Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Not-So-Simple Life

The U.S. State Department is warning American citizens to exercise extreme caution when traveling to Mexico now in light of the crime problems with the drug cartels there. As a result large U.S. colleges are strongly suggesting their students not travel to Mexico for spring break. Personally, I wouldn't go near a spring break site in Mexico or elsewhere, but it breaks my heart this possibly crushing blow to an already addled Mexican economy.

Mexico has its problems that need to be dealt with if its government wishes to take advantage of the world's tourism dollars. It's not difficult to find horror stories on the internet about unsafe hotels and untrained medical personnel and muggings and corruption in Mexico, but the majority of the drug cartel issues occur along the border towns of northern Mexico--hardly the spring break destination of American students. The recession here at home has hit Mexico hard. Jobs are drying up and family members can no longer send money home to their villages in order to give their families just a glimmer of a normal, safe and healthy existence. 

I wish the world could see the Mexico I see. This country has a magical landscape of mountains and seas, brilliant flowers and cacti, evergreens and palm trees. Its interior is as beautiful as its coasts. The views everywhere are sweeping and gorgeous and lush and green. The food of Mexico is transformational, spicy and warm and filling like a big, boisterous family. You could visit Mexico one hundred times and experience something completely different each time. But Mexico's true point of pride is its people. Hardworking, open-hearted and friendly, Mexicans welcome you with pride to their beautiful country and live their lives with a quiet passion that is often lost in contemporary society.

Man, I hope we can work this out.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Bad Latitude

Tonight I fell unceremoniously flat on my ass on the ice hidden beneath the heavy snowfall we received today. I was warned only seconds before and was being careful, but I succumbed nonetheless. While I wasn't hurt at all (well, except for my fragile ego), I was then covered in snow from head to toe, which ultimately melted from the heat blowing hard in my Saturn. By the time I reached home, I was drenched. It was imperative that I find my happy place in order not to completely drop out of this snowy life of mine. Here's a video I took of my happy place at Casa de Piedras in Guerrero, Mexico just a couple of weeks ago. Oh what a difference a latitude makes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Not Quite The Real Thing

When you're excitedly viewing the Top Chef finale, there's one drink that really complements the affair. That is the venerable Pina Colada. Yes, real coconut milk would be phenomenal, but I live in Minnesota so that's not going to happen. However, pineapple juice from Hawaii, rum from Nicaragua, and cream of coconut from, well, Lund's blended together with ice made for a really nice little fake visit to the islands. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

If This Doesn't Do It, Nothing Will

I absolutely adore visiting real Mexican markets. I'm not talking about the uberclean supermarkets like we have here, rather I'm enchanted by the sprawling outdoor markets of Mexico where you can find almost anything on earth, from fingernail clippers to voodoo herbs to fruits you've never heard of and live insects to eat. Every corner turned is an entire new world in a Mexican market. And even though I've been through the Cuernavaca market a million times, I'm still surprised every time by something new. 

The carniceria, or butcher area, of the Mexican market is especially jarring. The smell of death hangs in the air like sausages adorning a shop, combining with the odor of bleach and fresh meat for an assault on the senses that is not for everyone. I've had friends request a quick retreat from the carniceria and although I like being there, I can't blame anyone for a hasty exit. I've spent years wondering if I should consider being a vegetarian, if I should join in solidarity with my animal brothers in opposing the consumption of our four-legged friends. I've read books like Slaughterhouse and Mad Cowboy wondering if they'd trip the trigger to my future veganism. And I've walked through Mexican markets where pig heads lollygag on piles of decorative herbs, some heads cut open straight down the middle to show the fine dining delights residing behind their faces. Still I don't turn away from meat, it's too wickedly delicious. Oh sure, I took that ten year hiatus from pork after living in West Africa, but the bacon pulled me back in eventually. Bacon is my vegetarian kryptonite.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Anywhere But Here

I step into the gym after work and the place is outrageously crowded. I mount the industrial strength treadmill jammed between a small gal running with a ponytail bobbing behind her on my right and a young guy with sleeves torn off his jersey on my left. Somebody reeks of body odor, or maybe everyone does. It is a gym, after all. There are nine televisions spanning the area, each broadcasting a story scarier than the next one. The economic crisis, the war on terror, murder in the midwest, killer blizzards. I'm walking uphill (but not really) on my treadmill sandwiched between strangers and we're all together but we don't acknowledge one other and we're bathed in painful fluorescent lighting and we're all going nowhere even though we're running to get there as fast as we can. 

Just a week ago I was walking along a dirt road under a blinking lighthouse while the sun set only for my visual pleasure. Will I ever stop wanting to be anywhere but here?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Louris & Olson

Some voices were just meant to be together and, despite five years of not talking to one another, thankfully Gary Louris and Mark Olson have figured this out. They both have marvelous voices on their own, but together they become something otherworldly. Tonight at the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown they sang some of their new stuff, like Turn Your Pretty Name Around and Saturday Morning on Sunday Street from Ready for the Flood, but they depended heavily on the classics that made us love them and the Jayhawks in the first place. Their final encore tune, Blue, from Tomorrow the Green Grass, gave me chills with its clear harmonies and thrilled the sold out audience. Thank you, guys, for giving peace a chance. We've missed you.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Accidental Stomach

Our favorite meal in Mexico, at El Huequito ("The Little Hole") in the historic central district of Mexico City, was tacos al pastor, those incredible little spicy pork tacos straight from the spit. However, the meal started with a little surprise. We chose El Huequito having seen my boyfriend, Tony Bourdain, eat there on his Travel Channel program "No Reservations." We ordered cocktails and perused the menu, completely in Spanish. I do fine in this foreign tongue, but I'm not fluent and there are many words that still mean nothing to me. So when we ordered a couple of appetizers, I just hoped for the best. 

Imagine our surprise when the plate, pictured above, arrived at our table. It looked like beefy squid tentacles and onions with green beans. Once in our mouths, we found that the curly meat pieces had a certain chewiness that could really only mean we were chomping on organs. The flavor was great, but each curlicue had a small circle of fat attached that was pretty unappealing. As much as I know that fat brings the flavor to food, and I appreciate that, I still don't want to bite into a hunk of rubbery white blubber. When our waiter came by, I asked him in Spanish what cut of meat we were chewing on and he replied, tripa. Ah, yes, tripa. Tripe. Offal. The stomach of the cow. Yowza. I can't deny that I enjoyed the flavor, but I'm American through and through so I struggle with the idea of consuming the innards of the animal. But, except for the green beans which turned out to be hot chilies, we finished the stomach appetizer and, along with it, a plate of the most awesome cochinita pibil (Yucatecan shredded pork marinated in sour oranges and spices) I could imagine. But I'm off the offal for awhile.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Ballad of Frida and Etta

A warm welcome goes out to the newest members of the feline family, Frida (Kahlo) and Etta (James). Frida and Etta are year and a half old sisters adopted from a Twin Cities no-kill shelter by my parents this week and are now happily snuggled together in their Northeast Minneapolis stucco abode. The kitties are sweet girls, warm and curious and not at all aloof. Frida has giant golden eyes and a white patch on her chest, while Etta's eyes are small and crossed, like a Siamese. I think it's fair to say that they will be quite spoiled as my parents, having realized the error of their ways in over-disciplining my brother and I in our youths, are now the most lenient of people, probably going too far in the other direction. Frida and Etta have no idea how good they're going to have it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Brady Bunch

I'm not much of a museum person, unless it's a weird museum like the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston or the freaky little museum on the creepy Island of the Dolls in Xochimilco, Mexico. But every time I go to Cuernavaca, I like to visit the Robert Brady Museum because it is a melange of all the art I would collect if I weren't so lazy. Or poor.

Robert Brady, who looked remarkably like Robert Goulet in his later years, was born in Iowa many, many years ago and eventually moved to Cuernavaca where he lived in a beautiful colonial home that he decorated in vibrant colors and with art he collected from all over the world. He lived there with his dachshunds, Rice and Beans, whose ashes are buried alongside Mr. Brady's in the courtyard of the museum. Every foot of the home is tastefully decorated and homey in a way that not even my own home is. I could move into this museum tomorrow and be very happy, even if visitors were walking through looking at my stuff for a $2 cover charge. It's that stunning. As long as they don't touch the original Frida Kahlo painting in my salon, above, we'll all get along just fine.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hi. Not You. Hi.

In a Pacific coast fishing village where you're just as likely to see a herd of cattle rambling down the main road as you are an oyster diver carrying an inner tube, where you don't look twice at a burro or a pig rooting along the side of your cottage, where an old French dude will happily sport a Speedo banana hammock, anything is possible. And in that limitless possibility resides exhaustion, which is what I'm feeling. But there are stories to be told, and they will be told. For now, though, sleep.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pissing in the Wind

I haven't written about my friends at the care center for awhile, not because I don't go every week, I do. Rather it's because there's either too much or too little to say, I'm never sure which one it is.

I've fallen into a routine now, where I arrive on the second floor and peel off my layers of coats and visit with the gals at my old table. I ask if they're hungry tonight and always tease Dorothy about wanting sugar on everything. I talk about the weather with them (hey, I'm a Minnesotan, it's in my blood) and compliment their sweaters every now and then. After a few minutes I move on to my regular table and pull up a chair between Eileen and Mary. Mary always starts talking immediately, saying everything that comes into her head but in no particular order and for no particular reason. The other ladies around the table all look at Mary with an amused curiosity, like they're never sure what the old lady is going to say. It's interesting that they seem to think she's the different one because she's older and says all sorts of whacky things. Alma was wearing her purple tam, as usual, and Mattie looked ready to rock Madison Square Garden as a backup singer for Tina Turner. She's really a great looking woman. I ask them all questions about the new Valentine's Day decor that has infiltrated the dining room, but none of them seem to know much about it. Angie looks glum, which is unusual for her, she's usually so cheery. Eileen is pretty new to me but I'm already in love with her because she always laughs at my jokes and that's all it takes for me. I don't have a clue if she knows why she's laughing, but it always seems to be at the right time, so I don't question it. She has smiling eyes and eats well and then suddenly breaks into a high falsetto song for no particular reason. Last week she did have one confused moment when, suddenly during her meal, she asked me, "What am I supposed to be doing now?" That moment broke my heart. 

My heart would break a million times a night there if it weren't for the more, shall we say, lighthearted moments. Tonight's moment was courtesy of Melvin, one of the few men on the unit. He's a very tall man who could be forty-five years old or seventy-five years old, I can't tell. He's a bit of a scamp, and has no concept of personal space. Thankfully tonight he wasn't near me as he decided, standing right in the middle of the dining room while nurses busily cleared trays and I fed Mary, to open his fly and urinate all over the floor. One of the nurses caught him just as he started, but it was too late to go back in time and he continued until he didn't have to anymore. There was a new nurse on the floor tonight and she looked at the regular nurse and asked, sadly, if it was her job to clean up the mess. She was assured that, yes, it was. I just continued to feed Mary and listened to her tell me that the doll in the cupboard was ready, the bears are always running late into the night, and the little girls need something right away. I continued to interrupt her odd sentences to ask if she's hungry, to try to bring her back to the present, to try to slip a spoonful of pureed cheese sandwich into her mouth. Neither she nor Eileen noticed Melvin at all. This was one of those times that being in their old little world wasn't so bad.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

They Say It Has No Memory

I'm just days away from that moment I think of often when my toes first dig into the hot Mexican sand and the salty ocean water creeps slowly up my exposed feet, the liquid feeling somewhere between cool and warm, so unfamiliar that I can't really tell which it is. Sometimes thinking about that moment is all that I have to get me through these cold Minnesota winters.

In the movie Shawshank Redemption Andy tells Red (whose real first name in the film is Ellis, a fine name if ever I heard one) during their stay in prison that someday he would be found living his life south of the border on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. "You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?" Andy asks Red. "They say it has no memory. That's where I'd like to finish out my life, Red. A warm place with no memory."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Anatomy of a Meat Raffle

For those of you unsure what makes for a good meat raffle, this photo tells the story. First, there's a beer, or perhaps a Bloody Mary, or any other alcoholic beverage that whets your whistle. Next to that is a pile of dollar bills. If you are a stripper this will be especially easy to come by, but the rest of us just try to get our hands on some small bills or we hope for a busy meat raffle where there will be change at hand. Up front is the meat raffle number, in this case "23." I never intentionally pick a certain number because I don't believe I'm especially lucky in that regard, but you can pick your favorite number if you care to. "23" wasn't very good for me yesterday. In the case of the Knightcap there's another ticket, the blue one, that is used in a free drink drawing for every spin of the meat wheel. This is an especially nice addition that makes the Knightcap meat raffle one of the best in a part of town where there's stiff competition. That little blue ticket netted me two free drinks yesterday, as evidenced by the upside down shot glass, proof that I won which I gave to the waitress, Ginger, in exchange for a fresh, zero-cost malted beverage. 

So there you go, a meat raffle essentials primer. Now you'll be ready when it's your turn. You're welcome.