Sunday, February 27, 2011

Euphoria

Euphoria

1. (n.) - a feeling of happiness, confidence, or well-being, sometimes exaggerated in pathological states as mania.

2. (N). - an ongoing tour by Enrique Iglesias in support of his current album of the same name. The tour officially commenced on January 20, 2011 in Puerto Rico.

Enrique Iglesias is the type of artist that I've always had a passing appreciation for, but didn't pay much attention to until moving to Mexico.

Don't get me wrong; I have enjoyed a handful of popular singles that were released in the United States to critical and commercial acclaim ("Rhythm Divine," "Bailamos," "Be With You," "Do You Know?," "Hero," "Escape"), but he was little more than the singer that could be really cute if not for that mole.

And then he ditched the mole and was, of course, gorgeous. But I still didn't know a lot about his music.


When we moved to Guadalajara in November, I started seeing a lot of posters (like the one above) advertising the Euphoria tour. Being a concert lover, I thought it would be fun to go, even if I wasn't as familiar with him as I am with other artists. But we already have plans to see the Backstreet Boys, Lady GaGa, and Kylie Minogue later this spring, and regardless of what any of you may think about exchange rates, living in Mexico isn't saving us any money. And so it was decided that we would sit this one out.

A few weeks ago, I heard the dirtiest song on the radio while driving to work and, being as inappropriate as I am, took an immediate liking to it. For those of you living stateside, you may or may not know the song as "Tonight (I'm Lovin' You)," but on this side of the border, the DJ's have no qualms playing a slightly more explicit version. It wasn't until returning home that evening that I realized Enrique was the artist with the potty mouth. And so I came to love him that much more. Even so, thoughts of the concert had faded at this point, and it came as no small surprise when I learned earlier this week that TJ had snagged a couple of tickets for last night's performance at Auditorio Telmex as a special surprise for me. I guess those Valentine's chocolates really paid off this year!

It was a full house at Auditorio Telmex

Since I was home with a cold yesterday, and because I like to be prepared for concerts, I managed to track down the set list on Wikipedia and promptly set about downloading the songs that weren't currently in my iTunes library. That's when I discovered that Enrique is responsible for several Spanish-language songs I've been hearing and enjoying (but not quite understanding) on the radio these past three months, including "Cuando me Enamoro," which I have been affectionately calling "Cuando Eva Perón," because it, despite not making sense, and knowing it was incorrect, was all my ears were hearing. And because I've apparently been living under a large rock, I was unaware that he is also responsible for the English tracks "I Like It" and "Heartbeat."

And there you have it. Whether I knew it or not, I already loved 10 songs on a 14-song setlist. I knew this was going to be amazing.

And it was.
Euphoria Set List

"Tonight (I'm Lovin' You)"
"Heartbeat"
"No Me Digas Que No"
"Rhythm Divine"
"Bailamos"
"Por Amarte"
"Experiencia Religiosa"
"Lloro Por Ti"
"Cuando Me Enamoro"
"Be With You"
"Dímelo" ("Do You Know")
"Heroe"
"Escape"
"I Like It"

Enrique took the stage at 10:03pm, just as the Kings of Leon song "Sex on Fire" came to a conclusion over the auditorium's sound system. Do I think this was a coincidence? Enrique knows he's hot, sooo...no, no I don't.

Like most concerts, Euphoria started late. Unlike most artists, Enrique Iglesias actually apologized for this, explaining that he was sick. OMG...just like me! I think from now on I'll pretend that he gave me this cold.

And even if he didn't give it to me, there were certainly plenty of opportunities for him to pass it on to others. Despite filling the auditorium to capacity with star-crazed fans, this popular performer is not afraid of audience interaction. He invited a family of three to the stage as he performed "Por Amarte" and "Experiencia Religiosa..." and then shared a tequila shot with them. He followed this by bringing a younger boy up on stage to provide assistance with the ballad "Lloro Por Ti." Thankfully, no tequila was issued. Audience participation culminated during the encore with a very up close and personal dance with an audience member during "Heroe" that had just about everyone blushing.

TJ was somewhat put off by the concert due to Enrique's illness. Something about blowing his nose, drinking herbal tea, and lip syncing too much. I, on the other hand, was simply impressed that the old adage "The Show Must Go On!" held true. For instance, in my younger, more countrified days, I witnessed a sick Toby Keith down 4 shots of whisky to "soothe his throat" before declaring that he couldn't continue, issuing a rain check for two months later. And no amount of lip syncing done here could compete with the disaster that was Britney's Circus. Because here, there was a fair amount of actual singing.


Great song selection. Perfect mix of singing and audience interaction. It started late, but not Madonna-late. Beautiful venue. Good acoustics. Wonderful boyfriend who surprised me with all of the above.

Overall, a great concert experience.

If not for the colds that TJ, Enrique, and I share, it would have been euphoric.

And as time goes by, I'm sure this story will turn into "The night Enrique Iglesias gave me mono."

video

Monday, February 21, 2011

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 6: Museo Regional de Guadalajara

As indicated yesterday, our whirlwind tour of the city with Genaro last Sunday presented numerous opportunities to mark Top 20 items off of the list. Here's another.

Originally designed as the St. Joseph Seminary, this 300-year-old+ edifice was later repurposed as a holding facility for Spanish prisoners of war captured during the Mexican War of Independence. The building found new life in 1918 when it was reimagined as a museum. Today it is known as Museo Regional de Guadalajara, and is home to a variety of archaeological pieces and works of art that intend to document the history of western Mexico from prehistory onward.

The museum is currrently playing host to a haunting photo exhibit entitled "Testimonios de una guerra: Fotografía de la Revolución Mexicana." Below are some sample pieces from the exhibit.



The museum itself consists of only a dozen or so small galleries, so it's not uncommon to find yourself experiencing a drastic transition when walking from one exhibit to another. For example, right next to the photo exhibit above, we found ourselves exploring ancient (and just slightly older) times...

"Mammoth of Catarina," A sample of Mexican pottery, Sabre-Toothed Tiger

...And that's pretty much all she wrote when it comes to the first floor. The building and its surrounding grounds, however, are a work of art in and of themselves. Take a look at this beautiful staircase, for instance, and the courtyard it overlooks.


The second floor offers little more exhibition space than the first. We are in Mexico, however, and since this is a predominantly Catholic country, it would be nigh-impossible to leave the museum without seeing some (creepy) religious art.


And, for reasons I have yet to determine, there is a huge collection of horse-drawn carriages surrounding the upper balcony.


There were a few more pieces of interest, but I already find myself dangerously close to having shared the museum's entire collection with you.
Yes, this is a small museum, but that shouldn't detract from anyone's enjoyment of what is presented. Or maybe I'm just biased. I continue to find myself completely in love with almost everything I explore here in Mexico, from the quaint to the grandiose.

Although this is definitely closer to the quaint side of things, I would recommend a visit to any history buffs that find themselves traipsing around Guadalajara, especially on Sundays, when admission is free.

Museo Regional de Guadalajara is open Tue-Sat 9a-5:30p; Sun 9a-4:30p; closed Mon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 5: Instituto Cultural Cabañas

I'm such a bad blogger. I went and started a new project, "Guadalajara's Top 20" on December 21, and it wasn't until last weekend that I finally pulled out the list to get around to posting a second entry. It was only then that I realized that my postings for Zoológico Guadalajara, Tonalá, and Tlaquepaque had actually covered #'s 2, 3, and 4. I've gone back through and edited/hyperlinked those posts accordingly, but I'm STILL a bad blogger, because the experience I'm about to share actually happened LAST weekend. So, so lazy of me. Anyway, without further ado, Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 5: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

Instituto Cultural Cabañas is actually one of the first sites we stumbled upon when we first began exploring Guadalajara. The only thing that kept us from entering was the fact that we had left the camera at home. Oh, and the admission fee. It was only seven bucks or so, but we were feeling kinda cheap that day.

Fortunately, or friend Genaro is a quick study. He has learned that if we do dinner and a movie at home, TJ and I are destined to fall asleep before the half-way point (What can I say? We're getting old...). To this end, Genaro has insisted on hanging out with us out in public, during daylight hours, where the risk of falling asleep is minimal. And so, last Sunday, Genaro took us on a sightseeing tour in which we saw multiple items on the Top 20 list. I'll be sharing them all in time (gotta spread this stuff out) but for today we'll just focus on the Institute.

The Institute was originally designed in the early 1800's as an orphanage, and served this purpose for over 100 years. During this period, it was known as Hospicio Cabañas. The building underwent an extensive renovation in the 1980's and reopened as a cultural center featuring art exhibits, a movie theater, dance lessons, and other artsy activities.

Sample of artwork currently on exhibit at the Institute

The complex is named after Juan Cruz Ruiz de Cabañas, who was appointed bishop of Guadalajara in 1796. He commissioned the building's design from Spanish architect Manuel Tolsá in 1803, following royal decrees encouraging the construction of houses to attend to the needs of the poor. Orphans began arriving in 1810, though construction would not be completed until much later. To the left you will see statue of the bishop (who died in 1823) that stands in the Institute's courtyard.




Despite the beauitful architecture, landscaping, and sculptures to be found throughout the complex, the Institute's main draw is a series of murals by artist José Clemente Orozco. The Orozco Murals actually have their own spot on the Top 20 list, and will be covered in a separate entry at a later date. But, because I'm so nice, here is a sneak peak.

The Institute has the honor of being on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making this the second such site we have seen in our three months in Guadalajara. The Institute is open Mon-Fri 10a-6p; Sun 10a-3p.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Foreign Service Life: Things I Wish I Had Known A Year Ago

Wow, I can't believe it's been a year already. Or should I say that I can't believe it's only been a year?

Two very different statements, to be sure, but both accurately reflect how I feel as I look back on the past 12 months of our lives in the Foreign Service. So much has happened in such a short amount of time that it completely boggles my mind.

When we arrived in Falls Church, VA on February 11, 2010, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I wasn't in Florida anymore.

There were plenty of things I didn't know, though. Things that would have made the past year easier. It's impossible to write a letter to my past self, but I would like to share some things that I feel could be potentially beneficial to new Foreign Service Families.

HOUSING: If you aren't happy at Oakwood, relax. Overseas housing is generally much nicer than your temporary DC abode. I don't make this statement based solely on our experience, but also on the numerous photos I have seen on Facebook and in other FS blogs. Also, don't be discouraged by the decor...make it your own. Some (not all) posts are able to take furniture back to storage. What this means is that you can bring/buy your own stuff to give your new home a splash of personal style. We've recently purchased new couches and a lamp, and will certainly continue adding to the house over time. In fact, we sent back an entire bedroom's worth of stuff in anticipation of a future makeover.

UAB/HHE: Carefully consider what items you place in your Unaccompanied Baggage and Household Effects shipments. We were newbies and had no clue what to do. Our UAB consisted of all of the clothes that wouldn't fit in our suitcases, and all of our pots and pans, linens, and small household appliances. Granted, it took a month longer than it should have for our UAB to arrive, so we were living out of our suitcases anyway....but once the UAB did arrive, we found ourselves wishing we had thrown some movies, books, board games, etc in there. Typically, the Embassy/Consulate will provide you with a welcome kit that contains household essentials like pots and pans, linens, and small household appliances. This is supposed to tide you over until your HHE arrives. What this means is that you don't need to pack this stuff with your UAB. Use your UAB for your clothes and a few fun items to entertain yourself with as you acclimate to your new home and await your larger HHE shipment.

UAB/HHE (Part 2): Oh, and don't be too attached to your stuff. After sitting in a non-climate controlled facility for months, then traveling thousands of miles, you might find that some of your stuff arrives damaged...or in some cases, not at all. We lucked out with minimal damage (mild marring of some cardboard DVD cases), though we've heard some strange stories from other people.

PERSONAL TRANSPORTATION: If you own a car, and are married or partnered, make sure that any vehicle that you want to bring to post is in the officer's name...and do it early. The US government is currently unable/unwilling to ship a vehicle overseas that does not list the FSO as owner or co-owner on the title. If you are an officer and your spouse/partner is sole owner on the title, have the conversation today about either transferring ownership or selling the current vehicle and buying a new one together. Title transfers take time, and this is not something you want to be dealing with any later than two months prior to departure.

EMPLOYMENT: One of our chief concerns in starting this new life was that we would be leaving a life in which we had always been able to carry each other on our insurance policies. As of this writing, same-sex partners (and even unmarried heterosexual couples) are unable to enjoy federal benefit coverage as domestic partners. As such, finding employment at post was crucial. Depending on the post, there will either be several, a couple, or no jobs available. This is something they tell the spouses early on, so as not to create unrealistic expectations. From what I can tell, with rare exception, if you are going to get a job at post, it will happen once you arrive at post. Feel free to apply while in DC, but don't become disheartened if you are not selected to fill a particular position. It may not be your location, not your qualifications, that are limiting you. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, after all.

EMPLOYMENT (PART 2): I did not want to work in the Embassy/Consulate. No sir, no way, no how. This was TJ's career choice, not mine. I was happy to follow along and reap the benefits of a life abroad, but I didn't want to get absorbed into the government life myself. Sure I needed insurance, so I of course had to work there. But I wasn't going to like it. Except, I do like it. I love it. My current job responsibilities are admittedly routine but undoubtedly interesting. I learn something new every day, get to practice my mediocre Spanish, and contribute to the mission goals in a tangible way. And, after 1.5 months of sitting at home without internet, tv, or, well, anything, it was great to get out of the house and socialize. I have met some of the nicest, most interesting people since I started working at the consulate on December 20th. As comfortable as I was with my life in Orlando, with the handful of good friends that I had there, it's impossible to deny that this new life, especially when you actively participate in mission affairs, allows you to meet a larger quantity, quality, and variety of people than you ever could living in the states....or sitting on your keister at home while the officers do there thing at work. In fact, I should have posted this yesterday, but I was out at a happy hour and tequila tasting with my new office mates.

PETS: Oy, this one is so hard to talk about. I love my babies, I really do. In fact, our ability to bring them with us was one of our selection criteria for our first post. But between having to dope them up on Benadryl (at vet recommendation) and stop every four hours for a potty break to get them to DC last February, and all of the money, stress, and time involved in getting them to Mexico in December, I just simply don't know if we will be able to bring them with us consistently. Mexico was a bit of a hassle because everyone was dealing with a new process, so maybe we'll give it one more go just to be certain...but right now it's not looking so hot. If we don't bring them, I'm going to make grandma take care of them. We love them too much to not keep them in the family. But spending thousands of dollars to ship three pets every two years is untenable. I guess what I can say on the matter is that, as a pet owner, I understand how precious your four legged friends are. Just make sure you are committed to the expenses involved. And if you aren't a pet owner yet, please do your research before taking the leap.

DOMESTIC STAFF: Buyer beware is all I can say about this one. Sometimes you'll find good help. Sometimes you'll find bad help. And sometimes you'll just find good help that will steal your iPad.

PERSONAL IDENTITY: Moving to Falls Church, VA meant that TJ had finally achieved his goal of joining the Foreign Service. But what did the fruition of his goal mean for me? It meant that I had to leave my home, my friends, my job, my life...and what, exactly, did that say about me? At the time, I guess I thought it meant that I was less of a contributor to our family. That what I had to offer wasn't as important. That even I didn't care about my life, if I was so willing to say goodbye to it. Sure, I was excited to partake in the adventure, but part of me felt resentful about the whole thing. It led to a few pretty heated arguments, all of which have thankfully come to a positive, constructive conclusion. Some families aren't so lucky. For all of you trailing spouses, EFMs (Eligible Family Members, and MOHs (Members of Household) out there, all I can say is that you are important. Not just to the officer that you are accompanying, but to the mission as a whole. Your presence should bring peace and happiness to your home. It should create an island in the storm, an escape from the stress of work, a happy reminder of days gone by in a previous life. For the Foreign Service community as a whole, you are a reminder of why the officers are here in the first place: to protect the interests of Americans at home and abroad. You are why they do what they do. Leaving your old life behind doesn't mean that it wasn't important, and it doesn't mean that you have nothing to offer. Anyone that is willing to leave it all behind is a person with strong character and a heart full of love and adventure. Swallow your pride. Your energy can be channeled into something positive, whether that be finding employment, continuing your education, or helping those in need. Never forget that.

LANGUAGE STUDIES: If you are moving to a country that requires the study of a foreign language, then by all means, STUDY THE LANGUAGE. Officers are of course required to become proficient, but family members have an option. TJ and I decided that what would be best for us would be for me to continue working remotely for our first six months in DC, then take a two-month intensive Spanish course right before leaving for Guadalajara. Great in theory, but this course of action resulted in the arguments mentioned above, and, worst of all, a minimal understanding of Spanish on my part. Next time, I'm taking the full course. You should, to.

And this leads us to the final thing everyone should know.

MISTAKES WILL HAPPEN. You just have to roll with the punches and learn from your experiences so that things will run smoothly (hopefully) when you transition to your next post.




Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dónde Están los Ladrones?

One of our local friends, Vicente recently exposed me to a sampling of his collection of Spanish-language music. One of the albums was Dónde están los ladrones? (Where are the Thieves?) by Shakira.

Vicente explained that the album title received its inspiration from an unfortunate altercation at an airport in Bogotá, in which a briefcase full of music Shakira had been working on was stolen. Shakira was discouraged and almost quit working on the album, but homegirl just kept on truckin'.

I thought it was certainly a clever title, and a good "F-U" to the culprits.

Unfortunately, last night I found myself in the terrible predicament of being able to ask myself the same question.

We returned home from work to find that both my iPad and TJ's ring were missing. After turning the house on it's head three times, we came to the conclusion that either our housekeeper or our security guard are to blame. Both had access to our home yesterday.

Upon further reflection, it appears that a currently unused iPhone and my favorite watch may also belong on the list of burgled items. Who knows what else is missing? Only time will tell.

The most frustrating thing isn't the invasion of privacy. It's knowing that we can fire the housekeeper, but the guard will still be around. If we are wrong about her, then we are still exposed to the presence of the true culprit AND have seriously impacted another person's livelihood. If we are right about her, it doesn't matter. The guard will never have our trust again.

We have reason to believe that the guard was on duty during two or three other thefts in our community, while the housekeeper is suspected of stealing from three other homes.

None of that matters, though. She is terminated, effective immediately. I can't do anything about the guard, but fortunately nobody ever had access to the deadbolt lock. The lock they had access to will of course be changed ASAP. We have been taken advantage of and will take every precaution to prevent future violation.

As our home is provided by the State Department, I of course cannot comment on any investigation that may or may not occur regarding this matter, other than to say that it is a horrible thing not to feel safe in your own home.

Living in a community surrounded by 10-foot walls topped with barbed wire, with a guard at the gate, you would think I could lock my doors at night and slip comfortably into bed without wondering...¿Dónde están los ladrones?



Puerto Vallarta

For TJ's 30th Birthday Extravaganza we decided to go on a road trip to the American beach town of Puerto Vallarta for an extended weekend (thanks to yet another local holiday).


Puerto Vallarta is locat...what? It's NOT an American beach town? Well, ok, I guess you're right. But I will say that I haven't seen such a large concentration of gringos since my days living in central Texas.

Puerto Vallarta, along with Cozumel and Cancun, is one of the most popular tourist destinations for American travelers. I would encourage any of you in the states that have considered foreign travel but are afraid of the language barrier to give Vallarta a chance. Almost everyone speaks English (which wasn't necessarily a good thing for us, as we wanted to practice our Spanish...at least a little) and the environment is so laid back and relaxed that you'll never want to leave.

I have heard rumblings that some US-based cruise lines have cancelled cruises to PV. Visual evidence to the contrary, Americans aren't travelling here as much as they used to. They are afraid of the narco violence. To anyone reading this, I implore you: don't let fear rule your life. Vallarta is as safe as any of the other port towns your cruise ship will dock in. Violence on the border does not equal violence on the beach.


Anyway, Puerto Vallarta is a 365 kilometer drive from Guadalajara, and to get there you have to drive northwest for a while, then zig-zag through the mountains before heading southwest, ultimately arriving at a location that is directly west of Guadalajara. Most of that zig-zagging occurs on a two-lane road, and travel times will vary widely depending on time of day. For us, it was a six hour drive going and a four hour drive returning. (Tip: mid-morning travel is highly recommended). Despite the distance, the ride is a pleasant one filled with beautiful landscapes.


Now, for the beach...I've never been much of a beach person. Living in Florida for seven years, I think I went to Daytona and Miami Beach once each. My three trips to Key West never saw me setting foot on the shore.

With that said, I LOVE PUERTO VALLARTA!

Despite a day trip here and there, TJ and I haven't had a vacation to speak of since before this crazy Foreign Service life began. In fact, we're about to hit our one-year FS anniversary (stay tuned for a future post regarding that!) so a 3-night getaway was a welcome break from the day-to-day.

The beaches were gorgeous; Busy, but not crowded. The bars and clubs were fun; Crowded, but not overflowing. The restaurants were amazing; delicious, but not expensive. In fact, we discovered a new favorite dish (stay tuned for another future post regarding that!). I got the most amazing massage. Soaked in a little sun. Walked along the shore and just felt...at peace.

Vallarta is definitely somewhere to which I would like to return. And soon.


The area that we stayed (Playa de los Muertos) was bustling with activity of an artistic nature along the shoreline. There were sporadic sidewalk art shows, random beachside demonstations, inumerable art galleries, and dozens of permanent scultptures to be explored. Every turn of the head provided some new hidden treasure.

Here are a few of them.

(Oh, and for anybody that's wondering...no, he never did get that particular rock to balance. But I was quite impressed with the upper body strength it must have required to even lift it in the first place.)









This trip provided such sheer and utter physical relaxation and visual stimulaton that I somehow managed to walk away without capturing a single picture of us. Either that, or the fact that we're too self-conscious to take beach pics. Oh well. I guess that means we have to go back!

Wish I was here...maybe soon