Off the beaten path

Just when I finally got running water back, I am heading to the country for a week, where such modern conveniences do not exist.

Life is a little slower out there.

You take long walks,

Walking a country road, Ocotito, Mexicosnooze a little,

Cat on the roof, Ocotito, Mexicosimmer dinner over a wood fire,

Chicken simmering over a wood fire, Ocotito, Mexico and hang out on the porch with friends and family.

Dog in a chair, Ocotito, MexicoI am sure I will be doing lots of reading, writing, and studying Spanish. But, technology has not made it out that far yet, so unless I find an Internet cafe somewhere within walking distance (highly unlikely), I’ll see you here in about a  week.

Then, as Paul Harvey would say, I’ll tell you, “The rest of the story…”

Hasta luego! (See you later)

 

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Regalo

That’s gift in Spanish.

Last night, just as I was heading to bed, I heard a deep rumble. There was a flash of lightning and all of a sudden the sky opened up and it poured. Listening to the sound of the pouring rain is a very soothing way to go to sleep. A gift.

Perhaps even better was the gift for my eyes that the storm clouds presented this morning.

Sunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoSunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoSunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoSunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoRegalo glorioso!

Especialmente para tu

February 14 is Valentine’s Day in Mexico, just as it is in the US and numerous countries around the world.

When it comes to celebrating the day of love, there is not much differente South of the border. Flowers, chocolates, special dinners, and heart shaped everything from cakes to jewelry prevail.

Especially prevalent here are globos (balloons), the word of the day.

img_6824-qprNo matter the shape, sentiment, or occasion, Tweetie says it best.

 

Mexican Chicken Soup

The word of the day is “la gripa,” cold or flu.

Even though it is sunny and warm, it is cold season in Mexico, just as it is in the States. And just like everywhere, when one person brings home a cold or the flu, they generously share it with other family members.

When Irma was under the weather recently (now there is one of those “what does that mean?” expressions), I thought I would make chicken soup to help her feel better faster.

I was busily chopping onion and garlic while the chicken was starting to simmer in the pot when she appeared to fulfill her duty to make lunch. When she insisted on handing me the alphabet macaroni (something I was never fond of except for spelling practice), I had to explain that I was making “sopa Americana por la enferma” (American soup for the sick) or she would have nothing of it. Later when the hot, fragrant broth was set before her, she gingerly tasted it and declared it “muy bueno” very good.

Here, the treatment for what ails you — whether la gripa, a broken bone, anxiety, depression, or anything in between — is sopa made with alphabets in a tomato broth. Apparently, they believe in the healing capacity of alphabet soup as we do in chicken broth.  Science just might disagree though, as this article from Web MD points out.

It is not like Mexicans do not make chicken soup, as this photo of a recent lunch will attest to.

Mexican chicken soup

“Look mom, there’s a foot in my soup!”

I always wondered what they did with these.

Chicken foot sculpture, market, Chilpancingo, MexicoAs an amusing anecdote. An American friend of mine once told me about when he and his wife first moved to a small town in Mexico. Chicken feet were highly valued, and chicken breasts were almost given away. They said they never ate better.

To each his own.

My grandmother always preferred what she called the “Shteets,” those two tiny specks of meat “that jump over the fence last” (the tail bone). I was never really sure if she liked that part best or she was making sure that everyone else ate high off the bird while she was satisfied with a bite or two.

By the way, they do not eat the chicken feet, they just flavor the broth with them. (I stand corrected, many do eat them. Eeeeew!)

What is your favorite remedy for a cold?

Blizzard

So the kids are stuck at home due to a blizzard that has brought everything to a halt out East.

Ever try to explain snow to a Mexican, or anyone else for that matter, who has never seen it? Doesn’t work, believe me.

Nieve y mucho viento (snow and much wind) just does not describe a blizzard even when I raise my hand to the 3, 4, or 5 foot level to indicate how high. They will whistle or cluck their tongues but they really cannot grasp the concept.

Popapetepel, Mexican volcanoPictures of snow on the volcano are about as close as most people come to the real thing.

Stay safe and warm everyone.

Ahorita now

I love it when my readers can shed some light on the meaning of some of the things I see and hear in a foreign place.

Sun"s rays streaming through the clouds, Taxco de Alarcon, MexcioMy mystery word has been demystified! It is ahorita.

Now that I see the root word ahora (now) it makes perfect sense. Since “ita” means little, ahorita actually means in a little while.

As my lovely and very gifted daughter, who lived in Peru for a time, explained, it could mean, now, in a moment, etc. or in the case of an impatient patient at the doctor’s office, in a little while, which may stretch to 10 or 20 minutes or more. It is used in a similar manner as our saying right now (which also makes no sense taken literally.)

I have gathered from friends here that it could also be used as a blow off statement, with a meaning similar to “I’ll get around to it,” which is where the “perhaps, sometime” comes in.

English words and expressions can also create confusion in non-native speakers. She told me about a Peruvian friend who was a hostess in a restaurant and couldn’t figure out why people reacted strangely when she greeted incoming patrons with “Good night.” Afterall, night and evening mean the same thing, no?

Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to the time before the Tower of Babel, when everyone spoke just one language. But then again, I’m not too fond of sackcloth and I would really miss my computer. Better to look forward to the whole world having one language in the future. In the meantime, I will keep studying my Spanish.

Pyramid of Sun - TeotihuacancanDo you think the builders of the ancient temples of the Aztecs and Mayans, like this Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan, outside Mexico City, are related to those in Mesopotamia who built the Tower of Babel and other ziggurats?

Escaleras

The word of the day is escalera — stairs, in English.

Stairs, MexicoAs you might remember, I live on the 4th floor. To get from my room to the main level, I must descend one spiral staircase and two long sets of regular stone or tile steps. And, of course, for every trip down, I must also climb back up.

For some reason today was an especially rigorous stair climbing day. I went down for breakfast, up to get dressed, down to meet someone, who was late, so back up again, and down to meet them later…

And on and on it went — 22 trips altogether. And that does not count the set of stairs outside the house to reach the calle (street.)

Here is a sampling of some of my “favorite” Mexican escaleras. Some old, some new, some fancy, some not, and some when you come to them you just say, “Whoa!”

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Who needs a Stairmaster when you have the real thing?!!!

Ya, no!

Tools for learning Spanish“Ya, no” is an everyday Spanish expression that is a bit of a conundrum to me.

Where I come from, “ya” is slang for yes and “no” is no, so to me, what the speaker is saying is “yes, no.” Yes, no, what? Which is it? Yes or no?

Even though I now know that “ya, no” means not anymore or no longer (literally “already, no” or “no already”), I still hear “yes, no.”

This is just one of a number of confusing expressions such as:

  • La manana de la manana – the first manana means the morning, and the second manana means tomorrow. I don’t know how many times I have tried to say I was going to do something in the morning and we ended up in a whole conversation about tomorrow? No, I meant today. Esta manana.Now really, you’d think they could come up with a different word for one of the two!
  • And why is it you say, “Buenas dias,” instead of Buenas Manana Heaven forbid you should say, Buenas dias (literally “Good day”) past noon. Are Mexicans so fanatical about their greetings because the listener would not know if you were wishing them “Good morning” or “Good tomorrow?”
  • There are similar words like caro and carro. The first means expensive, and the second is actually a cart but is used to say car. The difference is the two rrs are rolled or trilled, which I cannot do (yet anyway). So I could be talking about a car or something expensive, unless I am talking about a caro carro.
  • Words that look exactly like an English word but are pronounced totally differently really throw me. Try getting your mind around the word idea pronounced “e DAY ah” starting with a long E. Same word different pronunciation.Or sea – that is not sea as in  “sea to shining sea,” it is “SA ah” a form of  ser (to be.)
  • Perhaps my favorite word of all is pronounced “au REE ta;” don’t ask me how to spell it though, because I could not find it in any dictionary. I was hearing it all the time in conversation and asked what it meant and the answer I received was that it could mean: now, right this second, in a moment, wait a minute, in a short while, after a while, sometime, and even, perhaps, maybe, but not likely anytime soon. Or something like that.

Ya no?

What is an example of your favorite language conundrum?

Cheese, please

The word of the day is “queso.” Cheese in English.

In Mexico they only have a few kinds of cheese and except for queso Oaxaca (Mexican string cheese) they are all pretty much the same, only varying in ripeness (aging) and, thus, firmness and stronger flavor. The way I, a gringo, see it is that they have the kind that crumbles, the hard kind either grated or whole, and Oaxaca. Little do I know!

Once a week, a friend of mine who lives in Buena Vista, a small town near Taxco, comes to town bearing handmade cheese that everyone says is “the best.” I decided to get some for the house and was asked what kind I wanted. I knew I wanted Oaxaca (for quesadillas or just eating) and I wanted the kind that crumbles to put on tacos, tostadas, etc. so that is what I asked for.

My friend was apparently confused by my using the word crumbles (and I found out later, that he asked another American what I meant by that) and by text he replied, “Sorry I’m not sure which is the second one. What do you want to do with it? I know you want to eat it but how??”

I, thinking this is a simple request (after all, they only have 4 kinds of cheese), answered, “For tacos and such.”

Still confused about “what kind” of cheese I wanted, he told me he would send a message in Spanish and would I please show it to Irma and have her respond. But Irma, not having her “lentes” (glasses), could not read the message, so I handed my phone to her grandson to read and reply in Spanish.

Cheese stall at the mercado, Chilpancingo, MexicoA very lively conversation discussing cheese names ensued between them. I imagine, she just buys it, like I do, hard, soft or crumbly, from the cheese stalls in the “mercado” (market.) Finally, they settled on a couple kinds by name (manchego or criollo), then changed their minds and asked for cotija or criollo.

Thinking we had settled on the quantity and kind of cheese, I headed up to my room on the fourth floor. About the time I was taking off my shoes, I received another message. My friend wanted to know if they wanted “suave” (soft) or “seko” (hard) and told me that one kind came both ways and the other only came “seko.” So down the stairs I went to ask an “otro pregunta” (another question.)

Criollo seko being decided upon, my friend acknowledged the choice with a “Sorry now.”

This sent me into peals of laughter. He was not the one to take 20 minutes to figure out what kind of cheese we wanted, nor was it his confusion to be sorry for. After saying so, I replied facetiously, “You only have a few kinds of cheese, how hard can it be?”

To which he replied, “Just a little hard. Don’t worry,” which had me laughing even harder.

I explained that, “In Wisconsin, we have hundreds of kinds of cheese to choose from. This is too funny!”

“jaja” (ha ha),he replied.

To be fair, the Mexican food guru at Epicurious says there are seven kinds of Mexican cheese. The kinds I know are:

Queso Fresco (Fresh cheese): Aged only a few days, it is soft and crumbly and can be used like feta. (I think this may be the kind I was thinking of.) I have since learned that cheese here is made from raw milk and because this cheese is not aged very long, it can possibly carry a bacteria that can make you sick. You should definitely cook it.

Chili con QuesoQueso Cotija: A hard cheese that is sold in rounds or grated from large blocks. The unique thing about this cheese is that it does not melt, it only softens, making it perfect for Chile con Queso – where you brown the cheese on a griddle, then serve it in chile verde sauce like soup. Yummy. The browned cheese is delicious all by itself too.

Tinga tosadas, Taxco, Mexico

 

Queso Criollo: Is a local cheese made only here in the state of Guerrero. It appears, by its use, to be similar in nature to Cotija. Better to crumble this kind than Fresco.

Queso Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Queso de Oaxaca:
My favorite, because we have nothing like it in the States, comes in broad strands that resemble string cheese, only softer. It’s unique texture comes from stretching the cheese as it is made. Pull it apart and put it on beans, tostadas, or soups, or because it melts wonderfully, in quesadillas. I will often buy a few pesos worth for an easy snack on the go.

Tostadas with crema, Taxco, MexicoAnd then of course there is that other dairy product — crema, a thick fresh or slightly sour cream (like the French creme fraiche) that is dolloped on tacos, tostadas, and in soups.

 

 

 

For a description of other Mexican cheeses and some delicious sounding recipes, see the Mexican cheese article in Epicurious.

Caliente y Frio (Hot and Cold)

These are the words of the day in honor of my friend, Vanessa, who left this morning to visit her family in Wisconsin. It will be an adventure for sure.

When I awoke I checked the temperature and she is in for a shock when she lands.
Taxco    59 with sunshine and a high expected of 78
Madison   -5 with a high expected of only 14

At Posade de Mision, Taxco, MexicoVanessa has not been to Wisconsin in the winter for many years and I am afraid her “blood has been thinned,” as it is said, by many years in a warm climate. A couple weeks ago, we had a cold spell here, everyone was “freezing.” She admitted one morning that she was so cold the night before that she had a hard time sleeping. Finally she got up to check the temperature and was shocked to see that it was only 61 degrees. Oh my!!!!

Yet, despite her “thin blood,” she is looking forward to seeing and playing in the snow.A I am sure she will be warmed from the inside out by her family’s love.

Vanessa & Blue BearA heated house, plenty of warm clothing, and a hot tub will help too. (I want a picture of that!) She may even find Taxco muy caliente when she returns in a few weeks.

Bien Viaje! Nos vemos pronto!
Safe travels! See you soon!