Friday, April 11, 2014

Guanajuato Holidays: viernes de dolores

My viernes de dolores  (as written in Spanish without caps):

10am: I take a bus from Pastita to Mercado Hidalgo. Bad decision. The trip takes an hour with all the people crossing in front, but through the window I do see the throng of students in the Baratillo and happy holiday-makers buying souvenirs in Plaza de la Paz.

11am: About to board a bus for Cata when I realize IMSS at Cantador will close in an hour. I need to arrange an appointment, so I walk over to IMSS which, I had been told, will not be open next week. Wrong. It will be open next week Mon-through Wed.

As I leave, I ask one of the guards whether I am too late for the merry-making at Cata. He says I can make it. I pay 35 pesos for a taxi to eat free ice cream at Cata (but I am going mostly to enjoy being with the miners' families, although I admit to anticipating the tamarind-flavored ice I ate there last year).

The day means hard work for these young women who may have been out dancing all last night

Detail from the seed & bean portrait of the Virgin at Cata

Worth the long wait, boys?

1pm, nearly: I arrive while Mass is underway. I must have arrived even later last year as all I remember is an uncrowded space of happy ice-cream eaters. I recognize The Lord's Prayer, taught to my high school Spanish class by our teacher. A man asks if I want to take photos. I say, no, not during the Mass, but I would like to sit down. He brings out an extra chair. A woman comes over to suggest I move it to a patch of shade.

1:15 pm. The stampede begins for the ice-cream. Much too my disappointment, except for the popsicles for the children, all the flavors are variations on strawberry, but when my turn comes I manage to eat a cup of vanilla with strawberry swirls.

2-3pm: I head downtown, do a few errands, take photos of the new benches at the tarted up bus stop in front of the market, and catch a Sprinter to Embajadoras.

Pedro Acevedo's shrine
3pm: I buy the last bunch of purple flowers for sale at Embajadoras Park, then start walking home. In front of a fruteria, I pass a shrine, I take a photo.

I see that the doors to Pedro Acevedo's carryout loncheria are open. When I go in, I see his shrine, on the counter where he usually places pots of food, is more elaborate than the day before. I ask whether he always has the portrait of the Virgin hanging there. He tells me no, it is precious, from the 18th Century. A priest gave it to his father. He has had it restored.

I go into an abarrotes to buy yoghurt. On my way in, I see I could have bought my flowers there. Same price, same condition.

3:30 pm. Am relieved to see the tepache man at his stall. I need a drink. He asks if I want it with limon and chile. I say limon y poquito chile. I start sucking in the coolness as soon as I can set my other purchases down..

4pm: I realize I haven't seen any of the big altars. There's always tomorrow. I'm tired, hot, and need a nap.

To read about the history of viernes de dolores. click (in Spanish).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guanajuato Byways: Passing the Guadalupe Mine on the Way to Santa Ana

I went with a friend in his truck to his country home near Santa Ana, one of Guanajuato's outlying communities. Along the way, close to Valenciana, we passed the imposing wall of the 16th century Guadalupe mine rearing up to the right. It is a majestic sight that served the practical purpose of protecting the mine's silver from outsiders. If the word awesome hadn't lost its freshness, I would use it.

Karen and Jerry's photo of the Guadalupe mine
The final kilometer of the road to to the couple's house had the truck shaking on the rutted road but got us to our destination above the main town of Santa Ana.

On the way home, several of us watched a boy leaving food for his burro. Definitely a day of contrasts.

But before that, on the back veranda, I couldn't resist the contrast of the sophisticated bonsai plant against a far reaching view of sky, hill and presa. According to the owner, the water in the reservoir is unusual for this time of year.

That's the Presa de Soledad beyond the bonsai

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Guanajuato Writer: Pablo Paniagua To Present His Most Recent Novel in Mexico City March 20

As always, Pablo Paniagua writes to entertain. That is why I love to read his books. They are a reminder that reading needn't be a serious task but can go down as a spoonful of honey. His latest, Nadine, falls somewhere between erotica and pornography. As I have only read two pages so far, I can't tell you exactly where it lies. I can only say I'm sure to keep keep reading.

Writer-artist Pablo designed the cover for his first novel
Pablo Paniagua, born in Spain but now after living in Mexico for more than twenty years, is a  patient fellow who was willing to start an independent press to be published. Now his books are flourishing, published in both Spain and Mexico. His new novel, Nadine, was a best-seller at the Guanajuato booth at a major book fair in Mexico City this spring.

Before Nadine, Paniagua came out with The Lost Novel by Borges, a short novel with a special appeal for Guanajuato readers. The book begins in Spain but soon the two students arrive in our city, where before long they think they know where to find the manuscript of the only novel Jorge Luis Borges ever or never wrote. I found it a treat to see Guanajuato through European eyes, besides reading his updated version of the legendary local method of entering clandestinely through a neighbor's roof.

Paniagua's first novel EXEX (subtitled la mujer del bigote / The Women with a Mustache) already shows this writer's readers what to expect of him. Served up in Paniagua's smooth style, it is as a thriller set in New York City with. As always with writer, sex and violence are treated lightly (think James Bond, not Hemingway.

These short novels are only available in the original Spanish. El Sotano is carrying them in Coyoacan, Mexico City. If I find out they're on sale here, I'll update the post.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Along the Street: Two Ways to Keep Cool Along the Guanajuato Streets

The tepache vendor is out in Pastita, at the corner nearly across from the Plaza de la Fuente.

Tepache,  is made of from pineapple, sugar, cinnamon and water, then allowed to ferment slightly. Less alcoholic than a beer, it's the most refreshing drink I know. A large size costs $10, larger $20. If you know other places in the city where tepache is sold, please leave your comment.

The other pause that refreshes
I'm a fan of Mexican sherbets and ice cream in its many flavors: zapote, mamey, elote (corn), limon, fresa (sherbet or icecream), to name a few. Mantecado (a relative of rum raisin), thumbs up; chocolate only mas o menos. 

When the folks from Oaxaca sell their wares in the Casa de Moneda, I make a beeline for fig-tequila ice cream. By the way the artist Jose Chavez Morado used to go with his driver over the sierra to Dolores Hidalgo but I don't know his favorite flavor among the many sold at the Jardin there.

He sells his fresh fruit ice cream during the daylight hours

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Guanajuato Restaurants: Food for the Spirit Too

A comida corrida restaurant on Ayuntamiento with goldfish and colorful chairs offers up the advice below to its diners:

The Zapatista poster at the bottom is only one currently on display at the hip teahouse-bookstore on Truco that wears its political colors proudly.

Pride and joy of their owners

In case you (formal) are not smiling already

Remember when the Zapatistas made headlines
& the irregular verb caber?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Putting on the Dog in Guanajuato

Too bad you can't see his owner's smile
I stopped to ask the owner about her shaggy dog, but didn't think to ask its gender of this English shepherd. A couple of minutes before the pooch was skittering on the marble surface of the Jardin but then recovered his poise.

Below: what better way of human-human/human-dog bonding than a Sunday walk along Sopena?.

And even farther down:
I don't know their breed, do you?

The beagles out-foxed me, couldn't get them both in sight
Any Sunday, any hour, any circumstance works for Guanajuatenses to walk their prized pets. This man, his two beagles (yes, two) and the golden retriever just made their way down torn-up Sangre de Cristo.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Guanajuato Spring: first jacaranda blossoms sighted

If A.E. Housman had grown up in Mexico instead of England, the chances are he would have written about jacaranda blossoms instead of cherries. I always look forward to this season when the jacarandas bloom on the Guanajuato hills and along the upper part of Paseo de la Presa.

I remember sucking in my breath when I first saw these trees on a short street in Mexico City. And yesterday for the first time this year when I saw a young tree blossoming at the foot of either Sangre de Cristo or the Campanero I felt as Housman did, that 'fifty years' are not enough to see this Mexican image of spring.
Believe it or not, I'm allergic to the pollen of this beautiful tree
but, hey, they're worth it

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bunuelos and coconut cream: two Guanajuato street foods

A walk along Calle Alhondiga offers up the splendors of Mexican street food, one of them being these enticing fried bunuelos de viento.  The ones on the right are covered with sugar, the ones on the left are plain. A tasty snack I can only have the strength to resist when I know I'm on my way to a meal. You'll find the bunuel women on the same side as the suburbano bus stop on the way to Avenida Juarez. I'm curious how they are made but haven't asked yet.

This afternoon, I also saw this rider in Pastita who ignored the No Parking sign while he cooled off with a coconut cream. Coconut water, poured into a plastic bag after your own personal coconut is cracked open is sold farther down at Embajadoras Park. Fewer calories, costs 5 pesos more.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

FIL 2013: David Grossman talks about his Land and his Writing Life

"Israel is a hard place to live, but a paradise for writers," says David Grossman.

I am listening to him in the Salon Juan Rulfo at the Feria Internacional del Libro because two months before, an Oregon friend emailed me about the Israeli writer's novel To the End of the Land [In Hebrew, its title means A Woman Flees from a Letter]. The following week, I find the book at the San Miguel library an hour's bus ride down the road. I am the fourteenth reader to check it out.

The novel in English translation is over 600 pages, but when I finish, I can't put it down, partly to pick up some details I had missed, but mainly because I can't bear to leave Ora, Abram, Ilan, Ofer, Adam and Sami.

By chance I learn that Grossman is to be a featured speaker at the International Book Fair this month in Guadalajara, four hours from where I live, This time, I travel four hours by bus each way.

At the formal opening,Grossman and Nobel prizewinner Mario Vargas Llosa share the stage, talking about the importance of writing in their lives and for the world.

The next morning I arrive for Grossman's press conference after rushing across the city to get to Expo Guadalajara by nine in the morning. Breakfast can wait. Only a dozen people are there, including the press attache from the Israeli embassy. I can hardly believe it. I had imagined at least a hundred would fill the room, even at the early hour.

Fifteen minutes later, when Grossman comes in, trim in his open collared shirt and loose jacket, the press conference begins. Without the usual introduction, the interpreter brusquely asks the press for questions.


Looking down at the two I have written down in advance, I raise my hand in a hurry. I am about to learn the drawbacks of being first in line. I ask Grossman : What does he think is the future of Hebrew fiction in Israel and abroad? Afterward, besides the literary arts of reading and writing, what other arts are part of his life?

The writer's answers are stiff compared with his later replies. Besides, I needn't have worried about upholding the honor of my adopted country, two dozen journalists full of questions troupe in later.

But Grossman's way of responding reveals more about the author than I am expecting. He keeps the questions in mind, remembering to circle back to talk about the six generations of Israeli writers including the youngest wave of Israeli novelists. Without singling any of them out, he mentions that many of them are presenting at the Book Fair. Clearly Grossman is determined to educate the people of the Spanish speaking world about his own country, the land he says will always be his home.

He explains that he writes all day, every day in a basement room. He goes to the theater and, when he has time "the cinema." He takes time to add that Israeli movies are getting better, winning prizes. Whether a book takes him one year or five, when he finishes "I feel I am coming out of a bubble."

Like the older writers Amos Oz and A.B.Yehoshua, Grossman has been an outspoken advocate for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "We have to have a strong defense," he says, "with six million Israelis surrounded by hundreds of millions who do not want us," but he continues, "Neither side can be fanatic. "We have to compromise, We need a new language, a new dictionary."

Grief is widespread in Israel with many sons and brothers who have died in the wars including his younger son, Uri.

"Writing is my way of seeing reality.We are flooded by the media which trying to glue us together into a mass. We begin seeing falsely. But each reader of a book reads it in his own way."

"In our short lives, there are too many distractions.".

Grossman, whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages, feels a warmth that his solitary act has meaning for readers in faraway places. He is pleased that an Israeli Arab professor has written publicly that after reading To The End of the Land, he realizes for the first time the Israeli love of country, love of family and the love between brothers.

In reply to a reporter, he names Spanish-language writers he has read, "Garcia Marquez, of course," others, currently Antonio Muñoz Molina of Spain.

Grossman continues answering questions for twice the time allotted for the press conference. Then happy reporters rush up to have their photos taken with this writer from a country that is not always viewed sympathetically by Mexicans.

In this more informal atmosphere, I manage to crowd in to ask the writer what Israelis think about the scene in To the End of the Land where Sami,the driver, takes Ora through a checkpoint to a clandestine clinic for undocumented Palestinians working in Israel. "No one was surprised, everyone knows about the clinics," he says. It comes home to me, "Israelis are a family, not always harmonious, of course." I wonder if Grossman thinks consciously about writing for a double audience, readers inside and outside his country.

Earlier, Grossman has said that when he was eight, his father, born in Eastern Europe, gave him the Hebrew version of a book by Sholem Aleichem, the Russian Jewish intellectual who chose to write in Yiddish, the Jewish home language. "While I read it, I inhaled it." It changed his life, set him on the path to becoming a writer. Now I quickly tell him about the the pride I felt when I was eight, when my father told me, "We Jews are the People of the Book."

Grossman is already turning sideways ready for another photo, but without looking at me, he grins and with his Israeli character Ilan's's wit says, "Now we're the people of Facebook!"
For an in-depth interview with David Grossman, click on

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jazz Two Ways at the Morelia Music Festival

 Es asombroso cómo un compositor como Abraham puede ser tan versátil, enriquece mucho el lenguaje de mi instrumento. says HORACIO FRANCO, Mexico's gift to the recorder world. He was complimenting the H3A pianist-composer's accomplishment in enriching the language of the recorder.

You can be sure Franco also dressed flamboyantly at the concert too
Here Franco and the other members of H3A -- the name of the jazz quartet comes from the initials of their first names -- are practicing. At the concert, Franco uses first one, then another of the six recorders he brings. To my surprise the piccolo recorder makes the best jazz instrument.

I was very taken with the skill of bass player Aaron Cruz. Drummer Adrian Oropeza not only used many percussion techniques during Barrera's work but also composed the final number H3! played.

My take:  It was evident H3A takes jazz seriously, but I'm unsure that this should have been my main perception. The recorder as a jazz instrument? Maybe, but for me, some of the most tantalizing parts came when the 3As played alone. Sometimes I missed the mellow sound of a clarinet. But watching Franco's switch from the body language of a conductor leading a performance of Bach's Passion of St. John (I saw him do that a month before) to that of a jazz player was fascinating. 

In the words of this adventurous recorder player, "The technique isn't different, but the state of mind is."

For HELEN SUNG, jazz has been a state of mind since she first heard Tommy Flanagan play. After earning her masters in classical piano, she took a right turn from her formal training by applying to the inaugural class at the Monk Institute in Boston where for two years it was jazz from morning to night. After working under some of the jazz greats, she now she has her own band, the Helen Sung Quartet, in New York City.
Helen bravely started with a light silk dress but added a jacket on the cold night
If Helen doesn't love what she's doing, she's a mighty good actress. Born in Austin, the daughter of mathematicians, she clearly enjoyed inserting her basic Spanish as she introduced the numbers. Earlier she told reporters, "Jazz is fun!".She likes it for its swing, its forward movement without being rushed. "Music is magic, mystical. Swing is part of that." 

In Morelia, her band would be playing with Juan Alzate, a popular saxophone player from Morelia and Rodrigo Nephtali, guitarrist, currently teaching at the Conservatorio de las Rosas. "We haven't rehearsed yet!" she exclaims. then adds, "We all worked hard to get where we are. We'll be able to play together." She picks musicians for her own four piece band that will bring the music alive, saying "That's a great ability." 
Morelia saxophonist Juan Alzate (2nd from left) and guitar player Rodrigo Nefthali (right) added to the swing 
Although her Asian heritage has led her to value hard work, Helen smiles and says she's what is known as a banana, yellow on the outside, white on the inside. She may be changing though. In 2011, Sung played with the Mingus Dynasty Band in the city where her parents grew up in Taiwan. "We played the outdoor jazz festival, and there were more than 2000 people there, all of them going crazy for jazz,.a simply incredible experience!" she says. "It was a really cool. They were so excited that I was Asian. I felt a connection with them - and I felt connected to being Chinese - in a way I had never felt before."

In fact, this joint venture of New York and Morelia musicians got a great response from the audience. In the first half, with Helen coming on strong in the opener, we listened to the players from New York. In the second half Juan and Rodrigo joined them. The expanded band first played Helen's versions of classic jazz numbers, with Rodrigo's riff on the electric guitar the most memorable for me. The US-Mexico event ended with a so-so piece with Cielito Lindo phrases inserted ) At the end: a triumphant La Cucaracha as it has never been heard before. 

Congratulations to the Festival for daring to dream this up.