Wednesday, July 29, 2009

water, by any other name...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Say what you will about the French-- and, man, many a day on this trip i had something to say about them-- their manners are impeccable. Whether it's a little kid walking by you, seemingly busy bouncing a ball, or a newspaper salesman in a bad mood, or a frazzled grocery store clerk, they are always ready with a "bon jour!", "bon soir!" and ultimately, a "merci!". I LOVE that!

In the states, we don't look at each other this way. We don't chance that level of eye contact. I'm a pretty eye-contact-y sorta gal, but it still depends on my mood, whether Im going to pass someone on the street, look them in the eye and make verbal contact. And, even then, it's pretty rare.
But, in France, I never missed an opportunity to meet the eyes of my fellow man (or woman, or child) and give a slight nod, a bright eyed smile and a warm "bon jour!" (or, of course, whatever the occasion called for). Never, not ever once, was it not repeated back to me. You gotta love that kind of human contact.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Trans-Planted Experts

Driving down a quaint French road, we saw the plant--big, bushy, gorgeous lavender. But we weren't quite sure if it was lavender (it had a sort of bushy, sage feel to it)--so, we pulled over to the side of the road and I reached out an innocent arm to take just a snip of evidence. I was quite aware of the numerous bees floating around this yummy bush, full of pollen, but as I was watching the two or three to the side of me, I paid absolutely no attention to what was in front of me and to where I was slamming my big paw into and BAM! I felt it instantly. Pulling out a flower never had quite this level of burning before. When I brought the stem up to my eyes, there was the little, seemingly innocent, creature that had stung me. He was stuck to me. Not with glue, happiness, or obsession. He was stuck to me cuz he had no other choice. I now had his little butt sticker and he probably didn't want to let it go. Heck, I literally had his life in my hands. In my finger! I shook him free (and, yes, i know, to his death) and slowly but surely started freaking out.

I haven't been stung since i was a little kid, maybe five or six? I barely remember it. I know I'm not allergic to bee stings, but what if I'd grown to be allergic? What if I'd gained an allergy in my older age?! There's so many people with so many more allergies these days, the hypochondriac in my brain got the better of me. I was thinking snake bite, the poison slowly sinking into my blood stream with each passing minute. My mom was in the back seat and my sister was behind the wheel,

me: ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! oh man, get it out! gads, its in there! help me get it out please!

mom: um, okay, uh...lemme try and find my glasses. i cant see it in there. are you sure it's his stinger? i think its just a bit of sticker from the bush...

me: no, no, no, its his stinger, i'm sure of it, somebodys got to pull it out and suck out the poison! i cant cuz i'm squeezing my finger to make sure it doesn't flow into my blood stream!,

I turn to my sister,

me: jeezus, it hurts! gads, get it out! please!

sister: oh, um, okay, hang on, hang on...i gotta find my glasses, i can't see it. i know how you're feeling though, cuz this is how i felt the other day when i got stung. did you know i got stung two days ago when i was trying to take a picture of you and mom?

mom: oh yeah, molly, did you know your sister got stung yesterday? oh,no, not yesterday, but a couple days ago when she was up in that window? jeeze, how bad did that hurt Kaari?

me: oh man, you guys, THIS one really, really hurts...

mom: okay! i found my glasses, lemme see, let me see it...

YANK! she pulled it out and the pain just continued. I couldn't beeelieve how much it hurt. Man, did it hurt this much at age six?! Was it poisoning me as we sat here?! Was i going to die?! Was my finger swelling up?! It looked bigger. It definitely looked much bigger, and blue-er. Not good. When would the pain go away?! I'd put so much pressure on it, it was white and flat. Nope, It didn't look good. While I was wondering if I needed to lay down for awhile, I heard...

mom: so, um it lavender?

Friday, July 24, 2009

don't take it personally...

The sunflower fields in france, to die for!
I didn't, of course.
Die for them, that is.

But i definitely had a great time watching them and their mood swings. They follow the sun, it's their only master, no matter how sweet you are to them, or how many times you ask to take a close-up.

If the sun is that way, they'll face that way, and turn their backs to you.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

it was ordained

I have the answer to international travel and it is this: Lufthansa Business Elite Class. I had just flown a lovely flight on Virgin Air from SFO to JFK. Great seat, great service, super easy, super nice seatmates (I was in a middle seat and didn't even mind!). But, still, it was 5 hour flight and I would touch down for a mere 30 minutes or so and then get back on a huge, jumbo plane for another 8 hours where I was slotted to sit in the waaaay back.

As I've gotten older, a strange anxiousness has crept into my psyche. I don't really like flying in even the shortest of jaunts anymore...but, in a little seat? surrounded by babies and gigantic men who are sporting a swine-flu cough, this flight seemed destined to be rough, to say the least. At the same moment that I was wondering if I should ask for a mask, and hoping that the whiny little kid in front of me was going to be sedated, I was also mentally checking off my own elements of plane-nature: a neck pillow, earplugs, hand sanitizer, my first-go at ambien... when a rather burly, frat-boy type walked up to me and asked if I could do him a favor. Oh man, never a good start unless the person is holding a camera and you're in front of some monument somewhere. But here, what could I possibly do for him? I was in the same tuna can he was. I only had the one magazine, the one pillow, the one little blanket--truly, I could see nothing to offer.

me: ummmmmmmmmm, sure?

him: see that girl over there?

(thinking it was a rhetorical question, i didn't actually crane my head to look, and nodded with hesitation)

well, that's my sister and we'd really like to sit together and i was wondering...

(oh, here it comes....)

would you mind changing seats with her?

me: is she by a window seat?

him: yeah

me: gads, i am SO sorry dude, but i specifically chose an aisle seat. i just can't sit in a window seat. {i don't remember now if i actually got into the fact that i have an incredibly small bladder which requires me to get up and pee every 30 minutes or so, not to mention, i hate being suffocated into a little seat with no where to go and having to ask the person next to me to get up and down according to my issue-filled whims and, did i mention my fear of flying? being by a window, watching the ground disappear--not good for my mental state. but, anyway, i think i kept that all to myself...}

him: oh yeah, totally. i understand. sure, it's okay.

You bet it's okay, boy-o! I paid for this particular seat. I picked it out online and, while I wasn't very thrilled with the results, I could only imagine what laid in wait for me on the other side of the plane if I were to take the chancy non-aisle seat!

As he was preparing to sit down next to me, I stood up to let him in and looked over at said sister. She WAS in an aisle seat! Well, that was a totally different story. No fat man with a swine-flu cough over there, no grumpy babies near by.

me: hey! yeah! i'll do it!

him: you will? oh, that's great. thank you, thank you.

Gestures, hand-waving, movement of bags. She was excited, he was excited. I was mildly relieved for the change and settled down next to a non-english-speaking woman who seemed to pose no future threat of bad flying mojo...and off we go!

Except, suddenly, super-expressive, dual-language Dad shows up with his three daughters and tries to sit where the brother and sister are already sitting. Hmmmmm. This could prove to be troublesome. So, I sink low in my seat, figuring MY favor has already been culled and I'm done. I watch as the group of them try and figure out how two of them have the same seat number and maybe it was my seat number and blah blah blah...the beautiful, blonde, german stewardess gets involved immediately and we all wait with baited breath to see what the outcome is going to be. I spend the next few minutes saying my good-flight-mojo prayers and I come to find them answered.

Beautiful, blonde, german stewardess moves me up to Business Elite and I revel in my unbelievable luck, while waving my bittersweet goodbyes to the dual-language dad, his daughters, and my truly unlucky brother & sister seatmates (they ended up being separated again in all this). By the time I moved my seat for the second time, it was about 11pm at night and I was exhausted. I knew I had a long flight ahead of me, but when I saw all the goodies that would be afforded me in biz class, I had to stay awake no matter what!

Full hot towels, Gerber daises in the bathroom along with a full-length mirror and window onto the world, non-stop movies, a 4-course menu that ends with cheese (oh, europeans! i love you!), the red wine that was one of the better bottles I've had, and the full on reclining seat for when I was finally ready to curl under my sheets and blankets and fall fast asleep.

I'm sure my giddy-ness was obvious to not only the stewardess' but to the business man next to me who makes this flight weekly, but I didn't care a whit!

In the morning, I was one of the first to awake, to be sure I could join in the amazing breakfast and maybe catch another free movie! When I wiped the sleep away from my eyes and looked around, the place was silent and not a being stirred, except for one man two seats over. He was hard to miss. He had his work uniform on, which included his white collar. It was a priest! He looked as if he hadn't even reclined his seat, let alone taken part of all the goodies I'd indulged in. I took it as a good sign, he and I were in this together. He was maybe even looking out for me. Out of habit, or maybe just to cover all bases, I automatically crossed myself. If he saw me, he didn't let on. So I leaned back in my luxury seat and waited for the stewardess' to bring my fresh, hot towel.

Friday, July 17, 2009

bleeding color

Mexico did me in with it's colors.
Un-capturable by camera.
Nevertheless, I tried.

Monday, July 13, 2009

it takes a vendor

Every night at 7:30, whether we were at the villa, or walking up the hill, sitting by the pool, or traversing across town...we heard his call. For days, I thought it was two men: One would call out the first part


quickly followed, overlapped even, with the low sound,


and once again,


and then,


It was fascinating. Strange. Eerie.
The way it came every night at the same time, the way it started above our house on the hill and made it's way down into the town. The way it bounced heavily off the sides of crowded buildings and kept us entranced. We couldn't see him when we heard him. And we couldn't find him when we ran out of the gate to catch him.
It was driving us crazy.
In a good way.
And I was determined to get to the bottom of it. I wasn't leaving Mexico until we found him.

I LOOOVE a vendor call. I think the first vendor that caught my eye was a heavy-set, sweaty guy in NYC who seemed to take up a street corner while sitting on a turned over box. He picked up and set down little wind-up mice and called out in this classic new york, nasally voice, "good for caaaats, good for caaaats". To this day, he's one of my favorite.

But this call, this vendor, wherever he was, whoever he was, would go down in my memory as one of the best for being one of the most unusual, one of the most mysterious. He wasn't calling out words, I still wasn't even clear it was just one man ...and I could NOT figure out what in the world he was selling. One night, RK decided to ask our night manager, Francisco, if he knew what it was. He described the call and Francisco smiled. Yes, he said, he knew what it was. But, as with any lack of language skills, we could only make out that it was some sort of corn thing and deduced that it was probably tamales. We worked out a plan to be home by 7:30 that night and we'd buy at least six to ten of them, eat a couple for dinner and freeze the others to enjoy throughout the week.

Laying by the pool that night, we heard the call! We threw on our clothes, raced out the gates, passed Francisco (smiling widely at us crazy Americans), and hoofed it down the street. There he was! Right at the street corner! We saw him do the call! We tried to act casual as we half sauntered, half ran up to him, but our excitement was overtaking us.

There was no clue as to what product he was hawking. A young guy, with a couple of coolers attached to a dolly. No pictures, or signs, or even anyone near him enjoying his wares. We went for it anyway,

Us: Cuatro, por favor.
Him: Cuatro?
Us: Si. Cuatro.
Him: Con queso?
Us: ummmm, si?

He whips open one of the coolers. Our eyes are wide, our mouths slightly open... what could possibly be in there?! What in the world was he going to add cheese to?!

He pulled out four cobs of corn, jabbed in a thick dowel of wood that had been fashioned into a small spear, pulled out a spatula covered in mayonnaise and slathered it all over each ear and then rolled them all in queso. I'm not sure he noticed our slumped shoulders and, luckily, he couldn't hear our hearts sink as we each took our two ears and walked away. But, by the time we got home, handed an ear to Francisco, and sunk our teeth into the rock-hard, freezing cold corn kernels, we were laughing our heads off. ALL the build-up, ALL the wonder, ALL the guessing, ...and here we were, holding the result of a week-long mystery and we couldn't even eat it!

Ah, well, we told each'll make for a great story.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

welcome, to bellas artes de mexico

hola, bellas artes!
what i wouldn't give to spend a year learning with your very hallowed halls...

Bellas Artes
: San Miguel's premier school for the arts offers classes in photography, sculpture, music, dance and painting.

Every classroom we looked into held another treasure. I wanted IN so badly!

Located in an old convent, the patio feels sacred and the classrooms downright holy. They were locked when we walked around, though there were a few artists inside, here and there, perfecting their craft.

Each room solidly dedicated to the one thing it proclaimed. None of this mixing and matching of instruments or art supplies. One thing at a time, it seemed to say. Do it right and do it well. A very good philosophy, I must say.

Strange but true,
and who are we to say?