Friday, July 31, 2009

animal insanity

It's been a while since I posted, and this time I swear I've barely sat in front of a computer for two weeks. A fact, which, I'm slightly ashamed to say, seems so damn strange.

A lot has happened. My cousin Matt came and G and I took him up to Palenque and then over and further into the jungle. We also showed him all around San Cristobal, of course, and dragged him around Tuxtla some. Sadly, he is a working man and missed out on the beach trip that followed. With our Belgian neighbors, we decided to go farther than we had to to reach a beach so we could get to a really, really sweet beach. We spent four full days in Mazunte (with a delightful overnight bus trip on each end) and were back in San Cristobal just this morning. I will most likely post about the jungle and the beach in the coming days, so as not to forget.

But for now, I am lazy and will just make a list. Typified by surprise encounters like one when we got back to our casita today with the (furry and slightly less than palm-length) spider in the above picture, this summer has been rife with animals, among them:

every size and color of ant you can think of from small white ones to black flying ones,
worms for eating,
in the jungle: huge roaches, striped mosquitoes, a pet monkey we played with, plenty of dogs, tiny fish in the water nipping at my ankles, so many butterflies for some reason attracted to gravel,
crocodiles: big ones we saw in the canyon from the boat, one snapping its jaws behind a fence at a preserve, one somehow out of the mangrove and into the sea, reported sightings at the beach in mazunte,
a spider monkey i got to shake hands with,
talio, our neighbor's amazing rescued street dog, who turns up on the street still, met us once when we were having wine on the sidewalk,
chango, our other neighbors' new kitten, a tiny guy, growing by the day, climbing over, scratching up everyone,
circus animals going through the street in cages (i only saw a pic of that),
some rodent that was too quick to identify in the dark but huge and ran across the ground where we stayed at the beach, scurrying just under our beds,
and also at the beach crabs of varying size and color, especially at night and in the dark, some as big as my fist and bigger,
chickens: clucking, pecking, some in that strange phase between chick and grown, some having their necks wrung in the church at chamula,
in the pacific, a few kilos from shore: sea turtles, some swimming, one we got to swim with in the deep, deep sea, and then many turtles mating--pairs of them floating, the female's flipper flapping to keep them floating--dolphins--young and fast streaks out of and back into the water, newly dead and giant fish caught by fishermen we talked to, boat-to-boat,
birds, birds, birds,
hummingbirds in our garden,
barking street dogs, mating street dogs, sleeping street dogs,
bees--one stinging my friend as he jumped and screamed,
huge wasps,
fruit flies,
strange little beetles that retract their legs and turn into tiny pellets,
bright green iquanas and other lizards, including
geckos, of course.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Yesterday, we got up early, about seven. I remembered how much I truly am a morning person. We walked to the bus station and caught a bus to Comitan, the largest city near the Guatemalan border. There, we took a combi to Monte Bello, where we checked out four of the 59 lakes they've got there. The weather wasn't perfect lake weather, a cloud scattered sky playing hide and seek with the sun, but it was beatiful--the lakes we saw clear turquoise with the sun shining on them. They were selling all sorts of random things from Guatemala there, like cigarettes called After Hours,and cardamom gum with Arabic writing on the package, and Guatemalan beer, which I am swilling, above. (More pics here.) It's called Gallo, which means "rooster". Yup. The landscape between Monte Bello and Comitan really struck me on the way back, flat land, overed in flowered brush, cows grazing, random little shacks selling tacos and yard ornaments. And Comitan had one of the most beautiful zocalos (the inevitable square in each city) I've seen in all the cities I've gotten to see in Mexico this last year. This zocalo had amazing fountains, well-pruned trees, beautiful cobbled streets surrounding it. With all that bus-riding I was able to get 100 pages into Orhan Pamuk's "Snow", which is fantastic. And we got back to San Cristobal just in time to be the first customers at mariscos (seafood) night at this amazing quesadilla hole-in-the-wall we've recently become obsessed with. My favorite was the squid and broccoli in cream sauce. Or maybe the crab wrapped in bacon. Or...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


These are the worms one of G's friends cooked up in our house last Saturday night. They brought them from Tuxtla. Apparently they're a delicacy and it's the season. (Ants, too, which we roasted over the barbecue the next night, but that's another story.) As soon as word got around they were being cooked, the party that had been next door moved mostly to our house. You could stretch the things out, joint by joint, which was what the cook did, to make them cook faster. Fried up, they didn't taste like much, but it was sort of an insane thing, and this pretty girl went around with a plate, offering them. Some people screwed up their noses, but most gave it a try. I'm not sure if eating the things was the reason, but the party got pretty insane. Shall we blame it on the worms? Or the mezcal and tequila? Or my delicious flan?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rebels with a Damn Big Cause

Last Sunday I got to see a new side of Chiapas when we visited the headquarters of the closest one of five Zapatista Caracols, Oventic. ('Caracol' means snail and applies here to the largest groupings of Zapatista collectives in Chiapas.) In 1994, when NAFTA went into effect, groups of indigenous rebels, led by the erudite and famously non-indigenous Subcomandante Marcos and Comandantes Ramona, David and others. The Zapatistas managed to take the major cities of Ocosingo and San Cristobal, relinquishing them to army battles in later days. In peace talks, they managed to gain autonomy over their own lands and shaky control over certain natural resources. To this day, they survive without any support from the Mexican government, relying on money from NGO's and selling various handicrafts they make.

Since Oventic was established after the nineties uprisings as a new center in a swathe of agricultural lands, it is somewhat small and lacking in life. At the gate we were greeted by a small woman with a bandana covering her nose and mouth. She took our id's and came back to lead us into an office where three ski-masked men bumbled over some forms that were our "permits". We ended up behind the desk of another ski-masked man who sermonized to us about the Zapatista tenets of Marxism, and anti neo-liberalism and capitalism. It was all in Spanish, but I managed to get his gist since Spanish was his second language (after the indigenous language that was his mother tongue) and he spoke in sweeping generalities about his egalitarian and purist ideals. He got a bit muddled when we asked him specific questions about places and technology, and it became a bit creepy to be paying such rapt attention to a man whose mouth was merely a bulge under a black ski mask. Afterwards we took a walk around the village. We were not allowed to photograph people or vehicles, but I took pictures of some incredible murals decorating the buildings there.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bird in a Bucket

In Mexico, if you have hot water at all, you have to turn it on so that the gas you buy in canisters (to use for the stove and oven too) heats it up. When G was turning off the hot water this morning, he went out back to the switch, and found a bird drowned in a bucket. It's been raining a ton so the bucket kept back there was full and when I went out to see the bird, I saw a gray thing, floating, with it's little orange claw-feet curled underneath. My thought was to throw it away, but G said we should bury it. I let him do it, with a wooden spoon we use in the kitchen, and I hope he put the dead thing deep enough under the surface of our garden soil.

I have been following this whole Iran thing online. Crazy how the NYTimes has been following the blogs and posting Youtube videos. Crazy the new Google Translator. Of course it's not accurate, but damn if it's amazing they just put it up. And for this. In my mind, Tehran is something like a mix of Beirut and Damascus, but with even more rules. How must it be to live in a place where in public a woman must basically be invisible. Covered up and quiet. Or maybe that's not what it's like. And now the streets are a war-zone, with fires and clubs and people chanting their battle cries. I am intrigued by the use of such nomers as "The Supreme Leader" and "The Guardian Council." Makes it all seem a bit like Star Wars. And I can take it as ironically as I want, but of course to a good number of people it's just not. And I can barely begin to grasp whether there might be irony in the physical reality of being there.

Been away from San Cristobal for more than a week and it's good to be back "home." Why the quotes? Because this is a temporary home, because the word "home" is problematic in its definition. For me. Meeting so many new people, I have been getting asked a lot where I am from, where "home" is. And because it's most often Spanish and my Spanish is limited at best, I don't give the long explanation I would in English, but I simply say "Estados Unidos" and "Virginia" and, often "circa de Washington." That's it. Yes, we were gone to the lovely university city of Cholula, and then Mexico City, and then Cuernavaca. Since these are all G's places, I met a lot of G's people, including a drama student putting on a play that he'd worked on with poor kids in a nearby town and a group of his drama friends, one kid a drummer living in an apartment with sloppily spray-painted walls; three sisters in middle age who danced flamenco to the mariachi band that showed up as a surprise for G during a lunch in his honor--minus the dancing they reminded me of my mom and her sisters; a woman who has recently opened her own weight-loss clinic using a technique that employs body-sculpting through massage; a woman who had just come back from a landscaping job in Canada; a half-slav, half-British English teacher who has lived in Mexico for decades and made us a desert that involved berries and cointreau and chocolate and cream, as well as her translator-husband who had good stories about Obama and the Queen of Denmark and her basketball-playing daughter; an Mexican anglophile, living in an apartment with modern furniture and lounge-bar lighting; a Basque woman living with her father in a beautiful apartment in the embassy neighborhood of Mexico City; a Basque guy who just got his urban design degree in Berkeley and is about to go back and look for a job; a proudly out (kind of hard here) conservative gay man living in Mexico City's "La Zona Rosa," a neighborhood that surprisingly has a lot of Korean restaurants; a group of artists planning an arts festival in the skeleton of a house on the property where they live, south of Mexico City, in the neighborhood that claims Frida Kahlo; the woman who runs the pulqueria in San Pedro and has been selling pulque more than forty years and was going on and on about it's health properties; and many, many more.

What a varied world we live in. May the bird rest in peace. And hoping some good comes from what's going on on the streets of Tehran.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Does your sex therapist wear a veil and talk Quran?

Talking about sex is taboo, haven't you heard? Especially in the Middle East. An interesting article about how that might be changing a little bit, in today's Times.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Surprize sexism

So I started going to the gym last January and I got pretty serious about it, going pretty much every day. I didn't want to lose the habit so one of our first quests here in San Cristobal was to find a gym. Our first visit to the closest gym to our house ended in a yelling match. Then we walked around the city aimlessly looking for one, asking people who looked like they might patronize a gym where they go. Then we ended up at PSAS, a close bike ride on the other side of the river south of downtown. It's pretty nice, and we got a good deal. We'd have to pay a lot more money to use the cardio machines you plug in (the elliptical and treadmill) so, thrifty me, I've gotten into using the bikes, with G. Generally most of PSAS's customers stick to the weight areas, grunting and groaning away. The cardio room is on the top floor, with big windows looking out over the neighborhood, showing some lovely churches and mountains in the distance. I block out the overhead music with my ipod and go, go, go. It's an idyllic moment, but inevitably I look up at the walls around me, where there are sun-worn pin-ups of extremely muscular men and barely clad women using gym machines. It's weird and kitschy and funny and also a little demeaning. The pictures are all over the gym and apparently all over most gyms in Latin America. The pictures of the women and for the men's enjoyment and for the women to feel insecure, and the pictures of the men are somehow for the men as well, for them to idolize and perhaps feel insecure too. Today in the women's locker room I spotted a poster that breaks out of that mold. "A hard man is good to find," it says, under a black and white picture of a man with a sculpted, bare, hairless chest, his jeans suggestively unbuttoned at the bottom of the frame. No one that picture is for but the ladies.