Thursday, December 11, 2008

Update (again)

Our classes just ended last week and a I went to Cancun for a few days with some friends. It was a great time and I have plenty to say about it just not right now, check back a little later. Right now I am at the computer lab in Queretaro about to board a bus to Tijuana where I will then cross the border and meet my sister somewhere down there and stay with her and her family for a while. It is a 38 hour bus ride so hopefully I will come out of this alive and sane, although I wouldn´t count on it. I wrote that bit below about Lolita about a week ago and am just now getting around to putting it up. Hope all is well with everyone and I will check back once I am back in the U.S. of A.

A Farewell to Lolita


As the end of the program gets nearer and my departure from Queretaro becomes imminent and inevitable, there are a lot of mixed emotions going around from everyone, including Lolita. She tells me everyday—sometimes a couple times a day—that I don’t have to leave and that I am welcome to stay with her as long as I want. The crazy thing is, I know she is absolutely telling the truth; I could stay with her for the next 10 years and she would never ask why I was still there or when I would be leaving. I’m serious. Today, in attempt to talking me out of leaving, she claimed that Oregon and everywhere else are colder than Queretaro and only partially joking asked I why would I want to go back to that. She followed that up with a story about some animals that change colors in the winter but if it isn’t cold enough they can’t change colors and get eaten. I’m not exactly sure what she was getting at, we’ve had our share of equivocal conversations since I’ve been here, but I hope I don’t get eaten.

The whole señora-student relationship has fascinated me since before I even got here. The two of us are two completely different people, in two completely different places in our lives, heading in two completely different directions. She is a 50-something Mexican divorcee who lives alone and likes soap operas and I am an American college student who turned 22 under her roof and is just out for a good time in Mexico. She has kids and grandkids. I have guy friends and girlfriends. I take classes weekdays for university credit in hopes of someday getting a job. She takes painting classes twice a week just because she enjoys them so much. For the last two years I lived in a house with four other buddies, a beer pong table and enough garbage and clutter that Pixar used it as the basis for “Wall-E.” And, I had grown quite accustomed to that lifestyle. I did what I wanted when I wanted, I never worried about what time I got home or woke up, and I could park myself on the couch, drink beer and watch sports without anyone raising an eyebrow. I probably made my bed about as often as I watched “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” (never) and usually only cleaned my room only at the end of each term. So, you can imagine that someone moving into a house with only one other lady in a foreign country who literally doesn’t speak the same language as you has to be somewhat of a learning experience. There were certainly times when things were wearing on me and I was not in the mood to go home and have to speak and listen in another language to a women who was sometimes lonely from living alone when all I really wanted to do was park myself on the couch with a game on and a beer without anyone raising an eyebrow. She also has an uncanny knack for carrying on long conversations on mornings when I have a test or am already late or both. For whatever reason or reasons, however, the two of us have gotten along great over the past four months and I could not be more thankful. She has done so much more than just welcome me into her home and give me a room to sleep in. It’s really not like that at all. I wake her up with a knock on her door every weekday to the response, “Ya voy,” followed by her making me breakfast and telling me all about whatever the hell she wants to talk about. She shows me her drawings from class and asks what I think of them. She makes me a massive lunch everyday and we do more talking about what ever a 22-year-old male college student with less than two years of college Spanish and a Mexican grandma could possible talk about. It certainly hasn’t always been easy, but putting forth the effort has paid dividends.

I do not mean for this to be in any way taken as concieted, but I do wonder how she is going to do with out me around. I know that I mean a lot to her and she has been clearly emotional the past couple days. I know it will be hard for her to not have anyone come home for comida everyday, tell her about their weekend trip, or wake her up in the mornings. She has her kids and grandkids that I know she loves very much, but the two of us have a different relationship. She tells me about almost everything: her divorce and her ex-husband, her children and their spouses, her friends and their drama, her father who died a few years ago, and much more. I even came home one night to her going through a box of pictures followed by her making me sit with her while pointing out every person in every picture and where and why they were there. I can now tell you more than you would ever need to know about Lolita’s family. It’s this kind of stuff that I was in a unique position to be a part of—these aren’t things she talks of or can talk of with her kids or grandkids. She knew all along that due to the language barrier and the fact that we are two completely different people, that I couldn’t offer her much feedback when she would delve into these issues, but that there was someone there at all was what mattered. I don’t mean to make her out to be a depressed lonely hermit, because that would be very far from the truth. She has lived in Queretaro her whole life and has plenty of friends and family here and is usually always very outgoing and quite sanguine, but like I said, partially due to timing (I am the first student she has had in a while because of her divorce) and partially due to god knows what, the two of us became very close and we will both have a void to fill in the absence of each others company.

Now that I am heading back I am starting to reflect more on my time here. For reasons I can’t exactly remember I named this blog after a line in the Bob Dylan song “Visions of Johanna.” The last line is, “and these visions of Johanna are now all that remain.” I wonder what halcyon memories of Mexico will remain when I get back and am telling people about my experience. What about five years from now? Ten? Twenty? etc. I know I am going to walk away from this with some great stories that I will probably tell a million times, friends I plan on knowing for many years to come, and memories that aren’t likely to fade anytime soon. I also know that living with a wonderfully crazy Mexican lady named Lolita in Queretaro, Mexico for four months will not be something I will soon forget.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Update

Hey everyone, I’m back. Sorry it has been so long, I didn’t die or get kidnapped by pirates or get beheaded or anything, I’m sure you were worried. With so much drama in the LBC…er, rather the QRO, classes coming to an end, lots of homework, my parents visiting, and my recent and unhealthy obsession with the David Foster Wallace, I haven’t written anything in a while. I apologize to all four of you for my absence. That being said, I still don’t have much to write or much time to write it. So, a few things on my parents being in town. First, in the seven days that they were here, my dad pronounced the word “Querétaro” a total of 4,732 different ways, many of which sounded more like some sort of Asian dialect (Japanese maybe?) than anything resembling Spanish. You probably think I’m making fun of him, but really, it was quite impressive. I don’t know how he did it; it was different every time. Kudos. To my surprise, my mom knew more Spanish than I expected although conjugated less verbs than Emmitt Smith. (Really, I’m in no position to criticize anyone’s Spanish, and like I said, she actually spoke quite well, but I thought of that joke and how no one reading this would get it and how happy that would make me being the only one to understand my jokes. I’m sorry, I had to.) It was a good time, they got to see Querétaro and meet Lolita, we went to Guanajuato for the weekend, and they spent a night on their own in Bernal. Good times were had by all and I’m glad they came.

Because of a couple of scheduling issues, we are going to be having Thanksgiving (or “Dia de Gracias”) dinner on Friday instead of Thursday. None of us are too happy about that, but there isn’t anything we can do and better late than never, right? We are still going to eat turkey and stuffing and pie and hang out and be thankful for stuff. So it should be fun. (Please God, I know it’s going to be Friday, but grant me the miracle of football on TV. Seriously, I don’t ask for much. Just this one thing and I won’t ask for anything for a long time and I’ll go to confession for all the bad words I used to describe John McCain and Sarah Palin in the last two months. Ok, thanks. Amen.) Well, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving and go Ducks!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dia de los Muertos

I like to think that I am a pretty observant guy. I usually notice little things about people and places that others miss and generally I am fairly aware of my surroundings. At least I used to think that. I’ll explain. Here in Mexico November 1st and 2nd are big holidays that happened to land on Saturday and Sunday this year. The first is All Saints day and the second is Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. If you throw in Halloween which is apparently becoming more and more popular here, that’s three solid days of fiestas. Hell yeah. Anyways, a while back I asked Lolita what she did for the holiday and she said something about a street festival thing and that she opens up her carport area and has a little fiesta type thing. The days leading up to the party she cooked and cleaned up the carport and I was excited to see what kind of thing she was throwing. On Saturday I inexplicably woke up around seven o’clock (my sleep pattern, or lack of, sucks horribly) and decided to go for a run. As I was leaving my house I saw my street blocked off a block up (my house is on the corner so basically the block just across the side street) and people setting up tents and getting ready for what looked like the aforementioned street festival. I had no idea it was going to be so close to my house, and I wondered why they would pick this random street to block off and have a party in. Whatever, I thought, very little makes sense in Mexico. That’s about as far as I took it and then went for my run. I got back ate breakfast and listened to Lolita, her sister, and their friend loudly have a conversation in which they all talked at the same time never pausing for a response from another person. I’m not sure if or how any information was exchanged; it was unbelievable. Later when I went out to check what was going on in the carport I realized that it wasn’t as much of a party she was having but rather a garage sale/ taco stand for people walking past going to the festival. (I had to have eaten a dangerously unhealthy amount of tacos this weekend; I am starting to think that Mexicans genuinely don’t understand the concept of fullness. Not that I’m complaining, they were delicious.) Still a bit perplexed as to why our random street would be a center of celebration for Dia de Los Muertos, I wandered over to the street fair where on one side people were selling food and on the other flowers. After walking about 100 feet I saw people walking towards and entrance in the walls that went along the street and are kiddy-corner to my house. I decided to check it out and when I got about closer I realized the whole thing was a cemetery. Actually, it’s a massive cemetery, the only one in the city, and it’s 30 feet from my house. This whole time I have been living a stones throw from a giant graveyard for the past three months and had no idea it was there. Really Stephen, you didn’t notice the giant cemetery 30 feet from where you sleep every night. I’m an idiot. Granted, you can’t see inside from my house because of the walls and I don’t really have a reason to walk that way, but still, how did I not know this? What am I going to find out next, that there’s an airplane hangar around the corner? I told Lolita I didn’t know about it and she thought it was funny and jokingly announced it to everyone within earshot. Things started to add up pretty quickly: the now logical location of the street festival, the fact that there are four flower shops within a block of me, why a ghost named Chucho has been visiting me in the night every other Tuesday. It also hit me that the name of the neighborhood I live in is called “Cimatario.” I had to ask to make sure that didn’t translate to “cemetery” in English or else I would be really pissed at myself for not piecing this all together. It doesn’t. (I don’t have any hard data to support this, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that my finger and toe nails grow faster here than in the States. I’m serious, it’s weird. I wonder if this is because I live kiddy-corner to a graveyard and I’m picking up some weird supernatural finger and toenail growing vibe. I’ll have to ask Chuco.) Anyways, I wandered around the cemetery for a while until I didn’t want to think about death any more so I left, later called some friends to come over and we wandered around and talked about death for too long and decided we needed to leave. The whole festival is really cool and interesting. On Saturday it was a bit more somber than I expected since I heard it was more of a celebration than a memorial day type thing; I even walked past an actual burial with a woman, the widow or mother I presumed, crying uncontrollably to the point that she couldn’t stand and needed to be sat down on another gravestone. Later on and on Sunday however, it was much more laid back. The cemetery itself was infinitely cooler than any of our cemeteries. (I suppose the argument could be made that cemeteries aren’t supposed to be “cool,” but whatever, I think they should be.) The grave stones aren’t just plaques in the ground, oh no, they are huge and many of them have marble statues of Jesus or the Virgin of Guadalupe (she’s big here) or a glass case with a picture and objects of the person. I have a feeling that if a Mexican went to one of our cemeteries they would find the monotony of it horribly depressing. On Sunday it was so crowded at times you almost had to push to get in and out of the one entrance. A lot of people worked in the morning cleaning the grave sites, repainting the lettering, trimming the plants, and decorating the graves with marigolds—the traditional flower of the holiday dating back to its indigenous origins before it was converted into a Christian holiday by the Spanish—and then they later kicked back with their families around the grave, ate, drank, and hung out. It really wasn’t depressing or anything, it actually seemed quite laid back and relaxing. They were also a bunch or guys playing music that people paid to play at the graves of their loved ones. Some were mariachis but others were more indigenous sounding and one was a big brass band with trumpets, a tuba, and a dude playing a snare drum among others that reminded me of the funeral music for Vito’s brother in “Godfather II” or a more somber sounding version of the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” theme song. I spent most of my weekend either wandering around the cemetery or the festival outside turning down people trying to sell me flowers and eating tacos in the carport. When it was all over I asked Lolita if she made much money from her garage sale/ taco business and without even a hint of disappointment at all she said that she didn’t make all that much. She said she didn’t care, that her goal was never really to make money; it’s just something she has been doing for years. All three of her kids and all seven of her grandkids were there, I think that was enough for her. The whole weekend was very Mexican: family, eating, relaxing (all in a public place of course), not caring how much money you spend/make, flowers, and religion mixed with tradition. I think this is the most Mexican thing I have done here since (I had a good joke to throw in here except I can’t write it because my parents make up roughly half of my readership, sorry everyone else) ummm… since…getting diarrhea from street food in Mexico city… since almost dying every time I cross the street…since getting my full back tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe…ummm… since…

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fun in the Sun

Last week our Friday classes got switched to Thursday for uninteresting reasons. This meant two things: international bar and three-day weekend! The international bar is a bar we found out about here in town that on Thursdays has free drinks for foreigners with ID. I’m not sure how this is legal, but it is, and it’s awesome. (If I had a nickel for every time I’ve thought that exact sentence in the last two months…) For the three-day weekend there were a couple different groups splitting up. Some were going to spend a day in Guanajuato, others back to the Sierra Gorda at a house of one of our Mexican friends, some staying in town and one girl in our group meeting up with a friend in Morelia and then going to the coast. Still undecided on Thursday night after international bar (I neither know nor care what it’s really called) the few of us on the fence, in true procrastinators style, decided we’d talk the next day and figure it out. The next day we figured we were too late to catch a ride to Sierra Gorda, didn’t want to go to Guanajuato for only a day, and didn’t want to stick around town all weekend. Through a series of convoluted and later blatantly erroneous text messages from our friends Jessica and Emily (the beach going duo who had already left), my buddies Chris and Eric and I decided that the coast it is and we boarded the 3:30 bus to Morelia hoping to catch a connection to the coast at seven in attempt to save both time and money on the direct bus which didn’t leave until midnight. Both the text I got that said the bus from Queretaro to Morelia only took “two hours-ish” and that there was a connection at seven turned out to what later in the trip were referred to as “Emily facts.” Neither were even close to being true; the bus took four hours, (although we did get stuck behind a train that I am pretty sure had a drunk conductor, ask about that story sometime) and there was not a bus at seven (we wouldn’t have made it anyways as a result of the first lie) but rather one at midnight. (The first bus wouldn’t have been as bad if we hadn’t been forced to watch two of the worst attempts at movies in the history of cinema: the second half of “High School Musical II” and a phenomenally bad movie about a Mormon who goes on his mission in the South Pacific. Thank god it ended before I pulled off the rarely seen Oedipus-van Gogh combo of gouging out both of my eyes and cutting off my ears. That still would have been less painful. I’m sure of it.) All of this left us with a wonderful four hour layover in Morelia where we went to a shopping mall area, ate, sat around and then I went into my first ever Wall Mart—didn’t really leave much of an impression on me. We did a lot more sitting and then wandering to a new spot to sit and decide where we wanted to wander to next. Eric and Chris had about a half hour conversation about dragons from some book I had never heard of, we wandered around Home Depot in search of ratchets for a gizmo we wanted to build, and then took off. It wasn’t so bad, we all agreed, small price to pay for how much fun we were planning on having at the beach. We had no idea. Possibly through divine intervention (or the fact that it was the cheapest bus we could get) there was no movie on the five-plus hour ride to Zihuatanejo and a short taxi ride to the hotel in Ixtapa got us to our destination a little after five in the morning. (Zihuatanejo is where Andy Dufresne escapes to meet up with Red in “Shawshank Redemption.” We saw neither Tim Robbins nor Morgan Freeman; that’s not to say we weren’t looking.) We met up with the girls and walked to the beach to watch the sunrise. None of us were tired, it was way too cool. This started off our weekend of awesomeness and confusing questions about astronomy—both remained motifs throughout. Over the next two days these are a select few of the most uttered phrases or questions: “Wait, we’ve been in Mexico for how long and why haven’t we done this already?” “Everyone who didn’t come is going to have to hear about how awesome this was for a week.” “Do you think there is a study abroad program in Cabo?” “How sunburned is my back?” “Who got to decide the constellations? Best job ever.” “Is that true or is that an Emily Fact?” “Uno mas cerveza por favor.” The sand was perfect, the water was perfect, the weather was perfect, the mood was perfect; I guess you could say Saturday and Sunday were pretty much perfect. I can’t describe everything we did because neither you nor I have time, however, one anecdote that I’m sure will really deliver the punch happened on Saturday. Eric and Chris took off in search of Gatorades (preferably pink) to keep hydrated and wash the salt water out of our mouths. After well over an hour without coming back, we started wondering and getting a little worried about where they were. Finally they showed up with two bags of water (yeah, bags, as in plastic) and they could hardly speak to get the words out of where they had been. Eventually we deciphered what they trying to say: they found some tents down the beach a ways where for 50 pesos you can get a half hour massage. I don’t think they stopped smiling for the rest of the trip. Later that night, we went back and I got a massage on a beautiful Mexican beach at dawn that I am convinced took me to another dimension of both time and space. I don’t think I stopped smiling the rest of the trip. We got back into the Queretaro bus station this morning a little after 6AM, just enough time to make 9AM classes and to explain to everyone our tans (or burns), uncontrollable grins, and our plans for the next three-day weekend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mexico City

I guess you could say this weekend didn’t quite go as planned. Actually, even before it started it wasn’t going as planned. Gabi, our fearless leader, had been telling us for a while that her mother had been sick but in the past week it got worse and she passed away here in Queretaro midweek. A couple of us went the funeral and we later got an email stating the obvious which was that Gabi would not be going with us to Mexico City over the weekend. So we went on with just Alejandro, one of our Spanish professors. I asked him when he got there if Gabi had told him anything about my bag that was stolen in the Sierra Gorda, since the original plan was to try and get it when we were there. He said he hadn’t heard anything but said he would call Gabi. Because of the whole situation, I figured it was probably a lost cause but he said he’d do it anyways. The first day we stopped at some old Aztec ruins outside of Mexico City where we got to climb ancient pyramids, take pictures, and be harassed by countless people trying to sell trinkets. It was really cool and I liked it a lot, but would have enjoyed much more if I hadn’t woken up that day with a headache, stomachache and the accompanying bowel movements. Nonetheless, I was able to make the most of it and slept on the bus as much as I could. The next day we went sightseeing around Mexico City. We started off by going to the Zócalo, the main plaza in Mexico City with the National Palace, which was just a few blocks from where we were staying at the Hotel Canada. When I went to Mexico a couple winters ago, we ate at the Hotel California in the town of Todos Santos where Don Henley supposedly wrote the song “Hotel California.” I liked the Hotel California better, I’ll explain later. In the National Palace there is perhaps Diego Rivera’s most famous mural depicting the history of Mexico. It is a spectacular work of art and one of the most impressive things I have seen in person. There were also a bunch of other murals of his there that we looked at before leaving for the Anthropology Museum, which is a huge museum of artifacts from the ancient civilizations of Mexico. Thanks to liberal usage of Pepto Bismol, I felt a little better and was able to spend more time in the museum than the bathroom, but once again, I could have enjoyed it a little more. I’m kind of a nerd about some of that stuff so I still really enjoyed it. Afterward we went up to a huge castle that overlooks the city and that some day when I am a gazillionare I am going to buy and my friends and I will have a “Real World: Queretaro” there. Except there won’t be any cameras and it won’t be on TV. Other than that, pretty much the same. Once we made it back to the hotel we were all ready to crash for a bit and then head out for food and a night on the town. But, like I said, things didn’t exactly go as planned. When we got back to our room I was missing all of the money (about $250) I left in my backpack and my friend Chris was missing some from his backpack and my friend Jessica in a different room on a different floor. Our rooms had been cleaned and it was clear since our rooms were locked that the maid did a little extra cleaning. I told you, I liked the Hotel California better. We got Alejandro and went to complain to the front desk, they seemed surprised and said that they haven’t had any complaints like this before. They looked to see who had cleaned the rooms and of course it was someone who usually doesn’t work for them that was just filling in. Also of course, when called, the maid didn’t answer, and also of course, the hotel said they have a contract of sorts that says they can’t be held responsible, and also of course the next day when talked to by the hotel manager the maid claimed no responsibly. There’s a possibility that we could get it back, Alejandro has the phone number of the place and although she wasn’t answering her phone over the weekend, when Gabi is back I’m sure she will at least try to help us out. In all, it’s quite depressing and I don’t even like rehashing it. When my bag was stolen it was annoying and frustrating but at least the whole thing had a “live and learn” motif to it since it was my fault I left it sitting there. This is different, this is just annoying, it’s not even a good story, at least the bag story had the silver lining of being interesting, this story sucks; you should know, you’re reading about it. We ended up not going out after all, however, those of us that weren’t tired had a great night hanging out in our room into the wee hours of the morning making sure to leave plenty of work for the maid in the morning. The next morning we had the option of going to a ballet but I passed since I wasn’t in the mood and barely had any money left. (I had some money on me that wasn’t in my backpack. I figured money was safer locked in my hotel room than in my pocket as I walked the streets of Mexico City. Clearly, I was wrong.) I got up somewhat early and since everyone that didn’t go was still asleep I lugubriously (I just learned that word today, I was excited to use it) walked around the centro. I basically just wandered around, went into gigantic churches, bought some cookies for breakfast at a Seven-Eleven, and then when others woke up, I finished up breakfast with some French fries and strawberry water. (There was an awesome juice shop next the hotel that had delicious and really cheap juice, or “water with flavor” as it is sometimes called here.) I even thought about having my spirit cleansed by a dude dressed up as an Aztec priest with a bowl of incense that he used to dance circles around paying customers. I decided I’d save my money but I’m still regretting it, it probably only cost like $0.04. Later on in the day we went to more museums and more ruins and then headed back to Queretaro. Although it didn’t go quite as some of us would have hoped, I really did enjoy Mexico City. I’m actually over the money at this point because Mexico City was so awesome; it’s not an easy city to mope around in. It’s is by far the hugest place I have ever been (it’s one of the hugest places in the world, it might even be number one in hugeness) and pretty much everything about it fascinated me. Well that’s about it from my end, sorry this was so long, slightly depressing and not all that interesting, but hey, now that you’re done you can get back to yearbookyourself.com (see below).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Time Wasters

I found this link on the blog of one of my favorite columnists, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times—one of the roughly 154,392 newspapers that Sara Palin couldn’t name. (Zing! Stick with me all political season for relentless Sara Palin burns... there are just so many to chose from.) I’m not asking anyone to give money or anything, I’m not even sure what charity this is for, but I found it interesting and thought I would pass it on. Now a link to take it in a completely different direction, I found this jewel a while ago and became more than slightly addicted. Anyone who enjoys having fun, laughing, and wasting copious amounts of time is sure to enjoy this. In other news, we’re going to Mexico City this weekend which should be a good time. I will be back with news, hopefully of the recovery my bag from The Wicked Witch of the South, and other such information when I return. Adios.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A few things

First and foremost, I want to say congratulations to my sister Erin and the entire Campbell family and welcome Justin Michael Campbell into the clan. I look forward to being an important part of corrupting his youth, er...rather, being an important part of his growth. Congrats Campbell's! Second, and much less important, I have been trying to post stuff for a while but two things have stopped me. First, my little brain only has so many asinine observations (that I can put into words) about Mexico. The other is that this is the worst website since yourethemannowdog.com. So, sorry about the delay and if anyone is thinking of starting a blog, do NOT use this website, I think it has taken about 5 years off my life.

Wilfredo & Friends

There is this show here called “La Academia” and it is basically a mix of “American Idol” and “Big Brother.” They select the people who are going to be in “the academy” on a selection show, which was beyond hilarious. A couple weeks back they had this season premiere and Lolita and I watched it as the contestants were called forward out of a group where the “director” of the academy talked to them for a while as the contestant cried uncontrollably. Seriously, they were ALL crying, some of them so much they were hyperventilating with mascara running down their faces and leaning on each other for support. Not only that, but by looking at the group I was sure that each of them has probably spent a combined year of their life looking at their reflection in the mirror. There was enough hair gel on that stage to supply an entire city of sixth graders. So after they were called up, the director would talk about their strengths and weaknesses for a while followed by a long dramatic silence and the director would say, “Estas en La Academia,” (“You are in the academy”) to which about 92% of the people collapsed to the floor as if they had just been sniped. I’m not making this up, I think all but two of them didn’t fall weeping to the floor when they were selected, you’d think they got a bonus from the network for how fast they could make their legs go out from under themselves and how many times they could pound the floor with their fists. After the first couple went down faster than John Edwards political career, Lolita and I were laughing hysterically and I tried to think of a joke about it to share with her but it I wasn’t sure exactly what to say or how to say it so it came out as, “They like the floor.” That made both of us laugh even more and I am sure she liked that more than any witty comment I might have been able to interject. Actually, I did too. It started to get ridiculous as you count down how long until they fell to the floor and after a while I wasn’t sure if I was watching a reality show or an old tape of try-outs for the opening scene “Saving Private Ryan.” So, after they selected the most emotionally instable 20-something people in all of Mexico, guess what they do with them…make them all live in the same house! Oh, and film every minute of it, naturally. That’s about where the show is now, these people are all living in a house together and on Sundays they have a live show where they sing and get voted off. The Sunday show is live and the other days when they are in the house together air the day after they happen. I realized why I like this show and I will explain. Like I said, it is a combination of “American Idol” and “Big Brother.” I have never liked “American Idol” because I figure I don’t want to watch people sing songs, that usually aren’t very good, worse than the original version. Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone does, but it’s a popular show so who knows. In “La Academia,” that problem is solved; I don’t know any of the songs or their original versions, so everything is new to me and it doesn’t really matter how good or bad they are. Also, seeing as I have never wasted my time watching “Big Brother” I’m not sure if I would like it or not, but I assume that I wouldn’t because I simply don’t care about other people’s problems. (“Big Brother” is a show where they put a bunch of people in a house that they can’t leave and make them live together and do tasks while drama ensues and then they get voted off, based on what, I don’t know. I know it seems strange that I know so much about a show I have never seen, but just because I have never seen it doesn’t mean I haven’t seen countless promos during CBS sporting events. Hey, Greg Gumble, it’s been about 7 years now and I have yet to watch an episode, please, no more.) “La Academia” remedies this for me by being in rapid Spanish which is hard to understand, having crazy activities like a dude wearing a mask while crying (I was watching that episode at a restaurant with no sound which I decided made it even better; I had NO idea what was going on) as well as having a jewel of a person named Wilfredo. One of my favorite parts is that on the weekday shows in the house all the participants have to wear a single colored shirt with their name written in black caps across the chest. I’m thinking about getting a green STEPHEN shirt soon. Anyways, Wilfredo’s shirt says, “WILFREDO” on it and he is a decent singer, but somehow apparently went through his entire life never having talked to anyone of the opposite sex before. He is especially awkward and has this hilarious, high pitched, nervous laugh that he brings out whenever a girl says something and which they showed a montage of once that almost floored me. On today’s show after he sang, they had a bit on his sick grandpa that was so overly dramatic even Bob Costas would be proud. At the end of it, they had his grandpa say that he was OK and wished him good luck. It went back to Wilfredo who was crying uncontrollably (whenever someone on the show starts getting watery eyed, Lolita starts yelling “No Llorando! No Llorando!”—[No crying! No crying!] at the TV) and then the director asked him if he had anything he wanted to say to his grandpa if he is watching. After a little silence, with tears in his eyes Wilfredo yells (seriously, he yelled) “LE AMO ABUELO!... LE AMO ABUELO!” (“I love you grandpa”). Immediately Lolita yelled even louder out of shock and embarrassment for him and I don’t think the two of us have laughed harder since I’ve been here. (She later referred back to it as the “Explocion de sentimiento” –“Explosion of feeling”) The director holding the microphone and the entire audience had absolutely no idea how to react (remember, Sundays are live) so there was an awkward silence with Wilfredo left looking straight at the camera; you could see it all—him coming down from his high and realizing what he had just done and realizing he was the cause of the awkward silence that we were all so painfully in the middle of. The initial shock wore off and the audience picked their jaws up off the ground and started clapping and cheering for him. He didn’t get voted off, actually, I’m not sure who did; I left after Wilfredo made his exit telling Lolita I needed to do my homework. Instead, I wrote this. You’re welcome.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Extra! Extra! Read All About It...

I am currently in the middle of very interesting, funny, irritating, and unbelievable saga. I’ll try to explain, but first some background information is needed. In the mornings we have classes at the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro or UAQ (pronounced more ore less like “walk”) and in the afternoons we have classes at a school called IUSI (I used to know what that stood for) which is referred to by everyone as “la escuela de Gabi.” Gabi is the resident director of our program and she also runs the IUSI. She is in charge of setting up where we live, making sure everyone is alright, planning our weekend trips and countless other logistics. The other day after morning classes at the UAQ, Gabi was there and I thought, “Huh, I wonder why Gabi is here” because she is usually at her school not the UAQ. Everyone was hanging out talking when she pulled me aside and told me she needed to talk to me. She told me that the director (dean maybe?) of the Faculdad de Lengus y Letras or FLL (the department of the UAQ that we go to) wanted to talk to her and me in her office. She also said that she never hears from her about her students and that she sounded very serious. Gabi asked her if it was about my bag that had been stolen in Sierra Gorda and the FLL lady said she didn’t want to discuss it on the phone and that it was best if she brought me into her office. Gabi then asked me if there was anything that she should know. Even though Gabi is more of a director and organizer than a disciplinarian, she still heads up the one-women committee that decides if your ass gets sent back to the states if you do something wrong. After I cleaned the pee out of my pants I told her no, I couldn’t think of anything. I could tell she believed me and wasn’t trying to accuse me or trap me or anything, but still I was a bit nervous. Tiffany—our student assistant leader person who was in the program a couple years ago—Gabi and I walked over to the office. I felt like I was walking to the gallows, and, to hide my nervousness I said to Tiffany, “I feel like I’m going to the principle’s office in 7th grade all over again.” After I said it I realized that wasn’t even a joke, that’s exactly how I felt, I was completely expecting Mr. Shea and Ms. Gritzmacher to walk out of that office and say, “Ok, we’re ready for you now, Stephen.” I’m not kidding, I would have bet on it. Well, that didn’t happen, actually, for a long time nothing at all happened. We stood outside of this lady’s office for about an hour while she was in there with someone else. This certainly didn’t calm our nerves. Tiffany and Gabi were both nervous because they didn’t know what was going on and didn’t want me to be in trouble and I was nervous because I was going over everyday in my mind that I have been here trying to think of what I might have done wrong. I spent (no joke) about a minute and a half to two minutes trying to figure out whether or not I had accidentally killed an endangered species. (“I don’t think I did, did I? I killed that cockroach the other day in my bathroom but that’s not an endangered species or anything, it was just a cockroach. Maybe it was a special kind of cockroach that I’ve never heard of and is facing extinction… Oh, no…Crap!… But wait, how would she know about that? There’s no way, right? Who did I tell about that?…”) Finally, we get called into her office. At this point it is just Gabi and I because Tiffany had to take off midway through the arduous wait. I shake the lady’s hand and smile and was reminded of an anecdote that my professor of Italian Renaissance art told us once in class about how the last thing someone did before being executed during the Renaissance in Italy was to tip the executioner. That’s what I felt like I was doing when I smiled and shook her hand, but she seemed nice enough so I figured she would at least make it quick and that hopefully she wasn’t a cockroach preservationist. Well, in turns out that I didn’t do anything wrong (that they know of) and in fact it was good news—kind of. Phew. The FLL lady said that she got a call from a woman named Margarita who had news of my missing bag from the Sierra Gorda. Margarita was in a group of retired women from Mexico City that took a trip to the Sierra Gorda and was there the same time as us (Gabi said she saw them). Another lady, I believe named Rosa, saw my bag and thinking it was Margarita’s because she is a photographer, showed it to her. Margarita, being the saint that she is, looked through it saw my wallet with my UAQ I.D. card and told Rosa that it wasn’t hers. Well, Rosa didn’t seem to care—she took it anyways. Margarita, being the saint that she is, went online, looked up the UAQ, called around until she found the FLL lady who called Gabi and then there we were, the four of us on a conference call in the principle’s office. The three of them did the talking, as it is nearly impossible not only to understand three Mexican women speaking rapidly in Spanish into a speakerphone but also finding a millisecond to interject; I couldn’t have said anything even if I wanted to or knew how. After the call was over, Gabi translated it into Stephen for me (neither English nor Spanish nor Spanglish, basically really slow Spanish with simple words, hand gestures, and clarification that I understand after every third sentence.) This is what happened: Margarita, being the saint that she is, saw on the bus that Rosa, being the old hag that she is, had taken my bag and she asked her for it so she could give it back since she saw my ID and would find a way to get it to me. Rosa refused and, get this, told her that she wants a reward for it! What!?! A reward? It’s not like she found it and was a Good Samaritan and deserves something for her effort (that role goes to St. Margarita), she stole it! That’s not a reward, that’s ransom! I want proof of life! Gabi, the FLL lady, and I thought the whole thing was kind of funny and Gabi half jokingly smiled and uttered, “Bienvenido a Mexico” (Welcome to Mexico). Since that day Gabi has talked to St. Margarita again who got Rosa’s phone number and address. Gabi called her on Friday and left a message and that’s the last I’ve heard. I’m fairly optimistic about the whole thing having both Margarita and Gabi on my side; I heard some people in our group say the other day that they think Gabi could solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. I told Lolita about it and she got a kick out of it laughing loudly at the idea of the whole thing and then essentially sent bad karma Rosa’s way. (I’m not exactly sure what she was trying to do but it was hilarious). So that’s where it all stands right now: my bag is in Mexico City with some old retired lady who wants me to pay her a sum of money to get it back. I’m picturing my bag being guarded by two armed guards with rifles in a dark warehouse while a clock ticks down like on “24” and the screen splits between me and Rosa, and the bag, and Margarita. Rosa better be careful or I’m going to have to tap into my inner Jack Bauer.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Surrealism

(Hey, I’m back. I’ve been somewhat busy recently and haven’t put anything up in a while. Here are three things that I have written in the past few weeks that I didn’t post partially because I didn’t have the internet when I wrote them or I didn’t have my computer when I had the internet and partially because I don’t think they’re very good or all that interesting. Oh well, here they are. I suggest reading them in the order they were posted [bottom to top]. Enjoy.)



We went to the Sierra Gorda this weekend which ended up being a strangely bittersweet experience. First of all, we were told it was really hot there as it was the jungles region of Mexico and to expect in the upper 90’s or above. Well that never happened, actually it rained most of the time. The first day not so much, but the others definitely. The first day and night we stayed in Jalpan which was a cool little town but not much different from others we had passed through. We enjoyed ourselves nonetheless in part because of a karaoke bar we found, invaded, and conquered (Two words: Air Supply). The next day we traveled around the area and went to a mission and a waterfall that we “swam” in. By swam, I mean we stood next to it or underneath it and got reamed by it. It was a pretty nice little spot. That night we went to Xilitla and checked into an awesome hotel that was built into the jungle and owned by the nicest old couple and their dog Chucho. Even though he kind of smelled bad, he was an awesome dog. On Monday we went to a surrealist garden made by the British artist, Edward James. I guess he was this rich British guy who went to Mexico to build a crazy garden and smoke a lot of peyote. It showed. A guy who had been on the program before described it as “walking around in a Salvador Dali painting.” That was about right, although I thought I was more in a Dr. Seuss book than anywhere else. It was a ridiculous place with stairs that lead to nowhere, nonsensical buildings, waterfalls, and not a single handrail. (You would think safety would be a priority for someone who was constantly so high, but apparently Mr. James felt handrails and other safety devices didn’t fit into the aesthetics of his surrealist garden.) Throughout the day I took about 13,4726 pictures, (it was impossible not to) only to have my camera bag equipped with my wallet and iPod stolen when I went swimming in the river and waterfalls. Yeah, so that sucked. I didn’t know this when I was swimming so I was able to enjoy that to the fullest, especially when a friend of mine looked at me with the look of confusion turned to epiphany—like he just figured out a difficult math problem—and said, “Dude, we’re jumping off of waterfalls in a surrealist garden in the Mexican jungle!” Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated for the reality to set in. Certainly afterwards the camera bag/wallet/iPod disaster was weighing on mind, but I kept reminding myself that I got to jump off of waterfalls in a surrealist garden in the Mexican jungle in order to keep my spirits up. For the most part, it worked. The reason we were able to take such a long trip this weekend is because it was the Mexican Independence Day. In every town square in Mexico at 11PM there is the “Grito.” Literally, it means “Yell” and comes from when Miguel Hidalgo yelled “Viva Mexico!” in Guanajuato signifying the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. After a while of contemplating whether we wanted to go to the Xilitla grito in the pouring rain or watch the Mexico City one with the president on TV, my friend Jessica and I decided to go and meet up with the few people of our group who had already left. (We were late because there was football on TV and not only football but American football, and not only American football but Monday Night Football, and not only Monday Night Football but two good teams—the Eagles and Cowboys—and a great game, and not only that but we were getting the English telecast. Oh, how I have missed you football; life just isn’t the same without you. I spent a significant portion of the night making hypothetical bets—since my money was all stolen—with the husband of one of my professors. I think I lost all of them.) Anyways, we walked through this monsoon not dressed for rain (since we packed for 90-100 degree heat) and right as we got there as the grito was beginning the rain stopped. The grito lasted about ten minutes, people yelled “Viva Mexico!” really loudly, they rang a ton of bells, and then just as the final word was being spoken the rain (“rain” isn’t the right word, this was more like a “dumping” of water) started up again. It was crazy, it took one ten-minute break the entire evening and happened to be for the entirety of the grito and that was it. Surreal was the word of the weekend. After taking refuge under an awning we were all discussing how we couldn’t believe the break in the climate and trying to figure out what to do when the aforementioned Jessica got a phone call from someone and judging from her end of it, it wasn’t good news. She told us that it was her roommate from Oregon who is studying abroad through the University in Moreila, a town about two or three hours west of Queretaro and a place we are visiting in November, and that a bomb went off during the fireworks after the grito. She was apparently just fifty or so feet away from the explosion and saw some pretty horrible things. Once again, it seemed surreal to go from a feeling of disbelief in the weather to one of disbelief that our friend’s friend just witnessed a bombing in a town which is not much different than or very far from the one we were in or have been living in for the past month. I quickly forgot about my camera bag. Strangely, there was nothing about it on any of the news channels (they cover the grito like it’s the New Year with cameras in every major city in Mexico) and we wondered if it was a fireworks malfunction or what had really happened. The next morning I got the internet to work in the hotel lobby and read that they think two grenades went off and that three were dead and fifty or more injured. As I write this, the last I heard the death toll was up to nine. I’m telling you, it was a surreal weekend.

Schmorgusboard

Things I spend in inordinate amount of time thinking about as I Frogger the streets of Queretaro:

The movie “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford is the EXACT opposite of the O.J. Simpson saga. Go over that movie in your head with that in mind. You will laugh, I promise. (I know what your thinking, could I have more dated references than the O.J. Simpson trial and a movie with Harrison Ford from the early 90’s? Actually, yes. If you think about it, between Luis Pasteur and Amerigo Vespucci this is by far the most topical issue I have covered).

I miss football. Badly. Yeah, of course I miss my family and friends and Taco Bell (I’ll let you pick the order) but I really miss football. Prediction: In a month or two I will use this space to write: “I miss basketball. Badly.”

Does Stephen Hawking slur his speech when he’s drunk? It’s an interesting discussion to have with yourself, trust me. After much deliberation on this topic (about a day and a half) I decided that Stephen Hawking is much to smart to let himself become as stupid as a drunk. Still, you (I) have to wonder what he would be like…

I saw a music video at a restaurant with Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg and all I could think about was, who has a better life, Snoop Dogg or Justin Timberlake? There’s way too much here to even elaborate. I could write a book on this. Right now, it’s a tie.

It was Michael Jackson’s 50th birthday the other day. I wonder if he went to Chuck-E-Cheese’s or Bullwinkle’s.


On another note, we are going to Sierra Gorda this weekend, which is supposedly this really cool place in the jungle area where this British surrealist artist, Edward James, built a Surrealist garden. I have only heard good things about it and one guy from the last group described it as “walking around in a Salvador Dali painting.” Needless to say, I’m excited.

Guanajuato

This weekend we went to Guanajuato, which is one of my favorite places that I have been to. It is about a two and half/ three hour bus ride from Queretaro and I am not sure that I can describe the amazingness of it in words so I will just try to describe a one really cool thing that happened. (Microsoft Word is telling me that “amazingness” isn’t a word. I don’t care, I’m sticking with it.) We stayed in a nice hostel that was really close to the main plaza and all the cool happenings. And, after a long day of going to the house that Diego Rivera was born in which is now a museum of his stuff, taking a tram to the top of the hill over looking the city, and watching Mexico beat Jamaica 3-0 in a World Cup Qualifier match, we went on the roof of our hostel and watched the sunset and drank some beers. After a while a few of us decided to head out for some food only to find thousands of people walking the streets of this relatively small city center. It wasn’t a holiday or a parade or anything, that’s just what it’s like there on a Saturday night: people hanging out at restaurants, or on balconies, or people hanging out in the plaza, people slowly walking the streets, etc. The streets were packed with people; it was great. Anyways, on our way to food, we got distracted by a band of minstrels playing music for people on the steps of this really sweet Neo-classical theater they have there. (I guess in October they have a Cervantes festival that’s really popular. There are statues and paintings of Cervantes, Don Quixote, and Sancho sprinkled throughout the town. It’s like Ashland’s Shakespeare Festival except in Spanish not English, and in Guanajuato, Mexico not Ashland, Oregon and it’s Cervantes not Shakespeare. Yeah, so except for those minor details it’s just like Ashland’s Shakespeare Festival.) So these minstrels are playing for all these people on the steps and they are dressed in full 16th century garb looking like extras from a Mexican rendition of a Robin Hood movie and we are only there for about half a song until…they became wandering minstrels! They addressed the audience after a song and told us to follow, which of course we did. It was great; we wandered the streets of Guanajuato in a big pack of people following a bunch of guys wearing tights as they played “De Colores.” Having heard us speak English, a guy in the pack asks us where we are from and I tell him and then I ask him the same. (It’s weird, some people here will hear us speaking English and want to practice their English with us but we want to practice our Spanish with them and feel that it is polite to speak to someone in Spanish if you can. So this gentleman asked me questions in English and I responded and asked him questions in Spanish. Even though we were both insulting each other’s languages mightily, it was quite an interesting conversation linguistically.) He told me he was from there in Guanajuato and to that I asked him where these traveling minstrels might be going, assuming he would know. At the time we were on these steps that lead to a road that goes to a spot to over look the city. The man looked at me slightly confused and said, “I don’t know. Up.” The point of all this is that not even the locals knew where they were going. (And it was mostly locals, or at least Mexicans in the group, despite there being quite a few Americans in the town during the day.) People just followed them around for the hell of it, never really knowing where they were going. I loved it. I heard later that you’re supposed to give them $10 and they give you drinks and you can follow them around to different restaurants in the town. I suppose these guys worked for the restaurants and people were supposed to drop off the pack and go to eat along the way as new people join. We didn’t know this so eventually our hunger got the best of us and we left behind our traveling minstrels in pursuit of food and free restrooms—we only accomplished half of those goals and returned to the hostel for the other. In all it was a great time, how dare Microsoft Word tell me “amazingness” isn’t a word!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What?


http://view.break.com/567077 - Watch more free videos

Hey, I'm all for saving the trees and the environment and everything, but seriously? Who are these people? Where do they come from?

Friday, September 5, 2008

AmeriGO!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Amerigo Vespucci recently. Even more so than usual, because, believe it or not, I think about Amerigo Vespucci quite a bit. Actually, since about fourth grade. I’m sure it’s not healthy. I don’t remember exactly what grade it was (I think it was fourth), but I remember the textbook and I can picture the page of the book from whatever grade it was that has been the catalyst for my fascination with Amerigo. (We’re on a first name basis). Anyways, a day or two after I wrote my bit about Luis Pasteur I couldn’t sleep after realizing the biggest exception to everything I had written: Amerigo Vespucci! This guy has two of the seven continents named after him, no one else has any, and no one knows who the hell he was! I think about this all the time: this guy needed Christopher Columbus’ PR guy. The textbook I referred to had multiple pages on Christopher Columbus, claiming he was the first person to ever think the world was round (suuuuure), and one sentence on poor ol’ Amerigo. Something like, “Italian Amerigo Vespucci was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean and the new continents took on his name.” That’s it! I’m not making this up; he has two continents and one sentence! How is this fair? I bet poor ol’ Amerigo does 360s in his grave every time they close government buildings and refuse to deliver mail for the schmuk Christopher Columbus. The worst thing about it is that he was the first one smart enough to realize that these new continents weren’t Asia. Not only did that Columbus fool think he was in India or something, he wasn’t even the first European to land in the Americas, Leif Ericson was. In reality, all Christopher Columbus did was spread a bunch of diseases to the natives. Jerk. I can honestly remember learning about Amerigo and other stuff that you don’t really need to know unless you’re trying to sound smarter than you actually are at a dinner party (or on your blog). (Why is it that I can remember not only who Amerigo Vespucci, Vasco da Gama, and Bartholomew Diaz were but also their nautical achievements and what countries they sailed for from fourth grade yet I continue to mix up the names of two guys in my group who I have seen everyday for the last three weeks?) (I know, I know, I know, I use WAY too many parentheses). Anyways, back to the action, you would think someone that has two continents named after him would at least get some recognition, I mean, if Luis Pasteur can have a street in Mexico named after him (and I’m sure other places, that guy was a god among men) then why can’t Amerigo get a little love. Has their ever been a parade in the name of Amerigo Vespucci? I doubt it. I don’t really like parades so I probably wouldn’t go if there were one, but still, billions of people fall under the banner of “Americans” from the North and South and our textbooks and parade committees don’t even care. I smell a conspiracy theory. This guy gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. The other thing that fascinates me about Amerigo is that he named the continents after his first name. I have spent an unhealthy amount of time wondering why. How much different would all of our lives be if poor ol’ Amerigo named them after his last name? What if we were the United States of Vespucci? Would that make us Vespuccans? Would people still hate Canadians? Would NAFTA be NVFTA? That doesn’t work at all, it looks like Roman Numerals. U-S-V! U-S-V! It’s kind of like how Eugene Skinner named Eugene, Oregon after his first name except TIMES A BILLION! All of this has me questioning my previous statements of the popularity I would have gained from naming the microwave or deodorant after myself. No invention will ever surpass having two continents named after you (except if someone invented something that could make continents. That would be so cool). Well, I’m not exactly sure how to wrap this up seeing as I haven’t really made a significant point. How do you wrap something up in which you made no point? Honestly, I’m surprised you’re still reading. Oh, I guess my point is that how come some people gain cult like status for doing something of relatively little significance, (see: Guevara, Che) and others get one sentence in a fourth grade history book? (That’s not a point, that’s a question. Oh, well). Nothing is sacred. I’m afraid that when I invent a backpack that doesn’t leave your back and shoulders soaking with sweat after walking home from class in the Mexican sun (and name it an “Oliver” of course) that for some reason beyond my control people won’t remember who I was and I will be no better than the microwave guy or deodorant dude or poor ol’ Amerigo. I might be the first person in the history of the world to lose sleep over Amerigo Vespucci. I don’t know what to think anymore.

Birthday

Hey, thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday. I had a good one. I told Lolita about it about a week ago but she didn't remember in the morning and I didn't want to tell her because I didn't want her to have to bake me a cake or something. I told her in the afternoon and she told me I should have told her in the morning and then proceeded to bake me a cake. Then I realized how stupid I had been, why would I not want someone to bake me a cake? It's cake. What was I thinking? It especially hit home when she told me she used to work in a cake shop and even more so when I tasted it. It was a good one, well, thanks again!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Spice Rack



I don't care what spice this actually is, what that translates to, or how it is spelled, I hope none of it ever makes it into my food.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Backstabbing, Shotguns, Hot Blind Girls, and So Much More!

Everyday everyone goes home from morning classes for “la comida” which is basically a late (and large) lunch that the host mothers cook. Everyone seems to have different stories and different experiences from their comida—some good some not so much. One thing that seems consistent across the group is that the senoras all want to keep giving you more and more food whether you like it or not. Usually Lolita and I just talk during comida (when I say “we” talk I mean she talks and I listen and agree) and I try to eat the food she prepared that is enough to feed each member of the Von Trapp family, a pride of lions, and Oprah Winfrey’s entire studio audience. However, sometimes during comida we watch TV and if there is one thing that has been the most consistent here (it’s certainly not the bus system or the likelihood that a restroom will have toilet paper) it has been that there are always soap operas on TV. And, I must say, I love it. I can’t remember the name but today we were watching one and although I can’t consistently follow the dialogue, Lolita keeps me informed on who is good and who is bad—that is, if I can’t tell from the music or the look on their faces. I realized about half way through today that this is really the only time here that I will be able to ask questions like, “Why does that guy have a shotgun?” or “Was he trying to poison her or was that meant for the other lady?” or “Is he the father of the hot blind girl’s kids too?” (Apparently my friend Chris watches it with his host mom as well and he said he kept wondering how the hot blind girl put on her makeup. I was mad I didn’t think of that.) And in return Lolita gives me hints like why one guy had to hide when the other one showed up—I didn’t understand, why was the guy with the shotgun hiding? In any difference of opinion, shotgun always beats no shotgun—and she gets to tell me stuff like, “She wants him back because he is hotter than her new husband” and “That’s his sister but he doesn’t know it.” There’s nothing like brushing up on my backstabbing, convoluted family tree vocab. You never know when that will come in handy. They also seemingly live in one giant house which conveniently lends itself to at least five conversations an episode that are overheard from an adjacent hallway by a passerby who wasn’t supposed to here them. Also, no one ever shuts any doors. Quite convenient, indeed. It’s strange how these people are cunning enough to go behind the backs and lie to the people they know best but lack the common sense to shut the freaking door. Idiots. Even though it will be difficult to see the TV behind the mound of food on the plate in front of me, I’m thinking that in tomorrow’s episode shotgun might beat out no shotgun.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bernal



On Sunday we took a day trip to Bernal, which is about 45 minutes away from Queretaro. Both the town and the giant monolith with the same name were awesome. It is something like the second largest monolith in the world. We hiked up it as far as you can go with out actually rock climbing with ropes and harnesses and whatnot. There were a few people that were rock climbing it and it looked both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. The hike, although not necessarily very far, was quite hard as it is all rock and very steep—there were two dogs that once they got to the top immediately hit the ground and fell asleep panting uncontrollably. Those of us that made it all the way up had lunch up there, took pictures, climbed around some more and then went back into the town. (It was a bit eerie that I had Ben Kweller’s “Falling” stuck in my head as we gingerly made our way down the steep, slick rock… “just say hello to the ground/ do you feel like your falling down?”) The town was really cool as well; there was a church in the town square that was yellow and orange (but not hideous like) and across the street there was a “Museo de Mascaras” or “Mask Museum.” I am not sure “museum” is the right word to describe a building that used to be a prison with no one in it and one room with a bunch of frightening masks on the walls, but once you get past the initially creepiness of it, it was really sweet. Another store had a bunch of colorful ponchos hanging up around the door outside and when you go in you can walk past the counter into the back and they have a bunch of huge looms and massive amounts of yarn and thread where they make all their own stuff. There were also parrots and other birds back there, walls of colorfully woven pillows and blankets, as well as a little puppy that I visited about five times before I left. Except for the ridiculous tank top shaped sunburn I got (without a shirt I look like I’m wearing a wife-beater with nipples), the whole day was great and if anyone is ever in central Mexico I strongly suggest spending a day in Bernal.


(Before this weekend I had taken only four pictures: two of trees that grow in streets, one of a stretch slug bug and one of some goats that live in a parking lot by my school. Above are two from Bernal. You’re welcome.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why Luis Pasteur Was A Genius...

(NOTE: We went to Bernal today and it was awesome, I will have more on that and other relevant topics relating to Mexico and my time here, however, this is not one of them.)

The first time I went driving around with Lolita I noticed they have a street here called “Pasteur” and I thought “Oh, like Luis Pasteur.” It turns out it’s exactly like Luis Pasteur as the whole name of the street is “Calle Luis Pasteur” and not only that but there is a clinic of sorts near my house named after him too—and it’s not even on Calle Pasteur. My ten minutes of wikipedia research found no connection between the Frenchman that pasteurized milk and Queretaro, Mexico. Regardless, I got to thinking as I was walking to the park to read today what a genius this guy was. Not only did he pasteurize milk but he also named it after himself. Now, as long as there is milk people will know who Luis Pasteur was. Conversely, inventors that don’t do this must be idiots. For whatever reason, the two products/inventions that I was thinking about were the microwave and deodorant. No one knows who invented either of those. No one even cares. It seems incomprehensible to me that someone would be smart enough to invent the microwave—the greatest kitchen appliance since the oven, and if you’re a college student the greatest kitchen appliance ever—and still be stupid enough to not name it after him or herself. If I invented the microwave I simply would have called it an Oliver; people would call it an Ollie for short. There would be an Oliver in 98% of American homes and an “Olliable Food” aisle in every grocery store in America. College students everywhere would love me and they would say stuff like, “Dude, Ollie those hot dogs for a couple more seconds” or “Hey, we should Oliver our clothes instead of paying for the dryers at the laundromat.” It would be awesome for all parties involved. The same is true for deodorant. We get it, it deodorizes, thanks for helping us out. Whoever invented deodorant could have had their name be synonymous with keeping people from perspiring and smelling like crap throughout their days worldwide. Instead no one knows who invented it because they were too stupid to put their name on it. Once again, if I invented deodorant it would be called “Oliver” and I would be loved by people with overactive sweat glands around the world. People would have their favorite kind of Oliver and there would be commercials with famous athletes endorsing a brand of Oliver. My kids would get into Harvard and someone might even write an uninteresting book about me that I could sign and pass off as birthday and Christmas presents every year. It has occurred to me that I may be wrong and somewhere there is a James Microwave or a Thomas Deodorant sitting around their mansion counting their billions, but I find that hard to believe. I was going to look up the microwave and deodorant on wikipedia as to avoid any factual errors that I might be making and to see who actually invented them (if anyone even knows) but I decided I didn’t care enough to read about some guy who didn’t realize the full potential of his invention. If microwaves were called “Smiths” I would be interested and have looked it up but instead I looked up “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and laughed my ass off. I wonder if the inventor of the microwave thinks about all this every night before he goes to bed (not “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” the other stuff I’ve been talking about) and what a mistake he made or if his wife brings it up in arguments (“You could have named the microwave after us you idiot!” …she has a valid point). I bet Luis Pasteur never regretted anything and went to bed every night with a happy wife and a smile on his face knowing that he will be forever immortalized on milk cartons and street signs worldwide. And would I also bet that the deodorant dude and the microwave guy are quite jealous.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Los Arboles


This is a picture of one of my favorite things here in Queretaro. There are trees in the streets and sidewalks that instead of cutting down to make way for said streets and sidewalks they simply just paved around. I could be wrong and these are just crazy Mexican trees that can grow in concrete, but I’m highly skeptical of that theory. This tree is just a few blocks from my house and every time I pass it I ponder the ridiculousness of its existence. All they did was paint the bottom white! This is the kind of tree preservation that would make even Tre Arrow proud—although the approximately 4.2 million cars I have seen here compared to the exactly four bikes might not make him so happy. (I actually feel really bad for the cyclists here because each time I see one I am convinced that they haven’t got more than five minutes left to live.) Anyways, I was thinking about this on my way to class yesterday and wondering if there is a Mexican version on Tre Arrow. I highly, highly doubt it. Throughout the course of my half an hour walk I concluded that Tre Arrow as an idea and a person has to be a purely American invention—I couldn’t think of another place in the world where he could possibly exist. As soon as I came to this conclusion I realized that I had spent the last 30 minutes thinking about an eco-terrorist and his possible Mexican counterpart while obliviously walking through this really cool town with all this really cool stuff to see and not really taking any of it in. I wouldn’t say this depressed me, although I certainly wasn’t proud of myself.

(My favorite part of Tre Arrow’s wikipedia article that I linked above is that he used incense as the fuse to blow stuff up. Seriously? Talk about leaving behind your calling card. He might as well have just handcuffed himself and waited for the cops to get there.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dance Class

Last night after dinner Lolita asked me if I wanted to go with her to her gym for her dance class. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do there or how long we’d be there or if I was just going to walk with her but I couldn’t say no and she has been telling me about her gym and all of her activities since I have been here. And, after all, at least this time I knew where I was going. When we got there the class had already started and there were about 15-20 people participating. Lolita, wearing workout pants with a blue washcloth tucked into the waistband, walked right up to the back and seamlessly joined the synchronization. (No one wears shorts here I have noticed. Even most of the guys lifting weights in the gym were wearing pants.) It was really quite amazing how all these people knew the dance moves and everything, I don’t know where or how they know them, but they did. I have seen aerobics in the States before and it is not really like this, this was more like Mexican dancing aerobics. Leading the class was a young, fit, attractive, short Mexican lady who yelled out instructions. Since we haven’t gotten to the dance aerobics vocabulary in any of my Spanish classes yet I wasn’t really sure what she was yelling but somehow, despite the fact that the music was blaring, this tiny little lady’s voice carried over all of it. Lolita was good at it (whatever its called) and she really got into it. I could tell she was glad that I came and she even introduced me to some of her gym friends who gave me sweaty kisses on the cheek and one told her that there was a girl from the states in the next class that I should meet. She said they can tell really easily when someone isn’t from here which just confirmed what I already knew. I thought it was really cool that everyone knew the dance steps and it did not take long here to figure out that Mexicans love to dance. I have already “danced” in one of my classes and I think we are going to in another tomorrow. It makes me jealous as an American that I never learned dances called “tango” or “salsa” but rather “grind” and “drunk.” There’s no art or beauty in either or those, especially when combined. Meanwhile, as I am thinking all of this, Lolita and her classmates dance away and I contemplate whether I should take a picture of this spectacle. I decide that I am sticking out enough as the gringo standing in the corner wearing shorts and a backpack watching a Mexican aerobics class without flashing off a picture in a mirrored room. Needless to say, I decided a mental image would have to do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

¡Hola!

Hi everyone, greetings from Queretaro. I figured I would set up this blog to give updates and pictures and what not along my way. (I haven´t taken any pictures yet so only this boring tidbit for now.) I have no idea how often I will do this but you can check or not check it whenever you want. Today is my first time on the internet (except about five minutes yesterday for an email) making the two and a half days without it the longest I have gone without internet since its existance. Didn´t think I´d make it, but I´m OK.

I got in later than I was supposed to on Sunday and met my host mother whose name is Lolita. She has a cool house with crazy stairs--it´s hard to explain. She is really nice and she immediately showed me all of her drawings; she takes art classes and at night draws the faces from a Leonardo da Vinci book she has. She is actually really good and she gets really excited when she talks about it. Being as my Spanish can at best be described as suspect, the two of us have a bit of a difficulty with communication. So far it has all been fine--she usually just laughs at me when I say something stupid--she does most of the talking and I aggree with what she says whether I understand or not and she knows I don´t really understand. Yesterday she was trying to tell me something that I wasn´t really understanding and the next thing I know we are driving somewhere in her car. I thought maybe she was taking me to an internet cafe because I had asked her earlier about one. In her car on the way to where ever it is we were going she asked me why I have my backpack and since I don´t know how to say ¨Because I have no idea where the hell we are going¨in Spanish I responded ¨uhhh, no se.¨ (¨don´t know¨). She laughed and told me she thought it was funny that I would bring my backpack to a restaurant. Apparently we were going to a restaurant. I aggreed that it was funny that I would bring my backpack, as if I knew where we were going all along. She saw right through it. Luckly, she is very patient with me and my ignorance. It turns out we were meeting the entire group and their host mothers for ¨comida.¨ Others in the group were confused as well, so that´s good. Because I don´t always understand what Lolita is saying, I am not exactly sure about certain things about her. So,

Things I know about Lolita:
°She lives alone but has three kids and seven grandkids. I have yet to meet them.
°She has a sweet black lab that stays in the carport area next to my room.
°She has yet to stop at a stop sign when driving.
°When walking she doesn´t expect drivers to stop at stop signs, intersections, etc. for her as she briskly walks or runs across most streets.
°She likes watching the Olympics and really likes Michael Phelps. (I have heard from others in the group that their host mothers were enamored with Phelps as well.)

Things I think I know about Lolita:
°She likes George Bush and she does not like Hugo Chavez. (I must say though, I am sure of very little from this conversation and I can´t say for certain what she was trying to tell me.)
°Her black lab´s name is ¨Roc¨(?)
°She is not attracted to Chinese men.
°She used to play basketball. (Still does?)
(All of these should have an asterisk by them since I am only about 25% sure that they are true.)

Things I have learned about myself:
°The next time I don´t look both ways before crossing a street is likely to be the last mistake I ever make.