No preocupado

Everybody here is always saying, “Don’t worry.” “Don’t worry.” And I always think, what is there to worry about? I finally figured out that “No preocupado” (Don’t worry.) is used in the same way that we say, “No problem.”

So don’t worry, be happy!

Fanciful frogGo ahead and smile. You know you want to.

No worries! Now doesn’t that feel great?

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Mexican Traditions — Funerales

An acquaintance died yesterday. That means that today everything stopped, as family, friends, and acquaintances dropped everything to attend a gathering to comfort the family, followed by a funeral service, and a long walk to the cemetery (panteon) bearing the remains.

I am always amazed by the differences in cultures. How births are celebrated and deaths mourned are especially unique to each culture and even location within that culture. Some cultures raise the body high in the air and let the natural processes take care of the remains, others place the body on a boat, set it afire and let it drift across a lake or downriver. Here because it is a hot country, the tradition is to bury the body fast, and if you are Catholic mourn for 9 days afterwards.

Visitations are held in the sala, or front room, of the deceased or a family members house. Furniture is moved to make room for the casket, and all pictures, mirrors, etc. are removed. If there is no room inside, perhaps the casket is placed in the yard. People come at all hours of the day and night, from early morn to well past midnight, expecting the deceased’s family to provide food and drinks. Thoughtful guests bring something — a kilo (almost two pounds) of sugar is a common choice — to sweeten the coffee or fruit water the family is serving, or possibly some bread or cookies. Others bring flowers, traditionally only white. Sometimes people who don’t even know the family come for the free meal or “professional mourners” come to cry over the deceased for a fee.

There are no open caskets here, perhaps again due to the climate, the deceased is seen only through a glass window. I find this very eerie, as if the person inside is not really dead at all but like Sleeping Beauty, just waiting for their prince or princess to come and awaken them with a kiss. For the family it is difficult, they want to touch their loved one, hold their hand or stroke their face as they talk to them, but they can’t. Only later at the grave site will the casket be opened and the family allowed to “say their goodbyes,” which, as you might expect, becomes an extremely emotional time with all those pent up feelings finally allowed free expression.

After a funeral service, the casket is put into a hearse, and all the mourners, bearing the white flowers, walk behind, clogging the street for any motorized traffic. Since there is pretty much only one way through town and the cemetery is on the far side, it can be a long, slow, frustrating time for drivers trapped behind.

When my hostess’s son died recently, the funeral process only lasted for about 36 hours. It seemed much longer and we were all exhausted by the time it was over. I cannot even imagine repeating the process day after day for nine days.

Reading Room

Hanging out at the library. Here and there.
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There is a world of difference between the outdoor reading room at the library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and the reading room in the Carnegie library (with the original fireplace and shelving) in Baraboo, Wisconsin. But no matter where you are, a library is a valuable treasure and a great place to hang out.

Sit a little, relax a little, read a little or a lot and ENJOY!

If it is Monday, it’s off to the Mercado

In Mexico, you don’t just go to the supermarket and buy everything you need (well, you can sort of, if you like your fresh fruits and vegetables a week old and tasting like the rubber tires in the next aisle over.)

Most people shop the mercado (fresh market) where vendors sell everything from “fresh from their garden” fruits and vegetables, to meats, eggs, cheese, dairy products, herbs, dried fruits and nuts, masa (for making tortillas), housewares, hardware, clothing, and even handmade shoes. If you need it, someone will sell it.

In my house, the day to go to the mercado is Monday, that is because in addition to the main mercado downtown, there is a small mercado just around the corner. It is much easier to buy and transport heavy fruits and vegetables home from there than halfway across town. We load up on everything we think we will need for the week. On Mondays we eat like kings but sometimes by Sunday it is slim pickin’s.

Shopping done

Shopping done

Here is a tour of a Mexican mercado.

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Cuidado

That is “Be careful” in Spanish.

One thing I am not fond of about Mexico is the drivers. The pedestrian does NOT have the right of way here. Oh, sure, a taxi or combi might stop and signal for the gringo to cross a busy street but that does not prevent someone behind from speeding around him and hitting you.

With all the processions clogging the streets these past two weeks and all the vacacionistas in town, it has been particularly peligroso on the streets. Cars, taxis, and motor bikes are more plentiful than usual and all are in a hurry to get somewhere, so pedestrian, be aware.

You might start crossing the street without a car in sight but before you reach the other side, a car comes zooming up and passes mere inches behind you. That is scary! What is even worse is when the driver misjudges or you slow just a bit to negotiate a pothole or curb and well….

I had a taxi hit my bag once and a few of those “give me a little space” moments but that is nothing compared to a friend who is currently laid up because a car hit his foot or the two friends of friends we lost this week because of a pedestrian/car accident.

Time and unforeseen occurrence may befall us all, however, it is always wise to be careful out there.

Motorbikes, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

Calor

Studying Spanish in a hammockCalor is the Spanish word for hot when you are talking about the weather or climate.

April and May being the hottest months of the year – the sun is mighty strong at this latitude and there are few if any clouds to deflect its rays. That means that afternoons get very warm, well into the 80s.  However, houses are built to deflect the heat — it truly is 10 degrees cooler in the shade, and unlike August in Wisconsin, cool breezes come down from the mountain at night and make sleeping tolerable.

Many people here are complaining about the heat. Apparently no one remembers a year when it was so warm this early. Yet they still wear long sleeve sweaters and wrap their babies up in heavy fleece blankets with winter hats on their heads when they take them out. I don’t get it.

I could understand, light, long sleeved clothing to protect the skin from the sun’s rays, and even a light blanket swaddling a newborn, but if it is 80 degrees and you or the baby are sweating, let’s lighten up in the clothing department!

I know I am different. I come down here in the middle of winter, when it is truly FRIO (cold) for them, and I wear short or sleeveless tops, with perhaps a long sleeve shirt over my shoulders in the early morn and a sweater at night. I come from a much colder climate though and the mid-60s of December feels warm to me. Only two or three times did a cold front come through where I needed to put on socks, a fleece, or once, for the first time ever, even don a jacket to protect from the cold rain.

I go barefoot and sleep with my door open for fresh cool air. To the typical Mexican, this behavior is asking to develop a cold. They always wear shoes because the tile floors are “muy frio,” and sleep with their rooms closed up to avoid drafts.

This is just another one of those cultural differences (though it doesn’t necessarily apply everywhere —the children of the indigenous people run around barefoot most of the time even in the snow) that makes life interesting.

One culture’s customs and traditions are neither right nor wrong, they simply are what they are. To me, the differences are what makes life more enjoyable. Do you agree?

25 Bottles of Mezcal on the Wall

25 bottles of mezcal on the wall, 25 bottles of mezcal

take one down, pass it around,

24 bottles of mezcal on the wall

Forgive me for adapting that old drinking song to the occasion. I walked into a grill to get some dinner and found this lovely collection of one of Mexico’s traditional spirits.

Mezcal, a relative of  its smoother cousin,Tequila, is distilled from the heart of the maguey plant (a form of agave). In a process that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries, the heart of the plant is cooked in an earthen mound over hot rocks, for about three days. This gives the mezcal its distinctive smoky flavor.

The roasted agave hearts are then crushed and fermented in large vats with water. When fermented, the liquid is distilled in clay or copper pots, and sometimes mixed with fruits and spices, such as apple or cinnamon, or other ingredients as family recipes dictate. Then it is distilled again to raise the alcohol content.

It can be consumed raw at this point, or allowed to age anywhere from 3 months to 4 years, the alcohol content growing yet the liquor becoming smoother with age. The raw liquor is called white due to its color, and reminiscent of “white lightening” in the hills of Appalachia, this aguardiente (literally fiery water) reportedly burns all the way down. And due to its high alcohol content is highly intoxicating.

Mezcal is so much a part of the culture that there is a saying which says something to the effect of “Para todo mal, mezcal; y para todo bien, también., which means “For everything bad, mezcal; and for everything good, the same.”

What goes up…

It is said of Taxco, that the only streets that do not go up are those that are going down. And that is very true. With the exception of Benito Juarez, the main tourist street that winds along a ridge halfway up and halfway down one of the mountains the city is perched upon, the streets climb steeply up or down. And, even Benito Juarez heads significantly uphill as it reaches the zocolo in the center of town.

Originally designed for donkey carts, everywhere there are streets so steep that I wonder how the cars and taxis get up them. Sometimes they don’t and they have to back down, rev their engines, squeal their tires,and burn rubber before succeeding. (This is a common occurrence at my corner.)

Once, I was climbing up one of these roads, with a hand rail attached to the house wall to help pull myself up, when a taxi came down. In navigating the 90 degree turn, it locked its brakes and slid on the oil and rubber slicked and smoothed cobblestones, diagonally across the street right toward where I was standing. Suddenly, the wheels caught and the taxi veered away from me. (Whew! I thought I was a goner for a moment!)

You get used to walking up and down, sometimes on the cobble stone streets, and other times on cement ramps, and if you are fortunate (or not) a set of steps. Coming back into town the other day on our way to a lunch invitation in Los Jales (at the bottom of town), we had to negotiate this set of stairs.

Yeah I know, gave me vertigo, just looking at it. It is a loooooonnnnnnnng way down.

Bricks and stones…

When I first arrived in Taxco, I watched in amazement as a one story building on the street side, which revealed a three story caved-in structure on the back began to be transformed into a beautiful multi-story edifice with covered balconies and beautiful views.

Quite the transformation right?

What is even more amazing is how the work is done — by hand! There are no cranes to lift bricks to the second, third, or higher floors, they are carried there a few bricks at a time. And if you need supplies delivered to an inaccessible location. Where there is a will there is a way.

Cement is mixed by hand, put into buckets, poured into the forms (which were also created by hand), and so it goes, day by day by day, little by little, one brick at a time until eventually walls, and doors, and balconies appear where there was only air.

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It took three years, but now there are some mighty fine looking rooms (habitacions) at the Hotel de Mineral de la Taxco  ready for occupation.

Silence

Early morn, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

It felt like I was walking in a ghost town. Streets, that had been jam packed with food carts, street venders, and hordes of people, were suddenly empty. The whole city was silent except for the pealing of a single church bell.

After a week of processions, horns honking, drums beating, and hordes of people — penitents and their entourages and the thousands of onlookers that came for ” the show,” milling about, talking, shouting, and eating, the chaos of Seman Santa was suddenly all over.

It was very strange to hear no noise and to see no people, not even a taxi. It might have seemed that everyone was whisked off into some giant alien abduction until I realized that in addition to probably sleeping in or staying home for a quiet day with family, there was a time change.

It was the first Sunday in April and “Spring ahead” had come to Mexico.