as much as we were. The chihuahua was silent, probably asleep. During one graveyard legend, there were three graves on the floor, one with the obvious “star” corpse in the middle. I was just waiting for the corpse to sit up, but it didn’t! How hard is that to rig? Ditto for the second graveyard story, although there was one more story where a man slid out – with a knife!

The piece de resistance was when we entered the last booth (each booth had two legend tableaux in it). The usher led us into the final dimly lit room…and nothing happened. One of the other men with us tried to look for a switch to flip or something, but was unsuccessful. I forgot what the legend to our right was, but the last one had a real life-sized Volkswagon front end in it. Finally, someone knocked on the exit door and explained to the usher that nothing was going on. That was when Wheat and I took our escape. So, alas, we may never know the legend of the haunted Volkswagon.

After descending the hill, we went to a small restaurant and had quiche and baguettes for lunch. Then, we went to an ice cream stand and got ice cream instead of paletas. I got the “blueberry cheesecake” and Wheat got pecan and blueberry cheesecake. The price was 30 pesos each for the largest cup, which was half the size a serving that price would have been at Brusters. Oh, well, that must be why we Americans are overweight!

We visited the Diego Rivera Museum, which is set in his family home. It was pretty interesting, and reasonable for 15 pesos apiece. The first floor was furnished with the furnishings from the original home, I guess. The second floor had a lot of Diego’s early works, even from when he tried to go cubist. There was the obligatory nude of Frida Kahlo, and sketches he made of murals he had done. But the most interesting part of the exhibit was the sketches and watercolors of Aztec life that he did for an English translation of the Popul Voh, and ancient codex. I bought a few postcards of those – which cost 15 pesos apiece. On the third and fourth floors were a few Riveras, including a reprint of a mural with an explanation of all of the people in it. There were also two exhibits of other artists, one a photographer who took black and white photos of churches and religious icons, and the other a painter who creates big, colorful scenes of Mexican people – but none of the people are attractive. I guess he doesn’t get called to do too many portraits.

Our last museum of the day was La Alhondiga, which houses exhibits pertaining to the history of Mexico. The rooms that most fascinated me were – again – pre-hispanic. Wheat got great pictures of clay objects like those made of Aztec gods, for “cult of death” rituals, and my favorite: stamps with intricate designs for decorating fabrics and pottery. They even had roller stamps to make a continuous pattern. I didn’t take a picture of the placard explaining from what they made their dyes, but I will research that more later.

When we went back to the Mercado Hidalgo, I didn’t buy much. I bought a painted paper mache skull an a fold out paper ornament from one booth where the 12 year old girl spoke great English without having gone to live in the U.S. I bought some fabulous molded pottery figures – most no bigger than one inch – to paint and use on my artwork I would really have liked to have bought the molds to make them! I bought about 6 suns, 14 cherub faces, 10 cherubs and 10 Virgin of Guadalupe figures – 5 about 1 1/2 inch tall and 5 about 3/4 inch tall. Earlier, I had bought 4 mortal molded figures of a 2 1/2 inch square of the
Virgin of San Juan. Finally, bought a t-shirt and two more Virgin of Guadalupe bandannas.

We ate dinner again at the hotel, and Wheat had the pozole this time. I ordered the paella, which was okay. On Saturday nights in Guanajuato, groups of university students dress up in medieval garb and go around the town singing for tips at the various plazas in the city. These are called estudiantinas and their roam about the city is called a callejonada. Often, spectators follow them around from plaza to plaza – we were offered this privilege by a tour guide for $90 each. I urged Wheat to go along without me, but we were both too tired to walk any more. Still, there were lots of mariachi bands coming up to play music, and Wheat got pictures of them.

Weekend in Guanajuato

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I’m on the slow bus back to Morelia.  I don’t know if I mentioned it, but getting from Morelia to Guanajuato is tricky. There are no direct busses.  Even the Primera Plus luxury bus had about 3 stops on the way, and they are usually direct One of my language instructors commented on how silly this was, given how close the cities are to each other.  On Friday, we boarded the bus at 3:15 in the afternoon, and got to GTO at around 7:00. On the way, we were shown two movies: one starring Cedric the Entertainer (something about a family vacation) and then x-Men 3 (Of course we missed the very end, arriving in GTO about 10 minutes before it finished.)  Wheat said that someone should set up a bootleg stand selling the videos shown on the bus so that people can see the ending.

BTW, YES, we have already seen X-Men 3, but it’s the principal of the thing!

We took a taxi through the hills and catacombs of GuanaJuato to arrive at the back of our hotel, the Posada Santa Fe.  It is a very impressive structure, with huge painting theh size of murals in the lobby and the dining room.  The tilework is fabulous – tiles are laid on most of the walls up to the window line.  Our room was modest with a huge and very firm king sized bed taking up most of the space.  There was no air conditioning, of course, but there was a ceiling fan and a portable fan by the window.  Our little “balcony” looked out over the taxi entrance to the hotel.

The first thing we did was to eat.  We decided on the hotel restaurant, as it was right on the plaza.  In fact, the plaza almost overlapped into the restaurant.  Lining the negligible iron fence barrier to the restaurant was a row of iron benches, overburdened with teenagers.  This was a very interesting plaza.  Instead of being a pretty large open space like the one in Patzcuaro, this one was 1/4 the size and dominated by a canopy of carefully trimmed dense trees that hid the center of the plaza and indeed the other side of the street from view.

At the restaurant, I decided to order flautas as an appetizer and the regional pozole as my meal.  Wheat ordered something called enchiladas mineras, which were filled with cheese and vegetables.  As usual, I over-ordered.  There were four flautas, with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, guacamole and crema – enough to make a meal.  I ended up eating the ends, anyway.  The problem with flautas is that the chicken inside tends to be dry and overcooked.  They were still great.

Okay, about the pozole.  A few years ago, my students made dishes for an international lunch and one of my students from Guanajuato made pozole with all of the trimmings: radishes, fried tortillas, onions,lettuce, and lime.  When I mentioned to one of my language teachers that I planned on having pozole, even though I had read it came from Guadalajara, she corrected me.  Pozole originated in Michoacan.  Of course.  This version had a red-colored broth, probably from achiote, and was filled with cubes of pork.  It was awesome, but way too big for one person to eat (after eating flauta ends.). I changed my order of tamales to sweet tamales, but I couldn’t even finish one of the order of two.  I gave my other one, still wrapped in its husk, to a beggar.

We then decided to check our e-mail.  Friday was my mother’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Mom!), and we thought of maybe using Skype to call her.  As usual when entering a new wireless environment, we had to work out the system.  Although the bar was supposed to be part of the wireless environment, with computers for the guests to use, this was not entirely true.  There was a computer (maybe two) but I could not access the wireless network.  We finally found out that this would work only if we were very near the front desk, and also let into the network via a password.  I know, we computer users are a pain.

I realized that I knew very little about Guanajuato, but apparently a lot of other people did.  There were tons of tourists – most of them American.  Our hotel was host to a large group of college students, apparently bent on savoring the nightlife.  As we arrived, one of the girls was trying out her Spanish by telling the front desk lady that there was no light or electricity in her room and the neighboring rooms, occupied by her friends.  Later on, the verdict came down: the girls were not going to be able to use their hair dryers in their rooms!  I wondered how they coped.

Patzcuaro, Part 3B

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Okay – I’m already in Guanajuato and I haven’t even finished my post about Sunday in Morelia. We rented the taxi – our driver’s name was David – and drove around the lake. David had lived for some time in Utah, so he spoke some English, but it was rusty.

We started out by stopping in Tocuaro – famous for mask making. David took us to see Felipe Horta, who was raised in a mask making family. I found out later that my mother and I had visited with his uncle seven years ago, but he was dead now. He was very nice, and allowed Wheat to videotape and take pictures of his workshop. He makes masks for feast days and theatre work. His wife makes costumes. His son was over at a table, painting masks with car paint. Although Felipe joked that this was why his son was going crazy, I assure you he had the proper face gear.

Apparently, Felipe has visited the United States quite a few times. He has some work in a gallery – I don’t remember where – and has participated in annual mask shows in Chicago. He has also been the working artist for a couple of schools. After doing a web search, I also found some information about another Horta: Juan. He has a big gallery website, and even has a lesson plan written about his family!

Of course, I bought something. After pointing at several of the elaborately carved masks with skulls and devils, I found that those were out of my price range. I ended up choosing a cow mask with REAL cow horns – I tried to bargain with him to throw in a small jaguar mask for my husband, but he just laughed. I think he came down about 25 pesos. Then he said that his masks would go for four times that much in the gallery in the U.S. I have no idea how I am going to get the mask and its horns home intact.

From there, we passed on to Erongaricuaro (and yes, I just typed that from memory!) Nothing special is made there, but we went through a crowded market to see the church there, called El Senor de la Misericordia. In Puacuaro, we stopped by and met a family who runs a cooperative that makes items from chuspata, or bull rushes. They gather them on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro, and weave baskets and other things from them. I bought a scorpion and three smaller animals meant for keychains: a turtle, a pig, and a hummingbird.

In Santa Fe, they make pottery (alfareria) out of clay (barro) as opposed to ceramic work. I bought two little dishes with handles and two jugs. They were about an inch high. I was surprised at how large the town of Quiroga was. We have acquaintances from there that run a taqueria by the same name in Norcross. We stopped and browsed some of the many shops selling wooden items and leather. There were a HUGE number of educational games stored in little boxes with slide lids. I almost got a stamp set to make loteria cards, but didn’t.

I also ran across one loteria set that I had seen sold on E-Bay. It has loteria pictures, but each square also has a Disney, WB, or other bootlegged character in the square. They were not that attractive, and cost 10 pesos more than the other sets I had bought, so I didn’t buy it. We also visited the Cathedral of San Diego.

When we got to Tzintzuntzan, we went to see the monastery, which was a great as ever. There is a grove of ancient misshapened olive trees in the courtyard. Wheat took pictures of those and of the chapel. I stopped briefly in the market in front of the gates of the monastery and checked out some bordados, but they didn’t have as much detail as the ones I’d bought the day before. David then took us up to the Tarascan ruins. They are examples of step pyramids and were plastered and painted in the past.  They were very interesting, but I didn’t realize that we weren’t going to spend more time in the markets. I should have spoken up.

We ended the trip with a visit to another Tarascan ruin: Ihuatzio, or the Place of the Coyotes. We had the whole place to ourselves, except for three boys who tried to cajole David into paying them to “watch his taxi.” I always wonder what they mean by that… is the taxi going to drive away by itself?

We returned to Patzcuaro and had a bite to eat before going to the bus station to find a bus home. Unfortunately, we seemed to have missed the last Primera Plus (luxury) bus, and had to ride a less luxurious line called Purepechas (another word for the Tarascan indians of Michoacan). They didn’t leave until they had the bus more than full – there were people standing up in the front of the bus. It was the longest ride ever, even though it only took an hour. At one point, a person in front of us closed the only window providing fresh air and I thought I would go crazy. Luckily, her father was sitting behind with us, and told her to open the window again. The only thing that got me through the ride was looking over the shoulder of a young gentleman who had a video IPod playing Madonna videos.

Patzcuaro, Part 3

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Okay, it’s already Wednesday night, so I will have to work fast. I wanted to add that we have uploaded photos onto my Flickr site. We are up to the max, so I may have to upgrade or find another place to put the other pictures. I will be writing comments as fast as I can.

On Sunday morning, Wheat and I ordered a little more of a tame free breakfast – I ordered a fruit plate and what I thought was going to be bran flakes, yogurt and honey. Wheat ordered oatmeal. Well, Wheat got a bowl of milk with about 1 tablespoon of oatmeal in it. We had to send it back and explain that Americanos NEED more OATS in their meal… When I was offered my choice of cereals, bran flakes of any kind were not in the offing. I had a choice between Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, and something else sugary. I chose the Frosted Flakes and added them to my sugary yogurt.

So much for trying for a healthy breakfast! At least the fruit was unadulterated!

We decided to hire a taxi to take us to some of the villages a….

AND I LOST THE REST OF THIS ENTRY. CURSE, CURSE, CURSE. IF I AM PATIENT ENOUGH, I will try and rewrite it tomorrow. For now, just go to the Flickr site. ;-(

Patzcuaro, Part 2

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arboldemuerte.jpgHere I am, back to classes. Last night may have been the best night’s sleep I have had on this trip so far. It was finally COOL: of course, I didn’t really want to get up. But I did.

The hotel where we stayed in Patzcuaro was called the Mansion Iturbe. I had stayed there before with my mother. It’s right on the Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, and is very nice. Included in the price was a free cocktail and snack between 6 and 7PM and a breakfast of your choice each morning of your stay. The only complaint that I might have is that they advertised free wireless internet, and it didn’t work most of the time.

On Saturday, we woke up at about 9:30 and went downstairs to claim our breakfasts. I ordered chilaquiles Purepechas, which is cooked with eggs and doesn’t have any meat. I asked for some crema to temper the heat. It came with beans and mango juice and an interesting assortment of breads. Wheat had the “hot cakes” which did not come with maple syrup or any of the typical American accoutrements, so he had jam on them. After such a substantial breakfast, we went back to the room. Wheat took a rest while I went shopping.

I made the round of shops on the Plaza V.de.Q., then went looking for the Casa de las Once Patios. This is a former convent that houses workshops and tiendas where people from around Michoacan sell their wares. I made a mental note of several shops I wanted to re-visit to buy things. I was particularly interested in the bordados – embroidered scenes depicting such events as the Noche de Muertos, La Vida del Rancho, La Boda, etc. I also planned on buying a LOT of things at a shop that is off the road to the 11 Patios. I have been there before and bought gifts on former trips.

On my way back to get Wheat, I was accosted for the third time by a persistent little lady who sells copal wood carvings. I had stopped by the night before to admire her wares (she was stationed on the sidewalk across from a hotel). She makes carvings of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as well as other virgins (the triangular virgin, for example – usually called the Virgin de San Juan), santos, and angels. She showed my husband and me her certification from the State of Michoacan, and quoted a price of 80 pesos per Virgin, most of which were about a foot high and nailed to a stand. She also had larger pieces, including some very nicely painted ones which were more expensive.

When I pasted her this time, I thought that I would go ahead and buy two Virgins of Guadalupe. Then, I realized I only had about 118 pesos in cash. I told her that I could only take one for the moment, but I would return to buy another later. She wouldn’t let me go, and finally gave them to me for what I had in cash. That was a little more than $5 each. I should have bought more!!! Darn!

Wheat and I returned to the Once Patios, and I warned him that almost all of the shops I went into had “no tocar photos o videos” signs posted, which was disappointing. Still, he managed to chat up a guitar maker from Paracho, and we got some video of my choosing and buying the embroideries, which were made by a cooperative of women near Tzintzuntzan. I addition to the themes I mentioned earlier, I also bought a Tree of Life bordado.

I didn’t go way out of control in my spending – I don’t think. I had spent some time the night before thinkshawl2.jpging about what money I was going to spend on travel, classes, accomodations, and hotels for the next couple of weeks. So my purchases seemed meager so far. I REALLY wanted a shawl that was for sail at the bordado shop. There was one in cream and one in black, and they were embroidered with hundreds of tiny designs from one end to the other. It was set up on a regular grid pattern, so they were lined up perfectly, buy each image was a different one. I thought that the woman had said that it was for sale for 1500 pesos (less than $150), but when Wheat offered to buy it for me as an early birthday present, I found out that it was actually 2000 pesos, and that was too much.

I also purchased two retablos, two ex-votos, and one carved and painted Virgin of Guadalupe from the store where I had bought so many gifts the last two times I visited Patzcuaro. The themes of the ex-votos were alcoholism and divorce (both averted, thanks to St. Anthony and the Virgin of Guadalupe). I bought a retablo of the Nino de Atocha and I think one of another Virgin.

That evening, we went down to the Plaza to film La Danza de los Viejitos. There were two groups that were taking turns. I tried to get one of the little boys to talk to us on tape, but he was only 6 and we hit a conversational dead end. Unfortunately, the old San Franciscan church that was turned into a library dedicated to Gertrudis Bocanegra was closed due to a political rally. I wanted to get pictures of the mural by Juan O’Gorman. Darned politicians!

After our happy hour, we went to an internet cafe, where I did some extra research on places to eat. We ended up choosing El Primer Piso – we couldn’t find it at first, but realized finally that it was in the same courtyard as El Kiosko, where I had bought things the night before. I passed by that night and bought another version of a Loteria game – an older one I had seen on a website. The restaurant was upstairs, and I realized when I got there that Mom and I had eaten there 7 years before on our trip to Patzcuaro. We ordered actual salads, and I had my third bowl of Sopa Tarasca of the weekend. This one had beans -which I prefer.

I will write more about Sunday in Patzcuaro, Part 3. But I will report the paleta of the day as being arroz (rice pudding – no raisins). It was very good!

Weekend in Patzcuaro

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Yesterday was very full of activity as Wheat and I attended classes, went to the bank and prepared for our bus trip to Patzcuaro. We decided to eat at a cocina economica recommended by one of my Spanish teachers. It was only $2.25 per person for two courses and a drink – flan was 40 cents extra. The food was unremarkable – I had a soup made from what we translated as swiss chard and pork in a green sauce with beans and rice. But, hey, what do you want for $3 (including tip)?

While we were there, we heard a blood curdling scream and lots of loud weeping. Several people ran out of the restaurant to see what the problem was. One of the people pulled a chair from our table and set it in the entryway. A young girl was brought to the chair. She was still crying – apparently, she hurt her foot. Someone produced some alcohol, so maybe it was a cut. Finally, someone either collected her or escorted her home.

The proprietor of the place was an older gentleman who manned the pots and pans and yelled things out to passers by. For example, he yelled out at the Coca Cola truck that he didn´t need any Cokes. Then, a beggar came in and started asking for money. The owner very firmly, but politely, intercepted the guy and told him to leave.

I haven´t spoken that much about begging – it exists, as it always has in Mexico. Mostly it is old women or grieviously handicapped people sitting on the sidewalks soliciting funds from passersby. When you are in a restaurant, eating at one of the outside tables (and sometimes at the inside tables), a whole host of people come in. Most are trying to sell candy, baskets, tablecloths, and roses. Some bold little boys just come by and demand money, staring you down. I am used to being cajoled by cute young Mexican boys, so I am unfazable, usually. I had to laugh last night at a young boy who came cartwheeling along behind us. He almost hit us, so I laughed and said to watch out. He got to his feet and said, “Dame un moneda!” (Give me some money!) Of course, I said no, but while I was standing out on my balcony, he came cartwheeling under my window. He didn´t see me, but if I had had money handy, I would have tossed him some.

The last times I have visited Patzcuaro, I have read signs in the hotels counseling against giving money to children beggars. The literature explained that the money usually doesn´t go to them, anyway. They often have adults pimping them and demanding the money from them, or they are being bullied by older boys or members of their gangs for the money they accumulate. It´s still hard to see.

Yesterday, on our way from the second trip to the bank, it started to rain. By the time we got home, the clothes I had planned to travel in and my hair was soaked. Of course this would happen when we didn´t have our umbrella with us. As we approached the door to our apartment, I was as angry as a wet cat. I prayed that our landlady would not be waiting for us at the bottom of the staircase, as she often is. I did not feel like making conversation, and I could just picture our interchange. I would probably make some grammatical mistakes, she would feel obligated to correct me, and then, I would have to kill her. Luckily, none of that happened.

After circuitous taxi ride and an extended bus ride and another taxi ride, we arrived at our hotel at about 6:30 pm, just in time for cocktail hour. We did a little browsing, and I was very impressed at the wares in some of the shops. Of course there is the usual share of mundane folk crafts, but some of those shopkeepers are on the ball. Retablos are big, tin hearts and milagros are plentiful, and some shops have gotten their hands on some Alexander Henry fabrics to make purses and other things from. One or two stores stocked things from Gusano de Luz, a company I saw selling in Paris. I even found a shopkeeper who has taken to painting ex-votos.

Speaking of which – why am I sitting here, typing? I must go shop!

By the way, I was too full for a paleta of the day yesterday. We did go check out a La Michoacana that looked very promising, only there was no menu on the wall of flavors. When I asked the lone salesgirl, she shrugged and said there was none. So, next time we go, we are bringing the video camera and are going to ask her to recite a list of flavors.

I was just reading about the ice creams of Patzcuaro, and apparently they are very good. A town favorite is a flavor called “pasta“. I´ll have to check that out!

Paleta Man

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This was written yesterday evening!

I am not sleeping well – have I mentioned that? Last night was difficult, even with the fan. I got up and went into the living room, where two windows stand wide open. This is a safe neighborhood, but I wouldn’t care anyway. It is too muggy in my room and in the other bedroom. So I slept on the couch for a while. Maybe I will bring the fan in with me tonight. I know, I am such a gringo. But I get cranky when I can’t sleep.

This morning, I have to say, was so much quieter than yesterday morning. I slept in a little bit, then took a shower and got the trash together. I am supposed to put it out on the front step and there are guys that take it away. I also was told to put money out – like one or two pesos – for the trash guy, but I couldn’t figure out where to put it. Surely someone else would just take it? When I returned home after classes, my landlady explained that I was supposed to listen for the guy ringing the bell. Then I was supposed to gather the trash and take it down and wait for the picker-uppers to come. She said I could put the money underneath the trash. Interesting.

As I mentioned yesterday, there is a whole parade of service people who pass by your house in the morning. Unfortunately, we are in classes when the tortilla lady passes – that explains why I have had so few tortillas. I have had a lot of bread – I bought chicken, ham and cheese for sandwiches. I have had my lettuce two days in a row with no ill effect.
At six this evening, we went to the lavanderia to pick up our laundry, which was washed, dried, and folded for about $6.00. I had forgotten to bring the receipt with me, because I had already stashed it with my expenses. That was no problem, however. After one mistaken bundle, we received our own clothes. My husband wondered aloud if we should have had her re-weigh it to make sure we got 6 kilos of clothing back. I explained to him how rude that would be…

Tonight, I cooked the shrimp I got the other day at the mercado – I wonder if I could make gumbo one day and invite some of our teachers over for dinner along with our landlady and her husband. My father made gumbo from ingredients he gleaned from a mercado in Atlixco four years ago – with crabs in it, no less. I also was surprised to see pecans in the market. I guess I shouldn’t have been – Mexico is, after all, on the same continent as Georgia. I think I was channeling France then – there were no pecans to be found there. I thought about making a pecan pie, but I don’t make crusts. Maybe the WalMart has crusts. Also, I wonder if it would be difficult to find corn syrup.

After dinner, I scanned the TV channels and came across The Gilmore Girls (subtitled), CSI: New York (subtitled), The Simpsons (dubbed), Trading Spaces (dubbed), and that Ghost Whisperer show (subtitled, I think). Pretty cool. There is also a subtitled E! Channel so that we can keep up with Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan. I like their Gourmet Channel – I got to see a cook make Eggs and Soldiers with an ostrich egg and fiddle head ferns. I know that will come in handy one day.

Of course, we went to get a paleta. I tried to find a different paleteria – just for variety, but we ended up at the one around the corner from the school called La Authentica Michoacana. Not to be confused with all of the other ice cream places with La Michoacana in the name. I ordered a water-based paleta this time – zarzamora (blackberry) – and Wheat chose a mango/chile paleta. My paleta was very good – with seeds and all. I knew I would not like the mango with chile – I tasted it and it was like eating frozen Tabasco sauce. I thought wistfully of the fresh mango I had for lunch – I know that eating sweets with chile is a Mexican thing, but why would anyone want to mess with a mango – the world’s greatest fruit? After eating part of it, Wheat put it in the freezer. I have no idea why.

A little extra note on the whole San Antonio thing. I was reading one of the PDFs I found of an article first published in National Geographic magazine. In it, the writer speaks of a restaurant called San Miguelito. I plan on visiting it as soon as we get back. Here is a preview discription of the restaurant’s “special room”:

I wander beyond a bar designed to look like a bullring and through two casual elegant dining rooms into a small space where nearly 250 images of Saint Anthony — made out of everything from corn husks to silver, and ranging from about ½ inch to 2½ feet high — hang upside down. San Miguelito owner Cynthia Martinez explains, “Saint Anthony is the patron saint of single women. If you pray to him, he’ll bring you a husband.” She laughs, “My father started collecting these saints for me, before I got married.” Why is he upside down, I wonder? To pressure him to act quickly, of course.

We’ll get a picture of it if we can!