Saturday, February 21, 2009

Travels with Susan -- North, South and Center

This looks like a great big time machine, doesn't it? I'm not sure what it's called, but it shares part of the plaza in front of the Shrine of Guadalupe. It depicts all sorts of ways to keep track of time. I'm putting it here as an acknowledgement that I have indeed let time get away from me. But I'm ready to remedy that right about . . . now:

I started traveling after Christmas, mostly short trips like up to San Sebastian and Mascota in the mountains back of Puerto Vallarta, into PV itself for a few days at a friend's time share (ah, the good life!), up to the Four Seasons at Punta Mita to visit friends staying there (ah, the very good life!), and another trip to Tepic to introduce more friends to that great vegetarian restaurant, Quetzalcoatl.

There was also a recent trip north to Lubbock to check in with my Mom and Dad. That was a five day trip going and coming, as I drove to Phoenix with a friend and did Lubbock as an airplane side trip. Won’t be doing THAT too often! But Ann and I had no trouble at all with our trip through “tierra caliente,” which is what the Mexicans call the Sinaloa corridor along the Pacific Coast from Mazatlán to Nogales that's been in the news so much lately. There were lots of checkpoints and the occasional Mercedes or Suburban with dark windows and no license tags whizzing by. And there was that hotel in Los Mochis with a machine-gun-toting uniformed guard on every balcony. No I don’t know who they were or what was going on, but we decided to find some place else to stay. Nobody bothered with two middle-aged white ladies in a Toyota RAV4. We’d bought some apples for the trip and kept lying to the agricultural inspection guys about not carrying fruit or vegetables. After about the third time I didn’t even break a sweat. We might be ready for some big time smuggling sometime in the future, but don’t bet on it.

I spent several days in Mexico City right after the first of the year. My time there was jampacked, thanks to my friend Jorge, his family and friends.

Jorge and his wife Irma are friends of mine from San Francisco. Irma was back home, but Jorge was in town visiting some of his five brothers and five sisters. Sounds like my mom's family!

My first evening in town, his brother Wilfrido joined us and accompanied us to the northern part of the city to introduce us to Wilfrido's friend, Horacio, an expert on the history of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Horacio's office, tucked back into a rabbit warren of rooms filled with relics and treasures, is stuffed to the rafters with memorabilia from his studies and writing.

He is not only an expert on Guadalupe, but on popular religiosity and traditions throughout the world. Horacio has written three books about the legend of Guadalupe, its origins and its significance. He received a gold medal and citation from the Pope for his work separating fact from fiction about the history of Juan Diego and his encounter on the hill of Tepeyac. OK, so the fiction prevails in popular thought. I'll tell you more in Virgin Territory. I AM still working on my book.

Horacio, was very generous with his time, and it was the wee small hours of the morning when we arrived at Armida's house far to the south of the city. Happily there isn't as much traffic in the federal district at one in the morning!

The next day I explored the Dolores Olmedo Museum with Pimplo, another friend of Jorge's family. It is near Xochimilco, only a short distance from where I was staying.

A haven, an oasis, a paradise -- I don't know how to describe this 400 year old hacienda and former home of one of Diego Rivera's last lovers. She was more than his lover. She was his patron who collected his work and then converted her home to a museum to house it and some of the work of two other women in his life, Angelina Belhoff and Frida Kahlo. There are also temporary exhibits featuring current artists, and an extensive exhibit of Mexican popular and folk art. One visit is practically the equivalent of a semester at an art institute.

So, fired up and inspired, on my last full day Jorge and I painted, I with borrowed canvas, brushes, and acrylic paint. Painting seems to be the primary Perez family passtime. Another family friend who I never knew by any name other than "maestro," maintains a workshop/studio, which is filled mainly with work from Jorge and his sisters.

Armida collected us late in the afternoon, and the three of us headed north of the city once more, this time to visit Guadalupe’s basilica. I wanted to see the new one, as one whole chapter of Virgin Territory consists of my visiting the old one back in 1957 when I was eight years old. I figured there might have been a few changes. There were. Lots more scaffolding in and around the old shrine. But the new yurt-shaped basilica was worth the visit, and like I say, more about that in the book.

Traversing the city southward once more, Jorge wanted one last visit to the Zócalo, the main plaza of the Federal District.

It was magic, the last hurrah of the holiday season before all the decorations come down and the lights go out. A good place to spend my last evening in the heart of Mexico.

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