Welcome to the Adventure

Living in Mexico is often indescribable...you just have to live here. I have been journaling experiences for a while, and I hope you can get a feel for stupid-ass gringos trying to get it. But I am still here, and that says a lot for those of us sticking it out, as the payback is what makes life so good here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The boys from Dover (a quote for those of a certain age ought to remember)

My nephew Will and his friend Daniel took off this morning for home, where-ever that might be after graduating from college two weeks ago. It is refreshing to hang out with 22+ year-olds for a few days. Gives you a completely different perspective on the world. They wanted their own blog, dedicated to them, and so it goes. They deserve a blog.

One of the first things they noticed was the heat....humm, really the humidity (we did warn them). But they were good sports about it. After all, they have lived in Oregon for the last four+ years, and have no idea about heat, anyway. They did fall asleep in the pool while I was fixing dinner the second night they were here, and they unfortunately got a little sunburned. Will is the sensitive one, all that white skin, blond hair. It was my fault. It was quiet, I was cooking, who pays attention to time when it's good. Reminded me of when Will was a little guy, and we promised my sister we would keep him away from the poison oak, and sure as shit, the poison oak found him every time he stayed with us. We aloed them to death, but they did suffer. My friend Lupe offered to take the shirt off Will, which left us laughing, for those of you who know our friend Lupe, well you can imagine.

Going up to Oaxaca city last Monday, I reminded the guys to bring their cameras. This was when Will let it be known he didn't bring one. Didn't need it. Daniel had a camera, that was enough. Really. Turns out we all need a Daniel in our lives, and thank God he had the camera. We went up mezcal road, the easy route. Stopped in El Cameron for lunch and a World Cup fix at a great restaurant owned by Eugene, a mechanic who worked in the states for a while, and now runs the restaurant, with the auto repair shop out back. He covers all the bases. Going into Oaxaca, we stopped at a boutique mezcal place, Perla Blanca. One mezcal they make uses tobala cactus, that purports to be the smoothest. It was good, and smooth. All of you that know Daniel need to ask for a shot. He bought a bottle going into and out of Oaxaca by the way, as the one he first bought broke in his backpack, and well, the smell of mezcal permeated our lives for a day or so.

Both Will and Daniel were anxious to visit Mt. Alban. Daniel was an anthropology major, and had studied this area of Mexico, and Mt. Alban. Will was a history major, and he was very interested in seeing what he studied as well. This Zapotecan archeological site is remarkable for what has been preserved. They are still digging it out, and it is fascinating. Rene, our host, arranged for a guide up there, and they had a terrific tour.

Mt. Alban

I would say it was a big hit, and Daniel took lots of pictures (Will!) The next day, we dragged them off to the market in Etla. Will kept saying he felt like a big white giant compared to the others in the market place. Oaxacan people are short. I am taller than the average Oaxacan, man or woman. He did kind of stick out. He was getting the looks from the girls, I tell ya... and Daniel as well. The guys tried to deny it, but it was everywhere we went, we noticed. Being tall is a desirable attribute here, and young guys get a lot of looks, just because they are tall.

Dinner at Los Danzantes, Oaxaca
The adobe wall behind them is beautiful, unusual!

Will was a big hit with our cook, Paula, at the Casa de los Milagros. She set the table every night before she left, and always folded that napkins a different way. Will got into the napkin folding big time. Every time he sat down to breakfast, he would figure out the fold and repeat it. Except for the last breakfast. Paula pulled out the toughest one yet, a napkin with four squares of different colors, folded into four peaks. I came in early, and she gave me the look to check out the napkins. I laughed and said no way would he figure this one out. Will came down to eat, looked at the napkin, and Paula, and made a superhuman effort to duplicate her perfection. She laughingly had to show him how to do it, and I think after the demonstration it was Daniel that had the edge on the fold over Will. Paula loved it!!!

Squash blossoms and eggs Typical breakfast at La Casa

While Will and I hung out at the Casa our final night, Daniel and Larry took a walk down to the zocalo. The teachers are on strike and occupying the zocalo once again. The elections are July 4 here, and the teachers here are no friend to Ulysses Ruiz our current governor. They are protesting him for the last time I think, but have effectively shut down the zocalo. The teachers are living in the zocalo, with their families. They have requested observers to come from the federal government to observe the elections. As the zocalo is the major tourist center in Oaxaca, the tourists and vendors just moved up to Santo Domingo plaza and continued the party. It was good for Daniel to see the political side of Mexico, and he found the experience eye-opening. For those of us who grew up in Berkeley or San Francisco in the 60's, it felt very familiar.

Home again finally, the staff at La Finca (a BBQ place at Playa Bocana) did ply them with mezcal.. It was a party there, as it always is, but the free, all you can drink mezcal, at the end of the meal, guarantees the good time, and sometimes a bad hangover. Daniel paid for it the next day, but we were all dragging, slightly. But they jumped into the pool when we returned to the house, and all was well and then some that evening as they had just one more shot of Jack before retiring.

I think the biggest hit was our English class. They went to almost all of them with us, and jumped right in and took their turn at teaching English. Our students loved them. There was a lot of laughing during class. Daniel checked papers, clarified words for them; Will talked to everyone, and corrected pronunciations and learned a few Spanish words himself, I think. They had chocolate cake Friday, to practice the eating verbs and vocabulary. Big Hit!

Will and Daniel are good friends, and we were fortunate to have time with them together. Both are getting on with their lives, Daniel to Kansas to continue studies in grad school, and Will to his beloved football team, and job possibilities in Oregon. We feel very fortunate they took time out of their lives, to hang with us for the few days. Aunts and Uncles have enviable positions in families in that we get to have young nephews and nieces visit us without the "parent hassle" factor. We probe, but not too deep. We listen. Little advice is offered, but we've got stories that illustrate all the things they are experiencing, and remind them that it's the journey. We don't care when they get there, just enjoy the journey. And so for a few short days, we got to walk along with Will and Daniel on their just begun journey. We will miss those guys, and look forward to watching the paths they take.

Across from Casa de Los Milagros; Will and Larry near Santo Domingo; Ball court - Mt. Alban

Daniel at Mt. Alban; Mt. Alban

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oaxaca Days

Adriana, Rene, Renecito, Diego - Casa de los Milagros

Preface: The next blog will be exclusively about Will and Daniel, because they wanted to be the only topic of a blog..sooner the better. So few words are about them here. They deserve a blog entry unto themselves.

I am hanging out at the Casa de Los Milagros, our last evening in Oaxaca city. We have had a wonderful time here as usual. Rene, Adriana and family, the Casa inn keepers. have become great friends, and in fact visited us in Huatulco last week. Renecito and Diego, their two sons, are five years old, and 18 months old. They make this place feel like a home away from home, and we always have a great experience when we stay with them.

Before we let Will and Daniel go off to Monte Alban yesterday, they were subjected to breakfast at the Casa. Let's put it this way, Rick Bayless used the Casa last year because of it's kitchen, and he's coming back this year, in September. If you don't know who he is, look him up. Their kitchen is pictured in design books, and it is my dream kitchen (and everyone else who has stayed here and cooks wants this kitchen). Paula, our breakfast cook, makes traditional Oaxacano breakfasts, along with the local pan dulce, Veracruz coffee (even though Oaxacan coffee is plenty gourmet), and fresh squeezed juice, and fresh fruit.

Will and Daniel did get up to Monte Alban yesterday, and apparently had a fantastic tour of the site. They both came back full of information, and pictures (Daniel took all the pictures, Will didn't bring a camera, he had Daniel), of this ancient Zapotecan site. It is situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Oaxaca and the valley.. As soon as I get some pictures from Daniel, I'll post a few.

Today we went out to Etla to find a glassblower. Rene turned us on to a glass blower from the states, who has opened up a glassblowing business here. We had a goblet that needed repairing (you know the Waterford Crystal thing), and heard he was a talented artisan. Checked out his shop, left the glass, and yes indeed he his quite good. His team was working on making 175 handblown mezcal bottles (can you imagine). Etla is a valley north of Oaxaca, and their market day is on Friday, so we had to stop. Market Day varies here in the Oaxaca area, and each community market has distinctive attributes. But we are always on the lookout for artisan goods, and honey. Honey here is the food of the Gods. Mountain honey is amazing. We bought two liters for $120 pesos (maybe $8, US), along with some herbs, and an apron I had to have; we did well.

Tonight we tried a new restaurant here in Oaxaca, Los Danzantes. Amazing. Black tempura fish meatballs, roast duck on a bed of mole and rice. Will had a steak with stuffed chilles, Daniel the tortilla soup. Empanadas with quava and cream cheese in a mezcal sauce, flourless chocolate cake, a lot of good Mexican wine. Will and Daniel are getting a taste of the famous Oaxacan cooking.

Casa's Kitchen, where I could spend my entire life cooking...

We had a rare time in Oaxaca this week, and it went by too fast; we still didn't get to all the places we planned to visit. Nor did I get to shop as much as I love to here. But as I sit in the courtyard, and wind down from this trip, I appreciate that the Casa de Los Milagros gives us refuge at the end of the day, and already I am looking forward to our return in August. Larry and Daniel have headed out to the Zocalo this evening, to check on the occupation of striking teachers there (this is the most political region in Mexico, and elections are July 4). Will has gone off to bed, and I am writing my blog........ buenas noches.

Courtyard of Casa..lovely all the time

Monday, June 14, 2010

Soccer, rain and food

Well, we are in the throes of the World Cup here. I just came back from my physical therapist, he is an Italian via Switzerland, and a big fan of team Italy. We promised to cheer for them. We went to the Super Che and picked up a couple of World Cup artifacts..like the beer mugs. Had to have them! Mexico was literally shut down when Mexico played South Africa. Not a sound in Huatulco except for the cheers and yells in the appropriate places. We heard there was no traffic to speak of in Mexico City, (it is usually a nightmare beyond belief) as no one went to work until after the game. Schools allowed students to watch the game as well. Mexico doesn't play until Friday, against (France), and there is rampant speculation about that game already.

Mexicans are rooting for the US team too. They love the rivalry between the two countries, and they have that gleam in their eye when saying they have hopes of a match between the two teams. Big fun. Meanwhile I am studying up on soccer once again. Trying to figure out the point system for placement in future rounds. I am even keeping a score card. I'm nuts.

The concert, the night before the game, was a revelation . This country loves Shakira, and she was fabulosa. Alicia Keyes was great too, but no one knows who she is here. Too sad, I'm working on that. When I am reincarnated Aretha Franklin in my next life, I'll be sure to get my ass to Mexico and show them some soul. Social life, appointments, shopping, are suddenly all revolving around soccer games. My soccer Spanish is improving by the minute as I watch the games. At least I can throw out a few words that make me sound like I know what I'm talking about in Spanish.

Soccer gives us an excuse to just hang out too, as the rains have come big time. We can sit and watch the games without feeling guilty. We are getting very wet storms and everything is greening up. We went out last night, in the pouring rain, to a local Japanese restaurant. Love to eat outside when it is raining and not get wet (partial roof). Great stuff. We met friends, and had a lovely time talking about the environmental movement here in Mexico, and food, and places we must visit, and food.

Speaking of food, Konichiwa, our local Japanese restaurant (I know, Japanese food in Huatulco, who would have thought), has an interesting/fantastic take on sushi. They wrap the rolls in mango. Oh my God! Paper thin slices, that hold the rice, fish, and spices so perfectly, I am hooked. I love this about Mexico. They use local ingredients in new (for us), creative ways, and we have a meal of a lifetime. Life is grand! But today we are back to soccer, and want to see the Italians roll over the Paraguay team, like Germany steamrolled Australia. Can't wait until Friday.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Copa Mundial

Unless you are living in a vacuum, in outer, outer space, the Copa Mundial (World Cup) is about to happen. Friday, first game out, is Mexico vs South Africa. The prestige this has bestowed upon Mexico is immeasurable. And I know shit about futbol (soccer). I can't even eat a potato chip without being reminded that the "big show" is about to happen. We have been bombarded with Copa Mundial 2010 SudaAfrica for two years now. The team has been preparing for much longer, I am sure, because if there is one sport that captures Mexico's heart, it is futbol. Oh my God! And I mean it.

There are eighteen teams in the leagues in Mexico. Almost every region has a team, and their fans are rabid. Cruz Azul, Jaguares, Monterrey, Morelia, America, to Tigres, are but a few of these teams that I kinda heard of. Team Mexico draws from these teams, and players who play in other countries, including Carlos Vela -Arsenal, Rafael Marquez - Barcelona. When there is a home team game on TV, it is on in every store, restaurant, bar, gas station, ice cream stand, taco stand, etc. All playoff games, and Championship games draw more TV watchers than any other event in Mexico. Mexico produces a significant world class team, and is well-respected.

How well respected? When in Bali (in the middle of nowhere, really) last year, and cruising the market place, we were asked by a young man, where were we from. We said we lived in Mexico, and before I could say anymore, like "but I'm from California in the US", he was asking us about soccer players here in Mexico. It was scary. The dude knew everyone. I thought about it for a while though, and thought, in fact this is how Mexico is viewed in a comparable third world country. It is viewed with respect, as they have soccer stars here that are world renown. There is great soccer in Mexico. Soccer is a way of life, everywhere apparently, except for the US.

At 7:00 am, I will be watching, along with everyone else in this country. There surely has to be a holiday on Friday, as no one will be working until that game is over with. The US plays England Saturday, at 1:30 PM our time, and I'll be watching that game too. It is a unifying experience to follow a soccer team, especially in a country that breathes soccer even on a hot, hot day. It would be great to see the US and Mexican teams advance. It will be so much fun here, if they do.

Rain, at last!

It's raining, at last. You could smell it coming. That earthy, loamy, heavy scent, and then the patter that turns into buckets, back to patter, and then suddenly we can see the mountains again. Guatemala has been getting all the rain this season, if you follow the news. It has been very bad. Here we've just been getting the clouds skirting by with rock-the-house thunder and lightening. What has started ever so slowly this year, the greening of Huatulco, will speed up rapidly in the next couple of days.

Flamboyant trees are blooming here now

I love the thunder and lighting here. I didn't grow up with much thunder and lightening...the San Francisco Bay Area was rainy, but those currents just didn't bump into each other enough there. Every storm here is accompanied by thunder and lightening. Larry grew up with great storms, being from the midwest and all. When Larry and I were in Wisconsin a few years ago, we did have a siting of a tornado. There was some thunder and lightening. We were in West Bend, visiting his sister, Ellen. We were ushered to the basement, but kept running upstairs to see the storm. Big fun. But for me, here in Mexico, the storms just bring a different dimension to the beauty. Unless we go to hurricane level, I do enjoy a good storm. (Last nearby hurricane was 12 years ago, Paulina, but plenty of tropical storms.)

I saw my first Mexico thunder-lightening storm in Acapulco, like 45 years ago; I was dancing with a medical student from Mexico City (a huge crush at the time) on the terrace of a fancy hotel (for then), the lightening was flashing rapidly across Acapulco Bay. It was like daylight. I fell in love with Mexico on that trip--the beginning of a life-long love affair with this country. What was wrong with me. I should have moved here then. But it's all ok now, we've got lightening on the bay, a great guy to share it with, and a cat who can't bury herself deep enough into the bed sheets when the thunder starts rolling.

Luckily tonight the rain came at sunset. Pink, black, flashes of light, glimpses of sky turning gray between the clouds. The lightening seems to pass right in front of the house, sideways, sparkin'. The thunder indeed shakes the house. Centa is running into the bedroom, then coming out to see what is happening between lightening strikes. She can't decide if she wants to be with us watching or hiding. So we are full of hope that the rain will now start to come more frequently. I missed the green, the insect and frog sounds that come with the rain, and the smell of the forest filling the spaces of our lives.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Oaxaca Friends or Food 4.0

Epazote Plant

Our friends from Oaxaca have come to see us for a few days. They own one of the best bed and breakfast places in the city of Oaxaca, Casa de los Milagros (House of Miracles). Adriana and Rene, and their two children, little Rene (5) and Diego (1), have welcomed us as a part of their family. This time they brought Adriana's mother and father, Gloria and Rogelio. Gloria cooks. Oh my God, she cooks. Bringing her parents was our gift from Oaxaca (beside the home made jams of fruit found only in Mexico) and coffee from Veracruz, which is so different from Oaxacan coffee, rich, smooth, smokey.

I have been in the kitchen with Gloria since she has arrived. In fact she has taken command of the kitchen, and is teaching me how to make some the dishes of old Oaxaca (I call it comfort food, she calls it poor people's food), but guys this is gourmet in any other venue. I have never seen salsas whipped up in seconds with ingredients that are the secrets to this area.

Last night Gloria took me through a white bean with shrimp dish. This dish is from the Isthmus of Mexico, where many of the dishes she cooks originated. This particular dish is usually served during Samana Santa (Easter week here). We cooked the beans separately, then added a salsa made of fresh tomato, two different kinds of dried chiles, thyme, cloves, and other herbs local to this area. The result was a rich bean soup, that was served with quesedillas made with local handmade tortillas, that a women makes and sells on the streets of La Crucecita. In it is quesilla, a local cheese, that is a bit like salty string cheese, and she adds a fresh epazote leaf or two (an herb that is the essence of Mexican cooking).

Brunch today, aside from some left over chocolate cake, was shrimp fritters with a salsa napole (cactus leaf) that was amazing. This is also a traditional dish from the Isthmus. Gloria is a gem. She should be made a National Treasure. She tells me she learned to cook from her grandmother, who was the private chef of a governor of Oaxaca. I want that story!

I won't even go on about what's on the plate tonight. It's a fish dish, that much I know. She has us grating cooked carrots and cooked potatoes for some Oaxacan version of mashed potatoes. Cannot wait.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chedraui "Cuesta Menos" though not really...

Who would have thought I'd write about a supermarket. Holy Walmart! This is an exception to the things I promised myself not to write about. Ask my friend Kathy B about the Super Che. She and Pat (husband) were here on opening day, with the extremely skimpily clad "Sol Girls" out front, enticing the men at least, to have a beer (it was a hot day). And if 25,000 people do live in this region of Mexico, they were all here that day! Buses. Taxis. Hordes of people. You'd have thought we had never seen a supermarket.

In fact, many people in this region had never even seen a supermarket before. There were concerns though, because this is a community based on shopping at the public market place, and little tiendas. Unbelievably, not much has changed. We all still shop on fruit and vegetable street, fish street, chicken street, and the public market. We still go to our favorite bakeries, and get our honey scooped out into whatever container is handy, on the street. Instead of 4 stops, we all now make 5 stops.

What? You can get wine at Che. Decent wine. Cheap wine. Malbec from Spain and Argentina. Cabs from Chile. White Burgundies from France. Carlo Rossi, for God's sake. For those of us who can't live without North American/European chocolate manifestations, we took heart, real chocolate. The import section alone is a marvel. This section even has it's own ceiling and lighting, highlighting the products, like nothing else in Che. It's the first section you see when you enter the store. They know their market.

Admittedly I cruise that section everytime. (And so do our friends Karen and Ed, when they visit us, just to see.) Rice crackers, Thai, Chinese and Japanese condiments, salad dressings from the States, a ton of products from Italy. There are also aisles of cereals, flour, baking soda, yeast, syrups, cake mixes, even brownie mix, toilet paper, paper towels, canned Charros beans, a bakery that in a pinch, ain't bad; and TV sets, furniture, bedding, kitchenwares, motorscooters, and motorcycles, swiming-pool stuff, chips; yes indeed God smiled on Huatulco the day the Che opened.

BC, before Che, we survived. Those of us who retired here are spoiled though. We still have guests coming down with suitcases loaded with things we "need". And although we didn't bitch about not having choices and lack of variety in some products, we persevered and shopped ingeniously, buying prudently. We still love going to the market, and still do most of our shopping there. But I didn't know what I was missing until I was in Veracruz and went into a Chedraui supermarket, and loaded a basket with tupperware-like containers, some plates, a ton of wine, chocolate covered almonds, trail mix, and some spices I hadn't seen since moving here.

For those of us who grew up with the mega supermarket as "the enemy", let me tell you, we have no shame here. We hit the Che at least once a week. We moved here knowing our life would change, that we would be trading a priviliged lifestyle for peace and simplicity. We loved it, don't get me wrong, but for Che I would have so missed pine nuts, basalmic vinegar, polenta and MM's. I would have survived. I would have....