SIMPLE PLEASURES ON THE OTHER SIDE

I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, as a bride a long time ago.

Part of the fun of a trip back home to the States was having American treats that were not available in Mexico. I never cared much for Butterfingers until I was deprived of them, and you have to be a transplanted Texan yourself to understand how a Frito chili pie could be a taste thrill to someone who lives most of the year in Mexico!

Part of the fun of living in Mexico was discovering wonderful new tastes, sights, and sounds: cajeta in a tiny wooden box with a tiny wooden spoon, delicious fruits that I had never heard of like guyaba, guanábana, and zapote negro, the postman’s whistle, the camote vendor’s horn, the lady with a high-pitched voice hawking “ejotes, elotes, chicharos,” jacaranda, bugambilia, framboyan in full flower, and the indescribable high of all senses that was El Mercado San Juan de Dios (photo).

I’m glad enough nowadays to get a Starbuck’s or go to the 7-11 for my favorite, Milky Way, but I fear a great deal has been lost.

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CANCUN: Some Great Places to Eat

The food at Flamingos in Puerto Juarez is delicious, and if you want to enjoy the beach, you can eat outside, relax, change, and shower for no extra charge. There is a playground and a small pool for children, with hammocks, swings, lounge chairs, and beds for everyone. If you choose to eat inside the restaurant, the tropical ambience, the views of Isla Mujeres, the Hotel Zone, and the ocean will make it worth your while!

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Our FAVORITE special-occasion place is John Gray’s Kitchen by Dora in Puerto Morelos. As if the finger-licking good food and romantic atmosphere were not enough, John Gray’s is doubly special because Dora, the hands-on owner, is a special friend fom Guadalajara! That brownie a’la’mode is so good it should be illegal! Website

CANCUN: 6 Fun Things To Do

FERRY TRIP FROM CANCUN TO ISLA MUJERES

Getting there is half the fun of a ferry trip from Cancun to Isla Mujeres! Once you arrive, you can hire a taxi to drive you around the island, stopping to gaze at the beautiful ocean views and take some pictures. A late, leisurely lunch at a restaurant in town is perfect before heading back to Cancun. Ferry tickets are 300 pesos round trip (about $15 USD).

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CENOTES

There are many hidden pools, cenotes, within easy driving distance of Cancun. This WEBSITE describes the cenotes and what they offer. Bus tours are available for some of them.

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CROCO CUN INTERACTIVE ZOO

Less than an hour away from Cancun, close to Puerto Morelos. The name and pictures speak for themselves. A guided tour of 60-75 minutes. ADULTS $32 USD, CHILDREN 6-12 and SENIOR CITIZENS, $22. WEBSITE

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XENSES SENSORY THEME PARK

XENSES has been highly recommended by friends, especially for the kids, but it seems to be a fun experience for everybody and well worth the cost. ADULTS, $69 USD, CHILDREN 5-11, $34 USD. There are a lot of discounts and packages available to bring the price down. It is an easy drive from Cancun.  WEBSITE

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CHICHEN-ITZA

Two-and-a-half hours by car from Cancun. An admission ticket with pool privileges at Mayaland Complex is $23.76 US per person. WEBSITE

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XCARET

XCARET is less than an hour’s drive from Cancun. A day pass includes buffet lunch, park attractions and shows, access to beach and pools, snorkeling ($10 USD refundable deposit required) with showers and dressing rooms. ADULTS, $129 USD, CHILDREN, $64 for. There are discounts for early reservation and a lot of package deals. WEBSITE

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LA ISLA SHOPPING VILLAGE

An upscale mall in the Hotel Zone. It has high-end US and European brands, restaurants and coffee shops, as well as a few stores featuring typical Mexican crafts and gift items. WEBSITE

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CINCO DE MAYO: Afterthoughts

The rhetoric of the last two years about walls, rapists, etc. has understandably made people more sensitive to stereotypical costumes and other Cinco de Mayo Practices that are doubly disrespectful when the perpetrator has not shown fundamental respect for the people and their culture in the first place.

For a long time, I’ve been slightly annoyed by any excessive excitement surrounding Cinco de Mayo. (I am often annoyed by excessive excitement surrounding anything.) However, when I accepted a job teaching Spanish in Bells, Texas, I could not escape Cinco Furor. The school allowed the Spanish teacher–for most of my time there I was the only Spanish teacher–to have classroom parties on certain days for “cultural” purposes. “When IS Cinco de Mayo?” the principal had asked as we worked out the calendar for a new school year. High school students are absolutely unforgiving if a teacher passes up an occasion to bring food to class, so I reluctantly agreed to join in the Cinco de Mayo frenzy for the sake of taquitos and cokes. I set out to find cut paper in red, white, and green, some Mexican flags and a few overworked serapes to justify a little feast during otherwise forbidden hours.

Long before I took that Spanish-teaching job, I had lived in Mexico, where Cinco de Mayo is not an official holiday. History teachers mentioned the Battle of Puebla in their classes on that day, television stations projected stock history documentaries, and newspapers would publish a perfunctory editorial or two. That was it. In Puebla, where the battle took place in 1862, there are muted celebrations. On occasion, May 1, which IS a holiday (oddly enough, a commemoration of the Haymarket affair, not celebrated in the United States, where it happened) and May 5, Mexico’s non-holiday would come together with a weekend in such a way as to justify a “puente,” a five-day weekend “bridge”, always welcomed joyfully by teachers and students alike as they struggled toward the finish of another school year. That was the extent of excitement about Cinco de Mayo.

Determined that the students should at least know that Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexico’s Independence Day, I searched for the only teaching tool that students would accept on a party day: a movie.  I found one that was both entertaining (to me and a few adolescent history buffs, at least) and enlightening. “Juarez,” a 1939 release, featured Bette Davis, iconic film star from the early days of cinema, as the beautiful but unfortunate Charlotte of Belgium, who, with her husband Maximilian of Austria, occupied the imperial throne in Chapultepec Castle from 1864-1867.

You see, that surprising Mexican victory of May 5, 1862, in the city of Puebla, was bittersweet. It was followed by a long, hard struggle for independence, this time from France, not Spain. If, like me, you are a somewhat lazy aficionado of history, a Napoleonic time line might be just what you need to better understand what was happening in Mexico while our ancestors north of the border were busy killing each other to settle whether it was okay for a human being to buy and sell another human being. Here’s the link to the time line.

The Battle of Puebla had the unhappy short-term effect of causing the French, backed by Mexican Imperialists, to dig their heels in even deeper, believing that they COULD prevail on the American continent. The movie provides more-or-less true-to-history details about Mexico’s fight to remain independent, and the leader who is celebrated as the hero of that struggle, Benito Juarez, reported to have been a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, a detail that was not lost on the moviemakers.

As a ninth-grade student of Spanish, I had been fascinated by the picture in the textbook of Carlota in overlapping pink ruffles and the fact that Mexico, just a day’s drive away from my home in Wichita Falls, Texas, had been ruled by a real Emperor and Empress. Many years would pass before I knew for sure that this was not a good thing.

The evolution in my lifetime of Cinco de Mayo into a United States-Latino-Chicano drinkfest has been intriguing to me and my Mexican-born children, whom I transported back to my native culture in their teens. “Mom, what is the big deal about Cinco de Mayo?” they queried, as their classmates and the high school Spanish teacher asked them to give mini culture lessons on how they had celebrated this amazing festival in their home country where it originated.

“Tell them,” I advised, “that we celebrated it pretty much the same way people in the United States celebrate the Battle of Gettysburg.”

So, people all over the world celebrate Cinco de Mayo, commemorating a battle that happened in Mexico, as Mexicans themselves get up and go to work or to whatever it is that they do on every other ordinary day. Meanwhile, Labor Day, May 1, is celebrated all over the world except in the United States, the scene of the battle that it commemorates.

Suggested reading: Abraham Lincoln and Mexico by Michael Hogan

A vintage trailer for the 1939 movie, Juarez

GUADALAJARA: Big Time Little Theater

 

(Photos: South Pacific, 1984; Music Man, 1985; The Odd Couple, 1986)

Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, 1971-1986. In May, 1971, we discovered an English-language community theater group called Tapateatro, (natives of Guadalajara are known as Tapatios; theater is teatro in Spanish) when friends invited us to see a production of Oklahoma! Guadalajara, Chapala, and Ajijic had a large community of native English speakers, most of them from the United States, a few from Canada, England, and more exotic English-speaking countries like Australia and New Zealand. Among them were a number of talented amateurs and a few retired professionals from all the lively arts. Together with the bilingual community and those who were learning English or who just enjoyed a live spectacle, there were enough people to put on some very well-done musicals. We were impressed and entertained by Oklahoma!

A year later, my husband Andres auditioned for the chorus of  Fiddler on the Roof, which starred Joseph Leon in the role of Tevya. Leon was a working actor who had played a visible role in the movie Shaft. Carol Mayedo Stokes, my talented colleague from the American School of Guadalajara, who taught instrumental and vocal music, was cast as Tzietl. Nan Susac played Golda. She was the gifted wife of a wildly unconventional author-turned-history teacher, Andrew Susac, whose ancient car had broken down near the American School, inspiring him to go in and see what the prospects for employment might be. They were good, and he, Nan, and their children livened up the school for a couple of years. Nan was a beautiful woman with striking green eyes, who wore long calico hippie dresses most of the time. Offstage she didn’t need or use much makeup. Andrew, who wrote and llustrated biographies of historical characters aimed at middle-school readers, was also a gifted artist. At a dinner party in the Susacs’ house, for which we are instructed to, “Bring a fork,” we sat on cushions around a low table for a tasty curry-laced meal, presided over by a barefoot Nan. “Would you like to see a picture of my guru?” Andrew asked when we had finished, leading us to another sparsely furnished room featuring a gigantic photo of his bearded guru.

I didn’t take part in Fiddler on the Roof, but I visited a lot of rehearsals, supported Andres in costume and prop searches, was an enthusiastic member of the audience, and didn’t miss any planned or impromptu parties, including the big cast party after the last performance. The perormances took place at the Seguro Social Hospital near downtown Guadalajara, which had a revolving stage. The final scene featured the entire cast leaving Anatevka with their mops, brooms, battered suitcases, sewing machines, and children; it was staged on that revolving platform. Joseph Leon suffered a severe bronchitis during the critical days, but he made it through with generous doses of antibiotics and cortisone.

In the fall of 1972, Andres landed a part in the chorus of another Tapateatro production, Hello, Dolly! The star was the attractive gringa wife of a Mexican doctor, and she was outstanding. Another member of the chorus was an aspiring songwriter, Ernesto Macias. Ernesto, his sister Martha, and their mother Emilia (Millo) became family friends. We spent a weekend at a cabin in Juchipila, where you could hear donkeys braying at night and roosters crowing in the morning. We packed ourselves and our three small children into the red Renault and drove to Puerto Vallarta. We found a nightclub in downtown Guadalajara with live music but almost no patrons. It became our almost-private club, and they were always glad to have some business.

We were sad to leave Tapateatro and our new friends behind in the summer of 1973, when Andres accepted a residency in New York. We didn’t know then that our Tapateatro days were far from over. At a cast party for HelloDolly, Patty Bellinger, the director, told Andres how sorry she was that he was leaving because she had her eye on him to play Emile DeBecq in a future production of South Pacific. Too bad. We thought it would never happen.

We believed it would be impossible to settle in Guadalajara, so coming back was not in our original plan, but in April, 1974, we returned to stay. Tapateatro, however, had dropped out of sight. It would be ten years, 1984, before Patty Bellinger rekindled her dream of putting on South Pacific. She called Andres to audition for the lead role, and there was little deliberation. A friend who saw the performance said, “He doesn’t PLAY Emile DeBecq. He IS Emile DeBecq!” I tried out for the chorus and was cast as one of the HoneybunGirls. My son Ruben, 17, also got a part in the chorus, wearing dark makeup and a sarong as a native boy. Larry Grecov was a talented actor and set designer. He and Andres became good friends for the rest of Larry’s life. His Honeybun song and dance was memorable, and so were his set designs. Jeanne Chausse, who played Bloody Mary, also became a lifelong friend.

As soon as the curtain fell on the final performance of South Pacific, Patty Bellinger and Larry Grecov were making plans for Music Man. Larry himself played Harold Hill, and Jeanne Chausse was cast as Mayor Shinn’s comical wife. Andrés was in the Barbershop Quartet, my sons Ruben and Adrian were boys in the band, doubling as traveling salesmen in the opening scenes. I was a Pick-a-Little Lady. Adrian gave everyone quite a surprise when one of the featured dancers didn’t show up for an important dress rehearsal that was to serve as a sneak preview for the Tapateatro Board of Directors. In one of the opening scenes, three traveling salesmen break away from the others and dance. Two of the traveling salesmen were dance teachers and choreographers of the show. As they fretted about what to do, Adrian, who was already quite tall and mature-looking at 14, stepped up and said, “I know all the steps. I can fill in.” The choreographers were surprised but doubtful that he could do it, so they did a mini-audition right there. It was true; he knew the steps and executed them to near-perfection. The board members never knew the difference.

After Music Man, an interesting space became available at San Jose del Tajo, where many retirees, including Larry, had put down trailers or RVs and made a place to call home. The space had been a large chicken house, but San Jose del Tajo had not been a working ranch for many, many years. With a few decorative touches, a little carpentry, and a lot of ingenuity, the former chicken house was turned into a theater-in-the-round, and plays were staged while dinner was catered. I had a speaking part as Mrs. Chauvenet in Harvey, and Andres co-starred in Harvey and The Odd Couple. The Colony Reporter drama critic called my performance “adequate.” I was thrilled just to be mentioned, but I knew I shouldn’t quit my day job! After The Odd Couple, Andres, Larry Grecov, and Jeanne Chausse staged a highly entertaining Noel Coward Review at a club in Ajijic.

I left for Texas with the children in August, 1986. Andres continued to act and sing in productions. After we left, he did an encore performance as Emile DeBecq with a new Nelly Forbush in a South Pacific revival and had a significant part in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.