Sunday, April 29, 2012

Off The Beaten Ex-Pat Path

Desayuno o breakfast is an important meal in our house...first thing Brad does upon waking is eat...I take my time, make a pot of coffee, answer email, read the paper, take a bike ride....Brad eats.  And these days while I'm riding around the lake, Brad makes oatmeal...with fruit.

Fruit here is like candy...naturally ripened, sweet as can be...beautifully colored and can be exotic, in season, familiar...but it is always good.

This morning our bounty consisted of papaya, raspberries, blackberries, cantaloupe, strawberries, apples and a bit of whole grain toast thrown in for good measure.  I didn't have the strength to cut the succulent watermelon in the fridge, so we went without.


Our plan for the day was to walk to Chapala to visit a clinica, buy some baggies for Brad's yarns and like most Mexicans, wander around and enjoy the day lakeside.  But I suggested that instead of walking along the lake, we take a small side street called Calle De Las Palomas, and wander above the city to see what the back neighborhoods were like.  I saw on our map names like Puerta Del Horno, La Cascada, Tepehua and El Tecolote.

When you drive into Chapala you see these higher altitude neighborhoods at a distance, as they flash by.  It seems rarely do expats or visitors venture into these back neighborhoods.  I've heard rumors that these places were not safe to visit, especially after dark.

We wanted to see exactly what they were like, and there is no better way to get to know a new city or neighborhood than by up we went, past old trees, through stone walkways, and finally crested the top of the mountain where we found a working farm, complete with plowed field, cattle, horses and chickens.

Mountain Top Farm

Plowed Field

The homes in this area are humble....not expansive mansions with killer views.  The homes are made mostly of brick and adobe, smaller in size, without water thirsty lawns...more likely agaves grace their gardens. 

Some of the homes had wonderful murals painted on them...this mural of
Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl graced one of the homes.

We asked a walking family what the large statue at the top of the next hill was, and they kindly told us it was a church with a wonderful park around its periphery.  We were given directions how to get there and climbed toward the Jesus in the sky.

The church is called Del Sagrado Rey, an unfinished semi circular architectural gem.  Of course the view was the best on the hill.  One thing the church does well is invest in good real estate...they get the best real estate and the best views.

Igelsia Del Sagrado Rey

View from the Mirador
Iglesia Del Sagrado Rey

View from the hilltop - Tepehua

After our excursion into the Tephehua neighborhood, we were told that all staircases in the neighborhood led down to the main drag in we sauntered down the hill, taking in the breathtaking views as we went.

One errand led to another...and as always, they always lead to food...and it was time to rest our pups and grab some grub.  I remembered a sweet little place down by the muelle off the Malecon that I wanted to try.  We choose a table with a lake view, cooling breeze and colorful tablecloths.  Next to our table was a family that was celebrating their youngest son's birthday.  They hired a mariachi to play "Las Manianitas"...much to the birthday boy's chagrin...for the first thing he did was cover his ears.  After the 3rd song, he seemed fine, acclimatized and hungry.

Everywhere you looked children were out playing...with each other, with their  parents and families, some with toys, some without....but they were all happy.  The balloon vendors were also happy that people were buying their wares.

One particularly cute boy decided that the local fountain was a great way to play in the heat of the sun.  All the adults watching him wished they could do the same.


The adults found their own way of playing, creating an impromptu baile in the park...just hire a banda, grab a drink and your partner and dance the day away.

Recycled Concrete Fountain

Don't forget to play!

Fco. y Brad

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Pearl Of A Place

Chapala Muelle

It being Saturday and with nothing necessary to accomplish we decided to check out a madera or wood shop on the highway coming into Chapala.  We'd heard that we could purchase milled pieces  there of various types of wood.  "It's right in front of the Soriana on the highway" we were told, and sure enough...that's where we found it.

When we knocked, the stocky gentleman behind the counter was having his back rubbed with rubbing alcohol by a tiny, brown skinned woman.  I remembered that my grandmother and her sisters used to use this remedy for various illnesses.  As soon as I said "buenos dias" the tiny woman disappeared and we were left to do business with the jovial, man of generous girth.  We asked knowledgeable questions and he quickly surmised we were experienced woodsmen...and he showed us his inventory and promptly provided pricing.  This was a good place to purchase wood for Brad's loom, which he is busy customizing.

Since we were right across the street we decided to pickup a few items at Soriana, which is our local Mexican super market.  The olive oil was in a special section....and it took us a few minutes to find, but the chicken and pasta we right where I expected them to be...and in two shakes of a culebra's tail we were out'a there!

Brad wanted to walk around a bit so we visited a new furniture thrift shop where we found a lovely, large Mexican rustic wood bookcase, a patio bar and food mixer.  Then we decided to head to the plaza in Ajijic, just to walk around and explore a bit.  We decided to walk along the lake and came upon The Posada Vieja, a local watering hole and restaurant that we like to frequent on late afternoons.  We ordered mineral water (for Brad) and Cazadores (tequila for Fco.) and perused the was time to eat, according to our stomachs, so we decided to order cormida.  Comida was a shrimp, cheese fondue molcajete, taken directly out of the oven bathed in a coriander or cilantro sauce...yummy!  Guacamole, more tequila and sangrita sealed the meal.

You have to understand what a magical spot this the lake's edge, with an indigenous weaver by the name of Ocheeta, weaving lakeside, the white egrets soaring above you, Mexican families having picnics around you, horses and people on horseback passing in front of you, and Pepe Loco's famous burro at your heals.  You are steps away from shops and restaurants housed in 300 year old buildings and homes.

Fco. Chillin' at La Vieja Posadad

After comida we decided to walk the Malecon...and happened upon this home, with it's bright display of floral color.  The plants seem to dance for you every time you pass them along streets or walkways.  This is the dry season so the colors aren't as pronounced as they will be in a month or two...but look at these amazing sprays!

Wandering we ultimately end up in the central part of Ajijic, and passed The Pearl Collecion, our friend's fine and folk art store at Ocampo and Colon.  We've been waiting for just the right time and day to visit with Diane Pearl, the proprietress...and she was in today and waiting for us to visit....she had heard through the grapevine that we were in town.
Diane Pearl, Jill and Brad

Diane saw us at her shop's door and lit happy to finally having us living in her town.  We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up, telling stories.  Diane looked wonderful.  Obviously, life lakeside was agreeing with her.  Brad spoke business with her re: his weaving and teaching, and then it was time to close up shop.  While there I noticed several folk art masterpieces which I'd like to share with you.

Catrina from Capula, Michoacan, ala Angelina Jolie at Oscars 2012


Never one to brag, Diane told us she had spent the previous season painting and that the paintings on her store walls were her original work.  The work spoke to me of organic forms, from the sea, of universal symbols and themes, truly touching my core.

Diane Pearl Original Paintings

Diane Pearl Original Paintings

Diane Pearl Original Paintings

I rejoiced in her paintings, telling her that although she was a dear friend, I truly loved her paintings for the talent infused in the work.

Her store is an eclectic work of art in itself, and requires many visits to be able to appreciate the breathe and quality of the Mexican folk art found throughout.

Diane Pearl Store

Hummingbird Catrina

Knowing that I am a big fan of fine Catrina work, especially from Capula, Michoacan, Diane invited me to visit her warehouse, where the most current, finest ceramic Catrina's could be found.  I was dumbfounded when I saw the evolution of the Catrina art, exhibited in her shop.

Wishing Well Catrinas

Having said buenas noches to Diane, and promising to see her soon, we ventured to Ajijic's main plaza to check up on the new plaza rehab work.  I take coffee and read the paper every weekday morning in the plaza and felt a need to see the progress to our beloved plaza this Saturday.  Sure enough, the artisan's work did not disappoint.


The main plaza in Ajijic is undergoing a beautiful design change, symbolised by 5 sun ray designs, representing the 5 original settlements in the lake area.  The central sun pattern will have sun rays made of transparent onyx material, illuminated from below.  The sun design will emanate from the 4 corners of the plaza, with the central sun design as its primary centerpiece.

Brad with one of the central plaza's transparent onyx sun rays.
Central Plaza Sun ray Design
Brad Inspecting Plaza Work
Ajijic Main Plaza Kiosko
Pup Metal Sculpture at Diane Pearl Colleciones

And so the day ends, with a trip home via the local gellato shop....Brad ordering banana gellato and I mint and tart limon gellato...the perfect way to end the trip home.

Tonight we are to digitally join our monthly music group in Malibu, CA. via Skype.  The excitement is palpable...and a new step in our technological growth is near...wish us luck!

Fco. y Brad

Friday, April 27, 2012


Friday finally arrived.  Today we were to go to one of our favorite places in all of Mexico....the small artisan town of Tlaquepaque.  Our friends Charis and Craig hadn't had the opportunity to visit Tlaquepaque, so the 4 of us made a day trip of it.

Fco. y Su Amigo

I knew that Craig would appreciate the fine woodwork on the 300 year plus hacienda doors.

At times Mexico is home to the in point, this dogcart.  We couldn't figure out if the man and his dogs were a street troupe, or possibly part of a circus?  Or just traveling through town?  Either way, Charis found it entertaining.

One of our favorite shops in Tlaquepaque is the studio of Sergio Bustamante.  Every time we visit we find something new, provocative, exciting.  Sergio started working with paper mache figures, detailing them in fine style...then his paper mache work turned into fine bronze casts, exquisite ceramic and silver jewelry and now woman's high-end handbags.  He even has a designer tequila with his name on it.

Fountain in Bustamante Studio

In the far back of his studio is the sculpture garden....I am looking forward to having one of his pieces in our home someday...trying to decide which piece will be the difficult part.

Bustamante Paper Mache

CCC - As is always the case,  we became hungry, so I took our group to lunch at Casa Fuerte, a wonderful Mexican nouveau cuisine place on the main drag.  We dined on Mexican corn cakes in green poblano sauce, salmon almondrado, shrimp in Jamaica Mole sauce, crepes in cajeta sauce and blackberry cheesecake. 

Salmon Almondrado

Very sated, we strolled down the historical street to our carriage (Ford model).

On the way I ran into the most gifted Catrina I had ever seen, who granted me a photo.

We were due back at lakeside at 6 p.m. so I promised Charis and Craig another trip soon to Tlaquepaque...for we had just experienced the tip of the folk art iceberg...Too much magic to pack into one single day.

I hope your day is full of magic.

Hasta pronto,

Fco. y Brad

The Dragon In The Lake

One of the perks of this house is that it came with cleaning help, once a week, in the form of Ana Maria and her husband Luis. Both Ana Maria and her husband live up the street at the corner of our block and are the head of our Neighborhood Watch and our command post. They feel it is their job to watch out for all the neighbors who live here, and their family helps in this effort along with their dog Negra. We are so blessed to have them.

I enjoy the afternoons when they spend a few hours with us, helping us with basic cleaning and garden work, because I get to speak with them about the history of this place.  Luis is originally from the lake and Ana Maria moved here 26 years ago when she and Luis married.  Most of the local history is spoken...and is handed down from one generation to another via spoken word...not much has been written, so to have the opportunity to hear local stories is double-plus-good.

Yesterday's topics of discussion were Jack Fruit and legends of the lake.  As we swept and cleaned, both Ana Maria and Luis noticed the huge fruit on the kitchen counter and asked what it was. I only knew a bit about Jack Fruit because I had You Tube'd a few videos on how to cut and eat the fruit, that same morning.

On our way back from Puerto Vallarta last week, we stopped at one of the beautiful fruit stands along the highway to purchase some produce and picked up a Jack Fruit, thinking originally that it was a huge Guanabana.  When the saleswoman said it was Jack Fruit, I remembered that my friend Debra had brought some of the fruit to work once for us to sample...and the taste was so why not bring our own Jack Fruit home?  The fruit still had a few days to ripen, so we let it fragrantly mature on the kitchen counter.  From the aroma, I decided that today would be a good day to cut it open and eat the fruit.

Luis, not being a fan of Guanabana, decided to pass on tasting the Jack Fruit, but Ana Maria and I dug right in...and the taste was just as exotic and delicious as the first time I tried it years ago.  Only this time I had the rubbery, Jack Fruit remnants on my hands.  The aroma stayed with me throughout the day.

So while we feasted and cleaned, Ana Maria told me stories of the lake and the mountains.  It seems that in the early 1950's a science team was sent from China to visit the lake and investigate it as a sight for future investments.  The popular idea was to turn it into some sort of resort/Disneyland for tourist.  While scuba diving in the lake, the scientist searched for the bottom.  While diving, they saw a murkiness that surprised them, and realized that there was oil leaking from the bottom of the lake.  Just as they were investigating, a huge pair of white eyes startled them and they saw an enormous mass, the body of a huge dragon that had been still, suddenly move.  Fearing for their lives, they desperately swam to the surface, never to return for fear of the dragon in the lake.  According to folklore, the dragon ensures that the lake never needs water.  The dragon somehow makes sure that water continually flows to the lake, even in dry seasons.  This is the belief.

Wonderfully entertained, and done with our chores, I said goodbye to Ana Maria and Luis.  Ana Maria had a birthday comida to attend, it being her cousin's birthday...and she was anxious to gather with her family to celebrate.

Brad and I spent the afternoon at home and then attended a choral recital last night at the Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo, the old train station turned culture center in Chapala.  The choral festival is happening throughout the state and is entitled "Jalisco Canta" and last night's performance was part of this statewide endeavor.  The choral group, Camerata Coral, is a 16 member choir from Puerto Rico.  Their repertoire was beautiful, a historical sweep through their country's rich heritage and history told in song.  The director was classically trained, and the group very talented and enjoyable to watch and hear.  And the best part of the concert was that it was free, open to the public, so the crowd was mostly Mexican, with a few ex-pats thrown in for good measure.

As is so often the case here, we sat next to Bob, a gentleman who has lived in the area for over 40 years now, originally from Manhattan.  His wife is a choral director and she had invited him to attend the concert.  Bob is a lovely, warm, older gentleman who took a fast liking to us, generously telling us his story, all the while stroking my arm or touching Brad's shoulder.  As we left I noticed that he had his arm around Brad's waist, saying goodbye...or "hasta pronto"...since we will undoubtedly be running into he and his wife soon somewhere in the area.  This is how life happens here.

We will have many more splendid evenings here...I'm sure of this and told Brad the same.

May your evenings be splendid where you are.

Fco. y Brad

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Letting Go

First there is the physcial-ness of leaving...getting rid of your possessions, arranging for a place to stay...arranging for the place you are leaving...saying goodbye to family and friends slowly...over time....trying to give everyone their needed attention and knowing that you were not able to accomplish all of this, at least not graciously.

And then you places, and the novelty maintains you for a while, until the adrenaline works its way through your veins, is metabolised and then flushed through and out your system.

What is left?  It is your soul...that deep seeded ache that you realize is calling to you to pay it some attention.  And we each tend to our needs in different ways.  For me my soul screams for nature and creativity...and I'm fortunate that I've chosen a place full to the brim of both.  And yet nurturing my soul is an active process.  It is an attentive exercise.  I need to remind myself that being with and around artists is part of my soul's maintenance regime...and that I have and will continue to give myself license to stoke these expose myself to as much of it as possible...because I feel full, filled after basking in the creative glow.  My souls feels at peace once more.

I think this soul nurturing is what has been most difficult to reach, identify and fulfill.  I feel I've only started the process here in Mexico...that I've only begun to understand how important it truly is.  I've had wonderful mentors throughout my parents, my friends, my partner, gifted individuals who were so talented that they were practically savants...and I've had the opportunity to watch and learn from them...and yet, I feel new...starting over...again.  I don't think this process ever ends...not for some of us.

Peace can be found throughout...almost like layers of rock formed throughout layer is the struggle, another the understanding....and somewhere in the striations are the layers of peace and contentment.  Together all the layers make a life, and they are not as stable or as strong without one another.  Take away one layer and the rock collapses.

Here's to our layers.  May they come in all colors, shapes and sizes, different thicknesses and densities...for having all these, we are whole.