Monday, February 28, 2011

Food For The Mind

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I will attempt to convey some of the lively conversations we continue to have throughout the day.  Fred Hickman is a very well-informed somewhat conservative Republican.  I always love coming down to Cuernavaca each year to have my liberal ideas challenged.  Fred always makes me rethink my positions, and more often than not, I realize I take stands without really considering both sides or without substantial facts to support my opinions.

Just today, Loren and I walked down to a lovely Inn/restaurant for a coffee and to enjoy the view and chat.  It was here that Loren suggested that I might try to change my perspective.  Instead of thinking of myself as a Democrat, and by doing so perhaps cloud my view of things, he has asked that I think of myself as an Independent with Democratic tendencies.  I'm not sure if it is going to work, because deep down inside, I do think of myself as an Independent.  After all, I did vote for Arnold Schwartzenager!!

There is a cable TV at the house which we turn on during our 7:30 am coffee time to see what is happening around the world.  It is Fox news, and other than having a continual parade of blonde bimbos anchoring their news desks, the content of the news seems adequate.
Govenor Scott Walker of Wisconsin

A news item that has been ripe for discussion is the situation in Wisconsin where the Democrats have fled to Illinois to avoid voting on the Republican Governor, Scott Walker's much needed budget cuts and his proposal to curb union bargaining powers.

I think we are all - Democrats and Republicans alike- in accord that it is a cowardly thing for the Democrats to do.  I especially feel strongly about it.  If this were a company dealing with an issue and people left the board room and refused to deal with it, they would be fired.  Unfortunately for the American Republic, we can't fire our politicians until they are up for re-election!  What I don't understand is why don't the constituents of these renegade Democrats complain.  Everyone knows that the budgets have to be cut; the huge pensions and health care premiums have to have more employee participation.  But no politician is willing to take these hard issues on... except for the Governor from Wisconsin who gets bush wacked from infantile Democrats who run away from their responsibilities.

We had some neighbors in for dinner the other night; a young couple who have just moved to Mexico City and have a house across the way in our Privada in Cuernavaca where they come every weekend.  Ed has been working for the architectural firm Skidmore-Owens-Merrill in London for the past ten years, and has just recently been transferred to Mexico City to be put in charge of the Latin American sales.

LOGO for 2016 Olympics

One thing he mentioned caught my ear:  He said the SOM is trying very hard to make themselves available to Brasil to help them with their infrastructure and building for the World Cup and the Olympics. 

They recognize the enormous challenges that Brasil has in readying themselves for these huge events, and they know that they could provide some much needed assistance.  But Ed says  that each overture to the Brasilian authorities has been met with a kind of "manana" attitude.  The Brasilians say they will get back to SOM, but then they never do.  Ed feels that time is running out- there are major constructions that need to be done, including expansion of the airport in Rio, the public transportation, the building of more hotels, etc., and the World Cup begins in 2014 with the Olympics following two years later.  Ed characterized the Brasilians as having an attitude that, "Everything will be okay," but he has his doubts!

When I asked him if he had heard about the amazing centerpiece to be built in the middle of the Bay in Rio, he said he had, and just rolled his eyes implying "who is going to build it!"  In my experience with the Brasilians, I couldn't help replying, "You know what, Ed.  I think everything will be okay!"

Of course we have had conversations about the Middle East, and once again, both Republican and Democratic voices have been in accord that what is happening in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia is quite remarkable. A question that befuddled the entire group was "what is the role of the USA regarding these uprisings.  I tried to illicit Larry Ter Molen's commentary from the perspective of an ex-CIA agent.  I prefaced my question saying that in the past, it has been believed that the CIA has taken an active critical role in bringing down regimes and replacing them with US approved leaders - not always democratic leaders.  Chile is a good example; and look at Mubarek of Egypt that the US has supported over the years.  But I asked Larry if the role of the CIA had changed and, with the transparency brought to the world via Facebook, Wikileaks, and the internet, is it still possible for the CIA to be doing secret negotiations and manipulations behind the scenes.  Without hesitation Larry said, "Oh yes.  You can count on it."  That has me thinking.  Watching the news, I see these young zealots turning out in the thousands demanding freedom.  I see such power in the common man or woman in the streets to change the world.  ....  I wonder what the CIA is doing in these countries?

So it has been very interesting.  In matters regarding Wisconsin, Egypt, Libya - there has not been any real dissension between the two parties.  Even more interesting, when Obama is brought in to the conversation, it is the Democrats that seem a bit more disillusioned and dissatisfied.  Loren is a great supporter of Obama, and both Fred and Kat have said they like him, but "wish he would do more."

A conversation that has brought a little more controversy is about the "Haves and the Have-Nots."  There was an article in a magazine reviewing a book called "Winner Take All Economics"  by Robert Frank and Philip Cook.  The facts seem irrefutable. (Although Fred might say many of them are "soft" data.)  There has never been a time when the gap between the rich and the poor was so disparate since the Great Depression.  In the past twenty years the controlled wealth of the top 1% of this country has grown from 6% to 20%.  The authors of the book contend this is a very unhealthy situation- something that all of us here around the discussion table can agree on as well.  The reasons for this disparity have generally been cast as a shift in the economy away from manufacturing to technology leaving a much greater proportion of the working classes unemployed.  Also the outsourcing of products has taken jobs away from Americans.  What these authors contend, however, is that "it's the Government, Stupid."  We are using an economic system created after WWII to support a 21st Century economy.  Tax legislation has benefited the corporations and wealthy;  and the lack of regulation has allowed financial institutions to reward the management without regard for those below.   For those who believe that a free market will correct itself, the authors of this book want their readers to realize that this just isn't so, and that an uncorrected market or unregulated market is going to run us amok.

It is my belief that one of the biggest problems in this country today is the growing gap between the rich and the poor.  I feel so strongly that Obama missed a great opportunity to begin to correct this gap when he compromised on raising the tax rate of the wealthy from 34% to 39%.  When the retiring VP of Wells Fargo is recorded as receiving a 38 million dollar package while so many Americans are on unemployment, I get disgusted.  Fred would remind me that that $38 million dollars given to the retiring Wells Fargo exec. has no real bearing on the millions of unemployed, and he is probably right.  But it gets my hackles up just the same.

So there you have it for now.  I just wanted you all to know that we are not just down here sipping margaritas and carrot juice.  Our minds are lively and challenged and we will undoubtedly return tanned and much wiser.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Contrasts of Cuernavaca

One conversation we have had while here has been about the growing rift between "the haves" and the "have-nots" in the USA.  This contrast is quite apparent here in Cuernavaca.  Each morning, as we sip our carrot juices and capachinos at the Cafe Universal, a constant parade of young children approach our table laden with beaded necklaces, purses, wooden animals and ceramic trinkets.  Some of these children are no more than six years old with runny noses, scabs, and dirty bare feet.  They can be found throughout the city, and we can't help wondering if they actually make any sales and how little they must be living on. We took a trip to La Mercado today- an amazing place half above ground and half in the bowels of the earth with wall-to-wall vendors and wall-to-wall people buying their necessities.

 It is here where Natalia, our cook, goes on Tuesdays and Thursdays to buy all the food for the house guests.

I wish I had an invisible camera, as the faces on the people are remarkable; but I feel awkward taking their pictures.

The food is all on display on large surfaces - much of it I don't even recognize.

My favorite part of the Mercado is the flower mart, filled with beautiful displays.

Right next to the flowers is what might be called the Food Court where people pull up boxes to sit on and are served tacos and tortillas with salsa.  I wish I had the courage to sit down and enjoy one, but I don't think it would be wise.

I marvel at how everything is out in the open, uncovered.  There were very few flies around, and no one seemed worried about the cleanliness of the food. 

Even the meat department has arrays of different animal parts hanging in the open air:  tripe, innards, pigs' heads and feet, entrails, and many things I couldn't begin to name.

All of this I would tend, perhaps incorrectly, to call the attributes of a 'third world" country.  A market like that could not be found in the USA.

As we walk along the streets and see an old wooden painted tour bus or a long forgotten ESSO sign, I am reminded of a time in the past.

But then, come with us to one of the five golf clubs of Cuernavaca.

  This one is at the end of a private gated community with beautiful houses.  In an instant you are transported far far away from the "third world" country and delivered to a place that could be Palm Springs, California.

We had a lovely lunch served in a restaurant overlooking the putting green.  Cuernavaca is the weekend and summer place for many wealthy Mexicans who want to escape the heat and hectic pace of the city.

It truly is a city of contrasts.  To think of being able to go from the underground market, walking along pot-holed crumbling walkways, past vendors selling spoons in the street to magnificent restaurants, golf clubs and hotels all in one day is remarkable...  or is it?  Perhaps that is the condition of most places in the world... certainly most large cities.  Thinking upon this, I would have to say my own city of San Francisco is filled with contrasts.

Friday, February 25, 2011

So Much To Do; So Little Time

I am totally befuddled as to how I can be here in a place where literally everything is taken care of, and still feel as if there is so much left undone at the end of the day.  I arise around 6:45 to check my email and to work on my blog.  At 7:30 coffee awaits anyone who wants it in the salon... and of course I am one of the first ones to be down for that!  After breakfast we usually go to town, then back for lunch, then the pool time, then bridge before margaritas then dinner is served at 8:00, followed by coffee.  Then it's around 9:30 or 10:00 and I am EXHAUSTED!  Really - you'd think I'd be totally rested, but we retire at 9:30 or 10:00 - I try to read a little or do another crossword before going to sleep, but that doesn't last very long as my eyes are leaden and I conk out until 6:45 the next morning!!

The Ter Molens arrived on Tuesday.  They are a delightful couple from Evanston, Illinois whom we met last year in Cuernavaca, and we were excited to know that we would be overlapping their visit this year.  Larry is a very interesting guy who ended a varied career working for the Art Institute in Chicago.  Edna has devoted much of her life to the piano and has spearheaded wonderful humanitarian efforts wherever she has lived.  Being a teacher and the mother of three sons, I have a real sense of simpatica with her, and have really enjoyed our time together.   We walked in to town with them on Wednesday and indulged in  a libation at the Cafe Universal.

Here they are sharing a Jugo de Zanahoria (carrot juice)

 I can't begin to think of how many pictures I have through the years of various guests sitting around the table at the Cafe Universal.  Here are Kat and Fred, The Ter Molens and Loren.

Yesterday Fred, Kat, Loren and I decided to walk to the botanical gardens.  I had never been there before, and I loved the walk through unfamiliar streets.  The botanical gardens were interesting.  Although all the signs were in Spanish, we were able to get enough of the drift of what they were saying.  There was a huge sections of herbs and their medicinal uses. 

A museum that had originally been the home of Indio Bonito who was Emperor Maximillian's mistress,  had been renovated, and was dedicated to the medicinal use of native plants. It was quite interesting, and would have been more so had we been better Spanish interpreters.

On our way home, we passed this Cuernavaca salesman carrying his wares of mops and brooms.  I couldn't resist taking his picture.

For my next blog, I will try to capture a bit of the wonderful conversations we have had while here.  Fred was a tax lawyer who worked in the Treasury Department before going in to private practice in Chicago.  He has a wealth of information about a lot of subjects, and is a very precise thinker.  He is forever challenging my brain to think in different ways, and it is perhaps my favorite part of coming to Cuernavaca.  Then Kat and the other guests add their perspectives, and it makes for some very lively discussions.  But that's for another time...

Hasta luego!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Las Mananitas

 Another beautiful day in Cuernavaca.  It was the last day that Sara and the children would be here, so we decided to go to the famous Las Mananitas where the children love to see all the beautiful birds roaming free on the grounds.  If anyone has ever visited Cuernavaca, it is for sure that they have gone to Las Mananitas.  It is a hotel with a lovely outdoor dining area.  Many people, like us, just go for a drink and to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful grounds and watch the birds.  I remember Granny, my ex-husband's grandmother, telling me that she came and stayed at Las Mananitas during her honeymoon - and that was many moons ago.  My friend, Emmy, tells me when she and her family were staying in Mexico City, they took a day trip to Cuernavaca and brought the children to Las Mananitas.

Parrots perch on branches

Toucans sit in cages and squawk
and an assortment of birds roam the grounds freely.

But the big attraction are the peacocks that strut around proudly.

There is even a magnificent white peacock who looks like something out of an enchanted land.

 Every year I take a picture of the group at Las Mananitas.  I have eighteen pictures, and we haven't changed a bit over the years! ...Although I do believe the margaritas have gotten stronger!

Sara and the children left the following morning, and peace fell on the hacienda.  We all miss the chatter and excitement, but the tranquility is also welcome.  As we watched the sun set over the pool, I was overcome with a feeling of gratitude.  We certainly are blessed with a beautiful life.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Zoo and The Circus All in One Day!!

And what a day it was!!

  The Cuernavaca Zoo is quite a lovely place.  There are not a lot of animals, but the grounds are very pretty, with a long rambling  walkway through some beautiful vegetation.

 We were greeted by a family of ducks.

Walking down the pathway, we came upon a beautiful waterfall which provided a lovely photo-op for the Hickman family.

For sure, the highlight of the morning was the Petting Zoo.  Sara bought us five bundles of watercress which was quickly gobbled up by all sorts of hungry beasts.  We were first met by a cow with a very long tongue, followed by a somewhat nasty donkey who had not been taught his manners and wanted to grab bunches of cress from our hands.  But we were on to him and passed his stall quickly.  Next was a family of goats.  Mom and Dad goat were very greedy and hungry.  They wanted all the greens and would try to grab bunches from our hands.  They would also grab any away from their kids.  But Ben found a secret way to distract Mom and Dad goat and get the leaves to the babies.  He gave Mom and Dad two small sprigs and while they were eating, he fed the kids lots more.

But by far, everybody's favorite part was the bunny pen.  There were adorable little bunnies just waiting to be picked up, petted and fed.  Annie is a "bunny freak" and went a little crazy in the bunny pen.  If she could have found a way, she would have brought a bunny home with her.

It was a great morning, but we still had a big treat in store for us.

After lunch, Memo picked us up in a huge SUV.  There were eleven of us all together:  Granma, Granpa, Uncle Loren, Aunt Nancy, Sara, Annie, Emily, Ben, Lily and her brother Axel who were the children of the caretakers, and, of course, our driver, Memo.  We piled in and were off to the oldest Circus in Mexico!

When we first arrived, there were animals in outdoor pens all around.

We had fantastic seats with the circus stage right in front of us.

 There was a big net all around, and we found out the reason when fifteen magnificent tigers entered the arena.  They were literally right in front of us with only a flimsy net between us.

I managed to get one picture, before I was informed that photos under the tent were forbidden.

The Circus acts were fabulous, and even though it was all in Spanish, we were totally rapt.  The tigers opened the show and were amazing, jumping over each other and through hoops of fire.  There were two-humped camels who ran around in a kind of dance routine with zebras; there were trained seals, one-humped camels who performed with horses; giraffes who ate crackers from the mouths of small children who volunteered from the audience.  The human performers were quite energetic.  There were jugglers, a contortionist, very funny clowns, two amazing Ninja guys, and don't forget the dancing "Vegas" girls!  

  Ben used his allowance money to buy a set of glasses and clown nose that squirts water.  We all had fun with that...especially Uncle Loren!

The circus lasted almost two hours! We returned home elated and exhausted.  But that would not be the end of the excitement.  After the children's dinner, they were sent on a Treasure hunt that was planned to last through the adults' margarita time!  There were twelve clues in all and sent the kids all around the house in search of their treasure.  The clues were not easy, and all three of them persevered and triumphed in the end.  It was a very full day, but how many people can claim they went to a zoo and circus in the same day, much less in Cuernavaca, Mexico.