Blowing up the Judases

Well, if you’d like to know how they celebrate Easter in San Miguel de Allende, it’s probably not what you’d expect. Today the street was filled with people and the sky right above the people was filled with the villains….the betrayers….the Judases. They have a ceremony in the town square on this day where they “blow up the Judases.” They make papier mache figures of all the people that need to go, and then they blow them up, one by one. If you spend any time in Mexico you soon learn that blowing things up works on almost any occasion. Fred and I managed to time our arrival perfectly and I found a wonderful place to stand, watch, and photograph. The crowd that gathered today seemed to have a lot more gringos than the crowd on Friday (for the Crucifixion parade), which was mostly Mexican.

I asked the Mexican guy standing beside me, “Who are these people?” His answer was, “they are corrupt politicians.” And, guess what…it seems that everyone agreed on who needed to be blown up. Of course I was hoping that Mr. Tiny Hands would be one of the explodees, and I did spot a blonde guy, hanging with the rest of them, waiting for his fate.

Each of these figures wears a  belt of explosives, and they are lit one at a time. A few of them fail to explode,  I think maybe 3 or 4 didn’t blow up. But, most of them went out with a bang. I didn’t know who any of them were, or what their error had been, but I kept my eye on the Mr.T one. (He, by the way, was the only non-Mexican that was blown up. That gives you some idea of how much he is hated here. I’ll tell you what….if I were in this country and I was supporting that jerk, I would sure keep it to myself.)

There was a bride. She didn’t explode. There was a dark-skinned woman with red hair…go figure on that one. Most of them were men. Nearing the end of the ceremony, which took about an hour, the crowd started chanting, “Donald Trump. Donald Trump.” It was in a good-humored sort of way, but the crowd was  as ready as I was. Then, sure enough, Mr Blonde Hair got set on fire. He spun around a few time, and had a couple of little booms. I had a quick thought of how much of a bummer it would be if he were one of the ones that didn’t explode. But, then…Yes!!! He went out in a blaze of glory.

I am including a few more pictures. First we have the bride who survived. Then we have Mr. T set on fire. The third is of his demise. The last two are just two random, but really good, explosions. All in all, a great event. Fred thought it was a little barbaric. I thought it was quite cathartic. Got a Judas in your life? Blow that sucker up!!DSCF7519web.jpg

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Going to the Dogs (and Cats)

When we first moved to San Miguel de Allende I became aware very quickly that there are many wonderful organizations in this town that work to make life better for everyone. I knew I would decide that there would be that one special thing that would arouse my passion, I just wasn’t sure what it would be. Today, I found out. Amigos de Animales is an organization that works with people and their pets. They sponsor free neuter and spay clinics both in town and in the campo. Today I visited one of those clinics.

I heard about this last night at a dinner party. The woman who told me about it had spent the day volunteering at a clinic they are having this weekend. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and she said what she thinks they need is someone to document the great work that they are doing. So, today I took my camera and Fred and I walked over to San Antonio to take a look and take a few pictures. I was quite moved. Not only by the work this organization does but also by the amazing love I saw between the people and their animals. Vets and assistants volunteer their time, and they get it done. The people sit with their pets while they come around and then take them home.

I look forward to doing whatever I can to help with this work. Nothing breaks my heart like seeing a dog on the street who has obviously just had puppies scrounging around in trash cans for food. The people who were at the clinic…both volunteers and pet owners…all seemed very happy to be doing their parts to solve this problem.

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Let’s Make FaceBook Great Again

I don’t know about you guys, but I am so very tired of seeing a certain very repulsive person, who will go unnamed because I’m even tired of seeing the word in print, when I look at FaceBook. You know the one…the ugly, nasty guy who is in the lead for the Republican nomination. I want to have fun again with FaceBook, and not get depressed about US politics. My friend, Edward Tomlin, put up a picture yesterday of his precious pups and suggest we should all work together to put the fun back into FaceBook. You know—selfies, pet pix, beautiful landscapes, tales of what we’re all up to, movie and book reviews—anything but stuff about Mr. Tiny Hands.

So, I’m going to kick this off by telling you about what happened in San Miguel yesterday. It was the Festival of Our Lord of the Conquest. This has to do with Indian conchero dancers dancing in front of the Parroquia from dawn until dusk to celebrate the acceptance of Christ by Mexico’s indigenous people. (Thanks to my friend Linda Bacon for all the info). The good news about this conversion is that the people of Mexico, while accepting much about Catholicism, also managed to keep their own traditions, as these dancers fully illustrate. It always makes me happy to see this wonderful mix of cultures, and to see the people holding tight to the beauty of their ancient rituals.

I am including some shots I took yesterday morning…I didn’t have the stamina to watch this until the end, but could hear the drumming all day. It was pretty wonderful. The guys taking a break in the last picture here were part of a very interesting dancing group of guys in drag, wearing very stylized masks of painted caucasian women. I have seen this before at festivals in Mexico…where men take the opportunity to dress as women. Drag seems to be a part of every culture. DSCF6975webDSCF6990webDSCF7015webDSCF7021webDSCF7129web

The Perfect Guests

Fred and I have moved to a little town that gets big reviews. In almost any list of “Best Places..” San Miguel de Allende shows up. It is certainly the best place we have ever been. We frequently look at each other and say, “Can you believe we did this?”

We anticipate quite a few guests here in San Miguel. In fact, one of the things we love about this place is that it is a place that our friends are happy to visit. Let’s face it…you are going to have more visitors in a World Heritage City than you are in, say, Keokuk, Iowa or Cherokee, Alabama.

This past week we had our first houseguests, Jonny and Amanda Gleaton. I have to say, they were the perfect guests. They could write a book about how to be a perfect guest. But, since they probably have no plans to do that, I am going to write a little blog post about it. Here goes: 1. If you are visiting someone who has frequent houseguests, remember that you are the one who is on vacation. They are actually living their real lives and have routine things they need to do on a daily basis. Come prepared to spend some time entertaining yourself. Get a map. Get a guidebook. Head out on your own for part of the day.  2. Even though they may have a housekeeper, they still have to set the table, prepare food, and clean up. Help out with this. Load the dishwasher. Unload the dishwasher. Make your bed. The housekeeper here only comes twice a week. And, while you’re at it, put your sheets in a pile before you leave. She will really appreciate that. 3. Tip people. Remember, these are people that your hosts are going to continue to do business with. A good tip in Mexico is 15%. If you want to really rock, go ahead and tip 20%. Whatever service you are tipping for is going to be a bargain, because that’s how it is in Mexico. Your generosity reflects well on your hosts. 4. Take your hosts out to a nice dinner. They love treats. Go easy on Host Gifts. Jonny and Amanda came up with a Jim Dandy, but remember that your hosts have worked hard to edit their stuff. 5. If your hosts suggest an activity that doesn’t really sound like fun, say so. They are just trying to make you happy. Whatever it is. If they really want to go, they’ll go anyway or they’ll go another time. Don’t hesitate to speak up. Also be aware that there may be some things you would like to do that either may not interest your hosts, or they may have done it and gotten over it. Taxis here are inexpensive. For example, if you want to go to the Hot Springs, be prepared to take a taxi. We have been twice and are done. 6. Be prepared. San Miguel is certainly fabulous, but it is Mexico. You will see things that might upset or puzzle you because you are in a different culture. It isn’t your job to judge it. Remember, your hosts have chosen to completely sell out and live here. They are okay with it, and probably don’t want to hear your negative feedback. They also don’t want to hear your complaints. Seriously. If you are a whiner, stay at home. 7. If you know a little Spanish, don’t be afraid to use it. The people here are generally very patient and appreciate it when you try.

That’s about it. Jonny and Amanda fulfilled all these suggestions beautifully. It was so wonderfully easy to have them around. Jonny and Fred had fun playing guitar together, and Jonny even sang a song at a New Year’s Eve party, much to the delight of his hostess there. On the last day they were here we took them out to our friends Anado and Richard’s house. That was an example of keeping the best for the last. The week they were here flew by, and we hope they will return many times. We look forward to other guests as well. Guests in our home have always brought us a great deal of pleasure. Especially when they are as well-behaved as Jonny and Amanda.

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La Cucina di Afrodita, a lunch in the country

justin.jpgLast year when we visited in San Miguel de Allende, we met a charming couple from Sicily, who had just moved here and were living out in the country at Rancho Jaguar. We really enjoyed their company and realized very soon that Laura was a spectacular cook. Right about the time we left they had started a catering business, and were beginning to serve meals in their home, which is located close to Atotonilco. Part of the fun of visiting  them is the setting, which is on the property of an amazing nursery of very beautiful desert plants. Chickens and turkeys and various friendly dogs and cats complete the picture…you are really out in the campo.

The  meals that are served at the home of Laura and her handsome husband Justin, have the atmosphere of an intimate party at the home of a friend…a friend who can really cook. We were excited this afternoon to join the group that gathered there for lunch. People are seated at two long tables, and encouraged to chat and visit with each other. You arrive anticipating a wonderful meal, which you will definitely have, and you leave having made new friends. They have a garden there as well, so much of the produce is grown on site. They can comfortably serve about 20 people and focus on late lunches on Saturdays and Sundays, but can be booked for other times as well. There is a welcome cocktail when you arrive, which is served while you mingle with the other guests, and wine is served with the meal. Laura is a magician in the kitchen and Justin turns on the charm in the front of the house. Her kitchen is tiny but the food is a big production, and impeccable. They make everything….the bread, the cheese, even the limoncello. These two are a real gift to San Miguel and if you live here, or if you plan to visit, this is a must-do experience. They have a website as well as a FaceBook page, La Cucina di Afrodita. Check them out for more information. And, by all means get their newsletter. http://lacucinadiafrodita.wix.com/lacucinadiafrodita#!

The meal today was Tomato Soup with housemade ricotta cheese and fresh baked croutons, followed by Blueberry Risotto with porcini mushrooms that they brought back from Italy. While this sounds like a rather strange combination, just trust me, it works. Next was a gorgeous salad with greens so fresh they seemed to sing, Roasted  Salmon with a wonderful looking pistachio crust and sauce of potatoes (for Fred), an incredible dessert called Blanco y Negro, which involved a puff pastry, whipped cream and chocolate mousse. I have never been a big fan of Limoncello, but this one was phenomenal.    (Sorry these pictures are out of order). Many thanks to our host and hostess for a wonderful afternoon and an unforgettable meal.salad.jpgrisotto.jpgblanco y negro.jpglemoncello.jpgsalmon.jpg

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Un Regalo…a gift

As you know, I am obsessed with jewelry. Since I stopped designing and selling my own line of jewelry I really enjoy finding little treasures and collecting jewelry from other sources. Buying jewelry and putting it together with pieces I already own has become a creative act for me. I find just as much pleasure in inexpensive, funky things as I do in things that are more refined. No matter where I am, I  am always on the lookout for jewelry.

The other day Fred and Pinky and I were walking down the street we live on in the San Antonio neighborhood of San Miguel de Allende. Inside a little space, a few doors down from our rental house, there is a little jewelry shop. Of course, I had to go in and check it out. It is run by a very nice man who makes some of his own jewelry and also has various things available from who knows where. The thing that caught my eye was a collection of very old looking pendants from Pakistan.

I have decided that I should buy a piece of jewelry to celebrate occasions in my life. This purchase was to celebrate signing the contract on the house we are buying here, so I wanted something I really loved. I was torn between the two pieces in this picture. One with lapis, one with coral and mother-of-pearl. The metal used in both pendants is brass. The workmanship on both was somewhat crude, and the stones are most likely dyed. But, I loved the antique look of them. I could see layering them with some very nice lapis and very nice antique coral beads that I have.

I decided on the pendant with the lapis, brought it home and put it on a leather cord. It pairs perfectly with the lapis beads that I bought to celebrate my retirement. I did have some second thoughts about the other pendant. I actually loved them both, and it was a hard decision.

The following Monday I walked by the shop again. German, the man who runs the shop, had been so nice that I stuck my head in the door, to say hello and to show him how great the pendant looks with my beads. He was all smiles and all excited. “Did you get my email?” he asked. I didn’t remember seeing it and thought I had probably deleted it thinking it was some sort of ad. “Oh,” he said. “I thought you came by for your gift.” I was totally puzzled. He had had me sign up for his email list. I didn’t realize that there was going to be a drawing after his showing on Saturday. I evidently had  won the drawing. My prize? I was to select any item in the shop as a gift. I was so taken aback that I was speechless. Of course, I left with the other pendant I had admired.

The thing that touched me about this whole thing was how excited he was about giving me a gift. I like to think it was good jewelry karma for every time I gave someone a gift of my own jewelry. Either that, or he just knows a live one when he sees one. I have, in fact, become that customer that I always used to love. And, I’m sure German will see me again. There are a couple of other things that caught my eye inside his little shop.

German’s shop is on 20 de Enero, Norte between Orizaba and Rosales. If you are in San Miguel, go by and take a look.

Love.

My assignment for this week forthe blog project with Sylvain Landry was simply, “Love.” This morning when Fred and Pinky and I took a long walk around what is going to be our new neighborhood (that’s all I’m saying about it right now, but we’re pretty excited. More later). I felt filled with love. For Fred, for Pinky, and for this glorious day.

The Mexico Moment

I love this picture. It was taken at a party in San Miguel the other night by Richard Quick, a photographer who was also at the party. I love this photo because I had no idea it was being taken. I was hanging out with a new friend I’ve met here, Martha. This was the second time Martha and I had been at a party together, so we were feeling comfortable enough with each other to just act silly. I don’t remember what we were clowning around about, but I love that Richard was able to capture a random moment so perfectly.

Last night Fred and I had gone out to dinner and were walking back to our house. We decided to take the long way home and walk through the center of town, where the Parroquia (that very ornate, very photographed,  pink church) sits and keeps watch over the square. There were some people just relaxing in the Jardin…families, couples, people with dogs, bands that were playing and passing the hat. From inside the church we could hear a woman singing acapella. I had no idea what she was saying, but the sound could only be described as compelling. We didn’t hesitate to go inside to see the source of this remarkable voice. As is usual with moments, the minute we entered the singing stopped. There were maybe 40 people inside the church and the woman who had been singing was now speaking to them in Spanish. We turned and walked away. As we exited the church doors, to walk down to the steps leading to the sidewalk, the bells started to ring. Since we were right under the sound it felt like it was vibrating inside my body. That was another Mexican moment. When we reached the bottom of the stairs, the bells stopped.

As we walked through the square and headed down Zacateros to our house I said to Fred, “This is like walking in a dream.” At that moment it occurred to me…I have so often over the years dreamed of living in Mexico. The appeals in some ways are obvious. I like the weather. I love the colors. The food really suits me. I love the culture. I love that there are so many reasons for parades, and music, and dancing. I have always wanted to learn a foreign language. I find it stimulating to be in a country where everyone doesn’t look like me. I am really ready not to be in the South of my childhood. All these are rational reasons. But the real reason is much harder to express. It doesn’t come from my intellect, it comes from my heart. The real reason is that when I am in Mexico, my soul takes flight. When I am in Mexico I feel like I am much more in contact with my true self. When I am in Mexico I have these moments that completely take my breath away with their simple beauty.

 

Zandunga—Magic in El Campo

After Fred and Pinky and I arrived in San Miguel de Allende, one of the very first things we wanted to do was visit Zandunga, the new venue created by the virtuoso guitarist, Gil Gutierrez. It is a large open-air stone building with a great kitchen and bar built on a rancho that Gil has had for a while. You get a sense that this place is a dream come true for Gil and his wife, Rebecca. A place where they can do what they do—provide hospitality and wonderful music. The minute you walk onto the grounds you sense a welcoming spirit. We had met Gil and heard him play when we were in San Miguel last year. His music is amazing, and we were really looking forward to hearing him again. The thing that impressed us about him, almost as much as his music, was what a friendly, warm, and laid-back guy he was. None of the ego one would expect to encounter from such an incredibly talented and revered artist.

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Going to the country on a Sunday afternoon has become our favorite part of the week here in San Miguel de Allende, and we were very curious to see what Gil had created. We were not disappointed…in fact, we were delighted.

We had met a really interesting woman while we were here before, and gotten to know her a bit on FaceBook. So, when Linda Bacon McBurney invited us to join her and her husband, Charles, to go with them and a couple of friends to Zandunga, we were quite excited. We went early and had a great table. This place is the complete package for a perfect afternoon. Music, dancing, delicious food, and hanging out with like-minded people in a gorgeous setting in the countryside of the mountainous state of Guanajuato.

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And, the buffet was an abundance of the flavors of Mexico. Rebecca oversees the food and drink, and she does it with the same style and charm that Gil infuses into the music. When I asked Rebecca to recommend a good tequila, she didn’t miss a beat. Herradura Ultra. Now I’m hooked. I had never had this, but it has to be the smoothest, gentlest tequila in the world.

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Fred and I walked Pinky around the grounds that afternoon and we had what we call a “Mexico Moment.” An instant in time where we both completely understood why we have moved to Mexico. Zandunga is a word that is sometimes translated as gracefulness, elegance, charm, and celebration. It refers to a style of music that is from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the state of Oaxaca, which is where Gil is from. We felt the spirit of the music on Sunday afternoon. We also felt the spirt of Mexico. It was one of those magic afternoons that words simply don’t do justice.

If you are ever in San Miguel de Allende on a Sunday afternoon, you really must go out in the country to Zandunga. Tickets are $400 pesos and must be bought in advance. They are available at Hernández Macias #129. from 12 noon until 4. Call 152.4608 to arrange pickup. The price of the ticket includes your first house drink, a bountiful buffet from a beautiful open kitchen, and some of the best music you’ll hear anywhere. Bring your dancing shoes. You really don’t want to miss this experience. And, thanks again, Linda, for the invite.

Destiny, Dreams, and Getting It Done with Passion

I have been thinking a lot in the past few days about the concepts of destiny and passion. In my lifetime there have been three life events that I believe have defined my own destiny, changed my life, and have put me in exactly the place I needed to be. And for each of these changes to happen, I had to have the extreme passion to do everything in my power to overcome whatever I had to overcome in order to move forward into that chapter.

The first of these milestones was my marriage to Fred Ellis. I had had a first marriage, and it had been pretty much a disaster. I say this with no disrespect to the person I was married to. Many marriages are a mistake, especially those that happen when people are very young. By the time I met Fred, I had been living single for five years. I was just on the verge of giving up on the hope of finding someone I could actually have a sane and loving relationship with. Fortunately, and with the help of a good therapist, I did believe that sane relationships were possible, just wasn’t sure I was ever going to have one. Very early on in my days of being around Fred I knew without a doubt that he was the one for me. The concept of sharing a life had become very important to me, and I could see us building a good one together. Because I am six years older than Fred (he was 29 and I was 35 when we met), I was more ready than he was. It took 2 1/2 years of me playing it very cool for him to come to this conclusion. But, knowing Fred as I did, I knew that once he said “I do” he would mean it and it would be worth the wait. I had a passion, a true spiritual passion, for Fred. I knew without a doubt in my mind that we would be together forever. I still feel the same way. I am thankful each and every day of my life with him. I know that being with him is my destiny, and I also know that without passion, that might not have happened. Passion to me means that you just won’t settle, you won’t quit, you won’t give up your focus and determination—no matter what the circumstances seem to be.

The second great milestone of my life was when I quit a secure job and started designing jewelry. I had always been a frustrated artist, just unsure of how to pursue expressing whatever that meant. Once I learned to make jewelry I knew that was what I was meant to do. It was just really hard to see how to do that and earn a living. This was 1976, and there were no role models for me to follow. I was aware that there was a movement in New York of what was known as Art Jewelry, but breaking into that scene seemed impossible to me. I struggled with this desire for about seven years, until it overwhelmed me. Finally, right before I turned 40, I knew that no matter what, I had to give it a try. Amazingly, Fred was supportive. He was supportive even though my income at the time was an important part of our financial picture. (By then we had been married for two years.) I had no idea how to do what I was going to do. Again, I had no personal role models. This was long before there were so many jewelry designers about town. There was no one to tell me how to do what I wanted to do—design expressive, sculptural jewelry that would work as a statement of fashion. I knew what I wanted to do, and I had an extreme passion to do it. I simply decided that I could not fail. It was very difficult to get that show on the road. I went immediately to New York and hit the streets with a bag of my first designs over my shoulder. I had multiple rejections, but I had so much passion for what I was doing that I was able to shrug them off. I was sleeping on a friend’s kitchen floor in the early days of my sales trips to New York. But I was getting up, dressing to the max, and going on cold calls like I was a rock star. I was driven by passion. I knew that I was stepping into my destiny. I was doing what I had to do. I had no choice. I know this sounds terribly dramatic, but I think that is the only way that something like this can be expressed. Without the passion, it would have simply been impossible. While trying to achieve something that seems impossible can be a royal pain in the ass, it is also such a blessing to have this much desire put into your heart. So many people never figure out what it is that they really desire, and how to support themselves by fulfilling this desire. I had thrown caution to the wind and it was exciting and terrifying. There is a verse of scripture that I really can relate to, and that has been an inspiration to me…Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” To me, this means that the true desires of your heart are put there by the Universe; they are divinely inspired. Once you can see those desires, then if you hold on to them with the faith that they are meant to be, and they will be fulfilled.

The jewelry designing translated into running a business, which I did (with Fred’s help) for nearly 30 years. I achieved what I wanted to, and I enjoyed it. But, over the years it grew a bit stale for me, and towards the end, I was no longer feeling the passion. I found that I was looking a little too forward to the three weeks each year that we spent in Mexico. I was staying home from the studio to work on my photography, and I was being drawn to another dream; spending more time in Mexico, and doing something entirely different.

It took a couple of years to realize that spending more time in Mexico actually was going to mean living in Mexico. Fred and I both came to this conclusion after our six month road trip that ended in April of this year. It was a bit of a process that ended with the knowledge that we needed to sell our house, clear out all our belongings except the things we really love, and say hello to the next chapter. It has taken a lot of work, physical and spiritual, to pull this off. It has meant leaving the house that we have loved for nearly 40 years, selling our favorite cars, and being apart from some friends that we love like family. I will write more specific details another time about what it actually takes to figure out how to move to another country. Suffice it to say, the main thing it has taken for me has been passion. The absolute knowledge that we are fulfilling our destiny and starting the next chapter of our lives doing what we are meant to do. I’m not sure what this will look like. I only know that today the movers come, and in a couple of weeks we’ll be heading across the border for a new life to begin. I feel that one of my purposes at this stage of my life is to inspire other people to dream, and then to live those dreams. As the years go by, there is one thing I am very sure of. Life is, in fact, short. I see so many people taking the safe road and missing the joy of just throwing caution to the wind, and jumping off into the deep end. If you can see it, and believe it, then you can achieve it. This sounds trite, but if I believe anything, I believe that we create our reality by our thoughts and our words. This is one thing that I know… We all have a destiny, we all have a dream. Stir up your passion, let go of your fears, and see what happens next.

(Thanks, Kirk Manz, for taking this mysterious picture of me when you and Missy visited San Miguel de Allende last fall.)