A rumination on tolerance

21 Apr

We are now in London, after a long flight and a moment of impatience waiting for the arrival of errant luggage (thanks, Chicago O’Hare!), and happily soaking up culture as fast as we can.  But before I forget the circumstances that led to these ruminations on the question of tolerance, I want to recount an incident that happened as we were en route from Mexico to Europe. In between these points, we had to spend one night at a Marriott Hotel in Pasadena–our own home town! As we checked in to the hotel, I noticed that the pool area was overflowing with lots of yelling, splashing children and some very fat people who just didn’t seem like the kind of folks who would be paying for rooms at a hotel with a concierge.

Our room overlooked this pool, where the splashing and shouting continued well after dark and up to the moment at 10 p.m., when the pool area closed. When I went down in the lobby, the seats were filled with wet kids wrapped in towels.  At that point, I realized that the hotel was housing people who came from shelters or were waiting for Section 8 housing–in other words, the homeless.  My immediate relatively-well-off-white person’s response was to be somewhat irritated by their presence, to be pissed off that these people who were not my kind were able to enjoy the niceties of a middle-rung hotel while not paying what we had to pay.

And then I stopped myself: it was WRONG and unsympathetic to think like this! When I saw how happy the kids were–and they spent every waking hour in that pool, or so it seemed–and how ecstatic the very fat men were to sit in the hot-tub pool, it made me feel ashamed that I could be so heartless. They weren’t inconveniencing me, except that the pool area was now kind of off limits. I can’t deny that I had that first disgusted reaction–that emotion–but I thought it through to try and have a bit of sympathy for these folks, who–but for the grace of God or whatever–could have included myself.

These considerations, then, led me to contemplate how some people let their prejudices control them, because they just react to that first FEELING and don’t consider anything past that initial reaction.  All those people filled with fear and bile about “others” coming into their communities just can’t get past that limited emotional response. I don’t know if these kinds of reaction can be mitigated by education, or if some people are just wired differently so that they can’t allow themselves to be open to different ways of thinking, or can’t be sufficiently self-reflective to come to some insight about others. Can tolerance be taught?  I just don’t know. But it’s always a good wake-up call to be confronted with your own intolerance and prejudices, to gain a little bit of humility.  The most important thing: The children were happy.

Guadalajara: one theater and one museum

13 Apr

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We took the “Directo” bus into Guadalajara the other day, with the intention of seeing the interior of the famed Teatro Degollado (it wasn’t open when we were last there), and then taking the local bus over to the artisan suburb of Tonalá, where so much of Jalisco’s crafts are made.  We took a taxi to the Centro Historico, right next to the Teatro.

We were able to walk right in to the Teatro, and the attendants were eager to have us enjoy the beautiful interior. They even turned the lights on especially for us.  The ceiling depicts scenes from The Divine Comedy. It was built between 1856 and 1866–the height of Mexico’s most European-inspired phase and at a time of its greatest theatrical production.  As Spanish-speaking friends tell me, the word “degollado” means “beheaded”, a rather distressing name for a cultural center, but perhaps an appropriate title for a military general, which is who the theater is honoring:  Santos Degollado (1811-1861), who had fought alongside Juarez and who died while the theater was being built. Guadalajara’s Philharmonic performs here, as does the opera. I would be most happy to attend a performance in this space.

After this visit, we went back to the elegant Hotel Morales, where we had eaten before. Such an inviting and comfortable space, where we had a lovely meal at a very reasonable price. Accommodation in this historic hotel is also amazingly affordable.

As we sat there reading fascinating books from the hotel’s little library, I decided that instead of going to Tonalá, which is all about selling things that we really weren’t going to buy, I needed a museum fix.  So we looked at the Guadalajara tourist map, which led us to two museums right near the center of town. One of them–a museum of periodicals and graphics–is unfortunately closed for renovations, but the other one was such a gem that we were more than satisfied with our find.

The Museo de las Artes Populares de Jalisco (Calle San Felipe & Calle Pino Suárez) is housed in a delicately-stuccoed 19th-century villa about 4 blocks from the main plaza. “Popular arts” in this case means not only folk art, but also popular contemporary craft works. This was the museum that we thought we were going to see in Tlaquepaque, with the whole gamut of  Jalisco’s traditional crafts on display. The exhibits are delightful, with the best explanatory labels I have seen in a museum anywhere, in Spanish and English. Finally, we were able to place technique with product and location; the labels even highlighted the best artisans of each technique. Now I can go back and link up all those ceramic pieces from the Panteleon with the correct style.

The objects on display included work in wax, stone, yarn, and obscure techniques such as chilte, objects made out of the sap of the sapodilla tree. And look at this excellent descriptive label:

My favorite displays were of altars and rooms. The replica of a traditional Jalisco kitchen was particularly charming. The altars were for a ritual for Our Lady of Sorrows, and a particular version of a Dia de los Muertos shrine, including bread figures, but not adding  fruits or drink.

The Huichol people created a significant indigenous culture in Jalisco, and the museum has tremendous examples of their crafts and most revered images. The deer, which was most sacred to the Huichol, has been placed on the museum’s stairway wall, and yarn masks and beadwork occupy several rooms.

The reigning shrine of Guadalajara is dedicated to the Virgen de Zapopan, whose statue is the focus of a romeria, or pilgrimage procession, which takes place between June 13 and October 12 each year, when the figure travels to every church in Guadalajara. The museum naturally had a figure of this Virgin, festooned with sombrero and rebozo.

After such a rewarding afternoon of viewing objects of such tremendous skill and diversity, we decided that we would forego any other museum visits that day, and headed back to Ajijic. To our amazement, we found that this little jewel of a museum is not even mentioned in our Lonely Planet guide!  I have a feeling that Guadalajara has so much more to offer than we have been able to see, and we have been disappointed that our guidebooks, what few we have found, have been so lackluster in their descriptions of the history and culture of the region.  We’ll have to visit more often, and with natives who can show us the real city.

On that note, I will end with more images from the Museo, including, of course, a cat, this one of polished clay.

Mexican revelations

4 Apr

Some of my observations and revelations about Mexico after being here a month:

**Mexican men never, ever wear shorts, not even when it’s 35 degrees C. Shorts are for little boys and futbol players.

**Many Mexicans seem to LIKE yapping, yelping, barking dogs that go on and on and on.

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**Mexicans still have the most amazing artisans, doing old traditional skills, sometimes on the side of the road. This man canes chairs on the corner of the Carretera; across the street from him another man makes plastic baskets on a box loom. Others make beautiful wooden furniture, or elaborate beadwork.

**Real life in Mexico goes on behind all those walls and gates. As Alan Riding wrote in his book Distant Neighbors:  “The high walls that surround most Mexican homes, including frequently those of the poor, serve as both real and symbolic frontiers of security and authority.” Architecturally, these walled barriers and flat facades reveal little of what might be beyond; once inside those walls, an enveloping calm, perhaps with garden and fountains, may greet the resident or visitor. Outside is hot, chaos and noise; inside is cool, peaceful and gentle. Cats live here, not dogs–or rather, cats stay inside the walls to escape the dogs that roam the streets.

**Life in Mexico does move at a different pace, but it isn’t necessarily a quiet or serene one. Perhaps because we have been living here next to a construction site, my sense is that the Mexicans work hard, often doing manual labor without machines, from dawn to dusk without interruption; then at night, quite often, they party with lots of music. Mexico is a noisy place.

**Mexicans are overwhelmingly cordial, polite, and non-confrontational. Even in their chaotic traffic, manners are observed. I can’t imagine incidents of road rage here, even if there is a small bang up. We haven’t seen a bang up, small or large.  That seems odd, considering the seemingly informal approach to sharing the road.  We have had nothing but positive interactions with everyone we have met, and they are more than patient with our attempts to speak Spanish.

**Images of the Virgin of Guadalupe appear everywhere, and in every conceivable medium. For those of us familiar with the Virgen in California Chicano imagery, the ones we have seen here are more reverent, not–understandably- as defiantly a statement of Mexican identity and solidarity with the causes of La Raza. For those who don’t know the story of this beloved image (I must admit that even I, a non-Catholic, carry around a Virgen image!), Wikipedia gives a good synopsis of Her significance:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe

 

I’m sure I’ll have more observations in the next few days, but I just wanted to get these down. And I did include another image of cats!

 

Tlaquepaque

1 Apr

For our anniversary (March 17), we splurged and hired a private driver to take us to Tlaquepaque, one of the more upscale neighborhoods of Guadalajara. Hiring private drivers is a common practice here, since renting cars can be quite expensive, and driving in Mexico is not for the faint-hearted. This ended up costing us about 1000 pesos–about $50–but we figured it was our anniversary, so we went all out. In future, we will take the “Directo” bus into Guadalajara, then get a taxi–a much more reasonable option, at about $15 all up.

Of Tlaquepaque we knew only what we had read in our Lonely Planet guide, which wasn’t a lot, but the book did tell us that there were two museums of ceramics in the neighborhood, and I had found what sounded like a good restaurant from Trip Advisor online. We had the driver let us off right next to the first of the ceramic museums we had read about, Museo Pantaleon Panduro, also referred to as Museo Nacional de la Ceramica, on the corner of Florida and Sanchez.

The museum is housed in one section of an enormous convent hospital built in the 18th century. Somehow the Lonely Planet description of the collection led us to believe that this was a collection of all kinds of traditional Mexican folk art, when in fact it displays the winners of a national annual award for artisanal ceramic craft. It took us a while to figure this out, however. Entering the museum, the one woman at the front desk seemed pleasantly surprised to see foreigner visitors. There were no guides, no brochures, no explanations of what was to be found in the rooms in front of us, and no bookshop. A group of students were working diligently on some project in a room off of the central courtyard. While there were some guards and curators wandering around, no one spoke English, and while tremendously friendly, they really acted as if they had never seen a tourist before. When I tried in my broken Spanish to find out how the collection came to be, one guide hailed a woman, obviously a curator of some kind, who went upstairs to bring down a book and gave us three DVDs about the “Premio”–the award which provides the museum with all of its artworks (I think; the DVDs gave no documentation of the awards, but just florid rhapsodies about the “miracles” of native creativity!). In any case, it is a magnificent collection of the extremely rich and varied ceramic arts from around the entire country.  I used to have some knowledge about the styles of various regions, but I have gotten very rusty now, and will have to do some research to remember which motifs come from which area.

True to form, I was also intrigued by the numerous interpretation of cats that the collection included, ranging from traditional lions to modern versions of ceramic felines.

Finally, my very favorite work in the collection was in the room dedicated to women artisans, in a style that I was not immediately familiar with. bluejar_1990_pantaleon_tlaquepaque

Created by Gabriela Aldana Luna, from Tonalá, Jalisco (home of Guadalajara’s best artisans), it won second place at the Awards in 1990.  I have now done a little research to learn that, as I suspected, this blue-and-white style developed as early as the 17th century in Puebla, in direct imitation of Chinese ware that was imported through the galleon trade. So this is a modern craftsperson creating a traditional style that was consciously emulating an Asian style, but incorporating native designs of local animals and flowers.  Syncretism indeed!

ceramicsmuseum_arcade_tlaquepaqueOur next stop was the Museo Regional de la Ceramica, on Independencia, Tlaquepaque’s main shopping street. The setting is once again an impressive adobe complex, which was once a

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A whimsical design on an arch in the bookshop of the Museo.

magnificent house for one of Guadalajara’s aristocratic families. Beautiful arches!  The courtyard had several craftsman vendors, and there is even a very good shop, with books and ceramics for sale.

The collections here were more diverse than Pantaleon, with both English and Spanish labels, and more descriptive information. We were enchanted with the whimsical creations, including a ceramic airplane, and an entire wall of individual tiles. And check out those spooky nahuales!

After feasting on all this visual gorgeousness, it was time for lunch. We walked over to Zaguan, the restaurant I had found reviewed on Trip Advisor. And what a great find it was!

Very innovative menu–that’s G. eating a fish taco entrada with tortillas made out of jicama.  The mushroom bruschetta were fantastic! One of the best meals we have had, tasted like home made creative food, and certainly the best meal we have had in Mexico so far. NO ONE was there, which is dismaying; we hope more people come for dinner.  If you’re ever in Guadalajara, be sure to go there! Zaguan, Juarez 5, Tlaquepaque 45580.

Finally, on our walk back to find our driver, we found, as only we seem to be able to find, a public library!

The library seems to have grown out of one person’s efforts, and is now, by all appearances, a thriving center, with a children’s room, and, as we saw when we walked in, classes of all sorts for adults (this one was a workshop in making ceramics, appropriately enough).

A very nice day for our first venture into the big city of Guadalajara.  We have now also gone into the Centro historico on regular bus, and will, hopefully, report on that adventure, too. Next week, we will go to Tonalá, the other suburb of town where most of the artisanal crafts for which the city is famous are actually made, and cost far less than in the toney shops of Tlaquepaque.

Immigration to Mexico

28 Mar

seal-of-mexicoIn keeping with my pledge to learn what I can about immigration to the countries we are visiting, in case family and friends wish, or are forced, to leave Trumpland, I have been greatly aided in Mexico by the fact that we’re staying in an ex-pat community. The Lake Chapala Society here in Ajijic has an immigration officer in the office every week to answer ex-pat’s questions!  She has sheets printed out with all the details of acquiring both temporary and permanent residency. The requirements are by far the easiest to fulfill of all the places we have visited so far.

First of all, it is possible to stay in Mexico on a tourist visa for 180 days. It is then possible to cross back into the U.S., stay for a few days, and come back again for another 6 months. As I understand it, one can even purchase property here while visiting on a tourist visa. If one wants to stay for more than 6 months, or is planning to move here permanently, it is better to apply for either a Temporary Residency or a Permanent Residency. Both require application via a Mexican consulate in one’s home country; the nice woman advising us at the Society said with a bit of embarrassment that each consulate has different interpretations of the requirements, and has discretion to change what is required to apply. But generally, the required documents and qualifications are as follows:

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The notes on the sheet are mine, and have to do with application fees, which range from 5300 pesos ($278) for a 1-year temporary residency visa, to about 9300 pesos (about $490) for a 3-year visa. The proof of income figures are encouraging:  32,000 pesos–the monthly amount required to qualify for a temporary residency–is about $1700, and means that one must prove that one has that amount coming in every month for the last 6 months. For a permanent residency visa, that figure is about $2,000/month. To my amazement, according to the immigration agent, a temporary residency visa entitles you to work in the country, and to have access to Mexican health care. The only glitch for couples is that each spouse must apply separately and show proof of that income. But the agent explained that should one spouse not have the required income, arrangements will be made once the other spouse has qualified.

Bottom line:  if you have any assets at all, it’s pretty easy to move here and gain residency status. No wonder there are so many ex-pats here that own properties! The only other advice that this lovely immigration agent made involved cars. It is apparently more complicated to bring your own car here than to buy one in Mexico and insure it.

More information can be found at https://www.mexperience.com/lifestyle/living-in-mexico/visas-and-immigration/

¡Viva Mexico!

Nearly Everything You Need in Ajijic

28 Mar

[In frustration at not finding much easily available information–such as maps, bus schedules, or even directories of places to eat and shop–George has been accumulating all these bits and pieces while we’ve been in Ajijic. Most of what is written here is G’s work, and includes his interpretation of how things work in this little ex-pat town in Mexico–ee.]

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Where is the stuff that we’ve needed since coming to Ajicic?

Water.

The next time you talk to a Republican who opposes government funding for private services like schools and public transit, agree and describe how Mexico does water supply.  The city pumps filtered water to your house.  You are expected to treat it against pathogens — elaborate filters and ultraviolet lights.  Just think of the investment opportunity from selling these to every household in the U.S.!

When the home-treated water comes out of your faucet, it’s probably okay to use it to boil potatoes or pasta, shower or brush your teeth.  You probably want to get bottled water for drinking water.  To eat veggies (including sliced oranges and lemons), soak them in a basin of water with 4 or 5 drops of iodine solution for 5 minutes.  Between the iodine and the water, you will get rid of the organic and chemical fertilizers. Drain, don’t rinse.  The better restaurants have their own water treatment and will treat their veggies.

In short, get locally delivered bottled water in 5 gallon jugs. Where we rent, we get two 5-gallon bottles delievered for about 40 pesos (about $2.00). Prefer bottled water and sodas at your eateries.  As long as your house has a filtration system, don’t worry over much about your water.

Food.

Street vendors.  We’ve bought quarts of quality locally grown blueberries  and raspberries, and bunches of asparagus from vendors on the street, I hope for competitive prices. Why and how blueberries are being grown here now is a good question, but they’re very good, and the raspberries are sublime.  We have not been brave enough to eat from the cooked foods at stalls at the markets, but in most cases, especially around here, that food should be fine.

Tiny groceries are on every neighborhood street.  They are often dark and somewhat forbidding.  I’ve bought milk and fresh cilantro from nice people at Tienamos, just down the way from us on Revolucion. Often you will see a simple table set out in front of a house, with a few things, like drinks or chips, for sale.

There are three regular grocery stores in the area frequented by the ex-pats:

Torito, on the Carretera at Revolución a bit east of the town proper, offers pretty much what every modest grocery store in the U.S. does.  Some fruit and vegetables, beer, wine and spirits, a butcher (I’ve bought chicken wings to boil for broth, but prefer Tony’s as a butcher, see below), and all sorts of normally needed goods. Excellent local coffee, both whole bean and ground, can be found here, too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuper Lake, in San Antonio a few kilometers east of Ajijic, caters to the U.S. and Canadian residents.  It’s the ex-pat market par excellence.  Clabber Girl baking powder, Schar digestive biscuits, McCann steel cut oat meal, Wasa Brot, bottled herbs, proper mayo and mustard, cilantro, wine, yogurt. One pays through the nose for the privilege of having these items available: a box of granola that would cost $2.50 at home costs almost $5 here. It’s also best to check the use-by dates as well.

Soriana Híper is a comprehensive grocery store in Chapala, just north of the city center, with good prices and a good variety of products. And if you would rather shop in a Mexican supermercado than succumb to WalMart or Costco–both of which are in easy distance from Ajijic–Soriana is the one to go to.

Fish mongers and butchers.

Las Playas Fish shop, next door to SuperLake, closed Sat. after 3:00, open Sun. morning.   Good fish, filleted to order, bones and heads for broth, lots of frozen shrimp.

Pescaderia Pacifico. Fish market in West Ajijic.  Again, good fish, filleted to order, bones and heads for broth, frozen shrimp.

Carnicería Tony’s.  Butcher next door to SuperLake on Carretera.  Really nice pork loins and beef.  The intelligent and well-spoken butcher (who speaks perfect English) is a gem and the young woman cashier is a quick wit if she shows it.  Note, in most shops you order and get your food from the provider and take it to a cashier to pay for it.

Bread.  Hmmm.  There’s reputed to be a good French bakery in west Ajijic.  I’ll try to check.  That said, I have found pretty good multi-grain loaves at SuperLake. [Found THE bread shop:  Panadería Escandinavia, in the mall across the Carretera from the Wal-Mart. Excellent Nordic-style loaves, and good sandwiches as well.–ee]

Helados Bök.  A terrific goat’s milk ice cream shop on the west side of the Plaza.  We’ve been able to order goat’s milk and goat’s milk yogurt there, too, but you may have to wait a few days to get it, while the owner pasteurizes the milk and sets the yogurt! (Note, too, that although the shop name includes an umlaut, the real German word for goat is BOCK!)

El Granero.  South side of Carretera just west of Javier Mina.  What a nice herb and grain shop!  Excellent quality, and pleasant people, too.

Open air markets, called Tianguis locally, are held weekly:

Monday:  Chapala, near the Soriana just north of downtown.  Lots of stuff!

Tuesday: West Ajijic, in La Huerta Hall starting not a minute before 10:00am.  Everything’s supposed to  be organic, quite a lot of homemade foods, as well as good fruit and vegetables. Entirely geared toward the ex-pat market, you would see more Mexicans at any market in California than you will see here.

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Organic Market, La Huerta, Ajijic.

Wednesday: Ajijic, on Revolución south of the highway.  Trinkets and clothes above, vegetables, fish (filleted open air for you!), and meat farther south. A very happy place!

Thursday:  Jocotopec.  We haven’t been there yet, but it is said to be extensive and right on the Carretera, filling the road.

Housing.

We’re staying in a house at the corner of Prof. Lázaro Cárdenas and Revolución, about 2 km ENE of the Ajijic’s town center for about $1,200 a month.  Our friend Leslie says that for long stays the price break is about $700 per month to get a nice rental; she has a two-story, beautifully appointed house at that price.  We’ve seen a very presentable house near us–with all the mod cons and a garden–for $950 per month.

My suggestion is to rent something short term while waiting for something long term available through a local real estate agent.  Our experience has been limited to Michael Rosenblum, a thoroughly pleasant ex-pat at Fenix Real Estate.  Once you relax here, it’s easy to buy quality real estate for surprisingly modest prices. (See Erika’s upcoming blog on immigration procedures!)

P1270125You will find that the town is divided first between areas above and below the Carretera (the Carretera is the main highway, and very busy and dangerous to cross).  North of the highway is seriously up hill along quite cumbersome cobblestone streets.  Our street, in Upper Ajijic, is the only paved street in the entire town–that is, paved with smooth, walkable tiles, rather than chunky, volcanic-rock cobblestones. West of the town center are many prosperous properties, some in gated associations, still on cobblestone streets.

Locks, etc.

Household security is quite like that in Europe — lots of locks, bars on windows, and keys.  Screens, windows, screen doors, garages, gates, back doors, front doors, they are all locked even when you are in the adjoining room.

That said, we have never felt the least bit endangered.  We walk through sections of town where poor people live and don’t have the heightened street sense that comes on walks past rougher apartment buildings in Pasadena.  On the other hand, I am careful not to show off my money or cards, pocketing both before leaving the ATM.  We close the first floor curtains and stash the computers in a kitchen drawer before leaving the house.  Like sensible tourists everywhere, we take only the money and credit cards we expect to need on our forays and always leave our passport at home.

Stuff.

Money.  Currently the peso is almost 20 to the dollar, so to figure a cost, divide by two and drop a decimal, e.g., 120 pesos: divide by two=60, drop a decimal=$6.00.  It’s not exact, but close enough to convince you that things are surprisingly inexpensive.  ATMs are numerous, but always ask for a receipt just in case the machine charges your account but doesn’t give you the money.  If it happens, just call the number on the back of the card.  You will be one of a number of people to whom this has happened. Sometimes the ATMS run out of money, too, and many of the ATMS in grocery stores are broken or eat your card without giving you money.  And be aware: very few places here take credit cards! We haven’t even tried. Some of the more touristy places will take a card, but as far as we can tell, the place runs on a cash economy.

Post office.  North side of  the Carretera just past J. Encarnacion Rosas. As you can see, it’s a hole in the wall, and word is mail will take anywhere from three weeks to two months to get where it’s supposed to go. Most ex-pats here use services such as IShop Mail, which actually mails things via a Laredo, Texas, address. Prices are a bit high, but these are the only reliable ways to get and send mail. postcardtotrump_ajijic

Super Farmacia.  Pharmacy.  Carretera and J. Encarnacion Rosas.  Celebrex, over the counter 10 for 280 pesos (ca. $1.40 each). (See Erika’s blog post on Mexico and meds)

Total Body Care.   Ocampo and Benito Juarez, t. 766 33 79.  World-class massage, acupuncture, pedicure & manicure, and the like. Very reasonable prices,e. g., full-body deep-tissue massage costs about 400 pesos, or $20.

Diane Pearl. Colon and Constitucion.  Folk arts. Some books about the Chapala region are also available here.

Creaciones del Lago.  A women’s embroidery cooperative.  Ramon Corona above 16 de Septiembre, cattycorner from LCS.  Four women sell their stitchery-decorated blouses and other finery. Lovely, inexpensive products from very pleasant women.  They will do custom work too.  The blouses and textiles are hand woven for them.

bookshopsign_ajijicEl Perrito Sabio Librería/Bookstore.  On Colon across from the Plaza.  Modest selection in Spanish and English, run by a well-informed gentleman named Ricardo with two small dogs. The ONLY bookshop in town.

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Leather.  Excellent handmade leather goods for unbelievably affordable prices at the tiny shop on the Carretera called Marcelino (Carr. Oriente #8). Marcelino himself sits there at his sewing machine and can make anything you ask for, be it coat, jacket, or bag.  We got these three items for under $70. leathergoods_ajijic_apr11

Travel.

Taxi.  Plaza (766 0674) and Gasoliera (766 1663).  The two plus kilometers from the city center to our rental costs 50 pesos.

Chapala Buses.  You can catch them at stops along the Carretera and the drivers can make change for reasonable denominations.  The buses are always clean, have fairly comfortable seats, and are heavily used. You can catch a “Directo” from here to Guadalajara, for about $2.50/trip, and 45 minutes into Guadalajara’s old bus station.

Local.  7 or 8 pesos in the neighborhood of Chapala and Ajijic.  About 40 pesos to or from Guadalajara but takes nearly twice as long as the “Directo”, and stops at every possible “parada” along the way, so a 2-hour trip.

The Guadalajara Old Bus Central (Antigua Central Camionera, known locally as Central Viaje) is inconveniently located some distance from the city center, which means an 80 peso taxi ride into Centro Historico. The station is also pretty grotty.  We took a local back to Ajijic just to avoid having to wait an hour for the “Directo”.

Drivers.  They are easy to find by recommendation, but a bit pricey — 1,000 pesos (so $50) for a four hour trip to Tlaquepaque, the upscale craft neighborhood of Guadalajara.  Similar fares for drivers to Mazamitla, an architecturally interesting town about 1 1/2 hours from Ajijic on the other side of Lake Chapala, and slightly more to Teuchitlan (Guachimontones Pyramids) 2 1/2 hours away on the other side of Guadalajara.

Tour buses.  The big name in town is Charter Tours, http://charterclubtours.com/en/home/. Again, they seem kind of expensive — more than $100 U.S. for a day-long venture to the other side of Lake Chapala, and they require a certain number of people for the tour, so often cancel.

LCS buses.  The Lake Chapala Society sponsors inexpensive bus trips to favored destinations — Tonalá (handicrafts) and Tlaquepaque (artsy Guadalajara) about every three weeks, 350 pesos (450 pesos for non-members), depart 9:00 and return 5:00.

Golf cart rentals.  Because of the tortuous cobblestone streets and the steepness of the Upper Ajijic roads, many people rent golf carts to get up and down the hills.  Emiliano Zapata #52, corner of Encarnación Rosas, Upper Ajijic.  About 3,000 pesos per week.  Much reduced for longer rentals.

Autos.  Long time residents say it’s not as frightening as it looks, but it takes some getting used to.  Car rentals seem expensive because U.S. or Canadian insurance isn’t accepted here, so one has to purchase Mexican insurance.

Phones.

We were taken to the Telcel shop on the town side of the Carretera west of Juan Alvarez.  Sim card and 1 gig plan for about 500 pesos.  It is vastly preferable to purchase a Sim card and plan for your U.S. mobile rather than incur international roaming rates.  Sandra, the proprietor of this Telcel shop, is easy to speak with and generally instructed her associate regarding our needs.

To call US and Canada 001+area code+phone no.  Local land line, 7 digits. Local cell, 333+7 digit number.  Mexico long distance land line, 01+3 digit area code+7 digit local number.  Mexico long distance cell, 045+3 digit area code+7 digit phone number (Mexico City has 8 digit phone numbers).

Birds.

So many lovely birds!  Vermilion fly-catchers, kiskadees, lots of water birds. To my disappointment, LCS offers no bird watching groups, but we know they must exist here, because of this kind of video:

Dogs and horses.

The locals let their dogs bark and many allow them to run in the street.  They’ve never given me much notice, though the occasional dog confined to a porch will bark viciously. We find the attitude about dogs here the most dismaying aspect of Mexican small-town life.

There are horses all over the place here.  No horse carts or wagons though, only saddle horses, most often used for carrying five gallon water jugs.

If you know which street to walk down (hint: Encarnacion Rosas) on, you will often get to see a hen and some chicks foraging on the side of the street.

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That about wraps up our practical info and George’s observations about life in Ajijic these past few weeks.  So after the chickens, we will end with two beautiful scenes right outside our door:

And a list of special characters to copy and paste:

À Â Ã Ä Å à á â ã ä å

Æ æ

Ç ç

È É Ê Ë è é ê ë

Ì Í Î Ï ì í î ï

ð

ñ

Ò Ó Ô Õ Ö ò ó ô õ ö

Ø ø

Ù Ú Û Ü ù ú ü

Ý ý

Þ þ

ß

÷

Lázaro Cárdenas

24 Mar

The house we’re renting here in Ajijic is located on the corner of Avenidas Lázaro Cárdenas and Revolución. You can imagine how pleased that makes me, especially when I learned that Cárdenas was the best, most committed, of the Mexican presidents to come out of the 1910 Revolution. When I learned that Cárdenas was responsible for nationalizing the oil industry in Mexico in the 1930s, kicking out the British and American fat cats, I couldn’t help but be amused by the photo above–with Cárdenas’s name juxtaposed with the name of one of the snazzy gated communities, filled with ex-pats of whom many are probably from the American and Canadian oil industries, across the street from our house. The other photo shows the street signs on our house.

While in Ajijic, I have been reading Alan Riding’s Distant Neighbors:  A Portrait of the Mexicans, written in 1989. Riding was for many years the bureau chief of the New York Times’ Mexican office, in the days when American newspapers still had international bureaus.  While now a bit dated–and in our current political state, extremely depressing, since Riding just assumes that America in the 1980s is still the model of democracy to which all nations should aspire–the book gives the author’s insights into the Mexican character in enlightening and persuasive passages, if one would now perhaps consider them provocatively stereotypical. His grasp of Mexican political history is excellent, and he writes easily and with dispatch about the complexities of Mexican personalities and institutions that are so baffling to many Americans.

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Cardenas in the 1920s. Aurelio Escobar Castellanos Archives.

In Riding’s book I first came across references to Cárdenas (1895-1970) and his radical and astonishing reforms in the 1930s. A mestizo with Tarascan Indian blood, he came from the southern state of Michoacán; early on he aligned himself with the revolutionaries who came to political power in the 1920s, and fortunately for him, he chose the right ones to whom to give his loyalty. He became a well-respected military general under Plutarco Calles, dictatorial president and founder of the reigning political party, the  Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR). As Calles’ hand-picked successor to the presidency, Cárdenas was expected to toe the party line while Calles continued to maintain control, the usual situation in Mexican political life. Instead, as Riding writes, “…his style was not empty demagoguery, as Calles would soon discover.”

Eventually, in 1936, Cárdenas sent Calles into exile in the U.S. and began a conscious campaign of land reform, empowerment of the workers and peasants, and–most dramatically–the nationalization of the Mexican oil industry. He spent enormous amounts of time among the campesinos, often riding on horseback into the remotest of communities. He identified strongly with the peasants and workers, and personally lived a modest life, neither smoking nor drinking.

Among his other radical moves, Cárdenas:

–nationalized the railroads, and created a “workers’ administration” for its operations

–created the first Department of Indigenous Affairs, and remained committed to aiding the horrific conditions of Mexico’s Indian population, creating agrarian collectives, or egidos, that allowed for use of common lands–one of the original impetuses for the Revolution

–fought for women’s suffrage, although women did not get the vote in Mexico until 1953

–ended capital punishment, a statute that remains in place to this day

–supported the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, and welcomed more than 5,000 political Spanish refugees when the fascists took over Spain. He also gave Leon Trotsky refuge once Trotsky fell out of favor under Stalin’s regime. Trotsky said of Cárdenas, despite being far less leftist than he, that his government was the only honest one in the world (Trotsky, of course, was ice-axed to death by a Spanish Stalinist, in 1940 in Mexico City). A statue in Madrid and a street in Barcelona honor Cárdenas for these efforts against fascism.

–most amazingly, completely handed over the power of the presidency to his successor after his term ended, and after serving as Secretary of Defense during World War II, retired to his modest home on Lake Pátzcuaro, in his home state.

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Mural in Jiquilpan, Michoacan, showing Cardenas with campesinos.

He continued to fight for indigenous causes, and even served in the 1960s on the Russell Tribunal investigating war crimes in Vietnam. One of the only Mexican politicians not to become rich while president, Lázaro Cárdenas remains a revered figure in Mexican culture. Streets are named after him everywhere, including in this little town of Ajijic, now so beloved of the ex-pat community. I’m glad I became curious enough to want to know who this interesting person was for whom a street crossing one named Revolucion would be named.

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Cardenas in a collection of polychrome figurines of the Mexican presidents. Museo de las artes populares de Jalisco, Guadalajara.