I could not have said it better…

Life goes on. Today marks two weeks since my sister’s tragic, sudden death. My family’s emotional roller coaster ride is starting to level out, but nonetheless, we still feel like sheets hanging on the line – in a cloudy sky – we know the rain might come at any moment.

Don’t you love this photo of my 18 month-old grand niece, Helena?

I always like to include a visual in my posts and somehow this one seemed to suit. As you read on, I think you’ll understand why.

But, but, but – this post will make more sense – if you first click on this link: http://steveinmexico.blogspot.com/

You’ll find yourself at one of my favourite Mexico blog sites. The author, Steve Cotton, is from Oregon but he lives in Barra de Navidad, Jalisco. He has been blogging since 2007 – and even though we have few opportunities to visit in person – we have become good friends through our blogs.  Today his post is a lament for the demise of another blog, The Mexile.

Steve is an excellent writer, and so is The Mexile’s creator, Gary Denness. These two have spent thousands upon thousands of hours constructing some of the best posts I’ve ever read about life in Mexico. Their styles are as different as their content, their wit and their nationalities.

Another long-time blogger I admire is Richard Grabman at The Mex Files – he verges on irreverent – but what he writes is true.  A relative newcomer in the Mexico blogosphere is Mike Polischuk. His site, Traveling in a Confused World is more of a photography and architectural blog, yet his commentary is adroit.

But I digress – getting back to Gary – his final offering reads:

Fifteen years, two months and twenty one days ago I wrote my first blog post. Today, I write the last. It’s been fun – mostly – but these days I seem to blog largely for the sake of blogging. And too much of it involves typing angrily into the internet with little real purpose. I wrote that first post as an optimistic 30 year old, about to embark on a backpacking trip of a lifetime through Mexico, full of wonder at the world surrounding me. I write today as a slightly jaded 45 year old, rather fed up with the amount of ignorance and prejudice that has come to the fore, and unconvinced that the planet is heading in the right direction. 

I could not have said it better. The world has changed dramatically in the past decade and a half. And between the ages of 30 and 45, people take quantum leaps in their assessment of how to best spend their time. So I understand why Gary has decided to quit blogging. I too have almost done so. A few times.

I am not a great blogger. I do know my topic and when I’m on a roll, I think I can be entertaining. I come across emotionally, but really, I self-censor a lot. Often my Canadian self is too polite and my Mexican side is too respectful to fully tell it like I see it. I feel as though I skirt around what I want to say and I pointlessly worry that my opinions will come off as trite. So, I tone it down. This tendency does not lead to satisfied writer syndrome – to the contrary – it brings on full-blown angst. This in time leads to burn out. I do not want this to happen to me. I want to enjoy blogging – I want to continue – but it looks as though I will have to make some changes (again)

Steve and Richard, I hope you’ll continue to enrich my reading list, as you have done for many years. Mike, please keep showing your insightful photos.

Gary, I suspect you’ll regroup and take another kick at the can – if you do come up with a new platform – please send me the link. Good luck to you!

Good luck to us all, actually. Let’s keep bringing it on home as best we can. Like little Helena – gripping the ring with her teeth – as she bravely crawls through the spiralling maze.

 

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Remembering my sister

 

 

 

Anne, Barb, Cathy and Joany, in Kamloops about 5 years ago.

 

For Anne

June 2, 1958 – September 15, 2018.

When we celebrated your 60th, I didn’t know I’d never see you again.

Today started out so fine.

I cooked, wrote and painted;

I planned a festive lunch for Sunday.

And then the phone call came.

My brother-in-law sounded odd –

“Are you sitting down?” he asked.

A weird wind whistled in my ears.

And my breath seemed stuck.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he began –

He described a curvy road,

And a small car colliding with a bigger one.

“She didn’t make it,” he said.

 

Just yesterday, we were four healthy sisters –

Joany, Anne, Barb and Cathy.

And tonight, we’re only three.

How can you be gone, Anne?

Should I keep my sorrow inside?

Or allow myself to fall apart?

My movements are slow; my mind feels like mush. 

My face mirrors the pain I feel.

 

On Monday I will travel to where Anne lies.

Barb is relieved that I’ll be there.

We’re sorry that Cathy won’t be able to come.

Will we ever get used to Anne’s absence?

We three, and our brothers,

will always miss our sister.

So will her loving husband, her two grown daughters

And the four grandchildren who were her greatest joy.

We loved you Anne. And we always will.

Now… at 89

Grant Spradling has lived a full life. Fufilling, Unconventional… one of Laugher and of Love.

Among much, much else, Grant has authored and published five books, and this week he will launch his latest, The Chelem Papers. Actually, there are to be two events:

Tuesday September 18th for Merida residents at: Hennessy’s Irish Pub, on Paseo de Montejo, 5 pm.

 – and –

 Wednesday September 19th for those who live at the beach: The Bull Pen in Chelem, 5 pm.

At both venues, Grant will speak about the book, and readers will also have the opportunity to meet his publisher, Lee Steele of Hamaca Press.

When he was younger, Grant thought he would perhaps see 80, but if that happened, he felt sure he’d be in full dotage, with nothing new to look forward to. “How wrong, wrong, wrong I was,” he says with a sly smile. “I am 89 now, and while the past nine years have included a number of culminating experiences, they have also introduced new people, challenges and perceptions.” Publishing The Chelem Papers is his latest accomplishment, but he also survived a serious heart attack in 2015; and this year Grant’s resiliency has been sorely tested by the death of Clifford Ames, the love of his life.

Grant Spradling came into the world during the first years of the Great Depression. His home, Wetherford Oklahoma, (a town smack-dab in the middle of the dust bowl) was part of a farming community, but it did have a college.  Grant initially studied there, but he left when awarded a scholarship to Oklahoma City University and Boston University School of Theology. After his ordination in the Congregational Church, he lived in Attleboro and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

His family and the town where he grew up shaped his life. The Spradlings found stability and succour through strict observance of their religion. They did not condone swearing, drinking, smoking, and certainly not homosexuality. Grant had no choice but to closet himself. He says that this denial of his true feelings cost him dearly but it also built up resilience and determination. When he met Clifford, he refused to be defined by the past that had formed him. After about ten years as a minister, Grant left his parish to become a professional singer.

I asked him how he and Clifford met. He gave a hearty chuckle, and said,  “The first time we heard each other speak, we were drawn like magnets by our accents. We came from the same place.” He then got misty-eyed, “And from then on, we stayed in the same place.”

Their world widened to include, a writing career for Grant; and the painter’s life for Clifford. They resided in several different parts of the USA, including Key West, Florida where Grant received the mentorship of well known authors. A few years later, the winds blew strong from the south and eventually carried Grant and Clifford across the Gulf of Mexico, to Merida. They bought a sprawling old colonial house, and built their forever home. In time, they extended their radius to inlude Chelem, a small fishing town.

Grant has journeyed from the dustbowl of his youth to the tropical ambiance of his present life. The loss of his life partner coincides with the departure of his closest expat friends in Merida. He finds himself cared for by two Merida friends and their families; he says he finds it fitting that he and his two Yucatecan friends find themselves so involved in one another’s lives.

Nonetheless without Clifford, Grant says he often feels like “a kite without a string” or “a bird with no wire to settle down on”. And after saying this, he turned to look towards the back of his property.

My eyes followed his, and they focussed on an amazing Alamo tree. Long ago, it sprouted next to a building that once stood there. Maybe the tree and Grant began their lives about the same year? Anyway, now the building has crumbled except for an old piece of wall, encircled by the tree’s roots. The foliage spreads high above Grant’s house and pool. Maybe the tree offers a substitute for his “kite string”? Or “bird wire”?

“I feel an outpouring of love. I know now that the meaning of life is found in living fully and helping others to live fully,” says Grant. The tree’s roots anchor him and the branches shelter him, just like his two friends.

I look forward to getting my own copy of “The Chelem Papers”… Grant’s stories make for a great read and will surely give me much to ponder.

 

How can this be happening – yet again?

If you’ve heard the reports of student unrest at the National Autonomous University of Mexico – UNAM – it may be unclear to you which students are involved in the protests, and what complaints they have.

Some background information will hopefully help to resolve this confusion… In Mexico the educational system’s levels have different names than in some other countries. The level called Secundaria in Mexico, is called Junior High school in the USA and Canada. Preparatoria in Mexico is the equivalent to Senior High school. Many preparatorias follow curriculum and internal policy established by principal universities in the county’s major cities. And even though the students who study at the preparatorias are not yet of the age or academic level to be enrolled in university’s faculties, they are on the academic track; and once they have finished their “preparatory studies”, they aspire to acceptance in a university faculty. To get more federal funding, for curricular and other (vague) purposes, the universities consider these preparatoria students as part of their system’s general student body. The CCH Azcapotzalco, where the recent unrest began is one of the many high schools affiliated with the UNAM. So, the majority of students in question, range between 15 and 17 years of age. They are minors.

The students at CCH Azcapotzalco have many complaints, but some seem absolutely justified:

  • Although classes began a month ago – teachers and schedules have not yet been confirmed. This is no doubt due to political and budget-related issues, BUT when it comes time for the students to write their all-important faculty entrance exams, they will be at a severe disadvantage if they have not received the necessary hours of instruction
  • Following the kidnapping of a female student, Miranda Mendoza, the students are demanding better safety conditions,

The students would not budge from their position and the “authorities” lost patience.

For decades, los porros – anti-protest thugs – have reputedly been used by politicians and university authorities, to break up student protests.

Earlier in the week, it seems certain that one of the groups of porros provoked a violent exchange with students from the CCH Azcapotzalco.  The attack left 14 students badly injured.

The aggression provoked solidarity from the extended student, family and neighbourhood communities; and it grew into mobilization.

On Wednesday September 5, 2018, thousands marched to the UNAM’s main campus, a massive demonstration, demanding an end to the violence and danger within educational institutions. The students insist that the authorities must expel los porros.

The university temporarily suspended its internal transportation systems in an effort to prevent students from different education centers from joining the march.

But the students are mostly young – they can walk long distances with no problem – and at 1 p.m., they set out on foot from the Political and Social Sciences Faculty, and continued all the way to the main administrative building. The news source I watched, reported that the line of marchers was 4 kilometres long.

In other cities of Mexico, more marches were held. A group of students studying at the Merida UNAM campus marched down Calle 50 to the Main Plaza at the same time as their fellow students were marching in Mexico City.

Everywhere the participants were orderly and non-violent, and in Mexico City, they dispersed after the student spokespersons read their pronouncement. Their main point is:

¡Educación publica, laica, gratuita y sin violencia!
¡Fuera porros de la UNAM! (sic)

Education should be public, secular, free and non-violent.

Get the thugs out of the UNAM.

2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the student massacre at Tlatelolco. On October 2, 1968, thousands of university students gathered at the Plaza of Three Cultures, a broad space in the heart of a public housing development close to downtown Mexico City. The army “received orders” to open fire on the crowd. Afterwards, many students were arrested. They were held in jail and tortured, or simply disappeared – and NO responsibility was ever accepted for the thousands who were wounded or killed. The repercussions changed the social fabric of the Mexico.

Violence against students has NOT stopped, and obviously, this is an especially sensitive issue this year.

President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his support for the students’ cause. He says the violence must end, but he stressed that resolution should be negotiated between the students and the university administration.

Since yesterday, several of the faculties of the UNAM are on strike in support of the students. Today the UNAM issued a document that is currently being studied,

The common phrase – The more things change, the more they stay the sameMUST NOT continue to be a commentary on the students’ struggle.

PS: If you want to read about the 1968 student protest, I recommend, Massacre in Mexico, the English-language version of Elena Poniatowska’s iconic accout of the protest and its aftermath:

https://www.amazon.com.mx/Massacre-Mexico-Elena-Poniatowska/dp/0826208177

Danny Collins

Do you have favourite words?

Well, I do.

Some are from Spanish, my second language. I like them for their sound – like equipaje – melodic, sensual, and exotic. In Spanish, this word means luggage, and it is pronounced – eh-kee-pah-hey – but don’t say it in a jerky way, you need to slur the syllables a bit. I also like the word for its connotation – freedom, liberty, and adventure – feelings so dear to my heart.

I love the word, Mamá. I love it so much because I love the two people who thrill me when they call me this – my daughter and my son – Maggie and Carlos. No more explanation is needed.

I love the word esposo. Because of the man I have adored for more than four decades – the one who took the place of my equipaje, and who engendered those two people who call me Mamá.

In English, my native tongue, I also have favourite words – many of them in fact – but tonight, after watching a Netflix movie called, Danny Collins, one in particular comes to mind: redemption.

Redemtion has all the qualities of a great word – it starts with a strong syllable – and ends softly. It hints at growth, learning and change. It also implies humility, a virtue I aspire to.

Another English word I love is home – as in – “I am home.”

They say that home is where the heart is – and mine is with those I love and adore – even when thousands of kilometres separate us. These three people make me feel loved, no matter what I think of myself, my actions, my writing, my painting, or my place in the greater scheme of things.

Watching a film like Danny Collins makes me feel redeemed – by the music and the message – of this feel-good story.

The movie trailer claims that this plot is “partly true”. I want to believe that there is a real Danny Collins, and that music, core values, writing, painting and love – have brought redemption and a sense of home to him – as they have to me.

 

 

A Rose in her Hair: Part 5

 

Monica stood out on the curb, in front of the magenta-coloured bougainvillea branches sprawling every which way over the high wall of the villa’s facade.

Those flowers remind me of the finger-paintings my kids made when they were in Kindergarten – she mused – too bad they had to grow up. She waved goodbye to Peter, and closed the wrought iron gate, just as he opened the front passenger door of Raymundo’s shiny grey taxi. “I’ll be home about 6, Aunt Augusta,” he called out to her.

The name he’d taken to calling Monica banished the reminiscing about her uptight son and daughter – it never took much to restore her good humour – and the prospect of diving in the cenotes definitely had Peter in good spirits.  So far Merida seemed to offer the magic they both needed.

Two iridescent hummingbirds sippng from a feeder hanging near the fountain reminded her that she needed to get some breakfast before joining the women who crochet hats for the children with Cancer. She figured she would surely find soft sweet buns at the bakery she saw on the corner, and eat them as she walked to the library.

Finding her way along the grid of streets presented no difficulty – in fact she arrived at 9 on the dot – and stepped right inside. A man with a head of thick grey curls looked over the top of his wire frame glasses. “Welcome! If you’ve come to crochet, just walk straight through to the back patio.”

“I am here to do just that, but I’m afraid I have no hooks or yarn with me.”

“No problem,” she heard someone behind her say. “I’m ‘Em, short for Emily, and I have lots. Come on with me.”  Monica turned around to see a set of perfect white teeth smiling warmly, and she followed Emily’s quick steps to a circle of busy fingers and animated talk.

“Hey Ladies, we have a new worker-bee.” To a one, they clapped and a woman about her age, with dark dyed hair, held out the chair beside her. Monica felt she’d been led to just the right place.

Emily passed her a pattern, two balls of soft cotton yarn and two different-sized hooks. “This is the design most of us follow; it is quick to make; but feel free to add any of your own detailing. The kids love wearing unique hats.”

Monica told the others that back in Vancouver she belonged to a group similar to this one, “But we have to use heavy wool to make our caps.” They laughed and then she listened to the story of how their circle had formed –  and she heard about the children – some came from far away. Other countries, actually. And of course the young patients were from poor homes. “They appreciate anything we give them and so do their families.” An obviously new mom, named Anna, gestured to a sleeping infant in the stroller beside her. “This is John, my son.” On her face, Monica could see the love and gratitude the young mother felt for her healthy little boy. “Let’s make some hats!”

***

After three hours, everyone started gathering their things and heading home, Monica felt pleased that she’d managed to complete two caps in the allotted time. “I cannot think of a more pleasant way to have spent my first morning in Merida,” she said. It had been easy to bond with the group of like-minded women. She felt as though some of them might even become good friends. “A few of us are going for lunch,” said Emily, “Would you like to come?” Indeed she would; she hoped to glean some information from the sprite minds of the Merida Crochet Group.

Falling into step with the other five walkers; she had no difficulty navigating the straight, sunny streets. No worries if she got lost; she had a card with her address tucked into her wallet. And besides the memories were coming back.

Seated around a curlicue metal table in the shade of an orchid tree, Monica listened to the stories swirling around her. The same ones she’d heard countless times – of family, the proclivities of men, the heat, the bugs – and the wonder of love. These were lucky women, and they seemed to be fully aware of their blessings. “And now – if you’d like to –  tell us about yourself,” said Emily. Five pairs of eyes focussed on Monica.

At first she felt her habitual reticence, and she got ready to launch into the well-rehearsed spiel that always offset any probing questions. But oddly enough, she stopped before she even began. She looked around at the expectant faces. “I noticed that you have a poster of the book, SIX, hanging at the entrance of your fine library,” Monica said.

“Indeed, and our copy is a hardcover first edition,” said Bella, the woman who had urged Monica to sit beside her. “Isn’t it odd that such a fine story has never been claimed by its author,” added Arlette, a small blonde from Tennessee. Emily asked, “Why are you so interested in the book, Monica. It must be 50 years since it was written.”

“Fifty years, four months and six days ago the 365 pages were left, wrapped in a rebozo, in the sacristy of San Juan de Dios Church, right here in Merida’s Centro.” Monica swallowed and tilted back her head to look up at the splendid foliage, peppered with delicate purple blooms.

“Do you believe that actually happened,” Emily asked. The edge in her voice did not hold any challenge, just puzzlement.

Monica brought her gaze back down and looked into the eyes of each woman at the table. “Oh I absolutely do. I know the story is true because I am the one who placed the manuscript there. I wrote Six. And I am ready to reveal the secret I’ve kept for more than fifty years.”

 

Wash that big mouth out with soap!

One of Donald Trump’s former aides, Omarosa Manigault Newman, has just published , Unhinged, a book that purportedly reveals the president’s secrets. And apparently, there are many of them. She questions the physical and mental health of the president, and makes both personal and political allegations and comments on his life.

Because she wrote her book, Trump called her, “a dog”. Surely he wanted to insult her, but he revealed more than he intended. Real dogs are honest and loyal to a fault; they rarely turn on their owners. But if they do, it usually follows years of cruelty and abuse. So when he called her a dog – we get some idea of how his bullying pushed her to publish her tell-all tale – and the bar lowered still further.

The US president may be a serious candidate for the 5-star “most-vulgar-leader-ever-award”, but he is NOT the only crude contender.

“We have good reason to believe now that profanity is in the brain, that even if it’s not necessary to language, it’s part of human language as it’s developed. We can curb the impulse to swear, just as we can curb fight or flight responses, but it is part of our make-up, so when it seems useful to us, we use it, even in the workplace.” explains Michael Adams, Professor of English Language and Literature, Indiana University and author of In Praise Of Profanity.

I’m troubled with the pervasiveness of this attitude. President Trump revealed more than he planned when he insulted his former aide. And I believe the rise of public profanity reveals a lack of concern about where this behaviour is taking us. Our global society has sunk us to yet a lower level – now we also see a decline of civility and manners – and we just accept it. The same can be said about invasions of privacy and bullying. They have both become so commonplace, that most of us have endured soul-destroying attacks in one way or another. We get little sympathy and are told: Deal with it and get on with your life.

On internet forums, F-bombs and similar expletives are more common all the time. We giggle at video clips of children using profanity. Sometimes I have found myself punching LIKE after LIKE, until I stop and think a minute. Then I go back and punch UNLIKE. I do not LIKE profanity used when suitable adjectives and adverbs would suffice. Besides – LIKE and UNLIKE – there should be a third option: WASH THAT BIG MOUTH OUT WITH SOAP.

I can’t say I never swear, I often use “soft-swear-words”, but rarely do I bring out the F word, and never N, or C. In Spanish I don’t use the CH, I or C words – I can’t say them naturally – and I don’t want to get to the point where I can.

Have you ever thought: Why did I say / show that? Why didn’t I keep THAT to myself? Well, I sure have. Perhaps I will regret writing this post, but this is how I feel (and I am choosing my words with care). If your opinion is different; let me know. I like the openness of the times we’re living. But hey, I would like to see some self-restraint and decorum coming from the mouths and tweets of our leaders.

Leaders are supposed to – ugh, ugh, ugh – lead. Lead by their thoughts, words and deeds. It would be nice if we had that kind of leader to follow. But let’s not dump all the blame on world leaders. There are others who look to us for leadership. Maybe we need to curb our tongues, our strutting and our aggressiveness with our kids, our grandchildren, our employees, our parents, other family members, friends and strangers. Pretty-much everyone appreciates getting respect.

When I get stressed, angry or emotional, I think about people of substance – people I truly admire – I try to mirror some of their behaviours – it helps me.

And the times, they are a-changing

Olga Moguel,owner of AMARO and President-elect Andés Manuel Lopéz Obrador

Since July 1st, the day of the national election, Mexico has experienced profound changes, and I anticipate this will continue for the next six years (the length of the presidential term). Some international reidents in Merida have told me they feel confused by the conflicting opinions they hear about President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). They wonder if he will be able to fulfill the promises he has made.

During the months leading up to the national election, the traditional political parties did their damndest to demonize López Obrador, a long-time activist, aspiring to the presidency. Their propaganda within, and outside Mexico, described him as an “upstart”, “leftist”, and “unreliable.” They predicted an AMLO victory at the polls, would cause foreign investment to immediately flee, and that he’d steer Mexico towards a fate similar to that of Venezuela, under Chavez. Because he unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 2006 and 2012, many called him an “old loser”.

López Obrador did not give up; he tried to work with the established parties, but he found that many elected members were more interested in their own advancement than in the needs of the citizens they presumably serve. He could not go along with this, and so he launched, the National Regeneration Movement. In Spanish the new political party is called  Movimiento Regeneración Nacional  –  commonly known as MORENA. No small accomplishment, and for that new party to win the election with 53% of the vote is unheard of.

One has to ask why the citizens of Mexico abandoned their traditional party loyalties to vote for an almost unknown entity. Truthfully, the level of corruption, insecurity, and economic instability had surpassed what the majority of Mexicans could tolerate. Everyone knew that a vote for the traditional parties would mean more of the same old – same old. With AMLO and MORENA, at least they could hope the situation would improve.

Many people also wonder how the lives of everyday citizens will change under Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s leadership.

I am not shy about expressing my opinions, but I think it is important for readers to know what AMLO’s supporters from Merida’s business community, social service providers, educators and artists have to say. So for the next few weeks, I will interview such people and publish what I learn.  Today I’d like to start with:

Olga Moguel Pereya

 Olga Moguel Pereya

Many know Olga Moguel Pereya as the owner-manager of Amaro Restaurant and Cultural Center. Dining at Amaro, under the leafy canopy of a huge orchid tree, always makes for a wonderful evening. And attending presentations, exhibitions, lectures, and roundtable discussions, organised by Olga in her on-site auditorium is always thought-provoking.

Olga’s father was a career diplomat with Mexico’s Foreign Service; her mother was from Argentina, where Olga spent much of her childhood. She grew up listening to conversations between her parents and their friends from the Embassies of other countries. “Through my association with people from all over the world, I learned to respect cultural, religious and political differences,” says Olga, “and I developed strong opinions of my own.”

Civil and indigenous rights, diversity of all kinds, mental health issues and women’s equality are some of her passionate causes. “It hurts me to see people suffering with no hope that their situation will improve.”

She believes that the governments of the past four decades are responsible for the erosion of social, cultural, and family values in Mexico. “Because they have mismanaged the public treasury to such an extent, the economy is in a deplorable state. There are not enough jobs, and people are so preoccupied with making enough money to provide the basic necessities for their families, they have little time, energy, or other available resources to ensure that wholesome values are passed to their children.”

Olga feels that the example set by the government authorities, their abuse of power, and their arrogance has weakened the spirit of the general population. “When people know that their elected officials are corrupt, what incentive is there for them to follow the rules,” she asks.

“The repressive tactics of the government have only served to create more crime,” she adds.

Olga and I agreed that many people have lost their trust in the conventional parties, and so this is why they decided to elect the candidate who seemed to want change as badly as they do.

“And what will change if there is less corruption? How will this affect people’s day-to-day life?” I asked.

“It will affect everything,” said Olga, “Currently, at least 30% of the country’s budget is diverted from where it should go. This happens in all areas of health, education, and other social services. When this money is back working for the population, there will be better services; the circulation of more money will boost production and create the need for more employment.” In Olga’s opinion, most members of the traditional parties have lost touch with the citizens who are not part of their socio-economic class.

Having said that, Olga threw her hands up in the air – “These politicians were elected to serve the country, not to “serve themselves” – When she calmed down, she added, “López Obrador has always walked with the people. He visits even the smallest villages, and he knows what their needs are.”

Olga at Amaro with Elena Poniatowska

She says that AMLO has the loyalty of the majority of Mexicans. She is confident that when they see strong, exemplary leadership, fiscal austerity, and a responsible government, not only will their incomes improve, but so will the national attitude and confidence for the future.“When the people feel more secure, they will shed some of the aggressiveness and the rage that we see in the traffic and in their inclination towards cynicism.”

“But all on his own, AMLO cannot make change happen,” Olga cautions, “It is up to us to follow his lead and adjust our ways too. We need to stop paying bribes, we need to recover our manners, and treat one another with respect – and we need to take care of our children – they are the future.”

Olga reminded me that this year she registered as an independent candidate to represent Yucatan in the House of Representatives. She did not win a seat but she added that she is willing to help the new administration in any way she can.

And through AMARO’s cultural center Olga says she will continue to offer a space for those who wish to voice their ideas. She has defined her role.

To summarize, I would say we all need to do as Olga does. We need to determine our role, and do what we can to contribute to the betterment of the country we live in.

What can members of the international community do? They are not supposed to get involved in political acts. However – supporting people in need is not a political act – it is an act of solidarity.

 

 

A Red Rose in her Hair: Part 4

alberto-s-continental
Alberto’s – the dinner choice on Monica and Peter’s first night in Merida

Monica opened her eyes, but at first she couldn’t get her bearings. An AC unit quietly hummed in the corner – and someone was whistling outside – rather well in fact. From the light peeking through the raw cotton curtains, she could tell the day was well underway. M–m-m-m-m-m, she breathed in the familiar aroma of freshly-brewed coffee.

Fully awake now, she slid from the high four-poster bed and wiggled her feet into a pair of flip-flops. She tied the sash of her robe, and hoped Peter would not take offence at her walking around the house without first getting dressed for the day. But she just couldn’t take time, the promise of caffeine was too powerful to resist,

Shutting her bedroom door behind her, she crossed a courtyard where small brownish birds splashed in a fountain. They flew away as she approached, but by the time she reached the arch leading to the kitchen, they had returned to their morning ritual. She couldn’t see anyone, but a thermal carafe sitting on the blue and white Talavera tiled counter looked like what she wanted, more than anything in the world. She picked it up, and as she poured, she heard Peter call, “I’m in the pool Monica, come on outside.”

“Buenos días,” she answered, as she took her first sip of the rich, dark brew.

Peter looked so pleased with himself, standing chest-deep in the water, drinking a big glass of orange juice. “Could there be a better way to start the day,” he asked.

She agreed that this was about as good as it gets. Just 16 hours ago, Raymundo – the driver Peter contracted for airport pickup – brought them to this spectacular home. He carried their bags inside, and assured them he was on call 24-7, in case they needed anything at all. Monica was not used to so much attention. Giddy from the heat and novelty – she unpacked her clothing and accessories – then joined Peter for margaritas on the upper terrace. While watching the sun set, she could feel the tension of years slither out of her body, and evaporate like water on the hot terracotta tiles.

She felt like a young girl again.

At “Alberto’s”, a restaurant they chose by fluke, they’d enjoyed a Lebanese meal – truly authentic Baba Ghanoush,  lamb kababs – and of course, a couple more Mexican margaritas. “So far, Merida has surpassed my expectations,” she said – And I hope my liver will survive – she thought to herself.

Alberto, their host, had so many stories and so much history to share. Eliabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had dined at his table – and of course – Graham Greene. “He was a prince,” said Alberto, “but he seemed sad all the time, actually more than sad; I don’t remember how you say this in English.”

“Do you mean he was melancholy?”

“Yes exactly,” Alberto winked.  Monica figured that would have been true – could the whiskey priest in “The Power and the Glory” – have been imagined by a content writer?

As the evening wore on, Alberto’s stories got more florid and effusive – No, no, no – Monica hadn’t spent such an entertaining evening in decades. And it looked to her as though last night had been Peter’s first one ever.

“You know what?” Peter looked at her appraisingly. “I have to confess that even though I admired you for coming along on this trip, I worried that I’d have to look after you. I wondered if you could handle stairs and uneven walkways. But you are as fit as a woman half your age.”

There it was again. Why do younger people patronize their elders? OK, some of her friends had definitely given up on life, but she had not. Monica felt she should not have to prove herself to Peter or anyone else. “Well I worried too,” she confessed, “I worried that you wouldn’t be able to keep up with me. But I can see you’re going to be just fine.” She stood up and unfastened her cotton robe. She snuck a look at Peter’s face, filled with embarrassment and confusion. This is fun, she thought as it slipped from her shoulders. She could not help but laugh out loud at the way his face flooded with relief.

“Whoa Nellie!” Peter said, “Nice bathing suit! For a few seconds I thought you were about to go skinny dipping.”

Monica teased him. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Aunt Augusta was a model of propriety; although she had a wild streak, she disciplined herself. She was sedate, and I am too. Do you have plans for today?”

“Actually, I thought I’d explore one of the cenotes I’ve read about; do you want to come along?”

“I’ve been doing some reading too,” Monica said as she held up a book she found on a shelf in her bedroom.  “There is a group of English-speaking women here who crochet hats for kids with cancer. I think I’ll check it out.”

Cartas a Frida

 

 

I do not often review a restaurant on this blog, but yesterday I had a delightful experience that I want to share…

To start with, if you are in Yucatan right now, you know the weather has been beastly hot and humid.  The temperature usually drops after sunset, yet last night at 8 pm, that had still not happened. Jorge and I did not want to leave home, but some friends suggested we get together for dinner downtown, and since we haven’t seen them in some time, we agreed.

As soon as we got out of the car, I felt perspiration on my upper lip, and by the time we had walked two blocks to the outdoor restaurant where we planned to eat, my swirling skirt and sheer blouse were stuck to my body like saran wrap. My hair had drooped, and I am sure that even my ears were sweating. I regretted not wearing cotton… but hindsight is 100%, isn’t it?

We quickly downed one drink at the place where we thought we’d spend the whole evening, and then we headed for the door. “Where shall we go now?” someone asked. “Wherever they have AC is fine with me,” Jorge said. I looked around, and across the street I saw a restaurant with beads of condensation on its windows. “Thar’ she blows,” I crowed, and got ready for the others to join my b-line for salvation. But our friends were holding back. “We’ve never been to that place,” one of them said. I looked at both with total resignation. “Neither have I, but it looks cool in there, and I have to get out of this steam bath.” They saw I was close to meltdown and humoured me.

Once we entered and felt the blessed comfort of the AC, we decided that no matter what the menu looked like, we would stay. And without even taking in our surroundings, we plonked onto the four closest chairs. A waiter immediately rushed over. “Would you like some water,” he asked… I knew that we had come to exactly the right place.

The restaurant we had stumbled upon is called “Cartas a Frida”. Anyone who has met me even once, probably knows that I am an unabashed, unswervingly loyal fan of Frida Kahlo. The first time I saw her work was during a Grade 11 Art class. Our teacher, Mr. Laing liked to show slides of his favourite painters and on this particular day, he focussed on Frida. I had never seen such vivid colors and her “subject matter” shocked me. In North Vancouver during the mid 60s, we did not get much exposure to anything remotely avant-guarde. I fell in love…

And when I moved to Mexico a decade later, I looked forward to seeing more of Frida’s art in galleries and museums. But no, I did not; even the Casa Azul was a derelict mess.  At the time, Frida’s husband, Diego Rivera was much acclaimed; however critics did not consider Frida, a serious artist. But I felt OK with that; it was as though she was my “secret”. Then sometime in the early 90s, her image began showing up everywhere. Matchbooks, key-chains, journals, posters, little wooden boxes, earrings made from bottle caps… any flat surface was a potential space for exploitation. I was not in love with that…

But I came to terms with it, as I have done with much in my life. And now, when I come upon a tasteful, beautifully staged “Frida-theme” establishment, I am ecstatic. And the restaurant, “Cartas a Frida”, is indeed such a place. I fell in love again…

So… feeling happy with the comfortable temperature and lush surroundings… with an attentive server looking out for us… no giant TV screen broadcasting a loud sporting event to annoy us, but romantic Latin soft rock enhancing our mood… we wondered what more could we ask for?

Well… we were there to eat, weren’t we? And once again we were pleased; our meals surpassed our expectations. The four of us found exactly what we wanted to eat on the extensive menu, and we all enjoyed what we chose. The presentation and portion size were perfect for an evening meal. We got our plates at the same time… what was supposed to be cold, was cold; and what should be hot, was hot. Three of us shared a bottle of red wine, and Jorge had a beer. Our water glasses were kept full… there would be no heatstroke on our waiter’s watch!

When the bill arrived, again we were surprised… less than 800 pesos for four complete meals and our drinks. For price-conscious diners, this is hard to beat. But what surprised us most is that our table was the only one occupied. Why was such a restaurant was not full?

“Cartas a Frida” is located on Calle 55, between Calles 58 and 60… less than half a block from Santa Lucia, the “restaurant plaza”. The outside lighting is subdued… a good thing in my estimation, but maybe it doesn’t stand out enough to draw people in? Their social media presence is also low-key and I have not seen any print ads.

Jorge and I started our own college in 1990; we know how hard we worked to make it successful, and without our friends supporting us and cheering us on, it would have been even harder. It takes a while for an independent business of any kind to become known. With no splashy ads like the ones chain establishments can afford, locally-owned and operated bistros often languish. I would be sorry to see that happen to this restaurant. With full enthusiasm, I am joining the cheering section, and I urge everyone reading this post to also support “Cartas a Frida”.  I am sure you won’t be sorry …

I took a few photos with my phone… in the low light, they did not come out too well… but they do give you and idea of what the place looks like. Go soon, and enjoy…

 

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