Small kindnesses add up

In the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas

When the MEL Women’s Tour to Chiapas arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas, the ladies dragged into the lobby of the Hotel Monctezuma looking pretty wiped after their long day on the bus. But within an hour, they had gathered again, eager for Sergio to walk them to the nearby Main Plaza. Their eyes danced around and they laughed like school girls – they’d heard a lot about the city – and couldn’t wait to discover it.

When they returned, most had found a restaurant they enjoyed, and the next day, they LOVED shopping in the huge artisan market. However, observing the indigenous women selling their crafts until late at night distressed the group, and obviously, everyone felt their children should be home in bed, not roaming the streets in the hopes of earning a few pesos. “In Chiapas, need seems more acute than in Yucatan,” one of the group members said.

Poverty is defined by many criteria. But to me, it means having no choices. Somehow people make it from day to day, but they do not have a say about what they will eat, and their living conditions are always precarious. Many children do not attend school. No matter what their age, the poor have to accept whatever is imposed upon them. They are vulnerable to the whims of self-serving politicians, big business encroachment into rural areas, their own cultural biases, religious taboos and family interference and pressure. 75 – 80% of Mexico’s population endures poverty to some degree. And sadly, it seems doubtful that the numbers will be different in the next generation.

Such a pleasure to meet Claudia Castro, the Director of “La Casa de las Flores”

But in San Cristobal, as in every city in Mexico, there are angels who refuse to accept these grim statistics. Our group visited “La Casa de las Flores”, a drop-in centre for street children. We saw first-hand, that love and learning CAN overcome the odds stacked against the kids. What a wonderful morning we spent playing, reading, singing and folding origami cranes with the 7 – 8 year olds. Before leaving, we served cake to them and to the delightful, dedicated volunteers. Our donations of toys, school supplies, clothing, and other items were most welcome – but tomorrow – will more needed supplies come through the door?

Ana Darson reading to the children

Read more about the “Casa de las Flores” on their facebook page:

One of our group members asked the Centre’s director: Is the best tact to support the children by buying their products, and also offering help those who fall through the cracks, as they do in every culture? What other responses would be helpful?

Claudia Castro, the dynamic founder and present director of “La Casa de las Flores” told us that yes, it was important to buy from the children. “Otherwise, they don’t eat,” she added sadly.

Boxes of donations from the MEL tour participants

It seems clear that the country‘s political and social agencies can squash or stimulate the quality of life Chiapas, and the state needs economic growth that will benefit the majority, not only the wealthy. Private individuals like us can’t possibly help everyone that crosses our path, but by financially supporting initiatives like the “La Casa de las Flores”, we can be sure our donations will reach the people who need them.

1,000 Cranes

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is a tried and true maxim, and my mother-in-law was the first to show me the importance of living by this “golden rule”. At first I felt terribly self-conscious. I felt embarrassed – and yes – I felt guilty. “Share what you have,” Doña Bertha would urge me, and she helped me get over my discomfort. Slowly I became more open to approaching people who look like they need help.

The big market used to be the best place to buy groceries of all kinds. I would go there with her, and I saw that she always carried a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of some kind of drink in her big purse. Like it was nothing out-of-the-ordinary, she’d give the food to someone who looked hungry. I used to worry she might offend the person, but I never saw anyone turn her down. When I started to do likewise, no one ever refused my offerings either. And over time, I learned there are many ways we can all help out.

I learned that I can help, by asking for help for myself. For example, I sometimes hire a young kid to help me with some “tech’ task” like updating the contacts list on my phone. The lady who works with me in our home has a daughter who comes once in a while and helps me clean and organize the closets and shelves. She actually enjoys doing this and in addition to some cash, she likes to take home what I can no longer use. I often ask a neighbour to help me in the kitchen when I have a party. It is a win-win deal, I am happy to have the help, and those I ask for it, appreciate earning some extra cash.

Tip the parking “dale-dale” man, and the ones who bag your groceries. These people receive no salary. Most look at least as old as me, and I give them a minimum of 10 pesos.  While dining at outdoor cafes, Jorge often buys a rose or I buy a fan from a vendor. From time to time, Jorge agrees to get his shoes shined, and he says, , if a musician asks to play us a song.

There are times when someone wants to sell us something, we don’t want at all (like cigars) Nonetheless, we don’t just brush them off. We say no as pleasantly as possible,  look them in the eyes and smile before we turn away.

Showing respect makes a big difference.  You may not think that the 10, 15, or 20 pesos you give, or spend on a “service”, means much. You may not believe that a smile helps, but I assure you, it does.

Our world is not a fair place. Our efforts seem like “a drop in the bucket”. But even a little help can take the edge off someone’s immediate worries. A reprieve from present anxiety is not a long-term solution, but as my mother-in-law used to say, “Small kindnesses add up.”


Our Parched Peninsula

Slow going on narrow roads

There is just no way around it. Anyone traveling to Chiapas from Merida must first get off our parched peninsula. The fat thumb of heat-stroked land jutting into Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea is large… approximately 182,000 sq. kilometres or 70,000 square miles. And it is diverse… tropical lowland jungle, arid scrub, saltwater coastline and wetlands. The members of MEL’s Women’s Tour to Chiapas took 10 hours (with several stops along the way) to drive the 560 kilometres from Merida to Villahermosa.

We were ecstatic to reach the Hotel Viva, a comfortable and welcoming property on the outskirts of Villahermosa. We had planned to have “Happy Hour” in Marion & Lori’s room (a glass or two of wine and some snacks) and we also wanted to sort the donations for the Children’s Day Center in San Cristobal de las Casas.

But when we saw the rooms and remembered how many suitcases of clothes, school supplies, toys, balls, and so forth that we had wedged into the luggage compartment, we realized we were just too much for that room! With more confidence than I felt, I announced:

“Sergio will find us a place where we can get together.”

In all the years we’ve worked together, Sergio Solis has never let me down. And this was no exception. He found us a covered outdoor patio with tables and chairs, and lots of space to sort our donations and get them into boxes and extra suitcases. Marion Bale and Lori Simek got busy laying out the “buffet” they brought from Merida. Lots of comments on the delicious food and not-bad-for-the-price wine. With so many pitching-in, everything was soon packed away.


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I told Lori and Marion that their tireless efforts to organize this community service component of the tour had paid off in spades. They made special colour-coded luggage tags, compiled the spread sheet of names and necessary info. Lori came up with the initial concept of incorporating origami cranes and bought the book that explained the intricate paper folding… en español. Another book she bought told the story of “Sadako and the 1,000 Paper Cranes.”  I knew the children would be thrilled.

The three of us watched the bellboys ferry half the 14 bundles of donations to my room, and the other half into Edith’s, and I asked my exhausted helpers if they felt happy. “Definitely,” said Marion in her New Zealand accent, “But I wish the ladies had not found Lori’s personal bottle of Bubbly. I could use it about now” “An innocent mistake,” quipped Lori, “And I’m so tired, it would have been wasted on me.” Big yawns all ‘round, and we toddled off to bed.

The majority of the group slept well, and after a hearty breakfast that included the hotel’s famous fried plantains, we filed back on the bus… eager for the day’s adventure… driving through the Sierra Madre Mountains.


Mexico is MORE…

Last week I escorted the Merida English Library’s fund-raising tour to Chiapas. The trip was open to women only, and 37 of them signed on. I have been repeatedly asked: Why just women?

First day in San Cristobal

Well to start with… women and men have different interests and this is very evident on a trip to a place like Chiapas. Women enjoy shopping for hours in the handcraft markets and they welcome opportunities for cultural exchanges with the local population. They will hunker down on long travel days and face other challenges to reach areas where they can have such experiences. Men… not so much.

Enjoying a cool drink in Zinacantan

On our tour, there was ample opportunity to see the way people live in Chiapas. Ours was not a luxury excursion, and at times, comfort levels did not match what most group members are used to. In addition to long hours on the bus, some of the women were hit with “Montezuma’s Revenge”, and others were not altogether thrilled with their hotel rooms. Nonetheless, most of the time, everyone kept their sense of humour and their perspective. I agree with a comment made by Linda Lindholm, a well-experienced traveler:

Our street in San Cristobal

I feel blessed and grateful. In San Cristobal, I saw such need all around me; it certainly did not seem worth fussing about the hotel’s hard pillows and worn towels.

Dancers at San Juan Chamula’s Sunday Carnaval

In Chiapas, the hillsides are peppered with hamlets, and by agro-moguls’ coffee, cocoa and cattle ranches. Men hold almost 100% of the leadership positions in the majority of the tiny towns, but the heaviest loads are carried by the women. Assisted by their daughters, they maintain the home, tend to kitchen gardens, do laundry, cook and care for the babies. They spend most of their spare time creating whimsical textiles, and selling them in artisan markets. We saw the children from well-to-do families escorted to and from their private schools… meanwhile the young sons and daughters of the poor traversed the downtown area selling clay figurines and woven bracelets to the tourists.

Preparing tortillas

The enforcement of child labour laws is all but non-existent in Chiapas, and we asked ourselves if buying trinkets from these children was the right thing to do. If everyone boycotted purchasing from the children… would they be released from their hard work?  Linda Shearer, a woman on the tour felt torn over this issue. We visited a street children’s shelter, and afterwards she wrote:

Our donations for “La Casa de las Flores”

Are we helping or hurting when we buy from the children who try to sell us things on the street?” That was my question to Claudia Castro, the director of “Casa de las Flores”, a safe place for the child vendors who are everywhere in San Cristobal, Chiapas. Claudia paused before answering my question. “We are helping when we buy from them, because if we don’t, they don’t eat.”

The mobile we made for the children

A sobering response, but nonetheless, for most of the group members, the morning we spent at “Casa de las Flores” was a highlight. The participants donated toys, blankets, clothes, school supplies and personal hygiene products. We also collected money to buy a projector that Claudia needs for the presentations she makes. As a happy reminder of our visit, group member Margie Alexy designed a mobile that we all helped to make out of ribbon and origami cranes. Ana Darson read a captivating story about cranes to the 12 children who were present at the home that morning, and Joan Ileson led the children in some origami crane making of their own.  Linda Shearer had more insights about our morning:

Our guide Sergio eplaining a point

It was acknowledged that alcohol, spousal abuse and what our culture would consider a denial of the rights of children is prevalent in San Cristobal. Most of the seven and eight year-olds who we met at the centre were born at home and do not have birth certificates. Legally they do not exist. Without a birth certificate they are not eligible for education, health care or other programs provided by the government. One of the volunteers was in the kitchen preparing a meal for the children. “Generally,” he said, “the indigenous sellers in the market, mostly women and the children, eat only one meal a day and it lacks fresh vegetables or significant protein.” The center tries to make up for this with meat and vegetables from its gardens located right on the property. Since children may be working twelve hours a day, they also offer a few beds and some large pillows where the children can rest or sleep. I ponder, “Is the best tact to support the culture by buying their products while also offering help to those who fall through the cracks? What other responses would be helpful?

Marion Bale and Lori Simek, my wonderful helpers

Tourism in Mexico offers many destinations where the 5-star hotels, restaurants, galleries, shops and other attractions rival those found in other top-selling resorts around the world. But this country has something that many others do not..

Embroidered table runners in Zinacantan

Despite the push for modernization, and regardless of social, political, economic and crime-related challenges, somehow the essence of the rural, indigenous culture thrives in Mexico. And I believe this is what sets the country apart. The people in the communities are proud of their heritage and they do not allow their customs or their languages to fade away. They prepare the laborious feast-day foods; they make intricate costumes for their dances and religious rites. Their traditions stretch back centuries and I pray they will be revered forever.

Laura Herrera and me at Agua Azul

Don’t for a minute think that I dislike all-inclusive resorts, with their plentiful food & beverages and well trained staff… But Mexico is even MORE…

Our group at the Cañon del Sumidero, Chiapas

In this week’s posts I will highlight some of what our group saw and experienced in Chiapas, and hopefully my descriptions will encourage you to travel the country and see for yourselves the richness of the culture, the beauty of the tropical forests, secluded beaches, waterfalls and of course, the archaeological sites.


More to come…

Why do I travel?

A painting by my Grandfather

I was just a little girl when I found out that my grandfather had been an explorer. In the early XX Century, he traveled to remote lands – Antarctica, Borneo, North Africa, South America – his sojourns were epic. He trekked thousands of kilometres, and he painted all the wonders he saw.

I asked him about the penguins in one of his canvases, and he told me that I could go see them when I got older. My eyes went wide when I heard that, and the travel bug found a permanent home in my heart.

A stay-at-home friend recently asked me WHY I love traveling so much. I had to think for a minute. I couldn’t help her understand if I was unable to articulate WHY..  So while I pack my suitcase for tomorrow’s early morning departure to Chiapas, I’ll move over to my computer whenever I think of a way to explain. At the end of the afternoon, my packing should be done and my writing should be ready to post. Here goes!

I enjoy challenges: Travel tests me. It pushes me to accept even when I want to see change.

Agua Azul

Learning is another reason why I love to travel.  I like to experience unfamiliar foods, fiestas, markets, scenery, and – and – and. I like going home with new skills and knowledge.

Developing a wider world view: Meeting people from other places reaffirms to me that my world view isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

Expanding my perspective: When travel opens up my mind, I remember that there’s more than one way to live. I have my way and others have theirs; respect for one another is what’s important.

Getting in touch with myself: Being away from home gives me the time and space I need to let my mind wander and to reconsider the perspective I have developed.

Appreciating my life: When I’m caught up in my daily routine, it’s easy to lose sight of all I have. Travel opens my eyes to what I love about home.

Travel for me often includes a visit with family or friends. My relationships keep my feet on the ground. I need to see my favourite people, hug them and spend time with them.

Having an Adventure: Seeing new sights is exciting, and this is another obvious reason why I like travel so much. A trip is the perfect time to do something different and exciting, especially something you can’t do at home.

Escaping:  I like to go to places that have a temperate climate. I have lots of sun and heat at home, although I must say a long weekend at a beach resort is something I enjoy. But, I find my true escape in museums and when I am looking at architecture.

I also believe that travel has the power to heal. Spending time in a different place works wonders. I always return home more at peace with myself and better able to cope with my next situation.

Celebrating: The best way to celebrate a happy event is to take a trip. A special occasion is made even more special by celebrating away from the hectic pace of life at home. It’s also a good way to gather family and friends from distant corners to mark milestone events.

Well, I am finished this post but my bag is not yet ready. PACKING is one part of travel I am not too enamoured of. But I had better get cracking or I will regret it. I wonder how the ladies who are joining me on the trip are doing?


(Special P.S. for F.C.) See you at 7:00 tomorrow morning. Chiapas, here we come!)

Our Day at Xochimilco

Tenochtitlan is the name the Aztecs gave to their capital city when it was founded on June 20, 1325. Located on an island, in what was then, Lake Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico, they built long causeways to connect the island to the mainland.

Bridges crossing the canals were high enough to let large canoes pass, yet they could be pulled away if invaders threatened the city. Levees kept fresh spring water separate from brackish lake waters. And to provide land for agriculture, chinampas  were constructed. Chinampas are sometimes called “floating islands” because this is how they appear, but in reality they are adhered to the canal bottom.

The last remnant of this vast water system is located on the shore of Lake Xochimilco, the southern arm of Lake Texcoco. The name Xochimilco is a combination of the Nahuatl words xochitl and milli and means “where the flowers grow.” Although some flowers, fruit and vegetables are still produced, the area is mostly used for recreation. At the docks, hundreds of trajineras – brightly-painted, shallow-bottomed boats – are available for slow cruising through the canals.

 All sorts of festivities are held aboard the trajinerasbaptisms, XV Años, birthday parties, bachelorettes and graduations and of course tourists think that spending an afternoon at Xochimilco is one of the MOST FUN things to do in Mexico City.

Our group of 14 fell squarely into this category. During our two hours on the water, we stuffed ourselves with tacos, nopales, guacamole and cheese. And we drank – much beer and tequila – but we had such a great time! I will let the photos tell the rest of the story.






Long-time Friendship and Uxmal

For many reasons – of all the archaeological sites in Yucatan – Uxmal is my favourite.  So when my girlhood friend, Ramona and her husband, Tom came to visit Jorge and me at the end of January, we made it a priority to spend a day there.

The ancient city is located approximately 80 kilometres south of Merida – nestled into the Puuc hills – the ONLY location in our state with ANY elevation at all.  Ramona and I are from British Columbia where there is barely any flat terrain – she found it hilarious when I called the area – the Yucatecan Alps.

Uxmal was founded around 700 AD, and at its peak, it housed about 25,000 inhabitants. Unlike most Maya sites, Uxmal is not laid out geometrically.  Nonetheless the coordinates of the structures do demonstrate astral alignments, including the rising and setting of Venus. The design of Uxmal is also adapted to the topography –  many buildings set atop the hills – they look quite grand.

The complex mosaics on the facades showcase the abilities of the Maya artists in the region. Archaeological excavations and radiocarbon studies  indicate that the major structures – the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery, the Governor’s Palace, House of the Turtles, and the Ballcourt– were built between the VIII and X Centuries AD. The southern section is yet to be extensively studied. The entire site has a slight inclination that allows rainwater to drain into manmade underground reservoirs, called, chultunes.  This feature allowed the city to thrive because in the entire Puuc region, there are no surface bodies of fresh water.

Because of conflict with other Maya centers and also because of drought, Uxmal was abandoned and re-built three times.

Umal is a very interesting and beautiful site indeed, but there is even more to love. The first thing is the silence. I never see huge crowds and there are no vendors pestering the tourists. There is almost always a breeze and the trees growing on the esplanades offer some shade.

The birds seen at Uxmal, even during the day are remarkable. Last year, I walked with my friend, Michael Schussler through a woodsy area in the eastern section of the site. We saw at least FORTY mots-mots – it was mating season and they were courting – their iridescent plumage and long tails glittering. Spectacular! Ramona, Tom and I did not see any such flashiness, but we did see a large number of buntings, flycatchers, jays, orioles and a hawk.

The Hotel Hacienda Uxmal (one of my favourite hotels in Yucatan) is located right outside the entrance to the site. The graceful decor and lush gardens, the attentive staff and the Museum are features not found at many other properties  I’ve ever seen. The Chocolate Museum, located right beside the hotel is another (yummy) attraction.

If you have a car, and drive 10 K further up the road towards Kabah, you’ll come to the Pickled Onion, a small inn (another of my personal favorites) and restaurant owned by my good friend Valerie Pickles.  She has 10 modestly-priced, quaint and comfortable rooms, as well as an excellent restaurant. Many of my guests have spent a couple of nights at The Onion – and when they return to Merida they are so relaxed – they practically glide into my house.

Ramona – who has been my friend since Grade 3 – and I laughed so hard as we reminisced about our early years. Our large families belonged to Holy Trinity Church and all us kids went to the adjacent school. We got together often for camping trips, meals – almost every weekend, my mother or Mrs. Helm would drive a full car of us – to the never-ending basketball, volleyball, track & field events. One time we were making so much noise, we flustered Mom and when she backed our big station wagon out of the parking area, she ploughed into the only other car in the lot, a big black shiny Mercedes.

Ah-ah-ah – there are many things I do NOT like about aging – but having rich friendships that span five decades is a true perk. And living in Mexico as I do, my home is much in demand. Lucky me!

Unexpected Treasure

Mexico City is like an anthill. Yet with more than 21 million people living in the greater metropolitan area, could it be otherwise?

Jorge and I stayed for a week at the Metropol Hotel, located close by many of the attractions we like to visit – the Zocalo, Bellas Artes, Templo Mayor, galleries, shops, restaurants and so on. But of course, this area is also the heart of the business, governmental, and public services district.

On our last morning, just two blocks from the Metropol, we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd queuing-up on the ground level esplanade of a tall administrative complex that houses the Foreign Affairs Department, Mexico City’s  Appellate Courthouse, and who knows how many other ultra-chaotic offices. Literally thousands of people clutching manila folders waited their turn to gain entry through the security controlled access points. The parking lot could not possibly handle the volume of vehicles, and frenzied drivers circled round and round, their eyes keen to pick out someone just leaving their spot. If those waiting in the lines moved over at all, they would be surely be mowed over.

Our eyes scanned the distance for the quickest path out of the bedlam, but then I saw the shoes. Just the kind I needed – colourful, comfortable, and well made – so I stopped. Jorge rolled his eyes and tried to keep me moving, but a blouse festooned with iridescent dragonflies caught my eye, and then I spied more leather goods; backpacks, purses and totes, hanging from a  pegboard. Tables of jewellery sparkled in a sunbeam that had somehow filtered into the dim cavern. How could this delightful island of high-quality, handmade treasure be here? “Wait a minute. Look at these,” I said, holding out a pair of green striped flats for him to admire. Jorge is a sage husband; he knows when the Imelda Marcos in me will not be denied. “They are beautiful,” he said.

The shoemaker had come with his family from Leon, the footwear capital of the country.  His young daughter gazed at me with her big brown eyes and swept her small hand over the array her family hoped to sell. “Have you seen the movie, Coco,” I impulsively asked.  “Oh yes, and I am not like that boy who wanted to be a singer. I like the shoe business,” she replied. What a little charmer! I bought the green striped shoes – how could I not – as well as the blouse and a T-shirt. As I was leaving, the charmer’s father gave me a small amulet hanging from a leather lace. “God’s peace be with you,” he said.

I felt so touched by his gesture that I worried I’d start crying. The ten minutes Jorge and I spent with vendors had reaffirmed what I know to be true:

The talent of the Mexican people, their eye for colour and design, is surpassed only by their resourcefulness and kindness.  

I feel grateful that Jorge and I ended our Mexico City experience on the periphery of that sooty, stuffy parking lot. Tangible and non-tangible treasure is found in the most unexpected places, isn’t it?

Elena Poniatowska II


Today I am going to write more about lunch with the writer, Elena Poniatowska.

Elena Poniatowska is a firm supporter of Mexico’s recently-instated president, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). In fact she has been his advocate since 2006 when he ran against the victorious PAN candidate. It is generally agreed that AMLO lost that election because of fraud. The same is said about the following race in 2012 when he lost to the PRI. And yet, 18 years after the first campaign, Andrés Manuel’s newly-formed MORENA party won the presidency, as well as a majority in the Congress and the Senate.

In the past I have compared Mexico to a candy store. 25% of the citizens could walk right in – and they did so – taking away whatever they wanted. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the population had to stand outside the candy store, unable to do more than watch the country´s wealth disappear into private foreign bank accounts and the corrupt socio-political system. Elena knows that AMLO will not make all the people happy, all the time. Most probably, his high goals will not all be accomplished, but for the FIRST TIME in decades, there is hope on the faces of Mexicans who have endured so much injustice.

Elena’s eyes smile as she pours a generous shot of tequila for Jorge, me, and the other two guests. Michael Schuessler, UAM professor and author is one of them – such an affable man – he had just returned from Burma with an abundance of observations and insights.

We all toasted our new president and the start of what we sincerely hope will be a transformation in the country. While enjoying our meal of salmon in caper sauce, Elena told us about her family and the foundation she has started.

Jorge looking at Elena’s travel trunk

The Elena Poniatowska Foundation, located at Av. José Martí 105, Escandón I Secc, 11800 Ciudad de México, CDMX, is a cultural center and the repository of her personal library, correspondence, photographs and other memorabilia. She explained that many of the acclaimed artists and writers she has known have sold their archives to foreign universities. But when she told her son, Felipe, that she had been approached by an American buyer, he agreed that her work should stay in Mexico. Earlier in the week Jorge and I went to visit the new installations. The staff enthusiastically showed us around, and seem eager to make the foundation grow. It obviously pleases Elena to know her legacy is in good hands.

She looks serene. And so she should. At 87 years of age, the time has come for others to carry the torch. Her husband, Guillermo Haro died some years ago, but she has three children and lots of grandchildren to spend wonderful hours with.

I was surprised to see some of the canvases she has been working on. I did not know she paints. I didn’t get a chance to ask her, if like me, she thinks her time spent at the easel helps develop her writing? And I wish I’d asked if she paints with her grandchildren?

I don’t know when Jorge and I will go again to Mexico City, but whenever that is, it will be all the more special if we get to spend another afternoon, in Elena’s delightful company.

Tomorrow I will continue with another story about our trip to Central Mexico. Most people know how much Jorge and I love artisan markets – and on our last day in Mexico City we discovered a new one – set up in a parking lot.

Elena Poniatowska I

Elena Poniatowska with  Jorge and Joanna Rosado

Inside the Actors Studio with moderator James Lipton is a TV program I always enjoyed watching. Now-a-days though, dated YouTube re-runs are all I can see.

Mr. Lipton always asked the same simple questions, but the content never seemed repetative because his non-aggressive style relaxed his guests to the point that they’d reveal more about themselves than they’d planned on. Oh yes, surprising responses came from those benign prompts. I especially liked it when he’d ask:

If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would you choose?

Who would you pick if asked this question? There are many people from my personal life, as well as famous figures, who I would l-o-v-e to dine with. And last week in Mexico City, Jorge and I had the great pleasure of sharing lunch with one of the people who’d be near the top of my list, none other than, Elena Poniatowska.

Born in Paris, Ms. Poniatowska left France when World War II began. Her Mexican-born mother and her father, an officer in the French army (who in fact was descended from the royal Polish family) decided that their children should be taken to safety with the maternal family. At the time, no one imagined that the ten year old émigré would become – a voice for the oppressed in Latin America – especially women.

In 1954, at age 18, Elena began working for the Mexican newspaper, Excelsior. Since then, she has published more than fifty literary works in her name, as well as thousands of editorial pieces. Her most famous book, La Noche de Tlatelolco (published in English as Massacre in Mexico) is about the 1968 student protests and killings. Her reporting of political dissention and retaliatory government cruelty made her a hero to all activists and critical thinkers in the country.

Known as Elenita to her millions of fans, she is the fourth woman to be awarded the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious honor for Spanish language literature. It is given every year on April 23rd, the death date of author, Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) for whom the prize is named.

“The silence of the poor is a silence representing centuries’ worth of being forgotten and pushed back to the edges of society,” said the author when she accepted the 2014 Cervantes in Madrid. In the same speech, she paid homage to Gabriel García Marquez She said that his novel – One Hundred Years of Solitude – inspired Latin Americans to raise their voices.

The Spanish jury lauded Elena’s “firm commitment to contemporary history” and described the author as “one of the most powerful voices in Spanish-language literature.”

At her home, everything is “Elenisima”. The house is inviting, and small like her. Flowers of every hue grow all over – in the garden, on windowsills – and perched on a tiered stand under a skylight in the dining room. Books – especially the ones on the end tables next to the comfy yellow couch – lay open, not carefully shelved.

Read more tomorrow…

MEL Silent Auction


On Tuesday, January 29, the Merida English Library (MEL) is holding its most important event of the year – a Silent Auction – to raise funds for Phase 2 of our building expansion, which will add 2 classrooms, a cafe and 3 additional bathrooms.

This year’s auction items reflect the time and talent of MEL members and other community leaders. We have a variety of personal services, classes, day trips, artwork, and vacation stays. Below is just a sample of what you will have an opportunity to enjoy in exchange your for financial contribution.

I hope you will join us on January 29 at 7pm to help us reach our 2019 fundraising goal.
Tickets are 300 pesos and are available at MEL, Calle 53 #524 x 66 y 68, Merida Centro.

Check out for a constant update of auction items.

Lunch and massage for 2 at Rosas y Xocolate Spa
A Persian Dinner for 10 people

Sunday Brunch with Christopher Collins

Vietnamese lunch or dinner for 6 in your home

Traditional Mole dinner for 6, with a serenade by Maricarmen Perez, and dessert baked by Marianne Kehoe

Four hour cruise for 2 with lunch aboard a 41ft yacht

Day trip to Izamal with driver and lunch

Secret Cenote Day Trip

Day trip to Baca Henequen desfibrador to learn how to dye and weave

Ranch Haltun Xiki BBQ, horseback riding and tour for 4

Car and Driver for a day

One week of pet boarding plus dog grooming

Cocktail party for 30 catered in your home

Have your portrait painted

Magic Show performed at your party

Interior Design consultation services

A day of home maintenance services

Novice Sommelier course for 6

Cooking class at Hotel Boutique by the Museo

Glass Fusion Class for 4

1 month (60 hrs.) of Spanish Language Classes

Computer classes

Origami class

Pasta making class for 6

6 session course for group of 4 on light and shadow as determinants of form

Cuttlefish casting in pewter class for 4

Creative writing classes

Ek Balam tour and night at an ecolodge

1-night stay at the Pickled Onion in Santa Elena

Weekend for 6 at Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve

Weekend stay in Mexico City, including RT airfare for 2

Stay at Casa Sirena on Isla Mujeres

Weekday stay for 2 at BnB in Tepakan including breakfast and village tour

Weekend stay at house in Puerto Morelos

3-night stay in Tulum

4 night stay at Canyon Lake, TX

2-night stay in South Kingstown, Rhode Island