Friday, July 13, 2007


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


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


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!