Tuesday, August 30, 2011

¿Que es esto?

Can something sweet be sinister? 

Miles to Go Before I Sleep...

If you're wondering how many miles we've clocked so far, the places along the way...

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. ~ Robert Frost

3, 122 miles ~ 5.024 k

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Seasons of My Heart

Oaxaca, Mexico

Seasons of My Heart is an incredible Oaxacan cooking class and experience. The day we gathered, we were 12: San Francisco, New York, England, Italy, Colombia and a group of chefs from Morelia, Mexico. You explore market day at Etla (30 mins from Oaxaca) where farmers, butchers, cheese makers, women and men alike gather to sell, trade and even barter their goods. Equipped with 3-inch yellow spoons, you then nibble and smack lips on various fruits, local delicacies, handmade tamales...new flavors on taste buds. The market is small so you find yourself mixing with local people, skin on skin, squeezing tightly in corners and passages along the stalls. The voice of a boy and his guitar plays music to wet your appetite. It's time for lunch (enchilada con mole coloradito) and a rejuvenating cup of chocolate con agua.

enchilada con mole coloradito

Then off you go to a beautiful kitchen surrounded by idyllic pastures, a stream, a brown horse... recipes, ingredients, pre-columbian history deciphered by world renown chef and author, Susana Trilling. Inspired, you don aprons, pair off and peel, chop, roast and sautee away. 3 hours later, you sit at a large communal table and enjoy the labor of love, 5 dishes you've just magically created. Each dish, a story, each spoonful, a celebration.

The day is golden, rays of sun peaking between trees. 

My belly and spirit are eternally grateful for Susana and the lovely people on the tour. Highly recommend this once and a life time experience when in Oxaca. Enjoy all the Seasons of My Heart photos (there's a ton, so please check them out). Find some favorites below.

naked cocoa beans
what makes the the chilhuacle negro so special?
 - it is the prized chili in Oaxaca (1 kilo ~ $60)
limestone cutter - did you know, the 
essential ingredient for tortillas?
inconceivably colorful 
adore the color of this sweet tamale.
Guess what's inside?...cinnamon sticks and raisins :)
Dull knife? I know just the place...
guaje beans, tastes like peas
baby roosters while they're stlll cute
frothy chocolate con agua
Susana showing the lovely vines of the
calabaza squash for the first course soup
tomatoes and chilies for the mole chichilo

Saturday, August 27, 2011

¿Que es esto?

Earliest pictures of oaxacan cross dressers? 


An Italian orders a sandwich. The mexican waitress asks, what type of “musters”?

“Musters? Well, yes-ah, I have a masters in political science!!!!” He proclaims.

“Would you like American, German or Dijon?”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Dream and a Cooking Class

On the first night in Oaxaca, I have a dream.

There’s a couple. A man. He’s in the hospital. His passing is unexpected….I’m in a kitchen. There are other people around me. We’re preparing food and cooking.

The next morning, I try and remember the details of the dream. The mind a tad dull over boxed white wine and gritty, spiced Mexican beer, called michelada…a way to soften edges from the previous day’s poopenstance.

The bell tolls breakfast at 8am. A spread awaits us. Eggs scrambled with tomatoes and onions (a la Mexicana), wedges of sliced cantaloupe, watermelon, mango, yogurt. Bread that is flattened, then toasted and generously buttered. Hot coffee and sour grapefruit juice. The pink silk evaporates and puckers lips as the glass tilts fully upward.

We pass Javier, the B&B manager on our way to the library.

“What are you going to do today?”

His English is perfect. Too perfect and preened for gringo ears and wallets. He purrs and courts like a cheshire cat waiting for its next saucer of milk.

“No plans. But while we’re here I’d like to take a cooking class.“ My voice is surprisingly urgent.

He tells me about 2 options and goes off to make calls on his mobile phone hooked from the belt. He’ll arrange it and get back to me.


I find myself always hungry here.

Our first meal, a sampling of Oaxaqueno favorites. A platter painted with beef prepared 2 ways, grilled and rubbed with a red spice, 2 types of cheeses, fresh and crumbly, another a salty and chewy mozzarella (quesillo), uncased chorizo, bright red and tasting oddly fermented…and of course, the ever so famed, chapuline…roasted grasshoppers, crunchy and lemony against white gnashing teeth. The legend is if you eat these little insects, you will surely find your way back to Oaxaca one day. We place the bounty into palms of handmade tortillas offering the purse of gold to greedy mouths.

chapuline at the market

The tastes are rich and balanced. Salty against sweet. Sour against smoky. Calculated to coax the carnal queen and king from within.

There’s a little girl, no more than 6, she walks up to the table next to ours and lifts a sauced drumstick from a boy’s plate. She shows the claimed chicken in one hand and walks away. We look down at our feast and realize we must share…but before we can find her, it’s too late. Her body weaves amidst the tables until she’s out of our sight. There, in the crowds. The faint orange square lights gleam on her braided hair. She’s sharing her conquest with a baby sister. We realize that her pickings are deliberate, she chooses what she wants. Our dishes, perhaps too common…too boring to merit attention.

Oaxaca is what Lyon is to France, the culinary mecca of Mexico. Ingredients, spices, herbs, techniques, an ocean of pre-Columbian recipes passed down from generation to generation.

My mind bobs and waddles, its own quest to seek satiation. It’s not fully present, but lost somewhere in the constant need to pounce on the future, like Biela, ears perked, ready to jump at any moment at the patch of grass. At breakfast, the mind wants to know what will be for lunch, at lunch, what’s for dinner.


Our room inside the B&B, has a large window, a partial garden view. Time feels trapped somehow, forever overcast...longing for sun. The large garden wanes small with surrounding trees and bushes ---unyielding, blocking the sky above. There’s a koi pond with a large wire net over it. A family of parrots quibble over seeds behind closed cages.

Pictures of people adorn the dining room and entryway. Hand drawn cartoons with cutout photographed heads. Past group tours. Lively. There’s another cartoon with a band, animals carrying instruments. A group of people from Stanford. All the pictures are dated. Nothing past 2008.


Rain drops fall on a humid landscape. Sweat beads condense under rain jackets. We make our way to the zocalo, the main square, the heart of the city.

The sidewalks are smooth and uneven. Modern in comparison to the old cobblestone alleys of San Miguel de Allende. Busses and cars pour onto streets with purpose and speed. The street chokes with engine exhaust.

On our way, we walk up the steps of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. A showcase of various helado and nieve stands (ice cream and sorbet) out rival a diminutive empanada stand. A maiden in school uniform, white knee high socks, sits next to her beau, her mouth opens fully for him, ice cream exchanged with wet kisses. Her thick black wavy hair sweeps over her dark eyes… a beautiful face.

billboard along the mexican highway

We cross the enormous, Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción…ants to Everest. A restaurant on the square advertises its menu del dia for $65 pesos ($5.50). A small cigar stuffed and fried with frijoles and cheese. A bowl of green squash soup with a cheek of lime. A bowl brimming with sweet broth, bones and beef, string beans, carrots and chayote. A lemon gelatin with taro paste and coffee.

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

I’m always thinking about food. Always thinking about the next meal.

Why this sudden need? What am I trying to fill?


In the library at the B&B, there are pictures on walls and bookshelves like hibiscuses on tangled vines. Black and white photographs. Colored ones bleached by the sun. Folk art is scattered on tables and nooks filling gaps of empty spaces. A figurine of a woman giving birth. A red devil and his clubbed tail. A miniature rodeo, a man with a cowboy hat on top of a bull. Skulls and skeletons smoke and dance. A tree half alive and half dead, at the roots a sprouting fetus.

2 chairs sit next to one another. One is a long elegant oval backed rocking chair. The other is squarish and firm. There is intimacy in their proximity.

I try and recount the dream. I let my mind drift. The image is different. I see an old woman in her 80s. A love story unfolding. The woman decides to pass on because she cannot bear to have her husband take care of her. Their marriage, based on absolute freedom and staunch independence… its fullest meaning. She’s too prideful. She will not allow it, to be taken care of. She wills the end of her life. So like that she leaves. And he decides to follow her shortly after into the next life because he cannot live without her. He would have done anything for her. My heart cracks open, tears in my eyes. Why didn’t she tell him? Why? They are from a different generation when feelings were left unspoken. If only she had told him how much she loved him. How crazy she was for him. Handsome beyond her imagination. 

I'm confused now about the dream and the images in the library. Are they connected? I see the owner of the B&B…she is the spitting image of Frida Kahlo in flesh and blood, a cigarette between fingers. I want to walk up to her, share the story, but I stop myself. Embarrassed. Perhaps, the story is just for me.



There’s a fries stand in front of a cafe. 2 men in caps and yellow shirts crack jokes as they stir the cauldron of bubbling oil, fishing out vats of chips and fries. The smell of potatoes cooking in oil calls forth a demanding line of women, men and children. The center of the universe, all eyes are on this stand. Even at an identical fries stand next to it, the few people who go there, long to be at the other stand, eyes glued on these men in yellow and their potatoes. The man in yellow prepares an order, inside a large popcorn sized container. A layer of chips. A long squirt of ketchup. Another layer of chips. Topped off with a dash of maggi soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, the juice of half a lime and a dusting of chili powder. It isn’t too long before we find ourselves in front of the stand watching the magic show.

Across from the catedrale, we watch the night sky burst fireworks. A whirling lollipop of sparks spins and spits smoke. Colors of white, green and orange spray and explode like cannons. People walk past us, as we eat our dessert, fried platanos, bananas with sweetened condensed milk from the fries stand. We’re so close that it feels like we’ll catch fire at any minute.



On the 4th day, Javier has enrolled me in an all day cooking class. Meet in front of a hotel a couple minutes before 9am…his only instructions.

As I sip the last of my coffee, a family arrives at the communal table. The asian woman quizzes her 14 year old son and asks if pan, bread is masculine or feminine. Her husband, a balding man with glasses, thumps the entire table and all the mornings breakfast on top of it, as he sits, awkwardly.

“Oh, I’m sorry my legs are so long!” he screams out loud in English.

My cue to leave. The boy looks at me with a don’t leave me with these knuckle heads look.

The map shows me that it will be a quick walk. Even with directions I’m never sure if I’m going the right way. As I turn onto avenida crespo, I see a tall man wearing a pair of Keens and one of those hydration back packs. He kneels down to tie his shoe. My short legs speed walk past him. I cross another street, a woman with short hair and a red backpack walks in front of me. She’s headed the same way. Keens is still behind.

For a split second, we line up in unison like birds in flight.

But then, the woman takes a turn. I look down at my map and Keens walks past me.


12 are seated at a table. After the market, we’ve come back to a ranch to a beautiful kitchen. The class is taught by a world renown chef and author. I fall in love with her stories about mole. Oaxaca is a land of 7 moles. She describes the composition and the rituals…some moles eaten only during special events: births, quinceaneras, deaths. Food to celebrate, to morn loss, to mark new seasons. 

Our chairs are next to each other. Some one asks a question…was it cooking or specifically Mexican cooking that started her passion? I want to shake my head and dismiss the question. PBS filmed a documentary about her. She has written multiple books. She’s gracious in her response.

She asks me how I found out about the class. I tell her where I’m staying. She owes her success to Frida and her husband who convinced her to start teaching. She single handedly planned her destiny. Her comadre, her godmother. I tell her about my dream on my first night. That I saw a man.

She tells me that Frida’s husband died several years ago. That the B&B has a special place in her heart.


On our final day, Frida pours a pool of syrup on her hot cakes. Over morning conversations, I let her know that I've taken a cooking tour and how much I've enjoyed it, especially meeting the chef and author. Yes, I’m her comadre. She smiles a real smile. I tell her about her role in a woman’s destiny. Yes, I’d like to take the class again. She has a big heart. Her smile becomes bigger.

“What are you plans today?”

“We’re leaving for Puerto Escondido.”

“The beach. Have a great time. Come back and tell all your friends. It’s just a shame that people don’t come as much as they used to. Prejudice, you know. All the politics. It’s awful.” The mask gently makes its way back on.

I’m still unsure what the dream or the images in the library mean. If the events that followed were pure circumstance or if I played a heavy hand. What was the message? That while you're alive, tell those who you love what they mean to you before its too late? Or was I an irrelevant detail in the whole process, meant to pass a note, connect...remind those who once loved deeply to keep on loving, to keep on living.

By Mai Brehaut

Sunday, August 21, 2011


We arrive at the steps of the Oaxacan B&B after 7 hours on the road from Cuernavaca, not with a bang but with the whimper of a wet fart?

We open the trunk.

Manly’s brown eyes kowtow as low as they can go. “Oh, Manly!!!”

Biela looks visibly annoyed, small brown specks on the left side of her white coat.

There must have been some some last plea and stares from Biela before the final explosion.

“Why don’t you ever, ever go when we go on walks, man? This morning around the hotel, at the gas station….NO! Oh hell no! You did not…no you did not just explode on my fur!”

But Biela still looks white. Manly’s bed resembles a craft project gone gonzo, smelly brown blotches stamped all over his green bed. We automatically scan for the mound of decomposing stilton, fearful to inch our feet forward.

The good news is we’ve seen the worse.

We plan to visit 4 hotels in Oaxaca. A carefully crafted list zaps to zilch. It’s now a matter of stealth efficiency. Operation cleanup.

We painfully pick the dank B&B over the pristine executive hotel. All the factors line up optimizing its favor 1.) garden 2.) parking space 3.) room next to garden and parking space 4.) large jacuzzi tub inside room.

Both Biela and Manly are by my side as we watch Cedric drive through the gate and park. I stand next to a lone tree waiting for the coast to be clear.

It’s almost 2 days that he’s held it in. The last visit to the commode was inside the herb garden at the house in San Miguel. We opt for walks and quick stops at the hotel in Cuernavaca. And on the road, a small patch of grass next to the cactus at the gas station. It just doesn’t do for Manly. He needs his own private space; too much noise distracts, kills the mood. He needs to be unleashed. The place needs to be in a hidden area, preferably a bush tucked away in a corner. He needs you to look away.

Manly’s eyes lose their lustre. His backside and tail are completely covered in brown mud, tiny flies kamikaze close. The shame droops heavy on his face. He hides seeking refuge behind human knees.

I’m 3, too young to be in school. It’s the early of days of ecole maternelle…nursery school, pre-school in Paris. Pre words, pre sentences. I don’t know how to tell the scary French lady with bad breath that I need to go to the bathroom badly. Hours tick tock with the unbearable weight against a small bottom. Something gigantic is ready to burst from red corduroy seams. The uncontrollable muscles…the spasms...time to let her rip!

[insert the unabashedly fierce and loud fart noise]

I hop surprised, checking my shoes. I look down and around Manly. Did he just?..But where?? “Oh, Manly!” He’s still holding it in!

Thou must get me to a bush! His eyes blink urgently.

The woman at the B&B is waiting for me to cross the street. I walk awkwardly, Biela’s leash tugs ahead, Manly walks low from behind; I’m praying she doesn’t suspect.

By now, Cedric has cleared the back of the car, vigorous mechanical motions pump the carpet clean, as handfuls of detergent are tossed back like flour mowed down by a wet broom.

I unleash the dogs on the garden. Biela immediately drops her load...Manly, explodes on a bush that was once green. I pick up after them. There isn’t enough plastic for Manly. I uproot half of the bush and carefully tie the blue plastic baggie…but what’s the use, some of Manly gets on my shoes, pants and hands. Biela and I look onward in solidarity.

In the bathroom, we run for the jacuzzi. Cedric assumes the heimlich position, feet apart, hoists Manly’s body in one go, paws plop on water. Removing my pants, I jump in as well. I use an entire travel sized bottle of shampoo from the basket of complementary soaps. I lift Manly’s tail and start making friends with his bottom, cleaning, massaging...rinsing.

I’m taken to a secret part of the school where no other kids are allowed; it has a private bathroom. A woman, excavates and removes clothes until I stand completely naked in front of her. My eyes are red where tears aught to be. My green apple necklace hangs treasured, a part of me that is still unsoiled. With harsh hands, she scrubs and wipes efficiently until there’s nothing left but soft raw skin. I’m dressed in clothes that were once lost, now found on my 3 year old body. She coats me in old perfume to mask the smell. I walk away from the room, carrying my red corduroys like a bad memory sealed inside sanitized plastic.

Cedric kisses a soft spot on Manly’s head. I clean him gently. Anger finally dissipates into compassion. Did he realize that 3 years ago, at the Oakland shelter, as he lay on his cot, motionless, as the other dogs barked, vied for our attention…that he would be on this journey with us, 3 thousand miles away? This dog, who taught himself NOT to bark to survive. Only several weeks ago in Sayulita I hear his deep booming bark, for the first time, when a poor soul tries to deliver water to the house. My heart leaps at the sound of Manly’s voice, deep from his jowls, his ancestral belly. An old promise that finally comes undone.

Manly sleeps at the side of my bed. His paws tucked under his head. His fur smells of chemical jasmine, shampoo d'oriente, the name on the bottle. He drifts into sleep putting the day behind him, as I would have done, going back to join the classroom, going back to finally play.

By Mai Brehaut

(Psst: for Cedric's perspective, please read Stubborness and a shitty job)

Friday, August 19, 2011

¿Que es esto?

Bricks of a mayan temple? An ancient wall crumbling?...Or the foundation of a beloved pre-columbian treasure?

Monday, August 15, 2011

From the Smurf Village Bakery

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

An update from my Gilding the Guayaba post when I mentioned that I was experimenting with guava yeast.

guava seeds and pulp fermenting after 4 days...

The result...

No food coloring was reached, no smurf sacrificed to the gods, the color naturally came when I combined the guava yeast water to the flour, a mix of pale milk colored flour (harina de trigo) and a wee bit of wheat flour (harina de trigo integral)...

Who would have thunk it?

I wish I could describe an exotic taste as sweet as the guayaba...ambrosia from the the mayan gods. But alas...it was bland, heavy and dense...the taste, as unglamorous as day old tortilla, lying on the streets of San Francisco at Bay to Breakers. Nonetheless, it was good fuel for our 5 hour drive to Cuernava. Dear chicos, if you have better luck, let me know. Until then...taking down guayaba from my bread making list. 

(Pssst. For better results, read the post From Raisins to Bread.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Habla Spanglish? – Flip mode

The flip side to part 1: Habla Spanglish.

My Spanish teacher in San Miguel de Allende is a cholo.

For days, I curse the universe, regretting my decision to be in his class. I correct the words he writes. My blood boils, the need to ridicule and color what is right. Secretly, I am ashamed for him.

He doesn’t know the word for gecko.

llegaste (did you arrive)....written as yegaste
Sobrina (niece)…nece

He corrects my pronunciation, makes me recite 55,555,555 when I think I’m hot shit. He does it gently. There’s no pressure. No malice. He does it to make me better. Does he know he’s fueling the fire that can burn?

What do the tales of the tacas tell on his hands? The other life?

He takes a call on his cell phone during class. He’s waiting for a job. He has a 3 month old girl. It’s tough to have a good paying job here. The call is for a valet, parking cars.

As we review the names of vegetables, he tells of his days as a gardener, growing organic kale and other tasty leaves. A recipe blending…tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and a little jalapeno. You’ll lose 10 kilos in a week, he chuckles. The voice booms with radiance and humor. A gratefulness for the land and the hopeful chance that is given.

We review words describing the elastic cobweb of relationships…madre, padre…ninos. The question arises, how to ask if a child is biological?

By law, all children are accepted as our own…we don’t distinguish by biological. We wouldn’t ask.

He’s my step-father.

The man who adopted me when I was 7. The man who fought in the war against his brothers who wanted to see his country communist. He was imprisoned, a bullet wound on his belly, a long scar I touched when I my hands were smaller.

That’s where you came out.

As if some one like me could ever be mythic, could ever be blown up, bigger than anything I could imagine…allowed to reinvent my own story… the biological father who left me?

After reeducation camp, he taught math. His students called him, thầy…teacher, master in Vietnamese. Then another chance...a new dance. In the US, he traded his calculator for an ice cream truck.

When I was old enough to feel ashamed, I was unteachable by then - my own mother language expressed in fragments, allowing the music to be lost on my tongue.

There is something poetic in this encounter.

I see only petty mistakes…the need for perfection
My cholo master accepts things as they are…no apologies, no need for sympathy

He is my father…God…painting the canvas before me, life does not need correcting, it is already perfect.

I bow, grateful to shake hands, grateful for the chance to learn.

By Mai Brehaut

For part 1: Habla Spanglish.

How to Ask?

We sip our coffees
the view of El Parroquia
of San Miguel de Allende
before us.

A little hand taps on a shoulder.

“Can you please buy me a taco to eat?”

The words blow hard
tightly tugging
choking the very sounds
from our throats.

A boy begging for food.

How to discern begging from asking?

How often do we catch ourselves
begging in our own ways?
begging for our empty bowls to be filled?
begging for what aught to be given?
Hands grasping for sky.

How to truly ask?
What the universe can easily grant us.

By Mai Brehaut


The Cost of the Unlived?

What is the cost of the unlived life?

The daily dross of war waged
inside, particles of dissatisfaction
splitting shadow and sun.

The cost graves cold, dear friend.

When did you separate
from your search for love?
Told to reach for the bag of beans
over your own beauty?

If you can’t crack your own heart
Darling, how is it possible that anyone can
open the door inside you?

Where is that loaded brush of gold
used to dot the outline
of your gifts?

I still see in you,
Illumination, the
grace that gives ballast.

Staying stuck for safety
is too costly, too ugly to even face.

Let me whisper into your ear,
what we have is short

A gentle nudge to get
going with our own glory.

The courage to leave
in the dark black night.

That is what I wish for you.

By Mai Brehaut

Thank you Rev Zoe Inman for your spiritual guidance and helping me rekindle and blaze my own light...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gilding the Guayaba

One day in high school, my friend Sandy handed me a lime colored object. She had a small bag full of the fruit from her backyard. It didn’t have a smell when I brought it to my nose. “How do you eat it?” I’d never tasted a guava before and she invited me to try…the experience was like eating mussels, hunting for the good ones.

With her spoon, she split one in half much like you would with a hardboiled egg.

“Just scoop the middle out and put it in your mouth.”

The first one was dull and tasteless (not ripe, according to Sandy).

She handed me another. This time, the insides were slimy and pearly white…and the taste…a hint of banana?

It was…OK. Nothing to write home about.

Years passed and I settled for the kind that grew from a can. Not interested in rekindling the experience even from the tropical edens of Hawaii and Vietnam on my travels. My memory blurs confusing the fruit with passion fruit… an elusive dessert or a cocktail? Was that guava?

So how is it possible, that I’ve fallen head over heels for a 2-inch fruit?

In Mexico, they are as ubiquitous as tomatoes – yellow and pink like crab apples singing from crates at every market stall. The variety here, once ripened has a soft banana like center with hard seeds that you can’t eat. You enjoy everything around it once the center (which is the best part, in my opinion) is sadly discarded. (I’m also experimenting on a yeast batch from left over guava pulp and seeds. I’m curious to see if guavas (like raisins) will work out for bread baking. Stay tuned).

The taste is divine.

I have 2 tiny guavas in the kitchen. I can smell their pungent and seductive perfume a mile away. The smell intoxicates me, renews me, even saying its name in Spanish guayaba excites me.

To describe a guava is to tell a love story. The scene where Madame Bovary and her lover ride around in the carriage all day aimlessly…except:

Emma is a heady strawberry
Leon is a lusty banana

(And heck maybe the coach driver gets in on the action.)

He’s a bold bosc pear

And the hot lovemaking on the seats….the scent and taste of its love child...guava.

Ok, I’m starting to fan myself in need of something cool to sip (did it just get really hot?).

Here’s a recipe that combines 2 of my favorite things, agua de jamaica (a hibiscus drink) and of course guayaba! Why gild the lily with something already as perfect as the guava? I can't think of a reason...shall we?

Recipe for Agua de Jamaica con Guayaba (Checkout all guayaba photos)
*Adopted from lasrecetasdelaabuela.com, don’t mess with grandma

2 c dried jamaica 
10 c water (a lil over 2 liters)
1 c cane sugar (or any type of natural sugar or honey)
6-8 guavas (cored and blended /or 4-5 tablespoons of concentrate)

The flowers are cooked with water to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to steep for 10 minutes, turn off the heat. Add the sugar and let it cool.

Strain the liquid in a glass pitcher or jar. Add the blended guavas and mix (or if your lazy like me pour everything in a blender add the cored guavas and press start…the agua de jamaica is also a potent stain, mind the splatters). Sweeten by adding more sugar or honey to taste. Place in the fridge for several hours for the flavors to get happy.

Serve with some ice. Salud chicos!

agua de jamaica con guayaba

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Manly in the Garden of Good and Evil

Manly has been smelling like rosemary lately. The boy has been serenading him to the melody of Prince's "Raspberry Beret," now remixed to "Rosemary Manly." Manly seems to like it. His favorite place is the english garden of the house we're staying at in San Miguel de Allende (SMA). Find pictures of the house here.

SMA is in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. With its temperate climate and its enviable status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it has become a magnet for many New Yorkers, artist types and retirees. Checkout more tidbits and lovely pictures of the city.

But more about Manly...you'll find him napping in full sun on a green patch surrounded by midsummer's flora or sniffing the fragrant herbs planted next to the barbecue. 

The garden is good because the dogs have their own space and freedom and evil because it's an all you can eat Sizzler's with a toxic salad bar...rosemary, for example, laurel, chamomile, spanish thyme, queen's lace, english ivy, avocado, even tasty cat poop and other garden variety plants make it a potentially lethal menu. The tipoff to possible foul play? Both dogs have had bouts of upset bellies: Biela looks like she's wearing a pair of chinos and there was a brown tail playing the trouser trumpet for quite some time behind a bush. 

We're increasing the survellance on these 2. For now, happy to report that noses are still cold and wet and tails still happily wagging. (Find all ridiculously cute photos of both the M&B

the secret door to mayhem
Spot the sleepy kitty, hidden manly?
sleeping without blinking
rosemary manly

Monday, August 08, 2011

Habla Spanglish?

On my first day of “Survival Spanish Class” in San Miguel de Allende, I’m late. 50 minutes late even beyond the graces of “Mexican time.” By 1:50 pm, I’ve already put in my daily practice of survival Spanish with a newspaper man, a veterinarian, a hotel clerk and a waiter, to finally locate my class, situated on the second floor of the adobe yellow Plaza Principal building.

I’m ready to call it a day by the time I arrive.

"Hola, habla ingles?" I ask the first person I lay my sweaty brows on.

On first impression, the school looks more like the YMCA meets bingo night at the Suncrest Senior Center... than the name advertised on the website, Centro de Lingue. There’s a small courtyard cluttered with patio tables, a small sink flowing with coffee mugs and dishes, handmade blue and yellow posters describing Mexican crafts like what is a piñata. All the words are written in English. 

I remind myself that the classes are flexible and cheap, $24 dollars for a 2 hour session. Easy. Don’t turn around and run away, Mai.

A young man greets me and leads me through the inner doors to introduce me to the maestra herself, the founder of the school, Maria.

I explain to Maria that I’ve signed up for the Survival Spanish Class…that I’m very late, that I am willing to come back to another session.

“No hay problema,” she says, alleviating the frowns on my forehead, “You’re the only one who sighed up. You can start now if you want. Senor Paulo will be your teacher. After your class, you can pay Senor Paulo. We take cash only. There are ATMs on the plaza.”

Inside another room, chairs that were stacked on a table are taken down. A board is erased and renewed. Windows are opened and light streams into the room. A notebook, index cards and a sheet of -AR verbs are handed to me.

It appears I’m right on time.

My teacher enters. He teaches both Spanish and English. Originally from LA...the ghetto...he's been living in San Miguel for several years now; life is better here.

Both hands reveal shapes and symbols nested inside the fleshy part, where the eyes of a hand puppet would be, between the index and thumb. More markings are tucked in between the files of fingers, a cryptic calligraphy. His hair is slicked back, held down with the gravity of an invisible hair net. He wears a high collar, pale blue dress shirt, buttoned up that hangs loose and large.

I don’t mean to be judgmental but the style is unmistakable. He’s a dead ringer...albeit a slightly older version of Lou Diamond in the late 80s movie Stand and Deliver. A cholo with glasses. Maybe he’s retired. As in no longer active. We look like we could be in the same age group. What stories do the placas or tatoos tell? LA gun down to...I love pronouns? 

“So have you taken any Spanish before?” He asks in a slow, friendly voice that reminds me of Barney, the purple pimp.

“Si, una semena de espanol en Barcelona…yes, one week of Spanish in Barcelona.” One of the few phrases I know by heart.

“Barcelona…they speak a different Spanish there.”

2009. My first day in Spanish class at the Babylon Idiomas. My class is a smurf sized UN, representatives from Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland and Australia…the teacher, Xave (pronounced Cha-vy in Catalan) is pointing to his limp tongue, demonstrating the proper shape for the castellano “th” sound as in gra –thias. The class is entirely conducted in Spanish forcing us to revert to primitive means, listening, nodding, pointing, grunting. We play lots of games to test memoria, practice dialogues, we hide objects from each other, then mime, express ways to name, retrieve these objects back… experimenting with the slippery sounds and stresses of the Spanish language, the musicality awkwardly trembles against the mouth for the first time…mantequilla, regresar, zanahoria, naranja.

Mexican Spanish is to the bass as Castellano Spanish is to the acoustic guitar.

“Si, claro…a different Spanish.”

Paulo makes me review my numeros and right when I’m starting to think I’m hot shit, he throws in 55,555,555 to show me who’s boss.

The time zips quickly like mosquitos seeking skin and for homework, he gives me verbs to conjugate and basic words and formulas to construct sentences. Lines inside my notebook, lyrics that jive on the axis of canciones…songs that hide their domestic meanings.

Me gusta cocinar la cena esta noche.

I like to cook dinner tonight.

Tengo que comprar papel higienico ahora.

I need to buy toilet paper now.

Day 2

I’m ready to show off my stack of prepared flashcards like a prized watermelon at the fair. Paulo tells me that there is a slightly bigger group but more advanced. Would I prefer to join? I shake my head and tell him that I prefer a good refresher...despacio (slowly).

I’m joined by a woman who’s a flight attendant from Tucson, Arizona. She tells me that she’s been living in San Miguel de Allende for a year now but can’t get around to understand this language. She has an apartment next to the Instituto and tries to spend a week every month in SMA. She is not retired…because everyone here is retired, you know. She could easily pass. The teachers at the Instituto are not good. She likes the teachers better here. After class, she’s going to volunteer at the orphanage. There are more girls than boys, obviously, being a catholic country…

“Are you a musician?” She interjects with a mix of concern and kindness.

We read a dialogue aloud.

I go first:

Socorro mi esposa se tropezo, se golpeo la cabeza y esta sangrando!

Help my wife tripped and hit her head and is bleeding!

Tucson reads next like a bird that chirps with a strange Texan twang:

May tropay-say e may goal-pay lah fran-tay con la bankeetay.

I tripped and hit my forehead on the sidewalk.

“Muy bien. Correcto,” Paulo soothes.

"La bankay-tay…blanqueta? I hit my head on the banquet table? What does it mean? Ah, sidewalk!...con the sidewalk? With the sidewalk? That sounds incorrect. Are you sure this is right?" She probes.

“Si, con is correcto…against or with, on the sidewalk.” Paulo repeats patiently. Tucson doesn’t seem convinced.

We move on.

Ten-nay alllgoon teeepo day say-guro medeeeco?

Do you have any type of medical insurance?

“Muy bien, correcto.”

I raise my empty coffee mug to mouth, like a person lost in a desert, sucking for the last non-existent drop. The next hour, we cover everyday expressions.

“Ok, so after class I am going to have ice tea with my lunch." She does a karate chop with one hand on the table to show where the glass aught to be. "I always order ice tea. How do you say ice tea with a just a little ice?”

“Te helado con poco hielo or pocito hielo”

“Poooocoooo not pequena?” She repeats. “Tay heelaydo?”

“Muy bien. Correcto.”

She writes down the words obediently in her black notebook in cursive.

Every now and then she asks what’s the word for small again.

“Poco.” Writes Paulo mechanically.

“For the orphanage, how do you say, do you have lots of family members?”

I inch my head closer to the table ready to pound. Seriously??

At the end of class, I ask Paulo a question about the conjugation homework. There are actually 6 conjugations, but on the first day, we learn 5:


In French it would be je, tu, il/elle, ils/elles, nous, vous.

"So I noticed that we didn’t conjugate verbs the other day in vosotros?"

“Oh, we don’t use that in Mexico.” Paulo says almost with a chuckle.

Clearly, I’ve set the bar too low. It’s my own fault. I didn’t want to go to the more advanced class. No commitments. I wanted it easy and slow. I didn’t want to be fluent in Spanish. I just wanted to get by…but clearly I am a nerd, and old habits die hard. The universe is playing a hilarious joke on me. Be careful what you ask for…

Day 3

I have a Howard Hughes moment and am hating that I need to leave the house, that I have a schedule...

Paulo reviews vocabulary on the board:

llegaste (did you arrive)....written as yegaste

We move on to the names of domestic animals. El perro. El gato… the dog/cat

“Commo se dice gecko en espanol.....How do you say gecko in Spanish?"

Paulo starts to smile like the purple pimp.

“Um…I think we use the same word, es gecko.”

“In Puerto Vallarta, they call them cuizas. Is that the same here?” Why am I deliberately setting up Barney?

He confesses he doesn’t know the word and we move on to animales peligrosos...dangerous animals.

Serpiente de cascabel...rattle snake

I’m thinking of the rabbit from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. John Cleese's heavily accented Scottish, “that rabbit's….a killer!” I’m imagining the rabbit going after my neck, blood erupting like a geyser, drenching Tucson's artificially blonde fluff.

“Sobrina…nece.” Writes Paulo on the board.

Tucson speaks up. That’s spelled incorrectly, it’s N.E..I..C.E

The rabbit is now gauging out my eyes…Do I step in and put an end to this carnival or let this one just ride for the hell of it?

Day 4

I finally get the joke from the universe. The days that I was taunted..Really, you just want to learn easy, slow ESL Spanish Mai? Really? Enough to get by? I get the message loud and clear.

This class isn’t for me, time to move on. I’ll continue to learn Spanish and seriously just somewhere else.

Instead of class, we take a trolley car tour around San Miguel. I feel like I’m back in San Francisco…except its junior high and I'm the outcast without her clique. The car is filled with pre-teens bouncing to Usher on their iphones. I can barely hear over the din of hormones, the guide whispers the Spanish words to an elected student who spits out the English. She looks like trouble…too cute and confident for her own good. She takes the microphone and holds it naturally like she’s ready to sing some Justin Bieber.

Here is the convent created in 1775 where a daughter from the Canal family dies at 33 because she’s secluded from everybody.

The Rosewood Estate where you can rent a room for $450 USD a night. It has 8 pools.

An orange building, the first prison where they burned witches.

The first gas pump in 1943 when gas was 25 cents.

We finally get to the top of the city, the Mirador, the lookout point. 5 minutes of peace from the gremlins.

I take pictures of the view. Such a lovely city, dripping with beauty, earthen textures of a desert canyon, dotted by the recognizable steeple of la parroquia, mixed with trees that reminds one of a Titian landscape…the city drips with beauty.

On our way back, my ears tune to the voice of the Spanish guide. I start to pick at her words like a pigeon after a crumb. I piece things not as precise as a puzzle but an impressionistic collage. Taking her patchwork words over the English translation.

Here is the house of conspiracion…of contemplation where the revolutionary leaders plotted for the independence against the Spanish.

Who knew the revolutionary leaders where down with meditation? I start to chuckle, enjoying the historical revisionism.

The tour is over and I congratulate Trouble for her efforts.

Paulo asks me afterwards if he’ll see me next week, they’ll give me a discount.

He’s a kind person. Not the best teacher but he means well.

I shake his hand and thank him but tell him that I won’t have time in my schedule next week.

As I walk back, the radio frequency widens, I start to tune into more channels, conversations. Words, dates, numbers, expressions isolate momentarily amidst static…then disappear… the message, lost forever, how fragile it hangs on the web of moment and memory. No one is correcting or keeping track even as I make my way back home.

By Mai Brehaut

Lou Diamond, Stand & Deliver (cinema.de)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...