Hey White Girl, Wanna Buy a Sofa?

When Brendan and I attended language school in Cuernavaca, we stayed with a family. One of my favorite people in our large pseudo-family was the abuelita, the grandmother. She was diabetic, well into her later years, wore thick glasses that frighteningly magnified her eyes, and shuffled around in house shoes and a housecoat. Since she spoke with a garbled lisp, I couldn’t really understand most of what she said, but she smiled and laughed a lot. (She instantly taught me the word mosca (fly) by dramatically swatting away any gnats and warning everyone around her that “moscas!” had snuck inside.)

One night, as we wrapped up watching a telenovela with the entire family, Brendan and I stood up to go upstairs.

Us: Buenos noches a todos!
Abuelita: Buenos noches los gueros! (Good night white people!)

OK, I thought. She’s old.

Then, on another evening, Brendan needed to go back downstairs for some water. The family was still sitting around the kitchen table, chatting. Abuelita spotted Brendan first and warned the family that he was approaching by semi-shouting not his name, but Guero!

Abuelita, in other words, was the first person to introduce me into the weird world of racial relations in Mexico.

—–

But then, as my Spanish improved, I noticed it wasn’t just abuelita who called us out on our skin color, it was also vendors, including the guys who roam around in trucks trying to sell complete furniture sets.

Pssss….Guera, guera, blanca, blanca,” one man said to me, “Quiere comprar una sofa?” (wanna buy a sofa?)

As I’ve learned to do with all street peddlers, I smiled and said “no gracias.” And tried to not fume over the way he got my attention.

—–

Mexicans handle race and skin color much differently than we Americans. It clearly takes some steeling-of-the-soul to be called “white person” so pointedly, and I’ve been assured many times over by locals that it’s meant as a term of endearment. You could say I’ve come to accept my lot in life here. Sometimes I blend in (people ask me for directions somewhere, in Spanish) and sometimes I don’t (“hey whitey whitey whitey whitey, wanna buy a sofa?”)

I have often wondered what it would be live to here as an African-American (or even just visit as a tourist) both because it’s rare to see a black person in Mexico, and also because, like white people, black people too are called out for their skin color.

Case in point: An extremely wealthy Mexican bread company has started selling “Negrito” twinkies, and they’re as every bit as tacky as they sound.

It’s for the Birds: Lake Minerva, Wisconsin

I’ve always been a nature girl, and that’s one of the primary reasons I love visiting Lake Minerva each summer. Like my hometown of Corpus Christi, it sits under a major migration flyway for birds, so it has a whole honking (pun intended) slew of strange and interesting birds.

First, of course, the bald eagle. This is the second year the big girl has nested here:

They stay just far enough away to get a really clear shot.

They stay just far enough away to get a really clear shot.

I'm pretty sure Charlie could fit in that nest.

Of course, one of Wisconsin’s and Minnesota’s most beloved birds are the loon(s). Their call is a long, moaning, slightly maniacal sound. It sounds a little like wolves baying at the moon, but the call is actually coming from a harmless duck-like bird making a big crazy fuss for no apparent reason. (And not to anthropomorphize here, but don’t we all know someone like that?)

Unlike that crazy girl you know, loons are actually charming.

Loons are beautiful.

Here's a loon baby, which also rides around on mom's back.

Squee alert: Here's a loon baby, which also rides around on mom's back.

For the first time ever in my travels to Lake Minerva, I saw Canada Geese. I sort of dread the re-appearance of these guys. They are completely over-populated (even I, animal lover, can confess that) in the Northeast and they are so messy. As evidenced here:

That poor deck. Ick.

That poor deck. Ick. At least the goslings make good food for eagles and otters.

And, like in Corpus Christi, there are great blue herons:

Surrounded by green.

He (or she) has her (or his) neck down, ready to catch a fish.

While I’d like to take credit for all these lovely photographs, proper credit is due to Ma and Pa Victory.

Moving to Mexico City? Do Your Neighborhood Research

I get a lot of emails and comments from readers who are moving to Mexico City and are completely verklempt. Most of them 1) started reading about Mexico City online, and became anxious about crime and pollution, 2) eventually found my blog and were, 3) relieved to see that a gringa like me can live here and be 4) quite safe and happy.

Unlike what a lot of web sites say, Mexico City is too big and diverse of a place for blanket statements. Yes, there’s crime –and I’ve known people who have personally been subjected to it. But I don’t live in any sort of daily fear of something happening to me. Yes, there’s pollution, but even that depends on the neighborhood, the time of year, and many other factors. And, I’m still not convinced the air is any worse here than in New York City.

There’s basically one generality I am OK with: It’s a really big city, and with all really big cities, it has it’s good points and it’s bad points. Just with better food than most.

So, where to live in a city with countless neighborhoods?

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A Photographical Ode to the Cabin

The lake at sunset.

As this summer approached, we couldn’t decide: go to the cabin or don’t go to the cabin?

Normally, we spend a few weeks each summer at Brendan’s parents’ cabin in Wisconsin, for as long as possible. And we bring the dog, Charlie.

But this summer, with us living here in Mexico City, we weren’t sure what to do. On one hand, we thought, the cabin could wait, because we live in Mexico, fergoodnesssakes, the land of beachy beaches, shiny sunshine, and margaritas. In a word, vacation. (Also, “importing” and “exporting” Charlie to the U.S. for just a week is tough and stressful, and it’s hard to imagine going to the cabin without him.)

But, on the other hand, the more we thought about it, the more we wanted to go, since Mexico is flooded out by the rainy season during the summer months. And, unlike staying in a hotel, or with friends, the cabin is ours to enjoy without anyone bothering us, while at the same time, we get to see our family.

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A Brief Tour of Tlalpan, Mexico

Mexico City is divided into delegations, and one of them is named Tlalpan. Once upon a time, before massive urban sprawl took hold, Tlalpan was surrounded by farmland, and was its own little pueblo, complete with a downtown area, or centro.

And way, way, waaaay once upon a time, this was a pre-Aztec gathering place — researchers don’t know who exactly inhabited the area, but there’s a very old pyramid here (300 A.D.?), Cuicuilco, that is unusual because it is conical, mimicking the shape of the nearby volcanoes (and, in a crappy twist of fate, it appears the people of Cuicuilco eventually fled because of volcanic eruptions. The remaining chunks of black rock are still quite visible in the area, with agave growing out of the chunks, possibly flourishing off the remains of the ancient people. I know: It’s so Mexican.)

A mural in Tlalpan depicting the people fleeing the eruption.

A mural in Tlalpan depicting the people fleeing the eruption.

On your drive down to Tlalpan (and don’t be in a hurry to get there — it’s far) these ruins are such a strange sight. Seriously, you’re driving down what could be a boring freeway in Houston, Texas, and bam! for three quick seconds you’re driving by an incredibly scruffy pyramid that sadly sits alone, surrounded by enormous hotels, shopping malls, billboards, expensive car lots and high-rises.

Anyway…Tlalpan’s downtown area, while also completely engulfed by the Distrito Federal, is still there, and way off the beaten path for tourists, too. (YAY!) We didn’t plan on going, so we had no idea what to expect, but when the servers at nearby Restaurante Arroyo assured us that, yes, indeed, the centro was nearby, we decided to vaminos.

A couple admires a mural in Tlalpan's zocalo.

A woman admires the mural in Tlalpan's zocalo.

A tiny portion of the mural, with Nahuatl terms.

A tiny portion of the mural, with Nahuatl terms.

There’s a zocalo (a leafy central square populated by people and artisans on weekends) and gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture covered in murals, and crowded restaurants, and a mercado. Your typical Mexican town experience, in other words….

A nino plays with his new pencil-shaped balloon.

A nino plays with his new pencil-shaped balloon.

Restaurants surround the zocalo.

Restaurant entrances.

In the residential blocks near the zocalo are the large houses obscured by high walls. They always have nice doors, though.

This door has a sword for a doorknob.

This door has a sword for a doorknob? We're not sure.

We Finally Eat at the World’s Largest Mexican Restaurant

One of the many dining halls in Restaurante Arroyo, Mexico City.

One of the many dining halls in Restaurante Arroyo, Mexico City.

Restaurante Arroyo has been on my “must-see” list since we moved to Mexico City. It claims to be the world’s largest Mexican restaurant and one way to simply explain this is that it has its own damn bullring.

We went yesterday with friends Jeremy and Nancy. The restaurant is located in the far southern portion of the city, in an area called Tlalpan (more on charming Tlalpan manana). We showed up at 2 p.m. — early for lunch around these parts — and by the time we left, the place was full, and that’s saying something for a restaurant that can hold more than 2,000 people.

Of course, there’s musicians everywhere, playing canciones from all over Mexico.

One of the stage performers at Arroyo.

One of the stage performers at Arroyo.

We dined in one of the main salons, but the place sprawls across a small hill with I don’t know how many dining areas.

A cook weighs out some chicharrones, or fried pork skins.

A cook weighs out some chicharrones, or fried pork skins.

Those of you in the U.S. probably would take a look at the menu and go “whaaaa?” It’s not Tex-Mex, and even the menu items that sound familiar (enchiladas, barbacoa) are still prepared quite differently down here.

But the food we ordered was amazing.

Ensalada nopales - cactus salad (nopales, cilantro, peppers, lime and cheese)

Ensalada nopales - cactus salad (nopales, cilantro, peppers, lime, onions, aguacate and cheese)

I loved the barbacoa (cooked in a deep pit in the front of the restaurant, while wrapped in the thick leaves of the maguey plant, a type of agave.)

Barbacoa wrapped in maguey leaves.

Barbacoa wrapped in maguey leaves, served with cactus salad and a tlacoyo.

Cook pulls out some maguey leaves from the barbacoa pit.

A cook pulls out some maguey leaves from the barbacoa pit.

We also ordered carnitas, and tlacoyos (that’s one of my favorite Aztec words, too). All delish.

I’d love to go back and have a big fiesta there. And it’s definitely a place we’d have no problem taking visitors. (Ahem.)

Yes, It’s True: Mexicans Are Exceedingly Polite

This morning we visited the Office of Migration because we needed some random stamp on our visas. It’s a big building, with many employees, as you might expect in the nation’s capital. We were accompanied by a lawyer who works for Brendan’s company.

The lawyer met us outside, and then, for the rest of our time with him, he refused to let me walk behind him. “Pase,” he would say at every turn and through every door, waiting for me, and any other lady within 10 feet, to go first. Because all the doors were automated, he didn’t have to actually open any for me, but he’s the sort (OK, his countrymen are of the sort) to rush over to the door and make a big to-do about ladies going first. Because I sometimes forget that I’m a lady, I constantly had to be reminded by him to go first.

Finally, though, we got through security and to the elevators. Many other people got into our same elevator. At each stop, the person who got out on their respective floor told all of us still headed upward good-bye and to have a good day. Then everyone — everyone — would respond in kind, wishing him or her likewise, murmuring heartily que tenga un buen dia!! and hasta luego!!

At the first stop (floor 3) I assumed these people all knew each other, perhaps all co-workers in some regard. At the third stop, (floor 9) I started to wonder if I was being rude by not responding back. Finally, once we reached our stop (floor 14), I realized it was a cultural thing, and joined the chorus, telling everyone as I exited “hasta luego, que tenga un buen dia!” And, since I was the only lady getting out on floor 14, our lawyer made sure I exited first, parting the waters with his hands, forming a neat little virtual path for me to exit through.

Photos from Tepoztlan, a “Magical Town”

This weekend we drove to Tepoztlan, a smallish town about an hour from Mexico City. We stayed at our friend Susana’s mom’s house, who has a lovely home with a close-up view of the craggy, green Cerro del Tepozteco (hills) that overlook the town, which give Tepoztlan a unique look. It is officially deemed one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos,” or magic towns.

It’s the oh-so-rainy season, so, sadly, we spent a lot of time Saturday huddled in our casita, avoiding the downpour. But when we were able to venture outside, it was lovely.

A typical street in Tepoztlan, Mexico

A typical street in Tepoztlan, Mexico

As everywhere in Mexico, there are shrines to the Virgin de Guadalupe.

As everywhere in Mexico, there are shrines to the Virgin de Guadalupe.

This one is on a wall next to Susana\'s mom\'s house.

On the wall of a house near where we stayed.

There are many little churches (and I mean little!) in Tepoztlan.

Victory y Victoria (cerveza)

Victory y Victoria (cerveza)

For more photos, see “Nuestro Viaje a Tepoztlan.”