Posted by: amandaelaine | July 20, 2009

Lucha Libre

You have probably seen the sequined rainbow of masks for the Mexican version of WWF Smackdown, Lucha Libre. I was on a bus to the quaint town Naolinco to buy boots when I saw the poster for a Lucha that very night in Xalapa. A group of 3 American girls and our very lucky Xalapan friend Kevin taxied over to the Arena. We squished our way through an entry way cluttered with vendors selling replica masks, action figures and pictures signed by the luchadores to purchase our cheap-seat tickets. These prime seats were concrete steps 20 or 30 feet above the ring and behind a mesh fence.

I was mid way through a bag of popcorn topped with chile and enjoying the sweaty conglomeration of grown men, a few lonely women and a bunch of excited preteen boys when the first masked luchadores emerged through a cloud of smoke. They wore tights,  sequins and muscles. Next, the epically choreographed battle between the good guys and the bad guys began. I must say i was impressed by the agility of such massive men. They flipped over the guard ropes, tangled in wrestling, and egged on the crowd. At the end, the good guys triumphed and made room for the next group of fighters.

Four rounds of different characters ranging from the roman gladiator, to the pink mo-hawked token gay guy passed in predictable yet impressive fashion. Finally, in the ultimate match, the smallest fighter dressed in silver from head to toe flipped into the ring amidst massive applause. The women were screaming his name and the preteen boys got to their feet. Mysterio managed to take out 4 men twice his size by the end of the match. What a shock!

I must be honest, I still don-t really understand the draw of the lucha for anyone over the age of 13. Its nothing but theatrics, smoke and sequins, yet these guys are beyond famous. It will definitely be an experience filed in my nogin.

Posted by: amandaelaine | July 6, 2009

Mexico City, DF

This past weekend I visited México City, Districto Federal, the largest city in the Américas, and Puebla, a colonial city rumored to contain 365 churches. From my bus window I could see México City with its 22 million inhabitantes sprawling in front of me through a haze of smog. Minutes after we arrived in the bus station, I was being zipped under the ancient city in the metro along with five of my friends and Profesor Dominguez. A man jumped on at the next stop and began describing a pirated cd of all the best cumbias. Then his backpack, which was apparantly equiped with a pretty significant sound system began to fill the entire train with music. I passed on the 10 peso deal.

Then we went to the anthropology museum which has a massive collection of mesoamerican artifacts. It was way too much information to ingest in a few hours, but I at least left with a visual representation of precolombian times. Mexico City has been inhabited continuously since 1321 when the Aztecs arrived there from the myth shrouded Aztlán. according to the legend, the priests recieved a symbol in there dreams of an eagle sitting atop a cactus, eating a serpent. You can see it today in the center of the Mexican flag. Where they saw this symbol was to be the new location of the Aztec empire. This promised land was found in Lake Texcoco where they built their society upon islands and chinampas (man made islands). Today the lake no longer exists, but the ground remains unstable. The Aztec’s Templo Mayor and the colonial buildings are tilted and slowly sinking.

After the museum, we went to the main plaza or Zócolo. There must have been a hundred thousand people or more milling around, selling corn, carting children. Every direction I looked was undulating with movement all the way up to the huge flag waving in the center. After walking around and looking at the ancient architecture, we went into several buildings my profesor knew of with murals. The mural movement began here in México after the revolution, and was the perfect medium for the comunist leaning artists at that time. The murals can be found in public buildings from schools to markets and helped form a comunal history and social commentary.

Finally, we stopped in a cafe in La Zona Rosa, the fashoinable and gay area of the city. This is probably the most liberal area in all of catholic controlled Mexico and proved to be an excellent place for people watching over coffee. There were several guys in nothing but underwear and paint, made up as super heros or lucha libre fighters. It was funny enough to deserve a peso or two.

Many people are afraid of Mexico city, like you will automatically get kidknapped and robbed at the same time if you go there.  I never felt in danger while I was there. Just like any big city it is important to use caution and not be stupid, but it also has pulsing energy and ancient history.

I don´t have time to write about Puebla now. Sorry

Posted by: amandaelaine | June 25, 2009

Xico

México and all of it’s stereotypes good and bad came true in the form of a small town 20 minutes from Xalapa called Xico. Xico is part of Mexico’s richest coffee producing valley and all of the landscape is decorated in lush vertruse forests of trees, bananas and coffee plants. The town itself is a web of narrow, cobbled streets edged by a rainbow of houses and businesses lined up like teeth. Every block or so boasts it’s own colonial catholic cathedral and convenience store.

I took a day trip with my amigos Luiz, Steven, and Allison. First we visited the stunning Cascada de Texolo located less than 2 miles from the village. The view afforded from a dizzying bridge and from multiple vistas is quite magical. Crystal waters tumble more than 100 feet into the river below weaving it’s way through dense tropical vegetation.

After getting our fill of the view and the mosquitos, we began the trek into town. Before we made it, a guy at a cart offered us as many samples as we could stand of a syrupy beverage called torito. Toritos are mixtures of alcohol, condensed milk, and an array of flavorings from peanut butter to mango. They’re enough to put you into a diabetic como after a couple sips…but undeniably delicious.

The streets in Mexico can change from both ways to one way quite unexpectedly. We were chatting it up in Luis’s car when we missed the one sign warnig of the change. 4 seconds later we were pulled over by the traficantes. I felt bad for Luis, but I also thought “Awesome, real Mexico”. We paid them off for 50 pesos, the equivalent of less than 5 bucks. Then we made it to a patio cafe for chiles rellenos and micheladas.

I literally saw 3 different guys pass by on burros loaded with bananas during lunch. Across the street a hombre in a sombrero was taking a siesta leaned against a paint-chipped wall. The same riquity car passed by 4 times blaring ice-cream truck music from a mega phone horn half the size of the car itself. Sure enough, the passenger seat held an ice-chest presumably filled with frozen treats.

I’m still no expert on Mexico, but Xico seemed about as quintessential as it gets.

Posted by: amandaelaine | June 22, 2009

Fiestas y más

Saturday evening, I went to a quinceñera with my friend Amiel. For those that don´t know, this is a a catholic tradition celebrating a girl´s exit from childhood and intoduction to womanhood on her 15th birthday. After a special mass, all the girl’s family ranging from babies to great grandparents get together with friends to eat and drink and dance into the early hours of morning.

Amiel pushed me into the crowded party room to watch the birthday girl prance around with a doll wearing pink fluffy taffeta to coordinate with her own marshmallow of a dress. Amiel explained that this is the last doll she recieves, the exit from girlish games. Total eclipse of the heart replaced the cutsy doll dance music, and 4 boys replaced the doll. Apparantly, womanhood means being passed around to all your friends. I´m kidding of course, but it did seem a bit strange that even in celebration of the girl, she is recognized by her relationship to men. Machismo is still entact in Latin American culture, as is chivalry. Can we not loose one and keep the other?

Next we all sat down to steaming plates of barbacoa de pollo and rice served alongside the most ambiguous and strong liquor I´ve ever tasted. I stuck to grapefruit soda. Before the plates were cleared the dance floor began to fill with all ages of people grooving to salsa, rock and reggaeton. I was perfectly content to watch the festivities, so I refused the first time man who asked me to dance. Finally, I decided “When in Mexico…”  and spent the next hour or so dancing my little heart out.

Amiel had to be home at 1am so we left early, but it was three hours later after a snack of fresh gorditas and a healthy dose of chatting that we finally went to sleep. At 7am, the most hateful sound range through my brain, my alarm clock.

Amiel´s parents drove me home in a fantastic skyblue voltzwagon from the 70´s. I had time to change clothes and brush my teeth before joining a good portion of the family (grandma, grandpa, son, daughter, son inlaw, grandchild) for breakfast in honor of Father´s day. It was a light affair with fruit cups, orange juice, black beans, eggs scrambled with chile, gorditas with salsa verde and queso, pan dulce, coffee with milk, and finally, generous portions of a decadent cake. I don´t know if i´ve ever eaten so much for breakfast in my life and still they asked me why I wouldn´t eat more.

After an hours nap that hardly took the edge off of my seeping exhaustion, it was time to meet an even more extensive assortment of family for la comida. This is what they call lunch in Mecico and it is traditionally the largest meal of the day. Even with a smorgesborg of delicious food, I still felt like I was being force fed. The family I live with keeps calling me flaquita wich means skinny girl, but it is in no way a complement. I have more than a fleeting suspicion than Señora Rosa is seriously trying to fatten me up.

It had been more than 24 hours sense i´d heard or spoken English and i was in a house filled with a huge family that wasn´t mine but treated me like they were. All the tias were passing cups of tequila around and laughter ricocheed off of concrete walls. The whole experience felt surreal. For the first time I realized I was speaking Spanish without translating from English first in my mind. I´m no where near fluent, but I can think of no better way to help me in that dirrection than celebrating with my adoptive Mexican family.

Posted by: amandaelaine | June 15, 2009

Veracruz

I thought I was completely ready to take on Mexico in all of my lonely gringa glory until I stepped out of a red, jerky taxi, backpack in tow, in front of my $11 find, Hotel Amparo. As it turns out, I am not invincible to the normal Travel worries. That first day in Veracruz, I took a dip into the tourism office, and passed the rest of the scorching daylight hours walking unfamiliar streets, map in hand, trying to cover my strangeness with lowered eyelids and dark clothing. I was starving after a couple hours and ate alone in a tiny street cafe promising antojitos (snacks). I ordered a quesadilla which consisted of a corn tortilla folded with spicy tomatoe sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. I kept wonderingto myself, “What am I doing here? ” After 15 hours of sleep in my own sweat owing to the lack of air conditioning in tropical Veracruz, I awoke to a renewed level of comfort and sense of adventure as my seeping exhaustion melted away.

I walked 3 km along the malecón (rambla for those who read about Montevideo, waterfront sidewalk for everyone else) to reach the famous aquarium. Then I went to the naval musum, and finally staked my seat in the ever lively Zócolo (central plaza) with a book and an ice-cream cone. This is prime people watching territory replete with street musicians, locals (jarochos), and tourists from all over the world. I talked to a polish sea-man for about an hour until he returned to port. He’d been all over the world, but always as a stranger. I love to travel, but I’m not sure I would want to pass such short stints in exotic locales, never soaking in a bit of the culture.

In the late afternoon, some men in white shirts began to set up chairs in a horseshoe pattern around the plaza and atop a stage in the center. Soon enough, a band dressed in identical white button down shirts, pressed white pants, and gleaming shoes to match filled the chairs on the stage. The plaza became very crowded with onlookers as the band began to play, and anyone who knew how danced the danzón surrounded by the horshoe of plastic chairs. An gray old man near me swayed to the latin rhythm and after exchanging grins, he asked me to dance. of course I turned him down. Much to the chagrin of most of the Mexicans I´ve met so far, dancing just isn’t my thing.

A young man came over and started talking to me about the book I’d been pretending to read for hours. The title is “Geek Love” and I am yet to find an adequete translation for the work geek. Apparently the “what are you reading” line is transcultural. We chatted for a bit, then he took me on a mini tour of some places I’d missed about the historical center of the city. Then Ruben and I stopped in a cafe for a vino con coca, a mildly alcoholic blend of red wine and coca cola, before I went back to my room to sleep under a violent ceiling fan once more.

The next day I went to El museo de la ciudad. During a museum tour, I met Tesero and his timid 8 year old son. After the mildly stimulating museum, we went to get some seafood (the specialty of Veracruz). I ordered pescado a la Veracruzana. I’ve never before eaten a fish that came on a platter head an all, but it was nonetheless delicious. We walked along a pier for a bit conversing in my stunted but developing Spanish until I had to catch my bus to Xalapa.

I don’t have time now to tell about my first few days here, but I will say that the Mexican people have been some of the most friendly and loving of any I’ve met so far. I’ve been embraced by strangers in a way I’ve  never before experienced. Many people now have fear of Mexico because of governmental corruption, poverty and narcotrafico, but I hope it doesn’t relate to discrimination of individuals and of the culture.

 

Later

Posted by: amandaelaine | June 2, 2009

New beginnings

My brother-in-law, Jay once said he should never be out of a malarial zone for more than a year. I recently realized that I can now legally and safely give blood, so clearly it has been too long since the travel bug has bitten me. To rectify this problem, on June 10th, I will fly out from San Antonio on the red-eye bound for Veracruz, that is the capital of el estado Veracruz in Southern Mexico. I will spend a couple of days there, readjusting to travel, getting  into trouble, and enjoying the favorable echange rate (1 USD is comparable to about 13 Mexican Pesos), then take a bus to Xalapa. For the following six weeks, I will live eat and sleep with a Mexican family wh0 I just can’t wait to meet. I’ll also be taking courses at La Universidad Veracruzana, and practicing my Spanish speaking skills with a native student. While I was in Uruguay and South America, I found this blog helped me immensely to keep in touch with my loved ones and also synthesize my experiences into something meaningful. I won’t promise frequent updates, as I am yet to know the exact nature of my internet access, but I will try to send a snippet at least occasionally to assuage the worries of my mother. Hopefully, you will hear from me in about a week.

Posted by: amandaelaine | May 6, 2008

Enjoying the End

Yesterday, I had my last final exam. I stepped out and had that customary wash of relief that just forces you to smile and act like you drank too much coffee. I gave my friend Alan a huge hug, then I realized what the end of exams meant this semester; leaving this place I’ve grown to love. I started walking around and noticing all  of the tiny things I take for granted and will probably miss the most. The first thing I saw when I walked out the gated door, was the old man moving leaves out of the sidewalk with the rubber foot of his cane. He has become a part of coming home. Later, down the crowded sidewalks of 18 de Julio, I could smell the nut and popcorn vendors caramelizing fresh peanuts in their homemade carts. The sweet sticky smoke and their shouts of “Mani” fills the air everyday. I went into a clothes market after that. Every empty space is filled with something to sell like a labyrinth of imitation soccer jerseys , dulce de leche candies, and cotton clothing of all types. A little further, and another market has sprung up on the sidewalk with random objects for sale. I saw an antique wasabi bowl set, a fencing mask, some old Montevideo license plates, a creepy doll, and a million mate gourds with bombillas. A man was carefully pouring steaming water from his thermo into the gourd, trying not to disturb the little mountain of crushed leaves pushed up to one side. He sang under his breath, “tomando mate” (drinking or literally taking mate). These are the sorts of  things I am just used to. I walked back to calle Colonia where I live and didn’t even trip over the cracked sidewalk tiles that buckle over the roots of huge shady trees.

Last night, we walked to the Rambla and spent a freezing couple of hours staring into the water, sharing mate ourselves and singing oldies at the top of our lungs with our friend from next door, Emanuel. The Rambla and Parque Rodo have heard so many intimate conversations. They’ve both seen me laugh and cry and pour myself into my journal or take up the lives in a novel. If I look back to my first week here, it seems like ages ago. So much has happened, yet the time passed so quickly. Perhaps time isn’t as linear a thing as we like to make it with our calenders and watches. I just keep wondering if this semester has made me any different. Did I just learn things, soak up a little of the world and fit it into the categories I already had, or have I made entirely new spaces. I don’t think I’ll ever really know.

Posted by: amandaelaine | May 2, 2008

Ode to Uruguay

I wrote this for a talent show we decided to have in Casa ACU. You probably won’t get the jokes if you haven’t lived here, but some people asked me to post it.

Ode to Uruguay

Jet lag stinks but so do we

20 hour flight, we’re finally free

we walk the streets just like a herd

and yelling English, oh my word

como? No se. no intiendo

our espanol es estupendo

me gusta mate and jamon too

and dulce de leche, our stomachs grew

Mark is angry, we don’t know why

oh well, Raquel will make us pie

alfajors, what a wonderful food

and Emily’s always in the mood

Nick thinks dogs are just like hogs

does anyone remember pogs?

Nobuki eats like a sumo fighter

and everyday Ken can pull an all nighter

Tina is eating a huge Mcflurry

but not too late or Lynette will worry

Amanda stepped in poop again

and cody, fish is not a sin

my womanhood was affirmed today

Uruguayan men have that special way

que linda, hola, pelo de sol

from a car window, it never gets old

get Horniman tea before you go home

take a picture of Artigas with a garden gnome

well eat some more meat and finish the pan

and in the end say, es un buen plan.

Posted by: amandaelaine | April 28, 2008

Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia is the oldest city in Uruguay, filled with a blend of architecture from the Portuguese days and the Spanish as they rivaled over this site for nearly 2 centuries. Colonia lies at the important juncture of the Parana and Uruguay rivers and is a mere 50 kilometers by boat from the bustling streets of Buenos Aires. Now an UNESCO world heritage site, Colonia attracts thousands of tourists from Argentina and elsewhere every year.

I am usually a bit turned off by blatant tourism, too many curio shops, moped rentals, etc. but this town is so charming, I just joined in and enjoyed. I walked down a street paved with the original cobbles from 1680, the stones smoothed from hundreds of years of traffic; first carts and feet, now bouncing cars and rented motor bikes. Little tufts of hardy grass try to peak through here and there. Thick stone walls with ancient stucco line both sides. The low, wide doors all boast little brass knockers in the shapes of hands, some with rings, some large. In the very center of each is a round, ornate doorknob. Very much like Hobbiton if you ask me. Every 15 feet or so, a florid bougainvillea clings to the wall and shades the street with its fuschia or violet leaves. The light shines through them in dappled rose tints. The air is scented with a floral perfume that mingles with the aroma or grilling meat and baking empanadas from sidewalk cafes. You hear a guitarist serenading the diners, the laughter of vacationers, and the brrrrrr of little gasoline bikes.

I really did nothing but walk around the quaint streets and soak in the still warm autumn air. I visited the oldest church in Uruguay as well as the oldest lighthouse. I climbed up the lighthouse for 15 pesos and stood on a crowded windy little lookout with Nicole and Josh. We looked at the muddy waters of the Rio de la Plata and watched a happy Argentine couple make out. It didn’t seem that romantic to me with the wind slapping your hair in your face and about 15 other people on the cramped porch, but I guess when in Uruguay….can I make that an official saying?

Also, Its not letting me put the pictures on for free anymore, but I added some more on flickr.

Posted by: amandaelaine | April 27, 2008

Mass in Iglesia Matriz

This morning I went to mass at a beautiful ancient church in the Ciudad Vieja called Iglesia Matriz. I decided to walk the 2 miles or so through the practically deserted Sunday morning streets and showed up really early for the 11 o’clock service. I walked a bit more in the old city and got myself lost. An old, hunched over women in slippers and a bulky red sweater was walking near me and I asked her where the church was. She said “vas contigo,” come with me, then “Americana?”

When I gave her an affirmative nod, she began to talk to me in English, asking me all about my studies, how I liked Uruguay, all sorts of things. When we reached Iglesia Matriz, she asked me if I was Catholic. I said no, just Christian. From that moment on, she took me under her wing. She brought me to sit right next to the stage, and tried to explain things. She pointed at the huge crystal chandelier above us, the gold encrusted statuary, vaulted painted ceilings and said, “this is beautiful, but I don’t like it. Just Jesus for me.”

The Priest was so gentle. his voice rolled fluidly and calmingly through the church like music, and so clear, I could understand practically everything. his hands performed the sacraments, pouring the wine, folding a towel, offering the bread, with such practiced perfection and smoothness, it was like watching art. So beautiful. Growing up in a basically non-denominational home, I have never encountered very much religious ritual. I used to actually scorn the idea and think it was an antiquated sort of control game, but I think I was wrong. My first mass was a very spiritual experience for me.

After a shower of “la paz contigo,” The peace with you, from all of the people sitting in the little close side area with me, Susana, my new 75 year old friend, and I walked out into the warm afternoon air. I kissed the priest in the doorway as we left. He smelled fresh like soap, then hugged Susana goodbye. She said, “Amanda, don’t be afraid,” and hobbled away to sit in a plaza and watch the day go by.

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