News, views and booze

Plus, Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

The news is we’re officially Florida residents and we’re lining up ballots for the next election. Vote early and often in these scary states! (That’s the view in case you were wondering). We arrived Saturday evening, but the U.S. gave me some tummy trouble, so sorry for the delay. Guess I should have bought bottled water.

Florida is, as Steven put it, a soft landing because so many people speak Spanish. Our Uber driver from the airport was Dominican and he said Dominican Spanish is like singing a song. So poetic. Then, I said “con permiso” at the Target the other day and an employee spoke back to me in Spanish with a grin on his face. Nice. At the DMV, where we learned that this country really is no better than any others, the entire computer system for the state was down and there didn’t seem to be any method for dealing with it. We waited almost five hours as the computers went up and down and slow and fast (including 45 minutes after we were processed but then couldn’t pay) before I finally got my Florida serial-killer photo license. Steven apparently is a danger to Florida society so he got a temp and should get his in the mail after a background check. After all, he is the scary one of us.

We are enjoying our time with Nana and looking forward to seeing the rest of the family — especially our perfect granddaughter, who turns 3 next week.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico …

Needlework and mezcal? Seems like a dangerous combo to me.

I was very sad to go because we really loved Mexico City. It was the first place we’ve stayed for as long as we did (3 months) so we were starting to establish routine, getting to know the workers in the mercado and having people to smile and talk to at the gym. Plus, it’s just a great city with excellent food.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that we had a list of places we hadn’t eaten yet and checked a few off the list (see the food and drink porn below). We went to the restaurant on the corner, which seemed a bit upsale and touristy, but was always crowded. Can’t go wrong with breakfast enchiladas!

My librarian friend, Perla, had recommended a tamale place down the block from the library and we finally went there. They had sweet as well as savory tamales. Guess what? The sweet tamales were blintzes in masa! Can’t go wrong with pineapple or apple and cheese tamalinitzes.

We tried to go to a vegan taco place that has pink tortillas, but we were thwarted. Many restaurants don’t open until late afternoon and all seem to close by 11ish.

We were supposed to go out for one last fancy meal with Steven’s harem of Steph, Teresa, Vanessa y yo, pero … Steph works too hard and was too tired. Steph and Teresa left for a two-month stint in the U.S. on Tuesday, so we didn’t get to see them again. We’ll have to wait for their wedding in September.

At the end of our jaunts, we go through the fridge and eat anything we can. I really hate wasting food. So that’s what we did. On Thursday, we went to Guardians of the Galaxy Parte 3, which we liked, although we are apparently not discerning Marvel fans because the critics panned it. Palmitas for dinner! The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles and, to our relief, did not include an intermission an hour into the film as is the custom in Turkey.

We decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in grand fashion — by going to see Los Diablos Rojos otra vez. Yes, of course, Cinco de Mayo is not a holiday in Mexico. Maybe it’s a small one in Puebla, where the battle took place, but the holiday that the Diablos were celebrating was May the Fourth. Seriously. The mascots were dressed in Star Wars gear and had a saber fight between innings. We were in the front row and I talked a bit with the equipment manager for the opposing team, the Generales de Durango.

Steven and I had tried to get tree food again, but we didn’t know how late it opened. In the afternoon, the spot is taken by a different fonda and alas, at 5:30 there was no sign of our tree food. We then headed over to La Casa de Toño, but there was a line, so we decided to just eat at the ballpark, as one should anyway.

We were in luck because although it seemed like my only choice would be Pizza Hut (YUCK), at our seats the vendors were selling vegetarian (and non-veggie) machetes. We often find ourselves in situations where we don’t know the system and this was no exception. We didn’t realize that we would get TWO machetes per box. That’s a lotta taco!

The game started an hour after the appointed ticket time, but it was because of a “gran sorpresa!” or a three-song performance by Rafa Pabön. We were beginning to wonder if there was some unwritten rule about the ticket time being an hour before actual game time. The game itself was a blast (Vamos Diablos!). They won 8-5. We estimate the play is about Triple A level. Let’s face it, if the pitchers could throw consistently and consistently above 90 mph, they’d be in the MLB. There are lots of MLB washouts/retirees on the rosters, as well (including the ageless Fernando Rodney!). The league has a pitch clock, but it’s only active when there’s no one on base.

Our Schedule

For any of our Chicago friends who read this: We will be there May 21 (for me) or May 25 (for Steven) through the end of June so line up to get your spot on our calendar! We are really looking forward to seeing everyone. Also, if you know anyone who wants to practice their Spanish or speaks Spanish and wants to learn English, pass them along to me. I’m afraid I will lose everything I gained.

If you’re interested …

Here’s a piece I wrote on pisco.

Back in the USA

Friday morning at 11:30 we left our AirBnB in Guadalajara for the 30-minute ride to the airport.  It is the end of another leg of our foolishness. We are usually pretty careful about the weight of our luggage, but the prices got the better of us and bought a couple of bottles of tequila and one very heavy present. Both our bags came in at just a shade over the 23-kilo maximum, but we figured we would risk it. At the airport the scales started at 23.5kg and slowly balanced themselves to exactly 23kg. Whew.

Somewhere over Mexico

Our destination today is Fort Lauderdale, with a. stopover in Houston. The flight to Houston (IAH) was smooth and easy. The flight left and landed on time. The arrival in Houston started smoothly. We used our global entry for the first time. The scanner took really bad photos of us and printed them on what looked like old style fax paper. We grabbed our entry slips and walked right through immigration. It took a while for our bags to appear, which I guess is the drawback to not standing in line at immigration, but one we will gladly take. Once the bags arrived, we walked them over to the transfer station, dropped them off and headed to the new gate.

We didn’t realize that we had to go through security again, and that was a bit of a nightmare. No TSA precheck so a long line, we had to take everything out of our backpacks (phones, Kindles, laptops), and basically strip down to our skivvy’s (take off shoes and belts) to get through the system. I first couldn’t find my Kindle in the bag, then thought I had left my cellphone in the bin. After a few minutes of panic, I found the phone and we headed into the terminal. Did I mention that Houston was 39° F and our flight was delayed by an hour? Houston has not endeared itself to us; both flights out of there were delayed.

Me, The Very Reverend Esther & Sue

Sue and I retired to the first bar we found and ordered a couple of cocktails…and had sticker shock. $20 per drink. We spent as much on two drinks as we did on drinks AND DINNER in Guadalajara.

The flight eventually left and we arrived at Fort Lauderdale at about 11:30pm. We hopped an Uber and arrived at my mother’s place at 12:30 almost exactly 12 hours after we left.

Saturday we spent the day visiting with friends and family and having a nice Thai meal with my mother. Sunday we returned to the airport and flew up to Baltimore to spend the week visiting with our most favorite (and only) granddaughter – and her parents.

Next stop – Rome!

We Have a Plan (or So We Think)

First things first or a moment of gratefulness: Thank you, Sandy, for generously allowing us to stay in your home in Florida when we were at loose ends. We had a few days of discombobulation, but sunshine and a comfortable working environment made a huge difference.

Well, loyal readers, you already know that we are headed to Guadalajara right after New Year’s. (Thanks, Kenta, for all your help and be aware that we aren’t joking when we say we’re going to stalk you!) This was kind of a slow burn because first we had to get over the disappointment of not getting to go back to Fez, but we have shifted gears and are revving up for Mexico. As if my poor brain wasn’t confused enough when I was learning French, I am now going to go back to learning Spanish. More intense language classes for me. (Espero que la maestra no dé demasiada tarea. How’s that for a start?)

Apparently there’s lots of delicious food and maybe a little bit of tequila there. Luckily, we are staying in a fancy building with a gym, so we can burn it all off. We are looking forward to immersing ourselves in another culture — one we hadn’t really thought about. Semi-planned (I don’t even have a Guadulajara spreadsheet yet!) adventures have their own joys. We’re just figuring out what we want to do and need to see while we’re there, so if you want to help us out, we’d love it.

The next big piece of news is that we booked an AirBnB in Rome for March and April. We did our usual hunting: I am cheap and pick a bunch of places whose prices don’t give me heart palpitations and then one or two that I think are a tad on the high side. Steven rejects all but the ones on the high side and then I let him decide whether it’s worth it. Guess what he thinks? I’ll give you a hint: “The guy does our laundry? That would be nice!” Steven said (am I wrong???).

We have also come to the conclusion that we’re better off on the fringes of touristaville for long stays because we need daily living conveniences like a supermarket we can walk to. We’re fine with a bit longer of a walk or nearby subway station to get to sites. Our 18-day stay in Istanbul was about as long as we care to stay in the midst of the fray.

So, we will be in Rome for Easter week barring another Covid disaster (or something else we definitely don’t want to guess at) (Next year in Mecca for the Eid?). Good thing we don’t mind a crowd.

Always Remember to Stay Flexible

Me, thinking about our plans for the next few months.

I would like to report that we are spending our time in Florida visiting all the cultural and historic sites, but well, it is Florida, so not so much. Instead, we are working, visiting with my mother and obsessing over our next move.

Today we made quite a bit of progress. We abandoned our goal of spending a few months in Fez.  The Moroccan government has closed the country’s borders until the new year, and we decided that it was not worth waiting and hoping that they would re-open. Instead, we have decided to go to Guadalajara, Mexico, from Jan 3rd through February 25th.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a cathedral in Guadalajara.

Why Guadalajara? Excellent question. First, it is warm and that is a pretty big draw for me. Second, it is a city and so we will be able to explore the culture and history of Mexico. We considered Mexico City, but decided that Guadalajara is a bit more manageable. Third, it seems like there are lots of things nearby for us to see and do. Finally, Sue has a friend who lives there and he gave the city high marks.

We are still planning on going to Italy for March and April. Sue’s brother and sister-in-law are celebrating an anniversary by going to Italy at in the beginning of March and we are going to meet them in Rome. We will all spend a few days in Rome and then we are planning to head south the Sorrento for the rest of the month. Once again, it is warm; we can spend our time exploring Pompeii, Herculaneum and Capri. April, we plan to head north, probably to Tuscany. That should allow us to spend the weekends traveling throughout northern Italy. However, since we have not booked places to stay in either of these places, both are subject to change.

We are still planning on returning to the US in early May, so while we had hoped to get to both London and Amsterdam, those places may be on hold for now.

The S & S Lemonade Company

We are working hard to make lemonade from the lemons we have been given. Last week, we had the next six months all planned. One week in Barcelona, three months in Fez, a month and a half in Rome and then a couple of weeks in Amsterdam. Then COVID reared its ugly head again and handed us a bunch of lemons. Morocco closed its borders for a minimum of 14 days beginning the 28th of November, the US added travel restrictions, and the EU seemed to be getting increasing jittery about travelers.

Our original plan was to fly from New York to Barcelona on the 1st of December, then on to Morocco on the 7th. When Morocco closed, we changed our plan by re-booking our flight to Morocco for the 14th and found a new AirBnB for the (now) two weeks in Barcelona. On the 30th of November we drove up to New York for a business dinner and then had lunch on the 1st with my aunt and uncle. During lunch we found out that our flight to Fez on the 14th was canceled and that all the flights to Fez were canceled for the entire month.

We now had two choices. First, take our flight to Barcelona and hope that Morocco re-opened on the 12th, and that the flights would be re-instituted. Second, cancel our flights to Barcelona and all our AirBnB’s and then figure out a new plan. Our decision was made either easier or complicated because we only had about 17 days left for our Schengen zone visa and we really do not want to overstay.  

After a long walk and a discussion, we decided to postpone the trip. Sue got in touch with Delta and cancelled our flights to Barcelona (which were leaving in about 4 hours). We had already checked out of our hotel, so we made a reservation at 50 Bowery, where we stayed back in May. Once we checked in, we worked on a short-term plan. We let our families know that the trip was on hold and as they always do, they rallied round and offered us any assistance we would need. My mother, ever resourceful and for some reason, wanting to see us again; convinced one of her friends to lend us her condo until the end of December as it was going to be empty until the New Year.

Once that was settled, everything else fell into place. In the morning, we rented a car and drove to my sister’s house where we collected our trusty 2006 Saab 93 convertible (Quote of the day is from our brother in law: A wise person would take the Prius (our other car) to Florida, but I assumed you would take the Saab – he knows us so well!) On Friday morning, we drove to our storage locker and swapped our cool weather clothes for warm weather gear. We stayed last night at my son’s house in Baltimore (and just happened to spend a little bit of time with our granddaughter). This morning we headed down 95 for the first 800 miles of the trip. Nine hours later, we are comfortably seated in our hotel in Brunswick, Georgia. Tomorrow we will do the last 400 miles and then settle in for the month.

What will the new year bring? We don’t know. Our plan is see if Morocco opens up before year end. If it does, we will likely resurrect a slightly shorter version of the original trip. If not, then perhaps we will head to someplace warm for the rest of the winter. Costa Rica, Belize or Martinique all seem like possibilities, or perhaps somewhere in South America.

We promise to keep you posted. In the meantime, I want to sign off with two thoughts: First, we are incredibly grateful to everyone in our families who offered us food, lodging, support and any assistance we might need without a second thought. Second, we were forcefully reminded that we need to be flexible. If Morocco isn’t in the cards for this year, then something else will be. No point in trying to swim upstream, we will just go with the flow.

I will add one more thing: We know that we are lucky in that we can afford to spend another night in a hotel in New York and take a bit of a loss on our AirBnB. We have flexibility partly because we have resources.