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Consider This, Señora
by Harriet Doerr
If asked what a particular country is like, the wise respondent does not declare that the whole country is mono-anything. Cities are different from villages, mountains from deserts, and north from south. At the same time, there are cultural aspects that transcend regional differences. This is certainly true of Mexico as I can attest to after being privileged to live in that country for seven years. In Harriet Doerr’s Consider This, Señora, she captures the essence of rural Mexico, the things that make me nod and smile as I remember the way it is.
Here are things from the book that are, for the most part, neither bad nor good, just typically Mexican. I list them out, but in the book, they are integrated into the story:
- Workmen that don’t finish jobs.
- Problems solved by greasing the wheels with a little cash.
- Extended family relationships determining work placements.
- Government promises for utilities only partially or never fulfilled.
- Accidents caused by disregard for traffic “suggestion” signs.
- Brilliantly colored fiestas.
- Beautiful vistas.
- No understanding of queues, but extreme politeness one on one.
- Animals roaming free.
- Very young mothers.
- Children working from a young age.
- Beautiful babies with wide brown eyes and shy smiles.
- The staple food—taco.
- Popsicles sold from street carts.
The story is the tale of Sue Ames and Bud Loomis, strangers trying to escape their pasts who meet by chance in a property agent’s office in Mexico and buy a large plot of land to both live on and subdivide. Other people join them. Fran is a travel author. Fran’s mother, Ursula, is widowed and in her late 70’s. Don Enrique, the original owner of the land by ancestry finds a home there. Later the mysterious musician Herr Otto is added to the community. There are locals that make an essential supporting cast including Patricio, gardener and so much more for the Norte Americanos and Father Miguel who is a friend to all.
Consider This, Señora is a gem, a tale of travelers to another culture and how their lives intersect with the land and the lives of the locals. Although not a romance, love is a major theme in the book. Even though she is divorced, Sue has never fallen out of love with her husband. Fran, divorced twice, continues to search for an exciting but long-lasting love with men she meets in her travels. Ursula, widowed, is still in love with the husband she spent her life with. She, especially, contemplates what it means to love.
Sue is altruistic and generous, helping those in need. She takes on Altagracia, her part time maid from a young age, providing needed dental work and opportunities to bathe. As the girl emerges from her cocoon at age sixteen, Altagracia is described as one who “merely by her passage, turned the heads of men.” When Altagracia takes on a different domestic position, she supplies Sue with three of her little cousins who are starving. Sue opens her heart to them and provides help to the family.
Harriet Doerr’s descriptions are so well-written that the background comes to life enhancing the story without belaboring the details. She also includes a sprinkling of Spanish words adding to the authentic flavor, but most can be understood from context. The book flows, and I read it in one day wanting to know more and more about the characters and the little village of Lomas de Amapolas.
Publication: August 15, 1994—Harcourt (A Harvest Book)
Today had stopped happening. Already it had consigned its events to memory. Touched by the evening chill, she sat outside until dark, wrapped in the mists of her brief, uncertain future and the brilliant patchwork of her never-ending past.
The Mexican sky was excessive too, she believed. Wider than others, it stretched over people who appeared no fonder of life than death, as they darted on bicycles between trailer trucks and buses and hurried hand in hand, whole families strong, across divided freeways.
On all sides of the dead man and the mourners, headstones tilted into weeds. Two cypress trees shaded the crisscrossing tracks of animals, both tame and wild. A crumbling adobe wall bounded the pantéon and protected the dead.
Over the last few months, I have been implementing a huge change in my life. For the last six years, my husband and I have been living in México most of each year. We initially moved to Ajijic, Jalisco, where the climate is close to ideal. Unfortunately, it was like living in Little America, rather than México, with so many expatriates from Canada and the United States. After two years, we took the plunge and moved to the mountains of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. We spent four years there in a quiet, rural, gated community, learned a little Spanish, and enjoyed the culture and the kind people we encountered.
We are now in a different season of our lives. A four day trip with two dogs in tow, twice a year, has become increasingly difficult physically and more stressful. If you are following the news, you know that the trek is also fraught with dangers from cartel activity and random acts of violence. Mexican drivers are generally untrained and adhere to their own set of rules. My husband and I are both licensed to drive ALL vehicles in Mexico including semi-tractor trailers, merely because we paid a fee. A bribe was not involved. On our last trip north, we witnessed the aftermath of several different accidents involving multiple trucks. It was sadly clear that some drivers would not be retuning to their families—ever. Road hazards include often unmarked and unexpected speed bumps called topes on the highway, drivers converting a two-way, two-lane road into a three and a half lane road according to custom, and small herds grazing unfettered. Due to these dangers, as well as the increased potential for criminal activities, the general recommendation is to not drive at night.
So now, we anticipate winters in Farmington, New Mexico, and summers in Chama, New Mexico. To travel between houses we have a two and one-half hour drive rather than four days. We can enjoy either house whenever we choose, dependent only on snow conditions. We are already getting involved in local activities that in México we would not have participated in due to language limitations. Great shopping is available seven minutes away rather than one hour. We feel free to drive to restaurants and civic events at night.
We enjoyed our time in México and the everyday challenges of living in a different culture and communicating in a different language. We will miss friends we made in Ajijic and Pátzcuaro. It was not easy to arrange the movement of some possessions and decide what to leave behind. We also wanted to return with some mementos of México to decorate our new home.
I don’t know what the future holds for us. Perhaps more community and church involvement, excursions in the Four Corners area to explore ancient Native American cultures, motorcycle trips from our two home bases, time to explore our hobbies and, after life settles down a little for us and for some of the countries we would like to visit, maybe some trips abroad. Argentina has terrific Italian food!
I did a happy dance and a cheer as I crossed the international border and felt the immediate relief of having survived the journey and the elation of being home again. It was an oddly different feeling from returning to the U.S. for a few months as in the past. “Welcome home,” the border seemed to say: home, sweet home.
To my fellow bloggers:
I was more or less (más o menos) without Internet for a month during this transition. Internet was installed for us about a week ago. I have over 600 emails to deal with, and I have only rarely been able to post on my blog. Even my reading has slowed way down. Please forgive my absence, and be patient as I try to establish a new normal at the same time that I review books I have already committed to. I am looking forward to reading your posts and reviews again. I will still occasionally write posts about my experiences in México and my views on education.
As a bellwether for my productivity in the immediate future, I should note that I started writing this post a week ago. Much to my frustration, life has not settled down yet as we still have purchases to make, installations to schedule, and so many decisions to make. I must declare, however, that all of this is easier in my home language, and I am enjoying that change.
Bienvenido a Casa!
This little lady and about 20 more greeted us on our arrival at our cabin in Northern New Mexico last week.
We have returned a little early due to some events north and south of the border. It is not the pretty scene of midwinter with everything covered in a white snowy dress. The display is piles of dirty snow, some ponds where there were none, and muddy areas with deer prints. Although it is not pretty, it is a welcome relief from the drought of recent years. As soon as the temps rise, we should see a lot of green as the trees and grass spring to life.
But backtracking a little, we had four long days of travel with 2 dogs in tow to get from the middle of Mexico to Northern New Mexico. We spent 3 hours inching along in our manual transmission pickup at the border crossing into the U.S. Here are a few pictures of the Plaza de las Culturas (Plaza of Cultures) as you exit Mexico at Tres Piedras to cross over into Eagle Pass. We have crossed there before, but I hadn’t really noticed the replicas of ancient temples, because in the past we had zipped right past them.
One highlight of the trip for me was the small Texas town of Eldorado. On our trips from New Mexico to east Texas, we have fun finding the doughnut shops as we pass through little towns. We don’t eat at all of them, but Eden, for example, has delicious fresh doughnuts. On this trip, the doughnut shop in Eldorado appeared to be closed. As my husband turned around to tell me the bad news, a sheriff’s vehicle pulled in. We had a friendly conversation, and he shared that the doughnut shop was now part of the liquor store in town. He not only gave us directions, but when I pulled out to go there, I found he was at the stop light waiting for us and gave us an escort! As in many small towns, for purposes of survival, the shop (called A’s) was not only a doughnut and liquor store but also a short order grill and convenience store with some of the nicest owners you would want to meet. Texas friendliness at its best!
As we were leaving town, we pulled over for GPS adjustments and I hopped out and snapped some gorgeous
As my lack of inactivity on my own blog and those I follow demonstrates, the last few weeks have been hectic–preparing for the trip, making the journey, and transitioning into life in the U.S. again. I am so far behind, that I will probably alleviate the stress of unread blogs by deleting most of my email notices. My apologies. The good news is that, perhaps, due to a new tower and Internet provider in my rural area, I may actually have a good connection this summer. I am currently using a loaner device and it is fabulous. Under past “normal” conditions, I would be unable to make this blog post. If my actual connection is only half of what I am currently getting, I will still be happy. I find I have less time in the U.S. for reading and reviewing as I have a different lifestyle here, but the future looks bright!
Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir
by Jean Guerrero
Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir attracted my attention because I live part of each year in Mexico and part in New Mexico, U.S.A. After five years of cross-border experiences, I have such mixed feelings because I love the U.S. with its fairly balanced mixture of freedom and order, but I also have enjoyed the kindness and diverse cultures of the Mexican people.
Crux, however, addresses cross-border experiences on a whole different level. The author Jean Guerrero is the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a Mexican father. Guerrero survives a dysfunctional childhood to become a journalist. This book is an effort to understand herself through an attempt to understand her father, a brilliant man who at various times is addicted to drugs, and alcohol, believes the C.I.A. is performing experiments on him, and is schizophrenic according to her mother, a medical doctor.
Guerrero longs for her father’s affection. She received it when she was very little, but most of her memories are of an unpredictable and often hateful man who occasionally dropped in and out of her life. Guerrero tries to win her mother’s affection and approval through scholastic achievement. In the process of becoming an adult, she is always introspective but she experiments in dangerous arenas—drugs at raves, trips to dangerous areas of Mexico, bad boys and sexual exploration, and the occult. The occult is tied in with her heritage as she had a great-great grandmother in Mexico who was a healer and diviner and other Mexican relatives who were involved in similar activities.
Crux contains a lot of family stories: Guerrero’s own memories, interviews with her father and his mother, and trips to Mexico to discover the truth of her roots. It also includes some of her philosophical thinking at various times in her life as well as information from her neurological studies in college. She minored in neurology as a part of her efforts to understand her father’s schizophrenia and her genetic predilection to become schizophrenic herself.
As a cross-border tale, Crux is sprinkled with Spanish, some of it translated, some not. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I appreciated the authenticity added to Crux by including Spanish. I do wonder, however, if understanding the book would be affected by a reader’s not being able to translate as they read. One could, of course, use an online Spanish dictionary to help, but that would definitely interrupt the flow.
Crux is a very personal memoir exploring the raw feelings of the author. The point of view changes in the latter part of the book as Guerrero addresses her father. There is also a maturity and cohesion in that part of the book not present in the first. Perhaps that is appropriate as she was initially relating experiences as remembered from a child’s point of view. Readers who enjoy history will receive historical background to provide context; it is interesting and succinct. All in all, Crux is a good read. There are very few heart-warming moments, but that was her life.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to One World (Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: There are some sexually explicit portions and offensive language in Crux. The treatment of women is particularly disturbing.
Publication: July 17, 2018—One World (Random House)
Life was not turning out as we had hoped. Creativity was a crime. Innocent creatures were mortal. Fathers left their daughters and broke their mother’s heart.
I had grown accustomed to the idea of my father as dead. If he was dead, he wasn’t willfully ignoring us. This belief had become a sinister source of comfort.
He persisted without pausing for protest, the same anger he had directed at me when he was driving me to my riding lessons as a teenager. I stared at the table, steeling myself. The numbness came naturally—a habit of my adolescence.
What does it look like in January at 7,785 feet in the mountains near the town of Pátzcuaro in the state of Michóacan, Mexico? It is not as cold as the same altitude in northern New Mexico in the U.S.: the lows where we live in Mexico are currently about the same as the highs in northern NM (the 40’s F). This is the dry season of the year, so we have to water the grass and other plants. But it is beautiful. I took a side trip into a neighbor’s yard, always looking for even a little flat land for walking. I mentally call it my secret garden because it is tucked away behind tall grasses. So, join me as I enter my borrowed secret garden and take a peek at the beautiful plants growing there.
As you know if you have read many of my reviews, I LOVE a good mystery. I did not, however, set out in May to create one of my own by my sudden disappearance from digital media–email, blogging, even What’s App. I didn’t even plan on taking a “social media break” as some do from time to time for various reasons. For weeks now, I have been literally and digitally out of touch because of lack of connectivity through traveling, failing digital infrastructure in northern New Mexico, and exhaustion!
I’ll post a few pictures to show what I have been up to. I will not post any to depict the hours spent trying to deal with various issues with MVD, Verizon, and other business concerns in the U.S. When you have been out of country for a while these issues pile up, are interrelated and clamor to be handled all at once.
First a trip to the U.S./Mexico border with our two dogs. A few hours after we hit the road, we were sideswiped by a semi. Really nice man, same insurance company as ours, but we lost almost two hours of precious daylight. If there is one rule of thumb about driving in Mexico, it is DON’T DRIVE AT NIGHT. We had to drive from the middle of Mexico to the northern part of New Mexico with no sideview mirror because our insurance stipulates that it must be repaired in Mexico.The border! Now to find our hotel and get the dogs arranged for the night.
Next day–Eagle Pass to Roswell with no alien encounters
Then on to Albuquerque where we got to see these lovely ladies compete in volleyball (silver medal winners), visited with family, and picked up a new bike for my husband. Four more (cold for my husband on the bike) hours later we finally make it HOME!
Follow this up with trips back to Albuquerque for servicing and paperwork on the bike and up to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, for Plan B on establishing a better Internet connection.
On May the 16th we should be on the road for a motorcycle trip, but Chama is unseasonably cold, and motorcycling in cold weather is just not fun. By cold, I mean FREEZING:
On May 20th, with temperatures above 50º we left on a three day ride to Tyler, TX. These were long days in the saddle. At the end of the day I just wanted dinner and a bed!
After a great visit with John’s family and a tour of the famous Tyler Rose Gardens and Museum,
we headed to Arkansas to ride the Ozarks for 3 days
followed by 3 more days of riding to get back to northern New Mexico. We unfortunately caught a respiratory infection requiring some recuperation time after we got home.
Mystery solved–from disappearance to reappearance. Adventure is fun, but it’s always good to be home again–even if where you hang your hat is in several countries.
Although various regions claim to be the “avocado capital,” I can attest that Michoacán, México, deserves the title! Not only was the oldest evidence of the tree found in México, but you only have to take the highway to Uruapan to be surrounded by hectares of avocado orchards and warehouses. We are talking big business and a delicious and healthy product.
I make guacamole a number of different ways, depending on my mood and available ingredients. It is so easy. Just combine the ingredients, mash with a fork, and serve. For me the staples of guacamole are: avocado, lime juice (preferably fresh), and salt. Other tasty additions in any combination you desire are diced onion or tomato, fresh cilantro, and powdered cumin or coriander. I love it best with salted tortilla chips, known in México as “totopos,” but it is also good with fresh veggies, as a salad on a bed of lettuce, or as a side, topping, or garnish with anything Mexican. How do you like your guacamole?
It only took TWO WEEKS (24/7) to synchronize all of my pictures with iCloud, but it did work as far as I can tell. While that was happening, I was afraid to touch my pictures. Now I am ready to share some more of Mexico, starting with this past weekend. A few of these pictures were taken previously, but I did take all of them in Mexico.
Saturday Night Empanadas–perfect with a game of Scrabble!
Perfect Blooms Just in Time for Easter
I think everyone from North of the Border who lives in Mexico has a postal service story to tell. Today I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who lives in Ajijic, Jalisco. This week she received two Christmas cards, one from Canada and one from the U.S., that were sent in December. Not bad. Lots of mail doesn’t ever arrive. We discourage anyone who has a notion of using the postal service, but I have used it twice in ordering some pills from a Mexican company. BOTH times they arrived in good shape in about 2-3 weeks. I consider that a success. So today I am posting a picture of the beautiful stamps that were on the last package (in December) in honor of the brave young men in Mexico who ride little motorcycles laden with letters and packages and negotiate the roads filled with drivers with “interesting” driving habits. Salud!