Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Idealism, harmonicas, electrocution

Lucien's 5th Grade class is holding a mock election. Groups of like-minded students have joined together to form parties based on changes they'd like to see implemented at the school. They are currently campaigning to woo supporters from the lower grades and come election day, one party will emerge triumphant.

I'm not sure what happens for the winners of the election but it must be a big deal because Lucien is taking this more seriously than he takes choosing an ice cream flavor. That's a hefty statement because my kids stand in front of the ice cream counter for an excruciating amount of time, discussing the negatives and comparing the virtues of each flavor, as the line behind them grows and grows and I lurch around the store pulling my hair out and screaming, "OH MY GOD, just get cookies-n-cream and be done with it!!"

Lucien's group has formed "The Earth Party" and is running on environmental issues such as using less plastic at the school and improving the recycling program. The Loosh sits at his computer after school putting together graphic PowerPoint presentations full of whales who've died because of the gigantic wads of plastic bags in their bellies and malformed turtles who've grown up with six-pack rings around their shells.


The Loosh spots a plastic bag floating in the water at Xochimilco.
An enemy of the environment in our midst.
I had to threaten him with bodily injury to keep him from jumping in to retrieve it.

Lucien is pumped about the election and often, while showing me his latest depressing PowerPoint presentation featuring gigantic "garbage islands" floating around in the ocean, says chirpy things like, "We are going to win because this is everybody's future! Everyone wants to be healthy, and everyone loves animals and doesn't want to hurt them! We're gonna get so many votes!"

I tell him yes, he's got an excellent shot at winning but I say it with a sinking feeling in my stomach because I know one of their rival parties is the "Prices Go Down Party" and they are running on a platform of cheaper snacks at the snack bar. The rumor is they are also bribing their young voters with fistfuls of candy at recess. The PGD is not running a clean campaign; it wouldn't surprise me if they have shadowy ties to Russia.

The Earth Party learned of the PGD candy handouts so decided to counter by handing out seed packets kids could take home to plant. That was one of the sweetest things I'd ever heard from my excited smiley-faced son and it made my heart explode but still -- bottom line is it's "less plastic in the oceans" vs. "cheaper snacks" to an electorate of 3rd and 4th graders.

I'm afraid Lucien is about to learn a very harsh lesson about idealism in politics. I hope it strengthens his resolve and doesn't break his little Earth-loving soul. Because we're gonna need him.


Alex's parents and cousin were here recently for a brief but action-packed long weekend visit. One of the first things we did was the mandatory visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan. We met a man in line there from Portland, Oregon, who had not purchased his ticket in advance -- an unfortunate rookie mistake at the Frida Kahlo museum -- and was bummed to hear he was going to have to leave our short pre-ticketed line to wait in the two-hour non-ticketed line that snaked down the street, around the corner and out of sight. We felt sorry for him and wanted to help him, such a nice guy and our fellow Pacific Northwesterner.

So Alex concocted LIES.

Alex told the ticket taker at the museum entrance that not all of our tickets had printed when we purchased them online but we hadn't realized it until that very moment. We had in our hands only seven tickets, not the rightful eight! As Alex went on and on about his frustration with the unreliability of the online ticketing system, even waving his arms around convincingly for emphasis, the rest of us snuggled up to our new friend, Joe, and attempted to look very familiar with him. The entrance guy let us all in, likely just to stop Alex from talking.

Joe was grateful and stuck with us to chat. Joe is a cool guy, a professional harmonica musician on tour in Mexico City. I didn't know professional harmonica was a thing, either. His specialty is tango harmonica (!) so he travels the world playing tango festivals and doing guest appearances with symphonies. As thanks for saving him two precious hours of his life, Joe says he'll pop by our house someday when he's in Seattle for a gig and treat our friends to a harmonica concert. We exchanged emails and we will take you up on that, new friend Joe.


Frida Kahlo, bringing the people together

P.S. We made a donation to the museum in the amount of Joe's ticket. We would never cheat Frida.
Diego, maybe, but not Frida.


The next family weekend tourist stop was Xochimilco.

Xochimilco is rich, long ago Mexican history but it doesn't look like it. Mexico City was originally built in the middle of a lake back when the Aztecs ran the show -- easy to defend, yo --and was surrounded by canals but then the Spaniards took over and drained most of the water. The canals of Xochimilco are all that's left of the once huge and intricate Aztec canal system.

The grand history of the area is made slightly less epic, perhaps, by the fact Xochimilco is now a place people go to have loud raucous drunken floating parties. It is not a calm contemplative place where you reflect upon your minute and insignificant place in time; it is a boisterous, colorful, obnoxious place where you get a michelada for less than 20 pesos.

Music blares from speakers on most boats. Mariachis play from others. Vendors constantly pull up alongside you offering beer, or cheap trinkets, or roasted ears of corn. Boat collisions are common when the canals get crowded. You must keep a sharp eye out and yell, "Incoming!" so everyone in your boat can grab onto something stationary before they lose footing and get tossed over the side.

No, Xochimilco is not calm nor educational but it is a lot of fun and we love it --


Coco dancing at the back of our boat
 to the tunes of a mariachi band on a nearby boat
and swinging her brand new Slinky
(we are about to get rammed by those boats behind us so hang on, little girl)

Mexico, you are truly something special.

We asked Mario for a dinner recommendation on the way home from Xochimilco and he said he knew just the place, then picked up the phone and made us a reservation on the spot. We pulled up in front of the restaurant a few hours later and -- holy hell, Mario had perhaps misread our intentions. We wanted a hole-in-the-wall taco joint only locals know about but he instead dropped us off at the San Angel Inn, widely regarded as one of the nicest and fanciest restaurants in Mexico City.

Men in tuxedos, or at the very least crisply tailored suits, and women in gorgeous dresses and high heels dominated the scene. Our post-Xochimilco windblown and sun drenched selves stood out a bit. All of us were wearing shorts or jeans, t-shirts and tank tops, and one of us "may" have been wearing socks with sandals. One woman laughed blatantly in our faces after looking us up and down in wonderment. Screw you, lady, long live the San Angel Inn Rebels.

At least they didn't refuse us entry. You overshot that one, Mario, but you were right, the food was definitely tasty.


Coco is exhausted by the day, she does not care 
we are seated in one of the finest restaurants in the land,
and that we are doing so wearing shorts and sweatshirts.

The next day we took Alex's family to Valle de Bravo, a colonial town a couple hours away from Mexico City by car. We cautiously asked Mario for a breakfast recommendation on the way there, then pointed at ourselves over and over for dress code clarification. He got the second one right, stopped at a small string of restaurants along the highway and led us into a tiny, rough-around-the-edges place with three women at a gigantic stove in the corner of the dining room.

The food, frankly, was better than what we had at the fancy San Angel Inn. It was perfect, cheap, simple, pure homemade Mexican food. The chilaquiles with chorizo are still on my mind and may be forever. Best of all, nobody cared what we looked like.

And most random of all, there was a photo of Hugh Jackman hanging on the wall over my mother-in-law's shoulder. In the photo, he's standing at the very gigantic stove in the very dining room in which we were seated with the very women cooking our breakfast --


That's pretty random, Mexico.
How did Hugh Jackman find it? Does he know Mario, too?

Mario earned his pay that day because Valle de Bravo was a mess given the three-day holiday weekend. Traffic was more "stop" than "go" and more "infuriating" than "not infuriating" because colonial town streets were not meant to hold cars. They were meant to hold people and horses, and not many of them at that.

Valle de Bravo was crowded. And hot. The combo made me slightly mental. We ducked down side streets to avoid clogged main drags and stayed in the shade as much as possible. Also, for whatever reason, fireworks were being set off at random intervals somewhere near the main square, which did not help things. The fireworks were so loud and startling, we all jumped a mile every time one exploded over our heads. I soon became a very twitchy tourist indeed.




But it's true, Valle de Bravo is very pretty. 

We signed up for a private boat tour on the lake in an attempt to escape the chaos. The jostling crowd that formed as all of the waiting people tried to get onto their boats made Parisians look downright civil in their line-waiting capabilities. It was that bad. You often need to embrace the chaos and disorder of Mexico, just go with the flow, but sometimes I am not in the mood to do that. I am ashamed to admit I considered pushing many Mexicans into the water but thankfully I managed to resist the urge.



The kids think it's hilarious to pretend to be asleep.
Kids are weird.

The boat tour was very enjoyable and relaxing until Alex began to feel seasick. He was able to hang in there for the duration but it made the last half of our tour a little more tense; the lake we were on supplies water to Mexico City and we desperately did not want to do anything gross to it.

Before I go, I want to mention a game that is often played late at night in Mexican bars. Alex and I went out with a group of co-workers and assorted friends over the weekend to Plaza Garibaldi, a.k.a. the birthplace of mariachi music. It was a raucous evening involving tequila and mariachi and electrocution.


Shit gets real when you're up until the early morning hours
at the birthplace of mariachi

I don't know why electrocution is a fun thing to try in Mexico, but it is. You sit in a circle with your friends, hold hands, and a guy just electrocutes you all. He starts with a very low current but keeps jacking it up until one of you is in so much pain you let go and break the circuit. Then everybody laughs and howls and makes jokes like "hope nobody has a pacemaker!" and "What's my name again?" -- although that last one may not have been a joke, he seemed legitimately confused.




We are proud (?) to say we all made it until the end, 
the highest current safe to pump into humans for fun.

Weirdest stuff. I just don't even know. But it's true we bonded and had a good laugh over it, even if my right arm is still tingly days later and I can't grasp my toothbrush very well anymore.

Spring Break is coming up starting this weekend so we're heading to Costa Rica for 16 glorious days. I have been meticulously planning this vacation and am very excited. From what I hear, we are never going to want to leave Costa Rica even though we will be near eaten alive by bugs and likely sunburned beyond recognition. That's Costa Rica's inexplicable magic.

Until we meet again, here's our new friend Joe playing the famous "La Cumparsita" tango on his harmonica --



Pura Vida!
MJ

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shiny shoes and other party lessons


Alex is excited for lunch but Coco is not convinced

I first realized there was a problem with the shininess of my shoes while seated at a restaurant on a date night with Alex. An immaculately dressed older woman seated next to us glanced down at my well-loved, scuffed-up boots and made a grimace. Then she looked at me with an expression on her face that seemed to suggest I was not a good person, or at least kind of a gross one.

I assumed it was a freak occurrence because who couldn't love my gnarly boots? I also suspected it was my outfit as a whole that offended because I am chronically under-dressed when out on the town in Mexico City. When others wear short fancy designer dresses with sky high heels, I wear my favorite baggy harem pants -- the Aztec printed ones, the ones I wear more often to bed than outside the house -- and my aforementioned scruffy boots.

I didn't really plan to wear pajama pants out on date night. I was just so comfortable in my day clothes I didn't want it to end.

I realized the severity of my shoe situation when shoe shiners began following me down the street on a regular basis, pointing at my boots and begging me to let them shine my shoes, so horrified were they by their appearance. Then Coco's school sent an email reminding us that part of keeping their uniforms clean is keeping their shoes properly shined. What is with these people and shiny shoes?

I suspect the school's shoe message was directed at me because I dug Coco's school shoes out from under the couch and sure enough, they looked like she's never walked in them, only been dragged long distances in them. How does she manage to scuff the tops so terribly? She must be wrestling gators in gravel pits when I'm not looking.

I applied a little spit polish and rubbed them with a washcloth and the shoes marginally improved. I'll be expecting another email from the school soon.


easy on the shoes, girl, you're getting me in trouble

Coco's class put on a circus at her school Friday. The regular homework for the week was scrapped so kids could use their after school time to "make an authentic clown costume, no costume rental nor new purchases permitted, work with what you already have at home."

There's a lot of panic in those instructions, especially for short-timers like us who brought precious few supplies to Mexico City, and definitely none of the clown costume making variety. Coco thankfully has a craft kit full of pom poms so pom poms were promptly glued all over any brightly colored piece of clothing we could find in her closet. It was a pretty lame clown costume but definitely showed we obeyed the "no costume rental nor purchase" instruction.

Coco's clown costume began falling apart before she even left the apartment on the morning of the circus. She left a trail of pom poms all the way out the door of the building. I kissed her at the door with a bright, "You look great, honey, I'll see you at the circus later!" and secretly prayed some other parent had done even less with their clown than my half-assed efforts. Hopefully someone had quarter-assed.

Getting to Coco's circus show was harder than I expected. I had to walk to the school because our driver was still occupied getting Alex through rush hour traffic to his job. No biggie, the school isn't too far and I love walking around the city even on days when pollution is really bad and it burns your eyes.

The problem that morning wasn't pollution, it was crossing Paseo de la Reforma, the main drag through town with four lanes of traffic in either direction. Crossing a street isn't straightforward business here in Mexico. Traffic lights aren't always obeyed and crosswalks are sometimes few and far between. Most people just kind of cross wherever they happen to be and dart around like a real life game of Frogger.

I am not yet that bold. I instead stand by the road for half the day waiting for a "safe" opportunity. When no safe opportunities present themselves willingly, I jog anxiously up and down alongside the road looking for a crosswalk or traffic light. After awhile I reach a breaking point, "Dammit, I've been standing on the side of the road for seven hours, it's time to get serious" and just kind of plunge recklessly into the fray.

It's easier to cross when traffic is heavy because at some point it gets backed up and cars are forced to slow down. Then you make your move, dodging around bumpers as quickly as possible before they pick up speed again.

After I'd successfully crossed the street and made it to school, I witnessed my daughter rock that circus in her very nearly pom pom-less outfit. Her part in the performance was "Coco the Magician." She successfully performed her several magic tricks with confidence and only a few minor (and pretty adorable) hitches.

But I'm suspecting her magician's assistant, Victor, did not listen to the "no costume rental, use stuff you have at home" directive. His clown outfit was straight out of a Ringling Brothers picture book. Regardless of my suspicions, Victor has a place in my heart because he has declared his fervent love for Coco several times and wrote her the funniest love letter for Valentine's Day.


Coco's glorious clown hat. 
 We made that beauty ourselves out of construction paper and scotch tape 
after watching several YouTube tutorials

There aren't just circuses happening around here. There are also parties. We attended three parties over the weekend and I was under-dressed for every single one, trust it.

The first party was a child's birthday party thrown by Alex's co-worker for his two daughters. I couldn't find wrapping paper in our neighborhood so wrapped one of the girl's gifts in the brown paper used as packing material in our recent Amazon order. Then I covered the brown paper with a sheet of Coco's stickers, which upset her but sometimes we are called upon to sacrifice for the family, little girl.

The other daughter's gift was oddly shaped so I stuffed it into the paper bag recently used to bring home our Indian takeout. The bag still smelled pretty tasty. More stickers were applied to the outside. Whatever, let's party.

Children's birthday parties in Mexico City are big productions. There is a lot of entertainment. We were treated to a "My Little Pony" show that lasted an hour and involved smoke machines, singing and dancing. Alex was disturbed by how attracted he was to both Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie and wanted to process his feelings about it at great length.


A new fetish may have been born. Please stay away from Coco's actual My Little Ponies, Al, or we're gonna have to put her in therapy way sooner than we planned.

The birthday party had it all; there was a bouncy house, arts and crafts, full catering and an open bar for the hundred or so guests, a "candy table" and the biggest damn candles I've ever seen stuck into two gigantic My Little Pony cakes. Those things were more like distress flares than candles; flames shot out of them forcefully at least two feet into the air. One of the distress flares was tossed into the garbage afterwards but it was not yet fully extinguished so the garbage can began to smoke excessively. It was Lucien who first saw it and yelled "Fuego!" which, understandably, alarmed us all until a pitcher of water was dumped into the can as well.

Perhaps most distressing was the My Little Pony pinata that, after being decapitated and losing two legs, was finally broken all the way open by a very strong little girl. The disembowelment immediately sent the smallest of guests into hysterical crying fits and I have to agree with them; it was surprisingly disturbing to watch a smiley My Little Pony get beaten to pieces with a bat.


But I love when the teeniest guests take their turns at the beginning.
It's a real uterus explosion.

The kids who weren't crying over the violent death of Pinkie Pie flew into Wrestlemania XVI on the floor. There was so much candy coming out of that pinata, I was getting cavities just looking at it. So imagine my surprise when the animators of the party brought out MORE bags of candy, ripped them open and dumped the contents onto the floor along with all the pinata candy. More wrestling, more tripping over candy, more bonked heads.

The second party was Saturday at our ex-pat friends' house, Seattle Mom and Bolivia Dad. The occasion was "Spring!" I suppose Spring is something to celebrate in Mexico even though the weather doesn't change much. Monsoon season begins, though, with its brief daily downpours, so that's exciting.

House parties in the DF (that's cool speak for Mexico City) are different from those at home in that parties here are often heavily staffed. There were los animadores keeping the kids entertained with games in the yard, servers walking around replenishing drinks before they were even empty, a man stationed at the pool to make sure no kids drowned, some ladies in the parlor helping kids paint flower pots, and a fully catered gourmet pizza buffet that blessedly included a Nutella dessert pizza topped with strawberries.


Los animadores, the fun men in red.
My kids said "they were way more fun than parents!"
My kids really know how to hurt my feelings.



Alex and Bolivia Dad crashed the kids' sack race.
Alex and Bolivia Dad are similar people.

When we go back home to Seattle, money will not go nearly as far as it does in Mexico. There will be no room in a party budget for staff. I will mix the mimosas myself and turn on a movie for the kids halfway through the party to buy us adults a little more time, as per our usual. And it will be fun and I will be happy but I may miss the people in red shirts and white coats just a little.


Seattle Mom and Bolivia Dad's gorgeous home

Alex and I have been lucky to meet great people wherever we go. How is it possible there are great people everywhere? And do you think there's a place in the world that's full of only shitty people? If there is, I hope we don't get sent there for Al's work because we are really on a roll.

     
Eight different home countries in this picture alone.
It's the luck of an ex-pat to hang out with the world.

At Spring Party we learned if you start drinking mimosas and cubanas in the sun before noon, you will all be sound asleep by 7:00 p.m.  And speaking of the sun, the sun in Mexico is stronger than you think it is. It's not the same as standing in the sun in Seattle. You can stand in Seattle sun all day long and barely register a pink tinge.

But at Spring Party, when Seattle Mom said, "Why didn't you bring your sunhat?"and Alex said, "Have you applied sunscreen to your shoulders lately?" I said, "Chill, overreactors. I've been standing in the sun only half an hour, I think I'm going to be OK." But I was not OK, I was sunburned and it was still hurting two days later.


The dude tug-o-war took a toll on a few backs
that were also sore two days later.

Is everyone still with me? It's OK if not, this post is a long one.



Our fantastic new party lives weren't over yet, much as we kind of desperately wanted them to be. We were very tired but couldn't turn down the third party of the weekend when the occasion was revealed to be -- meat.


some people are living very well in Mexico City

Alex's co-worker, Mexico Dad, invited us to his big beautiful home out in the suburbs with the invite, "Come for carne asada, I want to make you carne asada, let's eat carne asada." Al and I began referring to it as "the meat party" because 1) that's what it was and 2) it sounds dirty.

Mexico Dad is talkative, jovial, a born entertainer. He also apparently really loves to make carne asada because the amount of meat he grilled was enough to feed fifty people even though we numbered only ten.

The most important thing we learned at the meat party, aside from the fact Mexico Dad likes to grill meat so much I felt compelled to hide the family dog, was don't try to keep up with a Mexican man when it comes to drinking tequila. Alex tried and it didn't end well. It may or may not have resulted in Alex stripping down to his underwear and going for a very cold swim in their pool in the rain. Alex wasn't able to feel cold at that point thanks to tequila's numbing properties but I think I got hypothermia just watching him.


Alex rarely overdoes it on the drinking. He's a man who knows his limits and is just as likely to be drinking mineral water with lemon slices than alcohol. But things get disorienting when your enthusiastic host keeps refilling your glass and insisting "You gotta try this one! You're gonna love it!" Jovial hosts always make tequila sound like a good idea but it's not always true.

As Alex's condition deteriorated before my eyes, I knew I could get him home OK in a taxi and maybe ask the doorman to help me drag him into the building. I also knew I'd made the right decision in not drinking tequila.

To recap, this is what we've learned the past few days in our new party heavy lifestyle:

1.) wear heels. no pjs. shiny shoes.
2.) don't hump My Little Ponies. for the love of god stop, man.
3.) sunscreen and lots of it. the sun is an asshole.
4.) don't drink tequila. tackle your host to the ground to prevent this from happening if you must.


Mario just brought me a baggie of pom poms he found rolling around in the car.
Her costume was awful but my clown was so happy,
MJ

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

That man had no legs


That was a weekend.

Friday night found Alex and I at Coco's school auction/casino night fundraiser. Alex and I have attended perhaps five billion auctions in our parental careers but it seemed many of the parents at Coco's school did not have the same level of experience. We guessed this by how many were overheard saying things like, "Well someone's already bid on that so I hate to take it away from them."

Silent auctions are cutthroat, people. No prisoners. Maybe it was rude of us but Alex and I used our hefty auction expertise to flatten our competition. I outbid when many were reluctant to outbid, I made shady deals with PTA members in dark corners. I walked out with stuff under my arm before the auction was even officially ended.

I apologize for nothing. It's all for the children, man. Plus I really wanted that hand-carved jewelry box from Oaxaca.


Alex lost all of his fake money at the blackjack table. 
You can't win them all.

Unless you're me. And shady as hell. 

Alex and I made a handful of new friends at the auction despite our aggressive ways, including one funny British couple who got a little tipsy at the open bar and bid on, quite literally, everything. They began at one end of the auction table and walked its entirety signing their names to every scrap of paper they encountered, assuming they would be outbid on most. But this being the most polite auction in the history of auctions with no one willing to "offend" them, they were in a precarious spot indeed as the evening wore on.

At the time of our departure, they were winning well over a dozen items, including a half dozen individual lots of wine totaling 72 bottles. We left them laughing hysterically in the corner after they'd begged anyone and everyone to outbid them on anything at all. I wonder how they got all that wine home.

Mr. W., a British man and the founder of Coco's school, is a character I enjoy very much but I rarely know what's going on when I'm with him. He's intensely cerebral with the most impressive breadth of life experience. He has a personal connection to everything, everywhere, for all of time and can connect all of it in a single thought. He starts a story but shares many details about other stories in the middle of that story. The person who can follow him all the way through a thought is a rare one indeed.

At the auction, he was talking about -- something, I honestly don't remember where we started -- but then interjected himself with something along the lines of, "Well, my eldest son -- oh, my son, well, you know my son grew up with Julian Lennon, very good friends really, and he's even seen the drawing that inspired "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" well isn't that something and so yes they were pals but the man's aunt is also distantly related to the Queen of Belgium of centuries ago so gave me the most handsome wood carvings of the king and queen but then his parents moved to Amsterdam and the brother there -- well goodness now I believe he's figuring the cure for cancer in Norway and is damn near to it, too -- and anyway, what was I saying...."

And I look at him with my hands outstretched like, "Sooo....I'm still back at 'Julian Lennon.' Can you slow down?" And then he laughs this hearty laugh and nope, he doesn't slow down. He keeps on going and now you're really super lost. It's fascinating to see how someone's mind works and makes connections in real time but I'll be damned if I can follow.

(I outbid all of the world to win the auction item "Mr. W writes a personalized story about your student." Mr. W is an accomplished writer in addition to being an educator and with his mind working the way it does, I cannot wait to see what he comes up with for the Coco girl. Those poor inexperienced auction-goers didn't stand a chance against me ha ha ha.)

Saturday morning found us bound for Las Estacas, a natural water park two hours outside Mexico City. We were meeting two other ex-pat families there and had all rented a big house nearby for the night to maximize our fun. The house we rented came with a pool and a cook. I hear this is fairly common. This may be why the two ex-pat families we were with claim they never want to leave Mexico.

Mario, our driver, drove us to Las Estacas. On the way there, he mentioned we might like to stop for lunch at a long stretch of food stands right off the highway at an area called Las Tres Marias. We take the recommendations of locals very seriously, especially his, so absolutely, Mario, lead the way to the food.


Mario was not wrong
Thank you, Mario's arm

We pulled off the highway and selected one of the myriad of food options. We ordered chilaquiles and enchiladas and quesadillas then shamelessly gorged ourselves sitting amongst local families whose kids were mesmerized by our English speaking. I love seeing little dark eyes peeking over a parent's shoulder. As soon as I look back, they duck behind mothers or fathers or grandparents but soon again peek out with a shy smile. It's pretty much the best, especially if I have a bunch of enchiladas in my mouth at the same time.

Alex and I ordered micheladas at Las Tres Marias. Micheladas are usually just beers with lime juice and salt but these arrived looking like someone had to die for them to be made. I have no idea what the stuff dripped around the outside was. It was sweet and chili peppery at the same time.

Anyone? Anyone?


Alex drinks the blood of children for breakfast  
(with a side of churros, of course)



Driving away from Las Tres Marias back onto the highway.
If you didn't know it was something, 
you would probably think it was nothing.

Las Estacas, our destination that day, is great if you like chaos and water. We were thankfully in the perfect mood for both so settled in for a long day of screaming and sunburns. We spent much of our time at the river where two of the dads rented a boat and loaded it up with most of our kids. Better them than me.

Alex was supposed to be in the boat with the other dads but he had, only mere moments before, backed up suddenly at an inopportune moment along a walking path and fallen about six feet into a narrow channel of water. It could have been bad but thankfully he was fished out by the other dads with only a few scratches.

So while the other two dads were brave/crazy enough to do this --


Godspeed

Alex was laying in the shade a bit shaken, bleeding, and drinking a beer.  As he should have been.


Don't worry, he recovered fully

The dads had a difficult time between the screeching children inside the boat and the many swimmers outside the boat.  It didn't look promising as they tried to get the hang of the paddling and the river current. At one point, Seattle Mom said, "They are seriously just turning in circles." And that they were. Wheeee.

They finally got the boat going in one constant direction -- yay -- and promptly ran over an elderly man swimming in the river who had no legs. We had all seen the man earlier in his wheelchair and were impressed when he dove into the water and began swimming against the current with powerful strokes. That man is tough.

Which is good, because as I mentioned, our crew ran right over him. He was OK, came out the other side of the boat fine and accepted the dads' profuse apologies graciously but yep, that was horrifying. We adults continued to re-live the moment and cringe the rest of the day; we couldn't shake the image of that poor man disappearing under our dudes' boat.


Later that day, one son revisited the story with the other kids like, "You guys, we ran over that old man like BAM!!" Seattle Mom, believing the kids were being too callous and taking the situation too lightly, pointed right in all of their faces and yelled, "THAT MAN HAD NO LEGS!"

It should have been a profound teaching moment and the rest of us should have nodded solemnly in solidarity with the message but no, it struck us all suddenly as very funny. We lost our collective sh*t, rolled around on our beach towels and laughed so hard we were just silent, shaky, and snorty. You can't be good parents forever, I guess. Or at least we can't.

We got lost trying to find our rental house after the water park because you tend to get lost anytime you leave a main road in Mexico. Nothing's labeled, GPS is imperfect and directions are vague. It was worth the up-and-down, back-and-forth, forward-and-backward shimmy our caravan experienced, though, because the house was big with a cold pool and a cook in the kitchen already preparing our dinner.


Our house
and our children being thrown mighty distances

Sure, there were some kid injuries and some blood and some tears but that's all par for the course when families get together. What isn't par for the course, and what will spoil us forevermore thanks to Mexico, is a cook made us delicious chiles rellenos for dinner while we sat around on the back patio talking about stupid things.

It's like we were making armpit fart sounds while she was in there creating a masterpiece.


He's still throwing them

The next morning for breakfast the cook made the kids pancakes and the adults chilaquiles and huevos with whatever the words for "red peppers" and "spicy stuff" are. I'm just bragging now, if not exactly showing off my Spanish skills.



Why did we leave?

Two of our families decided to stop at Xochicalco, an Aztec ruins site, on the way home, which was both a fantastic idea and a terrible idea. It was a fantastic idea because the site is gorgeous and I enjoyed every minute we spent poking around the area despite the fact it was very hot up there.


Hard to regret walking along the upper edge of an Aztec pyramid with your crew


Their new album drops next month.
Their band name is "Blood and Churros." 

It was a terrible idea to visit Xochicalco, however, because while we were up there, a semi truck overturned on the highway, which backed up traffic for bazillions of kilometers. The trip home should have taken an hour and a half but wound up taking over five hours.

Our food supply had run out and we all had to go to the bathroom quite badly by the time we finally passed the overturned semi truck and the neighboring upright watermelon truck that must have also been involved based on the number of watermelons still in the street. The watermelons had been mostly cleaned up (there were still people dodging between cars to grab some here and there to throw them back into the truck) when we drove past but that semi on its side was going nowhere fast.



We heard from Seattle Dad he knew a couple people who were stuck in that mess
 for nine hours. 
I guess we should consider ourselves lucky. 

Mario was regretting agreeing to work on the weekend right now,
trust it.

I thought I was going to live the rest of my life in that car.  Alex and I are the geniuses who decided the weekend was going to be "screen-free" so had permitted neither iPad nor Kindle to join us. That was a stupid idea. If anyone ever asks me to play "I spy" again, I'm going to punch them in the face. I don't give a sh*t what you're spying that's blue -- plus nothing has changed in this car for hours so I know you're still talking about Mario's jeans.

I just asked Paulina to make chicken enchiladas with salsa roja and broccoli for dinner. I said several complete sentences in Spanish without even consulting my notes.
Fluency here I come.
MJ

Thursday, February 16, 2017

count on me to bring the awkward

The photo to the left is Lucien making butter. It's a long story and I'm trying to avoid long stories today because they are making my blog posts go on and on for days. I'll discuss the butter when I learn how to truncate.

There were lessons learned this week in Mexico. One lesson I've learned is you're supposed to tip the people who bag your groceries. My grocery load is always sizable so the baggers, who are generally elderly and adorable, probably aren't too happy when I walk away with a single "gracias" and a smile. Smiles don't pay the bills, gringa. 

I noticed the guy behind me tipping the bagger (as in giving him money, not pushing him over) on my last shopping trip even though he was only buying a couple bottles of water. If that guy tipped for only two things, I should probably tip for my lots of things. I froze and observed those around me, which is always good operating procedure for an ex-pat. True enough, everyone was handing the baggers money on their way out the door. I nearly dumped my entire purse out in my haste to find pesos.

I won't make that mistake again. Look at all this learning I'm doing. 

I embarrassed myself pretty thoroughly this week. Julio, my friend Seattle Mom's driver, whom we met last time we were in Mexico City, came to our building to pick up something for Seattle Mom. I met him down in the lobby of our building. 

It's like I knew before it happened our interaction was going to be awkward because I went into it a little sweaty-palmed and bumbling. I could see he was coming in for a handshake as he approached me but I, for reasons I don't know, instead dove in for a cheek kiss. 

I'm not sure who kisses who and who shakes whose hands around here. What's the social protocol on that? Whatever the rules are, I'm pretty sure I broke them with Julio because he was not expecting the cheek kiss and it threw him way off. I could sense that, could sense his confusion and tension, but I still kept right on leaning in because you can count on me to bring the awkward.

I couldn't stop myself even though I knew I was doing the wrong thing -- and worse, I was doing it in front of witnesses, since Senor Scowly and his friend were standing a handful of feet away. Instead of backing off, I doubled down. I decided to show them all I stood firmly behind my decision to kiss Julio with conviction. So as I landed on Julio's face, and as Julio still desperately tried to shake my hand, I did a very loud "Mwah! kiss sound. Twice. The sound echoed in our modern sleek building entry. Such a weird f*cking thing to do. 

Did you know it is possible to cringe so hard that you can actually crumple and fold into yourself at the middle? It's like human origami. I hobbled back to the elevator after Julio escaped (that guy moves fast when he wants to) contorted with embarrassment. My old popular refrain from Paris days returned in that moment: "I am SUCH an ASSHOLE." Nice to have the ole mantra back again.

This week has been pretty awful because Lucien is sick and home from school for the third day in a row. Last night, Lucien was so sick I texted Seattle Mom, my soul sister friend back home, for advice. She's a nurse and is always a voice of calm and reason. I was having a stressful night; Lucien's fever was so high, and I didn't know how to call for medical help in Mexico if we needed it, and Alex is in Seattle for work this week. Seattle Mom said to push those fluids and take comfort he's lucid and talking to me normally.  

At that very moment, Lucien chose to sit straight up in his bed and start speaking absolute nonsense. The first thing he said, eyes staring at me in a creepy unfocused way, was "we have to get out of here now." GAH!

The non-comforting, non-lucid thoughts continued with things like, "you expect me to have two elements" and "I think wrong about this color." I snapped my fingers in front of his face, clapped my hands, tried to get him to snap out of it. The look on his face and the bizarre words coming out of his mouth did not stop. I told him to get up, I'd walk him to the bathroom. He said, "OK, good plan for sliding rats." 

He got up from his bed, pulled his pants down to his ankles, and hopped down the hall to the bathroom while saying something about people not being able to trick him for water. What the hell kind of eff'd up Mexican flu is this??

He doesn't remember any of that this morning and he's on the mend now. Hopefully he'll be back in school tomorrow and I can leave the apartment again.

Paulina babysat last Friday night so Alex and I could go out to dinner with two other ex-pat couples, both from Seattle. The company was hilarious good. Our dinner was delicious. Most noteworthy is Alex and I tried chapulines, which are fried grasshoppers. Eating grasshoppers is an ex-pat initiation rite in Mexico City so now we're in for real.


chapulines
tastes like crispy


I asked Lucien how Paulina got them to bed that night given the language barrier and he said, "She just kind of kept poking us until we moved in the right direction." I'm going to try that, I like its simplicity.

I've learned many things this week and will not make the same mistakes.
I will make new mistakes,
MJ

Friday, February 10, 2017

It begins again

Two days ago Lucien came home from school and said, "Mom, I got in trouble today!" Perhaps it was the shade of enthusiasm in his voice that gave me Paris flashbacks but my heart immediately sank a little.

It happened in Spanish class, a class that is making Lucien's head explode on the daily. The teacher calls on him often in an attempt to give him as much practice as possible, which he claims is "kinda mean" since he can't answer any of her questions. He studies lists of Spanish words in his bed at night; we know he's doing it when we hear a lot of "aghh!" and "this is impossible!" coming from his room.

Two days ago, the teacher was giving him a particularly grueling time, quizzing him on vocabulary and verb conjugation. Another student raised his hand and asked to go to the bathroom. As that student walked across the room and placed his hand on the classroom's doorknob, Lucien yelled, "SAVE YOURSELF!!"

The class cracked up. The teacher did not. She warned him that if he was going to be Mr. Funny Guy in class, he was going to find himself in the office more often than not. Well that's just great and here we are again. Those still reading from the Paris years probably remember Lucien did not fit in very well at his French school. He stood out from the much more subdued French children. He was in trouble all the time, had teachers tearing their hair out on the regular. La betise! La betise! The Loosh was an...ahem...spirited child in a non-spirited environment.

Thankfully it's been smooth sailing the past handful of years.  He's matured so much, is a good student and is finally able to control the more severe of his spaz-tastic impulses. He's the class clown for sure but good natured, rarely in trouble, and his teachers usually get a kick out of him. Maybe Americans are more flexible with those kinds of things, I don't know, but it seems apparent the teachers at the British School, at least the Spanish ones, are not as amused.

I gave him a talking-to about picking his moments. The classroom is not an appropriate place to crack jokes. Save it for the playground, save it for the bus, save it for anywhere besides the Spanish teacher's classroom because IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE for principals in foreign countries to be part of our daily lives again, comprendes, little dude?

Lucien replied, "But Mom, I'm funny and I think my classmates have a right to know that." Great. This should go fine.

Coco's head is also exploding in Spanish because not only does she not speak Spanish, but everyone in her class is already writing cursive. Her First Grade classmates are writing Spanish in cursive, two things that could not be further from Coco's wheelhouse, goddammit, and I have to help her with her homework every afternoon.

Her homework, twice the amount of what other kids have because she's so far behind, is the most godawful painful hour... or two....or three.... of the day.  She whines and throws pencils, I cry and scour the kitchen cabinets for wine. It's pretty awful. Paulina has swooped in to save the day on a couple Spanish lessons and that may become the norm because when it comes to Spanish, surprise, I'm not much help. I wish Paulina could teach cursive, too.

Speaking of Spanish, the building's cleaning lady tried to chat me up in the elevator today. She sees me around the building daily and probably couldn't tell from my simple "buenos dias" and "hasta luego"s that I didn't know many more words than those. She stepped into the elevator with me this morning and immediately launched into some incomprehensible thing. There were definitely questions involved based on her inflection and her looking at me with her head tilted slightly to the side.

The realization struck her immediately that she was talking to a wall, probably because my eyes had gone wide and I was just staring at her frozen-like. I finally managed a "no comprendo" and she nodded, seemed embarrassed for the both of us. She hustled off the elevator a couple floors later.

Poor lady tried to be friendly and get to know me but ha! She won't try that again.


PS. Spanish in small elevators is much more uncomfortable than Spanish in larger open spaces. I need the breathing room, and the option to run away if/when I need to.

SAVE YOURSELF,
MJ

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mario, Paulina, and Leon Trotsky

The people of Mexico City are very cold today but I'm not even wearing a jacket. I went downstairs this morning to wait for Lucien's school bus wearing only a long sleeved t-shirt and a pair of jeans, True, I was also clutching a cup of very hot coffee, which may have had some impact on my temperature tolerance.

But you'd think we'd walked out into Siberia. The people on the street wore heavy winter coats with their chins tucked down inside. They looked miserable. I re-entered our building after Lucien's bus had carted him off to school and Carlos, the smiley doorman, asked, "Oh no, aren't you cold?" He blew on his hands to warm them and hopped a little from foot to foot to make sure I understood he was worried for my health. It's 58 degrees out there, Carlos, I think I'm gonna survive it.

We've hired a housekeeper. I was reluctant to hire help because I like my solo time when the kids are in school. I admit I'm a very strange person when I'm alone at home. There is a lot of talking to myself and some very odd outfits indeed when I don't need to go outside. My favorite pairing is my rainbow sundress with a bathrobe and Ugg boots. Cozy yet colorful. I also eat weird things when no one's watching, such as "sugar bread," which is exactly as it sounds -- butter and sugar on bread. I know, I'm an animal.

If someone were to be in the apartment with me all day, my concern was I would be more self conscious and could no longer be my strange self. I would have to get dressed for real, maybe even shower god forbid, and sit around looking proper and drinking tea or whatever when I really just wanted to crank some Metallica, sing into a cucumber and practice my rad spins.

I was quickly told by the Mexico City ex-pat ladies I was dumb for not taking advantage of what is very much the norm here. There's little downside to the housekeeping win-win. It's giving someone a well-paying job and freeing yourself up to focus on your interests. It would mean I could write pretty much all day, sitting in the sun with my laptop until my fingers fell off.  Heavenly.

I thought hard about it. Why was I fighting to do my own laundry instead of learning how to get dressed like a normal person every day? Why was I more willing to do sinkfuls of dishes than surrender a small bit of Metallica? Was I really that attached to pouring sugar on bread or would it be worth it to shelve that recipe for a bit in order to have someone else cook dinner?  And bottom line, which was preferable: doing all the work around here by myself as usual or finally devoting all of my waking hours to finishing the Paris book?

The answer was clear, the ladies were right, I was dumb. After a few recommendations and a very awkward interview (Alex didn't know the questions to ask and I didn't know how to ask anything at all so just sat there and smiled to show her I'm friendly), we hired Paulina. Paulina does not live in the apartment with us, as many housekeepers do, because she has a teenage daughter at home. She puts dinner on our table, says hasta luego, and returns at 10:00 the next morning. It's a perfect situation for her and for me -- she gets to be home with her daughter evenings and mornings and sometimes when Alex takes the kids swimming after he comes home from work, I still get a little lampshade-wearing, robot walking solo freak time.

When Paulina is here, you would not believe what all she does. Our laundry basket is always empty now, anything tossed in there is dealt with immediately. She takes Alex's shirts to the dry cleaners. She goes to the grocery store daily and cooks us dinner. She goes into our closets and organizes our drawers, refolds all our t-shirts and sweaters. I have not seen any dust bunnies since she arrived and I do not miss them; they used to blow like tumbleweed through Banister Abbey, stopping only briefly to mingle with large clumps of dog hair.

Paulina cleans out the refrigerator and packs the kids' lunches for the next morning. She washes our duvet covers at least once a week which makes me wonder, have I ever cleaned our duvet covers at home? Because it's not ringing any bells. Paulina irons everything, including our socks. She's also agreed to babysit once a week, something we'll be trying for the first time this weekend when we go out for dinner with two other couples.

This all sounds like bragging but I don't mean it as bragging, I'm more processing all she does for us in an incredulous manner and wondering why I chose to live here a full two and a half weeks without her. I don't miss sugar bread at all so far.

Paulina and Mario, our driver, who also does many things for us including buying all of Coco's school supplies (Mario is now her favorite person because he bought her the notebooks with the sparkles and sheets of stickers inside) are hugely helpful but truthfully, it's very awkward as we get to know each other and understand how to work together. Paulina does not speak one word of English and my Spanish, well, estoy aprendiendo but it still sucks. This has made for some painful "conversations" and some inevitable miscommunications. For instance, I seem to have given Paulina the impression we require lactose free milk. I have no idea how I did that, must have strung together some words I didn't even know I knew. I can barely say, "I like milk" but somehow managed "lactose intolerance?"

Now our fridge is full of the stuff and I can't bring myself to tell her we don't need lactose free milk. She was so happy to find it, even sent Mario to a larger grocery store farther away to find a larger container. I can't let her know her efforts were for naught, as well as being very confusing.

Lactose free milk tastes terrible but I still hiss at the kids "just drink it" and they dutifully glug glug glug with grimaces. Alex keeps sighing at me and telling me we have to tell her, that she'll understand it was a miscommunication, but I'm biding my time and instead constructing a needlessly complicated plan. We'll keep drinking the gross milk then I'll tell her in a month or so our lactose intolerance has been miraculously cured, perhaps due to Mexico City's fresh air (that's a joke, we live in pollution city).


We took the weekend away from the gross milk

We spent the weekend in Coyoacan, a former village outside Mexico City now considered a suburb. Coyoacan is where Frida Kahlo's house/museum is, still one of my favorite places in the city.


This is Mario navigating the insanity of Friday late afternoon traffic 
on a three-day holiday weekend.
The 30 minute trip to Coyoacan took two hours.

Alex planned the weekend. He was excited to do so because he had accumulated points via his credit card and could get us a hotel room for free. The only hotel that qualified for the points in the Coyoacan area was the Holiday Inn.  Alex told me Holiday Inns are nice in Mexico and anyway, the hotel didn't matter because we planned on spending most of our time in the historic center of the town. As long as we could walk into town, we'd be happy anywhere.

The Holiday Inn looked nice enough but things turned odd when the bellhop used the key given to us to enter our room and we walked in to find somebody else's belongings all over the place. Lucien was like,"this room comes with a lot of stuff" and then the realization dawned we were standing in the middle of someone else's room. We all turned and hightailed it out of there fast as we could. Thankfully the person whose room it was was not there -- or perhaps he'd heard us entering his room and was hiding behind the curtains with a sharp stick prepared to defend himself.

The bellhop stammered an apology and ran downstairs to straighten out the room situation. He returned and took us to a different floor. We entered that room and thought, "whoa, this is a really big room!" but soon realized it was because it was the handicapped accessible room and was meant to fit many wheelchairs. There was a large handicapped-friendly potty chair thing installed over the toilet, which I never did figure out, and the sinks were so low you ended up with a backache just for attempting a freshly scrubbed face.

Fine, the room was a little oddly sized for us and sure, we almost walked in on some other dude in the comfort of his own room but who cares as long as we could get into town.  Alex asked the person at the desk for the nicest walk route to the main square and the guy looked at him like he was crazy. You can't walk into Coyoacan from the Holiday Inn. You have to take a taxi and it's at least a fifteen minute ride.

Alex didn't make eye contact with me after that, just kind of repeated "but it was free but it was free but it was free" like a little mantra then said with a forced cheer, "OK, kids, let's go grab a taxi and get some food before your mother kills me."


Mariachi dinner
they were so loud we could not hear ourselves think.

Coyoacan, as always, is insanely charming. The best way to spend your time is to wander the Calle Francisco Sosa, a street full of historic old colonial homes. The sidewalk is so uneven it sometimes feels like climbing small rocky loose-tiled hills but it's worth the effort if you can survive the terrain. Aside -- I feel sad for those who need handicapped accessible hotel rooms at the Holiday Inn near Coyoacan because nobody in a wheelchair can come close to navigating most of those streets.


Calle Francisco Sosa

Alex has a co-worker, Eduardo, who lives in Coyoacan and after meeting for lunch, he and his wife invited us back to their house for tequila and coffee. Their house is one of the more unique homes we've visited and we were immediately informed by our children that our own house is "really boring."


there's a tree in their interior living space



and a hammock indoors
The Loosh is sneaking up the back stairs to the "playground..."



...said "playground" is the glass roof of the living room.


This is the slide they have on their roof.
We can't win.
Our house is indeed boring.

Our kids and Eduardo's kids acted just like kids, chasing each other around the house and laughing maniacally even though they speak zero languages in common. I wish I could run around and play tag with all the people I've met here with whom I cannot even remotely converse.  It would take so much pressure off the situation. "You're it, Senor Scowly!" *takes off running and laughing down the street*


I wish I could play with Senor Scowly, carefree,
on a set of aerial silks in the living room.

The next day our family visited the Leon Trotsky Museum, which is located in the home where Trotsky lived after being granted political asylum in Mexico. I wasn't very interested in the museum before we went but by the time we left I was on fire with the Bolsheviks and Stalin and Marxism and KGB assassinations. My favorite museums are the ones located directly where the history happened, or directly where historical figures lived.  I loved Frida's house for that very reason; you get to know people better when you're walking through their living spaces.

The same went for Trotsky. I got to know him better when walking through the heavily fortified iron doors of his bedroom and seeing where he was sitting in his study when he got an ice pick to the head. I understood how very afraid he was for his life, and also learned that when Stalin wanted you dead, didn't matter where you were, you got dead.


Trotsky's house, all windows and doors bricked up and a guard tower for his security.
It didn't work for long.


The study where Trotsky was sitting when he was assassinated.



Coco being very unnerved by the heavy iron doors to Trotsky's bedroom.
You don't come to Trotsky's house to have fun, little girl.



Pretty house, though, guard tower and all.



Lucien and Coco sit in the garden outside the guards' house and contemplate Marxism.


Paulina just placed a stack of our underwear on the ironing board.
The woman is out of control,
MJ