Monday, December 31, 2018

South Louisiana 2018: Between the Old and the New

Black-eyed peas for New Year's Eve at Agnes', Opelousas, Louisiana. December 2018.

Yeah, OK, so we had the black-eyed peas on the last day of the old year instead of the first day of the new. But our kind hostess, Agnes, is from France, and it was already the new year in France.

We eat the black-eyed peas to invite prosperity in the new year.

I am already so prosperous.

I am prosperous in:
  • People who love me
  • Good friends
  • Good health
  • Joyful experience of dance
  • Adolescent dreams come true
  • Freedom to roam as my heart pleases
  • Shelter, food, clothing

Well, yes, my sturdy and steadfast car has failed, but that is part of life.

Three years ago, I was the happy guest of another of Agnes' parties:

In this December 2018, I am between the old and new year, and also between my Missouri Year and my upcoming Tucson Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

To Louisiana Again: The Playlist

Louisiana Highway 3083. November 2013.

Finished with the Missouri year, and following my month in Mexico City, I'm on my way to next year's home by way of a several-weeks stop in South Louisiana.

Dropping down to South Louisiana from Missouri is a long, but not-unpleasant one-day drive.

Coming down, my road-trip playlist was so good. It included: 

The winner of the day was the Luther soundtrack.

I especially liked Marilyn Manson's cover of the Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams."

But top honors go to Robert Plant's cover of "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down."

Writing this reminds me of the day I drove down to South Louisiana for my first year of living there, back in 2013. In The Drive to My New Home: Day1, I featured bits of that day's driving playlist:

In 2011, I took my first road trip to South Louisiana, not knowing then that I'd move there two years later. Again, I noted my satisfaction with the music. Here's my post, Louisiana Road Trip, Part 1: Driving Day in Driving Rain.

In the video on that post, a heavy-duty bluesman accompanied the rain and the wipers. John Lee Hooker, I believe.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Mexico City: The Caravan: Family Values

Mexico City. Flowers on stone wall. November 2018.

I said goodbye to "Sara" and "Esteban," the young parents of charming princeling, little "Edgar," and soon-to-be parents of the infant "Yasmina," due any day now.

As I left the guesthouse, this refugee family of the 2nd caravan was on the guesthouse stoop, along with their belongings, awaiting transportation to a new shelter.

Esteban is the man with the glorious voice, which he displays while showering. Once, he stood on the stairs that climb up into the open meeting room, where refugee women, children, and men sleep on the floor on mats. He looked down at me, at the dining table in our communal sala, and sang.

I hope this family finds the safety, health, food, shelter, and employment they seek. The basics that we all want.

Sara, Esteban, little Edgar, and the soon-to-see-light Yasmina - these are the souls who are "criminals"?

No, Edgar and Yasmina's parents are doing exactly what they can do to protect their children.

We in the US are ready to tear gas them out of fear.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mexico City: The Caravan: The "Invaders"

Mexico City. A little girl's birthday cake. November 2018.

This is the birthday cake for one of the potential "invaders" of the United States.

A little girl who just turned eight.

Before the cutting of the cake, the birthday girl´s daddy gave thanks to God, while holding his daughter in an embrace, for all of the blessings he appreciated for his family and the people around him, and his faith in their future.

This is the same man who, out of the blue, crafted two paper flowers for me last week.

The little girl´s mommy is who runs through reading and math exercises with her daughter and son ... because ... being a refugee means no school. ...

Yeah, so these are the "invaders."

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Mexico City: The Caravan: A Homey Dish

Mexico City - Atol de elote. December 2018.

Last night, one of my Salvadoran housemates introduced me to atol de elote.

"Linda" was rather nonplussed by the rave reactions from me and a Mexican housemate, as to her, this is an ordinary budget dish.

White corn (elote), cream, and cinnamon are the predominant flavors.

Its warm, sweet, thick creaminess soothes your heart and belly like a bowl of oatmeal or cream of wheat made for you by your grandmother.

Although atol de elote may be mundane to Linda, there are others who quite disagree:

Saveur: Guatemalan Sweet Corn and Milk Drink
Global Table Adventure: Creamy Sweet Corn Drink
196 Flavors: Atol de Elote

Mexico City - Atol de elote. December 2018.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Mexico City: Toilets I Have Known, Including This One

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

I'm no stranger to strange toilets.

I've seen the toilets of:

Outhouse in Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia. Straight to the stream

I've seen some fancy schmancy toilets, some humble toilets, some toilets perched on the sides of hills, some godawfully filthy toilets, and some toilets that included instructions for their use.

Toilet with instructions, Tbilisi, Georgia.

I've seen toilets that were holes in the floor, some with nice tile surrounds, some with wood surrounds, and some that were just holes in the ground.

Some toilets had toilet paper. Some had water sprayers. Some had little buckets of water. A museum in Mtskheta, Georgia, offered a page from a newspaper crossword puzzle.

Museum restroom, Mtskheta, Georgia.

In Mexico City, there are public baths or toilets that you can pay to use.

One day, I turned into one. Cost: 5 pesos.

I was at the front of the line for what appeared to be the entrance to a quite nice little toilet room. However, whomever was in there ahead of me was taking her own sweet time. Someone directed me upstairs to other toilets, and well, it wasn't quite so nice there.

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

Public pay bathroom, Mexico City. November 2018.

One does what one must.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Mexico City: My Daily Eats

My typical fare in Mexico City. November 2018.

In my early days here, I had my share of tacos and gorditos deliciosos, but then I settled down into more typical eating for me.

Most days, I boil eggs or make an omelette for breakfast. Day-to-day, my lunch, dinner and night-time meal are a variation of:

  • Bread from my preferred panaderia;
  • Hard, salty farmers´cheese from the Saturday market;
  • Tomatoes;
  • Fruit;
  • Carrots;
  • Jicama.

In the photo above is a giant, angry-red orange from Michoacan. It is sweet with a fragrant, sharp note.

Also above is a clutch of variegated rosemary, which I add to my tomato sandwiches or omelettes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mexico City: My Laundry

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

Once a week, I take my laundry to one of the several lavanderias in my neighborhood.

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

Sometimes my laundry is ready for me to pick up the same day, sometimes I´m asked to pick it up the next afternoon.

To have my items washed, dried, folded, and placed in a tightly-wrapped plastic shroud, it costs 20 pesos per kilo.

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

One time, my laundry weighed 3.5 kilos and it cost me 70 pesos (about $3.50 US). Another time, my laundry weighed 3 kilos, so it cost me 60 pesos (about $3 US).

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

The people who operate the lavanderia that I patronize are amiable and professional.

I estimate a minimum of three lavanderias within four square blocks of my residence. Does the local demand for external laundry services support such an intense supply or is the competition to attain and retain customers fierce?

Are the lavanderias owned by a chain, franchised, or individually owned? I see the name "Edison" associated with them, but I don´t know if this is a chain brand or perhaps the brand of the machines used.

I don´t know the answers to any of these questions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mexico City: My Bakery

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

Every day, I go to the same bakery. In addition to offering the prosaic bread I seek, it seduces its visitors with sweet concoctionary dreams.

From the crowded sidewalk, the interior looks like this:

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

Bolillos, white and brown, nestle in a wide, deep nursery of sorts, sometimes warm from the oven, where they await plucking by those of us ready to gobble them up.

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

A brief tour in this video below:

Let´s talk costs of my daily bread:

  • White bolillos x 2 = 3 pesos
  • Wheat bolillos x 2 = 5 pesos
  • Seeded, flat roll x 1 = 5.5 pesos
  • Total for day = 13.5 pesos = 66 cents US

I am put in mind of the Bowie Bakery in El Paso´s Segundo Barrio.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Life Hacks From the Road: The Fine Print, Literally

Blurry product label.

When shopping, there are times, even with my reading glasses, I can´t make out the small print on a product package.

Damn it, that´s frustrating.

One day, a hack occurred to me.

I whipped out my phone, selected the camera, and used the built-in zoom.

Voila! I can read the tiny print!

I´d forgotten this hack the other day when shopping for coffee at the Walmart in Mexico City. I had to ask a passing woman if she could tell me whether the chocolate flavoring of the coffee meant there were added calories.

Clear product label.

Other life hacks from the road here.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Mexico City: The Midwestern Wope

Ball on roof, Picacho Street, Las Cruces, NM. July 2013.

We sat at the dining room table in the guesthouse's communal sala, or living room.

Three of us English-speakers were at the table: me + two guesthouse volunteers. "Bo," of Minnesota and Wisconsin origin, was talking to another volunteer, I don't remember who.

I was probably busy eating lunch.

But my radar blipped at something Bo said to the other volunteer, which was: "Midwesterners have a special word they use: ope." He elaborated on the alleged lingustic factoid, saying that we midwesterners utter this word when we bump into something or someone or drop something or suffer some other minor spatial accident or near-accident.

My knee-jerk reaction was: "Maybe that's true in Minnesota, but that's not something we say in Missouri." (Hopefully, I didn't say this out loud, but I may have.)

LESS THAN 24 HOURS LATER, I was in the communal kitchen, at the stove, where I dropped something and I said, "Wope!"

Jesus, it hit me. We Missourians say this ALL THE TIME.

There are variations:

Bo, I'm sorry I doubted ye.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Mexico City: The Caravan: The Roses Left Behind

El Paso Municipal Rose Garden. May 2017.

One day, "Lina," a young married woman with two children, showed me photos of the rose bushes from her garden back home in El Salvador.

The photos are all that she has now of her garden.

El Paso Municipal Rose Garden. May 2017.

Lina showed me her roses while we stood in the communal kitchen of the guesthouse - the guesthouse where I had a tiny, but private room, and where her family of four slept on mats on the floor, next to strangers, in the meeting room above us.

Lina used to have her own kitchen, her own sala. She had the garden. She and her husband and their two children used to sleep in beds. Their own beds. Her children went to school.

Regardless of your view about human migration - documented or undocumented - let's always remember this: No one casually leaves behind everything of comfort they knew before. No one casually pulls their children from school. No one casually enters into a journey of thousands of miles into an uncertain future, but with known dangers to themselves and their children. No one casually gives up control over their own home domain to enter into a temporary shelter to sleep on the floor with strangers.

No one casually abandons the roses they tended in their personal gardens of Eden.

What reality would be so dire that Lina and her husband would take their two young children, abandon their home, school, neighborhood, and close family, and flee into the unknown? To be imprisoned, en famille, in a Mexican jail before finding release into a Mexican shelter?

Death. Specific, detailed, written death threats against Lina's husband for something he saw.

El Paso Municipal Rose Garden. May 2017.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Mexico City: Misadventure in Translation

A very special shampoo. Mexico City. November 2018.

The delightful Rasha, the woman-who-loves from Oman, and a fellow guest at the guesthouse, speaks a lot and a little of a several languages: Arabic, of course. English, fluently. Some Swahili, some Spanish, and ... oh, let's go back to the Spanish.

Like me, Rasha had a private room with a shared bath. For convenience, fellow guests often leave some of their toiletries in the shower, such as shampoo.

Rasha loves fragrances, and sometimes will use shampoo to wash her hands because of their lovely scents. Well, there's that reason, plus in the shared baths of the guesthouse, tiny pink bars of soap may be present in one moment and gone the next, so shampoo might do in a pinch, anyway.

One day, Rasha was in the bathroom and when came the moment to wash her hands, she remembered a chubby tube of shampoo in the shower. Rasha lifted it to her nose, inhaled the scent, and liked it. Rasha read the label, yup, shampoo. Who cared that it was for men? It cleaned and it smelled good.

Rasha wetted her hands, squeezed some shampoo on same, and lathered up. Mmm, the creamy shampoo felt nice and smelled nice. She rinsed off, walked out of the bathroom, and set about the next business of her day.

...... Until not much time later when she noticed that her hands and fingers had become streaked with walnut brown stains.

Aieeee! What happened?!

Rasha dashed backed into the bathroom, snatched up the squeeze bottle of shampoo, re-read the front, and, only then, processed the full translation:

"Fades the gray" 
"Coloring shampoo"

Rasha found some real soap and vigorously scrubbed her hands and nails to remove as much colorant as possible.

It took days for all of it to disappear.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Mexico City: Mexicrania

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

Dear Toronto Brains, I have found your missing skulls. They are in Mexico City.

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

The exhibit is Mexicráneos, written about here and here.

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

A slide show below, which includes some of my companions:

Mexico City - Mexicraneos

You'll see in the slide show that I had my favorite skulls.

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

Mexicráneos art installation (skulls), Mexico City. November 2018.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Life Hacks From the Road: Bread Bags

Sadly dry bread. Mexico City. November 2018.

In Mexico City, I went every morning to a local bakery for my day's bread.

The bread baggers asked: Paper or plastic?

We should get paper, right? Of course. Not only for the environment but for the bread.

Well, damn.

I discovered that putting my bread in a paper bag for the day resulted in dry, crumbly bread before the day was out. Putting my bread in a plastic bag resulted in soft, chewy bread all day.

Counter-intuitive to me.

My solution: Re-use my plastic bag on my daily bread pick-ups.

It could be most of the world already knew this about bread.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Mexico City: March of the Zombies

March of the Zombies, Mexico City. November 11, 2018.

Families that gross each other out together stay together?

March of the Zombies, Mexico City. November 11, 2018.

I don't know. And I don't know how my brain parses the entertainment distinction it makes between a show like Dexter, about a serial killer, and the venerable old show, The Sopranos, about old-school gangsters. Why did I feel entertained by Dexter but repelled by The Sopranos?

March of the Zombies, Mexico City. November 11, 2018.

Why do I feel entertained, in a feel-good horrified Halloweeny way, by what I saw at the March of the Zombies, yet almost traumatized by certain scenes from the Queen of the South and the first episode of Season 7 of Walking Dead? In regard to the latter two TV shows, I had to turn them off and never return.

A slide show below:

March of the Zombies

A creepy baby movie below:

Thousands of zombies marched from the Plaza de Revolucion.

Ooh, I could reach out and touch these zombies:

This video starts out blurry but once it sharpens up, you can see how many folks marched!

I got sortova kiss from this tall dude:

Zombies vogued for a TV journalist next to me, then one granted me a little love, too:

It was all so much creepy, creative fun! Damn cool makeup.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Mexico City. The Prosaic and the Profound

Pupusas being born. Mexico City, Mexico. November 2018.

Today, this is what happened:

A refugee Salvadoran family of four, some of my housemates, invited me to a dinner of homemade pupusas and curtida. Delicious! Served with the curtida, a sort of cabbage slaw, and a drizzle of thin salsa atop the pupusa, one eats it with one´s hands, tearing off a portion of the puposa and folding, then embracing a bit of curtida, then bringing it to your mouth for a smooth, crunchy, tart, bean-y, fatty bite.

The pre-dinner conversation among the Salvadorans at the guesthouse was of how flavorfully important pupusas are in the culture! It was a passionate conversation. Not just anyone can make a great pupusa!

 A young woman from Honduras, refugees from one of the caravans, will give birth in about two weeks. Where? She does not know. She and her husband have a cheeky, chortling one year-old who loves to kick a ball in our community room. Can you even imagine what would prompt a young couple with a small child and another due, to leave everything they know behind, to walk into an uncertain future?

After dinner, I learned how to say fart in Spanish. And what you call someone who farts a lot. (BTW, that someone is a "pedorro.")

A woman I know told me of something she did that was so emotionally brave, it kind of blew me away.

Earlier tonight, while I lay in bed, I listened to the young father of the one year-old singing in the shower with a confident, operatic voice.

One of the young Salvadoran women here witnessed a man outside the Revolucion metro station assaulting a woman who was presumably his wife. While other witnesses stood by watching the assault, my housemate ran for the police to get help.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mexico City: The Community Cold

Anti-cold arsenal. Mexico City. November 2018.

Everyone at the guesthouse has or had (or will have) a cold, including me. Scratchy throat, runny nose, occasional sneeze. I´m getting off easy so far, with no persistent cough.

Reminds me of the first days of school in Rustavi, which made for a happy reunion of all of the country´s bacterial and viral families in all of Georgia´s schools, transportation of said microbial populations provided at no charge via shared cups, utensils, the lack of soap in the school bathrooms, the blithe exchange of promiscuosly-touched coinage with bare-handed clutching of khachupuri. And of this memorable adventure in health.

So, here, at the guesthouse, there is the communality of the bathrooms, kitchen, keyboards, doorknobs, and faucet surfaces. With gregarious contagions transported from the stadium where some of my caravan housemates stayed before coming here, or from the U.S., or from wherever any of us came.

I walked up to Walmart and laid in a stock of:

  • Eucalyptus lozenges
  • Cold medicine
  • Chamomile tea
  • Anti-bacterial liquid

Uncharacteristically, I impulsively bought a can of V-8 juice. I´m not sure I´ve ever bought this product. One does strange things in unfamiliar surroundings.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mexico City: New Housemates and the Saturday Market

Corn at the Saturday market. Mexico City. November 2018.

Last night, new refugees arrived, this time from the second caravan. They were a group of LGBTQ folk from Honduras, including one group member´s younger sister.

One of the young Salvadoran men from the earlier group of refugees has been looking assiduously - so far to no avail - for an affordable place to live, as his shelter time at the guesthouse is to end in the next 24 hours. There´s not only the tangible anxiety involved in the search -- money + safety + suitability + location to potential employment -- there´s the anxiety of leaving the intangible comfort-warmth-camaraderie of the guesthouse.

Today I went to the nearby Saturday market, where I bought fresh cheese made with peppers, a kilo of carrots, a jicama, some fresh basil, a tomato, and a bag of fresh rolls.

The cheese is less salty than what I bought last Saturday, and a bit creamier.

I subsequently learned that what I thought was the minty-version of basil was really yerba buena - more minty than anything else.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Mexico City: A Mystery at the Plaza de Revolucion

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

I packed some cheese (“salado” - salty) and an apple into my backpack, then stopped at the tortilleria and bought three warm tortillas. I walked to Plaza Revolucion for a picnic lunch.

I ate by the spray park, perched atop a charcoal-black wall, watching a big, well-nurtured German shepherd try to negotiate the spray cycles to get a drink of water.

Teens danced through the spray.

After finishing my lunch, I moseyed around to the monument´s entrance, where I witnessed several people donning white, full-body hazmat-type garments.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Two women, dressed in severe, black pant suits, manipulated a mannequin woman into various positions under a tree.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Ahhh. Students of crime scene investigators at work.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

The women in black laid a handwritten note on the pavement next to the tree well. They handed it to me to read, if I liked. I did. It was a suicide note. ……. Or was it?

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Eventually, the women arranged the deceased against the tree with a noose around her neck. Arrayed in the vicinity were: the “suicide” note, a fresh cigarette, an opened pack of mints, some loose mints from the pack, an empty water bottle, a bit of trash. Even some dog poop, with hovering flies. I did not remember if that was present already or not.

A video below:

A mystery to be solved.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mexico City: Communal Dinner

Fresh-gathered fruit for the communal dinner. Mexico City. November 2018.

Every Sunday evening there is a communal dinner at the guesthouse.

Last Sunday, a man of faith named John - bilingual Spanish and English - took the lead on the dinner. The centerpiece of the meal was spaghetti. Everyone brought something.

Rasha, of Oman, and I walked up to the corner rotisserie and bought two chickens, which she augmented with several containers of rice and a chipotle-based BBQ sauce.

Others brought couscous, chicken curry, pizza, mole, bread, refried beans, doughnuts, papaya, and freshly-picked local fruits, the name of which I forget.

People at dinner included tourist-guests like me; people of the caravan from Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua; guesthouse volunteers, and other folks connected to the guesthouse in some way.

The men from the caravan set up the tables and laid out plates, cups, and cutlery.

Before sitting, we made a circle around the two tables and introduced ourselves: our names and places of origin.

You can guess what I am going to say, right?

We were just a gathering of people from different parts of the world, some fleeing violence or poverty (or both), and some of us assured in our security of physical safety and food and shelter.

No Wall. No fear. No ugly talk.