Monday, November 29, 2010

Los Gigantes de Guadalajara

Did you ever have one of those days that was so full of activity that the concluding event seemed to be separated from the initial event by days, not hours?

Yesterday was one such occurrence.

Since November 23rd, Centro Historico de Guadalajara has played host to "Los Gigantes." Yesterday was the final day of this once in a lifetime event, and we wanted to make sure that we were there to bear witness. After a delicious brunch with friends following the Walk for a Life Without Violence, we parted ways and embarked on the long walk to Guadalajara's Center, where we found three sleeping giants:

"The Mexican Giant"

...the dog, "Xolo"

...and "the little Indian Girl"

Why were they here? Glad you asked!

To celebrate the bicentennial of Mexican independence and the centenary of the revolution, the Royal de Luxe Company brought it's world famous giant puppet show to Guadalajara.

Royal de Luxe is a French mechanical marionette street theatre company. They have performed in France, Belgium, England, Germany, Iceland, Chile, Australia, and, now, Mexico.

It all started on November 23rd, when a mysterious painting appeared in el Centro. The mural told the story of a giant girl who had been separated from her uncle during the war of independence. The mural predicted their 2010 reunion in Guadalajara.

Over the next few days the giants would meet in the streets, to the sheer enjoyment of all witnesses. Publicity and word of mouth resulted in the spectacle drawing huge crowds. Huge crowds. As the parade time drew closer, personal space became a thing of the past.

TJ and I have had a running joke ever since he gave me my Nikon D5000 for my birthday that I would one day win a Pulitzer. We also know that the only way to win a Pulitzer is to photograph something horrifying. When these kiddos hopped up on the roof to get a better view of the parade route, I just knew my Pulitzer was on its way. But the little buggers didn't fall. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Despite their success in the matter, neither of us were willing to climb a wall, so we sought refuge from the crowd and the heat by finding a shady spot some distance away form the crowd and by purchasing a drink called "Rusas" from a street vendor. It looked like he made it with 1tsp sugar, the juice from 1/2 lime, and 2c of Squirt soda. After tasting the vile concoction, however, we realized it was salt, not sugar...And so now we needed refuge from the crowd, the heat, and the Rusas.

TJ soon discovered that he does not like coconut milk. I discovered that Coke still tastes pretty good.

Feeling refreshed and knowing that it wasn't going to get any better, we jumped back into the crowd and impatiently awaited the arrival of the giants. And I am so glad that we did.

The giants' finally concluded their journey here in Mexico when, awakening from their siestas at 3:30pm, they took one final walk down Avenida Alcalde.

A we say goodbye to The Giant, take a moment to appreciate the mechanics of this endeavor. To make him walk, a succession of crewmen had to jump from the vehicle, marionette strings in hand. Dangerous? Exhilarating? Art?

All of the above, my friends. All of the above.

Walk for a Life Without Violence

Sunday morning the Consulate General of the United States -Guadalajara joined a group of approximately 350 people in a "Caminata por una Vida sin violencia," or for my English speakers, "Walk for a Life Without Violence."

Organized by The Institute of Jalisco Women, the walk was a call to the people and law enforcement officials of Jalisco to promote a culture of peace and an end to gender-based violence. The walk was held as one of many events commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence, which occurred on November 25th.

We began our walk at 10:00AM at La Avenida Chapultepec y Niños Héroes and concluded at Minerva Square, where a stage had been erected in the street. After a brief discussion of the issue at hand, everyone was invited to release their balloons in a symbolic gesture representing the desired freedom from violence. Balloon releases aren't very common in the USA and, while I understand the reasoning behind it, that does not change the fact that it is a beautiful sight to behold.

Alas, this tree had other ideas...

The balloon release was followed by a mini-performance by "JC & Hugo." Although I am unfamiliar with their music, I will say that they were pretty good, despite some technical difficulties at the on-set, in which the stage crew played the wrong musical track...5 times.

JC & Hugo only entertained us for one song, at which point the mics were handed off to the equally taleneted...

"4a 2aRed." Individually, they are Ramon, Werita Rollon, Zalma, and Fer. Alas, my Google search came up empty for both groups. Not sure if they are local talent or up and comers, but as my first exposure to live music here in Mexico, I'd love to hear more from both groups.

A healthy walk for a wonderful cause. A surprise musical performance. A delicious brunch with TJ's coworkers (sorry, no pics, too busy eating). What a wonderful way to start the day.

Wait. START the day? Yes. Tune in next time for Sunday's awesome conclusion.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mi Casa, Numero Dos

The last two weeks have been...interesting. I kid you not....the VERY afternoon that I posted about loving our new, albeit temporary home, TJ called to let me know that we would be moving to our NEW-new, albeit still temporary home...the next morning. The message contained both good and bad news, because as we all know, you can't have one without having a healthy dose of the other.

Bad News: Well, duh, I'd have to box up our stuff and move in the morning while TJ was at work.

Good News: Despite thinking we would be moving into a housing community that was further away from both the Consulate and local shopping (a problem, as our car has not arrived yet), we actually ended up moving into a unit that is not only centrally located, but also in the same community as our eventual, permanent home.

Better News: Unlike the apartment, both the new temporary home and the permanent home have small yards in which the puppies can frolick.

Worse News: The very day of the move, the free Internet at Starbucks stopped working on my computer. This posting has been sitting in limbo for over a week. Today, in what can only be called a Thanksgiving miracle, the Internet started working again.

This new community is a brisk 15-20 minute walk from our original apartment, which means it is fairly close to the places I mentioned in my previous blog. In fact, I find that our shopping habits have changed very little with the recent move.

Whereas the previous unit was an apartment, this one is a town home. It appears comparable to the apartment in both furnishings and living space, minus one or two key differences. The new unit offers an ice machine and an additional water filter (score!), and, as townhouses tend to do, features a random bathroom by the front door.

In my last post I made a point of mentioning that I had gotten over my irrational fears regarding the apartment. What I failed to mention was that, during our trip to Tequila, I had discussed these fears with one of TJ's coworkers that also happens to live in the same apartment building. Although she denied having that “someone's lurking in the closet” vibe, she did seem to feel a “presence” there. I've never been one for the supernatural, but I certainly wasn't one to judge, what with my checking all of the closets at night.

A feature of our new home: A faucet and drain
in an upstairs closet. Perfect for washing away
the evidence of a bloody home invasion?

Whatever was giving me the heebie-jeebies passed just in time for us to move into our new temporary home. This new community is gated. There is an electric fence along the perimeter. I'm not sure if that plays any part in how I feel, or if it's simply the fact that, as of yet, I have not walked in on another stranger from the Consulate checking on my security system. All I know is that, whether justified or not, I feel safer here (despite murder-faucet in the closet), and am glad to have gotten out of the apartment before my mind started to convince me that it was haunted.

But you know what? I can't say that I'm the biggest fan of the mysterious blur over the stove that showed up in every picture I took of our new kitchen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How IS Guadalajara?

I have had the pleasure of speaking to my parents and several friends in the US over the course of the past week. Everyone asks the same question: “How IS Guadalajara?”

It sounds innocent enough, but in reality, they are asking three separate questions:

  1. Do you like Guadalajara?

  2. Is it dangerous in Guadalajara?

  3. Do you regret moving to Guadalajara?

Well, let me tell you about Guadalajara.

When we arrived last Monday, we noticed that our apartment, though mostly furnished, lacked a trash can and a laundry basket. What were we to do? Why, go to Wal-Mart Super Center, of course. At that point, I decided to play a game with myself and keep track of how many businesses I could find that would be familiar to a US citizen traveling to Mexico.

I had to stop on Sunday, when the list reached 75. Seventy-five! In less than a week! We were standing in what is probably the nicest mall I have ever seen in my life. There were plenty of non-US options, to be sure, but in my short time in Mexico I had already realized that I would never be in short supply of familiar places to shop, especially at the mall. In fact, it would probably be easier to count the ones that are NOT here (Hello, Target, where are you???). So I decided to stop counting at 75. And then I turned a corner and found five more.

View from the mall...WOW!

The apartment we currently live in is situated directly across the street from a public park. Starting at dawn and continuing beyond nightfall, one can find joggers, food venders, and children playing in the park. Incredibly, it is the type of park one would expect to find in the United States 20-30 years ago. You know...they type kids love and parents are terrified of: crazy-tall slides and the ever-popular, long-banned merry-go-round (-o-death).

Our apartment is one block away from Pastelería Jeffrey, which offers delicious desserts and horribly unreliable wi-fi. Across the street from Jeffrey you will find Oxxo. Oxxo is a convenience store in which can be found pretty much the same stuff that you would find in a similar store in the states, minus the price inflation for the convenience of it all.

One block down and two blocks to the left of Oxxo, there is a Starbucks, which has proven quite useful as we wait for our own Internet service to be set up (which will not occur until our permanent dwelling is available). During the holiday season, focus here is not on Peppermint, Eggnog, and Gingerbread flavored beverages, but rather on Cherry Mochas, Nuevo Caramel Chocolates, and Toffee Nut Lattes (Aaron tried, Aaron approved).

One block down and two blocks to the right of Oxxo, there is a Blockbuster. Whereas brick and mortar video stores in the US face imminent demise thanks to the rise of the digital age, here in Mexico business is booming. Rentals are $3.36 USD ($0.80 USD on Thursdays!). US movies dominate the shelves, and many will play on both US- and Mexico-coded DVD/Blu-Ray players. There are many films and television series that originated in the states that are offered here in different (and more exciting) packaging...and some that aren't offered in the states in any form.

Continue down this same street for about three blocks and you will find yourself facing Soriana Super, the largest grocery chain here in Guadalajara. Many familiar brands can be found here, as well as different iterations of familiar brands (Tuti-Fruti flavored Crush and Lime flavored Act II Popcorn, for example).

So, to answer the first question, yes, I like Guadalajara. Although I have only been here for one week, I have determined that I will be able to explore a new culture while retaining access to most of the comforts of home found in the United States. And everything I need is within walking distance.

My typical Mexican dinner. Exotic, no?

As for the second Guadalajara dangerous? I don't know how to properly answer that question other than to say...Is New York City dangerous? Is Chicago? How about Washington DC? Sure they are. All major cities are. The key to a happy existence is to respect the terrain. Know your surroundings. Have an understanding of how to best communicate with people. I can't offer a better answer than that, other than to tell you that I have felt completely safe in my travels. I'm not even afraid of our apartment anymore. At this stage in the journey, my biggest fear is that I will fail to bleach the vegetables properly and give TJ a bad case of Montezuma's Revenge. But again, so far, so good.

As for the 3rd question, do I regret this move?

I have a habit of reading other Foreign Service blogs. These blogs often discuss a move to a new location, and sometimes have a “making the best of it” feel to them. I began to worry about this as our departure date drew closer and closer. Would we enjoy Mexico, or simply make the best of it?

Maybe I'm jumping the gun, only being one week into this adventure, but I think I have a decent impression of things.

Foreign Service life requires the willingness to leave your homeland for years at a time. This journey to Mexico has required us to do this very thing...yet we are close enough to home that we can get there quickly if necessary.

Foreign Service life requires the willingness to acclimate to surroundings that may not live up to your current quality of life expectations. Here in Mexico, we've had to pay heed to the water situation. We have to bleach our vegetables and only drink from a designated tap in our kitchen. Minor adjustments that have already become habit but will prepare us for more drastic life changes as TJ's career continues to take us to foreign lands.

Bleaching fruits and veggies for the week.

Foreign Service life requires the willingness to live in countries with varying exchange rates. Sometimes it works in your favor, sometimes it doesn't. I'd say this time around, it turned out pretty favorably.

Foreign Service life requires the willingness to be separated from your personal effects (and mail) for an extended period of time (stuff travels less quickly than people). Since we are in Mexico, the time of separation will, hopefully, be shorter.

Foreign Service life requires the willingness to live in countries that do not offer the same dining options that you are accustomed to. Given Mexico's proximity to the United States, this has not been an issue. At all. In fact, my biggest fear, not being able to find Dr. Pepper, proved to be in vain. Hooray!

Foreign Service life requires the willingness to act diplomatically at all times. Well, I think I'm pretty damned pleasant, ok? Alright? Good.

I've always been the type that has seen the grass as being greener on the other side. I don't mean to, but I often have a negative reaction to the present, only to realize how great it was in hindsight. Last night, as we stood in the kitchen preparing dinner together, I confessed something to TJ: “I love our life here.”

How IS Guadalajara? Pretty amazing, actually.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


We had barely been in Mexico for three days and already TJ was off in observance of a holiday (US Veterans Day).

To commemorate the event, we embarked on a road trip to the small town of Tequila with two cars full of TJ's new co-workers and their family and friends.

There are a number of ways to spend a day in Tequila. One is by boarding the popular Tequila Express. Another is by visiting the Sauza Distillery. Both are fine options that we will likely explore at a future date, but they were not on the agenda this time around.

Located approximately one hour from Guadalajara, Tequila is a small, picturesque town surrounded by mountains. For all of the modern architecture that can be found in Guadalajara, Tequila is what I envision when I think about the Mexico of old.

It is the home of a handful of very old, very beautiful, churches.

...but even in Catholic-dominated Mexico, tequila is god. Well, ok, maybe not God-god. But perhaps a minor deity.

In fact, a plaque in the town square indicates that Tequila's tequila resulted in the town's inscription onto the list of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites on July 12, 2006. 'The agave landscape and the ancient industrial facilities of Tequila...deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity.'


After exploring the small town and taking in my first authentic Mexican brunch (Juevos Rancheros...yummy!), we treated ourselves to a tour of Jose Cuervo's distillery, La Rojeña.

Highlights of the tour included:

A walk around the grounds of the beautiful Cuervo mansion...

An explanation of tequila production...

And, of course, a little bit of sampling in both the distillery and in "La Cava," where photos were not permitted. The cave is where the Cuervo family's private label, Reserva de la Familia, is stored and aged. We were allowed to sample some of the reserve, as well as some 120 proof tequila not sold in stores...but only a little. Tequila doesn't grow on trees, you know. It grows on Agave plants.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scared of the Dark

When I was very young, an evil aunt of mine told a horrifying story about finding a tarantula under her pillow one evening. This of course got me into the routine of checking under my pillow, blankets, and bed before going to bed every night. Over time, this developed into a more obsessive routine of checking my closet for boogeymen, going room-to-room looking for home invaders, ensuring all doors were locked, and peeking out of the windows in search of lurking murderers before finally being able to settle down for bed.

Thankfully, as childhood fears often do, this compulsion disappeared over time. I always make sure my doors are locked, but that's it.

Well, that was it. Until now. We safely arrived in Guadalajara Monday afternoon. We were met by a representative from the Consulate, who treated us to lunch, showed us our new home, and even took us grocery shopping. TJ started work the following day, and I spent my free time walking the neighborhood, exploring the park across the street, and reading. When I needed to use the Internet I headed to the local Starbucks, as we are residing in a temporary unit and have not yet signed on with a cable/Internet provider. In fact, I am back at Starbucks this very moment. The holiday drinks are different here. And tasty!

My Spanish, although mediocre, has been sufficient so far. I have advised a passerby of the current time. I have purchased items at the grocery store. I've ordered from restaurants and coffee shops. I have asked for directions and understood the response. When the security guard asked why I was taking pictures outside of our building, I was able to explain. Despite the dangers in northern Mexico, everything seems relatively safe (for the time being, anyway) here in Guadalajara. In fact, everyone that I have encountered so far has been very friendly.

Including the stranger I found in my apartment upon returning from my afternoon stroll yesterday.

He claimed to be from the Consulate. He said that he was there to check on the security system, but now that I was home, he would leave. He only asked that I let the maintenance crew in if they showed up. Ok. What? Nobody had mentioned this...TJ, of course, was not answering his phone. The maintenance crew eventually showed up. They explained something about a power outlet and then left. That's when I heard the ticking sound coming form the laundry room. As I contemplated calling the bomb squad, jumping from our two-story window, or simply waiting it out and hoping for the best, TJ called and confirmed that they were indeed from the Consulate. Relieved, I hung up and went about preparing dinner.

That's when the security alarm went off. TJ, of course, was not answering his phone again. I went down to the parking garage and had a brief, semi-coherent conversation with the guard about the situation. I'm not quite sure what either of us said, but apparently he was, because shortly thereafter TJ called and provided the access code. Someone had called the Consulate and advised that our alarm was going off. I assume it was the guard.

As for the ticking, it's still happening. We think it's the water heater.

Our current apartment is big. Big and scary. It includes a kitchen, dining room, laundry room, two living rooms, two bedrooms, an office, a maid's quarters, 4.5 bathrooms, and two walk-in closets. I say this not to brag, as this isn't even our house (or furnishings).

I merely want to let you know that, last night, it took a really, REALLY long time to check my closet for boogeymen, go room-to-room looking for home invaders, ensure all doors were locked, and peek out of the windows in search of lurking murderers before finally being able to settle down for bed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Texas Renaissance Festival

What better way to spend our last day in the good ol' US of A than with our friend Patrick (and his entourage) at the Texas Renaissance Festival?

The RenFest is something I remember fondly from my days at Texas A&M, and Patrick and I had been looking forward to this for days. TJ, on the other hand, was dreading it with a passion. It was with great satisfaction that I witnessed TJ enjoy himself immensely. Just as I realized yesterday that the San Jacinto Monument isn't as mediocre as I remembered, TJ learned today that the Texas Renaissance Festival is unlike any other (especially that lame one in Florida).

This was a realization that hit him almost immediately, as we were entertained by this wonderful comedian/magician.

The jousting was kinda boring, but our
enjoyment of the day was untarnished.

These are some happy folks.

This was pretty.

So was this.

Patrick gave his sexy pose and TJ
experimented with some new outfits.

I tried out the longbow.
Xena mugged for the camera.

We watched an amazing glass-blowing demonstration.

We celebrated our fun day with giant
Margarita/Strawberry Daiquiri Swirls.

...while this cutie
tapped the keg.

Thank you, Patrick, for hosting us this weekend. As always, it's been fun.

Next stop...Guadalajara!