Friday, April 22, 2011

Mexico is Infested...With Vampires!

There was no better way to kick off yesterday's start of a four-day weekend commemorating death and resurrection (Google Semana Santa or Holy Week...we won't be going into that here) than by visiting a museum exhibit about the life and times of the undead at Centro Cultural "El Refugio" in Tlaquepaque.

Our friend Serch met us at the entrance early yesterday afternoon, tickets in hand and ready to enter "El Refugio." In what is quickly becoming a common theme of repurposing here in the Guadalajara area, I was to learn that El Refugio (The Shelter) was built in 1859 as a hospital, subsequently abandoned, and eventually renovated and turned into a museum in the early 1980s.

With it's high arches, numerous garden spaces, and unending (albeit empty) rooms, El Refugio contains the potential to be one of the greats among the museum crowd. But not today. Not right now. Because, for now, it is nothing more than a haven for evil...a shrine to the greatest monsters known to man.

And, knowing this, we thought it wise to arm ourselves before entering.

We entered, prepared to face any challenge with our crucifixes, garlic, holy water, and rubber hand. Not quite sure what the hand is for. Unless it's this chick's sick version of a rubber ducky.

Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed. The Blood Queen. Countess Dracula. Whatever you want to call her, and whoever she really was, she has been accused of some truly heinous acts. She, along with four coconspirators, has been linked to the murders of up to 650 innocent souls. It is suggested that she bathed in the blood of virgins in an attempt to retain her youthful looks. For her crimes she was placed under house arrest. That's all? Sheesh. I hope they at least disconnected the Cable.

We all know this guy. Vlad the Impaler. The man. The myth. The legend. The template for Dracula and the ensuing decades of vampire flicks. Without this guy, Anne Rice may not have become a bestselling author. Universal Studios might be one monster short. There would be no Team Edward. Yes. Thank you, Vlad. Thank you for existing.

His victims might not agree, though. Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, is best known for his resistance against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Oh, yes, and for shoving sticks into his victims through the most uncomfortable means possible.

But again, what about all the GOOD things Vlad did?

After narrowly escaping both Lizzy and Vlad (it was an exciting adventure, I promise), we fell victim to a giant spider attack. Apparently, this is a vampire spider. To illustrate this, there was video footage of Shelob, the giant elf-blood-drinking spider from "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" playing in the background. Nothing to say about this, really, but it made for a fun photo. Moving right along... the vampire bat. There are three species of bats that feed solely on blood: the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat. Disappointingly, there are none that are known to transform into people, undead or otherwise.

Below the exhibit you will see our friend Serch. I'm not sure how many species of Serch there are, but this appears to be the common variety. Based on our after-museum dinner, I can speculate that it feeds on various types of meat and tequila. Much like the common variety Aaron and TJ.

But I get ahead of myself. No vampire exhibit would be complete without this guy. He's pale. He's creepy. He sleeps a lot during the day and parties hard at night. Oh, Look! Dracula's there, too!

Dracula is, of course, the most renowned of all vampires, and was made famous in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel of the same name.

As I mentioned earlier, Dracula is based heavily on real-life psycopath Vlad the Impaler. And yet, for all the real villainy Vlad committed, Dracula gets all the credit. No wonder he's got a stick up, wait. Those were his victims.

All in all, this was a cheesy yet informative and entertaining exhibit. Only two nitpicks.

1) For a show that advertised itself as a Vampire, Demon, and Werewolf exhibit, there were no demons to be seen.

2) There were plenty of Werewolves...but they were camera shy.

"Turn that blasted camera off!!!"

Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter? No, Thanks. I Think I'll Passover That One.

I'm a bad Jew. There, I fully admit to it and am quite willing to state it as fact before anyone with strong opinions feels the need to do it for me.

Our conversion to Judaism was a bumpy one. Well, mine was. TJ was apparently sure of himself from Day One. Me, I took some convincing. In the end, I determined that the things I had learned about Judaism over the course of our one year of study were more in synch with how I had always perceived the world than the previous 30 years of not practicing Christianity had been...and moreso than any length of time actually practicing Christianity could ever hope to be.

Christmas was always the sticking point. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I LOVE Christmas. It was the hardest thing for me to give up, and honestly, if our belongings weren't so late in arriving here in Guadalajara, I'm not sure what would have happened this past holiday season. In the end, I settled for some volunteer work and a friendly meal with coworkers. Nothing to be ashamed about there...nothing except the not-so-secret longing I had for a Christmas Tree surrounded by presents.

I've never understood why it was such a big deal. I mean, *I* know that I only care about the secular aspects of Christmas. Isn't that all that matters? TJ didn't think so, but I thought that I had found my justification when, on the night of our "Introduction to Judaism" class's holiday discussion, I asked the rabbi the following question:

"We're all adults. We know what Christmas is supposed to mean. But nobody here is clamoring for Easter, which is by far the more important of the two holidays in the Christian faith. So why does it matter if we want to hold on to a little Christmas?"

...and she didn't have an answer. She said she would get back to me, but never did. I felt as if I had one that battle.

I was wrong.

Over the course of the past two weeks, as people began making their Easter plans, not one, not two, but THREE separate people have engaged me in the following conversation.

"Are you doing anything for Easter?"
"Why not?"
"...I'm Jewish."
"But you went to Christmas parties, right?"
"Well, then, what's the difference?"

There is no way to credibly respond to such a statement. I'm guilty as charged.

My rabbi may not have had an answer to the Jews-and-Christmas question...but, now, I do. Or maybe she did have an answer, but knew that I wasn't quite ready to hear it.

Jews that allow themselves to get publicly wrapped up in Christmas (in all its secular glory) put themselves at risk of being pigeonholed as bad Jews.

The same people that will gladly tell a Jew in December that it's ok to let himself enjoy a little Christmas cheer because, "hey, we all know it's a nonreligious holiday, anyway" will be right there in March or April letting him know that he's already slipped up, so he might as well enjoy the Easter Egg Hunt and baked ham, Passover be damned because it's not like he consistently practices his faith anyway.

I say none of these things as a criticism against these three people. No, I say it as a criticism against myself. Why would I fault them, when 1) I'm the one that slipped up, and 2) prior to my conversion I would likely have said the same in their shoes?

I don't resent their observation. I embrace it.

It's going to make me a better, stronger, more sensitive Jew.

In related news, TJ and I conducted our first ever self-led Passover Seder this evening....and it wasn't half bad!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

11 Feria Internacional Gastronomica

One of the greatest joys of being a diplomat, or a diplomat's spouse, is that you are able to participate in so many philanthropic events that are not only rewarding but also highly entertaining.

One of the greatest sorrows of being a diplomat, or a diplomat's spouse, is that sometimes this means your alarm clock goes off at 8AM on Sunday morning. This was one such day.

Today, SNDIF, or the Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, which is usually shortened to just DIF, or Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, and in English would be known as the National System for Integral Family Devlopment, unless you prefer to shorten it to just Integral Family Development, hosted the 11 Feria Internacional Gastronomica, which in English would be the 2011 International Gastronomic Fair.

See? See why you wouldn't want the alarm clock going off so early? I need a nap just typing that. Whew.

The International Gastronomic Fair is basically a low-key, low-budget version of what my beloved Floridians would know as the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival.

I don't say low-key and low-budget as a slam against the event. Far from it. The reason that it's low-key is because it's a charity event, not the workings of a multi-billion dollar corporation. The reason that it's low-budget is that all labor and supplies are donated.

DIF is a social assistance program that operates with the mission of strengthening and developing the welfare of Mexican families, and today's event was held as a fundraiser for their ongoing programs, with 100% of today's profits going to support DIF.

Like any good gastronomical event, there were several booths set up featuring food and drink from a number of different countries. The USCG Guadalajara volunteered to run the American booth at this year's event ( dogs!), and TJ and I signed up to assist with set-up and decorating. Which began at 8:45. Sooo early on a Sunday. Sigh.

(Oh! Quick plug! Although all you can see is photo after photo of Pepsi product placement, I would like to give a quick shout out to the fine people at Costco who generously donated 350 hot dogs and buns, plus an overwhelming quantity of condiments for today's event.)

The original plan, I'll admit, was to work the early shift so we could get on with our day afterward. We were only scheduled to be there for about two hours, but ended up having so much fun that we stuck around to help until 12ish. After running home for a quick power nap, we headed back to the event mid-afternoon for some serious eating.

The Set-Up Crew...
Who can spot the typo?
It wasn't us! Signage provided by DIF!!!

You may be asking yourself what fares were provided by the other booths. Well! Let me tell you!

Bratwurst and Sauerkraut from Germany
Oh, Potato Salad and a Pretzel, too!

Pernil y Arroz de Colombia

Rusas de Mexico

Tamales de El Salvador
Wrapped in Banana Leaves Instead of Corn Husks

There were many more booths available, offering food selections from Argentina, Chile, The Czech Republic, The Dominican Republic, Greece, Peru, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, etc...but our poor tummies couldn't handle the pressure, and we at last had to admit defeat.

In addition to the food (which, unlike EPCOT, was served in huge portions at reasonable prices), the festival also offered several tchotchke stands as well as live musical performances representing the styles and sounds of the participating countries.

Not sure what these cute old ladies were going to do. We missed their performance. After 6 plates of food (We shared! I promise!), we had to roll ourselves home. But not before making them take a picture with us. Please note that we look happy. They do not.

Maybe they had to get up at 8AM, too.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Them's Fightin' Words!

I recently posted, quite jokingly, the following statement on my Facebook wall:

"Dear State Department: I LOVE my house. But could you please consider installing central heat & air throughout the house? I don't want to hide in my bedroom all summer. Sincerely, Aaron"

It was met with polite and sympathetic comments from a few of my friends, but one of my old friends from college, whom I have not seen since 2002 and have only exchanged the occasional polite Facebook or Myspace conversation with since, took it upon herself to express a rather strong, rather loud, rather uninformed opinion on the matter.

I will spare you the details, but let's just say it started with her sharing her unwillingness to have her taxes increased to further support my life of luxury, escalated into an accusation that I mooch off of my partner's success, and culminated with a chastising remark about my living the high life while surrounded by the poor citizens of a war-ravaged third world country.

Any attempt to explain the miniscule tax impact the Foreign Service has on American citizens, to remind her that I work full time and therefore do not "mooch," or to educate her on the fact that Mexico is neither war-ravaged nor third world, fell on deaf ears.

She found it easier to "defriend" me than to respect me. Oh well. I think I'll survive.

But this conversation did pose a few interesting questions.

1) Do my non-Foreign Service friends understand what it is that we're doing here? If not, is it because I didn't explain it very well? Did I not explain it at all? Did I explain it but you didn't listen? Did you ask so early in the process that *I* didn't even know what we'd be doing?

Well, if the answer is any of the above, I truly apologize. If you have any questions, ask me here, ask me in person, or shoot me an e-mail. I'll tell you whatever I can. Ill try to post more about the Foreign Service part of life from time to time. Just be patient and understanding. This life is full of interesting, frustrating, humorous things that, sometimes, are just not appropriate to share.

2) What happened to the introspection?

I used to blog about my thoughts and opinions, not just the activity-of-the-moment. Whatever happened to that? I guess I got wrapped up in playing tour guide. I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to see things that they might not otherwise. But maybe I forgot to share more of the day-to-day. This, too, can be worked on. Why, look! I'm doing it now!

3) Do I present an accurate picture of Mexico?

Well, yes and no. I certainly show you a lot of the fun stuff we do. But it's not like I've ever blogged about the street performers, window washers, or beggars that I see on every street corner. There haven't been any posts about the violence that occurs every so often, or the restrictions it places on our daily lives. I haven't shared any recipes (they're coming!), told you about my favorite restaurants, or expressed my awe that Wal-Mart could take over a country even more than it did the United States.

I suppose that's my fault. I wanted to only show the fun and exciting suff. But it's not an accurate representation, and I'll work on that.

I know for a fact that some of the officers that will be arriving at post soon have read this blog. I don't want anyone to think it's all fun and games. There's work. There's an element of danger. And, yes, there's a hell of a lot of adventure to be had. But mostly, life is the same as it was back home. It's all about finding a balance. I've found that balance in life...but maybe I haven't found that balance in print. But I think this is something I can work on, too.

Because I certainly do not want some uneducated fool to think I'm living the good life while everyone around me is dying on the streets.