Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Las excusas

You know that saying "no news is good news"? Lies. Lies, I tell you.

Rápidamente, here's the skinny on why I haven't written much lately:

1. Mood. Could my brain possibly pick worse time to slip into a deep depressive episode than the tail end of what has arguable been the most difficult semester in years? I think I'm being a trooper about not sobbing in front of my undergrads and I've only broken down in one professor's office so far (and that was phonetics, so no surprise there), but the physical part of it is tougher to combat. I'm soooo sleeepy, all the damn time. And the headaches, gah. I will get to the end of the semester, and then I'll take care of my poor stressed-out poorly-firing synapses.

2. Logistics. I am cursed. My laptop and my neurochemicals are in league against me, they hate me and have bad timing together. My otherwise beloved Dell decided that it should crash its pinche hard drive last Thursday. An IT angel at my husband's office saved my super-critical files, but I'm straining to get all my work done on borrowed computers. I want my laptop back. I'll even forgive it the pain and grief it's caused me.

3. More logistics. End of semester, three huge research papers, one fianl to take, one to administer and grade. Oh, and prep my undergrads for it. There go my alloted 24 of each day.

So, these are my excuses for being a lousy, not-call-you-back, never-send-an-email friend thses last weeks. I will return to my normal(?) self sometime after the 19th. I'll bake a pumpkin pie and all will be right in my little world, for a few weeks anyway.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nieva

So, I woke up this morning to a couple of inches of snow. It was lovely, and still soft and powdery so my walk to the train station wasn't too messy. I fell asleep on the bus, and I woke up in Boulder to dry ground, dry air and patches of blue sky amid the grey, and it's about ten to fifteen degrees warmer here. The difference thirty miles makes. . .I bet I looked a little silly to passersby, all bundled up. At least I'll be ready when the snow hits us here this afternoon.

Mostly I'm writing to announce that I am in fact, still waking up every day, in spite of myself. This is by far the worst semester I've had in ages. With some luck I anticipate I'll be able to make it to December 17th without institutionalizing myself. Here's hoping.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Buenas noticias, por fin

So for anyone sick of my griping (this includes me), I finally have some happy news. I have the best husband in the world. That's not the news, y'all already knew that. The good news is that my incredibly wonderful husband, who doesn't particularly like to dance and feels self conscious about it, took me to a salsa club last night. And he danced with me, quite a bit. And it was his idea in the first place. I got an email from him on Wednesday attached to an announcement that a group of Spanish-speaking law students was planning on getting together Thursday night at said salsa club. He wrote, "I know it's been a rough week. Can I take you dancing?" He's simply amazing. He knows that back when I was single I used to go dancing with my girlfriends not just for fun but to relieve stress and unplug for a while. It was cheap therapy. He knows I miss it. So, he took me dancing. Some of my friends from my program came down from Boulder and joined us for the evening. It was great. A few hours on the dance floor did wonders for my soul, and I didn't think about phonetics the entire time.

Hopefully this afternoon I'll finally get to meet my niece. Cross your fingers and hope that tomorrow this space will be filled with photos of me and the little one.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Aún más asquerosa

So, I've had this weird new addition to the battery of manifestations of my unhealthy psyche. I've reached a point of stress to intense that it makes me physically ill. I've seen my brother do this, but I've never done it myself. Here's how it works:

I'm feeling really tightly wound lately, but I'm still somewhat susceptible to distractions (gracias a my sweet husband). Monday afternoon I choose to distract myself by going to my parents' house to make sure my Mom's doing okay (she hurt her back this last weekend). When my Dad gets home, we all sit down to plates of tamales smothered in green chile, both of which are near painfully-hot and therefore extremely enjoyable. Assured that my mother is fine and now that Dad's home with her, I head back to my own place to get some work done. I settle into bed with my phonetics homework, and then the nausea sets in. I violently vomit out the tamales and chile, which incidentally burn a great deal more on the way out. I call my parents to make sure they're doing okay, and they are both just fine, no belly troubles at all. Hmmm. What did I eat that they didn't?

The next morning I go to phonetics class. Lately this class gets me so frustrated with lack of clarity that I'm on the verge of tears by the time she's halfway into the lecture, so I'm not taken aback when I feel my blood pressure rising the first time she "explains" a concept in a throroughly incomprehensible way. But wait, a new sensation! My stomach is in full revolt, and I feel the need to run for the ladies' room. What the hell?

Today I managed to keep my breakfast down, but I got the same shakes, racing pulse and nausea the moment I sat down in the phonetics lab. This class has me so stressed that exposure to it makes my physically ill. It's nothing I ate, it's acoustic phonetics. I'm morbidly fascinated by this. I have such a tremendous psychological aversion to this material and its potential effect on my academic career that my body responds to it like a pathogen. I admit that I probably ought to seek some help for this, but I know it won't do any good. What are they going to do, give me a medical excuse for turning in my homework late because I can't get through it without puking? Any way you slice it I have to finish the class, and I have to get out of there with no less than a B.

Lola needs to escape from this crap. Why is suicide only a solution to this problem, but it screws up everything else in so many ways? Where's a non-destructive remedy when a girl needs one?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No me mejoro

I'm having serious doubts about making it to the end of this semester. I feel tremendously guilty about it. I hate that next week is Thanksgiving. I have an amazing family, an incredible husband, material comforts galore, and more opportunities than I can handle (literally). I have a great life, but somehow it's still dismal and grey and school is killing me. I'm afraid I'm going to snap soon, and it would be quite the challenge to finish the semester from inside the psych ward.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Asquerosa

So I didn't post yesterday. So shoot me. And guess what, I've got nothing to say today, either. Life is hell. It may be prettier than the biblical version, but it's still hell.

Friday, November 9, 2007

El día después

Yesterday turned out to be nice, especially for a birthday, and I am convinced I have the best friends and particularly the best husband in the world. Dinner was really disappointing, but we couldn't have known that it would be, and I still got to spend the evening with my sweetheart.

The Broker Restaurant is going to get a nastygram about how much and to what depths their quality has slipped over the past few years. The last time I ate there was about five years ago, and it wasn't the absolute best I'd ever had but it was good. Last night was awful. Some of the food was just mediocre, but some of it was downright awful. I was sad. They should be embarrassed.

I have to run. I have some thing to do before tonight, and I may as well get started now. Here's hoping I manage to squeeze in some relaxation this weekend, ha-ha-ha.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Cumpleaños, no necesariamente infeliz

I will do this early in the day because Thursdays tend to get crazy.

I woke up feeling down this morning, because birthdays in one's thirties will do that to a person. I'm still me, though, and it's still the busiest day of my week, so like any other day I numbly got out of bed and got about the business of the day. The down didn't last. I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth when I heard my husband's alarm going off. I looked at the clock-- 5:15am, much too early for my man. I went into the bedroom as he was reaching for the snooze alarm and queried why on earth he was getting up this early. "To spend the morning with you", he responded, setting my heart to instant melt mode. He's good at that. He dragged himself out of bed while I showered, we sat down to breakfast together, and he gave me my present that he bought three weeks ago. He can't stand having surprises sitting around, he's terribly impatient in that way-- the last few days before Christmas are pure torture for him. He gave me kitchen toys. I know there's that old rule about not giving a woman utilitarian homemaking devices as presents, but I love to cook and he's so good at finding just the right new gadget for me to tinker with. I'm the happy new owner of an Émile Henri deep dish pie plate. It's this wonderful, durable, even-heating ceramic that makes the most tender, perfect crusts, oh, and just in time for pumpkin pie. . .he knows me. He knows me well. He listens when I fantasize about how I'd like to have a particular dish or pan or knife or gadget, and he knows I've been lusting after this high-end pie plate for a while. He's got a good racket going, though-- he gives me culinary toys as presents, I get excited and play with them, he ends up well-fed. Hmmm. He's definitely got me figured out.

When I got to campus, I found a piñata dangling over my desk, a little brightly colored burrito, left there by one of my scheming colleagues who threatened it a few days ago. She's great. I figure we'll bust it after Colonial Lit seminar this evening.

The last several days I've been unhappy about my birthday, but the first few hours of it was great. Let's hope the trend lasts, or at least resumes after phonetics. No one should have to go to phonetics lecture on their birthday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

La lectura

I feel so overwhelmed. I get this way every semester, around this time. I've matured and no longer entertain fantasies about robbing a bank and running away to some place with no extradition treaty, or dropping out forever and working at a coffee shop as that bitter, failed academic wannabe that spouts random bits of pseudo-wisdom from pop-y writers and superficially trendy philosophers. Well, that wasn't really a fantasy, it was just the easy way out that seemed appealing for a few minutes. I still envy those people that read what they choose, that don't do it on a schedule. I felt frivolous this summer when I read Harry Potter, extremely frivolous. I read it in a little less than a day and a half, and so did Reva. However, she devoured it for the sheer pleasure, because it was so good she couldn't put it down. I read it fast partly because it was good, and partly because there were several academic texts waiting in line behind it.

I'm only complaining a little bit. I love school. I'd like to say that I can't imagine working outside of academics, that my imagination can't sink to that level of dull, but I've been there, and I imagine it in stark plainness. A few months in a regular office job was more than enough to send me running for the grad school applications. I love school, minus phonetics. I love the constant intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to spend most of my waking hours with colleagues who are even nerdier than I am. How can something be so draining and so stimulating all at once? It's the quantity, I think. Overstimulation. I have too much on my plate, but that's unlikely to change before next summer. I guess I'll just cherish sleep during Christmas break. And when I wake, I'll spend my days with my books, one volume at a time to slowly chip away at my MA reading list. Christmas or not, I still have impending exams. It'll be a while before I read another novel, especially one as light as Harry Potter. I don't know whether I'm relieved or sad that the series is finished. It was an excuse to read something else, but it was also a social obligation that pulled me away from that MA list.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Todavía nerviosa

So, I'm only posting today because I committed myself to this NaBloPoMo nonsense. What a scam.

I met with my phonetics prof this afternoon, and after discussing my final project proposal with her (which she thought was cool, by the way, and gave me a couple of good pointers on data collection) I mentioned my fear of getting an unsatisfactory grade and having to repeat the class. She smiled weirdly and told me she didn't think I needed to worry about that. I protested that my department insists on higher grades. Still no need to worry, says she.

I ought to be relieved by that, but I'm not. I still don't understand acoustic phonetics, and I can't do the stats. Not entirely true, I guess-- I do that stats just fine. I am not challenged by entering data into a spreadsheet and coaxing means and standard deviations and p-values out of them. Not a problem. I just don't know what that p-value means, or what a two-tail t-test is (besides alliterative). How can I be confident that I'll perform swimmingly on the final exam when I don't understand the material?

Lola is not lulled into a false sense of security (but she sure wishes she were, dangit).

Monday, November 5, 2007

Xocholatl

I had a really wonderful cup of chocolate today. I brought dinner to my husband when I got back from Boulder, and after we finished that I was craving something sweet so we went for a walk. He was thinking baklava but the 24-hour Palestinian dive on the corner was packed, so we walked another block over to the neighborhood coffee shop for some hot cho. I hadn't been in there in a while, because I'm not a coffee drinker and because until recently they didn't have WiFi (I discovered today that they've joined the 21st century). The big board over the counter offered not the standard "hot chocolate", but "xocholatl", which had me instantly intrigued. I inquired what merited the Nahuatl throwback spelling, and the barrista informed me that the barely-sweet concoction bragged not only canela but chile. The real thing. I ordered it at once and was so happy that we'd passed up the baklava. Poor Europe. What was their food like before tomatoes, before potatoes, before chocolate, chile, avocados, corn, and all those other wonderful things that make the prospect of another day of caloric ingestion worth getting out of bed? Don't get me wrong, I'm a sucker for good baklava, but dark, spicy chocolate satisfies like no other. Throw in the chance to sit and chat with my sweetheart for a spell and this little Lola had a perfect, phonetics-free evening. We flipped through a local rag together, read movie reviews while we held hands and banished the slight chill the late autumn evening with hot liquid and chile in our bellies.

I think we might be building a straw-bale house. Anyone out there have some info on that? Personal experience, I mean. Huff and puff, come blow it on down. I think that they're pretty, but also solid-looking, romantic in that scruffy, dirt-under-the-fingernails kind of way. The energy efficiency is also sexy.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

. . .que otro estaba soñándolo.

I had a meltdown this morning, but the reasons for it are hardly worthy of the words I'd waste to describe why, and then to explain and justify that description. So, I'll say this: I have an incredible husband. I know he doesn't understand why I fall to pieces sometimes, but he's patient and loving when I do, and he holds me and tells me that I am not, in fact, a despicable being, flouting my insistence to the contrary. I know it worries him a little too much even though he tries not to let that shine through. He is good. Good. He holds me and tells me it'll be okay, which is often the most and best I could ask.

It would be somewhat deceptive to say there's a streak of mental illness in my family. Wide swath is more accurate. It picks and chooses, and it doesn't get everyone, but those of us it puts its finger to, it likes to pick at mercilessly. I think I do a decent job of wrestling my demons to the ground and keeping my foot on their throats while I go on with the rest of my life, superficially stable and sane, but I do wonder how late into my golden years I'll keep up that bit. Will I decide sometime in my sixties or seventies that it's not worth the effort anymore? Or will I hold out into my eighties, stubbornly sane until my last breath? If I threw in the towel today I'd probably have to just go on living with my crazy self for too damn long, and that's too much added stress when my plate's already overflowing with the grad school mess.

So, while I dutifully keep frequent mental tabs on my sanity and keep up the maintenance and mostly do just fine, there are days when I wonder, when I think about it a little too much.

I have always been a vivid dreamer, and it's always more heightened during a depressive or manic episode. In fact, it's one of the standards by which I keep tabs on myself; just how vivid are my dreams this past week, last night? If I have too many mornings in a row that I have to exert extra effort to coax my mind back into waking reality, I know it's time to give my brain some extra love. It's not that I don't enjoy the dreams, but they can be draining, and they're a portent of further mental unravelling. So, I do my best to keep them in line.

Yesterday we went to visit my grandfather at the hospital where he lives in New Mexico. He's in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's, and they keep him there so he doesn't wander. It's not one of those nasty old-age homes that smell like urine and look like a horror film set. It's a really nice place with an amazing staff. They take exceptionally good care of him there, and they are kind. We got lucky. But I digress. We got there in the afternoon, and he'd already fallen asleep on the couch. We couldn't rouse him. We tried off and for an hour, and our best efforts (and the staff's) couldn't get more than some muttering out of him. Just as well, because he's not always alert when he is awake. I mostly gave up try to wake him and settled for holding his hand. I could feel little twitches in his fingers, and it seemed to calm him to know that someone was there. I kept noticing his eyes, though, because there were periods in which his REM was clearly visible. Naturally I wondered what he could possibly be dreaming. What images and sounds run through an advanced Alzheimer's mind? I want to believe that in that unconsiousness, he has access to everything his brain denies him when he's awake, that he is lucid, that he remembers it all and is spared the frustration of needing to be reminded of own name. But I've seen the brains of Alzheimer's dead, thin plastinated slices of grey matter peppered with holes and gaps, empty vaccuous voids where memory used to be. Sleep is not such a magician that suddenly the synapses reach across that chasm.

What does and Alzheimer's patient dream? Why do the brain and body continue with such a seemingly empty ritual? Does he still get the seratonin-balancing effects of REM? Is he articulate and witty again in his dreams, or is he robbed of that at all hours? What's so good about sleeping and those dreams that he fights waking? Why do some parts of the brain keep chugging along as others decay away?

I know I am more than the sum of my genes, but in the back of my mind (mostly) I worry.

Don't get the impression that yesterday was a downer (that was this morning). I had a great mini-road-trip with my sweetheart, who got to meet my amazing Aunt Terese for the first time, and he met her father (my great-uncle) and got the nickel tour of the mini-museum he calls a living room. He showed us old family photos and told us stories and I caught up with my aunt. We went to lunch with them at an ancient restaurant down on the river, where he eats almost every day. The green chile alone is worth the four-hour drive. He took visible delight in introducing his "little niece" to all the cooks and waitresses, who all know him well and like to take care of him. I was relieved but also slightly disappointed that my husband didn't see him pinch any of the waitresses. He must have outgrown that in the past couple of years, finally. My husband was charmed by them, just as I knew he would be. They are good people, and some of them are far better than good. I've got that in my genes, too.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

En la ruta a la memoria

I'm leaving to spend the day in Southern Colorado with family, we're getting on the road as soon as my husband is out of the shower, and since I don't know if I'll get a decent internet connection again today, I am posting before 6:00am. Gack. It's not even a weekday. We want to get down to Trinidad in time to have lunch with a great uncle of mine, mostly because I want my husband to witness and participate in Saturday lunch at a local restaurant that this uncle haunts and where he hits on the waitresses. He is 92 years old, I believe. Maybe 93. Viejo rabo verde. We will probably hop over the border to NM to visit my grandfather in the afternoon. He is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's and lives in a lockdown unit of a home so he can't go wandering down the highway anymore. He used to do that. He'd set off for Trinidad to visit his siblings who live there (or sometimes the ones who've been dead for ten years), thinking it was a perfectly good idea walk up I-25, over Ratón Pass, no less. As if that weren't bad enough, on the way he'd forget about his sister Margaret and end up thinking he was behind enemy lines in France in the early 40's. When he'd inevitably get picked up by the State Patrol, he couldn't remember his name but he'd insist that he had to get back to his unit, that they were just over that next rise and that they were waiting for him. After a while he began failing to differentiate between English and Spanish and would code-switch at random, not realizing it, and then he lost coherent language altogether. Last time I saw him he liked to mumble, giggle, and make animal noises as though he were telling me a story, but then his eyes would wander off in another direction and he'd forget I was there. When he'd finally look my way again he would smile politely, surprised at the visit from a kind stranger.

I don't know if I visit him for my benefit or his or some combination of the two. I do it for reasons beyond duty, but it's difficult to articulate. My other grandparents did not lose their cognition, they were all three absolutely lucid until the moment they passed. They never stopped knowing who they were, who were were, never slipped out of the stark understanding that disease was rapidly and painfully shortening their time here. It is hard for me to see the silly, gentle, stubborn, contemplative man I knew supressed or disappeared while this muttering shell remains.

My husband is out of the shower and getting dressed. That's my cue to sign out for now. Hasta mañana.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Otro viernes

You know that lame expression, "what a difference a day makes"? I don't need a whole day, I just need a good nap.

Yesterday afternoon I skipped my Colonial Lit seminar (I'm only auditing, this is not a reflection of academic irresponsibility) and came home to take a nap. Two hours later, I was a new woman. No more bitching and bitterness. No more seething hatred of phonetics (I'm still not fond of the stuff, but I'm able to keep a lid on it when I'm well-rested). Sleep, precious sleep. I have fantasies about life after the MA, and most of them revolve around days on end where I get more than the minimum four hours I need to function like a bare-minimum automaton. I think about all the things I do in a day on those four or five hours, and then I wonder wistfully if I'll be phenomenally more productive when I can count on a good six. Of course, there's always the possibility that flow of creativity is cruelly and inextricably linked to mild REM-deprivation. Let's hope not.

Incidentally, Reva, "gruñon" means grumpy, gripey, put-out and vocal about it. So, yeah, you kind of nailed it.

Autumn is lasting longer than usual this year. I've been trying in my mind to describe this day in a way that doesn't sound trite, and it's not happening. I would take a photo but I know it would only capture the color, and that feebly, that a mere 2-D image doesn't transcribe the sharp edge of the air that is colder than it looks in the long, almost horizontal rays of sun. At this angle some of the UV harshness we usually get at this altitude is tempered and it doesn't sting the eyes so much, and I find myself walking on the sunny side of the street rather than seeking refuge in the shade. It's downright cold in the shade, but the sunny spots take the edge off. It has been just the right amount of chilly for just the right number of days so that the leaves that are still on the trees have had a chance to ferment into deep oranges and reds and golds and not just sickly yellow-green hat suddenly goes decayed brown and grey in the snow. I know there are some serious downsides to climate change and they frighten me when I think about them, but if I can find a sliver of silver lining it is this: For a few years, perhaps, before we all get wiped out by raging storms and rising coastlines, Colorado will have longer and indescribably beautiful autumn.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Agotada, or, Why This grumpy girl feels her MA is worth a little more than some others at this university

Happy NaBloPoMo. You get to hear from me every day for the next 30. I don't think every entry will be as gruñon as this one is shaping up to be.

I got here (my office, that is) at 5:45am, which is early even for a madrugadora like me. Last night I stayed at my parents' so that I could take them to the airport at O'dark:30 this morning to catch a plane to Kentucky. They're going out to visit my brother's family. This includes the new baby. I am jealous, not just for the few days' escape to some different scenery, but for seeing the baby. I'm not known for ever experiencing excitement over babies, and I had a hard time getting into my sister-in-law's pregnancy. I was certainly very happy for her, but we're not as close as we probably ought to be, and she already had plenty of other female relatives and friends hovering over her and we live in different states and I'm busy and blah blah blah, I just didn't participate in the pregnancy rituals. I've felt a little disconnected from the whole process--not in a bad way, just disconnected. However, as soon as the baby was born I was unexpectedly rushed by a mostly inexplicable thrill, and I am dying to meet this baby. I want to poke her in the tummy. When I call my brother, sometimes I can here the baby in the background screaming in that mashed-cat way that newborns do, and it makes me smile and laugh because it's cute (also because it's them and not me that she's depriving of sleep). This is good. This gives me hope that I won't feel indifference toward my own hypothetical children in their infant stage. I am really, really looking forward to meeting her. My brother and his wife and the baby are coming out in a couple of weeks, and in some moments I find myself struggling to focus my work because my mind is wandering to my niece. I've never even met her, so how can I like her this much already? Must be a blood thing.

But I digress. I got here even earlier than usual (I am still the only one in the offices, except for someone banging around two floors up) and sat down to the dreary task of finishing my horrid, horrid phonetics homework. I serendipitously checked my email before I started, and found much to my delight that most of the rest of the class has also had complications with the assignment and that the deadline is extended to Monday (I'm delight about the Monday bit, not the shared exasperation. I'm not that nasty). I don't want to draw this out any longer than I have to, but this means I have time to get help with doing statistics in Excel. I hate this class. Yesterday I told my husband that I couldn't remember the last time I hated a class this much, but this morning I recalled. It wasn't undergrad stats, it wasn't Philosophy 101 taught by an angry unmedicated jerk prone to ranting in Greek. The last time I had a professor this unreasonable and out-of-touch and assignments this ridiculous, was my sophomore year at BYU when I took the first of three required semesters of anthropological theory. I was nineteen, and it was my first time coming up against material that heady, and one of the profs (it was team-taught in sections by five members of the faculty) was an outspoken, arrogant misogynist who gave us what then seemed like (to my undergrad self) excessive work that was not part of the established curriculum. As a group we complained to the department chair. He shrugged it off, dismissing it with "yeah, he's like that, but don't worry, I've got the say on final grades and I'll make sure none of your grades suffer because of him". This phonetics course is bad in slightly different ways. The professor communicates poorly, lectures vaguely and gives us poorly planned and poorly explained assignments, but she's a nice person and generally approachable (though I teach during the time she usually holds office hours). The workload is fine as far as quantity, but lately it's unclear exactly what the assignment is. The administration of the last exam was thoroughly botched. It was a transcription exam-- heavy on the listening, that is-- and around half of the recordings were nearly inaudible. I don't want you to get the impression that I'm lazy, because I'm not. But I am tired, and I'm worried about my grade, and I feel like the other members of the class are whiners (pure hypocrisy, I know). Here's my main gripe: They are required to do half the work I do, and they're not required to do all that great a job at it, and in the end we all get MA's from CU. Huh? Here's why: I am not officially a part of the linguistics department, I am a part of the Spanish department. Therefore, I am "expected" to take three seminars each semester, and I'm "expected" to teach one five-credit course each semester ("expected" in quotes because these are official requirements of first-year MA students only, but they are de facto requirements of those of us in the second year, as well). In the end I will have completed half again as many seminars to earn my degree, in the same amount of time, balancing teaching all the while. I also am held to a higher GPA standard. I am allowed up to one grade of B- in a course, which must be repeated. Two final grades of B- or less and I'm out of the program. I'm okay with the high standard. It has never given me grief before this semester. High expectations make me work harder. Consider, though, for contrast, the requirements for linguistics MA students: Two graduate courses per semester. No teaching appointment. Any grade of C or better counts happily toward the degree. What this means is that my phonetics professor thinks its perfectly acceptable to give me a C. I'm not anticipating a C, mind you, and I'm not shoving off my personal accountability for my final grade. In the end it's up to me. However, given that the last few homework assignments have called for physics that I never learned and statistics that I've long forgotten, neither of which was explained in class or readings or lecture notes, I worry. I'm a decent autodidact with many things, but not with math or hard science. I can't read a formula on a page and just get it. I can get help with homework assignments from the left-brainers in my life, but I'm concerned that much of this material will make an appearance on the final exam when my right-brain and I are left to our own meager devices. I'm more than a little scared that I won't pull off something better than a B and that I'll have to repeat this dismal scenario next fall. The phonetics prof is a nice person, but certainly not nice enough that I want to repeat her class. I don't like anyone that much.

I have never in my life been so terrified of a B minus.

I should quit griping. I can find a way to pass this class. I might be able to sleep less and push myself a little harder. In the end I have to settle for the personal satisfaction of knowing I worked harder for my degree, that I had to work harder to get into my program in the first place, blah, blah, blah. At some point it's not worth it to worry about whether or not things are fair, because inevitably they aren't, usually from many angles. Will that make it any easier to get a job?

Lola has to write a project proposal, and promises that tomorrow's entry will be less negative. Sometimes I just need to get it off my chest.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Japi Jalouín

It just wouldn’t be Colorado-ween without snow.

When I left the house this morning a little before six, it was drizzling. I went back inside to grab my ski parka, the only waterproof jacket I own (I should fix that). When I emerged two minutes later, the drizzle was starting to freeze and it pelted my hood in tiny percussions all through the six-block stroll to the train station. I had plenty of time to think about Halloweens past when I had to wear my coat over my costume, or long johns under it. When I was a little thing my mom used to make my costumes, and they were usually a home-made version of fuzzy footed zip-up jammies with various embellishments to make them look like some animal. My mom is really good with stuff like that. When I got a little older and more willful I didn’t want to wear a warm, fuzzy mouse costume. I wanted to be a princess (someday I will replay this frustrating drama with my own daughters). My mother relented and even made up beautiful princess costumes, but they were never very warm, and it always snows on Halloween in Colorado. No matter how pink and glittery and frilly the dress, a girl just doesn’t feel as princess-y when that dress is donned with moon boots and a big lumpy parka.

I’m not dressing up today. I’m too busy, and I’d feel more than a little silly walking in to teach a university-level class in a costume and make-up. It’s the wrong setting. I used to throw huge parties for Halloween, but this year my husband has class until 9pm and I’ve got loads of homework to do and arrangements to collect data from an informant for my linguistic anthropology project. We don’t get trick-or-treaters because our building has a locked entrance. When did Halloween become just another grey, drizzle-to-snow day?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Vieja

A few weeks ago in class I was teaching my alumnos how to chat about health and doctor's visits and other such useful vocab, and I had them playing in pairs with a conversation activity. One of the preguntas they asked each other was how they maintain a healthy lifestyle. When they do these kinds of activities I usually circulate through the classroom, listening and giving suggestions and encouragement. I also encourage them to engage me in their simple dialogues from time to time. That particular day, one of my sweet students posed the question,

"Profesora, ¿qué hace Ud. para llevar una vida sana?"

and it stumped me. In a stark moment of realization I had to answer that I don't do one damn thing to keep myself healthy. The little pat answers I was teaching them did not apply to me. No tomo vitaminas. No hago ejercicios. No voy al gimnasio. No como muchas verduras. No duermo ocho horas por noche. Anyway, I least I didn't have to answer with the auto-evaluation common among them that me emborracho todos los fines de semana or worse, me moteo todos los viernes. Does that make up for my obscenely and inexplicably high cholesterol?

Around the same time I took one of those stupid online quizzes that I really ought to ignore, of the "find out your real-age" variety. Once upon a healthy pre-grad-school lifestyle I found them somewhat validating, because they told me I was young. Not so now. I wanted to cry foul, to say it was unfair to tell me I'm "really" 42 when I don't drink, don't smoke, don't play with illicit drugs. On the other hand, I don't have time to exercise, eat right, or sleep more than four to five hours a night, and according the the all-wise RealAge quiz that's enough to add over ten years. If I took up the habit of a nightcap, would it add another ten, or just make me sleep more heavily? Screw them, I say. I look damn good for 42, if that is in fact my "real age". At least grad school isn't making me go grey, yet. We'll see how my dark locks fare come comprehensive exams.

I'd love to say that all this was a wake-up call, but in real life I have to finish this semester, then another one that will likely be more difficult, then take my exams. Somewhere I have to find time to study for said exams. Let's not forget that I'm required to continue teaching five days a weeks all this time. So, more sleep is simply not an option. I'll think about sleep after December 2008. I know I'm not supposed to procrastinate these things, that I should take care of myself right now, blah, blah blah. Ha, ha, ha. The truth is I made this choice and I know this is the trade-off. Tired as I am I love being in school and I love everything I'm studying with the marked exception of acoustic phonetics (which I loathe, and fear I will have to repeat next fall if I don't manage the required B or better). The intellectual stimulation and sense of meaning in my life make up for the exhaustion. I just wish the headaches would go away, they wear me down more than anything else. I'll sleep a little over Christmas. If I go grey at least I'll know why, and I can christen each silver strand with the name of a different soundwave or phoneme.

Lola wants to believe age is only in one's mind.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Todavía viva

Hello out there! Yes, I am still alive. I know it's been months since I updated, and now that NaBloPoMo is coming, I should gear up by getting back into the habit of writing at least a little less sporadically. There's loads I never wrote about, like the adventures we had in Mexico when my husband came back with me after our little adventures at his sister's wedding in Utah, and the roadtrip we took to Montana twelve hours after we got back to the States, and the ongoing insanity of this semester. Worry not, dear reader, you'll get it all as I scramble for things to write about every day for a month.

(For the uninitiated, NaBloPoMo is some weird abbreviation, I don't know its original derivation, but during the month of November bloggers make an entry everyday for the 30 days. It's a web version of the crank-out-a-novel-in-the-month-of-November thing. If I were more motivated or less pressed for time I'd do the novel. Maybe next year).

Anyway, as stated above, this semester is killing me, but it's halfway over. Is that good or bad? It's nearly over, but that means less time to do my final projects. I need to get rolling on those, blah, blah, blah.

However, the most important news by far of late is the birth my niece, the most beautiful newborn in the world. In the photos my brother sent the day she was born she was still pink and squinty and pained-looking, but now that she opens her big eyes wide she is more than beautiful. I am going to spoil her absolutely rotten. Someone has to teach her the joys of launching flaming Barbies with an atl-atl, and that is precisely why she needs naughty Aunt Me.

Isn't she gorgeous? Can't you already see the mischievous twinkle in her eye? Don't worry, Ben, I'll spoil her in sweet ways for at least the first year or so. Lola is smitten by a baby.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Despedida

Today is my last day in Guadalajara, meaning that a few hours ago I wrapped up my last night in town. My flight leaves in a few hours and then I'll be home before I head back with my husband in a couple of weeks. So, how did this girl spend her last full day in town?

Let's remember I'm a student, and a procrastinating one at that, so yesterday morning I woke up at 6am to finish my paper, then went to the school to print it and turn it in, blah, blah, blah, and the nerdiness continued with attendance (voluntary, on my own time) to a lecture about the historical reception of Rulfo's novel Pedro Páramo. Yes, that's really the kind of thing I do my last day in town, and it was very satisfying.

After the lecture I went back to the school to meet a couple of friends at a party they were throwing for the students who just finished the term. I went more out of obligation and wasn't expecting it to be that good, but I was wrong. They'd hired a local house band and a DJ to play for us, and they were great. Reva, you should have been there-- their frontman is a violinist! (Don't worry, I picked up a copy of their disc for you). They really got the crowd going, too-- any set that starts out with an electric violin rendition of Billie Jean with heavy bass behind it is the beginning of a good party.

After a while we (La Francesa, El Portero, yo) went to meet some other friends at a salsa joint. There was some confusion about meeting times and places and a couple of people didn't make it and I feel bad about that, but we still managed to have a good time. Here's a photo of the three of us in Callejón de los Rumberos, and yes, that's a massive photo of the port of Havana behind us. If you're in Guad and want a great night of live Cuban music, I highly recommend the place. We stayed there dancing until our feet and hips couldn't dance anymore, then went for tacos at one of those all-night taquerías on a street corner (their vampiros are to die for!) and then walked home. One of the things I really like about spending time with La Francesa is that she's culturally accustomed to walking everywhere and doesn't insist on taking cabs for walkable distances, and Guad is a very walkable city with balmy pleasant nights. I'm glad we're coming back in a couple of weeks because I'm not quite done with this place or these people for the summer. I'm so excited to take my husband to a divey all-night taquería, and to let him see what a great art-and-music town this is. I've got a few more nights in Guad to come.

Lola has to finish packing. ¡Hasta pronto, Guadalajara!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fresitillinita


This photo is mostly for Rebecca's benefit, because you, Rebe, will appreciate it most. Just when you thought las chichas fresas couldn't get any more disgustingly cutesy, I spied this in a shop window. Part of me kind of wants to buy one because it's so horrid I have to have it, but I'd be too embarrassed to carry it.






And just so you don't all think I'm spending my time shopping for pop cultural artifacts, here's a photo of the place where I spent my weekend with a couple of girlfriends. Barra de Navidad is a relatively calm place, barely developed. No PV-style clubs, just people playing in the waves and sipping a beer or two on the beach, and in the morning the fishermen come out to bring in their nets.


Lola has to finish a paper. Three more days in Mexico!

Friday, July 6, 2007

¡Feliz 4 de julio!


I had a rather un-American fourth. No fireworks, no picnics, and I avoided the kids from the US (some kids from the Casa got drunk and obnoxious enough to get booted from one of the wildest clubs in town. Thanks for making us look good, guys!) Since it was La Argentina's last full day here in Mexico, we set out to see some of the last places left unchecked on her things-to-see-in-Guad list. We went up to Zapopan, on the north end of town.
Zapopan used to be its own city (and technically it's still a separate municipality), a tiny quiet town center for the ranches outside of Guadalajara. Over the centuries as Guadalajara grew, the ranches turned into suburbs and Guad surrounded and swallowed Zapopan. It still has its old central district with its own basilica (which houses its own miraculous virgin figure, viva la virgen), and it's much quieter and relaxed than Guad's downtown area. We wandered around, took photos, saw the basilica, and then it started to rain. We got back on the bus to our part of town, with La Argentina and I thinking we'd see some more things after the rain let up, but El Portero, a lifelong tapatío, assured us that once it starts raining like it was, it doesn't let up for hours. Sure enough, the rain kept coming for another three hours, and the streets flooded, again. So much for our afternoon out. Zapopan was beautiful, though.

We'd also planned on going to a salsa club for La Argentina's last night in town, but El Portero ended up having to take his papá to the airport. Not wanting to go to a dance joint as two lone females, even a salsa place, we decided to have dinner on her company credit card at a mariachi restaurant. It's a fairly campy place, geared mostly toward tourists from other parts of Mexico who want to hear some local music when they come to Jalisco. The management takes the muy muy México theme a little over the top, but because of that it's also a fun (and funny) place to spend an evening. I spent my Fourth of July eating quesadillas and pineapple ice cream under a ceiling of piñatas and papel picado while listening to mariachis. And hey, that's what freedom is all about, right? And by the way, La Argentina actually likes those creepy mariachi pants. Shudder.

Happy (belated) Fourth, everyone!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Salsa de la calle

The decadence of the Catholic Church (read: financially) has the interesting effect of old ecclesiastical edifices being put to (sometimes strange) new uses. In Michoacán I went to two different state-subsidized artisan's workshops in a former convent and former church, respectively, and last night we also hit a few altered sites. I didn't know I could find so much fun on a Monday night, but here's (more or less) how it went down.

La Argentina is leaving on Thursday, and we've decided this calls for going out every night between now and then to allow her to give a proper despedida to Mexico. Yesterday we were struggling to find something to do on a Monday night, when El Portero mentioned that a girl he's interested in had mentioned to him that on Monday nights one of the cafés in the Plaza of the Ex-Convento del Carmen puts on a little salsa gig, weather permitting (it's okay, it took me a moment to sort it out, too). We were up for that, so we settled on a time to meet and figured it couldn't be too complicated.

It rained yesterday afternoon, and hard. It was still sprinkling a little when La Argentina set out walking for the Ex-Convento. The chispa wasn't the problem-- it was the cars splashing us everytime they drove through the deep charcos on the edges of the streets. We were both more than a little damp around the ankles by the time by got to the plaza. The Ex-Convento, which has been converted into an art gallery that was closed at that hour, is actually across from the plaza, and once we figured out that part we found only one café open, and didn't get a clear answer on whether or not it was the salsa joint. El Portero was running half an hour late, but we couldn't get a table in the café to wait for him. We decided to find another café, but being unfamiliar with the neighborhood we just wandered past a few gay clubs. Finally El Portero and his crush found us and we tried to get into a Cuban restaurant with pictures of Che on the walls (every socialist Cuban's favorite Argentine), but the neanderthal at the door wouldn't accept La Argentina's foreign ID (we didn't even get around to my Colorado driver's license). We wandered a little more and ended up in what, by appearances, was the former rectory of the Ex-Convento converted into a goth joint. Not so. It may have looked goth, what with the low lighting and the weird paintings of monks and religious symbols on the walls, but I don't know any goth clubs where they play banda over the sound system (that's the Mexican equivalent of really bad country, for those of you lucky enough never to have been subjected to hearing it). Anyway, they had open tables, nice salads and a good view of the plaza, so we spent a while hanging out there, chatting. After a while El Portero's ears perked up and he asked if we heard the salsa, too. We looked out on the plaza and saw that the party had started across the street. We paid the tab and went to join them.



What we saw last night in the plaza was the kind of thing you dream of experiencing while travelling through Latin America. The plaza had mostly dried out after the rain, but the air was still clean and cool. The party was very simple, and nobody was dressed up. The entire band consisted of a guitarist, a trombonist, and two very busy percussionists, with all four of them alternating vocals. The music was simple but extremely lively and raw, with incredible rhythms. They were really tight. Reva, you would have loved it. The dancing was unpretentious and fun-- just average people out on a Monday night, enjoying the perfect temperature and lack of rain. We recognized a group of a about half a dozen dancers who had been in the floor show at a trandy Cuban club we'd been to a couple of weeks ago, but they were in jeans and tees instead of flashy costumes and there was no show, just the group of them playing around with different moves. They were incredible, don't get me wrong, and in that respect it was wonderful to watch, but it was unchoreographed, natural, and they were laughing and smiling with each other. The scene was wonderfully simple, improvised, plebian-- it was real life, and I think La Argentina and I were the only tourists there. I wish I could find something like that here every night. Tonight we're headed to the Feria de Tlaquepaque, something I gather to be the rough equivalent of a county fair, but a la mexicana. I'm bracing myself for the banda, but other than that I'm looking forward to it. More to follow.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Michoacán

As promised, this entry will include ample photos from this weekend’s trip to Michoacán. However, that means I’ll likely skimp a little on text today. Enjoy the photos!








We left Guadalajara heading for Morelia, the capital of Michoacán and about a four-and-a-half hour drive. Once we got out of the city we passed miles and miles of verdant countryside, criss-crossed by rails, rivers, lakes, low-growing forest, and tiny ancient towns. The mountains around us got higher and more defined as we moved closer to Michoacán.



Once in Morelia, we checked into an old colonial hotel (reputedly haunted, but I didn’t see or hear anything except military helicopters flying low over the city in the middle of the night—maybe they drowned out the spirits).





We headed to a traditional restaurant (also very old) where we enjoyed enchiladas and serenades. The singer bore a striking resemblance to my great-aunts on the Crespín side.



Morelia is old. Around the same time as Guadalajara, the Spaniards established it as a colony in an area already populated and developed by indigenous peoples, but Morelia (formerly Valladolid) has maintained its colonial beauty while Guadalajara has given way to boxy architecture and modern urban sprawl.





I don’t mean to say Guad isn’t pretty, but it’s not as charming as Morelia, and the pace of life is more relaxed there.






Older than them both are the ruins of Tzintzuntzan, a ceremonial center on a bluff overlooking Lago Pátzcuaro. It was built centuries ago by the ancestors of the Pu’rhechpah (Tarasco) people. The site is impressive, but the most striking thing about the place is the view. The lake is spotted with small islands, many of the inhabited. One of them, Janitzio, is the center of the world-famous festival Día de los Muertos (a big event all around the lake, including the town of Pátzcuaro). Pu’rhechepah hold the waters sacred for many reasons, among them the belief that the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead is much thinner on and around the lake.

After Tzintzuntzan we went on to Pátzcuaro itself, and I fell in love. It’s a charming place—red tile roofs over white-washed plaster, worn-down cobble streets giving way to narrow alleys as they wind upward into the hills—with a gentler pace of life that doesn’t lose its gusto for it.





In the tree-lined main plaza, children perform a traditional dance called “Los Viejitos”, that pokes fun at the pains of old age while paying tribute to “Tata Vasco”. An administrator and church official in New Spain, Bishop Vasco de Quiroga was beloved of the indigenous people for stepping in to spare them from the further ravages of his predecessor’s reign of terror, and for subsequently establishing schools, hospitals, and promoting cultivation and preservation of native culture (at least the parts that didn’t conflict too much with Catholicism). Many things in Pátzcuaro are still named and done in honor of Tata Vasco.


Pátzcuaro is a wonderful place to wander, talk to the friendly locals, eat too much, and lose track of time. My day in Pátzcuaro, though had the (unfortunate?) effect of making me miss my husband even more. I was sitting in a restaurant on a tiny terrace overlooking the plaza, waiting for my bowl of sopa tarasca (my new love) and breathing the mountain air when in an instant I wanted so very badly, more than usual, to have my husband in that empty chair across the table, sharing this moment. The sudden weight and power of the emotion caught me off guard. The solution of course, is to bring him back to Pátzcuaro with me in a few weeks. The short term solution was to finish lunch, have some chocolate and find him the perfect silly present in the shops selling catrinas and other Day of the Dead figures, something just for him.

We got back to Morelia in time for the fireworks in front of the cathedral. On summer weekend nights they close off the main street and the crowds pour in for the show. I was hungry by this time but resisted the cotton candy, knowing that we’d find real food after the fireworks.








As proof that Morelia, despite its colonial charm, holds its own as a modern city, some of the girls and I found an amazing menu at a decidedly trendy spot downtown.




We wandered through town a little more this morning, and then headed back to Guadalajara. I do love this city, and I’m comfortable here, but it was nice to get away for the weekend. It’ll be easier to fall back into the routine tomorrow. Lola says enjoy the moment!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

De nuevo, escribo

It’s been a week, so I guess I ought to update.

Yesterday afternoon and then again last night there were horrible strong rainstorms here in Guadalajara, and the area of town where I live and go to school were the hardest hit. Power went out, streets were flooded (the paper reports it was a meter deep on López Mateos at the height of the storm), trees were uprooted, all of which resulted in traffic snarls and accidents. I haven’t seen rainstorms like this since hurricane season in Louisiana. Last night as La Argentina and I walked home from the movie theatre, the street lights were all out and those few blocks back to the Casa were dark and a little unnerving. We arrived safe and unmolested, though. The rain started up again about an hour later, stronger than in the afternoon, this time with lightning and lots of thunder, and the power in the Casa kept blinking on and off.

I went out dancing with friends a couple of times last week. We’re a small group—La Argentina, La Francesa, El Portero (a Mexican) y yo—but it’s easier to get a table that way, and easier to avoid drawing attention to ourselves as (mostly) foreigners. Speaking only Spanish also helps, and people tend to ignore our un-Mexican accents. We had a good time, minus the unfortunate distractions caused by my fellow countrywomen (see parenthetical rant below). The place where the Portero took us on Tuesday had good music, but there was an awesome show and live band at the Cuban club we found on Friday. Recorded salsa music is fine and I’ve never been one to complain about a good DJ, but nothing beats live music. The dance floor was packed so there wasn’t really room to do anything fancy, anyway I’m not especially good at those things. Spins are about as complicated as I get. If someone tries to lead me into anything more I start stepping on my feet.

(Parenthetically: I had a long rant prepared about the shocking and trashy behaviors of slutty norteamericanas who make a spectacle of themselves in dance clubs and other public places, but I’ll but it down to this: I deduce from your actions that you’re shy on self respect, so it’s a tall order but I wish you would think about how your actions reflect on the rest of us who do in fact respect ourselves and our sexuality. We are not all like you, you are just a minority, but we still have to deal with the reputation you construct for all of us, even when we’re just walking down the street. Crossing a border is not license to drink like Hemingway and dance like a cheap hooker. It reflects on all of us, and it’s your fault we have such a nasty reputation abroad, it’s your fault that “gringa” is synonymous with “cheap” and “exploitable”. I pity you and resent you.)

In further salsa news, dance lessons at school are moving along well, and I’ve got a regular partner and we’re learning to work together. He’s a nice German kid. Class went well until the storm cut the power (we have class in the basement theatre, with no windows or natural light). Also yesterday, Raúl (the instructor, and yes, he fits all the stereotypes you might have of a fruity latin dance instructor, we love him) let the cat out of the bag that we’ll be performing our routine for the rest of the students on the last day of school for those who want to participate. Amidst jokes about finding matching flowing red dresses, el alemán and I are wondering if we really want to do that. . . watch this space for updates.

Certainly the most exciting thing to happen this week is that I started the text of my novel (this is especially satisfying/consoling since my “preliminary research” isn’t coming together the way I’d hoped) I’ve only got a little so far, but I’m generally pleased with it. In my writing class (which isn’t really a creative writing class, by the way, it’s mostly mechanics and style) we went over Horacio Quiroga’s decalogue of rules for good writing, and I saw on that list the things that have been holding me up. A couple of the rules that stood out to me:

V. No empieces a escribir sin saber desde la primera palabra adónde vas. En un cuento bien logrado, las tres primeras líneas tienen casi la importancia de las tres últimas. (Don’t start writing without knowing from the first word where you’re headed. In a well-contsructed story, the first three lines are almost as important as the last three).

VIII. Toma a tus personajes de la mano y llévalos firmemente hasta el final, sin ver otra cosa que el camino que les trazaste. . . (Take your characters by the hand and lead them determinedly to the end, without being distracted by anything other than the path you’ve laid out for them. . .)

I realized I’d been trying to write without having fully developed the story line or the characters, thinking those things would magically take shape along the way. So, I spent the next several days really thinking about what I want this novel to say, and how to do that. I eliminated some elements and decided where in the tale I want to begin and end, and spent some time in character development. Yesterday I started writing the text. I’m pleased with it so far. It already needs some clean up, but I’ve started. I also realize this is going to be a longer process than I’d anticipated. It feels so good, though, to be using creative energy. I’ve missed writing. I’ve missed being creative. Yesterday between the storms I took a pause in my walk home (the streets were still somewhat flooded) to stop at a café, where I sat alone with my lunch and my laptop and wrote. I felt so good, so productive.

My husband is also astoundingly supportive of my writing. We’ve talked on the phone a couple of times about what I’m writing and the breakthroughs I’ve had, and I can hear in his voice how happy he is about it. I am the luckiest girl in the world. I miss him so much. Reva, I’m starting to get an inkling of how you felt when Jared was gone in Brazil. Of course, I’m the one who gets to go somewhere exciting and he’s the one left at home, and I’m not seven months pregnant and wondering if I’m going to get a visa in time to give birth, and that’s why I say “an inkling”. It’s an odd kind of missing someone. I miss him so much, and in ways I didn’t anticipate. The last several days I’ve been thinking about a conversation that Reva and I had more than a year ago, about being happily married. I think I’d been married just a few months at the time, and she was barely pregnant. We both had long years of single-hood with what I think was more than our fair share of disappointment, and are both surprised at how lucky we got in marriage. In that conversation she made the comment that some days she can’t believe it’s real, that maybe she’s not really allowed to be this content and blessed, that she keeps waiting for someone to pull the rug out from under her again. I agreed. Presently, I feel much more secure in my marriage (funny how time and even distance should have that effect) and I’m not anxious that it’s all going to fall apart just because everything else did, I’ve gotten over that. But, there are still many days that I find myself wondering how I possibly deserve him. I’m not saying I don’t deserve to be happy, but I am amazed by just how wonderful he is, and how good to me.

I’ll stop before I get too schmoopy. Suffice to say, it’s been a good, productive week, and the creative juices are flowing again. Here’s to waiting out nasty storms.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Instrucciones para pasar el tiempo

It’s been several days since my last post, and in lieu of a thoughtful entry I’m just going to enumerate some of the mildly interesting things that have happened since then (you’re all thrilled, I know).

1. Some friends and I went to a church festival at the local parish, dedicated to San Antonio. I learned only in the last few years that he’s the patron saint of single women seeking husbands, and I also learned some fun tricks that a woman can use, like hanging San Antonio upside down to coerce him into bringing her a husband. A friend told me a story about a woman, tired of waiting and praying in vain, who threw her San Antonio out the window. The statue hit a handsome and charming passerby in the head, who picked up the statue and went knocking doors to return the misplaced Saint to his rightful owner. Of course, when he knocked on the woman’s door they both fell in love at first sight and promptly married happily ever after, which just goes to show that San Antonio really was doing his job. Mexican women, at least in my neighborhood, go to the festival once a year and ask for a coin from three different men in the crowd. Once they’ve procured them, they get at the end of a line that wraps around the block so they can give their three-coin offering to the figure of San Antonio in the church and plead with him that this year he really will bring them a husband. I wasn’t able to get solid information from anyone there as to whether or not the new husband would be one of the three one who coughed up a coin, but there was a general non-committal agreement on that point. We also saw an anticlimactic fireworks display and ate some buñuelos that our friend Daniel bought. Daniel works at a bookstore and he’s going to hook me up.

2. My writing professor had us read some of Julio Cortazar’s “Instrucciones para. . .[varias cosas]”, which are absurd little descriptions of how to properly do really simple things, e.g., “Instrucciones para llorar” (“How to cry”). He then assigned us ridiculous instructions of our own. I thought I went a little over the top on mine (“Instrucciones para comer con palillos chinos”/”How to eat with chopsticks”) but then he told me I write well and asked if I’ve ever thought of it as a career. I was duly flattered.

3. I went to my denomination’s church meetings on Sunday morning (LDS) which lacked a carnival atmosphere but abounded in kind people. It’s a small congregation, so I met most everyone, and was pleasantly surprised that I understood everything that everyone said. Some days I feel better about this language than others. Sunday was a good day.

4. I started taking a salsa class. The class is mostly girls, and yet somehow I, the old married lady, ended up having a male partner (maybe it’s because I’m the old married lady—it’s non-threatening). It was hot in the room and I got very sweaty but I also learned some fun moves and refined a few as well. I’m going to be a dancing machine again here soon. . .

5. Speaking of sweaty, I also went to my very first capoeira class last night. I am very sore. It was fun but I have lots to learn.

And that, dear friends, is what Lola’s been doing the last few days. I am enjoying Guadalajara and might even take some more photos to share soon. Chau for now.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

La comida que cura


Several years ago I took a wonderful anthropology class in my last semester at Metro, a medical anthropology class taught by a delightful professor who’d worked in health care in New Mexico and was well acquainted with the delicate and difficult task of blending western and traditional healing for the patients’ benefit. One of the major themes in the class was the concept of food as medicine/medicine as food, which harks back to earlier lessons in Anthropology 101 in which we learn that we don’t all perceive “food” the same way cross-culturally. Well sure, food is what you eat, what you ingest with the general idea that it will sustain life, while medicine (in its oral indications, anyway) is what you will ingest in the hopes it will restore or maintain vibrant life. Many cultures build grand rituals and subcultures around their gastronomy. Look at the French. Mmm, the pastries, ooh la la. . .but I digress. Food is what you eat, but what will you eat? What do you and your culture define as “food”, suitable for ingestion under quotidian circumstances? What would you ingest as medicine that you’d push away on a plate or in a chilled glass, and which foods’ “curative” powers would you doubt, because they’re only food?

Why do I bring up all the anthrobabble? Two days ago while walking past a taquería on the south side of downtown, beyond the well-scrubbed picturesque plazas between the cathedral and the opera house and into the gritty, sweaty, noisy, human neighborhoods, I spied a pile of pig snouts waiting to be chopped into fine pieces and shoveled into tortillas and laden with salsas and pickled carrots for a clientele who seem not bothered in the least by the origins of their fare. Anyway, the snouts were easily identifiable and in plain view, right behind the glass up again the sidewalk, so any Fulano who stops for a quick snort, I mean bite, knows what he’s buying, so I can only assume there’s no trickery here, except maybe a horrid sacrilegious joke on a blind, hungry Jew or Muslim who can’t see what’s they’re serving him. Yet another reason for me to avoid the pork tacos, at least in that neighborhood. I promise there’s a point to the pig snouts, I’m not just testing your stomach. Moving on: a few blocks later I walked past a market where, a few years ago while wandering the folk medicine/witchcraft section (I still don’t consider love spells “medicine”) I happened upon a serpentine mess of what appeared to be desiccated, skinned, and decapitated carcasses hanging down long and precariously from the edge of a stall. ¿Cascabeles?, I wondered. I verified the identity of the suspect remains with the proprietress and in our subsequent chat she swore to me that rattlesnake, ground up and served as a tea, alleviates the sufferings of cancer patients and in some cases even cures the disease itself. I was doubtful, but having seen loved ones bear the ravages of chemotherapy in hopes (often vain, I might add) of a cure or a respectable spell of remission, I promised myself at that moment that if it came down to it, I’d try a few swigs of her rattlesnake brew before submitting myself to chemo.

Am I really less disgusted by drinking reconstituted snake powder than the possibility of running across a pig booger in my taco? Honestly, yes. Ponder the swine mucous for a moment and you’ll come around. Would I eat the snout tacos if I thought they might cure cancer? Hmm. That’s a tougher decision. How much would I have to eat, and for how long? Here chemo might come out on top. On the flip side, I’d do snake as medicine, but I’d only eat it to be polite or if I were raving hungry and had no other options. Sure it’s “food”, it’s muscle tissue, and more appetizing than a pig’s septum, but don’t look for me to be ordering rattlesnake tenderloin (because snake have “loins”, don’t you know) at a Cowboy Old-West theme restaurant. I grew up in the mountain west eating wild game and I have nothing to prove.

Mexicans eat menudo, some because they like it and others only to stave off or diminish hangovers. Many people in the US don’t like Jägermeister strictly because it reminds them of NyQuil. My husband and other more easterly-bound travelers than myself tell me that Russians despise root beer, because their cough syrups have the same flavor. What would they think of Sonic’s recent promotion offering free root beer floats to kick off the summer? Who doesn’t like root beer floats? Go ahead, say it—“That’s just plain un-American”. Of course it is.

So back to the original point of this unappetizing reflection: food is what you eat, but what will you eat, and why do you eat it? Do you detest broccoli and salmon and dark chocolate but eat them anyway because your doctor told you to? What else would you eat if you thought it might cure or prevent illness? What would you eat to be polite? During study group or even in a less seasoned anthropology professor’s lecture, this topic can quickly degenerate into a gross-out-fest in which students compare the nastiest thing they’ve ever eaten. Even in that discussion, though, listen up, because everyone’s “worst food” is likely to be an animal product, and probably from an animal or body part that your culture doesn’t consider “food”, or in an unacceptable condition (raw, rotten). Sorry, but no one’s going much impressed by even the worst tofu burger, not when the other contestants are blood sausage, fish heads, and goat with the singed hair still attached.

Anyway, this morning I went back to that same crazy market, Mercado Libertad, with another seasoned Guadtrotter to show it to a newbie in the city, and she was duly amazed by it. (I also rode the subway for the first time here, which was fast but extremely crowded as one expects a subway to be). I looked around again for the rattlesnake hocker, and found her again in the same spot, but the rest of that brujería section of the market has sadly diminished since my last extended stay here, and most the area is now filled with DVD pirates. I also looked and looked for a pile of pig snouts to illustrate this entry, but alas, found none. I did, however, capture some pigs feet, and a creative use for limes and a defleshed goat skull (doesn’t it look like those drawings of El Chupacabras?). If you're interested, the going rate for pigs feet is 18pesos/kilo. That's about 80 cents a pound, guys, cheap animal protein! I’ve spared you the more graphic images like the skinned lambs’ heads and piles of hearts and tripas, but if you want to see them, you know where to go.

Eat up, friends. Lola’s having salad for dinner.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Fiesta de Mariachi


Today was the first day of school, but not the first day of classes. We had orientation, placement testing, and a Mariachi Party out in the rear courtyard. Obviously the Mariachis were the best part of the school day. How often do you get that? I'm not always a big fan of the genre, and normally I can only take it in for short periods of time (read: a set of three songs, tops). These guys, though, were thoroughly entertaining, and they had a fun blend of the traditional with healthy doses references to pop music and culture thrown in, and lots of (sometimes coerced) audience participation. Throughout the set, they picked on about half a dozen unsuspecting souls and sang to them, danced with them, sat on the them, etc. Add tacos, salsa and horchata, and you've got a dang good party for the middle of the day.

It's odd to be back here, and stranger still to be here by myself. We were a group of twelve when I came before, and fairly tight by the time we got here, and closer still by the time we left. I feel much more like an observer this time around. The vast majority of the students are in large groups (between 25 and 60+) representing about six or seven universities in the US. Most appear to be quite a bit younger than me, and a few significantly older (My parents' age). They're already establishing their social groups, and I don't know whether I should lament that or not. The truth is that I'm not interested in hanging out with kids my students' age who will likely drink unsafe and astounding quantities of alcohol since they can do it legally here, in public, no fake ID required. I did that last time (hung out with them, not drank myself silly, that is). However, there's still this tiny part of me that wants to be liked. Oh well. Now that I've got a phone (!) I can get in touch with my old friends here and speak Spanish with real Mexicans instead of more students. Also, classes will start tomorrow and I'll meet more people, at least the ones in my class. I don't want to give the impression that people are unfriendly, because everyone seems pretty nice (espcially the group from Valdosta, bless their southern hearts). I should give myself some slack in my rate of adjustment-- I've still only been here three days. At least I speak the language already and I'm not concerned about trying to hook up with some young hunk, because I've got a nicely aged one at home and minimal drama in my life. Just in those two respects I've got it significantly easier than lots of these kids.

I'll sign off with a couple of little observations. First, Reva, there is an avocado tree in the courtyard here at the school. I never noticed it before because it was giving flowers rather than fruit when I was here in the spring. The tree is huge, big enough to climb, with fat fruits that will be the size of Solei's head when they're done (okay, maybe not that big, but they're huge).

Also, I while I kind of like Mariachi, I've always been more than a little creeped out by the pants. The worst ones I've ever seen were skin-tight leather. NOT sexy, just icky and awful. The ones from today weren't so bad, but they weren't so good, either. At left we observe an illustration of some mildly unnerving pants. Nothing quite like Mariachi-butt to spice up your day.

My man wears normal pants, and for that and many other reasons I love him.

Well, buenas nalgas, I mean noches, everyone. Enjoy!

A solas

As the plane was setting down on Friday, it occurred to me that this is my first solo trip abroad. I’ve managed to get alone time before when I’ve traveled, but this is the first time I’ve arrived alone. It feels strange and good and not nearly so liberating or empowering as I’d hoped. I’m a bit underwhelmed in already knowing I can get by just fine on my own here, that a solo trip to Guadalajara is nothing daring. Now Tunisia, that would have made me feel like a bigger woman, even traveling with a group of fellow lingua-nerds.

I perceive myself as a pretty solitary person. I always spent lots of time alone, even as a child (weird, nerdy little kids don’t always have friends), and as an adult I work and study alone a great deal of the time. This isn’t to say that I haven’t developed social skills, and I think I do well socially and am blessed with wonderful friends, but I also know that I start to go a little crazy when I don’t get a few hours of time alone every day. Perhaps that’s why I’m such a madrugadora, so that I can start the day out right by myself before anyone else is awake, like today. My best friend and I are opposites in this way; she needs a steady diet of interaction with people to keep from going crazy, and need a break from other people to maintain that sometimes delicate mental balance.

All that said, I can’t believe how much I missed my husband this weekend. Not that he isn’t miss-able—he’s wonderful company. I just didn’t think I’d miss him this much, this soon. We talked briefly on Saturday (when I called he was over at my parents’ house helping my Dad with some things, what a guy!) and I told him I missed him more than I thought I would, but that I figured things would feel socially normalized after the weekend when I get into a routine. The days aren’t so bad—I love walking through the city and getting my bearings and taking in all of this. There is so much to appreciate, like the faded red-and-white checkerboard sidewalks and the sounds of mass and singing coming out little corner churches in the morning, and how it’s so green and things grow everywhere, and oh, the people. Watching the people is the best of all. The nights are harder, though, and I realize that I’ve become accustomed to spending my evenings, even just the last few minutes before sleep, winding down with my husband, and to falling asleep curled up with him. I also miss my cell phone, and feel strangely disconnected without it (though I’m getting used to that, too). I’m one of those people in the habit of calling someone and making commentary when I see something funny. Usually it’s my brother or my best friend, or my husband if he’s not busy at work or in class. Countless times this weekend I saw something striking or amusing and wanted to tell someone, only to remember that I didn’t have a cellphone capable of calling the US. It occurs to me that maybe this is how I manage to spend so much time alone these days; I’m still just a ring away from the people I love most and who appreciate/share my twisted take on life’s little oddities.

On a humorous note, shortly after I left on Friday my husband locked himself out of the house, maybe because I couldn’t make him check for his keys as he left, and on Saturday I ate popcorn at the movies (yes, I went to the movies alone) and got stomach cramps because my husband wasn’t around to remind me not to eat movie popcorn. Funny how we otherwise “independent” people let ourselves slip into dependence when we marry.

Yesterday evening I made a friend. I was in the kitchen fixing a light dinner (I’ve moved into the University guest house) and there was a nice Argentine girl there. We started chatting and talked for a while. She’s also married, here alone without her husband, close to my age, and studying something different than the kids from the US. It’s good to make another friend. Of course, being Argentine, she’s totally useless from the standpoint of my improving my hypothesis-in-the-making about patterns of Mexican speech, and that’s nice. I can enjoy talking to her without trying to observe the little nuances of her word choices and intonation.

I have to get ready for school. I’m glad I already made friends with the Argentine because I’m not sure how much I’m going to have in common with the other students here. I’m kind of an old woman. More to come.