Eleven-train weekend

Yes, that’s right: 11 trains. Sounds a bit overboard (off the rails?)(UGH! She is stealing my jokes!), but it just kind of happened that way. We started out Friday taking a cooking class about 25 minutes (by train) outside of Rome. That required getting to Roma Termini by Metro and then taking the regional train out (stay tuned for a blog on our train mishaps!). Four trains round trip.

Only the local trains were this highly decorated.

Saturday morning we headed to Pompeii. Back on the Metro to Termini for the intercity train to Napoli followed by the regional train to Pompeii. But wait! We went from there to Sorrento on another train. Keep up with me here; we’re up to 8 trains.

Of course, we had to get back on Sunday, so Sorrento to Napoli, Napoli to Termini, and Metro home. Phew! But, it was all worth it because cooking class, Pompeii, and Sorrento!

Friday

Our cooking class was taught by Claudia, with entertainment by Bruno, her husband. They are a great combo. One other couple (Hi Eva & Hosea – sorry Hosea if I have misspelled your name) had also signed up for the class and they turned out to be fun companions (I was a little concerned when we first met them because they are from New Jersey – but despite that – they were really great). We spent a lot of time chatting as we made two kinds of ravioli and beef rolled and stuffed with something (what do I know, sono vegetariana!). While we rolled dough and blabbed, Claudia made a delicious salad of oranges, fennel, fresh olives (from their trees), salt and olive oil (which she makes) and Bruno provided piano accompaniment with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, John Lennon’s Imagine, and a jazz version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall And Volare! I’ve been in Italy for 4 weeks and it’s the first time I’ve heard it.

The delicious dinner took a bit longer to complete than expected and we ended up rushing out the door at 20:05 to try to make the 20:12 train, a 15-minute drive away. Quote of the weekend from Bruno: “I think it’s impossible, but we will try.” Try and succeed after a mad dash to the platform. Thanks to the conductor who held the train for us while we ran up the steps with very full stomachs.

Saturday

You already know how we got to Pompeii. We did have an OK lunch in Napoli, allegedly creator of pizza, and then got back on the train. BTW, Napoli is a bit gritty, but it’s hard to get a fair judgment from the area around a train station in any city. Certainly no one approached us and we never felt we or our belongings were in danger.

We arrived in Pompeii about 13:30 and wandered for 3 hours. I had no idea how big the city had been. Being there turned Steven and I philosophical. He was musing on the scope of time and I on how beautiful and civilized a place it seemed to have been. Bathhouses, government buildings, commercial streets, an amphitheater and a societal structure of haves and have nots (and the have lesses) all wiped out by caprice only years after a major earthquake followed by rebuilding.

One of the joys of traveling off season (and at what I hope is the tail end of COVID restrictions) is that nothing is overly crowded. So much nicer to travel without elbowing through throngs.

Pompeii shuts down around 17:00, but we reached our limit about 16:30, so we got back on a train and headed to Sorrento.

We had a room in a hotel just around the corner from the train station (Diamond Suite), but when we arrived, we couldn’t find the place. The manager (owner?) Michele kindly came downstairs and found us. He was a wonderfully helpful person and I bet if we were staying longer, he would have had some secretly great recommendations for us. The place itself was no luxury hotel, but it was spotless, had a nice balcony and a comfortable bed (but the shower did have mood lighting!).

After a short rest, we wandered the narrow streets of Sorrento until someone got a bit hangry (not saying it was Sue, but it was totally Sue). After fruitlessly marching around looking for restaurants based on Google information (COVID has changed a lot and times in Italy aren’t exactly set int stone), we landed at La Maison Douce. The food was delicious, but the waiter made the night. He was friendly and comped us limoncello. (Think he knew we had a blog?) Plus, they had FEW gin, straight from Evanston, IL. Who would have thought(I used to live a block from the distillery, and have done the tour…just a few times.)

Sunday

It was a day for (death) marching. We headed down to the water for some photo ops at the Marina Grande. Ah, ancient stone dwellings built into cliffs and the requisite restaurants and their touts beseeching you to eat lunch at their establishment. Plus, an obstacle course for drivers. Why do people buy big cars in Italy?

We realized we couldn’t escape without having an aperol spritz, so we gave in. I knew it would be a bit bitter, and it was. I steer very clear of Campari because it’s even more bitter. I’m plenty bitter without adding to it(notice I am not saying anything).

We planned a late lunch because we wouldn’t be home until well after dinner time. Steven found a place, O’Parrucchiano La Favorita, but neither of us had any idea what a big deal it was. The place was huge, packed and it had lemon groves out back. Once again, the food was yummy. I guess you just can’t go wrong with pasta. We thought we had plennnnty of time, but suddenly it was 16:00, we had to stop at the hotel to pick up our backpacks and our train to Napoli left at 16:24. Oops! Getting the timing right on the little things can be the toughest part of travel. Sometimes we’re sitting around at the airport for hours and other times we’re sweating it out.

We made the train without a hitch, but it stopped for extended stretches at a few stops. Steven turned to me and said, “I think we’re going to be late.” We had left 30 minutes between the Napoli train and the one back to Roma, but we had to find the right track, walk from the local station to the main station, well, we worried a bit. All’s well that ends well, however. We had no difficulties (this time) and made the train with 10 minutes to spare. To cap off a great weekend, we got to the Metro platform just as our train arrived and we were home by 20:00.

Once in the door, Steven said to me, “I’m really tired for 7 o’clock.”

I replied, “It’s not; it’s 8.”

“Then, why does the clock say 7?”

Oops! We had completely forgotten about daylight savings time. No wonder we slept so late. Good thing for cell phone clocks or we really would have messed up our train schedule.

Weekend in Milano

But first, a visit with an old friend

I used to work with an amazing reading teacher, Ellen. Ellen is now living in Amsterdam with her family and they are living the good life too. Finally, finally after trying several times to meet up, she happened to be in Rome last weekend. I hopped in a cab to Trastevere and after a little confusion (the cab driver dumped me off at the correct street, but not the correct address) she appeared on the street before me. Yay! We had a coffee and a catch-up. I can’t wait to see her again! More incentive to visit Amsterdam.

Off to Milano

I am sure you all are aware of how classy we are, so it will come as no surprise to you that we took the train to Milano on Saturday afternoon so we could go to the ballet at La Scala. Ha! The truth of the matter is that when someone asks us, “Hey, want to do __________?” our default answer is “YES!” so when the person we apartment-sat for last August in Paris asked us if we wanted to see him conduct the ballet at La Scala, well, see above. Three hours on the train plus the Metro ride to the train? Paying for a night in a hotel? Know nothing about ballet? So what? The tickets were free! I’ll just say that we weren’t the worst dressed people there(which is the only bar I was willing to set for me).

We had no expectation of what Milano was like. I was there in a different lifetime and didn’t really have much in the way of memory of it except that I didn’t think we were impressed. Either we weren’t in the right area or I was impressed by different things way back when. We arrived in the evening and were staying fairly close to La Scala in the touristy Duomo area. It’s a little painful that beautiful buildings are now homes for Guess and Foot Locker(and of course, the ever present McDonalds), but it’s the way of the world. At least when you’re not shopping, you can admire the architecture.

Our friend mentioned that we DEFINITELY had to go to Ambrosiana, which is a museum and library. Once again, YES! We had no idea how amazing it would be. It did have the requisite number of Jesus pics, since it was the Renaissance, you know, but, it also houses original drawings of Da Vinci inventions and the cartoon for the School of Athens by Raphael. Those two alone made it more than worth the visit. It won’t surprise you to know that the building itself is spectacular.

From there, we had a serviceable lunch (the restaurant offered “pizza americano,” whose ingredients were mozzarella, tomato and French fries (No! I didn’t order it…I did think about it…maybe next time…)) and then headed to La Scala. I enjoyed the performance of the ballet Jewels more than Steven did (once again, low bar), but we both loved the music (conducted by Paul Connelly!). Jewels, created by George Balanchine, has three related movements (Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds) with music by three different composers (Gabriel Fauré, Igor Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky).

I thought people who go to La Scala would be classy, but they were just as eager to take flash photos during the performance as any other group. Oh well. I finally gave in and took a few of the curtain calls (after all, the performance was over and I was about the only one who wasn’t).

Castello Sforzesco

Afterwards, we met Paul and strolled through Milano because he wanted to show us the Castello Sforzesco, a medeival fortress built in the 15th century that is now a museum. Inside is Michaelangelo’s last and unfinished sculpture and, of course, there’s a room decorated by Da Vinci. We wanted to see it, but we were running short on time. One truism of travel, even our style of travel, is that you can’t do everything. At least we got to see the outside. We completed our trip with the walk back to the train station for the three-hour ride back to Rome. We arrived home at 10 p.m., tired but happy.

Join a Gym …

Well, it doesn’t have to be a gym, but get yourself into the world of people who really live where you’re hanging out. In Guadalajara, we did yoga and learned some Spanish along the way. We also learned that Mexicans are helpful and friendly.

Monday, we signed up at a gym, Rabbit Sport Center, (and, no, I didn’t translate that) in our neighborhood in Rome. How bad did we feel when the front-desk person repeatedly apologized to us because his English isn’t good?!?! We intended to go in Tuesday but … we may have slept until 10:15. Oops. Delayed jetlag or just old people doing too much in one week? Whatever. On Wednesday, we met our new trainer, Antonio, who speaks English or at least enough English. (at least enough to torture us!)

We got two really important things out of our first day:

  • We can count to 12 in Italian!
  • We now know how out of shape we really are.

We are sore, but we did go back today. We have to make up for living around the corner from Pasticceria Tiramisù plus Italian bread, pasta, and cheese.

We are starting to feel like we live here after a wonderful week with David and Stacey. The downside to that is we aren’t playing tourist except for weekends. Life is tough.

Friday Death March

Friday, we decided to head to Trastevere, a neighborhood not far from us, but difficult to get to by train. It was death march time! The southernmost hill of Rome is nearby and offers views of the entire city. We did our usual and marched up and were not disappointed (But we – or at least I – was in pain). There’s also the Finnish embassy and a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, hero of Italian unification, plus a gravel walkway with the busts of soldiers who fought with Garibaldi. Sad to say, in a battle between those known warriors of the world, the French and Italians, the French won the day and Garibaldi and his soldiers’ efforts to protect Rome were in vain.

Garibaldi

We then headed down into the neighborhood of Trastavere, and after a detour to see an overturned Mercedes (roof still intact), we made it. We are jaded, I have to say. Trendy neighborhoods are full of restaurants and tourist shops. That’s fine, but not that exciting to us, there’s a sameness to all of them. Instead, we crossed the Tiber and did what we do best: wandered aimlessly and discovered the beauty of Rome. Everywhere we turned there was an amazing sculpture or an ancient column in a tiny piazza. Now I get why people love Rome! We walked about 7 miles and took in the winding cobblestones and incredible architecture. We sat and had a cafe in a piazza where children were running around after school and just enjoyed people watching. Then, we headed back to our neck of the woods where we had wine at a local wine shop and bar, Vineria Beva Boccea. The waiter was very kind with our lack of Italian and recommended some delicious reds. Finally, we ended the day with Japanese food at Umi Sushi. I know, but we will still eat plenty of pasta.

We have noticed that while Mexicans go for straight 1980s American hair band music, the Italians seem to like their American music with a twist — a very slow twist. They turn it into elevator music with that slow jazz background. Everything from Toto to Madonna to Michael Jackson slowed to half speed with a drum machine. It’s pretty amusing.

Funny aside: Someone in Florence accidentally Airdropped me a bunch of photos. They are all portraits of one man. People: Be careful who you Airdrop. I won’t publish the pics, but someone else might have.

Frida Kahlo is everywhere

Our first major encounter with Frida Kahlo was, oddly, in Istanbul. What is the artist and feminist’s connection to Istanbul? We tried to find out, and guess what? She doesn’t have one! But posters, T-shirts (including one with her wearing a Daft Punk T-shirt of her own), phone cases, you name it, her image was on it. Everywhere were turned, there she was. She also is the subject of one of the many immersive artist experiences traveling around the world. Hers will be in Chicago, but alas, not while we are there.

Less strange was all the Frida merch in Mexico. A beautiful 150-foot mural by Irish street artist Fin DAC graces a building on Chapultepec in Guadalajara. Fin DAC painted the mural over 11 days in July (the month of Frida’s birth and death) 2019. The work is called “Madgalena,” after Frida’s full name: Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón.

Of course, she’s all over Mexico City and we could not pass up a chance to go to Casa Azul, or the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán. This is the home where she lived her entire life and in addition to her art, you can see her home’s furnishings and the beautiful courtyard. We accidentally had another Dead Person Bingo session, too, since we didn’t realize until we saw the urn that Frida’s ashes sit on the dresser in her bedroom. Sorry, I didn’t take a picture. If you happen to be in Mexico City and want to head to the museum, get tickets in advance. They are timed for every 15 minutes and they are booked. Plus they don’t sell them at her home, as several disappointed people found out. If you’re looking for Frida bling, there’s plenty of it to buy on the street, which I am sure you assumed.

You probably know that she married Diego Rivera, Mexico’s second most famous artist, twice. He also has some murals and paintings you might want to see if you’re in Mexico. Diego painted the world around him, while Frida’s most famous and most common subject was herself as she explored identity, the body, and death. Unsurprising themes considering her attachment to a womanizer and her body’s failings due to polio and a bus accident.

Just a few blocks from La Casa Azul is another home turned museum, that of Leon Trotsky. Frida, Diego, and Leon were well acquainted. Trotsky is buried at this home, where he was assassinated in 1940 after being exiled by Stalin. Luckily, I did take a picture of his gravestone. His second wife, Natalia Sedova, is buried there with him although she outlived him by 22 years (A two-fer in our Dead Person Bingo game!).

You would think that we were done with Frida sightings when we left Mexico and headed to New York, but you’d be wrong. Here she is interpreted by Lady JDay in New York on the front of the Ridge Hotel at 151 E. Houston.

One last Friday encounter: the movie was one of the options on the plane during our flight to Rome, where we are now.

Having seen this article, I realize I am late to the game, but better late than never.

CDMX, parte dos

Steven gave you the roundup of all that we did in our short jaunt to Mexico City, but I want to do a deeper dive.

First, the Museo Nacional de Antropología cannot be seen in a day, especially if you are an American who grew up in a time when Latin American history just did not appear in the curriculum (unless you count how we took parts of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah in the Treaty of Hidalgo). Mexican history is rich with many ancient cultures who interacted and overlapped in ways I was completely ignorant of. One of the joys of travel is my ever-expanding view of history and the interrelationships among peoples, innovations, and beliefs.

The museum focuses on Mexico’s pre-Columbian history and houses the famous sun stone, aka Aztec calendar stone. We arrived soon after it opened at 10 a.m. and spent a couple of hours there. Maybe we saw a quarter of the museum. It was a lot to absorb; having gone to the pyramids at Teotihuacan helped. The museum is in Bosque de Chapultepec, which is kind of like Central Park. Definitely worth a trip on its own.

The interior of the building itself is worth visiting. The courtyard features a continuous waterfall over a massive stone column (see top right below). I also loved the rich ochers and oranges used as background for the archeological artifacts. We were both at our limit when we decided we were hungry and it was time to head out. When we were leaving, the line was much longer. I’d get there early if you plan to visit. Plus, maybe you’ll have more stamina than we did and you will get to see more. Don’t forget that here, before you enter any public building, someone takes your temperature, gives you hand sanitizer and, in this case, sprays you with Covid killer. At least I hope that’s what it was.

Since I mentioned Teotihuacan (As an aside: Is every place a UNESCO heritage site now or are we just prone to visiting places worth preserving?), I’ll backtrack to that. Steven had seen pyramids before, but I had never. The sophistication of the society is what really impressed me. Of course, the technological feat in a time with no wheel is nothing to shake a stick at. The unnamed people (one theory is that they were Toltecs, but others dispute that) built a small structure and then built over it to expand it, using the interior structure for support. From the first through seventh centuries, they created a huge city with apartment complexes, administrative buildings and worship sites. (On the other hand, the civilization also sacrificed animals and children to keep the sun shining [which clearly worked because it was beautiful and sunny – our friends in Chicago should take note] ). And then, at some point, they abandoned it all, reasons unknown, and left it for the Aztecs to discover and name the city Teotihuacan, which means “the place where men become gods” in Nahuatl.

I used a picture of us just so you believe we were really there. Also, you can’t see it really well, but the Pyramid of the Moon, which we are standing in front of and also appears in a photo without us, has misaligned steps. That didn’t happen when it was built. The archeologists restoring it messed up.

The three large pyramids (Sun, Moon and Feathered Serpent) are connected by the Avenue of the Dead, which runs north-south for more than 1.5 miles. The city extended to the surrounding mountains. Try to imagine the whole city covered in murals and colorfully painted walls. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t climb the pyramids (Steven and our guide, Ivan, seemed a little too happy about that) or enter certain areas, but just being there was incredible. Speaking of Ivan, I highly recommend a tour, first, because it’s about an hour drive with Mexico City traffic and, second, because it’s a lot more interesting when you know what you’re looking at. He’ll even let you skip the tourist trap stuff if you want to, because there’s definitely tourist trap stuff (and Frida Kahlo, but more on her in another blog).

Super Bowl — GDL Style

Yes, we’re wandering, but we’re still Americans, so Sunday was Super Bowl. We didn’t really have any skin in the game, but we live on a street full of places to get cheap beer and watch sports soooo. Sunday evening we marched all the way around the corner to Veintiuno, which, if you have any knowledge of Spanish, you know means 21. Yes, all (well, most) of the beer is 21 pesos. In my limited knowledge of Spanish, I misunderstood the host. I thought she was saying that there were specials if you bought a bottle of tequila or 12 beers. I was sadly mistaken. Once we were seated, we realized that that was the minimum purchase to sit and watch the game!

So, 12 Tecates later … No, I’m joking. We did buy 12 beers for a whopping 12 US dollars. We figured we would give some of them away if our friends didn’t make it, they did but only after much chagrin trying to find Covid vaccine proof. Apparently, the one Tapatío (that’s a native GDLer) had never been asked for vaccine proof before. We have been asked a a bunch of times when we enter places that are mostly bars. As we’ve said before, pretty much every place checks your temperature and makes you apply hand sanitizer (boy, are my hands dry. If I didn’t look like an old woman before, my hands give me away now) (I will confirm that it is only the hands that give away…). As another aside, I forgot to mention that when we went to Lucha Libre, they literally sprayed us down with sanitizer. We even had to pirouette so they didn’t miss a spot.

This week, three noteworthy events happened:

  • There was a protest at the Glorieta (aka roundabout, aka rotary, aka traffic circle, aka roun-point) de los Niños Héroes in which the protesters lined up and blocked all the entire circle. Traffic was backed up and honking in five directions. Yes, Tapatíos, like New Yorkers, love their horns. The protest was peaceful and organized and the police let it go on for 15 minutes before making them move. The drivers were not pleased, but nothing untoward occurred.
  • I heard loud talking and music, which seemed odd as we are on the 14th floor. I glanced out the window a few times before I saw a foot in the window. A group of men were hanging by ropes outside the building. They were patching and painting. It looked less than safe (just like the day we were walking down the street and a man was soldering something (it looked like some official metal box) without any protection or even a cone to warn pedestrians. One of the men asked if he could use our balcony, so he moved the plants and furniture out of the way and his team proceed to hoist him the rest of the way up the building. Did I mention it was windy yesterday?
  • It rained! Well, some drops fell from the sky for maybe 5-10 minutes.

The Glorieta de los Niños Héroes is technically a monument to six soldiers lost in the Battle of Chapultepec between Mexico and the United States. If you’re wondering why Sept. 13 is a more important date to Mexicans than May 5, this is it. The US, which was massively better manned (yes, they were all men) won and took Chapultepec Castle, which sits on a hill just outside Mexico City. The six cadets jumped to their deaths to avoid capture.

Today, the monument is known as the Glorieta de los y las desaparecidos (the roundabout of the disappeared) and symbolizes all the missing people of Jalisco. According to news reports, that number is almost 16,000, some missing for more than a decade, and the protesters, who numbered between 100-200, are frustrated with the lack of progress and resources available to identify bodies or to look for those who are unaccounted for and that there have been only 10 convictions. The protesters marched down Avenida Chapultepec (we live at the end of the road overlooking the monument), which has a large pedestrian median, before blocking traffic into the glorieta (You can see them blocking the entrances in the second photo). They then read out the names of many of the missing.

The monument (credit top photo: De Pancho GDL – Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72740376) and the protest.

Un Puente

I didn’t have school Monday. The kid in me was thinking, “Yay! Three-day weekend!!” (or what is called un puente in Mexico), but the cheapy in me was thinking, “Hey! I paid for a whole week of classes!” As it turned out, we just didn’t have our field trip this week, so I am getting as much Spanish learning in, I just don’t get a chance to spend time on a Guadalajara bus. (They are cheap and will get you where you are going, but they are also slow, loud and crowded.) We were heading to Zapopan, where Steven, Kenta, Doug and I went over the weekend anyway, so nothing lost.

Jaontiveros, CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

The day off was for Constitution Day, which was Saturday, but everyone loves a Monday off. The Mexican Constitution was ratified on Feb. 5, 1917, at the end of the Mexican Revolution. In the States, we love to celebrate Cinco de Mayo for some reason. This predilection puzzles Mexicans, who don’t think of the victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, as a major excuse to drink margaritas and eat nachos (not that they seem to need an excuse to drink margaritas ( I agree with them…no need for an excuse to drink Tequila)).

In some ways, the Mexican Constitution has it all over ours. It spells out social rights including the right to a good job, decent housing and health care and was the first to state that everyone has the right to an education. Hmmm, I’m not sure it’s working out the way the Constitutional Convention attendees intended, but at least it’s there in writing. Allegedly, the day is celebrated with big parades and festivals, but all I notices was that the major thoroughfares were closed to cars just like on every Sunday. I think Covid killed the parades.

In case you were thinking you might quickly skim the document, you know, to compare it to the U.S. Constitution or something, be aware that it is 156 pages and contains 137 articles. Here is the English translation (you’re welcome).

One of the amazing aspects of being here is understanding how little I know about this country that shares almost 2,000 miles of border with the United States. Cartels, migration, earthquakes, smog in Mexico City, all-inclusive resorts you can’t leave for fear of crime, day trips to TJ, these are the notions that came to mind when I thought of Mexico. I have a much broader view now and really would like to come back and see more of this large and diverse nation. Plus, I am just getting to the point where I can say a little more than, “Aprendo español.”

Know anyone who will speak Spanish with me? Or have any ideas how I can continue my learning when we are home for the summer? All ideas welcome.

Lucha Libre!

As if our weekend weren’t busy enough, our new and dear friends, Teresa and Stefanie, invited us to Lucha Libre on Tuesday night. They had two other friends coming into town and another IMAC student joined us, too. We met at Birria Las 9 Esquinas, which to no one’s surprise, specializes in birria (which is a traditional goat stew — guess who did not try the birria).

Birria Las 9 Esquinas

It’s in a cute plaza in El Centro (about 30 minutes walking from us and near my school). Steven said it was way better than the birria at the Hilton — another big surprise there. The mushroom tacos were also delicious.

After struggling back and forth between my lame Spanish and English (our classmate is from Japan and speaks a bit of English and a bit of Spanish), we mostly reverted to English, but made a few more attempts so as not to feel too guilty about wasting time in Spanish class.

The Arena Coliseo was a 10-minute walk from the restaurant. It was built in 1943 and it’s pretty obvious. We discussed the best seating and decided on row 4 because rows 1-3 are in the line of fire when the wrestlers come shooting out of the ring. For those of you who don’t know, Lucha Libre, in addition to being famous for the wacky masks and costumes, is also known for audience participation. By that I mean first and foremost that you may find a wrestler sprawled next to you or a major fight going on in your face. Then, you will have to move the row of seats back into place when the coast is clear.

Most Lucha Libre fans know to get out of the way and when to do so. However, a guy in the first row Tuesday knew no such thing. His giant and almost full beer got spilled all over him when the action jumped the ring the first time. I did feel bad for him, but when it happened the second time, not so much. Everyone around him had leapt from their seats, but not him. He stayed rooted and lost a second chela (Mexican slang for cerveza). A nice guy next to him bought him a replacement. Mexican hospitality!

The second part of the audience participation is the yelling at the wrestlers and at other parts of the crowd. I would repeat what we shouted, but it’s not intended for a family readership. Although it was Spanish so maybe … I will say that it’s about your mother. (Why is it always about mothers?)

The show was a blast. It’s so completely fake that there are times they aren’t even touching each other. They taunt the audience and each other, flout the rules (are there rules? Rules? hahaha. there are no rules), do a lot of acrobatics and then, magically, someone is pinned. They have women who parade around with the round cards, but I dare you to figure out when one round ends and another begins without those women.

Like a U.S. sporting event, there are people selling beer and food in the stands, but this time it was enchiladas and something that looked like big tan sheets of something crunchy (imagine a 2 foot by 2 foot flat fried pork rind), but even Stefani had no idea what it was. The whole spectacle lasts about 2 hours and when we left, there was a band playing and a few people dancing to keep the fun going.

We took an Uber home. I talked a bit to the driver in an attempt to practice my Spanish, which impressed Steven because he has no idea how bad it was. Once back at the apartment, we crashed. Too much excitement for the old folks.

Field Trip to Tonalá

Announcement: yes we have power! It was on when we returned from our “vacation from our vacation,” as our Tequila tour guide put it. OK, now onto our regularly scheduled program.

The best days at school are the days you don’t go to class! Every Wednesday is field trip day at IMAC (my Spanish school). Today we took the bus (which costs about 50 cents) to Tonalá, a city just on the outskirts of Guadalajara and just east of Tlaquepaque, where were were last weekend. We joined up with Mexican students who are learning English and toured the city. Tonalá is famous for its ceramics, so we visited two different ceramics manufacturers where our guide, Jorge, explained the process (todo en español).

At the first stop, the factory produced all different types of pottery animals, urns, birds, you name it. See below.

The second, Najaco, specialized in making ceramic Lupita dolls (they were $15 in Tonalá). The dolls are shipped all over the world. For some reason, Jorge, really wanted us to know that this included Russia. I think that is the farthest place they go. It’s a bit of a miracle considering they pack the dolls in shredded newspaper.

The ceramic process itself was interesting, and we did learn more about the food and culture of the city,but what I was really wondering is how the painters keep their hands so steady all day long. Some of them are painting tiny flowers and other adornments on the dolls.

Then, we walked down Avenida Tonaltecas, the main road which also houses a huge crafts market twice a week, where we got a history lesson via the many statutes that line the broad median. Tonalá was founded by Zapotec Indians who intermarried with other tribes, and the different cultural influences are apparent in the art. I think I understood most of what Jorge was saying, but who knows?

Perhaps the best part of being in a language immersion program is that most of the other students are also adventurers. I met a principal from England who quit her job and is traveling Mexico with her Mexican girlfriend; a Japanese engineer who is here for 5 years with his wife and small children; a fellow New Yorker who teaches online and is hanging out for now; and a woman who is searching for her dream retirement location in the sun. Fun!

I am starting to venture out into the world with more confidence in Spanish these days. I even understand some of what people are saying and can respond, albeit slowly and with limited vocabulary. I am enjoying trying to get my point across with my kindergarten-level lexicon and only 2.5 verb tenses.

If you happen to want to watch Spanish TV and Peppa Pig is not for you, try out Los Vecinos on Netflix. It’s a totally stupid and funny superhero sendoff set in Mexico City.

And, last, but certainly not least, we wandered the city with Kenta and Doug on Sunday as they showed us some of their favorite spots. We ate at Casa Trapiche, which is on Instagram if you’re planning to head over there. It’s worth it if you’re in the barrio. 🙂 I had a salad with beans, corn, chayote and quinoa with a lemon-based dressing and a taco dorado de papa, which is a potato taco with shrimp and a cucumber and onion dressing. Yum. Steven had a dogo del huerto which is not a hot dog, but meat stuffed into a hot dog shaped bun. He enjoyed it. I’ll take his word for it (It was very good, and more importantly they had a really good beer from a brewery called Colimita).

Settling in to GDL

As my wise friend Sally just said, “You have to be adaptable to do what you’re doing.” She’s so right! As you know, Guadalajara was our consolation prize after Morocco shut down and we really didn’t know what to expect. Our first few days left us wondering if we had made a good choice. We just couldn’t get a grip on the city or where the center of things was. The grocery store near us is meh and we wandered a bit into a neighborhood that didn’t feel great. Plus, we’re on US time, so we were working during the day, which didn’t leave a lot of time for exploring.

Then, we had brunch with Kenta and Doug and everything started to fall into place. The grocery store near them is much nicer and they gave us some ideas of where to explore. We are wanderers and without an idea of where to roam, we were a little out of sorts. Plus, we wrapped our brains around the idea that we live here, as temporary as it may be. We’re not really tourists, so it’s OK that we’re not in touristaville surrounded by overpriced souvenirs.

We’re beginning to realize what a livable city this is (especially if you have US $$$$$$). Uber to the nice grocery store? $3. Delicious breakfast across the street at Pata de Elefante? $20 for two with tip. Stroll in the evening after work? 70+ degrees and taco stands everywhere.

Doug also explained to us the eating habits of Guadalajarans (and Mexicans in general, I think). Desayuno gets you started in the morning with a decent-size meal. The main comida is around 2-3:30 or so. Cena, in the evening after 7, is a light meal. Since we were eating our main meal around lunch anyway and then having salad for dinner, we have shifted to this. So far, so good.

To top it off, as we strolled the neighborhood, we stumbled upon Pasaje Yoga a few minutes walk from our place and attended a class last night. The Vinyasa flow kicked our butts (headstand and handstands with splits? I think not), but everyone was friendly and the yogi even translated instructions into English for us. (Gracias, Martín!) I understood a bit, but English definitely helped. We’ll be going back for sure and all the body parts in Spanish will be cemented in my brain. I already have perro arriba y perro abajo down although I doubt Martín will have me doing headstands anytime soon (the death marches of Istanbul have given way to the yoga torture of Mexico!).

After a week, we are starting to understand how we can live comfortably here. Sally is right. What really helped us was the adaptability. We are realizing that the first week in a new place is unsettling. (Duh! sometimes we’re not so smart.) This time may have even been a bit rougher because we hadn’t spent months anticipating and dreaming. A secondary factor is our schedule. In all our other wanderings we had the days free and didn’t start working until mid-afternoon (except when I was taking French classes). We had to recalibrate our daily schedule and expectations.

Now if I could just stop saying s’il vous plaît instead of por favor!