Saturday, October 31, 2009

Queretaro, Hotel Hidalgo

(I'd put an accent on that second e in Queretaro if I knew how.)

I spent Wednesday evening through Friday afternoon in Queretaro, a lovely Colonial town in central Mexico, with Dina, my tour manager. We stayed at Hotel Hidalgo, which was built in 1825, as a hotel (that is, not as a convent or a private home or anything else).

After checking in, we went into the courtyard, which I later discovered was the best place for Internet access, and pretty good for a cup of coffee or a meal. This is what it looked like in the morning:

My room was small, very quiet and dark, perfect for sleeping.

Here's the view down the hall from my room:

After we checked in, Dina and I went out in search of supper. First we stopped to watch some indigenous dancers. It looked like a class, because most of them were wearing street clothes, with the anklets of cow toenails (can't remember what those are really called, but they sound cool).

We wandered up the block into another small square where we found several restaurants with tables outdoors.

Lest you think I've only been touristing around (and eating) in Mexico, in the next post I'll put pictures of my storytelling sessions in Queretaro.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I'm trying to catch up--it has been a busy few days!

Yesterday, Dina, the second tour manager, came to pick me up at the hotel in Mexico City so we could catch a bus to Teotihuacan, the huge archaeological site where the third largest pyramids in the world can be found. We left some bags at the bus station for our trip later in the day to Queretaro and boarded the bus. Along the way, we picked up a guitarist who sang and played for tips for a while, then had the bus driver let him off again.

It was about a 30 minute bus trip to the site. Here I am with the Pyramid of the Sun in the background:

I knew it would be sunny, but I didn't realize it would be so windy. We had a great day, though, despite forecasts of rain. We walked along the Avenue of the Dead, successfully avoiding the hawkers of chachki along the way. Dina decided to wait below while I climbed the 250 steps of the Pyramid of the Sun. I took it slowly. It was a long way up!

At the top, people stood with their arms out as if flying in the wind. Some also meditated. Others took pictures and chatted. Some caught their breath.

Looking down we could see the slightly lower Pyramid of the Moon. Amazing!

And here's Dina on the wall waiting for me. Notice the colors of the stone.

I was imagining the entire Avenue of the Dead filled with people, as I'm sure it was at times. Incredible. We were very quiet in the bus on the way back to Mexico City (and need I mention that I slept well last night, from all the fresh air and going up and down the pyramid)?

We caught the bus to Queretaro in the midafternoon. More on that soon.

A little more on Mexico City taxi drivers

This statuette was on the taxi driver's door on the way back from Bilbao School last week. We had a little trouble with the taxi driver on the way to the school that day--Rodolfo is a nice guy, but like most taxi drivers, he's sure of his "shortcuts." The English coordinator at the school gave us very specific instructions on how to get to the school. She was clear: if we followed these directions, it should take us 40 minutes and cost 6 pesos in tolls. Rodolfo thought otherwise, so it took 2 hours, through winding streets, behind deisel buses, up and down the hills, and of course we were late. Thank goodness Vivian was understanding. Still, Alberto and I wanted to apologize, so we offered the school an extra session. The taxi driver gave us no such concession.

So on Tuesday, our other regular taxi driver, Pedro, picked me up at 12:15, so I could be at Bilbao School at 2:00 for a 2:30 workshop. Forty minutes? Nope, almost two hours and 27 pesos in tolls, because he knew a better way. He asked for the same pay as Rodolfo the other day (which was high), and he asked me to give him an extra 50 pesos for his lunch. I have no idea what he did for lunch, but I certainly didn't pay for it. Alberto had agreed to the fare, but I would have liked to have paid him less.

Neither of these fellows is a bad guy, but as I've been told more than once, some taxi drivers are not above trying to get a bit more out of unsuspecting customers if they can.

Oh, well. The workshop at the school was very fun, for six teachers. They joined in willingly and asked lots of good questions. Since I seem to be writing a lot about food, I'll also mention that we had tasty crab salad sandwiches and pan del muerte, a special sweet bread for the Day of the Dead. Yum.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mexico City and Culiacan

On Saturday, Alberto and I went to the Saturday Market, a small art and craft market in San Angel. I tried to bargain with some of the vendors, but I think there were too many foreigners there--they wouldn't bargain at all. Except one. There was a fellow selling very simple bunny handpuppets on the street. I got him down from 60 pesos to 45 (13 pesos to the dollar right now). I also made him laugh. Later, on the metro home, I was across from a little girl and next to a little boy. The bunny came out and made them laugh as well. Soy una gringa loca!

Before we went to the market, I had a bowl of traditional hot chocolate with an anise bun. Yum. At lunch I had mole poblano enchiladas. Mole is a spicy dark chocolate sauce. Delicious and intense.

Here's a quiet little courtyard near the market:

After the market, we toured a former convent nearby. The best part were the mummies in the crypt! 19th century, I think.

On Sunday, I went to the Jardin des Artes de Sullivan, where Angel and Victor host a weekly storytelling performance. It's a lovely spot in a Sunday art fair, shady and pleasant. The featured teller told The Red Shoes and some other stories, with enthusiastic participation from the audience. Then Victor's brother Enrique told, and then Victor invited me to tell. I did The Ghost with the One Black Eye, in part because I knew Angel knew the story and would translate it well. She did.

I went back to the hotel, then on to the airport for my two-hour flight to Culiacan. Susan, the English teacher who picked me up, suggested I have the local style of taco for supper, at a place down the street from the hotel. Delicious!

Culiacan is "a big ranch," according to Edgar, the English coordinator. It's across from Baja California, and has wide streets and a colonial feel to it.
I told stories at Instituto Senda to two groups of kids, third and fourth grade. It was a bit of a media circus--three newspapers sent reporters and photographers. After the performances, Edgar drove me to the Botanical Gardens, though first I had a bite to eat at Miro Cafe across the street (chilaquiles, mmm).

This funny sign was in the gardens. Look closely at the message in red.

It was hot in Culiacan. I was a bit relieved to get back to the airport in the afternoon, to cool off! Back I went to Mexico City that night. Oh, and after Dina (the second tour manager) picked me up, we went to have hot chocolate and churros at a special churreria around the corner from the hotel, El Moro.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mexico City, Friday of the first week

I'd better get this down before I forget! On Friday, the taxi driver insisted that I be ready to go at 6:15 a.m. Not the taxi driver who had toilet paper next to the crucifix on his rearview mirror, but a different one:
This taxi driver, Pedro, was early enough to take me to a convenience store so I could get a coffee to start my day. Here, 24-hour stores aren't open in the way they are at home. They're closed but have an opening in the gate where you can ask the cashier for what you want.

Anyway, I arrived at Escuela Alexander Bain with time to spare. I met Celia, the teacher who had set up the performances, and Martine, the English coordinator before I began with the fifth graders. Then I had the fourth graders, then a break before the third graders came in. The kids understood really well and asked excellent questions. During the third-grade session, some of the grandmothers came to listen. They come to the school every Friday to read to the kids. Celia wasn't able to stay for the performances, but Martine did. In between the sessions, we had a great wide ranging conversation (with a little in French) about families, school, Montreal, stories, Pinocchio, and more.

In the break (hot dogs with chiles, and tea), she told me that the cleaners at the school set up an altar (ofrenda) for Day of the Dead. It used to be done by the art teacher, but the cleaners asked if they could do it. Here are a few pictures of the ofrenda in progress:

Pedro came back at the end of the morning and drove me to the apartment of Victor Arjona and Angel del Pilar, two Mexican storytellers I'd never met. I was early, so Angel took me for a walk in the neighborhood while Victor cooked. When we got back, Alberto and Inno were there, along with Victor's brother. The apartment smelled fabulous: Victor is an incredible chef. We sat down to a leisurely and delicious meal. Toasted red onions with a breadcrumb and cheese crust, gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce, apple strudel, three kinds of wine, Mexican coffee and limoncello. And of course, as happens with storytellers, great conversation. It's always a pleasure to meet storytellers around the world. Victor and Angel were some of the most welcoming and hospitable I've met.

It was a full and satisfying day. We waddled to the corner to get a cab back to the hotel. I don't know about Alberto and Inno, but I fell into bed early and slept well.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mexico City, part of the first week

It has been a good week. As I mentioned in the last post, I didn't have any school performances until Thursday. On Wednesday, I went with Alberto (our intrepid tour manager) and Inno to the school where Inno was performing. Here's a picture from her show:
It's a little blurry because she was teaching the kids a complex rhythm--and she was moving!

From that school, we went to meet Dina, who will help Alberto out as second tour manager. She'll be with me later this next week.

On Thursday, I had my first day of performances at Bilbao School, set in the hills above Mexico City, out of the pollution and noise. We considered doing one of the performances in the forest, but decided some of the fifth grade boys might be too rambunctious there. Still, we walked the 100 or so steps down to look at the possible site. Bilbao is a lovely school and the children enjoyed the stories, even when they didn't completely understand. Here's a bit of the school:

Alberto and I went to the Museum of Anthropology after that. It's enormous, so we only saw a portion (oh, and had a treat in the cafe--my flan was muy delicioso), including exhibits of Aztec and Incan civilizations. Outside, we saw the Voladores de Papantla, men in traditional costume who climb up a pole, spin it around, then jump off upside down but attached to ropes and still spinning. They play flutes and drums as they go lower and lower, until they touch the ground. This was once a ceremony for crop fertilization. Here they are climbing the pole:

And here they are at the top of the pole, beginning to spin it around:

Here they are spinning down:

And almost at the bottom:

I've never seen anything like this. It was fascinating!

This post is already much longer than I meant it to be. I'll write about Friday later.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In Mexico, not yet working

The way this tour worked out, I will begin telling stories in schools on Thursday of this week, so I have time to sightsee a bit. Last night, Inno and Alberto and I walked down to the House of Tiles (Casa de los Azulejos). This incredibly impressive building, once the home of a count and countess, houses Sanborns, a chain of restaurants and stores which began in 1903. Here's the view from the balcony looking down.

On the stairway is a huge mural by José Clemente Orozco, painted in 1925:

We had a light meal in the piano bar. Very elegant.

This morning I went to the Museo Nacional de Arte and then the Palacio de Bellas Artes--the latter is the premier opera house in Mexico. Both are impressive buildings, inside and out. Here's the Palacio de Bellas Artes:

If that weren't impressive enough, inside is amazing, with murals by Diego Rivera, Orozco, Rufino Tamayo and David Siqueiros on the walls of the second and third floors. There was also a temporary exhibit of El Greco going on. Fabulous!

I walked a lot at these museums, so I went back to the hotel for a rest. Then in the late afternoon Alberto and I took the metro to the Bosque de Chapultepec, an immense park with a castle at the top of the hill. We strolled around for quite a while. We wondered how they enforced the closing of the park at 6 p.m. (we went out the gate at 5:45). Do people get locked in, or choose to stay the night on purpose?

Then we went to Zona Rosa, a lively area for nightlife, for supper before coming back to the hotel. Tomorrow I may go to hear Inno tell stories, or I may do more sightseeing. Or both.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Here I am in Mexico!

That's the lobby of the hotel where I'm staying in Mexico City. I arrived last night, flying in through Dallas. I'll be telling stories to students who are learning English as a second language, as I did in Brazil last year (see late September and October 2008 on this blog). My work here doesn't begin until later in the week, so I'll have time to adjust and also to go sightseeing. The hotel is near the Zocalo, the huge square in the historic center. Today there was an international book fair in the square.
On Sundays, lots of people ride bicycles in the city.

Near the cathedral on one side of the square, which was built on the site of a Mexica temple, we saw native dancers in clouds of incense (pinon?). I didn't get pictures of the dancers, but here's the cathedral, with an advertisement for the book fair in the foreground: On several of the side streets we saw living statues, magicians and organ grinders. No pictures of those either.

Who's "we"? Storyteller Inno Sorsy, our tour manager Alberto Alexander and me.

More tomorrow or the next day. I'm about to fall into bed.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Caveat emptor!

Dang. I got so excited about ebay having three Trixies that I didn't read the description well enough. Good thing I didn't buy all three. The imposter just arrived:
She's smaller than the real Trixie, has a wart and a snaggle tooth, and her hands aren't gloves. She's definitely a witch. Trixie is clear about not being a witch. She's just an old lady. "If you get to be 111, you might look this good," she says. The black dress? Very slenderizing.

Ah, well. I know Folkmanis means well, but still.

Anybody looking for a witch stage puppet? Let me know!