Wednesday, July 30, 2008

por favor, pardon the slacker

... or, "slaquera." I just made that up - it's not real Spanglish...

It's been so long since I posted that I bet anybody who was reading is now fed up with the lack of posts and has left my readership forever. But oh how I hope not!

The photo of this post is from Paracho, another town we visited on our tour near Pátzcuaro (the same one with the horses). Paracho is known worldwide for its fine guitar craftsmanship. The main street is lined with dozens of guitar workshops...

Today I had the last of my final exams. It's been agreed upon amongst all of the students I've talked to that this year was definitely more academically rigorous than last. Or at least taxing. I'm glad to say that I'm now officially free! (Until fall term, that is.) I was very happy with my two classes taught by a local professor here - Mexican short stories from the revolution forward; and Mexican muralism. Both classes have spurred my interest and I'll definitely be geeking out on Mexican history once I get back.

It's been one of those semesters in which I leave feeling like I've just got so much more to learn... that's the best way to end, I think. Inspired. And a little bit overwhelmed also.

And now the travel adventures begin:

Brett flies down tomorrow and meets me in Morelia. I'm so excited! We're renting a car and driving to some hot springs/mud baths near Morelia, then Ixtapa de la Sal (toward but not all the way to Mexico City); then south to Taxco - I am soooo excited for charming Taxco, which I've always wanted to visit; then to the coast, Acapulco; then up the coast to Zihuatanejo and back to Morelia.

So we'll be traveling and I'll probably not post again til I get back to the states. But rest assured, I'll take lots of photos and share them with you afterward!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

earth shaking

Today I visited an amazing site: Paricutin. It's a volcanic field that used to be the towns of Paricutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro until 1943, when a farmer felt the earth shake and then saw a crack in the earth appear before him. Within days, a volcano erupted. A year later, the town was covered in lava. Nobody in the towns died, and the people relocated to a nearby location. (The whole story can be found if you click on "Paricutin" above - as well as some pretty terrific historical photos.)

Now, what's left of the old towns is the remains of the church of San Juan, jutting out of lava rock. Our group rode horses down into the rocks surrounding the ruins (Mariachi, my horse, liked to gallop), and then we walked around and in the caverns of the church. The smoke from nearby barbecued corn filled the air, and our voices echoed around the rocks. Check out the photos on flickr. I left feeling exhilarated and amazed...

Today we also went to a Parque Nacional and Paracho (a town famous for guitar craftsmanship). Now I'm back in wet Morelia.

I still smell like Mariachi.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Today we came to Tzintzuntzan (with ruins of the Purépecha and a market with amazing woven crafts), Pátzcuaro (a charming little cobblestoned town on a lake of the same name, known for its "nieve" or ice cream) and Janitzio (an island famous for its Día de los Muertos celebrations). Check out my flickr site for photos.

This photo is Janitzio. We walked from the dock up to the top of the island, back and forth up steep, windy alleys. At one point we all decided that if we run away someday and hide from everyone we know, this would be the perfect place.

At the moment I need to vegetate - I'm writing from the Fiesta Inn where we have an amazing shower, TV in English, and room service. Aaaaahhhhh!

More adventures tomorrow... I'll write an update.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


One of my classes focuses on looking at Mexican identity through the study of murals (in Spanish, "muralismo") - in particular, the works of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. We saw lots of murals in DF and Guadalajara, and next week we'll be taking excursions to check out the murals here in Morelia.

Here's the work I'm going to write my essay about: Nuestra Imagen Actual by Siqueiros. This was painted near the end of period we're studying (1922-1947), in which muralists were strongly supported by the state. It's actually not a mural but a painting of a man with a stone for a head, opening his hands as if asking for something. It seems to me to be Siqueiros' response to 25 years of muralists exploring the question of Mexican identity. So, this is what I'm going to be pondering for the next few days...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Where do you go...

When it starts to rain and you've given up looking for the location of a classical guitar concert you were planning to go to? Why, the Museo del Dulce, of course...

Monday, July 14, 2008

la plaza

One of the best things about all countries of Latin America, in my opinion, is the abundance of public spaces that people actually spend time in. Families, couples, and just about everybody hangs out in plazas and parks, at cafes... I just posted some photos of Morelia's evening activities. The dancers are doing "La Danza de Los Viejitos" - a traditional dance from this state, Michoacán - they wear very loud cloppy shoes and dance around really fast, wearing silly (creepy) masks.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

church and school

As I told my mom yesterday, this summer's program seems less "bloggable" than Perú, in the sense that I am not climbing into funeral towers all the time. This year is more an adventure of the mind. As I wrote before, I have three classes as opposed to last year's two - but what I love about this year is that the content is all Mexico. So we can talk about the Virgin of Guadalupe and then walk down the street to a church with murals that serve as texts for our discussion. This photo shows a church with high adornment - the style is churrigueresco, which is basically baroque adornment to the maximum. Typically I don't go for lots of fancy bells and whistles, but this one sort of blew my socks off.

I took a big exam this morning, the "G" exam - all grad students in this program have to take it - it's is composed of 8 sections, including verb conjugation, grammar theory, vocabulary, reading comprehension, essay writing... I'm just glad it's over! We should get our results next week.

In the meantime, I'll be working this weekend on my essay about the Mexican revolution, the movie Macario, and a few stories we've read in my class. The subject matter is pretty interesting to me (the theme of "El Campo y la Revolución" which focuses on the rural), though now we have moved onto "La Ciudad" (the city). And I wish wish wish I could share with you all a story we read for Friday: "El Viento Distante" by José Emilio Pacheco. But... as far as I can tell, there's no English translation of this one-page story about a man and his turtle/daughter who work for the circus.

Tonight, a few of us might go see a rock show - Criss's son Manolo sings in a cover band at a place near my school. Whether I go depends on how accomplished I feel with schoolwork. I know, that sounds sort of lame and nerdy - but tomorrow Criss has invited her sister and family over for lunch. That should take a number of hours. But be assured... I'll report back on the food!

Friday, July 11, 2008

detalles / details

Every street I walk down seems to have its hidden gems. For some reason, this old sign board caught my eye. There are so many little patches here of color and decay...

And each time I walk a few blocks without a destination, without fail it seems like I stumble upon a secret shaded green plaza where teenagers and old people are hanging out. Behind the buildings and buildings, you turn a corner, and there's a surprise - an oasis that I never would've found, had I not walked those couple of blocks more.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

camino / walk

Finally there was a break from the rain yesterday. I skipped homework to walk in town. The colonial buildings & narrow streets are so charming...

Monday, July 7, 2008


I'd give a translation, but I am not sure what the word is for "meatloaf" in Spanish. (Is it a bad sign that Criss did not tell us what it was when she served it to us?)

I have no problem with meatloaf, but I was indeed surprised to find it here in Mexico...

A few days ago, I received the following brief message from Brett: "Don't eat the meatloaf."

Well, I'd already eaten the meatloaf. And I am guessing, as weird as that dish was, it wasn't the cause of the terrible digestive tragedy that has overtaken the two of us recently (Kathleen and myself). I won't go into details, but she fell victim to it before I did, and then I got it today - and it has been pretty bad.

So, for the foreseeable future, I will be eating the Mexican equivalent of grits. That is, once I get my appetite back.

For all of you who worry, please refrain from worrying! I've been keeping hydrated, and things are looking up. And the only reason I write about it is that this is the biggest news that's happened in the past couple of days... Due to rain, the fireworks were canceled this weekend; I have stayed in because I've had lots and lots and lots of reading to do (though it's been exciting stuff - an essay by Octavio Paz on "La Chingada" which is a bad word that I won't translate because I am polite... and chapters on verb inflections in Spanish... and more Mexican short stories).

Hopefully, soon, I'll have more photos for you all, and more adventure stories that don't include meatloaf and the importance of packing toilet paper.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

lluvia / rain

I'm sitting in my bedroom (the one I share with fellow student Kathleen / Katalina), and it is POURING rain outside. Our window is open, because it's pretty warm, and the rain is loud as it hits the roof. It's the rainy season here in Morelia (and Mexico City, too). Almost every day there has been at least a sprinkle and mostly cloudy skies...

We arrived in Morelia on Wednesday mid-day, after a week-long tour from Guadalajara (and neighboring towns, Tlaquepaque and Tonalá), to Guanajuato (and neighboring towns Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende), to Mexico City (and neighboring points of interest, Querétaro and Teotihuacán). So it has been quite a busy time so far. I've seen churches and murals and twisty streets and old jail cells and ancient pyramids and museums... I wish I'd started the blog a week and a half ago, but I was just too busy looking at stuff (and smelling DF / Mexico City). Check out flickr for some photos:

But now here we are, living in a small house with Criss, a 61-yr-old Morelia native who has two grown kids (one of whom, Manolo, lives in a small room off the patio). She is taking classes in human development and not currently working. Until January she worked with the former governor of the state of Michoacán. Criss loves to listen to covers of 70s rock songs (in English), as well as organ classics, and this morning we listened to some music that had been composed by her grandfather in San Antonio in the 1930s and performed by her nephew, who got a doctorate in music at University here.

The house is about 5 km from school. Our neighborhood is residential, but near some big, busy avenues that have lots of modern businesses - just about every auto company you can think of has a dealership here, and restaurants like Applebee's, Burger King, Starbucks. But if you go a few blocks into the neighborhood, it's clearly Mexico: people standing on the street selling food cooked on a little hibachi, for example.

School is located at the Centro Cultural de Lenguas, in the colonial centro histórico. I'll take photos of that soon. (I just had to buy a new camera because my old one got taken by some Mexican boys at OXXO, a convenience store where I set down my camera to pay for oatmeal cookies. It's my fault; I should've been more careful. But - I had to go buy a new one today. Thankfully I'd uploaded my photos and there was nothing valuable ON the camera.)

I take the combi (bus) to school. A small van that has a loose door on the side which slides open automatically with the force of the van stopping. You hop in, say "Buenos días!" and everyone in the van (about 10 people when it's busy) ALL reply, "Buenos días!" Seriously, everyone always greets everyone else on the bus. Then, if you are sitting near the back, you pass your 450 pesos (45 cents) to the person next to you, and they pass it along to the front of the bus, and if there is change, the driver says "Cambio!" and the change gets passed back to you by your fellow passengers. The combi is one of my favorite things about Morelia so far. As we pass the church, several people (in the midst of conversations, even) cross themselves automatically. I hop off the bus right in front of school for class at 8am every day. Class goes 8am-2pm.

Lunch is a drawn out affair. From 3pm on... as long as we want it to go. But usually after an hour I'm ready to get up and study or do whatever I have to do. Lunch has been interesting. The first day it was some sort of greyish meatloaf. It tasted all right, but didn't seem very Mexican. We've eaten salads and soups a lot. I have been told before not to eat salads, but here it seems we've been reassured that there are ways to kill the bacteria on the lettuce and tomatoes, and so far I've been well.

Tonight we're going to see the illumination of the cathedral, and fireworks. This display happens every Saturday night in Morelia. Last night was a little get-together with the students in my program. We sat outside at an old hotel on the plaza and drank cappuccino. And then went inside to listen to a pianist and enjoy the elegant hotel lobby for awhile... Today's been reading for class. "Talpa" by Juan Rulfo. I've got lots more reading to do, so I'll sign off for now. Stay tuned!