Friday, February 22, 2013

The Candle Burns at Both Ends

The front entrance to the house
Well we have been in Cuernavaca since Wednesday,  and I feel like I have come home.  This is our twenty-second year coming down here.  Over those twenty-two years we have been in  eight different houses.  This one we've stayed in for about six years, and we have gotten to know the staff.

Natalia, the cook, actually began many years ago as a young maid, but she had aspirations to be a cook so she learned from the cooks where she worked and one year she took over the kitchen.  When Loren's brother, Fred, found this home, it came with a housekeeping staff but no cook, so Fred asked Natalia if she would be willing to come and be our cook, which she has done for the six years we've been here.  Natalia has two children, Cassandra and Raul - we actually knew them both "in-utero." Now Raul is 18 and Cassandra is 16- beautiful children.

Blue cloudless sky with flowers blooming everywhere
The house is owned by a Mexican woman who lives in Mexico city and never comes here.  The home was given to her as a wedding present from her father.  A darling family lives here year around.  Gilberto and his wife Lucy take care of the home and the grounds.  They have two young children.  Then, during our stay, there is an extra young girl who comes in to help Lucy.  Her name is Rosa and she looks like a young girl, but I am told that she is a grandmother!  The staff don't speak any English, but they are so delightful and full of smiles.  Somehow, if we need anything, we are able to communicate and our desires are met.

Where you can picture me 

There are also two dogs who come with the house.  The big yellow lab's name is Milk and the smaller mutt has a name something like Mayhem.

The house has six bedrooms and Fred and Kat have most of them filled from the time they get here in late January to the time they leave in March.  Friends, mostly from Chicago, Illinois and Lakeside, Michigan, come for 4,5 6 days; some for a week.  When we first began visiting, I was still teaching, so we would come for one week always during President's week as that was my vacation break.  Now that I'm retired, we have been asked if we wanted to stay longer.... "Is the Pope Catholic?"  I would stay as long as they would have us;  I love this place.  This year we are staying two weeks.

Right now there are two other couples staying here.  Vicky and Bob Parsons we met last year.  They are delightful and Vicky is a real go-getter.  Last year Vicky was chairman of the board of Wellesley.  This year she has joined the board of the Newberry Library in Chicago and is very involved in that.  She was a partner in an investment firm and still consults with them - amazing energy!

John and Jane Chapman we had never met before, but it turns out that John's brother is Paul Chapman who was the Headmaster at Head-Royce for the past twenty-five years and he just retired.  I knew Paul somewhat as he was on the Board of The San Francisco Day School while I was Upper School Head;  I have a great deal of respect for Paul- he was an excellent Head.  Another coincidence is that Jane went to Hollins College.  I graduated in 1966 and she graduated in 1970 so we didn't overlap, but it is really fun having someone recognize Hollins for being a great place and sharing some stories.

Loren was a bit under the weather yesterday, but today we were both feeling pretty much back to normal, so we went down to the Zocolo to go to our hangout - The Cafe Universale - where I have a Jugo de Zanahoria con hielo. (Carrot juice with ice.)  I NEVER have carrot juice except when I'm here;  here I have one grande every day!!  Right across from the Cafe Universal is a line of about seven shoeshine men.  Fred has a favorite, Mario, whom he goes to year after year.  I had a pair of shoes the color of a kind of burnt orange that I love, but they have gotten a bit scruffy over the years so I decided to see if Mario could shine them up for me.  Mario must have spent 20 minutes, first cleaning then shining, then waxing then buffing and I now have a pair of new shoes!!  While I was sitting there, fred went back to the Cafe Universal and got me my carrot juice and brought it over to me!  I was in seventh heaven!!  Then, after I was done, Fred got his shoes shined too!

Natalia's one day off is Friday, so on Fridays all the guests take Fred and Kat out for lunch and dinner.  Today we decided to go to Las Mananitas for lunch.  I'm thrilled about this as Las Mananitas is one of my favorite places here in Cuernavaca.  They have exotic birds strutting around the grounds.  An albino peacock jumped up the trunk of a tree right in front of me the last time we were there.

They also make the best margaritas in town!!

We had a delightful afternoon, went to a silver shop after lunch and Loren bought me
a beautiful silver ring, then back home to the pool.

We will be going to a French restaurant for dinner:  Le Provence.

Finally, it is Edna St. Vincent Millay's birthday - and George Washington's as well!  I always like to recognize Edna on February 22nd as it reminds me of the wonderful gatherings we had back in Washington, Connecticut when we would throw her a birthday party and guests would gather and share their own poetry or read their favorite poems.  I always remember, too, when I was setting up over at Susan Tidyman's house.  We had balloons' I had baked a birthday cake; we were getting things ready, when the doorbell rang.  It was a man delivering a huge arrangement of flowers.

 When I read the card it said, The candle burns at both ends 'tis such a lovely sight.  But oh my friends and ah my foes it will not last the night,"  and it was signed, Edna and Norma.  Edna had long been dead, but her sister, Norma, was overseeing Edna's estate at Steepletop, NY where she was running a writer's workshop.  A graduate student, doing her dissertation on Edna knew about our party and had told Norma about it.  Norma was so moved that we were honoring her sister, that seh sent the flowers!

And so we will continue to try to burn the candle at both ends!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Legacy of Richard Burton

Anticipating our trip to Puerto Vallarta, I let my mind fantasize that it would be a short romantic getaway for the two of us.  We'd be on the beautiful coast of Mexico in a luxury condominium enjoying sun, margaritas, mariachis and good food.  It would be a wonderful time for good conversation and strolls along the beach, hand-in-hand together.

Well, they say "life is what happens when you're making other plans."  The flu hit and our luxury condominium has turned in to a luxury sanatorium where we are still recuperating!  BUT last night was a tiny taste of what could have been.  We went to the Hacienda San Angel for dinner.

Because Hacienda San Angel was owned by Richard Burton, I decided to read up on him a bit, and he was more of a Lothario than you could imagine.  Apparently he went through the entire chorus line of Camelot in one night!!  He two and three and four-timed all of his wives and made each of his conquests feel like she was the only one!

Looking past that,  he did leave us with some wonderful things, and we discovered one of these last night.  As many of you know, the Night of the Iguana was filmed here in Puerto Vallarta.  That was in 1964 which is when he began his first torrid love affair with Liz Taylor.  He was married to LIz from 3/64-6/74 for the first time and then again from 10/75-12/76 for the second time.  He didn't waste much time because Burton married Susan Hunt the same month he divorced Liz for the second time - 12/76.

Apparently  Burton's love of Puerto Vallarta lasted way after he finished filming the Night of the Iguana as he purchased the Hacienda's main villa as a Valentine's Day gift for Susan in 1977. The cult classic film put Puerto Vallarta on the map as a favorite vacation spot for the international glitterati, including Burton’s ex, Elizabeth Taylor, who owned a house mere blocks away from Susan’s. Perched on the hillside above the famed Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Church, the villa, aptly named Casa Bur-Sus, embodied coastal charm and 
Mexican architectural tradition.

In 1990, an entrepreneur from San Francisco, Janice Chatterton,  purchased Casa Bur-Sus from Susan Burton to use as a vacation home. After splitting her time between San Francisco and Puerto Vallarta for ten years, she decided to relocate to Puerto Vallarta, and began to spearhead a major renovation. The renovation of Casa Bur-Sus soon became a new found passion for Chatterton, and when she was presented with the opportunity to purchase an adjacent villa, she eagerly snapped it up, renovating it and coining it Hacienda San Angel which is where we had dinner last night.
Janice is a fascinating character:  she is an animal activist and started the first SPCA in Puerto Vallarta.  There were small poodle like dogs roaming around the restaurant last night, and I wondered what that was all about.  I also overheard a patron ask a waiter if the lady behind us was Janice and he was told, "Yes."  At the time I didn't know the significance of that, but Janice Chatterton, a rather elegant, very thin elderly woman, was dining at the table next to us!!

The restaurant is in the center of Puerto Varllarta but our taxi snaked around narrow streets going higher and higher with each turn.  The space is gorgeous with open tiled terraces, fountains and statuary all around. 

 It is a hotel and the room rates start at around $600.00/night.  The restaurant is up on the second floor.  We arrived just as the sun was setting and there was something very magical about it all.

After we were seated and Oscar, the waiter, brought us our margarita, a dozen formally clad mariachi singers appeared.  There was a kind of stage for them with the setting sun as the backdrop.  They were very good and it couldn't have been more romantic!!

At one point one of the musicians came right over to our table and began playing a solo!!

We had a delicious dinner in an exquisitely beautiful setting.  This may be the memory of PV that I will take home with me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunday Excursion and Downton Abbey

Well everything is working, it's just all in slow motion, but our energy is slowly coming back.    We took it easy again letting the morning slip away as we read and napped a bit.  Around 1:00 we donned our suits and went over to the infinity side of the pool to soak up a bit of the sun.  This was beautiful, restful and quite nice.

 Then we decided to have a BIG adventure and try walking down the mountain side to the old town. Although it looks like quite a trek, we had heard that the downhill trip is surprisingly easy, and we figured we have all the time in the world so we could take it nice and slowly.

So off we went, and it was truly wonderful to be out and about and doing something normal at last.  We walked down the cobblestone bumpy road, then, after crossing a big highway, we found a winding, rickety staircase that dropped us just in front of the beach.  It took us about 20 minutes to get from the top to the bottom.

This is nearby where the staircase ended.

Those two big condominiums up on the hill is where we are.  Our place is in the left hand building.  It is called The Avalon.  This picture was taken on a pier along the beach looking back on where we had started our adventure.

What really delighted us was that there were many Mexican families enjoying a Sunday at the beach;  it wasn't just rich Americans or Canadians taking advantage of the beautiful weather and warm water.

We walked around for a bit and then found a wonderful place on a busy corner where we had a margarita and some guacamole that was prepared fresh right in front of us.  It was delicious.  We talked with a Brit who seemed to be drinking his way around the wrold.  He rents a studio apartment in PV for $300.00/month.  He stays here in Mexico for 5 months, spends 3 months in Britain, and the rest of the time he travels around Europe.  He smokes two packs of cigarettes a day (in Britain that costs him $15.00/pack!) and his daily bar bill is never under $60.00!!

The Brit can be seen in the background...

We ordered some Mexican dish to go and brought it back to our condo, poured ourselves a glass of wine and sat down to Downton Abby.  I am still reeling from the ending...  it just can't be!!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A New Day Has Dawned!

Today was the first day since I arrived that I woke up without a pounding headache!  Yeah!!!  We are both definitely on the mend and actually sat outside on the veranda this morning and had yogurt and a sweet roll - our first meal we've shared together in our condo!  We still plan to take it easy.  We'll probably go down and walk around the old town and then we want to make reservations at a restaurant that has been highly recommended.

As for yesterday, our big excursion was to go get some pesos!  So we took a cab downtown to a Banco Santander (where we don't get charged for the exchange rate with BofA).  After we got our money, we walked along the boardwalk.  It was quite fun, and I was amazed at all the art along the way.  We tired quickly and decided to take a cab to a restaurant called Joe Jack's Fish Shack.  Joe Jack was a one time partner and chef at Luna Park in San Francisco, and his restaurant came with high acclaim for fresh fish and exotic drinks.

The word was obviously out as there was at least a 20 minute wait for a table.  That was fine as almost all the patrons were Americans or Canadians and we sat on the curbside with exotic drinks in hand in the balmy evening breeze and had some fun conversations.  A Canadian couple had been coming to PV for years.  Last year they decided to try Boca Raton, but they found the restaurants and beaches very crowded and they needed a car which they didn't like.  So they came back to PV.  Others were from Michigan and Minnesota.

We weren't terribly hungry, but my fish tacos were excellent.  I brought most of it home...I wonder if it will taste alright for lunch?

Here are some pictures from yesterday.

This is the boardwalk that goes for several miles along the bay.

There are art sculptures all along the way.

This is actually a sand sculpture.  

 Here is a circle of sculptures all of which are chairs for people to sit upon!  The tall ones in the background are also seats.

This was one of my favorites.

Men, dressed in native costumes, climbed this pole, played drums on top for a while and then flew downwards on ropes!

Here we are enjoying our fish taco and fish and chips at Joe Jack's Fish Shack!