Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Back To My Roots



Prior to moving to Mexico I spent the better part of the last 30 years working in the cosmetic industry in one capacity or another. For the last ten years I worked in retail and I can honestly say that I don’t miss that for a second! During that time, however, I also worked as a makeup artist and I actually do miss that part of my work.

While I worked for Estee Lauder we did the makeup for a lot of fashion shows, during my tenure with Lancome I did quite a few stage presentations and while working with Shiseido I did mostly little seminars about sun protection, but also some involving makeup lessons.


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The Hudson Bay Company West Vancouver

Todd used to have a bad habit of sending me a barbershop quartet on Valentine’s Day


Then during my last few years in Vancouver I worked as a cosmetic department manager for a large Canadian drug store chain. There we did makeup for a number of events and also took bookings for makeup for special occasions for our clients. Privately I have done weddings and makeup for photography.

Lately I’ve been finding myself doing this again and I really enjoy it in this setting where I  am not under the watchful eye of some large corporation who is waiting for this season’s sales projections, special event plans and staffing budget. While I was being questioned about my margins not being up to corporate expectations, in a demographic that was improperly researched to begin with before the store was built, I sort of lost the joy I used to find in doing transformations through makeup.

Revisiting my cosmetic roots sort of began last April during our annual camping week with 30 girls from Mexico City, A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words. Todd and I set up a little makeshift makeup and photography studio at the camp and we painted and photographed the girls. It was received with great enthusiasm and each girl had her makeup done and got her own portrait. For me it was a lot of work after not having done anything like that for years, but I also thoroughly enjoyed it, and realized that I actually missed that aspect of my profession.



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Makeup at Camp Connie


A couple of months ago I again did the makeup for photographs for a website that Todd will be constructing for a friend here in San Miguel. That has sort of been set on the back burner at the moment as the friend has been out of town for a couple of months, but again, it nudged that part of me that misses the creative side of my work. 



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Yesterday I did a little makeup lesson for our friend Emma Salazar, from the bibliotheca, the public library, here in San Miguel de Allende. Emma is a tireless worker who coordinates events and fundraising for the bibliotheca, including the weekly Home Tours. She is also beautiful and vivacious and a great model! 



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I also enjoy my watercolour painting, but this is a different and more interactive way to express my art. I guess it’s just a little something that’s been missing in my life since I quit working and I hope to be able to more of it in the future.



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Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Apologies

 

I just want to say that I am sorry that so many of your comments have gone unpublished and unanswered on the last several posts. I have had technical difficulties. I am incredibly technologically challenged, but have remedied the situation, at least for the moment, or until another pops up, LOL.

I really appreciate all of your comments and insights and look forward to reading them with each new post. Thank you for bearing with me during my learning curve, it is indeed, difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. For anyone who is interested, I have now published and answered all the missing comments on those last few posts.

I will endeavor in the future to stay on top of these glitches and hope that you will all continue to read, enjoy and comment on my posts.

                                                                      Thank you so much,

                                                                        Shannon

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Plight of the Mexican Church

 

We all know that Mexico is a very Catholic country with more churches per square kilometer than, possibly, any other country. It is also a country that is very hard on it’s churches. I’m not sure why this odd phenomenon occurred to me but since it has I might as well share it, LOL. Off the top of my head I can think of three instances where churches here have suffered at the whims of nature and countless others at the hands of thieves and looters.

I have spoken before of Parícutin in the post The Birth of a Volcano, in which the church in the village of Parícutin, in the state of  Michoacán was buried in lava right up to the altar, where it mysteriously stopped. Today a 30 foot wall of lava stands in front of the untouched altar, a miracle visited daily by the faithful of the area. The rest of the church, however, was completely destroyed.

 

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Then we have the case of the Santuario Del Carmen, a church in the pueblo of Tlalpujaua, also in  Michoacán, Tlalpujahua; Christmas All Year Long, which met a similar fate in a flood and mudslide. The Santuario was built in the 16th century and dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and sometime later an image of her was painted on the adobe wall of the church. Then in 1937 Mother Nature showed her cruel side once again in the form of a landslide that buried several blocks in the center of town, including the Santuario Del Carmen and killed about 400 people. However, this disaster too, was not without it’s miracle.

Today all that can be seen of the entire area is the church’s bell tower sticking out of the ground. Strangely though, the wall that held the painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was not damaged and Our Lady remained unscathed when the landslide stopped just short of the wall. The wall containing the painting was carefully removed from the rest of the ruined building by some 1200 townsfolk and moved to the parish church not far away. The Santuario Del Carmen was eventually rebuilt and Our Lady of Mount Carmel resides at the altar in the company of Saints Peter and Paul.

 

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Recently we learned that another of these brutal encounters with nature occurred right here in San Miguel de Allende, the result of which has left the remains of a church in the town’s presa, reservoir. This one seems the saddest to me as there seems to be no information available about the origins of this church or even it’s name. The water level in the reservoir is very high now, due to all the rain we’ve had this season and the church sits alone in the presa with only it’s spire above water to remind us of it’s fate. If anyone has any information about this church, I would love to know it’s story. 

The following picture of the spire is very small and distant as we got stuck in the mud when we tried to get close enough to take a good picture. We drove in the direction we thought would take us close to that side of the reservoir on a road that quickly became a small track that led to the forested campo. Due to the aforementioned rain, the track we were driving on degenerated to a muddy path and before we realized that we should probably turn around, we were stuck.

I found it quite comical watching Todd cutting branches off trees with a pen knife to stuff under the wheels of the car, although he didn’t see the humour. I wanted to help but he insisted that I stay in the car. I guess he was envisioning my walker and I stuck in the mud along with the car. We did eventually get out but had to take the picture from the highway far above the presa .

 

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“ A small, picturesque city 80 miles southeast of Mexico City, Cholula is said to have a church for every day of the year. There are, in reality, about 80 in all, many dating to the 17th century and filled with paintings and sculptures from that time. It is enough to draw hordes of worshipers — and thieves.”

The quote above comes from an article in the New York TImes describing the spate of burglaries in the churches of Mexico over the last few years, and in Cholula in particular. For those that are interested in reading the article I’ve left the link at the bottom of this post.

I had sort of thought that the pillaging of Mexican churches was a thing of the distant past, but apparently it is an ongoing problem. In 2008, 2010 and as recently as October of 2012 churches in Cholula have been looted. The entire town of Cholula is involved in the protection of the churches and is even receiving help from expatriate Mexicans in the USA.

Four hundred year old Mexican works of art have turned up in auction houses, and apparently there is a strong market for this type of religious artwork in the southern US. According to the the article in the New York Times….. “ A group of religious-themed 18th-century paintings by the Mexican artist Miguel Cabrera sold for $362,500 in 2010, according to an online listing by Sotheby’s auction house."

There is not a lot that can be done to pacify Mother Nature, but I find the pillaging of churches by thieves for monetary gain appalling.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/world/americas/looting-of-cholula-churches-stirs-locals-to-action.html?_r=0

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Right Place

 

 

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Last Saturday night I went to a great party. It was a birthday party for my friend Carla in an absolutely gorgeous house down by Parque Juarez. I met some lovely people, ate some great food and enjoyed the light show put on by nature when the evening became stormy. Carla and I go to Spanish conversation class together and our friend Jo, another classmate, was in attendance as well.

Even though the house was huge the party was quite crowded and as I maneuvered my way through the crowd with food, drink and walker Jo kindly commented that she knew what it was like to be handicapped. She told me a story about a time when she was living in New York and had suffered a serious injury, leaving her in a wheel chair for about three months.

It was winter time and dark and cold as she had tried to hail a cab, but even empty ones kept passing her by. None of the cabbies wanted to deal with a person in a wheel chair. Finally, in tears, she spotted a policeman and approached him, telling him of her dilemma. He hailed her a cab and instructed the cabby to take her where she wanted to go.

Wow! What a difference the locale makes. I’m often asked when people see me tottering over the cobblestones with my walker “ Oh my gosh, you didn’t do that here did you? “ or “ It must be SO difficult for you to get around here! “ Although, however kind the sentiment, it could not be more wrong. I am far better off being here in Mexico with my disabilities than I would be ‘north of the border’.

A couple of years ago, when I was still in a wheel chair, I was working for a friend in Umecuaro, a tiny village up in the hills between Morelia and Patzcuaro. I spent six months there looking after my friend’s property while she was working in Bangladesh. I had to oversee the regular work done on the property, like putting in new fence posts, tree fumigation and building repairs. I had to shop for household goods and feed for the horses and dogs.

It all seemed a little daunting at first, doing all this from a wheel chair, but then I realized you are never truly alone in Mexico. Lori, the live-in housekeeper and ranch hand was certainly helpful. But the most amazing thing was the help I received everywhere I went. I had a walker in the SUV with me and a wheelchair in the far back. I would use the walker to get to the back of the truck and then lift the wheel chair out while balancing on one leg. Or at least that was the plan. I don’t think I actually had to do that more than a handful of times.

Nine out of ten times before I ever reached the back of the car help had arrived. It came in the form of kind strangers from all walks of life. Whether it was a young girl, or an old man they all helped me get the wheel chair out of the car and made sure that I had things well in hand before going on their way. I was flabbergasted……and touched……and charmed by all these wonderful folks that took the time to come and help a stranger.

A few months ago I was taking a class at the Instituto Allende, part of the Lifelong Learning Program, and as I left the building I encountered an amazing phenomenon. The instituto is on Calle Ancha San Antonio, a wide thoroughfare running, approximately, down the middle of Colonia San Antonio. There is a tope, a speed bump, about two feet wide and flat on top running across the street and painted like a crosswalk. As I stepped off the curb and onto the tope to hail a cab all the traffic stopped in both directions.

I waved them on apologetically and stepped back on the curb. I walked a car length down the side walk and stepped out again between two parked cars when I saw a cab coming. Again, all the traffic stopped in both directions. I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea. Wincing apologetically I waved them on again and decided to cross the street and try from the side that was in the direction that I was actually heading. Needless to say I had no trouble crossing the wide street and I still stopped traffic a couple more times before I managed to flag down a taxi. There is clearly a different mindset here.

Then just the other day while we were shopping at Superama in Querétaro, ( I sometimes still use a wheelchair when shopping ) I left the store while Todd was going through the checkout and made my way to the car. By the time I reached the trusty old Escape, a small crowd was gathering. There was a young woman with a couple of kids and bags of groceries and two parking lot attendants vying to help me from the chair to the car. If I had to have a serious accident I sure picked the right place to do it!

¡Viva México!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mexico, Land of Creativity

 

You would think that by now I would be used to the inventiveness and creativity I see around me every day here in Mexico. Yet I am still continually surprised and delighted. Yesterday in my Spanish class a discussion was initiated by a news story about Mexican migrant workers in California developing a cooperative and  becoming owners of a vineyard there.

Our teacher ( a Mexican ) said that he thought this was a very rare occurrence as, in his opinion, most Mexicans do not work well as a team and generally lack ambition. There was an outcry of disagreement from most of us in the class to this, somewhat general and biased, statement. By way of explanation he said that while he did see a lot of creativity in some of the ways poor people find to make a living, he also felt that most of them never think beyond having enough money to put dinner on the table that evening, and for this reason their businesses don’t grow.

I agree with this thinking, but only as far as to say that most Mexican people really do live in the here and now, giving little thought to the future. However, I also think that this is a cultural thing that does not necessarily denote lack of ambition. I have seen some of these odd little businesses thrive and become quite successful. Case in point, my ex-neighbour in Patzcuaro.

Florentino always had some enterprise on the go. He sold baskets of peaches on the roadside in front of his house during peach season, which makes sense as Corazon de Durazno was built on an old peach orchard, then he added soft drinks for the thirsty drivers, and then ceramic flower pots. Then plants that his wife Migda grew, and then flowers in ceramic flower pots. Next he started selling tacos. Doesn’t everyone?

 

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Flori digging out money for cotton candy

 

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Herman, it was blue cotton candy

 

But Florentino didn’t stop there. He laid a concrete floor under the trees between his yard and the road, sort of down in a hollow. Above that he built a roof and eventually tarp walls that can be lowered in inclement weather. He moved the shelf bearing the 2 liter soft drinks inside and added 500 ml sizes to go with lunch. There is room for a couple of plastic tables and chairs in case you don’t want to eat your tacos in the car.

Florentino makes some of the best tacos de bistek that I have ever tasted, but they can be messy with all the grilled onions and serano peppers and juicy meat. I think Flori may have had a taco stand at some time in the past but this one was called “The Return of Don Taco”, as if the whole world had been waiting for this event! It brought in people too, who would never admit that they had no idea who Don Taco was. The stand now also sells Migda’s homemade Birria, Menudo and Guacamole. The couple has 6 children, that’s certainly motivation.

 

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Migda with some of the gaggle

 

Now having said all this, I hope that his business is still there and doing well or I will have lost a good argument for Mexican ambition, LOL. I am returning to Patzcuaro for a week in early November, so I will see. Another brilliant marketing idea can be found in the Mercado de Artesanias, the artisan’s market here in San Miguel.

 

 

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In amongst the candle holders, picture frames and tin angels sits a display of Mary Kay cosmetics. A true entrepreneur, this young vendor knows her clientele. Certainly there will always be a market among the tourists for the pewter desk sets and handcrafted mirrors, but this young lady knows that the ( often wealthy ) ladies that visit from Mexico City every weekend are probably more interested in makeup. Ambition? I think so. Creativity in marketing? Absolutely.

Have you ever gone to a mechanic and been told that they don’t have the right part for your car? I sure have, and seeing as I tend to hang on to my cars for a long time, I have sometimes been told that the part I need is discontinued. I have then been told that if I want to leave the car they will endeavor to find a part but it will likely take a couple of weeks, or I can go searching junkyards for it, if I prefer.

The same situation here in Mexico would be handled very differently. If the part that you need is not readily available your mechanic will probably say, “No problem, I think I can make one myself, it will take a couple of days though”. Sure enough a couple of days later your car is ready and running with some new home made bits. Creative? Definitely!

What if a farmer doesn’t have and can’t afford the right type of vehicle to transport his goods? Will that stop him? Not in Mexico. Of course, in Mexico the police likely won’t stop him either, which can not be said north of the border.

 

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I once saw a gigantic bull riding in the bed of a tiny Mazda pickup truck. Never tell a Mexican that something can’t be done. They will prove you wrong.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Snake Bit, Part 4

 

 

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Carpinteria, California  is a small seaside town in southeastern Santa Barbara County, northwest of Ventura. In the latter half of the 1970’s my parents used to spend six months of the year there to avoid the inclement winter weather of North Vancouver. My guess is that sending me a plane ticket from Hawaii to Carpinteria  (or the nearest airport) was their way of assuring themselves that they would actually see me on my return to the mainland.

At this point several months remained of their stay in California and there were two bedrooms in their condo, so I opted to stay with them and visit for a while. However, due to the fact that I had not worked for a while before leaving Waikiki my financial situation left a lot to be desired. I felt that my parents had already done more than enough by sending me a plane ticket and allowing me to stay with them, so I thought that I had better get a job. Carpinteria being such a tiny town, it’s really amazing that I actually managed to accomplish that, but I guess being a beach town it was probably very transient like Waikiki.

I found a job my first week there tending bar in a tavern on the main drag, the only drag really. My boss was a gun-toting Republican named John and quite notorious in those parts. We had absolutely nothing in common and did not see eye to eye on pretty much everything, but he thought that I would be good for business. There were rifles in the office, a tommy-gun in his truck and he had a tendency to flash around other firearms in the bar in the evenings. Although he knew absolutely nothing about Canada he believed that all Canadians were left-wing wusses and treated me with thinly veiled contempt.

Considering that the man had the IQ of grape jelly this didn’t particularly bother me, and I just ignored him as much as possible. It really wasn’t a bad job, I made very good tips and quickly met just about everyone that lived in Carpinteria. Thankfully very few of them were of John’s ilk and I enjoyed the company of most of them and even made a couple of good friends. It was nice spending some time with my parents and all in all I had a few very pleasant months there.

 

 

Then the Snake raised it’s ugly head. One evening John was showing some of his cronies a 357 magnum that was not registered and apparently belonged to his wife. He told me, when I showed some concern, that “of course it’s not loaded!” After that the bar got quite busy and I forgot about the gun until we had closed and I was cleaning up and restocking for the morning shift.

John had gone out back to dump the garbage and left the 357 magnum on the counter behind the bar. He had assured me that it was not loaded and so my curiosity and better judgment (which was sorely lacking at 23) warred with each other for a minute or two before I gave in to curiosity and picked up the weapon. I did not aim it. I was holding it on the flat of my hand. It was so honed down that I had actually cocked it without realizing as I picked it up.

When the gun discharged (as overly honed down 357 magnums are wont to do) the noise was deafening. I stood in stunned silence, my ears ringing, as John came running into the bar yelling “quick, call the cops, someone’s taking pot shots at me!” “I’m sorry John, but you did say that it wasn’t loaded” I answered. He stood there staring at me, shaking, his skin becoming unlikely shades of red and purple, and saying “you” over and over again.

The gun, which most definitely was loaded, had sent a bullet through the bar, through the office, through the beauty salon next door and finally into the outer wall where it came to lodge about 3 feet from where John had been dumping garbage. John slumped onto a barstool and I poured him, and myself, a drink. We discussed our options.The local police would have given their eye teeth to have a reason to arrest John and at that moment it looked good for them.

John suggested that perhaps if we went to the beauty salon very early in the morning and intercepted the owner arriving that maybe we could explain and offer to make repairs to her mirrors. This sounded like a pretty good plan to me, but then I was somewhat shaken and not taking snake bitteness into consideration.

The salon opened at 9:00 am and we arrived at 8:00 am. There was a police car outside the salon and two policemen inside. Oh crap! For some unknown reason the salon owner had come in two hours early (to do paper work or something, I don’t recall) and had seen a bullet hole in the mirrors at either end of the salon. Needless to say, she had called the police and we had saved them the effort of coming to look for us. With heavy sighs, we went inside and explained the situation to the police.

According to John’s rendition, the accident had happened earlier while the bar was still open and the 357 magnum had mysteriously been stolen thereafter. How convenient, I thought, the man was good under pressure. For my part, I didn’t dispute what John was saying but otherwise told the truth and we were asked to come to the police station later and make a formal statement.

That afternoon we went to the police station and John went into a room with a policeman and I sat at a desk with another. I explained again what had transpired and then the policeman went on to explain to me why this could not have been the case. He explained that if I had indeed, shot that particular firearm, that I would have dislocated my shoulder. He also gently explained that I was not strong enough to have cocked the gun, particularly by accident, then just as gently asked me to admit that it had really been John who had discharged the weapon.

They really wanted John! I told him that no, I was the one who had done it and I didn’t know why I had not dislocated my shoulder but that is the way it was. I was terrified that I would be discovered working illegally and deported, but the policeman was so focused on getting me to admit that I had not fired the weapon that after asking my name he didn’t ask me anything else about myself. He continued to try to convince me that my scenario was unrealistic by handing me his (empty) sidearm and asking me to cock it. It took both hands.

“There, you see?” he said “you couldn’t possibly have done it.” Well I really had been trying to do the right thing but at that point I just smiled at him and said “yes sir, I see that now”. Nothing much more came of the “shooting of the beauty salon” incident. John wasn’t about to admit anything, I wasn’t about to say that John had done it, and the 357 magnum had been stolen, so there was no evidence. Naturally I was canned again though. No big deal, we were heading back to Vancouver soon anyway, and so I had a short holiday before we left.

Now I imagine you are thinking that this is all very interesting but what does it really have to do with anything in the here and now? It all began a little over a week ago. I had recently broken another set of screws in my broken leg and was about to go in for my eighth surgery, actually my tenth in the seven years that I have been living in Mexico, but the first two were on the ankle I broke shortly after moving here. I was sort of contemplating this run of bad luck while I was getting a glass out of the buffet and hutch pictured at the top of the post.

As I retrieved the glass and shut the door, I had to push a little as it is the rainy season and the wood was a little swollen. The pushing dislodged the giant wooden spoon, also seen in the photo at the top of the post, which fell on my head. It landed just above my left eyebrow, hitting a blood vessel and immediately forming a huge egg there. Over the next couple of days I developed a pretty good shiner to take to the hospital with me and while I was there I had some time to think about my dad’s old joke. When I returned home I thought that I would like to share it with you. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Snake Bit, Part 3

 

 

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The afternoon after the debacle at The Picadilly bar I went to the other bar in our apartment complex. Just one floor above my little apartment, it was on the roof and called The Penthouse. I climbed up on a barstool, ordered a beer and prepared to mull over my employment possibilities when the owner of the bar approached me. He knew me as I lived just below the bar. He told me that his evening bartender had left town suddenly and he was in need of a new one and asked if I would be interested.

Serendipity? I thought so at the time but looking back I think it was more appropriately a snake bite. I told the man that I had worked as a cocktail waitress but never as a bartender but I would like to learn. When I returned that evening for my shift he handed me a large copy of a bartender’s drink guide, asked me to learn one new drink every day and left me there. Luckily it really wasn’t very busy that evening and I managed to wing it.

The owner (whose name, to this day, I do not feel comfortable repeating) returned at the end of my shift, asked me which drink I had learned to make and showed me how to tally the evening’s receipts and put them in the safe in his office. And Bob’s your uncle, as easy as that I had started a new career. One that actually stuck as I worked mostly as a bartender for the next twelve years.

I didn’t really know the previous bartender but over the next few weeks I notice that there seemed to be some animosity directed at me from her circle of friends who hung out in the bar. When I finally confronted some of them and asked if I had done something to offend them they told me that I was responsible for her disappearance. ????????? HUH? I said eloquently. I really didn’t know the woman other than to see her behind the bar.

The bar owner, who we will call Jim, had told me that the other bartender had left town suddenly, and I repeated this to her friends. They all laughed knowingly and asked “don’t you know who Jim is?” Apparently not, I told them. They then explained that Jim was the ex-husband of the head of the Hawaiian Mafia. Yea, I laughed too. However they were dead serious and felt that he had gotten rid of her because he wanted me to be his bartender. Whether she had left town or not no one knew, but she had definitely disappeared.

Well great! I really wasn’t sure if I bought any of this or not but I did ask around and much to my surprise this did seem to be the general consensus.  Still, I worked at The Penthouse for a long time without anything untoward happening and I had really forgotten the whole thing until one afternoon as I arrived for my shift, Jim asked me to come into his office. Once there he proceeded to tell me that because I had stolen the last evening’s receipts that I was fired. ????????? HUH?

I explained that this did NOT happen, that it went against my very nature! It didn’t matter and I was canned. The following day there was a knock at my apartment door and when I looked through the peep hole I saw two very large Hawaiian men in dark suits standing there. I put the chain on the door before opening it and asked what they wanted. They said that they were the police and would like to speak with me. I thought, all right, what now?

I asked to see their identification and they flashed some kind of card but it sure didn’t look like a police shield and they refused to give me their names or tell me what they wanted to talk to me about. They just wanted to come inside. I shut the door and told them to go away, hearing them say through the closed door that they would return. Now I was pretty freaked out. Over the next couple of days the men returned once more and I decided that I had had enough of that.

I packed my meager belongings and went to stay at the apartment of my friend David  (who later became my first husband, but we don’t need to go there) and just sort of laid low for awhile. One afternoon though I had agreed to meet David at a restaurant at the Waikiki Yacht Club. I arrived first so I waited for him at the bar. A man sat down beside me and started to chat, which didn’t strike me as strange because back then it happened every time I sat alone at a bar. However, at one point he offered me a plane ticket off the island because I was a nice kid and I was in trouble.????????? HUH?

Now I was actually panicked. I had never seen the man before or he me, I thought, so how did he know anything about me? I had the sudden feeling that if I got on that plane I would not get off at the other end. I told David what happened and he felt we should go home immediately and discuss what we should do. Call the police? Probably not the best idea. Instead I called my parents. They were wintering in Carpenteria California and sent me a plane ticket which I used in all haste and left Hawaii behind.

As I flew to California I went over and over in my mind all the events that had occurred in the previous couple of weeks, trying to make some sense out of the whole thing. The only thing that made any sense to me was that I probably had inadvertently seen something in Jim’s office that I should not have seen, on the night that I supposedly had stolen the money, but I had no idea what that might have been and never found out.

 

I’m sorry, I lied, the final chapter of this odyssey will be posted tomorrow. It seems to have gotten rather wordy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Snake Bit, Part Two

 

 

 

I don’t recall if Denny, our latest roommate, ever did get a job, but Gwen and I became dancers at a club in downtown Honolulu. We were not exotic dancers but we were definitely scantily clad. Honolulu is a military town and such was our clientele. The club owner sold posters of the dancers and mine announced that I was Shannon from Vancouver (no mention of Canada) and that my statistics were 42-24-36. They could do that back then without our consent. Or at least they told us that they could. Naturally we graced a lot of locker doors on several military bases.

One young man desperate for a date knew that I wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle and told me that he had a little 250cc job that would be perfect for me to learn on and that he would be happy to teach me. When he arrived to pick me up it was on a somewhat souped up 650cc bike, someone had borrowed the other one, but this would be no problem, he assured me. Sometime later, after tearing up a good chunk of the football field at Hickam Air Force Base and finally wrapping the motorcycle around a plumeria tree, I begged to differ.

Shortly after the motorcycle incident my career as a dancer came to an untimely end as well. During one of my stints on one of the little stages, between which I waited tables, I had an epiphany. This was brought on by a small patch of powder put on the stage by the dancer before me so that her shoes would not stick to the floor. My shoes did not stick to the floor even without powder. In 1975 we wore very high heeled platform shoes. Mine were on a  2 inch solid carved wooden base with 4 inch heels and macramé tops. With these beauties I stood about 5’ 11”, quite a sight with my scantily clad “statistics”.

Shortly into my number, with one foot raised above my head, the other slid into the patch of powder. Lying on my back with the wind knocked out of me and staring up at myself in the mirror on the ceiling I had the epiphany. No amount of money, or lack there of were worth this. I also thought that perhaps if I just lay there they would think I was dead and carry me away, after which I could slip out the back door never to be seen or heard from again.

Instead, with a heavy sigh, I got to my feet and carried on as I ran through the article in my head that I would write and send to Reader’s Digest about my life’s most embarrassing moments. Although our wages, paid under the table, were practically non-existent the tips that we earned at Tammy’s Nightclub for men were fairly lucrative. For this reason, I had managed to squirrel away some money and I decided to give up this somewhat seedy endeavor to look for work a little more in line with what my mother might have approved, although I doubt that actually occurred to me at the time.

I worked in Honolulu but I actually lived in Waikiki, in a four story apartment building just off the main drag. I lived in a studio apartment on the fourth floor and had I been on the right side of the building would probably have had a beautiful ocean view. As it was I was on the other side which looked over our small pool and even smaller poolside bar, a tiny  English Pub style venue called The Picadilly.

After having quit my job without any other prospects I retired there for the evening to drown my sorrows, only to find that a large group of servicemen from the downtown club had followed me to Waikiki to lament my parting of the ways with Tammy’s Nightclub for men. This was more business than The Picadilly had ever seen in one evening and the following day they actually gave me a bottle of Jose Cuervo 1800 as a thanks for all the money it made the previous evening.

I had been drinking this tequila that evening when I first arrived and the boys of the military just kept them coming. At one point I recall sitting cross-legged on top of a Watney’s Red Barrel beer barrel surrounded by young men. This was certainly an improvement over lying on my back on the stage at Tammy’s Nightclub for men. Then of course, because I am Snake Bit, the lid of the barrel fell in leaving only the top of my head and my feet sticking our. They had to turn the barrel over and dump me out, bruised and once again humiliated. The snake bitten story of my life……

 

Stay tuned for part 3, and I promise I will wrap it up!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Snake Bit, Part One

 

 

 

For most of my life my father used to jokingly call me snake bit. I thought it to be an interesting term as he was the only one I had ever heard use it, but perhaps it was simply dated as he was 40 years old when I was born. I was sort of an afterthought. I don’t think I was really sure what it meant when I was very young so it is unlikely that it was responsible for any psychological damage developed during my formative years.

In retrospect, though, I now think I have a pretty good grip on the gist of being Snake Bit. As a kid growing up on the mostly unpopulated side of a mountain in North Vancouver, British Columbia I was always going hell bent for leather through the forest with my Irish setter, Roxy. To say that I was a little clumsy would be greatly understating the matter. My mother told me later that the first thing out of my mouth when entering the house as a small child was usually, “I fell in”. Even in the dead of summer when there had been no rain for a month ( it does happen in Vancouver occasionally ) I would find a wet muddy  spot to fall into.

Now this, in and of itself is not entirely uncommon and could be chocked up to my being a somewhat ungainly and clumsy kid. Somehow though I guess my father saw through it and realized that there was a whole other dynamic evolving there. By the time I was in elementary school a pattern had developed. If, for instance, in gym class the volley ball net was likely to fall on someone, the climbing rope slip out of the ring in the ceiling or the edge of the vaulting box to slip off the mat and send the gymnast careening ass over teakettle onto the wooden floor boards, that child was most likely to be me.

After such occurrences I think there was some relief among the other students in that they felt they would now probably make it through gym class unscathed, as the odds of these incidents repeating with someone else were astronomically high. In short, I was a good kid to hang out with. A lot of my childhood prior to school had been pretty solitary so this seemed like a good thing to me.

By junior high the trend had escalated. I was a pretty good baseball player but had certainly had more than my share of bruises and broken bones gaining that status. By senior high I had become a little aloof and didn’t fit in very well. I credit my best friends Gwen and Shelley (still in Vancouver) for my sanity during those years. I didn’t go to school very often, but always showed up to write exams so no one really missed me until the middle of my twelfth year when they decided that the best way to handle the fact that I had not been there for two and a half years was to expel me.

I spent the next two years in a cosmetology apprenticeship and liked the makeup end but realized early on that the hair and nails end of things (which was the majority of the program) was definitely not for me. I stuck it out and got my license and then headed off in early September across Canada with my friend Gwen in a bright yellow Volkswagen Van, which we quickly, and appropriately tagged “The Lemon”.

I believe it was our second day out, in the middle of the night in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, that our electrical system failed and we lost all our lights and our windshield wipers. It was dark and snowing and the road was narrow and treacherous. There was no safe place to pull over so we bundled up in sweaters, stuck flashlights out the windows and soldiered on. By morning we had made it safely out of the mountains and into the town of Golden where we had to stay a few days while the mechanic figured out what had happened to “The Lemon”.

With the electrical system repaired we drove on to Calgary where Gwen had relatives. On our second day there, with two of Gwen’s very young cousins in the van, a horrendous explosion emanated from the rear of “The Lemon”, followed by billowing black smoke. As we sat on the sidewalk contemplating the remains of our black and smoldering engine, I think Gwen was having second thoughts about having undertaken this trip with me. Gwen and I have known each other since we were nine or ten years old so she really should have known better.

We had to go to work for about 3 weeks in Calgary to pay for the new engine so it was now late September as we headed out across the prairies. Thankfully snow came late that year so we enjoyed a really beautiful fall. We were heading to Saskatoon and just before midnight we drove into town and noticed the sign said Moosejaw. I was navigating at that point and clearly map reading was not my strong suit. I was off by 224 km. At this point we noticed flashing lights behind us and Gwen pulled over. 

A young smiling policeman told us that he had about 15 minutes left on his shift and had noticed our license plates and pulled us over for a routine check. At 19 we knew nothing about our rights as citizens of Canada and as the smiling young policeman did his illegal search and seizure, all the while telling us about his pregnant wife who was about to “pop”, we just sat and listened. Very chagrined, he notified me that he had found marijuana seeds in the bottom of my purse and that he would have to arrest me.

We went to the police station where they called the circuit court judge. This being one of my very rare incidents of profound good luck, the man was actually in town which meant that I did not have to sit in jail for a couple of months waiting for his arrival. By about 2 am it was over, I had paid a fine for the misdemeanor and we were once again on our way, with Gwen navigating.  “The Lemon”, however was not finished. By the time we reached Halifax we had spent about 2,500 dollars, which was a lot of money in 1974 and also about 500 dollars more than we had originally paid for the beast.

This is how we came to find ourselves in a public park in Halifax with 35 cents between us and a nearly empty gas tank. While we sat in “The Lemon” contemplating our immediate future an old man approached the van and knocked on the window. When I rolled down the window and greeted him he said he had noticed our out of Province license plates and  proceeded to tell us the story of a young boy being recently murdered in that self same park and that we should be very very careful as this was “a dirty, dirty city”.

As it turned out we absolutely loved the “dirty dirty city” and stayed for a year and a half. But by then we were 21 and getting itchy feet again so we returned to Toronto and divested ourselves of “The Lemon”, getting about 2000 dollars, and feeling lucky to have passed on “The Lemon Torch” to someone else. We hoped they had deep pockets.

We had left Halifax with the intention of flying from Toronto to Florida and beginning a new adventure in the States. Our roommate Allen unbennounced to me, had left us a going away gift in a seldom used outside pocket of my carryon bag. He had rolled us a rather fat 12 inch joint. When it was discovered in airport security the agent removed it, held it up and asked me “what is this”? In my ultimate 21 year old wisdom, I grinned and said “it looks like a joint, why don’t we smoke it and find out”?

Everything we owned, which was admittedly little at that point, went on to Florida while we remained in Toronto to straighten out the mess. Thank you very much Allen. In about two weeks we had done so, and with the help of more of Gwen’s relatives in Florida who vouched for us (it was a different time then) we were able to catch up with our belongings. Thank goodness for Gwen’s prolific family.

After a few months of working our way across the southern USA  we wound up in San Diego. We had enough money to either go home to Vancouver or fly to Hawaii. Care to guess whether we went north or south? Yes we went to Hawaii. We had picked up another roommate in San Diego and between us we had enough money to get to Waikiki and rent an apartment for one month. It was two months before any of us found jobs and those to which we had originally turned up our noses were starting to look good.

To Be Continued…

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Emiliano Zapata Wants Brownies

 

 

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Each time I think I have found my favourite San Miguel de Allende Restaurant I visit a new one and discover that I was wrong. Still, for today I am going to expound on the gastronomic virtues and ambiance of my latest favourite, Café Rama. I had made the mistake of not visiting earlier because of some negative comments I had heard around town.

I had been told that about a year ago Café Rama lost it’s chef and that it was “just no longer the same and don’t bother going there”. Well you can’t believe everything you hear. Tuesday night was my second visit to Café Rama, I like to visit a restaurant at least twice before I write about it, just in case the first time was a fluke. It was no fluke.

I have now had two totally different types of meals and both were exceptional. The menu said that one of the daily specials was a white fish (robalo) baked in pastry. That sounded pretty good to me so I asked the waiter to tell me about how it was prepared and if he thought it was good. He told me that they had actually just got in fresh Mahi Mahi and that that was now the fish special.

As that is one of my favourite fish I opted to try that, grilled with a pesto sauce. The fish came with two side dishes, of the client’s choice, and I chose asparagus baked in pastry (to make up for the fish) and baked red potatoes. I could not have been happier with the outcome.

 

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Todd was in the mood for comfort food that night and ordered the chicken pot pie. Having had that on my previous visit, I new he would be happy. Lots of chicken and vegetables that still have a slight crunch even though they have clearly simmered for some time in the rich creamy sauce. This is topped with flakey puff pastry baked to a perfect golden brown. Along side of the pot pie there were some fresh,and fragrant, French bread slices with chopped fresh basil and sliced cherry tomatoes.

 

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Café Rama was expanded about 10 or 11 months ago and now offers two dining rooms. They both have fireplaces but the similarities end there. The room you enter from the street is the upper floor, although only by a few steps, with a ramp for the disabled. An important point for some of us, LOL. This room is windowed and bright with a lovely garden. There is a huge tree there, and rather than remove it they built a garden and the restaurant around it. This area sort of has the feel of a high end New York deli.

 

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One thing that the two rooms do have in common is fabulous lighting. All of the vintage lamps and chandeliers are a work of art. Although the main bar is found in the lower room, there is a very small, quaint bar next to the dessert counter on the main floor as well. In the dessert counter reside such delicacies as handmade chocolate truffles, carrot cake, chocolate torte, cheesecake with blackberries, fresh brownies sprinkled with powdered sugar, and cups of flan fresh from the oven, among other things.

 

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“Downstairs” the ambiance changes, as though you have entered a New York warehouse loft. Whitewashed wood and high ceilings give way to a huge bar at the end of the room. Looking like something out of an old western, it has a television behind it that plays (silently) things like The Munsters and Charlie Chaplin. The walls are covered with colourful art by Jaime Shelley, which can also be purchased, and the floor is carpeted with cowhide rugs.

 

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The evening was chilly so the warmth emanating from the large fireplace on the lower floor was welcome. On the cowhide rug in front of the fireplace sits a coffee table with a vase of roses. Around the table are comfortable high backed leather chairs and a cowhide sofa and chair. There is also a bookcase should you like to relax there and read. The waiter did tell us that we were welcome to have our coffee by the fire after dinner if we were so inclined. Unfortunately we had to be on our way that night, but another time…

 

 

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Some of the other items on the menu included Pulled Pork Sandwiches, which Todd says are wonderful, a Veggie Burger with portobello mushroom, gouda cheese, tomato, peppers, pickles and caramelized onions, Fish and Chips and Fried Chicken Rama.

You could also have a warm spinach salad with fish or shrimp and sesame miso dressing, cold spinach salad with apple, candied walnuts, cranberry, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette or a meal size mango salad. If you are in the mood for something different you might like Fish Curry, served on a bed of shallots, apple and mixed rice, or maybe Makhani Chicken Curry, served with jasmine rice, purslane curry and grated apple chutney.

With the daily specials you have a choice of two sides, some of which are Cauliflower with toasted almonds, cranberries and parsley garlic chips, Spinach sauteed with lemon pepper and Olive Oil, Zucchine rolls stuffed with goat cheese with chives, Sauteed Asparagus wrapped in bacon with grated Parmesan cheese, or baked in pastry.

There is also a full breakfast menu which is served from 8 am to 11:30 am Tuesday through Friday and Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 1 pm, and rumour has it that the Eggs Benedict and Florentine are very good.

 

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  Pancho, the host at Café Rama is waiting for your visit.

 

All the photographs in this post are courtesy of Todd McIntosh and you can click on them for a larger image.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Times, They Are A Changin’

 

 

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Hi, I’m, back. Did anybody miss me? Actually I didn’t go anywhere, I just have not posted for a couple of weeks. We’ve been BUSY! And this is a good thing. For the longest time, even though we have been enjoying San Miguel, we have kind of been feeling like outsiders here.

I don’t know about Todd, but I’ve been a little homesick for Patzcuaro and Michoacán. I miss volunteering in the kitchen at El Sagrario, and all the wonderful folks there. It was nice to walk through town or the mercado, and have so many people wave or stop to chat. I felt like I was really part of the community there.

 

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El Sagrario, Patzcuaro

 

But then I realized, after a couple of really busy weeks, that our lifestyle has changed quite radically since we first arrived in San Miguel. For the last six or eight months I have been taking a conversational Spanish class twice a week in a little back room in Juan’s Café where I have met some wonderful people. We are such a diverse group, with totally different opinions and perspectives, that our discussions are often very lively.

 

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Juan’s Café on Calle Reloj

 

At times it seems more like a book club than a Spanish class, as we read novels and discuss them in the class. There are days though, when we don’t even get to the novel because someone has mentioned some current event happening in the news and we’re off and running. Our teacher José, a charming young man from Aguascalientes, is a wonderful mediator, somehow always managing to keep us on track.

This class has really become the highlight of my week, but lately it’s been vying for position with so many other things going on in our lives. A couple of months ago Todd began volunteering for the house tour which takes place every Sunday afternoon. It is one of the many events overseen by Emma Salazar, the event coordinator for the public library. This is one of the ways the library raises money to maintain itself as well as for several local charities.

Somewhere along the way Todd became the photographer for the house tour and Emma’s all around go to guy, which keeps him, and sometimes me, pretty busy. Last Sunday after the house tour we enjoyed the company of Todd’s fellow volunteers at Milagros, one of my favorite restaurants here in San Miguel.

 

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Milagros

 

There is always live music at Milagros and the menu is huge. From the inexpensive burgers and Tex/Mex section (which is almost impossible to come by in Mexico) to the moderately priced fresh salads, pastas and seafood, to the pricier classic Mexican cuisine which includes authentic Molcajetes, the food is always consistent and delicious.

 

Molcajete

 

The Molcajete is a basalt stone bowl which sits on three little legs and is used to grind spices and make salsas and guacamole. In this case, however, it is piping hot and filled with grilled arrachera, marinated flank steak, grilled chicken, chorizo sausage and panela cheese, chiles, and nopal cactus, all bathed in a homemade salsa verde. You wrap these delicacies in hot freshly pressed corn tortillas and it is absolutely mouthwatering.

 

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Some of the charming Milagros staff

 

If you go to Milagros on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon you can enjoy your molcajete while you listen to the music of Jack and Francis. They both play seven string guitars, which was totally new to me, and they are incredibly adept. Their music is varied, and depending on their mood you may hear classical, jazz, country, R&B or just about any other genre you can think of. I’m not really sure which category the Beatles fall into but Jack and Francis recreate their music beautifully.

Where I was actually going with this before I got off on a tangent, was that while we were dining last Sunday Emma told me that her next project with the library is going to be an English class for local kids. Emma speaks excellent English and knows what opportunities it can give the local kids when they are ready to go to work. She asked me if I would be interested in helping out with the class. I was delighted and told her that I would love to help.

This may be just what I have been looking for since moving to San Miguel. I’ve been wanting a way to connect with the community here like I did in Patzcuaro.  We have our classes, Todd has taken improv and is thinking about an acting class, and I have my Spanish and recently took a course with the new Lifelong Learning program here and we have new clients that are keeping us busy, but I was still feeling like something was missing.

I think now our “Plan” is finally coming together and somewhere along the way San Miguel de Allende became home and I didn’t even realize it.

 

 

All the photos in this post are compliments of Todd McIntosh except the Molcajete.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who Do We Blame?


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Those of you who are my friends on Facebook have likely seen the image above. For the rest of you, let me explain. My very dear friends and ex-neighbours in Patzcuaro recently suffered one of the worst experiences possible for any family. Their  15 year old nephew and his friend disappeared from a mall in Guadalajara. Tragically their bodies were recovered several days later.

This is a story heard all too often, not only in Mexico, but in every country in the world. What I would like to address here is not so much the events themselves but our reactions to them. Today another dear friend of mine shared on Facebook, a very interesting and insightful blog post discussing the abduction of the two boys, from a blog entitled La Política Circense.

The post asks us to consider the possibility that we should take social responsibility for heinous acts such as these and questions the actions ( or non-actions ) of the government in it’s responses to these situations.
The author of the post says that in response to this situation there are two general opinions. On the one hand there is indignation, accusation, grief and sadness. On the other there is justification. He “was a narco”, and that, in some way makes the crime “expected”, dehumanized. In our minds we see that the assassination was a narco mandate which has become all too common, and if it is narco related we have no control. We just keep our heads down and say ”poor little things”, “how terrible for the families”.

It’s a good excuse isn’t it? “Ohhhhhh, he must have been involved in drugs”.  The author goes on to ask “ How is it that we allow crimes like this to become normalized?” “When did it become normal that thugs with guns can snatch away the lives of 15 year boys?” “Who’s fault is that?” he asks.

He feels that the government is shielding itself under “fue producto del crimen del Narco” , “it was the proceeds of narco crime”, and he wonders if we, as a society are doing the same thing. Because we feel we can’t do anything against the drug cartels, have we reached a point where we say, well it’s no one’s fault, these things happen? As though they were accidents?

Todos somos responsables de la muerte de estos chicos. Somos responsables de la muerte de todas las víctimas del narcotráfico. Hemos, deliberadamente, permitido que las cosas se salieran de control. Tenemos policías que no sirven. Esperamos que papá Gobierno llegue a solucionarnos las vidas: ¿secuestran a dos chavales en una plaza? Pedimos cámaras de seguridad. Como si la construcción de un mejor país se hiciera con cámaras de seguridad y no con la propagación de valores de comunidad, de protesta, de transparencia, de cooperación.

I have added the passage above as it is very heartfelt and profound. I will translate as best I can. “ We are responsible for the deaths of those boys. We are responsible for the deaths of all the victims of drug trafficking. We have deliberately allowed matters to get out of control. We have police that do not serve. We wait for Father Government to solve the problems of our lives. Kidnap two boys from a plaza? We ask for security cameras. Like a better country might be built with security cameras and not the spreading of community values, protest, transparency and cooperation.” 

He goes on to say that we are responsible for our lives as they are because we do not embrace those values. That we are conformists and individualists. That we see these atrocities and the ineffective efforts of the government to control them, and we do nothing. We get angry with those who “rock the boat”, exercising their rights to protest. We put our individuality before the community, always.

This is interesting to me, as I have noticed a huge tendency among Mexicans to say “ni modo”, what can you do? I’m not referring to drug cartels here, but to life in general. “Si es la voluntad de Dios”, if it’s God’s will. However, don’t we all really do that, or something similar? Take the easy way out? I’m curious if the blog author’s feeling is a non-Mexican attitude, a young Mexican attitude or maybe more people in general are inclined this way but don’t voice their feelings. Or maybe they just don’t voice them to gringos. Or maybe he's a zealot.

http://lapoliticacircense.com/2013/07/luis-antonio-y-andres-a-quien-le-echamos-la-culpa/
Food for thought.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

To Everything There Is A Season…

 

Timing is everything. Whether you are a comedian, a musician or just an average Joe.

 

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Friday Market, Patzcuro, 2006

 

When we arrived in Patzcuaro, in the summer of 2006, our new lives filled with promise, life was ideal. Vincente Fox was still in office and the Michoacán days were warm, slow and happy. Shortly after our arrival we discovered Corazón de Durazno, a new housing development in the forested hills above the town.

Real estate was booming everywhere and our hope, when we packed up and left Canada was that we could buy, renovate and flip properties in Mexico. We had researched the market here and at that time real estate was relatively inexpensive. With my home staging abilities and Todd’s acumen in real estate photography and website building in addition to the influx of retirees from north of the border, our plan seemed sound.

 

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Breaking Ground in the “Corazón”

 

“The Plan”, however did not include building from the ground up, but we had fallen in love with Corazón de Durazno. In our defense it really was something totally unique to Mexico and under different circumstances would have been a good investment. But then hindsight is 20/20. We didn’t move on to spend more time in Guanajuato City or Zacatecas, the other two towns where we had considered settling, we just started building. In retrospect I think this was the beginning of the collapse of our “Mexican Dream”.

On July 2, 2006 the Mexican presidential election was held. The competition was fierce with 8 parties involved. The National Action Party  (PAN) had won over the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, then in coalition with the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico) in 2000 for the first time in 71 years, and was anxious to hold on to the presidency for a second term, while the PRI was desperate to regain the office.The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) (then in coalition with Convergence and the Labor Party) also believed it had a good chance that year after losing in the two previous elections.

The preliminary official count went to Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (PAN) by a very narrow margin over Andres Manuel López Obrador, (PRD) who then declared a challenge of the results before the Federal Electoral Tribunal demanding a full recount of all the ballots in Mexico City. The PRD alleged election irregularities, including allegations that the IFE’s running scoreboard, tallying the votes, blinked zero for all candidates for a period of 4 minutes.

On July 8th a group of Obrador’s supporters ( a crowd estimated from 500,000 to 3,000,000 depending on which newspaper you read ) gathered in Mexico City’s Zócalo square starting, in Obrador’s words, “the defense of the popular vote”. The protests were mostly peaceful and within the law, but some unions and PRD supporters threatened “civil resistance” should the courts ratify Calderón's victory and there was some concern expressed that this could lead to an armed conflict.

After a prolonged period during which recounts were done in Mexico City Felipe Calderón Hinojosa was declared the definitive winner on September 5, 2006, and was sworn in amid loud protests and demonstrations by the PRD supporters on December 1st.

 

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Our wonderful Corazón neighbours, Irma and Marcos

 

Being FM3 visa holders, we were not permitted to be involved in any way with the political goings-on so we really paid them very little attention, and with our initial euphoria still intact we celebrated our first Christmas in Mexico. 

Seeing as we were “on Mexican time”, our scheduled move-in date of March 1, 2007 didn’t actually happen until July 1st. I guess it was a good thing that the furniture that we had purchased at a show in Moroleon in March didn’t actually arrive until August. We spent the remainder of that year blissfully decorating and landscaping and readying our new home for sale. Don’t forget “The Plan”.

 

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Front yard

 

By Christmas 2007 the war had begun. We had seen evidence of the escalating altercations between the police and the drug cartels. President Calderón had begun his war on drugs in his home state of Michoacán. Patzcuaro’s warm, slow days of easy living had become strained by kidnappings, extortion and burning busses.

After some initial worrying we adjusted, as one does to any new situation, and really our day to day lives were not affected very much. Although, one day I did have the army creeping through my back yard and eventually searching my underwear drawer, but that’s a story for another day. What was affected was tourism in Mexico, and in Michoacán in particular.

By mid 2008 most of the responses that we received from the website for the sale of our home were in the area of “beautiful house, but is it safe there?”. The media was having a field day with the Mexican drug wars. Then following closely on the heels of the new Mexican struggles, came the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. As I mentioned earlier, timing is everything.

 

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Christmas Cactus, 2008

 

By the end of 2008 the situation had become somewhat prickly, as evidenced by the cactus above. The house had still not sold and in early 2009 we lowered the price quite dramatically. The drug wars raged on and tourism in Mexico had reached an all time low as the world media continued to play up the violence, which really only happened between warring drug factions and the Feds. For the most part the general public was left entirely alone, or in some cases greatly helped, and or greatly intimidated by “La Familia” ( Mexican mafia) which made it difficult for the police to obtain the evidence that they needed to bring them to justice.

The United States was in turmoil with the worst depression since the 1930’s and the rest of the world was reeling with the impact. In March of 2009, in the midst of all of this we sold the house. Our buyer, understandably, had financing problems what with the state of the American banking system at the time. It took roughly 6 months with us lowering our price another ten thousand to alleviate half the cost of our buyer having to take investment money rather than financing.

However we were just happy that the house had sold, greatly improving our financial situation, as we now had all of the money from the sale of the house in our bank account, but the buyer had second thoughts. On the day that we were to sign the papers, we were in the office of the notario, our buyer went off the deep end.

Calling us thieves and con artists and threatening to have us killed by her mafia friends in Guadalajara and saying that we had threatened her life, she barricaded herself in our home and refused to leave until she had 100% of her money back. After one week and many long hours of negotiating with lawyers we returned 90% of her money, she went back to the States and we started over from scratch.

 

Photo courtesy of  http://www.life-in-el-corazon.com

 

2010 saw many changes in  Corazón de Durazno. When we bought the property there were only a few houses built there and the atmosphere was relaxed and happy. We socialized with our neighbours, enjoying many parties and dinners in their homes. Todd even said once that it was like living in Mayberry.

We were technically a gated community, but as you can see from the picture above our gate consisted, in Todd’s words, of “pine and twine technology”, and we liked it like that. Eventually though, time marches on and new houses were built, neighbours left and new ones arrived and the property was turned over to the owners and registered with the city.

With this progress came the dreaded Home Owners Association. No matter how well people get along in social situations they will never all agree in a meeting of the HOA, and of course there are many issues that it is essential that everyone agree upon to maintain what ultimately becomes a business. Monthly dues needed to paid to maintain the property, to pay the lovely young man who had to be hired to man the real gate that eventually had to be built, and repair and maintain the high tech sewer system that the architect had included to service our community.

When the house finally sold in April of 2011 we were happy and relieved. But we had taken a bath on that investment and it was pretty clear that “ The Plan “ was going to have to be rethought. Although tourism was improving and we were looking at a new political regime in the following year it was fairly clear that our original idea of flipping property was no longer viable.

The situation in Corazón de Durazno however, had become uncomfortable for us. Somehow we hadn’t thought ahead to when it would eventually become a real gated community. We discovered that this was really not for us and felt that our timing was good in this instance when we moved to San Miguel de Allende.

Our timing had also been good when we sold our condo in North Vancouver, for which we had paid very little, for a ridiculously large price. Now we are about to embark on a new  “Plan”. This time we will endeavor to be a little more diverse in our thinking in an effort to be more adaptable to the changes that ultimately happen in our lives. Is our timing better now? Only time will tell, lo que será, será.

 

 
 
 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Many Faces of Dolores Hidalgo

 

Yesterday Todd and I visited Dolores Hidalgo, a fairly typical Colonial village about 25 miles from San Miguel de Allende. It was not our first visit, although it has been some time since our last one. While we were building our house in Patzcuaro we made many many trips back and forth between the two towns, our little black Escape filled with the famous Dolores Hidalgo tile and Talavera pottery.

Dolores Hidalgo is said to be the birthplace of the Mexican War of Independence but despite it’s history and legacy to all of Mexico it is not a large tourist destination. However  those who take the time to wander the quiet streets of this Pueblo Magico, are rewarded with an interesting and very diverse experience.

Of course the main claim to fame of the town that was once just called Dolores, is the call to arms known as “El Grito”. Made by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo in the early hours of September 16th, 1810 from the balcony of his home and church, it was the beginning of the 11 year long War of Independence. This cry is reenacted each year, by the mayor, in almost every city, town and village across Mexico on the eve of September 15th.

 

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Statue of Hidalgo with his church in the background

Photograph by Todd McIntosh

 

Hidalgo, along with Ignacio Allende, a captain in the Mexican army who became a sympathizer of the independence movement, amassed an army of Indians and Mestizos, which eventually numbered 90,000, and marched on the cities of San Miguel el Grande, now San Miguel de Allende, and Ceylaya. Ten months later both Hidalgo and Allende were executed in Guanajato City, but the damage had been done and the war for independence was well under way. 

Another aspect of Doroles Hidalgo’s uniqueness is the production of Talavera pottery. This is a type of majolica pottery which is distinguished by a milky white glaze. Majolica pottery was introduced to Mexico by the Spanish in the first century of the colonial period and it’s production became highly developed in Puebla.

 

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Miguel Hidalgo arrived in Dolores in 1803 at the age of 50. After obtaining the parish there, he turned over most of the clerical duties to one of his vicars and focused on his European studies and humanitarian activities. Hidalgo used the scientific knowledge that he had gained from his studies to bring economic improvement to the rural people of his parish.

He taught them grape cultivation, the raising of silkworms and beekeeping. He trained the indigenous people in the making of leather and taught the poor to use the natural resources of the area to create commercial value. He also established factories to produce bricks and pottery. Talavera pottery, and this practice continues to support a large percentage of the population of Dolores Hidalgo to this day.

 

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According to Wikipedia, authentic Talavera pottery only comes from the city of Puebla and three nearby communities because the types of clay required and history of the craft are both centered there. The pottery must be hand-thrown on a potter’s wheel and the glazes contain tin and lead, as they did in colonial time. This glaze must also be porous and milky-white, but not pure white. The only colours permitted are blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve, all of course, made from natural pigments.

The base of each piece is not glazed, exposing the terracotta underneath, and is required to show the logo of the manufacturer, initials of the artist and the location of the manufacturer in Puebla. In the late 20th century some new designs were introduced and a law, Denominación de Origen de la Talavera, was passed to ensure that all Talavera pottery is produced using the original 16th century methods.

 

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Talavera Tiles

Photograph by Todd McIntosh

 

This has become a huge, very restricted business. Yet here, in the little town of Dolores Hidalgo the people have been making this pottery, unaware of all the rigmarole, for 210 years, and will likely continue to do so for the next 210. As the Talavera of Dolores Hidalgo is not defined by the ‘Denominación de Origen de la Talavera'”, it is considerably less expensive while equally as beautiful.

 

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Sinks

Photograph by Todd McIntosh

 

Still, Dolores Hidalgo is not distinguished solely by war and pottery. It is also the birthplace of soccer great Adolfo “ El Bofo”  Bautista Herrera, who has done his country proud on several Mexican teams, as well as singer, songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez.

Jiménez was an amazingly prolific songwriter, having written over 1000 songs that have become an integral part of Mexico's musical heritage. Sometimes called “El Rey”, The King, he is the author of my own favorite Mexican song, also entitled “El Rey”, as well as hundreds of other Ranchero style songs that we hear every day on the radio, in restaurants and bars or in El Jardin where we love to sit in the evenings and listen to the mariachis.

Beloved by the Mexican people, his songs have been recorded and re-recorded by artists all over the Spanish-speaking world. Sadly the world lost José Alfredo Jiménez at the young age of forty-seven when he died of complications resulting from hepatitis. Shortly before his death he released his last song,“Gracias”, thanking the public for it’s support and affection throughout his career.

 

 

José Jiménez was laid to rest in the cemetery in the town of his birth, Dolores Hidalgo. And what a sendoff they gave him! He is memorialized in a huge gravesite with a giant sculpture of his ever present  serape and sombrero. He is still visited there regularly by a never ending stream of fans. Each stripe of the serape is engraved with one of his hit songs.

 

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Photograph by Todd McIntosh

 

The last reason one should not miss visiting Dolores Hidalgo is that it is just a lovely, little town with charming people reminiscent of small town USA or Canada in the 1950’s…… with some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had!

 

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Photograph by Todd McIntosh

 

The center of town, of course, is the zocolo, a really large treed plaza with paths all leading to an ice cream vendor. There are six to eight ice cream kiosks all around the outside of the plaza and you can, literally, get just about any flavour you can imagine. Don’t believe me? Here are a few; shrimp, corn, roasted chicken, poblano pepper, pistachio, Hawaiian, guayaba, papaya, dragon fruit, tequila, beer, cream of whiskey, and on and on and on. And what better place to eat your cup of ice cream than on a bandstand right our of the movie “The Music Man”?

Right across the street from the ice cream is the aptly named Plaza Restaurant, where I had a filete mignon (which was not 1/4 inch thick), perfectly cooked to medium rare with an onion cream sauce, very subtle but so flavourful. Todd had arrachara, again perfectly cooked to medium rare and we washed those down with a couple of excellent Margaritas. I’m not sure why we’ve not been back to Dolores Hidalgo since we moved to San Miguel but it will definitely not be so long between visits the next time.