Sunday, February 22, 2009

FR-ederick Anth-ONY

The King of Reforma Avenue

So we enjoyed a long holiday weekend with last Monday off and even better, we enjoyed it with a visit from one of Sergio's oldest friends. Fred aka Tony aka Frony took a break from his dream job with the Houston Rockets to check out Mexico's biggest city, and we had a great time playing hosts.

Tony got to see all kinds of Mexican sport: pyramid walking, street protests, bull fighting and Argentine steak-eating. It was great fun to see him.

DeFeno's always grousing about something.

Casa Trotsky (no pickaxe?!)
Stylish, deadly, and confusing.

On the town at UNAM.

Ivan does his best Flavor-Flav.


Before Tony's arrival, our next door neighbors headed back to Washington. Ivan will miss out on learning the ropes of growing up in Mexico City from our neighbor Naomi.

Reading is fun.

In hot pursuit.

Will you wait for me?

Ivan is heartbroken, but keeping his chin up as he scampers around the house finding trouble.


Learning to stand.

Just back from movement class.

On the loose!

A choosy audiophile.

And a choosy bibliophile.

Keef! Keef!

Just before he eats Keith Richards.

Just after.
Rock -n - Roll.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Not a finger!

U of H alums and future parents on the left.

So we're preparing to welcome a new Houston Rockets fan to our neighborhood! Sergio could not be happier! Our neighbors are expecting their first baby in a few weeks and there was a great Saturday afternoon bbq party to celebrate. Of course we showered them with Rockets gear --- just as they did for us a few months back.

No dogs allowed?


William aka Panchito and Ivan looking thrilled about all the baby gifts they can't take home.

Party time. Seconds after Ivan popped a balloon!

We missed another block party on Sunday because Sasha decided to go to the emergency room and get her wedding ring cut off.

Finger not actually supposed to be purple.

Turns out that the little mishap involving LouLou, the front door and her pinky and ring finger on Saturday afternoon was a bigger deal than she expected as evidenced by her purple finger on Sunda morning, After sawing off her ring and taking some x-rays at the hospital across the street, she learned that she had fractured her two fingers. Awesome news, and just in time for that beach vacation...

Surf's up

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Place of the Fishermen

Does this look like Mexico? It is.

We are back from our trip to the country. It was grand, with fresh air, all sorts of greenery and millions of butterflies! And we managed it all without a guide book.

Our trip began last Saturday morning when we headed north and west via Toluca toward Michoacan. The drive was around 3 or 4 hours and we found our hotel just outside of Patzcuaro easily. As our trip was a last-minute affair, we were hard put to find lodging in the city center and stumbled on an 'eco-lodge' situated right at the gates to the town and up on a mountainside. The place is called "House of the Trees" and knowing Ivan's interest in that kind of thing, we booked a couple of nights.

The place was quiet and clean, not many frills but in a lovely location. And definitely had a lot of trees! We happily unloaded the car -- so much stuff this baby requires for just a weekend getaway! (so easy to forget things like the guide book) and piled back in to visit Santa Clara del Cobre, a town south of Patzcuaro that is famous for its copper work. So copper was the first stop on our crafts trail.

Historical aside: The deal with Patzcuaro is that it is the central market town in the Purepecho region, surrounded by villages that specialize in various handicrafts including the aforementioned copper as well as ceramics, wooden furniture, straw baskets and ornaments, guitars, masks and more. The Purepecho people are descended from the Tarascans who managed to ward off the Aztecs (the Purepecho language is unlike any other in Mexico) but were less successful against a famously creepy Spanish conquistador named Guzman and his rule of terror in the early 1500s. Guzman must have been extraordinarily vicious as eventually the Catholic church sent Bishop Vasco to the area to provide a measure of decency to the beat-up community. Vasco responded by attempting to establish communities based on Thomas More's Utopia, encouraging the indigenous people to become independent craftspeople and farmers, limiting their reliance on the Spanish-owned mines. Hundreds of years later, the traditional crafts remain, to a large extent, local people's livelihood.

Kind of like on our trip to Taxco (Silver City), we realized once we got to Copper Town that we, well, weren't particularly interested in metal stuff. After all, we hardly need a new kitchen sink or a giant bathtub do we? But we did get a kick out of seeing the smiths demonstrate their work.

After you tip them, they offer you liquor. It's win-win.

We wrapped things up in Santa Clara with an average lunch on the plaza (with an uninvited but very cute dog).

"Buenas tardes."

After our first shopping trip, we decided to return to town and check out the sites in Patzcuaro. We wandered around the cobblestone streets, took note of the buildings -- the city features white stucco buildings painted with dark red trim and clay tile roofs. It was strikingly different from the other colonial towns we have seen and very pretty. Several nice plazas for pointless loitering.

Check out this clown.

Statue of Gertrudis Bocanegra, female martyr of Mexican Independence

Traditional dance of the old men (real dancers in the back row).

The plaza was really bustling with dancers, a clown and of course, dog obedience classes.

Looks more like a reform school crowd.

Sasha's all-time fave breed of dog: The Magnificent Newfie!

After hanging out all afternoon and having an early dinner, we retired to our ecologically-friendly digs to catch some sleep. Without any heat, it was a chilly night but we managed all right and enjoyed a great breakfast on the proprietor's balcony in the morning. We got an early start on the day's activities: a drive around Lake Patzcuaro.

Our first planned stop was in Erongaricuaro. Sasha had read that Andre Breton had hung out in this sleepy little village and that there was a cooperative specializing in hand-painted wooden objets in town. Well, we saw the sleepy little village but no signs of the workshop, just lots of confused stares from the locals when we tried to sort out its location (apparently "the place with painted wooden furniture" was not specific enough). Looked like a nice town, but we decided to push on.

Our next stop was the relatively large town of Quiroga. The city was over-run with artisanal trinkets and even more enticing, carnitas stands!

A little beefcake with your pork?

Michoacan is avocado central. We saw bags of 3 sold for 50 cents.

After (again) leaving town empty-handed, but well-nourished, we drove on. We found our way to Tzintzuntzan, a tiny place buzzing with activity. Its name means "Place of the Hummingbirds" and while we didn't spot any of those, we sure saw a lot of folks fluttering around the ceramics and other artesania on offer in the main square.


We strolled through the market and accidentally found ourselves inside an old convent's grounds, a gorgeous olive-tree studded lawn enclosed by beautiful stone walls. We immediately put shopping on hold in favor of an impromptu picnic. Ivan's first! (He spent most of the time trying to stuff blades of grass in his mouth.)

A gorgeous place.

Grazing baby.

Feeding Daddy keys.

Leftover carnitas = happiest dog in Michoacan.

Tzintzuntzan was the capital of the Purepecho empire, so of course the Spanish put a church on top of it.

Thoroughly relaxed, we bought a ceramic platter (supposedly lead-free but we're skeptical) and drove back towards Patzcuaro where we did some more milling around until dinner time. Sasha had read about this particular dish called "enchiladas placeras" served in the town's market stalls and at dusk we walked over to check out the stall that was reportedly the best in town: Super Chicken Emilio's. We climbed into the communal table under the portales and Sergio found the Super Bowl on the television chained to the wall.

El Super Tazon!

We were asked by the speediest waiter in town to choose between the 10- or 20-enchiladas platters. Seriously, those were the choices. Enchiladas placeras are basically giant platters full of chicken, potatoes, carrots, and tortillas dipped in enchilada sauce, fried in lard and topped with lettuce, peppers and cheese. They are actually kind of disgusting. Or delicious. We're still not sure. We ate maybe 1/8 of the "small" platter before giving up.

The "Small"

We retired to our casita in the trees where Ivan enjoyed yet another day without a bath. Grubby little monkey! On our final day in Michoacan, we left Patzcuaro and headed higher up into the mountains of Estado de Mexico.

Seriously, is this Georgia? Northern California? Nope, central Mexico.

Straddling the two states is a bioreserve and butterfly sanctuary. North American monarch butterflies nest in these forests in the winter. The same colony migrates back north to the great lakes in spring and summer, with a stop in Texas along the way (kind of like how Sasha imagines the Moreno family's retirement years...)

At any rate, in Rosario we flagged down one of the dozens of guides to direct us to the shortest route to the most butterflies as we had an appointment to keep back in Mexico City that afternoon: LouLou was due back at our house in the early evening and time was a-wasting on the windy roads, wrong turns, speed bumps and slow-moving vehicles (among our other complaints).

Not fun to drive behind.

We were directed to Chincua, a newer sanctuary further up in the mountains. We rushed to strap Ivan on Sergio's chest and start hoofing it up the mountain. After about an hour of steady-climbing, we reached the heart of the forest where the butterflies were bouncing from flower to flower, so thick in the air that they looked like falling autumn leaves. It was pretty fantastic, and we are certain that Ivan was delighted. Or at least we like to think so!

It was a once-in-a-lifetime sight and we're glad we've got the video to prove it. So after checking the "see the Monarchs" box, we high-tailed it out of there and rushed to get home to Mexico.

A way's to go yet...

Sadly, the spell of the butterflies evaporated on the road --- we were dusty, starving and worried about what was turning out to be a really long day's drive. We drove like mad through the mountains only to get stuck in a traffic jam for over an hour just outside of the city, missed picking up LouLou and made Ivan nuts with more time stuck in the car seat. You know, the typical re-entry to Mexico City!

We finally rolled into our garage a full three hours later than we expected. Thankfully our kind neighbors had collected Miss Lou for us and even entertained her by inviting her to a tea party with their daughter Naomi!

And so that was our adventure in the Mexican heartland. Our next, and maybe final, Mexican vacation will be to the beach. Our plan is to soak up the sun, wade around the water and eat fish tacos. We've narrowed it down to either Playa del Carmen or Isla Mujeres thanks to our Yucatan Peninsula guide Andrea. Any help on choosing between the two is most welcome!

And finally, for his fans, here's an update on all the cool stuff about Ivan these days. He's started giving kisses, he applauds people and things indiscriminately, laughs at his own jokes and has a little old man belly. He still crawls around like a wounded soldier, is incredibly noisy (babbling just doesn't really capture it) and his hair is not getting any less ridiculous. He looks just like Rod "The Mod" Stewart. And now he's got new friends to meet: we just learned that Lela Beard has arrived in Austin and that our Guadalajara house-swapping pals, the Krapfs, have welcomed Emila to their fold. Awesome, awesome, awesome!

Babies are so cool.