Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Four

June 22, 2014 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

placita veggiesMy first name is Sue Anne – two words, no hyphen, no middle name; a challenge to computer forms world-wide. But when I was eight, some younger neighborhood kids dubbed me Susie, a nickname I loved. It was softer, more genial. And it resolved the problem of people calling me “Sue.”

When daughter-in-law Esther translated my English given name to “Susi” – pronounced with double sibilance, like Dr. Seuss, except with a “y” sound at the end – I was charmed by the sound of it whistling off the tip of her tongue. Here in Mexico, it is how I am introduced, and how I introduce myself to others. If only I could slough off this angst and recapture the child-like openness the Spanish version of my name suggests.

I have fallen into a new morning schedule here, with the indoor walking DVD and a few household and personal care routines evolving as necessary. Jason and Esther have moved into the second upstairs bedroom, since her long-vacated, inherited house is in need of repair. I do my bustling before others are about, and then settle into vacation mode with a book or glass of iced lemon water on the patio. This morning, we set out to walk to Esther’s favorite juice bar and land there about 11:30, not yet having eaten and craving a good brunch.

But this is a busy place, literally humming with activity and chatter. The menus, of course, are in Spanish. The wait staff, logically, speaks their native tongue, not mine. I am so hungry I can’t think straight, and the complicated business of having Esther translate my every question and the waiter’s every response makes me dizzy with confusion.

Jason speaks Spanish, as does Jack. They are also less neurotic about what they put into their stomachs, and easily find a menu item that appeals. This is a sandwich shop which specializes in custom-blended drinks of whatever combination the diner selects. More decisions, more anxiety, more need for translation.

I finally blurt out a selection, because everyone else is waiting, then realize I have misspoken. More embarrassment and stomach-clenching tension, as Esther scrambles to cancel my order, and I surrender to the role of famished martyrdom rather than trying to join the group in their enjoyment of a meal.

What a fool I feel. It is the language thing. It is the being off-schedule and not having eaten breakfast thing. It is my torment over being the only one in the party who cannot envision myself living happily in remote San Miguel, with its low taxes, laid-back lifestyle, and virtually perfect climate. It is the cacophonous level of noise surrounding us. All these things come together like a tornado in my gut. I could sob out loud if I weren’t so self-conscious about making even more of a scene than I already have.

Down the stairs. Step outside. Gulp in a few breaths of fresh air, as cars rattle by on the busy thoroughfare outside the restaurant. Dear God, what is wrong with me? Am I four years old, for Pete’s sake? Do other adults have this breath-robbing reaction to alien environments, like a flopping fish having been yanked from familiar waters? I need to eat, and I need not to cause stress for my fellow travelers. Get a grip.

Back inside, I finally sort out my swirling thoughts and manage to convey, through Esther, a new, well-thought-out order to our saintly waiter, who patiently jots down my wishes as if I were a perfectly sane and reasonable new arrival whom he has just set eyes on for the first time.

Within minutes, I am again a part of the chatty group, and my bad behavior has been rewarded with a plate of hot and oozy ham and Swiss quesadilla with avocado and tomato on the side and a blenderful (really; brought right to the table with a tall milkshake glass which it will fill twice) of orange, papaya, strawberry, carrot, and guava fruit, swirled into the most heavenly of smoothies one could imagine. From internal chaos, to blissful ecstasy. The transformative power of panic-driven prayer and a good meal.

La Placita: plaza; piazza; public square; marketplace; shopping area. A fifteen-minute cab ride deposits us across the street from this weekly extravaganza of buying and selling. “Placita Grande” says it better. The place is enormous, and shoppers can fill almost every need here, as they mill around in a scene reminiscent of a Marrakesh Market or Istanbul Bazaar.

It is 80˚ and windy. Dusty air and the smell of frying fish waft in gusty bursts, taunting the nostrils, as a steady din of rapid-fire Spanish, a megaphone-wielding evangelist, and roving musicians compete for the available sound waves. Amidst it all, cheery vendors serve up plates of oil-puddled pizza slices topped with mounds of French fries, accompanied by the ultra-sweet Mexican version of Coke and soon to be followed by a slab of the milky dessert called Pastel de Tres Leches, or perhaps a pillowy, deep-fried sopapilla. It is no wonder that this population, like my own, is experiencing a diabetes epidemic.

As we elbow our way through the dense clusters of humanity, we pass a guitar-playing father and his singing daughter, her eyes, liquid chocolate; her hand timidly offering a Styrofoam cup to receive tokens of appreciation in the form of peso coins, or perhaps even paper, from a “rich” American tourist. More heart-rending is the stooped beggar with one crippled foot splayed out in a brace, his sad, weary stare vacantly searching the distance as he hobbles past mostly unmoved shoppers, eager to get something more tangible than the satisfaction of a generous heart from their next expenditure.

And there is such an abundance of opportunities to expend. Canopied stalls stretch for blocks in both directions, table after table of caps, jewelry, clothing, leather goods, boots and shoes; dietary supplements and folk remedies; fresh fruit, fish, meat, beans, peppers, handmade candies, seasoned roasted nuts, cookies and cakes, farm-grown vegetables, breads, and fruit-laden pastries. Esther buys a baggie of six pickled pig’s feet floating eerily in clear brine along with spices and raw onion rings, and tucks it away from Jason’s view. “He doesn’t like,” she says. (How do we say “simpatico” in Spanish?)

Back to our casita to unpack the day’s purchases, then it’s off on foot to explore the sprawling, ancient Parqué Guadiana. All this walking is good, once you learn to watch your step very carefully and to seek out the most civilized routes. Dinner is a taco salad at a restaurant operated by one of the many Canadian transplants in this ten percent expatriate community, and then back to our rental house to unwind in the flower-scented peace of the courtyard and watch the sun drop beyond the wall into a saffron-colored strata of clouds.

Around 9:00 p.m. my husband and I are puzzled to hear a plaintive voice crying out in the darkened street. “He is selling grilled corn on the cob,” says Esther. “This is very common here.” The mournful sound becomes enchanting with her explanation, a perfect metaphor for this enigmatic place.

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Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , .

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Three Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Five

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

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