Blog 1-28-14. Iconic work of Art: At the Bibliotecha, a former church, on one of Patzcuaro’s many squares, a painting by one Juan O’Gorman, done in 1941-1942, a compatriot of the famous Mexican painters Orozco and Diega Rivero, tells the history of Mexico from the early times of the Olmec, Mixtec, and other peoples, but in particular the Puerhepechi, and their empire, through Cortes, and the Spanish Occupation, when the Puerhechi alloied themselves with the conquistadors to fight the Aztec, and on up to the Republic and more recent times, occupies a whole wall, some three house stories high possibly. Due to political climate, war etc, financing to do this impressive mural in the U.S. could not be arranged in the U.S.
My friend Arturo does not care of it any more than the statue of Quiroga in the Plaza where he draws. From his perspective, attention to icons, ( bronze statues in almost every square of political leaders from Lazaro Cardenez to Juan Morillo to Benito Juarez, and countless and beauiful religious statues and paintings revered in the countless cahedrals and churches, there are certainly many), attention to the icons are an interference with what one sees objectively.
1-29-14. Pizza in Patzcuaro. One does not ordinarily think of Pizza as Mexican food but many places serve Pizza. Poseda Mandala on Lerin Street serves a variety. I am a guy who years ago travelled to Italy and could think of Italian food as nothing but pasta for fatties. But this pizza, “The mandala,” which I ordered for dinner was unsurpassed in my culinary gourmand or gourmet experience, that is it was really really good. Served on 14 inch diameter unleavened flat bread crust, crisp and thin, with accompanying thick sauce of newly cut oregano, fresh garlic, salsa, hot chile and other, salt, pepper, various oils, served in consuelas, a kind of bowl, with the pizza topped with anchovies, tomatoes and peppers and Oazaca cheese, appealing to every taste bud.
That morning, Eduardo Juan Mario Jose …, our friend who runs the Mezcaleria had us over to his home for a Spanish breakfast. He gave me a jug with basket woven around it and instructions to get it filled up in Matatlan with Matatlan Mezcal de gusamo, or worm in it. They say that adds to the taste but I don’t believe it. It is just a proof the mezcal came from the Agave cactus where this incorrigible drunken worm likes to live.
We meet interesting American visitors who came for breakfast too, and learned about Quesadilla Ropa if I got the name right, whih seems to be yesterdays Tortillas, fried in oil, with melted Oaxaca or Chihuaha cheese between and again all kinds of sauce. Also consume de chivas, red chile broth, with goats meat, onions, garbonza beans (beans come with everything anyway) and scrambled eggs called “builder’s eggs.”
The lease is up for this first month of January 2014 at Calle Lerin, so we must leave and a New Chapter starts but we signed up for two weeks at the end of a months travel and will return to Patzcuaro, for all the reasons I have written.
As we head on, crackers and cheese in the car, our 2002 Grand Cherokee Jeep, and a special treat, as bags of big fresh strawberries are offered at every tope or bump in the road, of which there are many, which we dip in the newly milked cream purchased at supermardado, Sorianno, before we leave. Big supermarket with branches all over, but we do not notice so many people in it, we wonder how they make a profit faced with so many local markets. I read in El News, the only English news paper available at all and not so easy to find, that this is a political issue.
Before we leave we have incredible tacos at Tacqueria stuck in between a lot of vulcanization, frena and other auto fixup places that line the main road in and out of Town: baby goat or kid meat, celantro and parseley, chopped up together with sweet onion, peppers and red chili, and pulpo or octopus, this time not in its own ink as is offered. Cinnamon coffee and sit at plastic tables with plastic chairs announcing Coca Cola, an ad as common as any politicians face almost everywhere. Coke markets some great local drinks from all the local fruits here too,
1-30-14 Vaquero or Caballero?
I have placed a new picture of self in Sombrero on facebook. All the respectable looking Mexicans my age, poor rich, or neither seem to wear the same plastic made but sturdy sombrero. My friend in the States, Bobby Youngman comments: Vaquero or Caballero? I guess the latter as I have not gotten to wear my cowboy boots once here although our house is known as La Vaqueria. Caballero may have the connotation of lady’s man as well as express the meaning of gentleman. Sitting in the square some days ago in Morelia I used the word Guapo as defined in the dictionary to explain why two “handsome” (dictionary definition) guys like us had no trouble with women, wishful thinking. The guy I was talking to laughed and said “NO, you don’t mean we are guapo, that means gay, you are Caballero.” Each to their own and indeed some gay Mexicans have been absolutely wonderful to us, but best to know the meaning of one’s words.
Walter Mitty Dreams
Surprisingly I have had a number of hombres tip their sombrero to me, accompanied occasionally by a gesture of salute. In honor of George Gurdjieff at the time, author of the impenatrable All and Everything, which I find marketed down here along with other rather esoteric sorts, like Claudio Naranjo, but also looking back to Colonel Emilio Zapata, or perhaps Santa Anna (who in a real bad deal for Mexico when by treaty in the 19th century he gave now New Mexico, Arizona and a good deal of Texas away to the US), at the beginning of this trip, I cut off the beard and grew a handlebar mustache.
Not sure what these off hand salutes meant, I realized when a couple of times the hat tipping or accompanying conversation included the question, “El Militario?” Having risen some years back (barely) to the rank of First Lieutenant in the US Army, I have accordingly directed Esposa please to refer to me as El General in public and learned to affect a rather haughty demeanor, and condescending if not disdainful regard, appropriate to the “model of a modern major general.” It works pretty well as I see it, if I don’t open my mouth and try to say antything.
1-30-14 As we leave Patzquaro, the rugged mountains rise above the fog hanging over Lake Patsquaro just like the chinese paintings show such a scene.
New chapter: On the road again back to Morelia and then short circuiting Mexico City (although it is said to be the new Paris) and suburbs like Cuernavaca, to head to Taxco, 6000 or 7000 feet above sea level more or less, a city built on the side of the mountain, then to go after a night on the way to Oaxaca. -Where four decades and two decades ago either I or Steforina, Esposa’s nombre espagnol, have been – for me before the industrialization of mexico some forty years before. It is famous for silver and the silver of one Spratin an American who came there in the 30s and developed the silver trade.
Near Toluca, kind of a Flatbush to Mexico City or something like that, one feels the City pulse. It is the same around all big cities, a sense of impersonal excitement, energy, smog and hustle. It is not so easy to get around Mexico City and its suburb Toluca as we thought. We know we are headed toward the exit for something like Ixtan del Sol as we ride the perifico or road around the city but there is no turn off so we retorno, as the signs describe the turn arounds, retorno and retorno and keep seeing the same sights. A propos for Mainers famous for advice to the tourist, “You can’t get there from here.”
We see Popo and Popo II, great volcanoes, underneath which lie Toluca and Cuernevaca. Popo II blew its top a decade ago, perhaps in frustration after seeing the urban sprawl and traffic snarls below. The very serious writer, Malcolm Lowery, author of Underneath the Volcano, whose life in Cuer nevaca in the learly 50s or late 40s was the basis for the existential story of I would guess what should be called an antihero, “the consul,” and his Mezcal drenched life, would have had ample additional reason to self destruct if he saw Cuernevaca today. Lowry later wrote Forest Pathway to the Spring, the story of his redemption, love and recovery. Each step along the path mattered. I cannot help but think of the long climb up the stairs to our new if temporary home and the importance of appreciating the opportunities offered in this life.
Fortunately, a police officer who we asked for directions and who seems happy to speak a bit of English calls his boss. A cruiser, blue lights flashing, comes up and motions us to follow as he zig zags and speeds around the eight wheelers and sixteen wheelers clogging the perifico and guides us some miles to the invisible exit we sought. We are very grateful. No pay off ever asked to date.
The road to Taxco looks quite direct on the map and like perhaps a two hour drive. Which would be so if it did not snake up every mountain and down every mountain, cut into the ridges and curving arounc thousands of curves marked PELLIGROSA, frequently with no barrier between the edge of the road as it turns curves and the precipice leading down often to rich valleys. We are given encouraging words at one stop that yes it is a problem people going over the edge but not too many do. The difficulty is aggravated by the fact that a number of local small buses and drivers seem to have little difficulty with going fifty to sixty miles an hour on these roads and it is difficult to find a place to pull up on the side so they can pass. It is noted that these drivers must be good skiers at the slalom. This is a much improved road over the roads years ago but demands a good deal of intestinal fortitude to drive for the likes or me.
2-1-14 Taxco. Lovely town but chocked full of Mexican X generationers, on vacation. Lots of romance for the kids, cafes, bars, parks to make assignations in, I can jusfdt imagine, unrequited love but for that the greater, but just too many cars and people for me. Here
The silver is great but I am told you can get original Spratling Taxco silver works cheaper on the internet. Not the quiet mountainside Town with a loan guitarist of an evening I recall forty or more years ago. The hotels are overpriced and it is hard to get a room for the 250 to 350 pesos a night we are willing to spend. The Church in the Plaza is unique however, a masterpiece of the Baroque, full of paintings and gold framings and statues, evidently built in the late 1700s by one LaBorda, a French miner, who discovered a great silver vein, and donated his fortune to build the Cathedral, becoming a priest himself, as did his son and whose daughter became a nun. I understand the architects and engineers did pretty well. Local labor was not expensive and a small native chapel is on one side of the Cathedral, which like most Cathedrals here is devoted to the Virgin Mary.
As a believer, but not Roman Catholic, I am reminded of Carl Jung’s wonderful essays on the benefits of quaternities related to the rather recent doctrinal elevation in Roman Catholic theology of the virgin birth now of Mary and ascension of Mary, mother of Jesus, a teaching not in the books of the bible, nor as far as I know in the apocryphal books or gnostics but well suited to the syncretic Roman Catholic system and absorption of more female oriented mother Goddess indigenous belief systems. (Others may take issue with this not well researched comment.)
Trying to get out or town the next morning we make the mistake of going up hill, and there seems no retorno, so we go up and up, with no guard rails between us and the beautiful valley thousands of feet below.
Eventually at the top of the hill where a great statue of Christ is placed, we get turned around and head back down only to find it is a one way street up, which would not be so bad if there were shoulders and others could pass us without inches to spare. The roads unfortunately almost never have shoulders. Happily after only a few narrow scrapes, but not before La Esposa has in near terror gotten out of the car and walked ahead. the roadt becomes two way as we descend again at about ten miles per hour. I think El Burro picks up some scrapes from the walls at the up hill side of the road along the way.
2-2-14. On to Oaxaco. More mountainous driving North then West toward Oaxaca, the same roads looking direct on the map in fact snake and wind up, down, and around endlessly over this restless landscape, formed I speculate by two tectonic plates pushing everything in the earth together. We pass one small town wit a very calm and beautiful cathedral built of pink or rose stone as most things seem to be here. The calmness suggests perhaps a country that has a concern for people. We stop in a small town shortly before dark, very happy to find cuartos, or rooms available, which has not been the case in prior villages. Driving at night in these mountains we do not want to do nor to sleep in the car which seems the only other alternative.
Waking in the morning, we find the front of our car scraped and a flat tire, wondering who does not like us. Happily only two hundred or four hundred feet down the road, we find a person who repairs tires, which he does on the spot, putting a new inner tube in and repairing the outside. Like almost everyone else we meet, he has either spent years working in the US or has children there. It looks like coming down the hill in Taxco I must have hit the side and a rock causing a rip in the tire and leak. The cost for the on the road service is about $50. Insurance here is required and not covered by any U.S. Policy I know of, so buying insurance for travel in Mexico is important. Here is one bumps into another car that is one thing, but if you hit a person, under Napoleonic law you are presumed guilty and unless you have insurance including to bail you out of jail, you are held in jail until doctors’ reports, etc are all available, Rejecting the name “Dopey Topey,”after all the decelaration bumps our vehicle has endured, with due solemnity we formally christen our car “El Burro.”
As we approach Oaxaca, passing a number of longhorns grazing by the side of the road, cactus country starts again. Many cactus. Sometimes in the thousands growing straight up like soldiers who line the hills, sometimes nestled in odd places flowering out like green flames or starfish, sometimes branching up hundreds of feet into the sky like large menoras. Cactuses seem to follow any readily discernable logic but to have a comic aspect in their different appearances.
2-3-14. Oaxaca. This small town where I would sit at the side of the square or El Zocalo and play chess hassle with the same serape salesman day after day and hangout with a young Mexican friend who introduced me to the magic mushrooms that grow in these parts in 1970, many decades ago, like Taxco, is a big city. Quite expensive for lodging unless one looks around hard. I spent the evening listening to the local police band which was very good and played all evening in the square. But too many cars, too many people … But years ago it was the rainy season, May when the mushrooms grow, offering an undeniable experience into the genuine nature of organic life, oneself included.
Many years ago my friend suggested we go to nearby Mitla with an expanded or expansive state of mind to discern the language on the ancient ruins. I did not make it then. Now forty five years later we travel briefly to Mitla and he ruins where I can see the mysterious lines and patterns of symbols which look somewhat like the double helix. The language remains but again the town changed and built up and around.
On the way to Mitla we also detour to Matatlan to fill my friend’s jug with Mezcal. And are educated on the sweet Agave plant, of which we ate slices, how the insides are cut and heated in a wood fire under the earth for five days, then mixed with water and left in vats to turn into Tequila or Mezcal, if a liquer is desired mixed with other organic ingredients. I missed a lot but we got the real thing I am sure.
2-4-14 On to Tehuantepec. The short map distance spreads out into more hairpin curves pellligrosa, snaking first right then left then right then left etc. along mountain ridges, with splendid views. Better not seen for one sees also the precipice below. Driving it is better to concentrate on the road and not look to the side and down.
We stop at a village with lodging, nestled in the hills under a star filled sky, the quiet unfortunately interrupted by the roar and rumble from 4 am on of many big trucks leaving early in the morning.
Eventually we reach Tehuantapec. Historically a matriachal system ruled here. The indigenous indeed look different here, baby faces, and indeed the Tehuan women seem to have a rather challenging look saying as if to say who do you think you are, anyway. A sizable belly seems to be considered attractive in women, a good sign for American tourists maybe. The Town is full of tuktuks, which are kind of motorcycles with truck backs, driven by men usually and with women sitting in back or standing. They are all over the place. We stay overnight. My description of these parts, not being an anthropologist, is about as accurate no doubt as Joshua Slokum’s description in Sailing Alone Around the World of the Tierra Del Fuegans, but what the heck, what’s in it is in it.
Huatulco: Via Puerto Salinas, where we a dream city built by the Government of Oaxaca for the people of Oaxaca with a a Palm lined entrance road perhaps fifteen miles long which one could find in Miami or perhaps West Palm Beach with roads off to the side and big hotels lon the way to the I think eight or nine Bahias or Bays. We go swimming at Tungalinga which, like many of the bahias per the tour services, they say you can’ t reach except by boat. A real estate lady from New Zealand via British Columbia – Canadians now seem to appear everywhere – clues us in and locates the back road in for us and gives us the local scoop.
In her many years traveling down here from British Columbia and back she had no trouble at all except one incident last year near the border when travellling in the passing lane, versus the truck lane, a vehicle in front of her stopped short forcing her to stop. Two guys unarmed but menacing motioned her to get out of her car. Fortunately her dog bared his teeth, growled and scared them away. You can have bad luck anywhere was her view and it could have happened in the U.S. but she advised to avoid risk don’t travel when approaching he border in the passing lane, spend the night at a town three or four hours south of the border so you can drive to the border and cross early afternoon. Also to keep a phoney wallet which does not contain anything important or too much cash which one can turn over.
Huatulco has many big hotels, expensive usually, and many “Se Vente” or “For Sale” signs. We wonder how the real estate crash in U.S. impacted here. Some opine that the State Department directives and cautionary view projected these days in the U.S. toward travel in Mexico reflects an intentional policy by the U.S. to keep people in the U.S. when if they knew, even with all the development of the last decades, how relatively cheap it is to live in Mexico, to rent or buy property, eat, etc many Americahs would exit and become expats so – called.
At the end of the hotel zone so called driving in past the bahias is the centro of Town where we find a cheap hotel room on the square. This is a nice spot and a new plaza to sit in and walk around. However, there is a disco on one side that blasts away every night into the morning. Sleeping here is like sleeping in a Juke box.
The second night there as we are figuring out what to do for the next few weeks as originally we planned to stay in Huatulco but now don’t want to, my watch which shows phosphorescent hands in the night but not the hours, I see it is 8:30 AM. “Time to Go,” I announce and we pack up to go, only it is dark outside and in fact it is 3:30 am. Back to bed but the next morning just after, once more getting my ATT phone to work here- service is less than perfect – we receive a call that another good friend, Ted Coconut, died last night in Maine. Nothing we can do but maybe he woke us up on his way on …
2-8 to 2-12-2014. On the road to El Paro, the Lighthouse. We drive on to Puerto Angel. An interesting young man from Italy who has been living here a few years and is hitching. We pick him up and he directs us to Puerto Angel’s major beach, Zipoleto Beach. There we have the good luck to meet a very gentlemanly and educated Mexican man whose name is Peo, whose directions we have asked for hotels or places to stay, and who shows us the house he has been working on for some years, two stories, first class place, built into a hill on the road to the Lighthouse, which looks down the hill some thousand or two feet to the beach. He offers to rent for about what we would rent my house for in Maine, $450 for three weeks. It is an offer one cannot refuse.
Zipoleto, essentially still a fishing village, is an interesting place, rough surf on the beach so not so great for floating but great for the exercize of holding one’s own ground and those strong enough to surf rough waters. A lot of younger people of divergent nationality and Mexicans at the road next to the beach, quick to strike up conversation and happy to be here. It is a free sort of town where a number of people swim or sunbathe nude at one end of the beach, a long beach, with bars and restaurants where fine meals are inexpensive, and hammocks readily available for Siesta. We go to the beach an due to the rough surf head up to the red flag where a life guard sits. Only we realize as we are joined in our swim that the life guard has a paunch worse than mine even and does not wear trunks. The red flag we surmise declares it is OK to be nude in this area. Actually it doesn’t, no one cares if you are nude, the red flag signifies big waves and dangerous waters.
At our new home, overlooking the Pacific, we see long seins lining with foam the untroubled ocean as it stretches to a wide and distant horizon. We see schools of clearly big fish leaping out of and up from the sea. Great chiseled rocks spread at the end of the beach on one horizon. Butterflies hover and dart in the incipient garden below our porch, where we hang laundry, and hawks circle between our porch and the surf pounding noisily below. Some little lizards cling to the high wall and then scoot under the palm branch roof.
No juke box this night, only the conversation of the dogs. One howls, then another. What are they saying? Oh Danger, I heard something. Oh, maybe I did too. Danger indeed. What danger? Over here? No over there? What are you talking about? And so on. Dogs rule in Mexico. There seem to be no chain laws and dogs wander happily about in great abundance, congregating and lazily sleeping where ever they wish.
I take a little time to read about the Spanish Inquisition in the 1600s, called the Auto de Fe or Act of Faith, that is after torture and as the flames licked up one’s side, the victim, he (or she) could recant, repent and be saved (but still die). I learn the Inquisition was active in Mexico, but directed not at the indigenous but rather against the Jews called anuhim who now professed a christian belief and had moved here to escape persecution in Europe. Nothing so dangerous as a heretic though so better no take a chance… And about the Aztecs whose main ritual was to excise the beating heart out of a living person, sometimes child, and present it to the Gods. They got so good at this that it took about ten seconds allowing for some pretty good mass sacrifices. Maybe there is something to be said for Cortes and the Conquistadors after all.
One of my first acquaintances on the road to El Paro in Puerto Angel is George, another world traveler, who looks something like Peter O’Toole, has moved here from Puerto Vallarte to the North, and is about to open a bar on or near the beach, and who over many Mezcals, recounts many stories, including how when a youngster he lived in Morocco in the early 70s where at the time Timothy Leary, William Burroughs Jack Kerouac, Bowles, and other luminaries resided. A sense of liberty and freedom is implied, somewhat outside the delineation of American political culture. However, he recalls as mean and tough an organized crime syndicate as any recounted here was run in the Mediterranean by Britishers. Whole families of those who crossed the Brits disappeared.
Today we figure out what to do because Travellers Checks are negotiated almost nowhere these days. A plastic bank account card is all that counts.