Tuesday, January 26, 2010

To Tlaquepaque with Curt and Judy

Our good friends Curt and Judy Webber are visiting us from Maine for twelve days. This is their third visit since we relocated to Mexico, and we are trying to show them new aspects of Mexican life. On Saturday, we made an excursion to Tlaquepaque (Ta-lak-a-PAK-ee), a very upscale shopping area in Guadalajara. The joke here is, "Go to Tlaquepaque to look; go to Tonala to buy!" This is because many of the fine Mexican crafts displayed in the posh shops in Tlaquepaque are made in workshops in Tonala, and are available there for a fraction of the price. When Wendy and Eric were here, we went to Tonala to do some Christmas shopping. Tonala is great for finding good values, but it tends to be crowded, and it's difficult to find a nice restaurant. Tlaquepaque, on the other hand, is a very relaxing experience. The main road in the shopping district, Independencia, is closed to vehicle traffic, and it's fun to wander and imagine you are a rich Hacienda owner, to whom money is no object, who wants to furnish the hacienda with gorgeous Mexican items. There are some good bargains (we bought some tequila glasses for 30 pesos apiece), but most of the merchandise is just fun to look at. There are, however, a number of beautiful restaurants with excellent food in beautiful garden settings throughout the shopping district. Here are some photos of Tlaquepaque:

Interestingly, we got lost finding Tlaquepaque. I knew how to get into the Tlaquepaque area, but I was unsure how to find the shopping district, so I programmed an address on Independencia into our GPS. Unfortunately, once we got into Tlaquepaque, the GPS lady kept trying to take us to somewhere in southwest Guadalajara (Tlaquepaque is in east central Guadalajara). We finally made it by going back to where we knew we should be, turning off the GPS, and using a map. Surprisingly, the GPS did a fine job bringing us home. Go figure?

We had an all-Maine dinner last night with Curt and Judy, and our new friends from Kennebunkport, Ron and Jean, who are here for the winter. We enjoyed Pixie's lasagna and everyone had a good time getting to know our puppy, Chuy. By multiple requests, here are some photos featuring Chuy:

In terms of progress, Chuy is doing amazingly well, although he's not quite there yet. He sleeps on our bed, often all night without waking us up to take him out. He is learning to do "his business" in the grass, but he sometimes decides to assert his independence by demonstrating that he can also choose to perform inside as well. Luckily for us, all the floors are tile, and the weather outside is warm. He's only ten weeks old, so I think his cognitive development may not quite have reached the stage required to understand that he is ONLY to do his business outside. We're working on it.

Throughout Mexico, new elected officials took office on January first. I was reading in the Guadalajara Reporter that the mayor of Chapala not only found no money in the coffers, but that the previous mayor left a large dept. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"Jalisco's 125 new mayors spent their first few days in office promising much, even after seeing just how little money their predecessors had left in municipal offices.

In the small municipality of Santa Maria del Oro, incoming official;s found six pesos in the city's bank account. Valle de Juarez fared slightly better-- officials there had generously been left 30 pesos to spend.

Throughout the state, new staff complained that vehicles, stationery supplies, even furniture, had gone missing.

Virtually all the state's new mayors will have their hands tied by heavy debt incurred by previous administrations. "

In Chapala, the new mayor, Jesus "Chuy" Cabrera took office to find that the city owes 85 million pesos (about $750,000US). The previous mayor, Gerardo Degollado, lashed out at the new mayor: "It's a lie! That's the pretext Panistas (members of Cabrera's PAN party) use to avoid working." Although he did pretty much admit, later in his speech, that the figures Cabrera cited were essentially correct. During his term, Degollado was criticized for completing projects, like a new malecon (boardwalk) along the lake shore and artistic projects in the city, which brought notoriety to him but did little to help the poor.

So, politics here can get ugly, just as in the US, but the different standards for financial accountability are different here, for sure. The legacy of corruption among public officials has led to a cynicism about politics, much as it has in the United States.

We are trying to solve a water problem with our neighbors here in Riberas. The water coming into our underground water tank, or ajibe, has become dirtier over the the last several months. It has noticeably more sediment now when we change our water filters. We don't actually drink this water, but we are having to change our filters every month to keep the water coming into the house clean. We mentioned it when we paid our water bill this month, but we got no clear answer on the plan to address this problem. I fully expect that one day they will announce that they are shutting off our water for a few days to address the problem...but we will not know when. Another example of the difficulty of being a foreign resident in another culture.

Next week, we will be taking a trip to the neighboring state of Michoacan to visit a Monarch butterfly reserve. We will stay in a lodge in the mountains and ride horses up to 9000 feet to visit the reserve. These butterflies migrate all the way from Canada every winter in a miraculous journey. The Mexicans in Michoacan consider the arrival of the butterflies sacred. I'll include photos in the next post.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pixie's Corner: A Dog and a Star

While on our morning walk, Bill and I walk in a wide circle (into traffic in the careterra) to avoid an especially vicious roof dog who seems determined to jump off the roof with the singular intent of tearing out my jugular. As we fearfully pass the menacing dog and return to the sidewalk, I see a Mexican man and his son approaching the roof dog from the opposite direction. They amble, as Mexicans tend to do, down the street, apparently unaware of the dog. Curious, I turn to watch them pass the dog. The father continues walking, but the boy, maybe 7 or 8, falls a few steps behind. He carelessly bends down and picks up a rock, as boys are apt to do. Then, unexpectedly, he hurls the rock with deadly accuracy at the menacing dog. The dog, promptly put in his place, retreats to the back of the roof with a pitiful yelp. Meanwhile, the father continues walking, seemingly unaware of the heroics of his young son, until the boy picks up his pace and, once again, is walking next to his dad. At that moment, I see the slightest straightening of his shoulders and I realize the boy had done what was expected of him. There was no pat on the back, no "atta boy," but still I understood that the father was proud of his son, and the boy basked in that pride. Lesson learned: This is how you handle nasty roof dogs.

Another morning as Bill and I were walking in Chapala, we came upon a clunky old Mexican car that had seen much better days. It was dull and rather ordinary, as many of those old cars are. As I walked on, chatting with Bill, I was not really noticing the car except for the inconvenience of squeezing past it. Just as I angled my body between the car and the tan stone wall, the sun crept from behind a cloud. Suddenly a sparkling light caught my eye. The windshield of the offending car was a dazzling maze of cracked glass. The car had most likely picked up a stone which cracked the windshield, a not uncommon event for car winding their way on narrow cobblestone streets here in Mexico. But there, dead center, amid the blazing spider web, the owner had placed, a large star-shaped sticker. It delighted me and made me laugh out loud. "Look, look at the star sticker!" I call to Bill. But he is in his head lost in his thoughts and doesn't see. But I am reminded, this is why I love Mexicans. They do not passively accept life's misfortunes. Often, with humor and wit, they transform the mundane into the sublime, and make us smile.