Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mariachis To Go

On our second night in Cuernavaca, we decided to take it easy as Marite was a little worn out from the party she hosted the night before.

Sidenote: at said party I finally figured out that it´s really lame to say “encantada” when you meet someone (in Spanish). Every time I introduced myself to one of her sassy friends with my little greeting, they would muffle a giggle and shake my hand, flashing a huge smile. I finally asked Marite what the story was and she told me the term is comprobable to saying “enchanted to make your acquaintance” in English. OMG, I was "that girl.”

That´s what I get for learning my Spanish salutations from a high school text book circa 1991. Damn! I can still picture the lesson:

Esteban*: Hola, Carmen. Me llamo Esteban.
Carmen: ¡Encantada, Esteban! Me llamo Carmen.

*Esteban´s little cartoon body was always kind of pudgy. And he didn't grow out of it in the Spanish II book, either. Pobrecito.

Anyway, the three of us drove down the mountain to the center of town in pursuit of a quick taco dinner. As we were pulling into the parking garage, I noticed a gathering of men hanging out under the overpass. They were dressed in elaborate Mexican costumes and carrying an assortment of guitars. Marite explained that these guys were Mariachi performers that the locals would pick up and bring to their impromptu house parties. What fun!

I thought to myself how, back home, our last-minute party purchases consist of a few extra bottles of tonic water, a couple of lemons and maybe an overpriced candle for your kitchen table. The idea of pulling up next to a group of strange men in the dark and hoping they´ll get into your car so that they can entertain your friends at your house later that night isn´t really our thing.**

Well not in Mexico! You just head down to the bridge, stop your car and as many men as possible pile in. I love to imagine a Mexican wife´s to-do list as she checks off the final ítems for her fiesta prep:

__ purchase [insert shockingly large number] bottles of tequila
__ pick up men in costume from under bridge

The rest will take care of itself...

**How funny would it be if we COULD pick up bands on the side of the road to bring to our parties? Depending on the mood you wanted to set, you could pick up an angry punk band, a sensitive indierock band or maybe a more refined jazz band. Then if they sucked, you could just invite them to join the party and send someone out to get a new band. It would be your own, drunk version of American Idol! (excuse overuse of footnotes as I’m currently reading Consider The Lobster and can’t help myself)

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Have you ever been to the Esalen hot springs? Ever since moving to San Francisco, I´ve wanted to go and hang out in their famous cliffside baths overlooking the Pacific Ocean...with a Portuguese actress/model on my right and a contributing writer to "The New Yorker" on my left. Over fresh vegan fare, we´d discuss the merits of flaxseed oil, taking breaks for strenuous yoga classes and long, meditative walks along the bluffs.

Well, according to Marisa who´s spent many a fabulous weekend at Esalen, we paid a visit to our own private version right here in Mexico, which we like to call, yep, Mexalen!

When Marisa asked me if I´d like to visit another friend of hers in Mexico, I hesitated for a minute, thinking that we should spend as much time as possible basking in the splendor of Oaxaca. Her friend, Maria Theresa, who goes by Marite ("Mary Tay"), lives in a town between Mexico City and Oaxaca, called Cuernavaca, which, according to the Lonely Planet, doesn´t offer all that much in the way of Mexican culture. It´s more of an upscale resort-style town. But Marisa reeeally wanted to go, so why not? Off we went.

From the minute I met Marite, I knew I was in for an interesting couple of days. She´s the kind of woman whose cell phone is always ringing with what seemed to be invitations to various parties and special events. Not only does she travel around the far reaches of the globe studying under different Shamen, but her home in Cuernavaca (where she grew up) is often the site of different ceromonial practices, attracting her most respected spiritual leaders who will often stay with her for months on end.

When she´s not zipping around the jungles of Peru or consulting with her Native American contacts in the States, she´s hosting ceremonies in the sweat lodge set up in her very own backyard retreat. Did I mention she´s also a mother of three, an accomplished academic, a flawless speaker of English and French AND enjoys dancing till sunrise at Burning Man? ¡Ole!

Anyway, our time with Marite was simply magnifico. After waking up in our zen abode, we´d make our way into her understated yet fabulous living area where we´d appreciate the view of the Cuernavaca mountains. Then we´d lay outside on sunbathing mats, reading our books and taking occastional strolls around the property. Granted, there were no hot springs or famous people, but there was Marite herself, who´s way more invigorating.

Friday, June 27, 2008

In Solidarity With The Aztec Priesthood--A Night On the Town

Mexicans can be very serious people. They don´t f around when it comes to certain things…like selecting just the right chile pepper (from what seems like hundreds) for each special sauce; painting building facades in an array of fun colors that make even the most desolate city block look way more cheery and inviting than 18th and Castro (sorry, boys); and honoring the various Catholic Virgins whose pictures dangle from the rear view mirrors of most Mexican taxicabs. But above all, I´m learning, Mexican are serious about the agave plant (pictured above).

Before coming to Mexico, I knew that agave was used to make tequila. Little did I know, it has all sorts of exciting forms, not least of which is pulque. According to this tequila education website, “pulque (Tequila's predecessor) is fermented from the uncooked agave syrup or nectar that collects in the hollowed head of the plant…resulting in a sweet, milky and fruity drink, rich in vitamins. Its content is 100% natural.”

While “Aztecs were very strict about pulque's use (only priests were allowed to drink a fifth glass to help keep them in the mood for their frequent ritual sacrifice and cannibalism),” this rule does not seem to apply to the late-night hipsters in John´s little corner of the city.

Marisa, for one, will sing the praises of this milky carbonated beverage…in flavors ranging from pineapple to oatmeal (ew). Meanwhile, when it comes to agave, my heart belongs, for now, to the spiritually devoid and gloriously trashy permeation popular among America´s fine youth and dedicated wedding party members alike--the tequila shot. ¡Ole!

La Cuidad De Mexico

After what seemed like a very quick flight to Mexico City, I met up with Marisa and we spent the morning walking around Colonia Roma—the Brooklyn-esque neighborhood now home to her adorable Irish friend, John. Over café con leche and a freshly-made plate of enchiladas, we caught up on the details of Marisa´s first few days on the scene. I eventually admitted that my flight mistake was worse than hers...and my amiga and I settled into our yellow plastic chairs watching the neighborhood come to life.

Who knew Mexico city would be so…fancy? Apparently, I´ve seen too many movies featuring drug-crazed gang members kidnapping unsuspecting young girls on pastel-colored bicycles and selling them into the sex trade from which their handsome older brother has no choice but to rescue them.

Well, not on this corner! Here we had a teahouse featuring international specialty teas, a high-end wine bar and a modern-looking stationary shop. And most of the people walking by were dressed way cuter than us. Note to self: next time you go to Mexico, bring stylie scarves and effortless-but-not-really linen pants.

In an attempt to describe Mexico City, I'll say it's a colorful cross between Miami and Washington DC…at least the parts of it that we were able to see. Walking around the busy downtown, your path is lined with statues of famous Mexican revolutionaries looking out from behind the rows of massive palm trees. Taxis blast their horns, people protest all sorts of seemingly important things (hard to decifer all the acronyms) and teenagers congregate around the vibrant installations of public art--right now an expo of innovative city benches, perfect for lounging on with a cigarette in hand while you wait for your friend to finish painting her protest sign.

Our favorite intersection features a looming statue of the Aztec warrior, Cuitlahuac, drawing his bow and arrow against a backdrop of corporate skyscrapers (see pic above) as if to spear some young punk seconds before he pickpockets a grandmother purchasing fresh ingredients for her famous tomales.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I a.m. A Little Slow

Fast forward to June of 2008—my flight leaves tonight! Marisa will be meeting me in Mexico City tomorrow after having spent a few days with a friend of hers who lives there. After missing her flight due to the confusion surrounding a 12:30 a.m. departure time (seriously, Marisa?), she paid a rescheduling fee and rebooked her ticket for the next day.

Confession: after giving Marisa a hard time for confusing her flight date, I then did the EXACT SAME THING…which makes it way worse. While sitting at my desk today, an email came through from Continental asking me if I´d like to check in now or later tonight. Huh? I thought I was leaving tomor… Damn!

It took me a second to piece it together, but as soon as I realized my confusion, I jumped out of my seat, changed my voicemail greeting to say I was on vacation for two weeks and ran out of the office in a panic.

Armed with the grapefruit seed drops that the helpful hippie women in sensible floral skirts who work at my neighborhood herbal store SWEAR by when traveling in countries with questionable water systems, I´m out the door in a few minutes. Secretly, I have a prescription for Cipro tucked inside my carry-on bag. ¡Ole!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Great Mexpectations

About one year ago Marisa and I came to the conclusion that Oaxaca, Mexico might just be the best city ever. Her realization was inspired by a fellow welding coworker, Herman, who had relocated years ago from Oaxaca to her home town of Half Moon Bay.

Each day, through protective eyewear, Herman told Marisa stories about the indigenous Zapateco people and their famous national hero, Benito Juarez who climbed the ranks from his Oaxacan village to later become the first indigenous President of Mexico. He also chatted, while they diligently fabricated their plastics, about growing up in Oaxaca—the week-long wedding fiestas, the elaborate cultural traditions and the utmost dedication to art of cooking Serious Mexican Food…not to mention the best tequila EVER.

Meanwhile, I was learning about the splendor of mole sauce, also originating from Oaxaca, from the Mexican restaurant near my office. The day my coworker introduced me to their mole burritos was the day that I stopped pretending to myself that I would start bringing my lunch to work. ¡Ole!

Soon enough, we had our tickets to Mexico. As if to make the trip official, the orders from my friends for special tequilas started coming in over email.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dear Blog,

I swear I still care about you. Somehow, I let the chaos of life get between us. Lame, I know. Since last I've written, I've been busy:

  • bridesmaiding for Dayle, who had a real, live photo booth at her wedding reception (note: somebody add this to "stuff drunk people love")
  • talking to Heb about the fact that babies are no longer allowed to have blankets in their cribs due to SIDS prevention (It's true! They just have to lay there, blankie-free, while contemplating their existance.)
  • learning about the splendor of Airstream trailers from Marisa's dad who drove his to the Strawberry Bluegrass Festival this year. He even let us hang out inside with him during the fierce rainstorms (read: indulged us while we were total babies about the weather)...joining us in a game of dominos and in eating way too much cheese. One moment of awesomeness was when he whipped out this GPS/calculator/computernerd device to determine the best travel route and schedule for attending both the fall Strawberry event and Burning Man over the Labor Day his Airstream! Marisa´s dad = modern-day Hercules.
  • staying for a few nights at a fancy conference hotel here in SF where my coworker had a top-of-the-line massage chair in her room. Did you know you could ask for that? Apparently, you can ask for anything these days. "Yes, I'd like a King bed, a Sharper Image massage chair and one mechanical bronco, please."
  • visiting NYC/NJ where it was 95 degrees all weekend. While everyone else freaked out and worried about the babies and the seniors, my friend Michelle, who shares my inhuman tolerance for heat, and I moved one step closer to reaching cheese plate nirvana. (Note: Michelle and I have an infinite arsenal of ideas for "sure-to-be-smash-hit businesses" that we could start together. A cheese/fruit plate coffee table book has now been added to the running. There will be all sorts of themes such as "Cracked Out in Amsterdam," which will be a lively display of crackers paired with Old Amsterdam cheese--my fave--and garnished with tulips and rolled up dollar bills. Correction: Euros.)

As you can see, I've had a lot of really important things going on. Do you forgive me now?