Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hard beds, hard times

I'm learning how to assess a new situation. Check the bed!!  In the US, where there are bed bug problems even in huge chain hotels, you know to check for bugs. In a place as warm and muggy as Guadalajara, I fully expected cockroaches of all sizes, but there aren't any, even in a budget place like La Hacienda. Either they spray like mad, or the large number of birds takes care of the problem.

After posting the blog last night I turned down the bed and realized it was about as comfortable as a prison cell. Not that I've personally experienced an overnight stay in jail....(My mother is reading this blog too!). Suffice it to say it was hard. Solid, immovable. Hard. But the lovely singer in the bar next door lulliby'd me to sleep and I didn't wake up with a sore back or a stiff neck. Will wonders never cease?
A young lady in a wedding
who allowed me to take
her picture.

Sunday morning. Mexico.  I met Lourdes, the lady who runs this little 5 room hotel. It was her son I met last night. She goes by LuLu. She saw me leaving early in the morning and dashed out in her pajamas to tell me that nothing will open for a couple of hours. So I wandered around. Some streets had been blocked off overnight to allow for bike riders. A young lady was directing cars across the blocked street with a handmade Stop sign, so I chatted with her. I asked if the bike riders passing us were part of a competition. No, she replied, it's recreation. Every Sunday the roads are blocked, little signs are put up and hoards of people ride through the streets on their bikes. Whole families passed us, with little bitty kids barely able to walk, riding tiny pink and green bicycles.

I took a few photos of interesting buildings and flowers in the early morning light. A small woman pushed a huge cart slowly up the street stopping to sweep up little piles of leaves and trash. Apparently owners of street side properties (or their maids) sweep up every morning and leave the little piles for the trash people. I am impressed with how clean Mexico is, but my little hotel has an odd smell in the courtyard. I wondered what it was and then Lulu pointed out the small fruits littering the ground under a large tree. Guyabas, she said. She picked one up, washed it and gave it to me. The moment I bit into it I knew the source of the smell. It was quite delicious but had an abundance of hard BB-sized seeds. Later in the day, I bought a 'popcicle' that was made of guyaba. I sort of expected it to be the fruit only, but it too was loaded with seeds.

I adore Mexican popcicles. They make a paste of fresh ripe fruit and then mix it with a little milk and cream (or not), pour it into a rectagular mold and freeze it around a fat wooden stick. It weighs a quarter of a pound and costs 8 pesos, about 65 cents. It's almost impossible to eat it all without dripping on your clothes, not because it's so hot here, but because it takes so long to eat one. They're huge!

Charales. Whole fried fish.

Then I discovered a big problem. I had almost run out of pesos. I have plenty of money with me, in the form of  traveler's checks and American dollars, but few pesos. It's Sunday. Banks are closed, the Cambios (money changers) are closed, and the stores don't take travelers checks. The machines in Bancomer would not accept my credit card. I found myself in a serious bind. Lulu tried to help. We walked over to the other hotel to see the owner. Victor, a handsome young man, owns both, but he was reluctant to take the traveler's check. He was afraid it would not clear his bank. He never said NO, that would have been rude, but it would have been equally rude for me to press him. Lulu assured me that I could stay another night, and pay on Monday morning. So I decided to stay another day.

Detail of a Rodo Padilla sculpture, famous
Tlaquepaque artist.
There's lots to see here, and it feels like a very different place than San Miguel. It's newer for one thing, not as colonial. The people are not as friendly. I suppose that is true all over the world. The larger the city, the less friendly people are, and Guadalajara is HUGE. It's the third largest city in Mexico. I think Mexico City is the largest in the world. Flying over yesterday I could see sparkling buildings spread out below, but then we passed over some 'natural' terrain with forest and deep arroyos. The city spread around, but on the sides of this mountain were mansions, clearly the realm of the very rich. We continued to fly for fifteen more minutes over city until we landed. I've flown an hour over Los Angeles and it's suburbs, but American cities are vastly more spread out. I suspect that Guadalajara has as many people as LA, it's just more concentrated. No house here has a side yard to separate it from the neighbor. Properties are walled and the houses are built with zero lot lines. Only the Ricos in the mountains have space to spare.

So, after things opened up, I had breakfast at the little cafe next door. It was a buffet and it was superb. I could have eaten baskets of pan dulce and muffins, that's what appeared on the table, but I sent it away. The buffet featured a wonderful mixture of vegetables with moderate poblano-like chiles sauteed together (which I consumed with relish), chunks of chicken breast in a cream sauce that was silky and rich, runny but delicious mashed pinto beans, and a plate of fresh pineapple, cantilope, and slices of mango in vanilla yoghurt. The coffee was fine, not the best I've ever had, but it made the caffeine headache disappear. It was considerably tastier than dinner. Seating for the cafe was entirely out doors with big green umbrellas and a portal shading other tables. A tiled fountain with a large ceramic lion's head spit water into a pond near leafy tropical plants. The equipale chairs were comfortable and sat around leather covered tables. I was the only person there until about 10 when others began to drift in.  My son would have enjoyed the piped-in music. It was an eclectic mix of modern rock, classical guitar, Enya, jazz, and salsa. I sat for the longest time over coffee, enjoying the sounds of birds, odors coming from the kitchen, and the gorgeous twenty-something men dashing about waiting on the growing crowd of customers.

Tlaquepaque all dressed up for the Bicentenario.

In the afternoon, I went back down the Avenida Artesanias, to see the now open galleries and shops and the free ceramics museum. All my life I've seen Mexican ceramics; black pottery with scratched designs, red clay with cream paint, little figurines, whistles, creches, mermaids, you name it. In this museum the pieces were old.  Older than dirt! (Wait a minute, they ARE dirt!) Some were created two and three hundred years ago and I could clearly see the evolution of designs and techniques that are still being used today. And like everything else, the quality then was noticably better. There was such care in painting every line, clarity and precision where the colors meet, uniform wall thickness in the cups and bowls. I was impressed. It's not what I've seen in Dolores Hidalgo, or at Jackalope in New Mexico. But then later, in several of the gallery shops were similar modern pieces of the same quality and craftsmanship. As expected the prices were quite high too. I was sorely tempted to purchase a nice platter except there is no room in my luggage for something that breakable!!

Local liquor store

I am also favorably impressed by the weather. This far south, and in late summer, I expected to swelter, at least a little. Not so. The temperature was about 70 this morning when I went for my long walk, and then in the middle of the day clouds built up and it never got over 80. I came back to the room and took a long nap. The room faces north and is also shaded by a deep portal, so it was nice and cool. All in all a lovely day. I will go back down to the centro area and scout out some dinner. I hate to admit this but I had ice cream for lunch. I am getting re-adicted to ice cream, it's just so damned good! This time I got a small scoop of strawberry ice with cajeta ice cream on the top. I'm not positive what flavor cajeta is, kind of a cross between carmel, carmelized milk, and brown sugar. So, really, I ought to eat something healthy for dinner. No more ice cream until....well, until next time!