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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tamales, Mines, Museums, and Tequila

When I last left off I had just visited the Hospital de Plaza Mayor. Shortly after that, I had arranged to meet with Pedro, another Guanajuatense Couchsurfer. Pedro had a car! He also brought a friend of his along, and the two of them brought me to this amazing and famous restaurant which no tourists go to, called Tamales Purepecha.

I have no idea exactly how we got there, but one of my Spanish teachers, Vicente, confirmed the next day that it was the best place in Guanajuato for traditional food. They had all types of tamales, I had the one with strawberry in it which was very very good, and then a quesadilla con flor de calabaza (with squash flowers in it). To polish that off, we had champurrado, which is like a hot chocolate drink with atole in it (a corn based porridgy thing that gives it texture). Ultra yum. And no tourists sighted. And though Pedro speaks English, his friend did not, so the entire night was spent speaking in Spanish only, which was great practice. He insisted on treating me to dinner, and then took me on a lovely driving tour of parts of the city that are more uphill that would have been quite difficult for me to get to on my own, including the beautiful Paseo de la Presa neighborhood, and something that closely resembled a castle but which was a hotel, and all the ambassador´s homes. It was really super nice of him and an experience that none of the other students at my school had had.  :)

I have spent almost no time alone; the other students at the school have been so friendly that I have done all kinds of stuff with them. The next day after school I had a private medical Spanish tutoring lesson with Carolina who was the mother of one of my teachers at the school, and she taught me some stuff I didn´t know which included "me hace un corraje" which is used to signify that getting upset and/or angry has no doubt caused some GI distress. Then I was supposed to go on a tranvía (tram) tour with some other students which didn´t actually happen as the tourist office here is fairly lame. Andres and Susan and I ended up going to the Mercado Hidalgo instead (the lovely old market here which sells foods and a few souvenir items) and eating some tostadas de camarón plus some cerveza Victoria.

Walking back later with Susan, we came across a complete obstruction of the pedestrian mall -- blocked by a huge dance festival which was in preparation for some other festival/celebration!  I got a great spot to stand and watched amazingly costumed groups of dancers representing many of the different states of Mexico. I got some great photos and even shot some video!

After I parted ways with Susan, I bumped into Andres and Craig again, eating at a wonderfully divy shrimp taco place, with coconut-shrimp tacos, so I sat down again with them and tried one which was terrific.  We ended up buying some sort of random ??lottery tickets/fundraisers from some cute school children.

Friday was my last day of language school. Very sad because I loved my teachers and the other students in my very small classes. I traded email addresses with most of them and in my culture class we played the Mexican version of Trivial Pursuit which is called Maratón.

I was very impressed with myself because I got an answer right that involved knowing which Mexican woman had fostered the Revolution in her own home -- which I only knew because she was from Queretaro and there is a street there named after her! She is nicknamed La Corregidora. Anyway, Michael and I came from behind to win the game! We named our team Los Quejumbrosos (The Whiners), and prevailed against Los Mucosos (The Snot-Noses) and Los Tardios (The Latecomers). Victory never tasted so sweet!

After school, a few of us went out to El Midi, the South of France restaurant, for lunch. They had a great plum tart for dessert, after some lovely quiches which included almonds and squash in them... Then we went on a school trip which had been organized to La Valenciana mine and the nearby church as well. This was a mine that used to operate, largely silver which is what made all of Guanajuato state so wealthy, and we were able to climb down into it with hard hats. It was hard to breathe in there! And they had used slave labor hundreds of years back. No wonder why -- not sure anyone would voluntarily work in a place where they were likely to develop silicosis (which by the way is the same word in Spanish) and had to carry 100 kg weights. The church was apparently spectacular, but after I spend a few minutes in one, that´s kinda enough.

After that about 10 of us went to dinner at El Abue (the only restaurant in Guanajuato written up in the New York Times!) and then to see the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra perform at Teatro Principal.  El Abue was lovely, with inexpensive yet delicious glasses of white wine, and they were willing to serve me half an order of chiles en nogada (a chile pepper stuffed with meat, spices, raisins, nuts, and other fabulous things). The orchestra was amazing as well, there were at least 60 performers in it, they performed Mozart among some other pieces, and we got plum seats! Not bad for about $6.50 USD!!!

After that there was some more wine and lovely conversation with one of my language school friends.  Got up this morning and labelled all of my house mother's Indian spices brought back from India by her clothing-designer daughter who forgot to translate them from English to Spanish! We had a nice breakfast, the whiny and neurotic gluten-insensitive other boarder was not there because she had gone to see the butterflies which may or may not have still been in Michoacan, and then I went to meet up with Stephen and Silvia for some museum-hopping.

First stop: Museo de Diego Rivera. That´s right, this famous painter was born in Guanajuato and lived in this very house till age 6 -- which in Spanish they called "the crucial time of his personality development". So it is now a museum, furnished with the furniture of the times (he was born in the 1880s). Upstairs there are about 100 of his works. I was familiar with his best-known muralist style that he's famous for but hadn't realized that in the 1900s and 1910s he went through many other styles, including cubism and a series depicting old prehispanic gods which we decided must have extensive symbolism that we were not hip to, so we decided to make up stories that described these pieces satisfactorily and had a grand old time:) This museum also had some great modern exhibits on display as well.

Next we found ourselves in a very cool gift shop called El Viejo Zaguán -- all kinds of artsy stuff and a cafe and then I realized the CD they were playing in the shop sounded sooo familiar -- it was the Idan Raichel Project, an Israeli band that can be best described as world fusion with an Ethiopian lead singer but most of the songs are in Hebrew. Funny finding that in Mexico! I told the shop owner that they had performed in SF a few years ago and he told me that they had also been at the Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato 3 years ago along with other bands from all over the world! Very nifty! The world continues to shrink majorly.

After being revived by a Cafe Mexicano, we moved on to the Alhóndiga Museum -- featuring interesting prehispanic stamps with designs, and a lot of Mexican history, and some very very disturbing murals. So much of Mexican history has to do with the plundering and acquisitions of the Spanish, the maltreatment of the indígenas, and the major revolution that occurred. The building that the Alhóndiga museum is in was an old granary, and on the four corners were hung the cut-off heads of the rebels to serve as a warning to the people... Luckily things are a lot calmer now.

After this, Stephen and Silvia went out for lunch and I went home because it was my last chance to eat with my family. Unfortunately they were finished eating and the Señora was just about to pack up the leftovers, so I missed the rest of the family, but she made me a delicious lunch from the leftovers and we chatted for a while. We discussed for a little while how crazy and neurotic the other boarder was and how she wanted my host mother to solve all of her dramatic problems which she had expounded at on great length in English while Guadalupe understands Spanish only. She had gone totally far out of her way to try to respect this boarder's nutsy gluten-free, sugar-free, salt-free, spice-free neediness without so much as a thank you. I told her she probably needn't have tried so hard and that people like this forget that the world does not revolve around them. We then took some photos together and then she showed me the designer daughter's studio, which was filled with stunning one of a kind pieces, dresses she had created from Indian silk, etc. That was a special treat!

From there it was on to see the inside of the famous Teatro Juarez. Very interesting and fancy -- it was funded by the dictator Porfirio Diaz at the turn of the century and had some over the top smoking lounges (for the men) and hair-combing lounges (for the ladies)!

I then met up again with Silvia, Stephen, Michael, and Angel and we went out to Truco 7 for dinner and had a yummy dinner of all sorts of appetizers which we shared, plus a bottle of tequila Michael and Angel had gone out and bought which we passed around the table under the nonwatchful eyes of the people who run the place -- totally the sort of thing teenagers would do ;) But I think we ordered enough stuff from them to keep them happy as well...

We had so much fun together I really am sorry to be leaving this place!!! Sadly I've got to get up early to get on two buses to Mexico City and then 3 planes home. Bleh! However, I think I am likely to survive, as I always do. I feel supremely privileged to have been able to plan all this last-minute, have it work out so damn well, have a fabulous host family, a perfect location, beyond-perfect weather, improved Spanish abilities, and new friends :)

Hasta pronto!!

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