Monday, October 22, 2012

Closing Remarks: The NEW Guadalajara Top 20

Greetings, friends!  

TJ and I are sitting here in the Mexico City airport and I've convinced him to collaborate with me on compiling OUR version of the Guadalajara Top 20 list.  You've read as we made our way through the Community Liaison Office's version but on our final day in this beautiful country we wanted to share with you our personal favorites.  Links in blue represent items on the CLO list that made the cut, links in red are our personal additions.  It's all listed in alphabetical order because we don't want to play favorites.  Alas, I didn't blog about all of them, so when applicable a brief blurb has been provided.  You'll notice that several items are outside of Guadalajara.  That's because the entire state of Jalisco is amazing and needs to be represented.

Ajijic and Chapala

Avenida Chapultapec - This important avenue is located two short blocks from the US Consulate and offers a variety of bars, restaurants and shops.  Weekends may see the street closed off for auto traffic in the evening and opened up for street markets and concerts.  Hipsters populate the area, honing their photography, drawing, and skateboarding skills.

Bosque Colomos

Casa de Artesanias


The Guadalajara Cathedral

Hospicio Cabañas and El Refugio

Los Altos de Jalisco (Tepatitlán, San Juan de los Lagos, and the surrounding natural environment)

Mercado San Juan de Dios

The Orozco Murals

Palacio de Gobierno

Plaza Tapatía

Puerto VallartaNuevo Vallarta, and Sayulita

The Stadiums:  Auditorio Benito JuárezAuditorio Telmex, Estadio Tres de Marzo, Estado Jalisco, Estadio Omnilife  - Whether you're after a concert or a rowdy fútbol game, Guadalajara has a stadium for you!  Spread throughout the city, there will always be a venue near providing exciting entertainment opportunities.  


Teatro Degollado and the Ballet Folklórico

Tequila and the Tequila Express



Zoológico Guadalajara

Thank you to everyone for reading and responding so positively to my adventures in Mexico these past two years.  It always surprises me when a new officer arrives and says "Oh, hey.  I've read your blog."  I was even more surprised when several people approached me on my last day at work to ask whether or not I was going to have time to complete the Top 20 list.  That was definitely a solid motivation to get the job done!

I hope that I will be able to maintain your interest as we continue on to Washington, D.C. and Jerusalem.  I also hope that these blogs will continue to be useful to folks arriving in Guadalajara and looking for things to do.

It's been a fun ride, and I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity.  We both wish we could stay, but alas, we have a plane to catch.

Hasta la próxima!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

There Goes the Neighborhood…

Well, folks…this is it.  My final blog about Guadalajara.  It’s been a great two years but Uncle Sam has told us that it’s time to move on.  I’d like to take a moment to reflect, and tell the story of  Providencia, the wonderful neighborhood that we have called home for the last two years.

 Let’s start where Avenida Americas intersects with the beginning of Pablo Neruda.  Here, a bust of the street’s namesake greets pedestrians and motorists alike.  Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet, diplomat and politician.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.  He is mentioned in the lyrics to La Vie Boheme, one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite musicals, Rent.  A diplomat and a writer.  Huh.  Sounds appropriate for us, I'd say.

Beyond Mr. Neruda is a well maintained walking/jogging trail that contains a spattering of exercise stations and the recently added free Wi-Fi zones.

Along the way you will pass a series of eight sports themed sculptures that culminate in a ninth depicting the logo of the 2011 Pan American Games.  These sculptures, and the trail itself, were added in the months leading up to the games as part of a city-wide beautification project. 

We were worried that, in a post-games Guadalajara, all of the hard work would be neglected and forgotten, but the trail has survived the dry season to remain as lush and vibrant as it was a year ago.  I hope that continues forever.  The games were a big deal for the city, and for us.  I cannot pass by one of these sculptures without remember the games.  Or our coworker Eugenia, whose strong endorsement landed me my first writing gig for the State Department, chronicling our efforts to prepare for the games in an article for State Magazine. 

Continuing along to the intersection of Pablo Neruda and Acueducto, you will find this fountain, another creature birthed from the games. 

Turn left on Acueducto and you will encounter the first in a series of origami sculptures that popped up a few months ago.  It’s a boat.  I suppose I could say that it reminds me of the two cruises we took while living here, but I’d just be looking for parallels where none are to be found.  Sometimes, a boat is just a boat.

You won’t be on Acueducto for long, as you’ll be making another left at Montevideo where you will quickly encounter an actual aqueduct.  One of TJ’s colleagues had an apartment overlooking this mammoth waterbearer, and it provided a nice backdrop for the going away party we shared with three other departing families a few weeks ago.  Now, those were some good tacos.  Sigh...

Continue along Montevideo’s walking trail and you will discover Parque Italia, a playground and dog park, sandwiched between two origami pups.  Osvaldo and I stopped here to work on his commercial last week.  We ran into my coworker Nena, who was chatting with a friend.  Nena’s a quirky gal that likes to mix beer and Coca-Cola.  Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it folks.  I had one while writing this up (though Starbucks and a Caramel Macchiato are to thank for posting it) and it's actually quite refreshing.

Just beyond the park is a statue of Ghandi at the intersection of Montevideo and the previously explored Pablo Neruda.  I’m reminded of a much larger statue we saw during our trip to Mexico City with Vicente last year (though I don't believe a picture made the cut).  

Across Pablo Neruda is our next origami sculpture, a bird followed by Jadin de Francia Charles de Gaulle.  It makes me think of all of our friends in Paris, especially Gwen, who made it over for a visit last year.  I hope to see Gwen and the others sometime during our tour in Jerusalem.  

A little further down you’ll find the cutest of all:  a bunny!  This only reminds me of my childhood pet, which bit me hard and mysteriously disappeared shortly thereafter. 

The Montevideo walking trail is not as elaborate as that of Pablo Neruda.  The trail is more rustic, featuring a dirt and woodchip path vs. the concrete found on Pablo Neruda.  I credit this to the fact that Montevideo cuts through a residential neighborhood while Pablo Neruda is bustling with businesses, banks, and restaurants.  The contrasts are spectacular.  One provides more of a vibrant, city backdrop while the other gives you more of a quiet outdoorsy environ.

If you follow the trail to it’s termination, you will find yourself at the intersection of Montevideo and Avenida Americas, just a few short blocks from where you started. 

You’ll also find this final origami sculpture, which I suppose is appropriate since one of these is about to take us away from this wonderful place in the morning.

I took my photo-stroll down these avenues a few weeks ago, knowing that I’d be blogging about the area eventually.

Today while TJ battled what was either one final round of food poisoning, anxiety over our imminent departure, or quite possibly both, I took one final walk down memory lane, this time via Bosque Colomos, a park located within a short walking distance from our Guadalajara home. 

The park is a massive conservation effort encompassing several running trails (I frequented the 5k) that we would often spot coworkers on.  There are picnic areas, sculptures, ponds, and horseback riding stations.  On Sundays, when admission is free (5MXP Mon-Sat), there is a craft market where families sit together and paint figurines of Disney characters, sheep, the virgin Mary, and Santa Claus.

As I walked and reflected, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Esperanza, who on several occasions asked if I wanted to go to the park and take pictures with her.  I always said no, and that I only went to Colomos to run.  Yet here I was on my last day in Guadalajara, walking.  Walking, and wondering why I never took her up on that offer.   If you’re reading this, Espe, I’m sorry.

Near the entrance is a statue of Pepe Guizar, who composed the famous “Guadalajara” mariachi song.  On either side of him, lyrics from the song are carved.  Not one occurrence of hearing a mariachi perform passed without hearing this song.

To the statue’s left is a “castle,” which acts as a the park's cultural center offering a series of art classes for kids and adults of all ages and skill sets.  

Descending the steps in front of the castle, you will quickly come across the park’s most beautiful feature, the Japanese Garden.  Filled with koi ponds, wooden bridges, and lush greenery, this park is a thriving oasis even during the dry season.  I’ve tried to bring every visitor we’ve had to this park, and this garden in particular.  I found myself feeling a bit emotional looking at it for what may be the very last time.  As I walked away, I though it to be a very good place to read a book, and wondered why I hadn’t done that before.  To my Guadalajara friends that are reading this, if you haven’t done so, grab a book and head to Colomos for me.

 After the garden, I stuck to the running trails, as that was always the biggest draw for me.  I’d run before work, after work, and on weekends.  Until I wouldn’t.  Thanks to Colomos, I successfully gained and lost the same 10-15 pounds several times over the last two years.  I hope to find a park in the Metro DC area that will help me lose them and keep them off.  Of course, it was my fault, not the park’s…so I’ll just have to work harder.

Along the trail, I spotted a butterfly.  Beautiful creatures, and not something I see often in Colomos.  I see caterpillars all the time, though.  I see them crawling on trees, swinging from self-spun silk, and sitting unsuspectingly as birds hop around eagerly assessing the situation.
No matter what situation I find them in, I always hope that they’ll escape.  This one did, and I’d like to think it’s one that I had seen in its former, flightless existence.  That would certainly be a poetic closing statement, wouldn’t it?  Like the caterpillar that survives to start life anew as a beautiful butterfly, I have emerged from Guadalajara a different person than the one that arrived here two years ago, all the better for the experience.

Yes, we’ll go with that.

Thank you, Guadalajara.  Thank you, friends.  I love you all.  And I miss you already. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 20: Casa de Artesanias

I would not have thought it possible, but I do believe I somehow managed to save the very best of the Top 20 for last.  

Casa de Artesanias, located in a bright pink building right next door to Parque Agua Azul, is  administered by the state of Jalisco and is one part folk art museum (though all is for sale) and one part craft store.  It hosts little markets on Sundays with lower prices, but I just wanted to check the place out and had no problem going on an early Saturday afternoon.

The store is filled to bursting with pottery, sculptures, paintings, textiles, jewelry, and furniture.  You enter the building's foyer and have two options:  turn right and head toward a museum-style gallery, or turn left and enter a two-story annex filled to bursting with products representing all of Mexico's varied art styles.  It has a very Tonalá and Tlaquepaque feel to it, but you benefit from the whole thing being indoors and more manageable due to its smaller size.  Also, staff is very hands off so you won't feel pressured to buy anything.  

Mural to the left of the entrance.  

One word of advice would be to ask permission to take photos.  Everything is for sale and as such you should respect the space and at least pretend to be interested in buying something.  I asked as soon as I walked in, but another employee still approached me to make sure I knew this wasn't just a museum.  I explained my Top 20 list and how this was my last stop.  She had no problem letting me continue snapping pics.  I bought an adorable little owl sculpture for 65 MXP.  Of course, he fell off the table and chipped his ear as soon as I sat down at Starbucks to type this blog up.  I'll see if I can somehow fix it in the US but I'm not hopeful.  *cries*  At least the damage is on the backside...

I wish I had found this store sooner.  I can only image how much more unnecessary yet beautiful craftwork we would have purchased over the last two years. 

There's not too much more to say.  I'll simply leave you with a hodgepodge collection of my favorite items, though you could literally spend all day in this one store and not see everything.  

All in all, I give this one a goofy face and a big thumbs up.

And as for the Guadalajara Top 20 list?  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 19: Mirador de Huentitan (Well, Sort of)

In my rush to complete the Top 20 list, things have become increasingly difficult.  Our Jeep Compass was in the shop for maintenance for almost an entire week, severely limiting my ability to travel.  We've had to spend time packing, donating, and throwing things away.  We have to clean the house and do some yard upkeep.  Plus, there's this little thing called work that really gets in the way for eight or so hours every Monday-Friday. 

In hindsight, I should have been more assertive in getting this done before the last minute, but what can ya do?  Time travel?

The next item on the list is Mirador de Huentitan, and I'm totally gonna cheat on this one.  

Mirador de Huentitan can be found at the end of Calzada Independencia Norte.  It overlooks the famous Barranca de Oblatos, a canyon 16 miles long and 2-5 miles wide, with an elevation of over 3,400 feet.  The beauty of the canyon is said to rival that of the Grand Canyon itself and it was the site of many battles in the Mexican Revolution.

Barranca de Oblatos has another name, Barranca Huentitan.  Mirador de Huentitan is, therefore, nothing more than a lookout point for the canyon itself, which can be seen from many vantage points, among them the backside of the Guadalajara Zoo, which we visited way back in January 2011 and again when our Texas friend Patrick visited in September 2011.

So, there ya go folks.  It's not exactly the Mirador de Huentitan, but I've seen the Huentitan, aka Oblatos, twice already.  No sense in going back now, is there? Not when there's one more site to see on the list.  And I'm on my way there now...

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 18: El Baratillo (But Really Mercado del Día de Muertos)

Regarding El Baratillo, our Top 20 Guide says that "The little cheap place" is a Sunday flea market operating with an emphasis on cheap clothing and hardware.  It advises that you can find a good deal, but it's best to arrive before 10:00AM in order to do so.  It provides the address, Juan R. Zavala (aka Calle 38), north of Javier Mina.

Regarding El Baratillo, my local Mexican friend say: 

"That market has a reputation for selling stolen merchandise."  
"That could be the last thing you do.  Not in Guadalajara.  I mean, ever."
"It's not that everyone that goes their dies, but..."
"It's not safe for a blue-eyed gringo like you."

Needless to say, I have no interest in getting robbed, beaten, or killed during my last weekend in Guadalajara.  The likelihood that something would happen is minimal, but when the locals say it's not a good idea, I'm going to heed their advice.  Instead, I opted to accompany a handful of my coworkers on one last outing yesterday, my final day at work.

Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) will occur at the beginning of November and Mercado del Día de Muertos (The Day of the Dead Market) has opened in anticipation of the big event.  Our current CLO office (who, I like to stress, is not responsible for the sketchy Top 20 list) organized this excursion so that consulate families could experience the market and stock up on decorations.  

We arrived in Guadalajara the week after 2010's Day of the Dead celebration.  Last year, we were on vacation out of the country.  And this year, due to scheduling demands back at the Foreign Service Institute, we will be leaving Mexico the week before.  I'm happy to have the opportunity to visit this market, because this is one holiday I've been, pardon the pun, dying to blog about.  

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday (though it is celebrated around the world by various cultures) that focuses on gathering friends and family to pray for and remember loved ones that have died. 

People will visit cemeteries to spend time with the souls of the departed.  They will build altars in their homes and fill them with photos, mementos, and the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased, all to encourage visitation by the loved one's spirit.  Toys are bought for dead children, bottles of tequila for adults.

Sugar skulls adorn the altars and provide sweet treats for the living.   Figures of the skeletal remains of a well-dressed woman act as the primary mascot of the Day of the Dead, these women, known as Catrinas, are based on a 1929 zinc etching by José Guadalupe Posada, known as La Calavera Catrina ('The Elegant Skull').

Catrinas can be found in all shapes and sizes.  Guadalajara typically chooses a theme and then sculptures invade the city centers.  Last year, the Catrinas had a Pan American Games theme, with all skeletons caught up in some sort of sporting event.  In this particular market, these tiny ornamental Catrinas dominated the scene.  

When we arrive in Jerusalem and have our house set up, I'll share pictures of all of our Mexican art and knick-knacks, among them two beautiful Catrinas that we picked up along the way, and a couple of items I grabbed at the market yesterday.  Yes, I know that will be a long wait, but I'm excited to share nonetheless.  Once upon a time, I wondered whether or not moving every couple of years and living in government housing would allow for creating a unique and personal living space, and I am pleased to report that it is entirely possible.  Each new assignment will enhance that space, and I can' wait to share it with you.  I could do it now, but I like the notion of revisiting Mexico with you sometime.  Plus, we plan to paint the walls in Jerusalem, so those photos will be much prettier than what I could manage now on the standard white.  

Foreign Service life is really quite cyclical in that you end your post where you began:  Personal effects en route somewhere, sleeping on government-provided mattresses, internet and phone accounts cancelled, and sitting at Starbucks updating your blog.  Or maybe that's just me.  Either way, today I''m typing at you while enjoying an Iced Caramel Mocha, Starbucks Mexico's 10th anniversary beverage, and a big loaf of Pan de Muerto, the official bread of the Day of the Dead.  The ridges along the top are supposed to represent the bones of the deceased.

Well, that's not creepy at all, is it?