Saturday, January 28, 2012

Selena Gomez & the Scene: We Own The Night

Oh, how times have changed. In May of last year we were "forced" to spend a week in Mexico City when security concerns in Mexico prevented us from being able to attend the Guadalajara leg of Ricky Martin's Música + Alma + Sexo tour.

Last night I found myself in the very arena that eight months ago was out of reach, travelrestrictions having now been lifted.

Arena V.F.G. (Named after famed Mexican singer Vicente Fernández Gómez) is an indoor concert and sports venue located on the outskirts of the city, just past the Guadalajara International Airport. Okay, well, indoor is a bit of a misnomer. It really looks more like an outdoor rodeo arena that had a metal frame constructed over the top that was then covered with siding from Sears.

That description alone should make you think that the acoustics aren't the best. It's not bad, though. It's terrible. It won't hinder the concert-going experience for someone familiar with the artist, and who plans to sing along merrily. Those that like to go and experience new music will find themselves sorely disappointed however, as they will be unable to appreciate much of the music or lyrics through the echoes and feedback. Fortunately, I fell into the former category.

Selena Gomez & the Scene arrived...on the scene (ha! wordplay!)...last night to entertain a crowd of 12,000+ teenaged girls and gay men with an impressive set list of twenty of their greatest hits.

Okay, okay, so they've only had seven singles. They're enjoyable singles, though, and all seven were present last night. The rest of the show was filled out with entertaining songs that you'd a least be familiar with if you had given the CD's a once- or twice-over.

Main Set:

"A Year Without Rain" "Hit the Lights" "Round & Round"

"Love You Like a Love Song" "Spotlight" "Bang Bang Bang"

"When the Sun Goes Down" "Intuition" "We Own the Night"

"The House That Built Me" "Falling Down" "Super Bass" (Nicki Minaj Cover)

"Rock God" "Middle of Nowhere" "My Dilemma"

"Off the Chain" "Whiplash"

"Tell Me Something I Don't Know" "Naturally"


"Who Says"

TJ did not join me for this evening of tweenaged entertainment. Despite being an avid A-Teens fan, he felt this was a little too adolescent even for him. Fortunately, our friend Yeyo had no such misgivings. We had a great time singing, dancing, and making fun of teenaged girls that scream at anything that sparkles and/or moves on stage.

I don't care that she's 19 years old and people make fun of me for liking teen pop. Selena Gomez is a beautiful young woman with an undeniable vocal talent. She's a Disney kid after all. The mouse doesn't mess around.

I've never seen Wizards of Waverly Place, the Disney Channel program that gave her her big break. I hadn't even listened to much of her music before I decided that I wanted to go to this show. But I loved her anyway.

I loved her because when we arrived in Falls Church and began our new lives in the Foreign Service, her single, "Naturally," was a staple in every bar and club. It's such a youthful, innocent, playful tune, and it really stood out from both the snobbery of the club scene and the self-indulgence of most artists on the airwaves.

I loved her more when we arrived in Guadalajara almost a year later and discovered that "Naturally" was a staple in every bar and club here, too. I'm not sure how it happened, but I've had Selena Gomez songs dedicated to me no less than three times in the last year. Ridiculous, but kinda cute.

We'll discover what our onward assignment is soon. We have no idea where we're going, what language we will have to learn, what type of people we will meet.

But everything will be okay. Naturally.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 9: The Guadalajara Cathedral

Okay, my faithful readers, it's confession time. Which is appropriate, I suppose, as today's topic is the Guadalajara Cathedral.

The confession is simple: I don't want to write this blog post. Now let's be clear: I have no problem inserting photos and comments about Christian houses of worship into my musings about towns we have visited during our many travels, or even taking a friendly jab at one every now and again. What I am opposed to is focusing my efforts on Christian churches when I would feel far more comfortable chronicling stories of Jewish synagogues. Alas, the two synagogues in Guadalajara are quite private, and not that photogenic. At least I think there are two. If there's another, it's VERY private.

[Fun Fact: I just Googled "synagogue Guadalajara" to check my facts, and this link was number three on the list. While cool for me, it does seem to indicate the lack of a strong Jewish presence in the city (especially since that particular post wasn't even about Judaism). In fact, statistics (i.e. Wikipedia) show that there are only 250 or so Jewish families in Guadalajara, split between the Modern Orthodox and Conservative branches of the faith.]

With that said, our Top 20 list included the cathedral, so I am honor-bound to write about it.

The cathedral has a long history mired with troubles. Construction was completed in 1618, seventy years after the region was declared a diocese by the Holy See and forty-four years after a fire destroyed parts of the previous cathedral.

Two hundred years later, an earthquake caused the dome and towers to collapse. The replacement components were themselves destroyed by yet another earthquake in 1849. Although the damaged portions of the building were once again redesigned and reconstructed, no fewer than six additional earthquakes plagued the cathedral over the new 162 years, resulting in the current structural damage to the dome and the slight lean of the north tower.

The cathedral, aka Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady, aka La Catedral de Guadalajara, aka Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima, is a city staple. Taking up a space of approx. 255 x 239 ft2, the building dominates the city's historical center. Stylized renderings of the cathedral's spires can be found on the trunk of every taxi cab and in the logo of a national pharmacy chain. When the Pan American games were being heavily promoted last year, much of that marketing found itself in close proximity to Our Lady. When Los Gigantes visited the city, their parade route led them down a path that ensured their passing by the church. Anytime I find myself playing tour guide to a visiting friend or a new coworker, we inevitably end up here. When looking for the perfect photo to grace the cover of a recently published guide for American citizens living in Guadalajara that I served as editor for, I could think of nothing more representative of the city than an aerial view of downtown with this church as a focal point.

There is not doubt, whether it be due to the dominance of Catholicism in local culture, the building's prime location in the historic district, or both, that The Guadalajara Cathedral is a bustling nexus of activity for the city's residents and visitors alike.

The Guadalajara Cathedral is located in Centro Historico at #10 Avenida Alcalde, between Hidalgo and Morelos.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Waaayyyy back in August, TJ and I joined a couple of friends for a weekend getaway at Tesoro Resort in Manzanillo. As fun as the weekend was, I never quite felt like I actually saw Manzanillo, as we spent the entire time at our all-inclusive.

I’ve wanted to rectify this ever since, and last weekend we finally booked ourselves a nothing-inclusive hotel on the beach.

Was it everything I hoped it would be? Well, to give you an idea, this was a typical conversation in the days leading up to our weekend getaway:

Friend: Doing anything this weekend?

Me: Yep! We’re going to Manzanillo.

Friend: Great! What resort are you staying at?

Me: No resort this time. I want to actually see the city, so we just booked normal hotel.

Friend: Oh…

I must have had that same conversation at least three times, and let me tell you, after visiting Manzanillo sans resort, my nose was crinkling, too.

Manzanillo is not what you would call a pretty town. Although tourism is an important industry, you can tell that it plays second fiddle to trade: The docks were overrun with merchant ships and fishing vessels. The downtown historical center is not without promise, but it could definitely use a couple of coats of paint. Something I’ve noticed about every village, town, or city in Mexico is the plethora of dining options. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a restaurant, fruit cart, or taco stand of some kind. Except in tourist-heavy Manzanillo, where dining options are inexplicably limited.

I do give credit where credit is due, and gladly share the following:

1) El Vaquero is a steakhouse well worth your time. They understand that us gringos like chips and salsa and they offer a nice variety. Their guacamole is good, their tortillas are fresh, and they serve up the best fajitas I’ve had since leaving the US (Please note: Fajitas appear to be more of an American dish, making this more a comment about me and less an insult to Mexican culinary ability).

2) The Burger King here appears to be the only one in Mexico capable of filling an order correctly.

3) Camino Real serves up a mean club sandwich smothered in egg salad.

The nightlife is miserably nonexistent. We were only able to find one club that might appeal to us, which as fortune would have it was a few blocks from our hotel. We arrived a little after 10PM to find maybe a dozen others inside. An hour later and not much had changed. We also couldn’t decide, before or after entering, whether this was a gay or straight bar. I don’t think anybody else new either. This might account for the utter lack of dancing, despite uncomfortable, desperately awkward pleas from the bar staff.

The one really cool thing about the city was this little artisan market that had been set up for the weekend beside the local Wal-Mart. We discovered the market by sheer accident on a toiletries run...since neither one of us bothered to pack that particular bag. Among the dozens of booths we found a vendor selling alebrije, a popular art style from Oaxaca that consists of hand carving animals from copal wood and then painting them in the most beautifully elaborate design schemes. We've seen this art style everywhere but had been holding off on making a purchase until we were able to visit Oaxaca itself. Sadly, as our time in Mexico draws to a close, we've realized that this particular trip will just have to wait for another time. Since this vendor had the most beautiful examples of the art we've seen yet, this was the perfect opportunity to buy.

It may sound at this point as if, other than the market, we hated the weekend, but I assure you that this is not the case. I merely wanted to be able to fully express how much I value the beach-hotel combo experience in Manzanillo. Despite any agitation I may have experienced in the city, our lodging at Camino Real was pure comfort.

We found ourselves in a suite, complete with kitchen and dining room, living room, and two full bed/bathrooms. We had a small balcony that overlooked the beach and pool deck. There were multiple pools and Jacuzzis to choose from, which the staff gladly let us use after hours. I think they were just happy to have guests, as this appears to be the down season (as evidenced but the killer rate we got on the room).

They provided us with deck chairs and a large umbrella, and we spent quality time together reading on the beach, listening to music, and splashing around in the ocean. The water did turn brown and frothy one afternoon, but I can’t blame the hotel for that, as it was the red tide rolling in, and I certainly couldn’t say whether or not the same scenario played out on the other side of the cove at the all-inclusives. Regardless, I was out of the water by then, so you’ll hear no complaints from me.

Our final morning saw us waking at dawn to watch the sun rise over the Pacific. Leaning out the window, we quickly saw that we weren’t alone. A small fishing boat and its hardworking crew were battling the gulls, pelicans, and ducks for the day’s fish haul. We found ourselves migrating to the beach to watch in fascination as this hour-long spectacle played out. Our excitement slowly morphed to sadness as it became obvious that those fish unfortunate enough to come ashore prior to the main net being tied off would die for nothing. Drying out on the beach surrounded by fisherman too lazy to throw them in with the main haul, these fish would simply be abandoned to…I don’t know what. Maybe the birds will take them later. I’m by no means a vegetarian (see fajita comment) but I do think if you’re going to kill something you should at least make use of it.

Okay, sorry. I’m stepping off of the soapbox now.

Long story short, I love this town…if looking out of an ocean-facing window from my (preferably all-inclusive) hotel room. I feel that most people must surely agree.

As I sat down today to write this blog, I had to think of all the cruise ships that visit Manzanillo over the course of a year. The beaches and accompanying hotels and restaurants are generally nice, but the city itself is lacking in …well, just about everything. What could those ships actually sell you as an excursion? Certainly not a night at a resort, as that’s someone else’s gimmick. I did some snooping around on cruise line websites, but didn’t find much to write home about. When I visited Yahoo! Travel, this is what I found:

…yep. That’s about right.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 8: Mercado San Juan de Dios (...and Pickles)

Clocking in at over 13,000 ft², Guadalajara's San Juan de Dios market can easily call itself one of the largest indoor markets in Mexico.

The market was designed by Austrian architect Alejandro Zohn (1930-2000), a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Mexico during childhood and studied both engineering and architecture at the University of Guadalajara.

The market, which opened on December 30, 1958, features almost 3,000 vendors that work 365 days a year selling a wide variety of items, including:

  • Clothing

  • Wallets, handbags, and other accessories

  • CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and video games (most having a slightly...bootleg...quality about them)

  • Toys

  • Kitchenware

  • Fresh meats

  • Produce

  • Candy, nuts, and spices

  • Birds (yes, live birds)

The market is broken up into three levels. On the top floor you will find the majority of the clothing and home entertainment items. The second floor is a maze of food vendors selling typical Mexican cuisine that smells and looks delicious. The bottom floor is where you can stock up on fresh produce and sweets (and birds...but don't worry, they're kept separate). That bottom floor is where we found ourselves last Saturday.

I've been to the market several times, just to browse, and always find myself disoriented by the sheer enormity of it all. But last Saturday we were on a mission. You see, my dear TJ had decided that it was finally time that we start canning and preserving our own fruits and vegetables. All we needed was a ginormous enamel and/or stainless steel pot and several pounds of cucumbers and tomatoes. Bet you thought we needed a parrot, didn't you?

For as long as I've known him, TJ has had no hobbies. Or rather, he has had no hobbies that cost us any money. And yet he patiently (sometimes. usually. for the most part.) sits by while I feed my addictions for books, comic books, music, movies, and all things He-Man. Very rarely does TJ decide he wants a hobby that costs us money, but even when he does it's usually something that will bring value to us both.

Like the last time, when he decided that he just had to have a sewing machine. One horrid looking terry cloth robe later, and that's all she wrote. I don't even know where the sewing machine is, and I'd bet he doesn't, either. But that was almost three years ago. So if he wanted a stock pot, he could have his stock pot.

After a quick stop by the market for a stock pot and some chile peppers, we headed over to Mercado de Abastos (maybe the subject of a future blog) to scope out their produce. We found some awesome cucumbers and tomatoes and were soon on our way home to act like country folk.

Step One: Boil Jars to Disinfect

Step Two: Make Pickle Juice

Step Three: Stuff Cucumbers and Additional Seasonings Into Jar, Add Juice

Step Four: Pickles (...well, in three months)!*

*Not shown: Tomatoes. I got bored and read a book.

There's not a lot to say about canning and preserving your own foods. Well, I'm sure there is, but I'll just leave it at this: To me, it was just a fun activity to do on a weekend afternoon, with the steam from the giant pot sending vivid thoughts of a witches brew through my head. To TJ, it was a warm memory of simpler childhood days spent with his Maw Maw.

And for that alone, I think this is a hobby that'll stick around for a while. I fully support this.

You know, unless we pop those jars open in three months and die from botulism.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


TJ and I have this deal when we go on road trips. I hate to drive, so I read to him and he drives me around like I'm Jessica Tandy or something.

Recently, a co-worker loaned TJ a book by Tina Fey, entitled Bossy Pants. We are both fans of the woman, and as we both stared at the book, he said "I'm reading it first, you know." My response was a hopeful "Can I just read it to you on the drive to and from work?" That turned out to be a fair compromise, and when we finished the book a week or so later, I grabbed the first thing I could find, which was Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card. This is of course a sequel to the very popular Ender's Game, which we had both read previously. Everything was going great until, halfway through the book, our carpool suddenly expanded. We couldn't be rude and continue reading in front of other people, so it was decided that a weekend road trip was in order. Monday, January 3rd being a government holiday presented the perfect opportunity to finally visit Tapalpa . (Wow, this blog post is kinda like an episode of The Simpsons. The stuff in the beginning has absolutely nothing to do with the stuff in the middle or end.)

Ninety minutes south of Guadalajara and 6400 feet above sea level, Tapalpa, the Pueblo Mágico, is a beautiful mountain town surrounded by lakes and pine forests.

As with most small towns in Mexico, life seems to radiate outward from the city center, beginning with the church. With that said, Iglesia de Tapalpa is one of the most elegant churches I've seen yet. I'm not one to normally take photos inside a house of worship (though it's been known to happen), as it makes me feel a little bit like a creep if worshipers are present...but in this case I couldn't resist. The arching ceilings made of brick are beautifully complimented but not overshadowed by vibrant artwork.

Caddy corner to the church is Antigua Iglesia de Tapalpa. Apparently no longer used for its original purpose, the building now acts as a small market from which merchants sell candies, jams, and handmade crafts and clothing. Among the knick-knacks we discovered a large metal box with the logo of the recently concluded Pan American Games. Further inspection of the box revealed an import valve for gas. The top of the box appeared to have an opening that would allow for the release of the gas, perhaps in the form of a flame. Whether this was an official torch from the games, or a homemade craft project, we are unsure. All we know for certain is that Tapalpa hosted the mountain bike competition during the recent sporting event.

Behind the newer church you can find a small sculpture garden that contains, among other things, this bull and horse. Note that the horse, at first glance quite beautiful, has his stomach?

Ten minutes outside of the city limits is a little tourist trap called Las Pierdrotas, The Big Rocks. Nobody knows exactly what they are, but, well, they're there. I guess you could say that makes them something akin to Stonehenge, only they are definitely not manmade.

Located in the middle of what appears to be a cow pasture, with the cow patties to prove it, the giant stones are surrounded by barbed wire fencing. The only discernible entrance to this field is a tiny gate straddled on either side by booths set up by the locals to sell food and handmade crafts. There is no entrance fee, but the merchants do request a donation, as they are responsible for maintaining the site. Or so they say. Whatevs. 100 pesos later and we were climbing rocks.

The mysterious formations in the middle of nowhere reminded us of our September visit to Guachimontones. Although both were fun, Tapalpa earns bonus points for more climbability. I guess rocks aren't as precious as ancient pyramids.

Next was a drive up into the mountains to Eko Park, an extreme sports destination, where we signed up for the Tirolesas (zip line) adventure. It's described as a "canopy tour," but I don't see how anybody does this and enjoys the scenery, for fear of falling, slamming into a tree, or both. That's not to say it wasn't fun, because it was. It's just scary. Especially when the safety instructions are given in a language you aren't exactly fluent in. I won't lie. I almost peed a little when I made the first of the nine jumps. It was pretty exhilarating after that.

Below you will see a photo of TJ lamely pulling himself to the end of the line because he slowed down too soon (L) and of me being awesome (R).

Not pictured is me jumping off for the ninth zip line, dragging the cable down, and butt-skidding down the side of the mountain before finally clearing the edge and going airborne. TJ didn't do this. Who's lame now? Yeah, it's me. Skinnier people go airborne as soon as they jump. I hate skinny people. I hope to be one someday.

We had intended to explore the city more, but were at Eko Park an hour longer than expected and wanted to make sure we were back in Guadalajara before nightfall.

We concluded the day with a delicious Mexican/Italian dinner at one of our favorite Guadalajara haunts, La Grelha, before heading home and promptly collapsing in exhaustion.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a holiday.

The book sadly remains unfinished, with but one chapter left. I think we'll knock that out tonight.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Prioritizing the New Year

Calvin there may be perfect, but I'm certainly not. I've been doing some thinking over the last few weeks, and although I'm not usually one to make New Year's Resolutions, there are a few things I want to accomplish before the end of the year. Here they are, in no particular order. Well, I guess they're in this order...

1. Lose weight. I want to weigh what I weighed when I met TJ. I think 60-70 pounds ought to do it. Shameful, isn't it? I posted once, way back in the day, that I was going to hit this particular weight goal on such-and-such date. It didn't happen. This is the first time I've acknowledged that in this blog. Good news is that I don't weigh any more now than I did then. Bad news is that I don't weigh any less, either. I'm going to do my best to finally reach my goal by year's end.

2. Exercise more, eat healthier foods, drink less alcohol. Obviously, carrying out Number 2 will assist with Number 1. My mom went to the doctor last week to have an MRI to find out why she has been suffering chronic leg and hip pains for the past four years. She had been struggling with her doctor, who wouldn't authorize an MRI, for months until, finally, she found a new doctor that would. Turns out she may have a blocked aortic valve. She was floored by the possibility. I want to develop healthier habits now so that when I am her age heart problems will hopefully not be a concern. Meanwhile, mom will know more pending the results of tomorrow's CT Scan.

3. Blog more. I only posted 58 times in 2011, compared to 126 in 2010. You'd think that I'd have more to say and do in Mexico than I did in D.C. Well, I do. The problem is I'm too busy doing those things to say anything about them. Let's see if we can change that.

4. Write something, even if it's crap. My one great regret in life will be if I never try to be a professional writer. It can be a novel, novella, children's book, cook book, or even my very (not) interesting life story. I don't' care what it is. I just want to put pen to paper. Doesn't even have to get finished this year...just needs to get started. I actually did write an article for State Magazine that should be published in the first quarter. It's a nonpaying gig, but it's a start.

5. See as much of Mexico as I can before we leave. 'Nuff said.

I think those five things make for a good start. I'm sure there's plenty more that I could do to better myself, but then what would I have to look forward to in 2013?