Archives for posts with tag: 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


What am I doing?  And why am I doing it?

I’m teaching English to Mexicans in Mexico, and I left my five children, two daughters-in-law, one fiancé to my son, four grandchildren, three sisters and three brothers, some 20 nieces and nephews and my dearest sister-cousin to be here.   And my fabulous “bookies.”

I just returned from seeing most of them over Christmas.  I stood in an interminable airport line and saw a grey cloud of depression, of doubt….it hovered close to me, not right on me, but very near.  It  didn’t creep up.  It just appeared, and for the first time since I came down here in September, I was asking myself: Why am I doing this?

My dear sister-cousin asked me– WHY– back in August.  Eager to get on with it, I said some half-assed thing about “adventure.” If anyone taught me a thing or two about adventure, it was sister-cousin Kathy.  I asked her why she didn’t get on the plane and go off on an adventure to teach somewhere.  Lord knows, she could do it, and they’d love her….named Teacher of the Year in her school district in Northwest Indiana and a light if there ever was one wherever she goes.

“No,” she said.

“Why not?”


Her answer surprised me more than anything. She is fearless, and strong, and the only one who could get me on that zip line in Costa Rica not long ago. (Does Medicare cover zip lining?)

Of course, I’ve thought about her answer many times.  There’s physical fear, and fear of the unknown.  All kinds of fears.  Fear runs the world.  It rules our lives, the wars, jobs, insurance companies, traffic, even relationships.  I will not fear, but I won’t be stupid.  Healthy fear is a good thing.  Look both ways, don’t go out after dark, don’t talk to strangers.  All good advice in Mexico, which I haven’t followed exactly. You have to look more than one way down here because the cars and trucks do not stop, and they come from every direction; I go out after dark with my volunteer buddies, but I take a taxi home to my door; if I didn’t talk to strangers, it would be a very lonely existence.  Everyone I meet is a stranger:  the market vendors, the teachers and students, the staff at the state agency where I teach….a fearful abundance of strangers I never would have met if I hadn’t taken a fearless leap into Mexico.

I’m talking my way back.  The cloud has dissipated, but the winter lethargy is setting in.  It is sunny every day, but the cold drops in at night and the sky is grey and gold.  It rained a minute ago.  I opened my front door to the patter on the bougainvillea and geraniums.  It’s stone cold in Chicago, snowy and bitter, but I miss it.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Peace Corps.–Nancy Nau Sullivan

The Revolution is very good for Mexico.

Sunday night in the Plaza Jardin Senea, the band played high up in the gazebo, and the people danced below on the stones.  Some women wore lace.  One flirted with her partner behind a white fan before taking his arm.  The men wore suits and fedoras.  One young


man was dressed in a plaid shirt and slacks, and he stood out–in part because he was tall, and his steps were precise throughout the rumba, foxtrot and a little tango.  The expressions were highly serious as the percussion soared.

The crowd stood circling the gazebo and dance floor, or were seated in rows of chairs, and they flocked by the hundreds throughout the plaza that’s larger than a football field.  Young men carried babies (strollers are rare) or the mothers held them wrapped in shawls, hanging about their necks, the mothers protecting the curve of the tiny ones as they snuggled in their makeshift slings.  The fathers held their children’s hands, and the young men were affectionate.

The drunks and lunatics must have stayed home.  Not in nearly three months have I seen a public intoxication or been bothered by a looney tune in this city of nearly 1.5 million people. The men look busy when most of them are not.  They stare at me when they talk, and smile, somewhat put off by blue eyes which are not common here.  I’m obviously not Mexican.  A “guera,” they say, a “gringa,” which was the name given to a delicious flour tortilla, carnitas and cheese concoction I ate the other day in Plazauela Mariano de las Casas.

Francisco Madero started the Revolution in 1910, fed up with the Porfirio Diaz regime that took the land and gave all but about 5 percent to the rich and the foreigners.  Today, the Calle Madero in Queretaro is stately, lined with some high-end hotels and shoe shops.  (I have not run into a Porfirio Diaz street, but all the revolutionaries are well represented.)  For the holiday  Madero is closed to cars, and the foot traffic is lighter here than on Corregidora where a person can’t walk on the sidewalks. The soft light on the colonial street makes leaf patterns on the cantera (large pink stone paving), I imagine, exactly as it did in the colonial days when candles burned in the same lamps.  Families of Mexicans eat ice cream and bags of (tonterias).  I don’t know what else to call the latter–plastic bags of chips and pretzel sticks with layers of shredded jicama or cabbage and a load of hot sauce soaking it all.  From the Gramlich coffee shop on Madero at Plaza Guerrero, I see a stage lit up in the plaza and chairs, tables full of crafts, children bouncing enormous balloons, women in impossibly high heels and tight jeans, a photography exhibit of faces of Queretaro–concheros, farmers, indigenous, Catrina, the well-dressed skeleton who is a constant reminder everywhere that this, too, shall pass…

Update: The Revolution gave birth to the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), which was in power until 2000. The party is back with the election of President Enrique Pena Nieto who, oddly enough, wants to change the Constitution and allow more foreign investment, especially among the oil interests. Most Mexicans are firmly against this, including the leader of the opposition party, Gustavo Madero.

The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps.

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