Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Donald Does Mexico

It appears Trump will not get great service at this restaurant
Unknown to most, The Donald decided to travel to Mexico the weekend prior to the US Presidential elections to try to sway a few Mexican-Americans and Expat Gringos to jump on the Trump Train.  We took him for a stroll around town, showed him the Ajijic plaza which still sported a few Catrinas left over from last week's Day of the Dead celebration, and to the malecon where people were gathered to enjoy Sunday in the sun by the lake with families and friends.  

Banned from Gay Stripper Night. Poor Donald
We introduced him to a few people and tried to get a feel of his image here locally.  

The initial response to the floppy haired, orange faced billionaire was certainly one of suspicion.  Young and old stopped to stare - perhaps evaluating his motives for being here.

As his local handlers, we, too, were eyed with a great deal of skepticism and distrust, until it became clear that the anti-Mexican rhetoric that The Donald often spews is not shared by us and that we adore Mexico and her people!

Young and Old wanted a look at the US billionaire
THEN, the party began and people lined up to have their photo taken with the man who announced his candidacy for President by calling out Mexicans, insisting they are criminals and rapists, and insisting on building a wall across the Mexican/American border which Mexico would be somehow forced to pay for.  

Most people - both Mexican and Expats - had a thing or two to “say” - be it a thumbs down on Trump's political future, a thump on his jaw, or a demonstration of how they would like to help him down our cobblestone streets.  

"Carry him THIS way!" we were told
(Specific comments and thoughts have been edited to protect the innocent!)

The hope locally, of course, was that the upcoming election would be the end of this uncouth business tycoon and reality show personality - turned politician. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter Holy Week in Mexico

Clover-lined streets to the Cathedral beyond
Palm Sunday, the streets near my house glow green from the clover which is spread on Hidalgo, the street that leads to the main Cathedral in town. Before evening mass, Jesus rides a donkey up this street, flanked by men in period costume, and followed by a silent procession of hundreds of the faithful.

The nearby plaza is a riot of color from bright crepe-paper banners. As evening progresses, bands play in the gazebo and thousands of people sample food from small mom and pop stalls. Homemade signs advertise tacos, enchiladas, sopas, and Mexican coffee. Families stroll arm in arm, snacking on ears of corn. Beautiful young women in heels lick the ice cream that is melting from cones, and children break away from their parents to chase each other, tossing paper eggs which burst with bright confetti.

The plaza is a riot of color
Thursday evening, the church holds mass outside, and afterwards a passion play is held on a stage which has been erected at the plaza for the event. Things are not looking good for Jesus.

A block away, the women have gathered in the streets to begin hanging the purple and white crepe-paper banners which they have been making for days.  I wonder at the dynamics of the groups that work together, of the one or two single families who do their own decorations.  We begin at 10, working by the glow of a few street lights and a nearly full moon. By midnight, street traffic has died down and a few men appear, lean ladders against walls and climb to the rooftops where they pull the long strings of banners into the air and attach them to tops of homes.

Purple and white banners and clean cobblestones
Good Friday morning arrives and people are out early. Soon, Jesus will be marched from the Church up our street into the mountains where he will be hung on a cross. Those neighbors who didn’t get their decorations up last night must finish decorating now.  At the base of each block, special “gates” are built with palm fronds and decorations more elaborate than the thousands of alternating purple and white crepe-paper banners that line the way to the mountain. Police remove cars that are left on the streets, and brooms appear as grandmothers and daughters sweep dust and scraps of paper from the cobblestones.  

I have invited friends to my home to watch the event, lured to join me with the promise of homemade blueberry waffles. We know that trials continue in front of the church and soon Jesus will make his appearance. Unlike most other Mexican processions, this one is so quiet they have begun to pass the house before we know they are upon us.

Already Jesus has fallen and he has far to go
We rush to the door just as Jesus passes my house. His blood covered tunic is hot in the Mexican sun, even at this altitude, and he trips and falls. He has walked only 2 1/2 blocks at this point and he has a mile or so to go, dragging 200 pounds of rugged cross over his shoulder and up the steep mountainside. A woman stops and tells me she had a friend who’s husband played the role of Jesus a few years ago.  The role is so grueling that they practice daily for a year to build up strength.  Our streets are cobblestones, a challenge to walk on for anyone, but the weight of the cross bounces with each stone that it hits, digging the wood into shoulder of the man who has accepted this role.

Down on his knees in front of the house, Jesus' guards surround him, give him a moment to rest before helping him to his feet so he can complete the march up the mountain where he’ll be hung from those rugged branches.

This is just too hard to watch. Though many follow and spend the day with Jesus high in the mountains above our lakeside homes, I can't go further than the nearest corner.  I pray that the Jesus actor made it okay and I'm glad for the two ambulances which follow the procession into the mountains.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Letter To Arayo

Arayo had the most expressive face I ever photographed
If you are lucky, once in a lifetime, a soul enters your life and touches you in such a way that you are never the same again.

Such was the bond that began by a mud hut in Uganda. As I held her weathered brown hand, I promised the frail 100 year old woman that I would name my next “child” after her, then all too soon, I began a search for a dog who I hoped would embody her same wondrous soul. My sweet Arayo. After months of searching for the perfectly healthy dog with a temperament of gold, you climbed into my lap, and I knew my search was over. You had claimed me as yours and while everyone said “leave that dog alone” our hearts were already joined.

For the next 11 1/2 years we moved through life in unison.  Many came to know you through your health challenges, and you slowly won over even the toughest critics - those who said you would be nothing but heart break and expense. “I thought you were crazy, but now I understand,” even my vet admitted.
Willing to pose in the most unusual places

As a Newfoundland supermodel, you tolerated hours in front of a camera, and became known across the globe through your line of cards and prints.

Trained for water rescue (the Newfoundland breed’s calling), you delighted swimmers, kayakers and even a stranded motor boat owner as you pulled them from the frigid Puget Sound waters.

Together we sat with the dying, while you rested your big head on laps and I watched weary hands reach out to caress your soft fur.  

To a child, kidnapped by a parent and hidden away for years, unschooled - you offered weekly encouragement to learn to read. You brought joy to a little girl, upset over her parent’s divorce, and as the two of you worked to learn new skills, you were her teammate as she became the youngest person, at 10 years old, to put a new working title on a giant Newfoundland dog.

As a friend to a crusty old sailor who had lost his hearing and eyesight, you offered a steading brace during hours spent on the docks as he relived long ago days spent at sea.

Then came the day we packed our car and headed across the US and Canada, with just a tent, a camera and a blog. As word of your travels spread, for 6 months, people reached out, invited you into their homes and strangers became life-long friends.

A 7th birthday portrait
In Newfoundland, you patiently posed for hundreds of travelers and locals alike, who wanted a photo with a Newfoundland dog. Wonder filled the faces of young children, who had never seen a Newfoundland outside of a picture book. And on that long lonely stretch of road across the Province, an ambulance stopped, a side door opened and as you were motioned closer, I watched as the face of the patient inside was transformed by an enormous smile.

Then, finally we traveled to be with my mother while her life was being claimed by cancer. Often, I’d hear her talking and discover you at her side, keeping her company in her final days.

My sweet sweet Arayo. You were the one that was supposed to live forever, and, as a stranger wrote - if tears could heal, you would. Together we traveled so many roads, shared so many experiences, and met so many wonderful people.  Because of you, my life has been far richer than I could ever have imagined.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sweet Sweet Arayo - April 17, 2004 - February 5, 2016

Arayo poses for a holiday card. She always had the most expressive eyes.
How can it be that my sweet Arayo is gone?  A few weeks ago I noticed a growth on the side of her mouth. The vet immediately took her into surgery and removed a tumor and two teeth, but within 6 days the tumor was back and growing quickly. 

Hemangiosarcoma.  The vet said to just love her - it would go quickly. And it did. In 3 weeks the cancer had won.  When she wouldn't take her daily walks to the malecon and eat big meals topped with layers of whipped cream, I knew it was time. A friend called the vet for me and Arayo and I cuddled on the couch for 6 hours before I had to say the final goodbye.  It has been a week and a half and I am still destroyed by the loss.  

I have written a letter to my sweet girl which I will publish in a day or so.  In the meantime - 

Arayo - Capriccio's Life's What U Make It, CD, DD, WD1
April 17, 2004 - February 5, 2016
Arayo poses for her second Living Legend Portrait - age 11

Companion Dog, Draft Dog, Water Dog (twice!). Certified Therapy Dog and Crisis Response Dog.  Living Legend twice.

Supermodel with own line of cards and prints, international world traveler with her own blog, great camper, friend to too many people to count.

Patient, gentle, kind (though a couple cats and a bird might disagree).

My sweet girl, I don't know if the tears will ever really stop.  My life is forever enriched for having shared all the experiences of the last 11 1/2 years with you.  11 years, 20 years, even 50 years would not be time enough. You took an enormous piece of my heart with you in your passing. How I miss you.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Defying Explanations

Altar the night of Day of the Dead. Notice the bread with the cross on top.
I am not one to believe in a lot of hocus pocus, though I want to believe there are things we can't explain. I want to believe that if you fly into the Bermuda Triangle you will disappear. Maybe. But I don't put a ton of stock in these things.

I don't wave incense around to ward off, or draw to me, certain spirits. But, still…..  Sometimes things happen that defy explanation.

This year, I built an altar to my parents for the Day of the Dead. Did I think their spirits would return to the altar? No. Heck, I know they wouldn't.  I cut down a tree a couple days after my mom died that was smack dab in front of her house.  She loved the tree.  I hated it.  I knew that if there was ANY way that she could return to give me a good haunt, it would happen the night I butchered that tree. She did not return.

But, out of respect for my new Mexican life, and to honor my parent's memory, I built an altar. On November 2, the Day of the Dead, I moved it to the front of my house. Here it was back from the street, visible from the sidewalk but protected from the elements.  Positioned as it  was and behind a locked gate, no human could reach it.

I added the things I was told were needed.  Tomatoes for Mom, fruit and other food my parents enjoyed. I bought the special Mexican sweet bread that altars are to have. It is a yummy piece of dough, perhaps 6" in diameter.  On top, a cross of dough is baked into the bread and sugar is sprinkled across it.  I placed my bread in a bowl near a cross made of salt and a small bowl of sugar.

That night, I lit the candles and took a few photos, finally blowing them out before going to bed.

The next morning I awoke and went outside to check the altar. Everything was as it had been the night before. The trinkets were in place, the food untouched. (Apparently the spirits don't eat the food but the nourishment from it is gone after their visit.) Photos weren't moved. The cross of salt was totally intact - unmoved by wind, critters or departed souls.

But, in the bowl, the bread……… No human could have reached this and no critter bothered it without disturbing something else. But something had come in the night and eaten half the bread. Something, somehow turned that bread over so as not to disturb the cross. The bread was carefully returned to its place in the bowl and the bottom half of the bread eaten or removed.

That who or whatever did this refused to eat the cross and carefully replaced the bread into its bowl is just too bizarre for description and defies all logic.  

Did some soul return for a snack on this Day of the Dead? Somehow, that is the only thing that makes sense to me - and it sends shivers down my spine.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mexican Serenade

A charming group of musicians

I love my neighborhood.  I'm afraid you will hear that a lot.

As I was getting my day underway this morning, I heard the strains of a band performing…….. right outside my door?  Bombs had been blowing off since about 5 am, and it isn't unusual to hear bands practicing, but today is Halloween and the real beginning of the Day of the Dead celebration, so a parade is probably in the making.

But, I've never known a band to line up on the sidewalk across from my house to play a number or two.

Leaving Arayo to fend for herself, I grabbed my camera and dashed outside.

Men, dressed in black slacks, jackets and blue tops appeared to be serenading someone, and as I stood in the street to better take photos of this event, I looked over my shoulder. There in the window of the house next to mine, stood a group of women. 

Then I knew.

My neighbor has a daughter, 33, who has lupus and has been confined to a bed next to that window for 13 years. The band was there to give her her own mini-concert, to brighten her day and let her know that she is not forgotten by the community.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Building an Altar

Fernanda and Andrea and my family altar

Day of the Dead.  What a morbid holiday.   At least, that is what I thought before I arrived in Mexico last year just in time for the annual celebration of those who have passed.  It didn't take long before I was totally hooked.

So, one of my goals has been to embrace this time of year by participating in the tradition of building an altar. To this end, I have researched, talked to friends and family, dug through stuff and shopped.

Realizing I was in a bit over my head, I contacted a Mexican friend who had teenage daughters for help. Not only would I get my altar, I'd get to know a Mexican family better. I win twice!

After an initial visit to talk this through, Sergio and his daughters Fernanda and Andrea came to the house to help me assemble this tribute to my parents. Everything on the altar has a significance and a purpose. 

In reading online, I found a wide assortment of directions, but I followed the advice of my teenage teachers.  In general you need three levels to your altar and they should be draped with crepe paper; a larger purple bottom one, a smaller pink level in the middle and a purple top level. Purple signifies mourning, pink celebration.

Photos of the loved ones are placed on the alter. Since I wanted to include remembrance of my grandparents, we added images of them as well.

A cross of salt is normally placed at the base, signifying the four directions and leading the departed to the altar. Candles, incense and marigolds are placed about, further helping the departed find their way back.

Once the loved ones have returned, which happens for departed children on November 1 and for adults November 2, the souls need things to help them feel at home.  A bit of water and a wash cloth is nice so they can freshen up after their journey. Their favorite foods and some of the things they enjoyed in life should be included.

So,  here are the things I included for my parents:

Close up of the Carpenter/Hughes Altar
For Mom I included a necklace she enjoyed wearing, a can of tomato soup and a jar of peanut butter. There is a small figurine of a dog, a deck of cards and a set of doorknobs that were originally on the house that she and Dad built.  Oh, and not to forget, a teeny pair of scissors to trim her nails, the ever important tube of red lipstick and a silly rock that has hair, a clown nose and big clown smile.

For Dad there is a small bottle of Coke (and a separate one for Mom since he never shared his food).  There is a radio so he can catch up on whatever he needs to catch up on, a Rotary ball cap, a roll of duct tape (because no man can survive without duct tape), a bottle of sun screen and one of vitamins. I should probably add a Discover card so he can get his 1% back on any purchases.

The Day of the Dead and building of an altar to honor loved ones is a lovely way to remember those who have played an important part in our lives.  Consider trying on this Mexican tradition in your own home!

Next year I am building an altar to my darling departed Newfoundlands!