Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Sidetrip to Tonola . . .

I promised you a lil' side trip to Tonala as we came home from San Miguel de Allende. Last time we got lost on our way thru southern Guadalajara, I was looking frantically for how to to get us back to the Interstate. And Roland was ,apparently, enjoying the scenery (notice a slight difference in our personalities?) Because as we neared Guadalajara, he inquired, "Want to take a jaunt back to Tonala?" I claimed we'd not been there, but as he turned off the Interstate and into the town of Tonola, he pointed out landmarks that even I recalled. We turned away from the central part of town and found a place to park along the plethora of ceramics shops there.

Where we'd stopped there were mainly large to giant sized pots. We just eyed them, much to big to take home in our RV, so we crossed the street where more small sized pieces lay in wait. In 'n out we poked thru various long, deep isles, as most of the shops were, enjoying the colorful Mexican patterns and variety.

Finally, I stumbled across some small pots (actually they were to hold collections of small things in the RV like keys, cell phones or change - sorry, it's the "organizer" in me) that would double as lovely potted plant vessels later on. With all my best haggling approach, I was unable to talk the vendor down from 30pecos to 25pecos ... well, until she said I could get the 25peco price if I bought 3 of them. Ok, guess who won? Yes, she sold three that day :)

As it was late afternoon, Roland stomach calls out more frequentlly than mine, and we begin looking for what would be our lunch-dinner. Opposite the direction of the car, we find a pleasant place which would accept Cody out in the back patio. Whoa - it was a green, sweeping yard, double the interior, with fountain, sculptures, this magnificent Saguro Cactus and even a cage of magnificently colored pheasants (which took the entire time we were there for us to get a translation for what kind of bird they were (on - get this - a "Blackberry"). And, I was happy to see, dangling just above our table, a pomegranate tree full of the beautifully ripe fruits that had so pleasured Roland on his Tlaquepaque entree. Anyway, the setting was better than the lunch . . . but a fun adventure.

Once we get back to the car, we're getting seat-belted in and arranged. As I'd mentioned, the shop where we parked had giant ceramic pieces, like the row of 5 foot "chimineas" lining the street. One of the workers had just walked around to do something behind that front row and then, in - slow - motion we watched of the the biggest specimens slowly tilt towards the street and then crash into pieces on the asphalt. It was like a weird movie scene as several other men came running out to pick up the pieces . . . and then, just carry on.

We have plans to return to Tonola the last Saturday before we start our way home. I've heard the most exquisite craftsmen will be on exhibit in the main town square and I'm excited to see the comparison and quality of more of the artists here, since ceramics are for what Tonola is known.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lil' Update of the Journal . . .

These few images covering these pages are basically a window into our first few days here in Ajijic, Mexico.

The upper left image is our first dinner just up the street at an outdoor seafood place. What I loved more than the inexpensive prices was watching the Mexican families as they dined and played with their children. No one seems to have such reverence and patience with their wee-ones as Mexican families. I watched one large, macho-looking man continue his dinner talking with his wife as their lil' boy crawled over dad like monkey bars.

The next fond sketch is of the horses we have befriended just at the corner field. It's a mom and her baby ... we now have a practice/agreement that we bring mom a carrot or some treat each evening as we begin our walk. We were concerned for the mother, seeing how her hip bones stick out and our "carrot feast" is our way of hopefully helpin' mom and thus, the baby too.

I have a fresh new romance with all the vivid colors here in Mexico and this rich, coral colored home was one of the first we passed in our neighborhood with one of our first walks.

Now, the large street scene was a must for me to paint! Not only did it have the flavor of the regular street traffic with the bicycles, the Coldwell Banker RealEstate sign and the dramatic white mansion on the hill but, it also was the day we walked to our first organic farmers market. We were surprised to see so many English-speaking people, just an introduction to just how many ex-pats there are here. I enjoyed seeing some of the local native people with unusual items for sale too, like Mexican cheeses and bread, organic eggs and organic kale.

A collection of "first impressions" is what these sketches reflect. And you can see they all echo fresh, friendly and, of course, colorful. I mean, we are in Mexico!

Friday, December 24, 2010

An Honored "Posada" Invitation for Christmas

For evenings now, we'd been catching glimpses of the local Holiday tradition of "Posadas" in the streets of our town, San Antonio. If I understand the tradition right, on the nine nights previous to Christmas, each street arranges various "scenes" portraying where Joseph and Mary stopped en search of lodging, or the Three Magi or different elements that make up the Christmas story. All the children gather, moving from scene to scene, singing and honoring the different stages. We could tell the devotion and intensity that went into creating these, not only were the costumes 'the very best', mostly authentic but also, they used real babies in the Nativity scenes! The dark haired and skinned children glowed with excitement in their beautiful white outfits and costumes (you don't know how much time I used attempting to get photos of the girl angel with white fuzzy wings). We'd followed some of the streets "Posadas" holding dear the sweet images of these children and various scenes portrayed.

I'm in town doing some gallery viewing and when I call Roland he's more excited than a kid with a new pony!! "I've got some exciting news I can't wait to tell you, hurry home" he spurts!!! It was Christmas Eve and our hostess approached Roland asking if we'd like to participate in our Calle Colon's street "Posada". We asked if more of her "guests" had played a part in the Christmas "Posadas" and she answered, "No". WOW ~ we were astonished ... us white, alien gringos ... invited to be part of the neighborhood's celebration. We didn't know what we'd done ... but of course, we'd take part ... just tell us what to do!

Just in front of the guest gate of our complex the neighborhood women set up a small stage for us. Table with various household trappings, a rug and blinking poinsetteas strung behind with real potted big begonias to each side.

We are to be the first stop on the street and the first place Mary and Joseph inquired for lodging, we'll be "Isabele y Zacarias". I'm just to wear a long skirt and get all ready, sporting my trusty tennis shoes (for ankle support when we later follow the procession down the rest of our street). I need a costume change, "sandals please". Now, Roland really looks the part of an Arab with the scarf wrapping they put on his head and white sheet shirt he dons. Not alot of acting required ... only holding out our hands in welcome. And soon, the procession comes before our little stage. Unfortunately, we can't understand but a few words and just smile our be "welcoming" smile in English. After the singing, they proceed down the street and a few English speaking participants tell us "an Academy Award Nomination, for sure!" But we didn't need any validation ... our lil hearts were just so warmed at being accepted on some level by these gracious, kind people whose guests we are.

The remainder of Christmas Eve we followed the procession down the streets culminating at the church. There was more ceremony with baloons and music and before the endings, we turned and meandered homeward. Streets were a-bustle, sweet bent over g'mas heading towards the church, darling ninos munching candy and ole cowboy-hatted senors gathering on the corners ... we felt at home, quiet in our inner musings.

As we came up our street, we discovered another apparent tradition. The gentle grampa (who lives almost directly across from us, who is daily out watering his lovely narrow garden he's created along the sidewalk, who always smiles and waves even as he's putting up all the Christmas decorations) is now out front his door. And compiled on the street cobble stones just behind his vehicle ... is a campfire!! Yep, right in the street and he's smiling, G'ma's there too grinning into the flames. Every once in awhile he throws a firecracker into the heat and dances around when it explodes. We wave and gently close our gate.

Inside our tiny cracker-box home we put on our hometown live streaming "Christmas Eve Program" and after all the carols we humm along to, the night ends with the diminishing melody of "Silent Night". I wouldn't call it a silent night here, but the well wishes for all our family and friends, and the prayers for inner and world peace are there.

May your holidays, where ever you may be, find you with a grateful heart and attitude of love & tolerance for all. Namaste'

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Our San Miguel de Allende Adventure

This was a tangent we'd both been very looking forward to ~ our trip to San Miguel de Allende! We had reservations for two evenings at Ruth Hyba's "La Mansion del Bosque" just down Calle Aldama from the main square. Our drive there was another gallant attempt at following the GPS with varied results. My favorite was in southern Guadalajara when we were being led to the main Highway 15. Our "girlfriend" on the GPS took us down some industrial neighborhood streets and on her map, said turn right after the underpass to enter the highway. Little did our "girsfriend" know that we were faced with green, extensive scaffolding filling up the entire passage under the overpass. And we turned around, madly searching for an alternate "recalculation".

Aside from those tales of lost wandering, we arrive in San Miguel (as we learned the locals call it) around 3:30pm. Ruth's charming adobe structures have warm sienna/coral colors (depending upon the light of the day) and intriguing pockets at every turn swarming with lush blossoming plants. Shadows were already growing long and many streets were exhibiting stricking shadows and color contrasts. As soon as we could get registered and in our room, we put on our tennies and hit the lovely cobble-stoned streets.

The lodging arrangement furnished breakfast and lunch in group style if you choose. So we took a brief trek thru the winding ways. We toured the central plaza with it's elegant pink cathedral functioning as the hub of the city. With unorganized (at least American organization) streets moving out from the tree-ed square we discovered cozy doorways leading into quaint, richly decored restaurants or coffee houses. In the main plaza we checked out a gallery, the owner of which we met who was from Missouri and very kind, offering many suggestions for this town he loved. The artwork he had was eclectic, my favorite . . . t'was difficult to pick between 1) these small villages, carved, stamped out and then painted to represent various Mexican villages, then mounted and framed - or - 2) the large format exquisite figurative work (done by 3 generations of one classical painting family, the newest generation now moving a bit toward looseness and expression).

We arrived back just in time for dinner being served at the "La Mansion del Bosque". Around the family-style table we enjoyed Ruth, of course (who had come from Pittsburg, PA - I think - to take an art class, fell in love with her Mexican husband and lived out the rest of her life in San Miguel), her daughter, Elena and son, and then, an intriguing couple from Sedona. For thirteen years they have been bringing their retreat groups for vision, dreams and process work to this very place. Eduardo and Kim filled the room with laughter and serendipitious stories that had transpired over the San Miguel years. I was fasciniated - and most of you know my love affair with Sedona and the Southwest. Following a tasteful dinner of light salad, delicately prepared Talapia, a squash (which we thought was cacti and were in heaven), then, pumpkin pie for dessert, we waddled out into the cold evening for Cody's walk.

Next day was our full day in fascinating San Miguel. I made my request to finally have a chance to sketch in my journal and just "be", which "my boys" agreed to, knowing they'd follow, then, take off on their own. I found myself stopping nearlly each block appreciating the small sculptures either nested in their concave shelves or braving it on the rooftop cornices. The scene I'd envisioned painting didn't work - as I learned, in the sun I was scalded and in the shade, frozen. After much wandering, I landed in the Centro Square, sketching this sundrenced wall with local silhouettes (I was relocating continually along the edge of the sun). We treked up and down many streets later, discovering the lovely library of San Miguel that winds it's book shelved walls thru a cafe, then into this courtyard with murals above the shelves. I wanted to move into the library!! Eventually, we wind our way back to our room as the sun began to cast glowing bounced light against shadowed walls. Roland had researched the restaurants in town who served the best "Chile en Nagades", hoping to replicate his meal in Tlaquepaque (see previous post).

The three of us cozy into a big room at "Bugambillia" where they light the big open fireplace just next to us. The patio room we could see off to our right glowed warm crimson as animated families chattered. How romantic! There's like an excitement as we wait for the delivery of our special meals . . . then, tah-da . . . well, it didn't live up to the advertisements nor the drum roll. In fact, Roland didn't like his "Chile en Nagades" wondering even if there was something bad in the mixture . Disappointed, we still, enjoyed the holiday feeling dancing in the streets and we wandered, peering in windows active with diners or tourists in shops. Then, we nest into our room (after Roland takes an 'alka-seltzer'), resting up for our departure the next morn.

I'd hoped to see our Sedona friends once more before we left, but said our early g'byes and headed homeward. Our plans were to travel just west to Guanajuato, which we'd even programmed into our GPS, but, seems the GPS didn't like the road between San Miguel and Guanajuato, and took us way south again. From that route we'd have to again travel a distance north and decided just to aim homeward to Lake Chapala.

But, do you think that trips discoveries are over . . . tune in for a brief stop in Tonola.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tlaquepaque Lunch ~ An Explosive Taste Experience

While meandering the rich sites visually in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Mexico (southern part of Guadalajara), we, of course, had to feed ourselves. What we've been trying to do is eat a substantial lunch then, skip dinner for a light snack. So we perused menus, I'm not a red meat eater and Roland eats it rarely. It took us awhile to find a restaurant that fit both our palettes (not the pigments this time) and I'm sorry to say I don't recall the name. But logistically, it was just south a block or so from the Bustamante Gallery ~ because I can not recommend any restaurant as highly as this one. Go eat there!

We sat outside so Cody could join us and relished the sculptures. Yes, we were right near the horses butt, but I just was amazed at the accuracy and strength expressed with each ripple I could experience. My visit to the bathroom whistered to me that we were in for a treat. I mean, look at the elegant, tasteful stone and tile. Sort of Art Deco Contemporary.

I ordered a bean soup with (I believe) rice, carrots and feta cheese, topped with fresh avocado. The presentation was beautiful, unusual ~ on a plate. And quite good!

Now, Roland ventured into the exotic . . . "Chiles en Nagada". He was most intrigued with the sauce "creamy walnut sauce with pomegranate seeds". When his lunch arrived it was magnificent . . . the white sauce decorated with festive holiday red sprinkles on one half, walnuts, the other. Inside was a large pablano pepper stuffed with raisins, pineapple, beef and pork (as we can best remember) and Roland, who loves multi-layered flavors in gourmet foods, was just in heaven. Honestly (and almost embarassingly), moaning with each bite!!!! All the various flavors popping up at different times, then blending together. Later, thru research and word-of-mouth we learned this dish is a season speciality ~ ONLY available around Christmas time when the pomegranates are ripe! It also carries some Christian meaning, appropriate to the season "The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus' suffering and resurrection" (from Wikipedia, "A Pomegranate for All Religions" by Nancy Haught, Religious News Service). Roland had lucked upon a Mexican delightful tradition!

Of course, with Roland being an amazing chef in his own right (he won't admit it of course) ~ his mind went to how he could make this. He's been collecting recipes (thank you Erna!) and is concocting his version. Because all of us in the family don't eat red meat nor pork, he'll have to develop the stuffing with alternatives, maybe chicken, etc. But, if I can pry it from his imagination once we try it (he's one of those, you know, who never writes anything down ~ very frustrating to us "measurers") I'll type out his recipe.

Anyway, can you tell our time in Tlaquepaque filled our every sense with pleasurable encounter . . . and we'll be going back! Another place we have our eye on . . . just down the "street" so to speak, is Tonola, know for it's exquisite tradition in ceramics. And discovery continues . . . thanks for traveling along with me!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sumptous Feast for the Eyes in Tlaquepaque

Our visit to Tlaquepaque, in southern Guadalajara still brings a smile to my face. The only unpleasant part of the day was driving thru the traffic and thick pollution of the industrial section en route. But once we got parked and began our wanderings, I forgot all about the trip to arrive.

We entered on the northern most end of the Tlaquepaque pedestrian walkway. Early we were greeted by exquisite metal sculptures, these a marching group of victors of the revolution. Dotted throughout the streets were other sculpture gracing the lovely historic, as well as some incredibly contemporary, buildings. Peering into each door or walkway was a delight for one's eyes. I was saddened to see some signs posted "No Photos" but, I snapped where appropriate. This one interior design and furniture store we entered had massive, exotic pieces. I mean, look at this granite and metal table. Do you have a place for this in your bedroom? Alot of the furnishings and furniture felt very masculine.

Of course, I was looking for paintings and found few, but the quality was impeccible. I don't believe I saw one watercolor (are you surprised?) but, there was one portrait artist whose work of native Indian people took my breath away. There too, was a sampling of abstract work.

But I have to admit, my favorite was the genius artist Bustamante. He shows all over the world with ceramics, metal sculpture, jewelry, and paintings too. His whimsy, his color use, his imagination, his sensitivity and his delicacy just touched me. As I wandered from room to room, to outdoor water garden, then the sculpture garden, I never stopped feeling wonder. And yes, he has an entire gallery dedicated to his work. I'm hoping the shots I got give you a hint of his talent.

Then, of course, were the artists that just plain made my heart smile. Another fellow who had an entire gallery offered up rotund subjects and my favorite was this stairway railing. Can you see all the different and fun bicyclists peddling up the stair rail? One of the last buildings that caught my eye as we were leaving that afternoon, was a large historic facade that housed local crafts people. Just at the entry was a gentleman with these adorable teeny, tiny villages, which he'd carved by hand. Now, most of you know I love and appreciate detail ~ so his bitty lil street scenes caught my eye. As I looked closer, I realized the material from which he'd etched his scenes was this intriguing tree that I'd previously photographed. It was a tree that looked like it's trunk was covered with barnacles. When I realized it was these barnacles that formed the lil village roofs I was holding ~ I had to have one!! Isn't it just amazing?

So, that was the visual feast we had while at Tlaquepaque. Next blog entry will talk about the lunch that nearly rocked Roland right out of his seat. But, that's the next story . . .

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Arriving at Destination ~ Ajijic, Mexico

Leaving behind the nightmare of Mazatlan, we were headed a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l the way to our final resting place. You may laugh at my pun "last resting place" but I felt close to that after what we left behind us. Once thru Tepic, we began our climb up the mountains surrounding Guadalajara. This was the most pleased and excited I'd felt about the country side I'd seen since entering Mexico. Lovely rolling hills, multi-colored agriculture fields, flowered meadows, sunlit plateaus and dark, evergreen creeks!! Here's one of those verigated agricultural views.

Then, by the twist of fate, or our mistake, you choose which to call it, we traveled along the 2-lane, winding Highway 15 (rather than the luxury toll Highway 15D) and ended up coming out in the picutresque and grandly tourist ridden town of Tequila! Every turn encountered the image of the blue agave graphic. And the town was charming, with lots of tequila manufacturing factories to tour. You can guess, my favorite part of Tequila was the brilliant blue agave fields sprinkling the hillsides (as you can see here)!

T'was another heartpounding adventure, traveling thru Guadalajara at night. Remember, we have no brake lights and they have us detouring off the main highway right into the bustling streets of Saturday night. Coping with the fact that our driving lights were nearly impossible to see with, we limped into Ajijic and found our night's rest at the lovely and welcome site of the Walmart parking lot.

Next day, we contact the place we have reserved and just after noon, manage to wiggle (and I DO mean wiggle - the story of going around the block to back into our pad was a trip) into our RV nesting spot. We are surrounded on one side by an orange blossoming vine that covers a wall and tall palm trees that offer some privacy, yet shafts of sunlite to stream thru too. Out our dining room window we see the mountains and an amazing garden of the lady next door. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, we have finally arrived home!!!

Now, the pleasure of relaxing into the Mexican people, sites, time and attitude may begin!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Journal Sights Entering Mexico

This journal spread, travels us into Mexico. For those of you who've been reading the adventure in photos, previously, I won't repeat myself. Just a little narrative for you to know what the images are about.

As we wander in the 6am light, into Mexico, after about 17 miles we begin to signs of the border crossing. Now we'd long anticipated this ... with all the paper work, copies of all our vehicle titles, current update from Cody's vet and Mexican Insurance, all in order. Tah, duh, now came the ultimate test of if we'd gotten everything in order. The first border crossing was just preliminary, and is the visual here. They just asked where you were from and waved you on. Later, still under dark we underwent the more detail process. And - hurrah - passed into the country, heaving a huge sigh!

We were still caravaning with our RV companions and followed them til around 2-3pm. They knew of a lovely RV park right on the Sea of Cortez and we took the turn off as they headed there. I can't tell you how I was looking forward to that respite by the sea! We had a l-o-n-g interlude getting set up (pretty funny for all you well-practiced RVers) but we got settled in, and threw off clothes donning our swim suits and grabbing towels. Off to the beach!!! The water was azure and fairly warm. Ro, of course, dived right in and Cody and I romped, playing tag in the breaking water. When all of us were satiated, we all landed on the pebbly sand, gazing up the beach at about this angle, sifting thru the rocks and shells for fascinating treasures. I was 'recovered' and anxious slept, preparing for another 6am take-off time with our cohorts.

This time we left at 5:50am ... and this nearly night sky echos the early hours. We were tailing along with our others who lead, but told them we'd really not wanted to make another long day and rather than follow them all the way to Mazatlan, we'd drop off somewhere and camp by ourselves. Little did we know what we were inviting for our novice experience.

With three different alternatives for that evenings camp site, we never dreamed how we could miss them all (see November 17 & 19th previous posts)! But, we did :( And as much as we'd not wanted to drive the long trek to Mazatlan, we ended up there, just arriving at dark. As I'd mentioned in the previous blog entry, we heard this loud "th-wack", like hitting some part of the RV or the PT Crusier we towed, when we pulled into this large parking lot. The next morning, after the most horrendous night of the trip, Roland discovered this hinge, on the right side of the RV that works as an axis for when we open up our awning, was broken off. Lucky for Roland's handyman skills, he screwed new holes in with new screws and its holding up! This large storefront, the "Mega" (similar to Walmart) was the store whose parking lot functioned as our lodging for the previous evening. And I bow to the quiet saftey it afforded us.

Yes, we were glad to be taking off from our friendly "Mega" store and were a bit foggy (Roland hadn't slept at all, and I, with an emotional hangover from the situation) but, onward towards Lake Chapala. Things had to be looking up from here and off we go . . .