Random blogging

When I started “blogging,” some seven or eight years ago, like any new toy, I played with it to total distraction; also like a toy, I wore it out from overuse. It, blogging, seems a terribly self-indulgent activity, don’t you think? With the exception of writers (and others) who use blogging for restrictive and distinctive purposes — political journalism, for example, or to share one’s particular hobby or pastime with like-minded others — the rest of it seems like a written form of Selfies. Me! Read me! Look at me! Feel me! Let’s share me! We ought to be embarrassed. I often am.

For quite a while now, I have used this blog to post photographs that interested me, of places that interested me, and maybe a little of bit of “look where I went.”

Like this:

The place on the upper right side

The place on the upper right side

The street

The street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We leave Mexico in less than three weeks, and after a lengthy holiday in the States, will move to Rome. Our apartment is in the west bank of the Tiber neighborhood of Trastevere, once the Bohemian quarter of Rome, but has lately been discovered. It is on this street, in the building on the right side of the street, near the end, with some greenery on the roof. Don’t you envy me? That’s what Selfie blogs are trying to get.

I’ve been thinking I should have a photo web site, and drop the pretense of this kind of thing, this pseudo literary blogging thing. I have noticed in the statistical page for this blog that to a great extent most of the readers who find this blog have Googled something about Buenos Aires or Mexico. An extraordinary and unusual number found it by Googling something to do with rain: rainy street, rainy day, etc. Because once a long time ago I wrote a post about how I was spending a rainy day (in a café, of course), decorated with a nice oil painting of a street market in the rain. Probably a dozen times a week someone comes to this blog because of that post. Yet most arrive looking for something about Buenos Aires, Patagonia, Argentina, Mexico City, Yucatan, Berlin, Slovakia, and the like.

So maybe I will come up with some sort of photo-based place blog. It would be less self-indulgent, at least.

If so, I’ll put a mention of it here.

Then we went to San Miguel & Guanajuato

San Miguel and laundry

San Miguel and laundry

Last week we traveled by bus (a rather luxurious one at that) from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende, about four hours, the “we” being Holly and me and our long-time foreign service friend Dick, who is presently posted in Washington. We stayed three days, then bused over hill and dale to Guanajuato; both towns are world heritage sites. It was our second time in San Miguel; previously we were there in February and it was really, really cold. This time is was really, really rainy, but not cold. We also visited with another old friend, the writer Sandra Cisneros (House on Mango Street, et. al.), who has been living in San Miguel the past year or so. Sandra and I were both at Iowa, but a year apart, and quite a long time ago.

Photos will be blown up full-size by clicking on them.

Holly on the patio of our room at the B&B Casa Calderoni -- where all the rooms are named after painters. We had the Gauguin room.

Holly on the patio of our room at the B&B Casa Calderoni — where all the rooms are named after painters. We had the Gauguin room.

and had a fine Italian supper with Sandra, and a great view. See next.

and had a fine Italian supper with Sandra, and a great view. See next.

 

the view from our table

the view from our table

This must be the house where Jesus lived when he was 17.

This must be the house where Jesus lived when he was 17.

Dick & Holly on the bus, one of the rare moments they weren't both doing the Blackberry tango.

Dick & Holly on the bus, one of the rare moments they weren’t both doing the Blackberry tango.

View looking down onto the center of Guanajuato. That cheese wedge patch of green in the center is the Zocalo, or El Jardin, the tiniest promenade I've ever seen, and the most European.

View looking down onto the center of Guanajuato. That cheese wedge patch of green in the center is the Zocalo, or El Jardin, the tiniest promenade I’ve ever seen, and the most European.

Dick and Holly at the overlook.

Dick and Holly at the overlook.

A hot game of dominoes.

A hot game of dominoes.

This worker's partner, who had just walked away carrying two of these stones on his back, with a cigarette dangling from his lips, was probably near 70 years old. I am near 70 years old and couldn't even lift one of these stones an inch off the ground. A tale of two lives.

This worker’s partner, who had just walked away carrying two of these stones on his back, with a cigarette dangling from his lips, was probably near 70 years old. I am near 70 years old and couldn’t even lift one of these stones an inch off the ground. A tale of two lives.

Laundry day in Guanajuato

Laundry day in Guanajuato

Another overview of the center of Guanajuato, using a camera app that imitates film from the Sixties.

Another overview of the center of Guanajuato, using a camera app that imitates film from the Sixties, the way pictures are supposed to look.

This was the last holiday trip we will take while living in Mexico City. We leave at the end of July; first a month of home leave in Boulder, Colorado, then two months of this and that in Washington, before continuing to our next post — Rome. We should be there toward the end of October.

My plan (and hope) was to finish the novel I’ve been working on for the past two years, Erasing Rose, before leaving Mexico, but now I think that won’t happen. I thought the end was close, but it is not … it is far, far away. But then, what difference does it make? It’s not like I have a deadline (if advancing age doesn’t count as a deadline), or any publisher wanting it. Those days are over for me, but I admit it was a good run while it lasted. If I do finish this story, it will become my 11th novel.

When I was twelve years old, in a car with my mother driving me to school, she had asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. Without hesitation, I said I would be a writer … like Hemingway, some of whose stories I had read in magazines. Imagine the impact of Hemingway stories on a ten year old boy. That was now almost sixty years ago. My first novel (One Easy Piece / Coward-McCann) was published in 1982, when I was thirty-seven years old; I wasn’t ready much before that. It seemed to me that if I was to write “what you know,” it would help to know something first. So, although I was writing essentially everyday from my teenage years, it was just warming up, practicing the elements of craft … but mostly it was living: the Army, the vagabonding, working as a diver, then as captain of a charter fishing boat, then the years spent academically learning how to think (that’s why I worked my way through two degrees in philosophy — the only one of the intellectual disciplines with the sole purpose of learning how to think), writing three total failures while marrying and having children, trying to be a good person when it was so easy and compelling to be a bad one … then I was ready. More or less.

 

In days of yore

What is yore, anyway?

Doing computer housekeeping today, cleaning out an abundance of photos, putting them on a storage desk; I need to store about 10,000 photos somewhere, because they are bogging down the iPhoto program. Not making much progress because some photos have me drifting off on a nostalgia wave. Here some of those are.

With my climbing buddy, Laura (in purple), 1992

This would have been in the spring of 1993, in Paris, with my climbing buddy, Laura, on our way down to Sintra, Portugal to scamper up a rock or two. George Whitman, who owned the place, took us up the little spiral stairs to show me where I could stay for a while, if I wanted, long as I was working on a book.

 

At the office of the Czechoslovak writers club, 1989, Prague.

At the office of the Czechoslovak writers club, 1989, Prague.

Speaking of Prague, 1989, here I am with a group of Russian soldiers, about a month before the fall of the Wall.

Speaking of Prague, 1989, here I am with a group of Russian soldiers, about a month before the fall of the Wall.

Continuing with the subject of Communists, this is in front of the empty, burned out US Embassy in Saigon, summer of 1993.

Continuing with the subject of Communists, this is in front of the empty, burned out US Embassy in Saigon, summer of 1993. My favorite shirt of all time! Got it in Bali.

Inside the tunnel complex near Cu Chi, Vietnam. 1993.

Inside the tunnel complex near Cu Chi, Vietnam. 1993.

In the imperial summer palace of the last emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, near Da Lat in the Central Highlands.

In the imperial summer palace of the last emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, near Da Lat in the Central Highlands.

Waiting for the breakfast delivery at Poppies, Bali. This cottage, which was larger than some apartments I've lived in, with breakfast included, costs about $25 a night -- in those days of yore.

Waiting for the breakfast delivery at Poppies, Bali. This cottage, which was larger than some apartments I’ve lived in, with breakfast included, costs about $25 a night — in those days of yore.

In the category of things I used to do and cannot do anymore …

Running half marathons. At this point, through Balboa Park in San Diego. 1986, I think.

Running half marathons. At this point, through Balboa Park in San Diego. 1986, I think.

Scamper up and down rock walls. This one near Pajstun, Slovakia, around 1990 or 91.

Scamper up and down rock walls. This one near Pajstun, Slovakia, around 1990 or 91.

Running a charter big game fishing boat, which I did out of Kona, Hawaii, in 1970.

Running a charter big game fishing boat, which I did out of Kona, Hawaii, in 1970. Oh, yes, I also had some pretty nice blond hair in those days.

Blue water sailing. This shot is heading out of San Diego -- Point Loma in the background. 1983.

Blue water sailing. This shot is heading out of San Diego — Point Loma in the background. 1983. The boat is a Westsail 32 staysail sloop.

I lived in Coronado, California between 1983 and 1991. I finished my second and wrote three more novels there.

I wrote four novels on this typewriter in this room in a tiny bungalow on 4th Street in Coronado, during the 80s. The beer and tequila and full ashtray helped.

I wrote four novels on this typewriter in this room in a tiny bungalow on 4th Street in Coronado, during the 80s. The beer and tequila and full ashtray helped.

Having a whisky at the end of the work day with my old friend, the novelist, Ken Kuhlken. 1984. Coronado.

Having a whisky at the end of the work day with my old friend, the novelist, Ken Kuhlken. 1984. Coronado.

My wife, Holly, has dragged me (sometimes under great duress) all around the world — literally. Most of the time I’d just as soon stay wherever I am and write — novelists often have more vivid mental lives than physical ones. But she wouldn’t hear of it, so around the world we went, and around again. I don’t even know how many countries we’ve spent some time in (not counting ones we only passed through for a few days): twenty, thirty, forty? Here are a few of my favorites. (Slovakia, which is my favorite country on the planet, is not here, because it feels more like home than a place I’ve traveled to.)

At the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, about as literary a place as one can get in that part of the world.

At the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, about as literary a place as one can get in that part of the world.

The train station, Saigon. Best food I ate in Asia was in Vietnam. And some of the most beautiful, classy women.

The train station, Saigon. Best food I ate in Asia was in Vietnam. And some of the most beautiful, classy women.

My temple outfit. In rural Bali. You had to cover your legs, so this was my ensemble. Love the color contrast. Oh, you also can't go in if you're menstruating, but that wasn't an issue for me.

My temple outfit. In rural Bali. You had to cover your legs, so this was my ensemble. Love the color contrast. Oh, you also can’t go in if you’re menstruating, but that wasn’t an issue for me.

Finally, some random pictures that induced significant waves of nostalgia.

Hussong's infamous cantina in Ensenada, Baja, Mexico. This must have been 1985 or 86.

Hussong’s infamous cantina in Ensenada, Baja, Mexico. This must have been 1985 or 86. That’s my exceptionally gorgeous wife to my right.

On the Grand Canal, Venice. I think this was 1989.

On the Grand Canal, Venice. I think this was 1989.

With Holly, overlooking Portofino, Italy. 1989.

With Holly, overlooking Portofino, Italy. 1989.

Overlooking the rocky beach at Nice, France. I forgot when. Late 80s.

Overlooking the rocky beach at Nice, France. I forgot when. Late 80s.

Sweating my ass off after a jungle hike on the windward side of Oahu. Maybe 1986 or 87.

Sweating my ass off after a jungle hike on the windward side of Oahu. Maybe 1986 or 87.

In downtown Murten, Switzerland. My wife's namesake town.

In downtown Murten, Switzerland. My wife’s namesake town.

I will be 70 years old next year, so figure I have only about another 30 or so years of life left. Where to next? What to write next? Who to meet? Only 30 more years! I need three times that. But it will be hard to compete with the last 70.

Edo’s Shangri-la

Today, 15 April, is the second birthday since my friend Edo transformed his substance into pure energy, leaving behind we substance-burdened, earth-bound creatures to wait our turn. We miss him as we wait. Edo was a fan of Mark Knopfler’s music, and especially liked this song: Shangri-La. Which, as much as any other place, is where he is now. Happy Birthday, Edo.

 

Blogging loses its flavor

Like chewing gum left on the bedpost overnight, blogging just isn’t the same in the morning, especially if the night has lasted damn near ten years! I suppose this is also true about most things you get used to, which could be a good argument to avoid getting used to things that are actually important, like, say, your marriage. Although I cannot make much of a case that blogging is important in that way. But let’s blog again anyway. This one congealing a pot of thoughts on our time in Mexico City, and the leaving of same.

Landing at Mexico City International Airport. That is not a dirty video screen, that is the air.

Landing at Mexico City International Airport. That is not a dirty video screen, that is the air.

I have lived in Mexico City for the past 20 months, and am scheduled to leave (for Rome — yippee!) in less than four months. I was more or less happy to come here (after 3 ½ years in Buenos Aires) mainly for the food and the air travel proximity to places I go in the States from time to time. Proximity remains quite nice. Food? How could this happen? I am finished with Mexican food (although not quite yet the beer and tequila), and I hope to never see or have to eat another taco of any kind again. Ditto guacamole. I can’t even look at guacamole, much less eat it. Oh, and double ditto for Nopale cactus. The only way one should ingest a cactus is in liquid form (with or without a dead worm).

Huevos divorciados -- divorced eggs. I used to like this, but now I can barely look at it.

Huevos divorciados — divorced eggs. I used to like this, but now I can barely look at it.

The air is filthy most of the time, and with lungs working overtime trying to get an oxygen dose at 8K+ feet altitude, being able to taste and feel the air going down the throat is not pleasant. That’s in DF, of course. It might not be so bad in small places or coastal places. But then, it is in Mexico City I live. Yes, long-timers are quick to point out how much better the air is than 10, or 15, or 20 years ago. But it is what it is, not what it was.

Downtown Mexico City seen from the hill of the Basilica de Guadalupe.

Downtown Mexico City seen from the hill of the Basilica de Guadalupe.

 

I am more often asked about crime. Crime is not much of a problem in Mexico City, at least not in the areas where I live or wander. Fact is, crime rates are far higher in a dozen major US cities than in Mexico City. I am not effected by crime here, so it is not something to like or dislike. You are safer in Mexico City, by far, than in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh, and way safer than in crime-ridden Washington, DC.

You know, but that’s about all I really don’t like about Mexico City. The list of what I do like (some of which I am certainly going to miss) is much longer.

Weather. Mexico City has the most consistently fine weather of any place I’ve ever lived, and I’ve lived in lots and lots of places. Including San Diego, which claims to have the best weather in the continental US. It gets pretty damn cold in San Diego in the winter. It does not ever get anywhere near what I call cold here. It does not snow, there is no ice. From time to time I have worn a leather jacket. It also does not get hot. A really hot day here, mid-summer, might climb to the mid-to-upper 80s. I have not experienced it ever hitting 90 here.  Basically, it is more or  less an eternal spring. Weather here means the times when it rains most evenings and the times when it doesn’t rain at all. I am really going to miss that.

One of the best bookstore/cafes I have ever seen is here, not too far from where I live. It is called El Péndulo, and is one of a small chain of three in the city. Because I do most of my writing in cafes, finding this one dramatically enhanced my work day. I do not think El Péndulo is replaceable and I am going to miss is mightily.

El Péndulo outside (the one in Polanco)

El Péndulo outside (the one in Polanco)

 

El Péndulo inside, view from the table where I usually sit.

El Péndulo inside, view from the table where I usually sit.

Having this cafe has made Mexico City good for my writing. I started a novel here — it is called “Erasing Rose” — which I hope to finish the first draft of before we leave in a few months, that portends to be pretty damn good. I am an environmentally-affected writer, and what surrounds me when I work can often determine whether I can work at all. I almost never work at home, regardless of how fine the office space, and the one I have here is pretty nice. I can do non-creative work at home, like editing or rearranging things, or playing with fonts, things like that, but I almost never create from fresh at home. Most of that work is, and always has been, done in cafes.

Well, that’s enough. It’s lunch time … oh, that reminds me of something else I don’t like about Mexico — lunch time. Most restaurants here either do not open until 1:30 (and will be empty for at least an hour after that), or if they are open, serve breakfast until 1:30 before switching to lunch. I wake up early, usually around six o’clock, and eat breakfast then. By noon, I’m hungry. Here I have almost no choice but to have a second breakfast or wait until after 1:30 to get lunch, by which time I feel at the door of death by starvation. The few places where I can get lunch — especially at the brand new deli (called Deli & Vine) just up the street, which has lunch from Noon on — are where I eat 90% of the time. Not to mention being able to get a Ruben or a Pastrami on Rye, or brisket, instead of another fucking fish taco.

 

Mayan residue

A small section of Tulum

A small section of Tulum

While being  beach people along what is dumbly referred to as “The Mayan Riviera,” (see previous post), we spent one day visiting two ancient Mayan sites: Tulum and Coba. While not as famous as Chichen Itza, that works in their favor — fewer tourists (although not much fewer), and more direct accessibility. We booked a mini-tour out of Puerto Morelos, a van carrying 12 passengers, and drove south through a string of Las Vegas resorts (Mexican version), then along narrower roads where the ubiquitous vendors waited to pounce, and then a short walk into the city ruins. Tulum is a little more developed and a little more intact than Coba, which made Coba the more interesting.

The road winding through the ancient city of Coba. The distances are long, but a fleet of bicycle "taxis" wait near the entrance if you prefer not to spend all your time on foot.

The road winding through the ancient city of Coba. The distances are long, but a fleet of bicycle “taxis” wait near the entrance if you prefer not to spend all your time on foot. This is one section of the “Mayan Road,” which ran about 100 km west to near Chichen Itza.

Following is a series of photographs taken from Tulum and Coba, mid-January, 2014. Any photo can be enlarged by clicking on it.

 

Bicycle taxi in Coba

Bicycle taxi in Coba

Football pitch

Football pitch

You can also walk or run the road through Coba. You can ... I like the bike.

You can also walk or run the road through Coba. You can … I like the bike.

You can climb to the top of one of the Coba pyramids.

You can climb to the top of one of the Coba pyramids. This one is said to be the highest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan.

Getting down is way spookier than climbing up.

Getting down is way spookier than climbing up.

 

Queen of the Mayan world.

Queen of the Mayan world. Some 50,000 people lived in Coba during its prime: 600 to 900 CE.

 

Coba ruin

Coba ruin. Coba was abandoned in the mid-16th century, when the Spaniards conquered the peninsula. 

Football goal, don't know if they really used human heads for the ball.

Football goal, don’t know if they really used human heads for the ball.

The rock is sandstone, which doesn't weather all that well. This roof keeps rain of a carving.

The rock is sandstone, which doesn’t weather all that well. This roof keeps rain of a carving.

 

Tulum's claim to fame is a spectacular setting on the coast.

Tulum’s claim to fame is a spectacular setting on the coast. Its prime came  between 1200 & 1500 CE, so it is newer than Coba. Tulum means wall in Mayan.

 

Tulum and the Caribbean

Tulum and the Caribbean. The beach below the cliff is popular for swimming and snorkeling.

The modern Mayan

The modern Mayan

 

Along the coastal trail below the Tulum cliffs.

Along the coastal trail below the Tulum cliffs.

Tulum palace

Tulum palace

 

Tulum house

Tulum house

 

Entrance

Entrance

 

House with a view

House with a view

 

Popular with tourists

Popular with tourists. If you go, try to get there well before 11 a.m., because that’s when the fleets of tour buses arrive.

 

 

 

So we went to the sea

The view from the veranda of the condo we rented.

The view from the veranda of the condo we rented. The dock belongs to the UNAM fisheries research station that was next door.

It’s not that life is all that hard (for us) in Mexico City, but some of its consistencies do become tiring. So we took eight days in January and went to the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, to Puerto Morelos specifically. I made the odd discovery that I don’t always need a café for creative stimulation; when I was not simply staring at the view above, I found that my brain filled with ideas, and I came up with a grand solution to the problem in my current work, called “Erasing Rose,” that allowed me to finally move ahead from where I was stalled for a long time. Maybe relaxing is a good idea, although it is not one of my habits.

Puerto Morelos is a very small fishing village (with some tourists — most of whom seemed to be Mexicans from the area), on the coast a ways south of Cancun and a ways north of Playa del Carmen, both of which are far from being fishing villages these days and are packed to overflowing with tourists; maybe only tourists. We rented a nice condo — four levels with an apartment on each level, and we were on the bottom so could walk right out the door and onto that pure white flour-like sand. (If you’re interested in how to find such a beach condo in Puerto Morelos, we found this one on a website called Vrbo.)

This is the condo seen from the water's edge; we were on the bottom.

This is the condo seen from the water’s edge; we were on the bottom.

We chose it partly because it was not in the village, and also the price was right (half or more of a hotel room, and we had three bedrooms and two baths). It was two kilometers north of the village center. We did not rent a car, so to get to the village with its restaurants and food shopping opportunities, we walked the beach. It took about 20-25 minutes, and the soft sand was fine exercise, although using new muscles required a masssage. Being away from the village and the big resorts — one of them for swinging nudists, and that was quite a show during our walks — it was quiet. The only sound we ever heard at night was the distant crashing of the surf a hundred meters or so off the shoreline, where it broke on the reef, the same reef so popular with divers in Belize to the south.

The white line at the horizon is the reef. Waves at the shoreline were more like water lapping at the edge of a lake.

The white line at the horizon is the reef. Waves at the shoreline were more like water lapping at the edge of a lake. Snorkeling trips to the reef were a popular activity.

Like this all the way from the veranda to the shoreline.

Like this all the way from the veranda to the shoreline.

Following are a few more photos from the holiday.

A beached whale trapped in the sand in front of the nudie sex resort, which I've forgotten the name of.

A beached whale trapped in the sand in front of the nudie sex resort, which I’ve forgotten the name of. A sign on the lifeguard tower warned against “sexual intercourse” on the beach there.

Sunburned buns ... ouch!

Sunburned buns … ouch!

Skin to die for, as they say.

Skin tone to die for, as they say.

On the walk along the beach into Puerto Morelos, ahead.

On the walk along the beach into Puerto Morelos, ahead. The day we arrived, just after a storm. That’s me in the cool hat.

The only "supermarket" in town, but it covered the necessities for a holiday.

The only “supermarket” in town, but it covered the necessities for a holiday, including a decent selection of wine.

 

Harp? On the beach? At least it wasn't more mariachis.

Harp? On the beach? At least it wasn’t more mariachis.

 

Wasting away again in you know where.

Wasting away again in you know where.

It has long been my notion that all living species -- fish, fowl, and animal -- are usually more humane than humans. Here, an albatross maintains guard over a suck or injured friend or mate, and you better not get too close.

It has long been my notion that all living species — fish, fowl, and animal — are usually more humane than humans. Here, an albatross maintains guard over a sick or injured friend or mate, and you better not get too close.

Sunrise, the last morning, seen from our veranda.

Sunrise, the last morning, seen from our veranda.

And here’s an interesting titbit to close with. We took Interjet back to Mexico City from the Cancun airport — and Interjet is now our favorite Mexican airline — and one of the new features of this aircraft was outside video, showing the view from the cockpit. So we got to see what takeoff looked like from the pilot’s POV (it’s way fast), and then the approach into Mexico City. Here is what it looks like on final approach into Mexico City, from the pilot’s POV.

The final approach into the Mexico City International Airport. That's smog, not a dirty video screen.

The final approach into the Mexico City International Airport. That’s smog, not a dirty video screen.

During this trip, we also visited to ancient Mayan sites: Cobu and Tulum. I’ll put up a few photos of that in a future post. Hope you enjoyed the show.

A holiday at home

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Home. Heimat. Domov. Hogar. Maison. Hem. Huis. Where is your home? A difficult, if not impossible, question for perpetual vagabonds. I usually say simply that it’s where my stuff is. So right now my hogar is in Mexico City. Before that, my hogar was Buenos Aires. Before that, my home was Georgetown. Before that, my heimat was Berlin. Before that, my huis was South Africa. Before that, my domov was Slovakia.

I was born and grew through the childhood years in the small southern Arkansas town of Magnolia, and left there never to return at the age of seventeen. After that, I lived all over the place for short periods of time. The longest any of these places could be called home was eight years in Coronado, California. Second place on the longevity scale are the seven years in Slovakia. Then comes about four and a half years in Berlin. Then almost four years in Buenos Aires. Possibly the next casa will be in Rome.

With a vagabond history like that, I suppose one ought to be able to pick a favorite and claim that piece of earth as home. So, I choose Bratislava, Slovakia.

I have no rational explanation for this. In the same way friends can look askance at one’s choice of a lover or a mate and whisper, “What does he see in her?” “He could have done so much better, look at the choices he had.” But you’re in love, and has anyone, from the poets to the philosophers, ever explained love? The emotion of love is as close as it gets to making any sense of the human need to create gods — reason falls mute in the face of feeling. Passion always outweighs reason; passion has won every battle it has ever had with reason, and always will. A passionate life may lead one into tragedy, but it is all that makes life vital. Who would want to live without it in his life?

For sixteen days this month, my wife and i returned to Bratislava to visit friends and, importantly, to take a European break after some six years living in Latin America. (It took two days before I got over the fear of drinking water from the tap and the joy of not rinsing fruits and vegetables in a mild Clorox solution. What a simple thrill to rinse my mouth from the tap after brushing my teeth.)

I was a university professor during our years in Slovakia, and during those seven years had probably a thousand students pass through my classrooms. Over the years since, I have become personally close to some of them. One of the best parts of this trip was seeing how they looked in their 30s instead of late teens, what professions they entered, who they married, who they divorced, children or not. I met most of them where we used to meet when I was their teacher — the pub.

We stayed in the home of our oldest friends — not only oldest Slovak friends, but oldest friends period. They have and are having a tragic year, and we wanted to make our love and our presence known in this time. That is the fundamental reason we chose Slovakia for this annual holiday. Sometimes what you need to do is just be there.

So much for the preamble. The rambling preamble, at that. Here are some of the pictures.

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With Betty Masek, one of my smartest students, who got married, had babies, living a long time in the States, then returned to live in a house in a small town.

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The anachronistic pub where I spent most days — very fast free WiFi, not to mention a luscious variety of whiskies — and where I met the few ex-students I could find.

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Tomas Beno, who was one of the most creative students I ever taught, with his girlfriend, Tatiana … okay, okay, yes I know, she’s hot!

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Along with Beno and his girlfriend, Tatiana, I’m with the smartest student I ever taught: Diana Urickova, who seems to be abandoning the business world for a life as a sailboat skipper off the Dalmatian Coast.

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Mirka Nacinova, who was my most exciting and at the same time fragile student; now the mother of two, living in Prague, a photographer and screenwriter.

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In the old town, where people have walked these cobbled lanes for nearly a thousand years. There used to be a dingy but interesting bar downstairs from the wall on the right, but it’s gone. At least they didn’t put another McDonalds there.

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The main promenade leading from the coronation church to the National Theater, enjoying one of the most spectacular autumn days one can imagine, or hope for. The buildings on the right side house a number of embassies: German, Czech, and at the end, American.

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By the window in the Julius Meinl Kaffee, where I went when it was coffee I needed more than whisky, watching a couple of girls trying to pick up a pig.

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Besides watching the utterly silly parade of marching tourists passing by, this was another good reason for hanging out at the Julius Meinl Kaffee.

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We did not stay in the city, but in a small village at the western edge, bumped up against the borders with Austria and Hungary. On my daily journey into the old town, on the good old #91 bus, this is the way I walked from the house to the highway to get the bus. It was a deliciously foggy autumn morning when I took this picture.

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Sometimes I got off the bus one stop before the Novy Most (new bridge) and walked across the Danube into the old town. The oldest part of the city is to the left, just out of this picture. The Danube is rarely blue, by the way. Turgid and brown would have made a better title for Strauss.

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One day, walking to the bridge, I noticed this little display where local junkies shoot up. Most interesting to me was the array of homemade needle injectors.

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A study in contrast. In the main square of Bratislava.

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Riding the good old number 91, heading from the village to the stop at Novy Most, which abuts old town. I think I see where I might have picked up the case of flu I came home with.

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“I write because nobody listen.” The writer’s anthem. Although these days, what do you do when nobody reads?

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This made me happy, being the symbolicky stary otec (symbolic grandfather) to this little girl, who lost both her grandfathers this year. Mia gave me the most smiles this holiday.

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With my darling Paula, and reading “Year Zero: 1945″ which appealed to my curiosity, since I was born that year, and wondered if my life began at year zero.

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If we did not suffer, how would we know joy? Dumb ass question. Suffering has no value. I lost my old friend Edo this year, Paula’s husband. I wrote about him in a previous blog post. I finally had a chance to share with him a glass of fine Mexican tequila, and toast our quarter-century of wonderful memories. RIP my old friend.

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My girl. With Michael’s Gate in the background.

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My girl again. Crossing the Danube on the new bridge, with castle hill in the background. Maria Teresa used to ride her horse up and down the stairs in that castle. She was crowned Empress of the Austro-Hungarian empire in St. Martin’s Cathedral, at the foot of this ugly as shit bridge.

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Waiting at the Vienna airport for the sad and long flight back to Mexico.

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Dovidenia, Paula. Stay happy and we’ll see you soon.

Mexico City: a year later

Halfway point of a two-year stay in Mexico City.

Section of the famous Siqueiros mural in Chapultapec Castle

Section of the famous Siqueiros mural in Chapultapec Castle

The aspects of life in Mexico City I liked almost from the beginning, I now like more. The things I disliked about life here, I now dislike less. A certain progress, I suppose. I’m wondering how much of the improvement in my impressions of Mexico City are comparative? I’ve now been to a few other places in central Mexico, including recently, Cuernavaca. It’s a dump. The best thing about Cuernavaca isn’t even in town, it’s a few miles away: the Hotel and Spa Hacienda de Cortes. We didn’t stay there, only went for Sunday Brunch and a walkabout; instead we were ripped off in a $200 a night room in a slum neighborhood that, excepting some nice elements in the facade, managed to barely reach Motel 6 quality. But that’s another story. I was probably dismayed because all I knew about Cuernavaca before came from the 1930s image of the place in Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano,” a brilliant novel.

I’m not getting “gastric distress” as often. I’ve learned to be a little more careful about what and where I eat. Generally that’s a good thing, but on the other hand, all the weight I lost (over 10% of my body weight) the first few months we were here, is now creeping back. The “Mexico Diet” is the only time in my adult life I have been able to lose a substantial amount of weight and, mostly, keep it off.

It’s impossible to avoid hearing and reading about crime and violence here, but I have had, fortunately, no personal experiences of it. I have felt much more threatened on certain streets in Los Angeles than I ever have here. Of course, we live in Polanco, which is something of a bubble compared with much of the rest of the city. I have been through some of these parts of the city — both in a taxi and on a bus — and one gets the hint that, well, you aren’t in Polanco anymore. Statistics may argue with my impressions, but I don’t think Mexico City is any more dangerous a city than Rome or London or New York. Up north … that’s another story altogether, and even residents of Mexico City fear going anywhere near the border with the US. It’s worth remembering that the Mexico/US border is more than 1000 miles from here.

Popocatépetl volcano's plume, from the window of a airplane departing Mexico City the first week of July.

Popocatépetl volcano’s plume, from the window of a airplane departing Mexico City the first week of July.

This volcano is the source of what is the worst of Mexico City’s air pollution. I’m told by long-term residents that the air quality here has dramatically improved in the last decade, and there is ample evidence of the government’s struggle to continue that improvement. There are skyscrapers with facades completely covered with vegetation, some form of plant with enhanced smog-eating properties; city bicycle stands all over the place, almost every few blocks it seems, where you can hop on a bike, ride to wherever, and leave it in a stand there. They’re trying hard.

They may have some success cleaning the air, but getting clean water appears to be hopeless, and I don’t think the government even tries anymore. If Mexico City had water that could be drunk from the taps … the population would double, because more people from around the world would want to live here.

The weather in Mexico City is one of the best parts of living here. It really is eternal Spring. In the rainy season, it rains a lot. In the dry season, it essentially never rains. Regardless, the temperature range is small, and smack dab in the comfort zone for most people. We have a friend from Puerto Vallarta who thinks it’s cold here. I would find PV hot and muggy. Different strokes. During the rainy season, which generally stretches between June and September, it rains at some point, for a while, most days. Actually, most evenings, since the rain seldom starts before late afternoon, and seldom lasts long into the night. During the dry season, October through May, it is rare to see a cloud. I don’t know if these are the official distinctions of the rain and dry seasons, that’s just the months they were during our year here.

One of the imaginative sculpture displays along Mexico City's "main street," Paseo de la Reforma.

One of the imaginative sculpture displays along Mexico City’s “main street,” Paseo de la Reforma. Notice the large sign on the building behind.

What I expected to like most about living in Mexico City — the food — has turned out to be one of the things I like least. I had thought, after more than three years of the bland cuisine of Argentina, I would be in foodie heaven here. Turns out, I actually don’t like most Mexican cuisine. But that’s just me. I have acquaintances who salivate with delight just looking at the word taco.

So, here’s the list. What I like and what I don’t like after one year living in Mexico City:

Likes:

The urban parks. Some of the most beautiful, well-planned, and useful green spaces I have seen in any city in the world. We live beside the largest urban park in the Americas — Chapultapec, and its presence enhances life here enormously.

The weather. Spring and Autumn are my favorite seasons (I could happily skip Summer and Winter forever), and Mexico City skips heat and cold.

The flagrantly friendly people. The people of Mexico City, at least all the ones I’ve encountered, are exceptionally friendly and helpful, particularly with foreigners.

The abundance of cafés and restaurants. You can’t walk a block around here without coming across something to eat or drink.

The ancient culture, which Mexico supports and sustains better than most governments.

The overt support for the arts, the honoring of creative work — poets and writers, painters and sculptures are revered here.

The architectural style of Mexico City appeals to me — the old, not the new. The new look is pathetic.

The vibrant street scene. I am a fan of cities with a lively street life.

The namesake of my favorite local park: Lincoln.

The namesake of my favorite local park: Lincoln.

Dislikes:

You really can’t drink the water.

Often the air is dirty, you can almost taste it sometimes.

Where crime exists, it is usually horribly and unusually vicious.

The traffic is so obscenely stupid that all one can do (as an onlooker, not a participant) is laugh at how ridiculously people drive here.

I’m not a fan of typical Mexican music, especially mariachis. I can live just fine without hearing another trumpet blaring mariachi tune roaring out of a car window.

Okay, it is a bit crowded.

A small part of the center of Mexico City, looking east from the Diana circle in the direction of the Zocalo.

A small part of the center of Mexico City, looking east from the Diana circle in the direction of the Zocalo. Note, this photo was taken at the end of September last year, the transition between the rainy and dry seasons. The air is clearer after a rain.

There it is. The end of my one-year summary of life in Mexico City. I should say, my life in the bubble within Mexico City.

Further Considerations of México City

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico, oldest and largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the Americas.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico, oldest and largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the Americas.

It’s been 10 months since we arrived,  three seasons completed, and into the fourth —  summer, which is the rainy season. Mexico City is not Mexico, as New York City is not the United States. It is its own world, at the head of but distinct from the body of its country. Many of the clichés widely known about this city have a clear basis in reality; many do not. This is what it feels like from the presence of one aging Gringo who has never been much interested in Latin America in the first place, but finds himself living in the premier example of it.

Everyone who’s been here for many years says the pollution levels are diminishing. Maybe so. I haven’t been here for years and have no means of comparison. I just know what it looks like outside right now. It looks like this most days.

Flying in over the part of the city where we live -- Polanco.

Flying in over the part of the city where we live — Polanco.

The air (and the water) are seriously polluted in Mexico City. Apparently great efforts are underway to improve the air (while I think Mexican officials have officially given up ever having clean water), and these efforts should be applauded. Public transportation is expanding and improving on a consistent basis; cheap bicycle rental stands have mushroomed all over the city, often seeming to be on every corner. You see people riding these bicycles all over the place, and even designated bike lanes are starting to appear. I think it is a suicidal act to ride a bicycle in Mexico City’s notorious traffic, among some of the worst drivers in the world, but at least they’re trying. From the balcony of our apartment, which looks out over the eastern edge of the massive Chapultapec Park, I can see airliners on approach to the international airport, close enough to landing that the gear and flaps are down. Early in the morning, before the pollution haze rises, I can make out the logo on the tails, see the colors. By midday, these planes are only a gray movement, and by mid-afternoon, they are a shadow. The following photo of Air Force One approaching Mexico City’s international airport a few weeks ago was taken from my balcony mid-morning. The blue of the sky was gone by then, but at least it was still clear enough to see the plane’s colors.

Air Force One on approach into Mexico City.

Air Force One on approach into Mexico City.

I should digress here and confess that in all my life I have never been much interested in Latin America. I am, at heart, a European. My interests are there. Many people are frankly fascinated with the history, culture, and society of Latin America, and I know such people — they are blatantly in love with Mexico, without also being blind to the problems and faults. I can see the source of this affection, even though I do not share it. I understand it. There is much to love about Mexico. Typically, like people in most places I visit and live, I am constantly asked if I like Mexico and what I like about it. I think it is impolite in the extreme to tell residents of any country that you are not interested in their country and do not especially like it. My standard response to that question in Mexico is: Me gusta mucho México, en especial el tequila, la cerveza, la comida, el clima, y, por supuesto, las mujeres hermosas. That is not untrue. Well, the last category is too rarely encountered. (There are a lot of very short and very fat women wearing very tight clothes here.)

The standard clichés about not drinking the water and staying away from uncooked fruits and vegetables are true. I have come to fully appreciate the typical phrases “Montezuma’s Revenge,” and “The Aztec Two-Step.” In 10 months, I have had “gastric distress” on eight separate occasions, a couple of times lasting longer than a week. Trying to stay within two steps of a toilet for a week is not easy. I take probiotic pills daily. I don’t even rinse my toothbrush in tap water. I have never eaten street food. Yet … . These discomforting experiences have put me off my love of Mexican food. Although, living in Mexico, I have come to understand that the “Mexican food” I loved so much in the States, was not actually Mexican food. The Mexican food I love is the US version; it’s the one I became used to over the years. Actually “real” Mexican cuisine is vastly superior in quality, innovation, and flavor than the TexMex, or CalMex, version I am used to; it is just what I am used to.

There is a great café / bookstore in my neighborhood. I am an aficionado of café culture, and was happy to find it exists here. There are many places in the world, including the United States, where café culture does not exist, certainly not in the European sense. Mine is called El Péndulo (the Pendulum), and is the Polanco branch of a three, or four, chain called El Péndulo in Mexico City. It has a good, though typical, restaurant, a café section, and tons of books. On Saturdays and Sundays there is live music, usually chamber music or a classical duo. There are regular readings, lectures, and exhibitions. It is virtually a perfect example of what one desires in a café / bookstore. It looks like this, and this, and this, and this.

El Péndulo, a small upstairs area for film.

El Péndulo, a small upstairs area for film.

El Péndulo, part of the upper section of books.

El Péndulo, part of the upper section of books.

El Péndulo, part of the upstairs section of the café.

El Péndulo, part of the upstairs section of the café.

El Péndulo, one of my favorite spots.

El Péndulo, one of my favorite spots.

El Péndulo, musicians entertaining at Saturday lunch.

El Péndulo, musicians entertaining at Saturday lunch.

El Péndulo is where I write most every morning. It is my salvation.

In spite of the common reputation that Mexico is a violent country — and of course there is no denying that — I have found on a personal basis, Mexicans are some of the most friendly, most open and accepting, and least pretentious people I have lived among. (Virtually the opposite of Porteños, the people of Buenos Aires, where we lived before here.) This is not to say they will not blithely rip  you off if you are a stranger, because street hustling and ripping people off anyway possible is as common here as dirty air. But once you are no longer a stranger, you are almost like a member of the family.

I do not feel threatened living here. I feel essentially safe, especially considering that this is one of the largest megalopolises on the planet. On the other hand, my lifestyle does not include hanging out in lowlife bars ’till four in the morning. My life outside is lived mostly in the daylight hours. Dinner out in evenings is usually somewhere in the neighborhood, which is comfortably wealthy and well-patrolled by both public and private police. This impression arises from a distinctly privileged position. I cannot speak for life in the notoriously rough colonias. I do believe that the violence for which Mexico has a bad reputation is concentrated along the northern border, and the rest of Mexico is no worse, and in many cases better, than any other part of Latin America. Mexico City’s murder rate is much lower than Detroit or Chicago.

We live a short stroll into Chapultapec from one of the finest anthropological museums in the world. This one.

Anthropological Museum of Mexico

Anthropological Museum of Mexico

One of our favorite restaurants, although it happens to be French.

Ivoire in Polanco

Ivoire in Polanco

Mexico has the second largest economy in Latin America, after Brazil, and one of the fastest growing Middle Classes. It is sad that as a country, a nation, it cannot resolve the horrific problems with narco-violence, and overcome a culture so accepting of rampant petty crime. It is not the crime itself, it is how openly criminal acts are simply accepted as normal. The chronic rip-offs, the petty thieving, seem to be inherent. Before Mexico realizes its full (and amazing) potential, some aspects of culture must be changed. An excellent and revealing source for these problems is found in Jorge Castañeda’s fine book: “Mañana Forever? — Mexico and the Mexicans.”

Meanwhile, we are just passing through. We are not going to make a home here. Ten months into a twenty-four month stay. And we have it easy. Our apartment is large and well-protected. We live beside the largest urban park in the Americas — Chapultapec, which is a pretty good air-cleaner, as well as a beautiful place to stroll in nature within a massive city. I enjoy Mexico City more than it may seem from what I’ve written about it here. If I had not had “gastric issues,” so often here, I believe I would like it even more. Montezuma’s Revenge handicaps one’s impressions.

I believe that if the water were drinkable and the Narcos disappeared, Mexico would probably own the hemisphere.

Finally, a statue of Abraham Lincoln in the park named for him in Polanco, across from my café .

Old Abe in Lincoln Park, Polanco.

Old Abe in Lincoln Park, Polanco.

Species of Feeling is now available!

The front cover

The front cover

The back cover

The back cover

My latest novel, Species of Feeling, is now available from B&b Books, in both paper and electronic formats. This is my 10th published novel, although spread over a writing life of more than 40 years, it seems not much.

The book can be ordered in both real book and Kindle book from Amazon, and the iBooks version (for iPad Readers) is available from the Apple iBookstore.

The electronic versions are 99-cents. The paperback is $9.98.

I hope you will leave comments here about the book, and please review it on Amazon, which these days accounts for most sales.

Thank you for supporting independent authors and publishers.

Amazon & Goodreads

My preference, in the best of all possible worlds.

My preference, in the best of all possible worlds.

There’s a lot of murmuring and quite a bit of SHOUTING regarding the news that Amazon has purchased Goodreads.

I have a page on Goodreads. It makes no sense for an independent author not to. I probably ought to make more use of it than I do. But there’s the time it takes … .

When I do look at Goodreads, I often take note of reviews offered by “friends.” Although my principal source for reviews that interest me enough to seek out a book is NYRB and the New Yorker.

The shouting is mostly about Amazon. The love-hate place. I have mixed feelings about Amazon, and I do wonder what the world of books and readers will be like if/when there is only Amazon. Which is not  unlikely.

Most of the time I live outside the United States, and more often than not, in places where the language spoken is not English. (Currently I am living in México City.) When I can find a bookstore that stocks English language books, they were likely to be popular fiction and out-of-copyright “classics.” Rarely do I find something I would actually want to read —  or that I have not already read or do not already own.

Thus, Amazon. I suppose 90% of my book purchases are made through Amazon — they always have what I want, and they ship it to my home. (I have bought things other than books through Amazon because I could not find these things in the local marketplace.)

Having said that, I would rather purchase books, and magazines for that matter, in a brick & mortar bookstore — an actual place; especially from independent (non-chain) bookstores. If I lived in the States, and if there was a real bookstore in that town or city, that is where I would shop for what I read. I cannot imagine any reason I would need to use the book-buying services of Amazon. If …

That is the source of my mixed feelings about Amazon. I would not use Amazon to purchase books if I lived in the US, but since I don’t, I use Amazon all the time. And I admit that it does sometimes feel that I am in league with the devil, or that I am committing slow-motion book-lover suicide.

Amazon survived, and now thrives extraordinarily, because it services a need in the marketplace. That’s how Capitalism works. It would not be successful if it did not serve a need its customers have. In other words, we are Amazon.

There is another issue with Amazon, one that effects writers particularly. Amazon has single-handedly made it possible for writers to find readers, in ways that conventional, or traditional, publishers would not do. I have had published seven novels by traditional publishing companies. But that business has changed so extensively in the past decade or two that it is nothing at all like the publishers I knew in my heyday. Mainstream publishers got out of the literature/book business as the 20th century wound down, and, largely as a result of corporate buyouts, began treating (and selling and marketing) books as if they were simply a commodity, hardly different from selling soap, cars, or tampons.

The only book publishers — the real thing — remaining at this point in the 21st century are the “small presses.” But being small, not having the Bertelsmann billions behind them, they are drastically limited in what they can do as publishers. That leaves hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers-of-quality with no place to go. If they aren’t writing blood-laden, vampire-fantasy, popular blockbuster fiction, the conglomerate publishers are not interested. And there aren’t enough small presses to publish these writers, regardless of their merit, the literary quality of their work.

Thus, Amazon. Utilizing Amazon’s “CreateSpace” publishing method, these writers have at least that outlet for finding readers. The out-of-pocket expense of self-publishing with Amazon (who lists and distributes these writers at no cost) is trivial; in fact, it is zero unless you buy your own ISBN. Such writers may even set up their own publishing imprint, again, at no cost. (My books are now published by B&b Books, Boulder, CO, but CreateSpace makes them, and Amazon sells them.)

Again, Amazon comes in and fills a need expressed in the marketplace. This time, offering an avenue for writers to find readers. Regardless of literary quality or lack of it, there is at least this last hope for writers who are shunned by conglomerate publishers, and who are unable to find a place on the tiny lists of small presses.

Would the book world be a better place if the gate-keepers at traditional publishers, conglomerate and independent, did their jobs and opened their doors as widely as they once were? Yes. There is no doubt about it. But they don’t, and they aren’t. Thus, Amazon.

I wish we lived in a world where Amazon could not have succeeded. But we don’t, and we won’t ever again.

Love Amazon, hate Amazon … that’s like loving or hating the universe. Do whatever  you like, the universe is there and it isn’t going away.

amazon-com-logo

You want to write?

This is my advice. There are two living writers of literary fiction you can learn from. If you have any literary ambitions and have not read everything these two have written, you are wasting your time. Stop writing now, read these two writers, then, if you haven’t been intimidated out of your desires, start writing again.

James Salter. Read these:

Solo Faces, A Sport and a Pastime, Light Years, and Dusk.

James Salter

James Salter

 

Kent Haruf. Read these:

Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction.

Kent Haruf

Kent Haruf

 

These are the two finest writers of literary fiction still alive. You should be aiming for them. If you can’t make it, stop writing. There’s enough crap out there.

So, we went to Puebla

Puebla is one of the main colonial-era cities in México, situated 90-minutes by car to the southeast of México City, on the way to the coast at Veracruz. We went to buy Talavera ceramics. We were successful in this project. Very expensively successful.

Inside the main showroom floor of the Museo de la Talavera at Talavera De La Reyna.

Inside the main showroom floor of the Museo de la Talavera at Talavera De La Reyna.

We’ve been living in México City since last August; I have only traveled to two other cities (or towns) in México during that time: San Miguel de Allende, and now Puebla. We live in an upscale area of México City, where there are plenty of foreigners around, and lots of well-dressed, well-autoed, rich people; San Miguel’s population is reputed to be fifty percent expat, and one sees as many gringoes on the streets and in the restaurants as Mexicans. Puebla was the first time I felt like I was in México. While we were there, we saw only two flocks of foreign tourists — although there did seem to be quite a few Mexican tourists. Most of the people we saw were obviously local … Mexicans. I had almost forgotten that I am living in México.

Puebla was founded in the early years of the 16th century, 1530-something, I think. There was a somewhat decrepit, obviously poor, church across the street from our hotel. Construction began on that church in the mid-16th century, or about the time the town became populated. Since then it was been a continuous place of worship. This sort of age thing fascinates me. Americans are inclined toward the new. Shortly after Columbus bumbled into the northern part of what would become the Americas — named for some other intrepid wanderer , and indigenous North American Indians were living in huts made of twigs and bark, there were people building cathedrals in Mexico.

And decorating with ceramic tiles. Like this.

One small section of a large church completely decorated like this.

One small section of a large church completely decorated like this.

And filling the city with public buildings like this.

A typical building within the historical center.

A typical building within the historical center.

Sitting around the central plaza, called the Zocalo, and kissing, seems to be the most popular activity there, even on a chilly, drizzly day.

I think she would prefer they get a bed.

I think she would prefer they get a bed.

Swapping spit, as my sister always says.

Swapping spit, as my sister always says.

Jesus is all over the place. Not only in every church — usually represented half a dozen times in various poses of suffering and death — but you can buy various Jesus things in many shops, including your own personal statue (like the one below), where Jesus looks like he got his ass kicked in some alleyway, and imitation Jesus burial boxes; of course the usual photos and drawings of Jesus and those in his personal circle.

What did the other guy look like?

What did the other guy look like?

I’m not going to waste time writing about now nonsensical religions are, but one particular contrast has always interested me — how gaudy and rich churches are, how fabulously wealthy most high-ranking church officials are, compared with the desperate poverty endured by almost all the worshippers. Below is a photo of one small part of one of the most gaudy churches I have ever seen. And below that, a not atypical photo taken through an open door along a street just outside the church.

I think the girl in the hot blue dress was getting one of those 15-year-old girl blessings before the party where she probably gets laid.

I think the girl in the hot blue dress was getting one of those 15-year-old girl blessings before the party where she probably gets laid.

The price of just one small gold pillar in this church would feed this woman and her family for the rest of their lives. Doing the family laundry in a public sink.

Most Catholics actually live like this, or far worse.

Most Catholics actually live like this, or far worse. Shame on the Catholic Church.

Finally, in a fancy restaurant where we had chicken mole poblano that will always be the benchmark for judging all other mole sauces, note the bandaid on the forefinger. Result of a knife that was not capable of distinguishing between my finger and a loaf of bread. Dumb ass knife.

Be wary of dumb knives

Be wary of dumb knives

Puebla is a famous city in México. If you’re curious, it is easy to find extensive information about this, the fourth largest city in México … and if you see a Volkswagen in México, it was probably built here. Puebla has one of the largest VW factories outside Germany.

It was unusually cold and rainy during our weekend there, limiting the amount of time we spent walking around. I suppose we’ll have to go back.

Next time you come to dinner at our place, you will be eating off the Talavera plates we bought. Well, in a couple of months. We just chose the designs we liked, now they have to make them.