Archives for category: travel to Mexico

When I told Edson I’d gone to Guanajuato, he immediately had a story: Frida Kahlo once asked Diego Rivera if her paintings were good enough to sell. He replied, “Who cares if they sell? What matters is that you love painting, that you have a passion for it.” But Frida would not be put off–and, as legend would have it, that was part of Rivera’s attraction to her. “No,” she said. “I want to know if you think they will sell.” Rivera thought for less than a second: “Yes.”

The rest is art history. No one has the crazy, colorful creativity of Frida–and no one paints like Diego.

Detail from Diego Rivera's murals at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City.

Detail from Diego Rivera’s murals at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City.

The house where Diego Rivera was born is worth a trip, if not to the city, well, heck, to Mexico.  It is a vertical house, like most of Guanajuato, all bright, new white stucco and shiny railings in the stairwell, but polished and dark 19th century  on the first floor, then up and up, to the fabulous sketches and paintings of Diego Rivera. The last room at the top of the house is dim. At eye level are black-and-white photos of Rivera, from his toddler days in a white lace dress (He was born in 1886), then all around the room in small pieces of his life: the dignitaries (Trotsky was a friend), the Revolution, the generals, the painters and writers, and Frida, standing in a long full skirt, a shawl wrapped around her and a flower in her hair, leaning on Diego. Although he married four times (twice to Frida, the second time on his birthday, December 8), Frida Kahlo remained his passion. You see her in his paintings, and you see the passion and color of Mexico they shared together in all their work. I wonder what Frida would think, if she cruised by the shops today and saw her likeness as a mermaid and a punk rocker. She’d laugh. One photo in the Rivera gallery shows her painting in bed, a brush in her mouth, the canvas propped on her lap, a pack of cigarettes on the night table. Nothing stopped her, not the bus accident that damaged her spine and caused her excruciating pain the rest of her life, not the critics, nor Rivera’s straying. Nothing stopped her.

Guanajuato--cubist, colorful built on a maze of silver mines and tunnels.

Guanajuato–cubist, colorful built on a maze of silver mines and tunnels.

Guanajuato reflects the work of Rivera, a cubist city built on hills with colorful boxy houses. The streets do not follow convention, disappearing up stairways and between houses so close a person could share a kiss out the window–without crossing the street. Of course, there’s another story about one of those very streets, the Street of Kisses. It happened many years ago when a young Mexican girl fell in love with a man her father did not approve of. One thing led to another,  the lovers defying Dad, and one night, Dad went after him–only he stabbed his daughter by mistake. The romance of Guanajuato’s streets has many twists and turns….

Not so romantic was my trip up four flights of stairs to El  Zopilote Mojado–the wet vulture–lugging my suitcase. The taxi couldn’t enter  the narrow street, which ended abruptly and turned into stairs. El Zopilote is a hotel of sorts spread out over three buildings on the quiet Mexiamora Plaza. It has high ratings, a low rate ($70 a night), and it’s near the center of town–these are all prerequisites.  Pablo at the desk (he speaking English, me practicing Spanish) said, “You’ll like it.” Who wouldn’t? I had a whole house to myself, except for the two girls on the top floor who left early and came in late.  A roof terrace, a complete kitchen, dining room for eight, and a living room with a lion’s head over the fireplace and a small library.  My large room was a bright corner, quiet, except for the occasional barking and crowing. The first night I heard laughing until nearly the morning, but I don’t mind that; it’s the fighting I hate, and I haven’t heard any of that in the time I’ve been here. The laughter simply became part of my dreams, part of the story I will carry.

El Zopilote Mojado--the wet vulture, a comfortable place to stay on the quiet Plaza Mexiamora

El Zopilote Mojado–the wet vulture, a comfortable place to stay on the quiet Plaza Mexiamora

But then, the morning. I wandered to the small center, actually a garden where mariachi continues day into night. I walked to the market and browsed through the two tiers, stopping for a shrimp coctel (cocktail)–which was a unique experience–loads (too much? how can that  be?) of shrimp, in a sweet tomato sauce with chunks of avocado floating in it and a sprig of cilantro on top. For $4. I bought some leather and pottery (how am I going to get all this stuff home?).  For a grand view of the city, the cable car goes up to the monument to  Pipila (a hero of the independence from Spain). The outdoor restaurants offer people watching and music. All I could do was drink my Sol. Yes, wouldn’t it be great if the whole world had beer that was named Sol, or Sun, and tasted so good?

Music at the cafe en el jardin, the central plaza

Music at the cafe en el jardin, the central plaza

At the end of the day, after walking for hours, I was looking for a drink, specifically a martini. Somewhere in this large city there had to be such a bar for a Stoli straight up. Yes, there was, and, of course, I found it (my sisters are chuckling). The ONE hotel on the main plaza, modern, inviting, roof terrace, so I went up. The hostess was warm, as they are here, and she asked me if I was coming to the “event.” I almost laughed. Yes, everything is an event, but that is not what she meant. “No,” I said. That didn’t matter.  “Come right in,” she said. It was the start of a wedding party, Kiera and Topher, but certainly their Mexican dopplegangers, she in a short white silk shift with panels of lace, he in a gingham Polo shirt, and a parade of well-dressed gorgeous Mexicans! I’d walked into the other side of Mexico, for sure. “Bienvenido,”  they said. But, what the hell was I doing there, hardly dressed for the occasion? I drank my 85 peso martini and left. Now I know how the other half lives, and they are all thin.

In the exact opposite direction, I went to the Mummy Museum before I left. I wish I hadn’t. If someone wants to make a horror movie, the cast of characters is right there. All you have to do is wake them up. Room after room, in glass cases, the mud-colored dried remains of Mexicans stand in horror, their mouths agape, their clothes dried to their bodies. These mummies are not that old–most of them dug up from graves that are no longer supported by families, their bodies dried up from the salt, lead and minerals in the soil around Guanajuato–one of the richest silver mine deposits in the world. I quickly walked through the exhibits:  One man wears a sorry suit, another glass case shows the dead who were probably buried alive. A mother of 40 with her tiny baby, “the smallest mummy in the world,” is propped next to her, heartbreaking. Why don’t they put it in her arms? Mothers take pictures on their smartphones of these mummies next to their beautiful, glorious children.

It was a short trip, a memorable trip–a sad trip. I’ll be leaving Mexico soon. I’ll remember the wrinkled face of the old mariachi guitar player, happy I wanted to take his picture; the woman who ran after me when I forgot my jacket (again); the man in the shop who laughed when I wanted to buy an old dusty framed photo of the movie star Tony Aguilar, downing a bottle of tequila; the children, so shy and smiling at me, wondering at this crazy old lady with the white skin and blue eyes who speaks really weird Spanish. Yes, I will miss you, Guanajuato, that place in the middle of Mexico where the sun  shines. Right there in your Mexican middle, a colorful painting come to life.

Play us a tune, Senor Guitar Man

Play us a tune, Senor Guitar Man

The views expressed herein are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the Peace Corps.–Nancy Nau Sullivan, University English Specialist, Mexico

The sun was going down on San Miguel de Allende. From where we sat on the terrace of Posaditas, I could see the last of it shining on the rosy stone cathedral and the terra cotta and yellow buildings. We had chosen the corner table for dinner, the best seat in the house. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

We discussed the menu, narrowing our choices to: pozole (a chicken and hominy soup with garnish of chopped cilantro, avocado, onion, radishes, and pork rinds) and chicken with mole.

My cousin asked me, What’s pollo con cacajuate?

I said, Chicken with peanuts.

Someone said, Penis?

Now, we are just silly enough that this drew a round of laughs. We had been operating in our own little world within Mexico, wallowing in the luxury of Belmond Casa Sierra Nevada and a staff that not only eagerly made our stay a dream but also chatted and offered friendly advice; enjoying the sites and colors and weather in the plazas and from the roof top of the Rosewood; ambling along the streets, shopping and window shopping; catching up on the six months since we’d last seen each other. We were a little silly on Day Two of our reunion because that’s who we are: three sixty-something teen-age girls and one brilliant (constitutional and other things) lawyer. We talk over each other about politics and books, travel and jobs. Mary had returned from Australia, my sister from Africa; Chuckie is busy in Washington getting Hillary elected. They had all made this trip to visit me and enjoy the beautiful, incomparable San Miguel de Allende, a town named the number one tourist destination in the world, yes, the world, by Conde Nast last year. I was indeed feeling high on life, sitting up there, three floors up next to the campanile of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, the sun and San Miguel sprinkling pixie dust all over me and my cousins and my sister, some of the best company an old teen-ager could ask for.

You can imagine my surprise when the man behind me got up and said, loudly, “Ugly pigs!”

I did not turn around. Some things in life I prefer not to acknowledge, or directly face until I have the stomach to do so, which at times calls for a drop of the grape. Truth be told, he didn’t bother me all that much, calling me and my homies ugly pigs. He was the one being ugly. I could just hear my mother saying, “Sticks and stones…”

He clearly was referring to us: We were the only ones seated near his table. He made a deliberate scraping show of getting up and moving off down the terrace with his party, if you could call it that. I got a glimpse of his long face, large nose and steel-grey hair.

My cousin would not let this one pass: “Oh, get a life, Marilyn,” he said. Then he laughed.

My cousin Mary, who is the least offensive and one of the happiest persons I have ever met, was shocked: “No one has ever called me that.” I can understand that. Not until she came to visit me in Mexico. Great.

A woman who seemed to be Mama, with the same narrow face except the hair was long and stringy, more or less announced to the terrace that we had taken their spot. Then she spent the next hour staring over at us with beady, feral eyes. I missed that part, but I got steady reports. They left early: our countryman, the wife, mortified, beady eyed Mama–and worst of all–the little girl, who seemed completely confused.

We all looked at each other. Was it something we said? We decided that “penis” was the word that did it. Oh, dear. Not that again. Maybe we were too loud, maybe we were too happy. God forbid there be too much laughter in the world.

We certainly had a good laugh, a good old americano laugh, over that.

For the rest of the evening, the Mexican host, and waiters, came to our table to do what they do best: Be kind. I could never imagine a Mexican acting like the ugly americano. They constantly asked us how we were doing, was everything all right, could they bring more water, dessert? A drink? They, of course, did not refer to the ugly person, nor did they mention the remark in their efforts to make us comfortable. They just have too much class.

The views expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of the Peace Corps–Nancy Nau Sullivan

"Loco" March in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City: The jacaranda left a carpet of purple flowers here and all over Mexico.

“Loco” March in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City: The jacaranda left a carpet of purple flowers here and all over Mexico.

In Mexico, we say “febrero es loco, marzo otro poco.” In other words, February is crazy and March a little bit more. And now I know. In February, there is the wind and a roller coaster of hot and cool days, then in March, more of the same. But, it is always sunny with no rain. I didn’t find this so crazy at all, given that Chicago was still digging out of the snow in February, and probably in March, too, and suffering below zero temperatures while they were digging.

Maybe the “loco” business refers to other things as well as weather: the fireworks in the middle of the night for every saint in the book, ketchup on pizza, the refusal to stop at corners (when you are driving and walking), the urge to sell anything and everything at stoplights (garbage bags, mirrors, “relax” balls, windshield wipers, tamales, shoelaces). If you buy any of this stuff, the thanks is overwhelming; if you don’t, so is the smiling assurance that they are there at your orders whenever you are ready to buy that “relax” ball. This is a sales pitch, and attitude, that is, indeed, foreign to me. I love it.

As for the “loco” weather, Mexicans take their endless sol entirely for granted. They are sick of hearing me say how much I love their sunny days, cool mornings, thunderously-quick rains that freshen and start the cycle over again. Then, I tell them about Chicago. They look at me like I’ve just landed from another planet, which I have, and that would be Chicago. Most people here have never seen snow or temperatures that are lower than 40, and that is in the middle of the night, so it doesn’t even count. The houses don’t have heat and air conditioning. Who needs it? It’s perfect. When drug-cartel honcho, Kike Plancarte, ran out of his rented apartment here in Queretaro, fleeing the highly competent Mexican marines, he didn’t even wear a shirt or shoes, the weather is so mild. However, he might have had other things on his mind besides what to wear, or no mind at all.

It just goes to show you, you don’t have to worry about the weather when you’re running from the Mexican marines. Just go for it, loco or not. It’s beautiful here….

I love the weather, and the weather loves me. I just missed the worst winter in Chicago history, working in the Peace Corps in Mexico where it is sunny and 75 every day. Despite what you say (too much) about the drug cartels, Montezuma’s revenge and too many beans, you can’t beat Mexico for weather. Miles of beaches, cool mornings and evenings–even in hot weather–rains that freshen the air and dampen the whirling dust. They tell me it’s pretty much like that all over the country–pretty darn sunny and pleasant.

Here’s something else, while I’m on the topic of weather and how it loves me: I bring good weather with me. When I announce this, my sister Patsy looks at me sideways. Who do you think you are? Well, I’m nobody. Or just somebody who happens to  bring good weather. My brother Peter has affirmed this lately.

On March 22, in New Orleans, FJ and Amy got married under the Tree of Life. First of all, if you’ve never been to NOLA, it is worth a trip to go there and visit Audobon Park and see this tree. There is no tree like it in the world. It is an oak tree, that reaches farther than the base of the Empire State Building with a trunk that can hide a platoon. As if God were making a joke (which he does sometimes), the leaves are tiny, but the branches are the arms of Gargantua. Moss hangs from the branches. At the beginning of the wedding ceremony under this tree, FJ asked us to close our eyes and breathe. The last image I had was the tree, and then I took her in.

I mention this tree because one does not want to be under a tree when it rains.The weather forecast for the day of the wedding said  it would start raining at 3:45, precisely 15 minutes before the ceremony. I told FJ that, no, it most certainly would not. It did not. It was a glorious, sunny green and blue and gold wedding during which they pronounced the vows they had written. I looked up through Gargantua to the heavens. Thanks, once again, Pat, Mike, Fan, Mac, Roma, Margaret and all.

The next day, my brother Peter took us to an outdoor cafe for music on Bourbon Street. Pete has been to many places, but he had missed Bourbon Street. It is just as well, given the pink vomit (too many hurricanes and I’m not talking weather) and the number of weaving persons who are having a little too much fun, which they will regret. The consensus was that we should not go because it was supposed to rain at 1:30.

It most certainly did not.

Pete smiled at me, a good thing from a little brother.

Incidentally, on the day of Maeve’s christening, the weather was beautiful, blue and sunny, and crisp (very crisp–it was February). The forecast called for more of the same–ice and snow. Not if I, and Rosemary, could help it, which we did.

Cousin has invited me to Florida in October. I know I sound “loca,” but I cannot fail. No hurricanes, please. Do you hear me up there?

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Peace Corps.–Nancy Nau Sullivan is a University English Specialist with the Peace Corps in Mexico.

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