Posts tagged ‘Mexico travel’

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Five

26227819-raw-pinapple-on-black-plate-isolated-over-white-backgroundThree a.m. The barking dogs and I are up for an hour. They allow me to sleep again between four and six-thirty. Maybe six hours total when all is said and done. I push myself through a DVD-assisted two-mile indoor “walk,” then a quick shower completes the process of propelling me into the morning.

Finally, a day when the schedule allows for a bowl of oatmeal. Topped with whole milk and generously polka-dotted with the luscious, purple-brown chopped fresh figs from yesterday’s trip to the open air market, this is a genuine treat. I fill a small plastic bowl twice, digging into the fruity grains with a flimsy spoon from the small kitchen of our rental casa. Real “silverware” doesn’t exist too many places anymore. Besides, a landlord wouldn’t want to risk having such valuable goods stashed into a renter’s suitcase, never to be seen again.

The assortment in these drawers is interesting in other ways as well. What looks like a funky potato masher, daughter-in-law Esther tells me, is actually meant for smooshing beans into a paste. And there are duplicates of some esoteric utensils, while other everyday essentials are missing. Loads of woven baskets and dozens of small bowls – for all the condiments that accompany traditional Mexican meal service? – but no large spoons for cooking and serving.

Our landlord lives in an attached property with a separate entrance, so some of these kitchen mysteries we chalk up to cultural differences, and some to the whims of a property owner looking for a place to stow her own kitchen’s extras.

This morning, a short walk to the Instituto de Allende – a must-see for art lovers, by all recommendations. Here we see vast murals depicting the struggles of Ignacio Allende to gain independence from Spain, as well as folk art in many different mediums, and displays of gems and metals. But it is first and foremost a gallery, selling the works of local artists.

Unable to even consider coughing up the asking price for these contemporary pieces, and feeling awkwardly trapped when Jason enmeshes himself in conversation with a guitar-playing resident artiste, I slink into the shadows, and hide behind my lack of Spanish fluency. After much pacing and waiting, I rescue my stepson with the announcement that his father needs to takes his insulin and find a meal.

According to the site, “San Miguel de Allende is a museum in itself. The mix of indigenous cultures (toltecas, guamares, pames, chichimecas and otomies) and the Spanish who arrived in the 16th century is reflected in the architecture, where the colonial style is blended with ancestral and indigenous features.” This is true, yet the poetic description wraps itself around one of the reasons for my discomfiture here: Like viewing the ruins of ancient Rome and Athens, a visitor is fascinated for a time, bored after a while, and ultimately cannot imagine living among them. At least this visitor can’t.

By 1:30, we are back in the serene, well-kept coziness of our cool adobe casa, enjoying a lunch we could only imitate poorly back in Minnesota. I fry two fresh-from-the-farm eggs to basted perfection – a feat I can never seem to accomplish in non-vacation mode – and nestle them atop a split, toasted and buttered, slightly sweet multigrain disc of bread Esther picked up from a home baker during our trip to la Placita. Next to this I plop a small mound of homemade refried beans and a generous portion of cubed avocado, onion, and tomato salad. For dessert, one whole, fresh, sweet, perfect peeled and cubed mango. Ambrosial.

My stomach well satisfied and my thoughts floating on a cloud of postprandial drowsiness, I calmly dissect the growing uneasiness I feel whenever I set foot onto the street beyond our courtyard gate.

My aversion to this place is hard to quantify. There is an indescribable sense of the ambient odor of the city being odd, like the conglomerate scent of cooked cabbage, furniture polish, dankness, and Lysol haunting a gloomy fourth-floor aging apartment building hallway I once marched down as a child.

And walking the streets, I worry. Worry about the homeless animals and the hopeless beggars; about the patient but frightening drivers as they insinuate themselves into the flow of traffic with no yield signs to assist them. Worry about the pedestrians blithely trusting in the solid crosswalks of white paint, absent stop signs or semaphores to secure their right of way.

Then there was that breath-robbing realization that the cousins of Esther’s, whom we encounter as we walk in the dark from her place to our rental, actually live in the furniture-sparse, bare-floored hovel that I mistook for a storage unit. Or the tension-inducing thought that the frenzied, snarling mongrel who charges madly around the flat roof abutting her family compound might at any time misjudge and hurl himself off the unfenced second story surface onto an innocent passerby below.

A guilt-tinged refuge presents itself in the form of our own serene and cozy home base; the physical proximity of loved ones; and the gustatory delights of spit-barbecued chicken, garlic-roasted potatoes, fresh steamed broccoli, and succulent pineapple.

Is this perhaps the greatest threat posed by the prospect of living in San Miguel, that my lingering sense of being undeservedly blessed would become a constant niggling companion if I were to step permanently into a setting like the ones depicted on Child Fund International mailings? It doesn’t seem to bother the rich Canadians living above it all in gated hillside communities, or Johnny Depp, who is rumored to be building a grand home here.

But no. I inevitably return to the hard fact that being here, in general, makes me feel sad. Sad and isolated. It always comes back to that.

July 21, 2014 at 10:40 pm 2 comments

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Four

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.

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

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