Sunday, March 5, 2017

Cuernavaca Calisthenics!

I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our Cuernavaca Fitness Class that was established on day one!  We arrived the evening of February 14th - Valentine's Day.  The dining room table was set formally with roses and candles and in front of every woman's place was a long tubular gift wrapped in festive paper.  When we opened them we were surprised to find a solid rubber tube - a gift from Judy Munson!  It had the words "THERABAND/FLEXBAR" written across it.  Judy told us she would show us how it worked the next day after breakfast.

The next morning after breakfast, five ladies gathered on the veranda and Judy, in her calm quiet, peaceful voice led us in exercises using our new Valentine's gift and then moved us on to work with scarves followed by some yoga poses and stretches.  Judy had a knack of making even a reluctant participator like me feel as if I were doing a great job.  We did these exercises every morning for a week, and it got to be something I began looking forward to; it was even kind of fun.

After a week, our core group was down to two:  Kat and me!!  Kat, who will turn 90 this year, was the instigator.  She was the one who showed up after breakfast and said, "Come on, Nancy, it's time for our exercises."  We took turns counting to ten and then back again.  I kind of led the scarf exercises, and Kat took over for the Yoga poses and stretches.  Whenever we needed a rest we called out, "Mountain Pose" (something Judy had taught us) and we stopped to take some deep breathes.

Then Jan joined us;  first just to watch, but then, on her second day here she brought her scarf and was swaying and stretching right along with us.

Now the big question is will I continue to do these when I get home without Judy's calming voice or Kat exhorting me to do them?  I hope so!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Many Problems; Few Solutions

I'm not sure if I can explain it, but there is something that changes when you put some geographic distance between you and the USA.  It is also significant that we don't watch television and our only source of news is old newspapers guests arrive with (usually the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune) and what we get on our AOL and YAHOO email feeds.

So we all knew that Trump was addressing Congress on Tuesday evening.  But margarita time is always at 7:00 pm followed by dinner at 8:00.  When we finally retired to the salon for after dinner coffee it was almost nine o'clock.  I asked if we might see if we could get the speech on our one tv English network- FOX!  So we turned it on, and there he was looking very serious and restrained.

Now it's important to know the composition of the guests right now.  One couple is very liberal; one is extremely conservative; then there is Fred & Kat who are moderate conservatives - and finally Loren and me!!  So I would say there was a "guarded" sense as we watched the address.  Shortly after we turned on the TV Trump began talking about Navy Seal Ryan Owens and the camera focussed on his widow who remained seated while the entire Congress gave a standing ovation.  Then Trump continued about the mission and how Ryan had been a part of a very successful raid and his comments were followed by an extended ovation with his widow standing this time toking upward with Ivanka standing stoically next to her.
I have never seen anything like this.  My heart ached for this young woman and wanted her to sit down, but the prolonged applause kept going and going.  When it finally died down, I didn't know what to make of Trump's off script comment that Ryan had just made a record.

But there was no discussion afterward.  The pundits on FOX were ecstatic and stated that there were far more "we's" than "I's" - something worthy of note.  When the Democrat from Kentucky began his oration, we turned the TV off.  And we haven't talked about it since!  Is it worthy of our conversation?  Did we miss something big?  If we had been in the US, in San Francisco, listening to it on PBS would we have a different "alternative" view?  It came and went and life in Cuernavaca has not changed.  I have to say I'm okay with that!!

We had a lively discussion last night about education.  David was a superintendent of schools in a Chicago district while his wife, Susan, taught history at a public high school in the suburbs of Chicago for her career.  The grandson of one of the couples was attending a charter school that required an admissions test which only admitted the brightest students.  These kinds of schools, called selective schools, are among the several choices in the Chicago public schools.  In addition to those that have admissions requirements, there are magnet schools emphasizing a certain area such as the sciences or the arts, and there are neighborhood schools which comprise most of the choices.  Then of course, there are a number of private schools available to the wealthy.

It was generally thought that public school teachers get a raw deal.  For the most part they are dedicated and work very long and hard but are disrespected by society and are rarely recognized for their work.  I was unusually silent during this discussion for the most part.  I did mention the fact that teachers can get tenure in California only after two years and they really don't need to do anything to earn it which I think tends to feed the lack of respect in the general population.  Then, if they perform poorly, it is almost impossible to fire them.  Both David and Susan countered that immediately.  David, as a superintendent, said that he needed to fire a number of teachers and was not encumbered by their tenure status.  So here is someone on the front lines saying that the accepted "facts" out there are wrong- is this another example of "alternative facts?"  I'm beginning to worry about how and where I am to go to get at the truth of things!

I think the reason I didn't join in much of the conversation is that I am uneasy about my opinions.  I taught only in private schools where class sizes were never more than twenty.  I finished my career at Castilleja where I have fifteen in a class and only had four classes.  Susan told me she had 190 students in her history classes in suburban Chicago!!

When I retired, I didn't miss the correcting or the faculty meetings or the administration or the parents, but I did miss the kids.  So I volunteered at The James Lick Middle School in Noe Valley in SF.  Noe Valley is a predominantly white upscale neighborhood of SF, but the local school is comprised of Latino and African American students who are mostly bused in.  I went every Tuesday and Thursday to help students with their writing in a 7th grade English/history classroom.  The teacher was a dedicated, young African American, but I couldn't help wonder how she could keep coming every day.  In a private school, almost every student in that classroom would have either been asked to leave the school or at least been sent out of the classroom to the principal's office.  Chaos erupted every five minutes with students jumping up or talking or running around or talking on their cell phones.  During my first week, I had given a writing prompt and most students had begun to write something.  I saw one boy with his head slumped on his desk doing nothing, so I went over and sat down next to him and said, "May I help you get started?"  He slowly raised his head, looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Why don't you fuck off lady."

In over thirty years of teaching that had never happened to me.  I stood up and walked away.  There was another student, Arthur, who was probably the worst behaved in the class, but there was something about him that drew me to him.  I later asked the teacher what his story was.  She told me that Arthur's mother was shacking up with some guy who hated Arthur.  So everyday, when Arthur went home, he was never sure if the door to his apartment would be bolted or not.  If the boyfriend was there, Arthur would do his homework in the hallway, go with out dinner and sleep on the floor outside his apartment.  I was appalled that a mother could actually allow that to happen, and I never looked at Arthur the same way again.

For about ten years I had recited a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay to all of my students.  My best friend and I had always started the Christmas season reading this poem together, so when she died, I committed the poem to memory and had a poster made up that as illustrated by a friend who was an illustrator for children's books.  I recited the poem and then gave each one of my students a copy of the poster.  Since this was the first year of my retirement, and I no longer had students of my own, I asked the teacher if I could recite this poem to her class.  She was delighted.  So I told these young 7th graders about my friend and how I had memorized the poem after she had died and recited it to my students.  I thanked them for listening and allowing me to keep the tradition going.  Then I recited The Ballad of the Harp Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  There was silence in the classroom;  every eye was fixed on me.  When it was over, I handed out the poster to each of them.  Arthur raised his hand and said, "I never heard a poem that long before."  When the class was over and the students had left, every poster had been taken.  In my private school classes, there were always several who left their "gifts."  Although many of my private students appreciated the poem, I never felt it was anything special to them.  The next time I went to the 7th grade classroom, Sequoia came up to me and said, "You know the picture you gave to me?  Well my Mama tacked it up to our living room wall."

I stayed with that 7th grade class for the year and it was a wonderful experience for me, but it also made me sad to see the state of our public schools.  I don't know how long I would have been able to sustain my enthusiasm as a teacher.  Class sizes were huge, supplies were low, behavior was unacceptable.  It's almost as though our society tells teachers to run in to a burning building, knowing there is no fire truck available to come to their aid.

So what is wrong?  Where do we pin the blame?  I read the the United States spends more money per capita on students than any other country in the world.  Would more money help?  Certainly in California when Prop 13 destroyed the tax base our schools went "From First to Last."  We also know a young person who gets paid $49,000 a year and his sole job is to take a paraplegic to school everyday and be with him in each of his classes to help him get the education he is promised.  We know another student who is asthmatic and has a registered nurse in class with her at all times just in case.  There are students in California who are so unruly that cannot be kept in a normal classroom setting and need a "lock-down" high school.  Since there are no lock-down schools in California, they are sent to Nevada at the cost of $100,000 per student per year.  We have a law in this country that says EVERY child has the right to an education, and we must provide that education regardless of the circumstances.  This is laudable, but is it practical?

Many blame the families.  When you step just outside of San Francisco to Marin or the Peninsula, there war fabulous public schools.  If a music program is cut, parents have a fund raiser and reinstate it.  Parent involvement is key.  So how do you reach Arthur's mother to help her understand how she is influencing the future of her child?

Since leaving the James Lick Middle School, I am now volunteering in high school classes through Dave Egger's 826 Valencia Program.  Every public high school in San Francisco has guards at the entrances.  Violence in our schools is an issue.  There are over 72 different languages spoken in the pubic schools of San Francisco.  Most of the students with whom have English as a second language.  Their writing skills are very poor; way below average for their grade level.  But their stories are amazing.  For the most part they want to succeed and are very grateful for my help to improve their writing.  I love working with these students one-on-one, but again, I have tremendous respect but also feel very sorry for the teachers who are trying to help these students.   How can you possibly help 190 students, most of whom don't have a grasp of the language, to succeed.  I don't know what the answer is.  I had a very privileged life as a teacher in private schools.  I seriously doubt I would have lasted in the burning buildings of public schools.

I guess I can't leave this discussion without bringing up Betsy DeVos.  The liberals, in general, think she's totally unqualified and will be disastrous for our public school system.  The more conservative thinkers have a wait-and-see attitude thinking that school choice could bring more competition to the system and the good schools will thrive and the bad schools won't.  Fred, our always thoughtful, deliberate moderator points out that the Secretary of Education really doesn't have a lot of power and that it is the states who make the important decisions around education.  That could be, but if the states are given more authority, and if charter schools are less regulated,  what's to prevent religious schools from teaching only creationism, or a southern school extolling the confederacy, or a Muslim school condoning honor killings?  I certainly don't know the answers to these very complicated questions.  I know there are some wonderful success stories coming out of public schools, but I also see the problems first hand as I volunteer in San Francisco.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Viva Zapata!

1810- Mexico declares independence from Spain, 1910- the Mexican revolution declares Mexico for the people, 2010- Mexico declares war against drugs which takes more lives that the eleven year revolution in 1910.  These are important years in Mexican history, but yesterday we took a Viaje de Zapata and learned quite a bit about the revolution of 1910.

It turns out that at this time Pancho Villa was the hero in Northern Mexico while Zapata was considered a bandit.  In the south- especially in the State of Morelos where we are staying, Zapata was the hero and Pancho was the bandit!

Our first stop was Emiliano Zapata's birthplace in Anenecuilco, a rural village that produced corn and sugar cane.

In 1876 Porfirio Diaz became president of Mexico, and although he ran local elections as a semblance of democracy, in reality he was running a dictatorship favoring the wealth land owners of the haciendas.  Zapata's parents were farmers, and the local people of Anenecuilco were active in trying to redress the seizure of their lands.  So Zapata was raised from a young boy in the art of rebellion.

His house was being "renovated" and a big fence had been erected in front of it.  But we were able to see it as a small modest place, especially when we discovered that Zapata was the ninth of ten children.  There was also an elaborate mural depicting the life and death of Zapata.

The house where Zapata was born

Our next stop was the the site where Zapata was killed:  The Hacienda de San Juan, in Chinameca.
Here we saw a big statue of Zapata on his horse on the exact site where he was gunned down.  Purportedly there are the original bullet holes in the walls surrounding this statue.  He is quoted as saying, "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees."

There was also a museum in the hacienda explaining the revolution.  It was all in Spanish, so we didn't get it all, but it was very clear that Zapata fought long and hard for the poor farmers and was very successful in getting much of the land out of the hands of the wealthy owners and back in to the hands of the farmers.  There is a statue showing Zapata signing the Ayala Plan which was the most radical reform plan of Mexico.  The Plan of Ayala called for all lands stolen under Díaz to be immediately returned; there was considerable land fraud under the old dictator, so a great deal of territory was involved. It also stated that large plantations owned by a single person or family should have one-third of their land nationalized and would then be required to give it to poor farmers. It also argued that if any large plantation owner resisted this action, they should have the other two-thirds confiscated as well.  

Mural at the Hacienda de San Juan showing the lives of the working people

Statue of Zapata at his headquarters inTlaltizapan

After leaving Chinameca, we drove a fair distance to a rather large house in Tlaltizapan which was the headquarters for Zapata during the revolution.  Here we saw the desk where Zapata worked, some of his clothing and guns, and the bloodied pants he wore when he was gunned down.  Although the revolution happened more than 100 years ago, Zapata continues to have an influence, especially in Southern Mexico.  He fought for Reform, Freedom, Law and Justice - things the people are still fighting for.  He believed "If there was no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government."

There is a sign in Morelos that says:  "You are in Zapatista territory in rebellion, here the people command and government obeys."

And the local Zocolo in Cuernavaca where we go everyday is called the Plaza de Armas and is dedicated to Emiliano Zapata, 1879-1919. 

There is a very large statue of Zapata in Cuernavaca showing him with a machete rather than a military sword.

PS:  (Much of the information about Zapata I have taken from an article in Wikipedia.)

We ended our viaje at the Hacienda Vista Hermosa for lunch.  This was an amazing place- huge in scope and splendid in grandeur.  Ending our trip here was a bit ironic and I couldn't' helming but feel for the poor peasants and workers when I realized that this place was once inhabited by a wealthy landowner and his family.  The swimming pool says it all:

One of the most enjoyable parts of our trip was driving around the Mexican countryside through little towns and passed sugar cane fields.  It is so unlike the United States where one town melts in to another and all the McDonalds and Wendy's and Subways look the one another.  Since it was a Sunday, the village squares were crowded as well as the street markets which seemed to crop up along the road sporadically. 

We asked our driver to let us off at the Zocolo because every Sunday at 5:00 there is a band who plays music in the bandstand.  I took a video of it, but don't know how to get a video in to my blog.  But the Zocolo was crowded with people.  The old ones sitting on benches enjoying a corn-on-the-cob with chili powder;  the young ones holding balloons and scurrying around on their skate boards.  In front of the post office there was a group of "elderly" people dancing to the music from a boom box.  They all seemed to have gotten dressed up for the occasion, and although we weren't sure about it all, Loren and I couldn't help but to join in for a dance or two.  They seemed to be receptive to our joining the group.

Walking to catch a cab home, we stopped to listen to a mariachi band play to an appreciative audience.  The Mexicans are a happy people who like their music, food and camaraderie.  It was a day full of history, and it was fun to be out and about in a world unlike our own.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Our Mid-Mark

It's hard to believe that we have just about hit our mid-mark in our three week visit.  I don't ever take this place for granted, but time is flying by too quickly.

We had a delightful day today;  we went to the zoo!  I think it might have been about seven or eight years ago when Annie was last here in Cuernavaca with her younger sister and brother and we took everyone to the zoo and had a wonderful time.  I thought maybe Annie, at seventeen, might be too old or sophisticated for the zoo this time, but was delighted that she wanted to go back, especially to see the rabbits in the petting zoo!  I found the zoo much more lush and beautiful than the Borda Botanical Gardens.  There is a beautiful waterfall and a rapid stream that stretches the length of the barranca and we had a delightful walk down and back again.

 Annie is quite good in Spanish and was able to get us to and from the zoo, buy our tickets and translate the many signs we encountered.  The tickets were $.50 each for Annie and her mother and Loren and I were free because of our senior status!!

Reading is a favorite pastime down here and there is a wonderful exchange where book sharing is encouraged -although there were more books available in past years before the Kindle became popular.  I just finished reading Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson, who after graduating from Harvard Law School went down south -specifically to Alabama- to help victims on death row.  It is an amazing inside view into our justice system - wonderfully written, hard to take at times, but I highly recommend it.

Now I am reading The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis who also wrote Money Ball, The Big Short and The Blind Side.  It wanders quite a bit but is a fascinating look in to how human beings make decisions.  It tells of the lives of two rather incredible and unique Israeli psychologists who collaborate on a study together.  I just finished reading about how an algorithm can go horribly wrong if the sample being taken is too small.  So I asked our resident mathematician how was it that the pollsters like Nate Silver, could have gotten the election results so wrong.  She said that people asking the questions underestimated the anger in this country.  The polls had worked for many years reliably well.  This year it wasn't so much that the math or algorithm was wrong, they just weren't asking the right questions.  I found that quite interesting.  It was also thought that many people weren't giving honest answers to the questions.  Many people who voted for Trump didn't want to say so.

We had an interesting discussion about the use of drugs.  We all know lives that have been ruined by drugs or young people our children's ages who are struggling with addiction.  Very few of us remembered any drug use while we were in high school.  In my youth, drugs were something that people in the inner cities or gangs used.  We asked seventeen year old Annie who goes to a very well respected pubic high school in the Chicago area about the use of drugs in her school.  She said there was definitely marijuana but actually more of her friends drank than smoked.  She did tell us a very interesting thing that none of us had heard about:  Did you know that there is a nail polish that young college women wear that when dipped in to a glass of wine will turn a certain color if the wine has been spiked with something.  We all thought it is a sad world where something like this is necessary;  but it's also a great thing to have to be safe.  If only it were available for Bill Cosby's dates!!!

It's Friday and Natalia's day off so we'll be going out for lunch and dinner.  The consensus is that we will probably go back to Las Mananitas for lunch so Annie can see the birds and it's unanimous that we want to return to Gustos for dinner.

I didn't think I'd have anything to report as we went to the same wonderful restaurants today as we did las Friday... but I was wrong.  When we all had finished our delicious meal at Gutsos ( I had a pork dish from the Yucatan which was amazing) our waiter told us that since the Hickmans were such loyal customers, the dessert was on the house.  They proceeded to clear the table, taking everything off -even our water and wine glasses much to our protests!  They assured us that we would get everything back.

When the table had been cleared, two waiters came and put a white oilcloth on the table and then they began to dab and smear and paint with a variety of sauces:  chocolate, coconut, berry, fruit.  We were fascinated by the process.

After the table was arrayed, they presented each of us with a spoonful of avocado mousse, a small sugared banana cake and a truffle.  BUT WAIT!  DON'T BEGIN YET!  The Head Waiter came out with what looked like a bowl.  He held it over the table and DROPPED IT!  Crash! it was made of chocolate and filled with berries and nuts.  It broke into pieces int he middle of the table!

Then we all began dipping our truffles and our banana cakes into the various sauces.  We used our spoons to scoop up some red sauce to put on our avocado mousse.  There was a bit of the feeling we all had in our youth when we were finger painting.  What struck me was the silence around the table.  No one was talking;  we were all so entranced by the experience.  

And when it was over, we had had quite a time!

We asked if this dessert had a name and were told:  It's called The Jackson Pollock!

Another day in Paradise!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Year of the Rooster

The following was sent to Fred by one of his guests.  It's worth sharing.  It has made a believer of the Chinese Calendar out of me as well as provided me with a little peace of mind!!  "We should all get by without too much hardship!"

The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes
Theodora Lau
Sovereign Press, London
Arrow Books Edition

Printed and reprinted 1981, 1982,1983, 1984 and 1986

Chapter 10 The Rooster


The optimism the Monkey Year overlaps the year of the Rooster, but the Rooster tends to be overconfident and is prone to come up with nonsensical plans. While the colorful Roosters brings bright and happy days, he also dissipates energy. Better to stick to practical and well proven paths.  .  

It may require a great deal of effort this year to keep from going off on wild goose chases. Refrain from making speculative ventures. Disappointments and conflicts will result. The Rooster likes to flaunt his authority and a lot of trouble can come from his domineering attitude. But since he also symbolizes the good administrator and conscientious overseer of justice in the barnyard, the peace will still be kept. Everything will be precariously balanced in the Rooster’s year, as his dramatic personality can set off all kinds of petty disputes.

This year we may have to expend maximum effort for minimum gain.  Try not to fuss too much. Details do need looking into, but don’t forget to view the whole picture. Be cautious.    Do not aim too high. One is liable to get shot down.

Politics will adhere to hard-lie policies.  The diplomatic scene will be dominated by philosophical orators who will rave a lot about nothing. Governments will be found flexing their muscles at each other, but just for show. There will be no real consequences. It is just that everyone will be too preoccupied with himself to hear or care what the other person is saying. The self-conscious influence the Rooster will cause us to take offense at the smallest slight. We will tend to be utterly ostentatious about the splendid image we think we project. Dissension and debates on all fronts will signify the Rooster’s penchant for argumentative exercises and will not be likely to do permanent damage to anyone when taken in the right context.

This will be a buoyant year in spite of the Rooster’s knack for making simple things complicated. One thing for sure: he seldom comes up empty-handed. This is the year of one very self-sufficient bird that will never go hungry.

Just keep your eyes open and your mouth shut and check facts and figures before making unprecedented moves. We should all get by without too much hardship.  Our pockets will not be empty although our nerves may be a bit frayed.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Static and the Dynamic

Some things remain the same:  amazing meals, gorgeous weather, afternoon pool time...  but there is a constant change of discussions depending upon the comings and goings of the various guests.  The couple who just arrived had taken a week long cruise around the Sea of Cortez before coming to Cuernavaca and their tales have made me want to put that trip on my new bucket list.  At one point in the trip a massive group of over 500 dolphins converged on them and surrounded their ship.  They were swimming alongside the boat and arching up out of the water.  There were only dolphins for a far as one could see.  Amazing!

Today we went to a new museum:  the Contemporary Museum of Indigenous Art.  As many may know, I'm not a big museum person, but this art was really wonderful.  There were wooden panthers, ceramic vases, tiny, intricate bead work, embroidery and textiles.  The colors and patterns were beautiful and we all really enjoyed it.  There was a little terrace cafe on the roof of the museum where we stopped for coffee.  I had the most delicious drink - it was Agua Fresca with pineapple and mint.  I think that might have to replace my standard order of Jugo de Zanahoria!

Since both Emil (who works for the IMF)and Fred are economists with copious experience in the field of taxes at lunch today, I asked about our taxes and whether Trump was going to improve things.  I tried to follow it all but I'm afraid I am unable to replicate it for this blog.  I did learn the difference between the marginal tax rate and the average tax rate which apparently is very important to know!!    Judy has a PHD in mathematics and has just recently retired from the National Science Foundation.  Fred and Loren were asking her questions about whole numbers and geometry and equations.  It was during this discussion that I politely excused myself saying the pool was calling me!!

Fred and Kat's daughter and grand daughter arrive this afternoon which will bring yet another dimension to our group - and the richness of our experience continues.

The topic of technology came up in our discussion as we plied Annie with questions about what she and her friends were using.  Snap Chat and Instagram seemed to be the favored apps.  She said friends she knew on the West Coast used Twitter but that wasn't very popular in the Chicago area.  It's interesting to think some of these "fads" are geographic.  Another interesting thing Annie shared was about Facebook.  She and her friends don't use Facebook on a daily basis, but colleges have Facebook pages.  So when you finally decide which college you want to attend, you can go to their Facebook page and see the entering Freshman class.  If you play field hockey, for instance, you might check out others who also play field hockey and begin to chat with them and that is how you find a roommate- Fascinating!!

Speaking of technology, many here have read Thomas Friedman's new book, Thank You For Being Late where he says that 2007 was a banner year:  The iPhone came out, Facebook went from the college campus to the global world, air B&B was started among others.  Isn't it amazing to think that that was only ten years ago?  And now it is totally ubiquitous!!

All for now-  Hasta luego.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Not sure how the days pass so quickly.  I seem to be doing nothing, but I just can't find the time to fit everything in to one day!!

Our ranks are thinning just a bit for just a bit... One couple returned to Chicago yesterday and another left this morning so now we are six.  Yesterday at breakfast, I shared an email that I received from Haden regarding the Welcome Table story we had read by Alice Walker.  I'm not sure where Haden got his information and how he even knew about the Spiritual, but this was his comment:

I love your house rules and I'm envious of your discussions! Regarding this book, which I have not read, wasn't the idea behind the Welcome Table song, that the slaves used to sing, that they would someday sit at the table of their owners and, "tell god how you treat me!"? This could be why she went to the white church. She went to their table. But the true lesson of that song, I believe, is that there is only one table that matters, which all are welcome at, and that is god's. In his eyes there is no such thing as a "white table" not to mention a "white church" which is most likely why Jesus was not found in the church but rather outside where he Welcomes her.  

It's humiliating that there are still a lot of people throughout the world who are singing that same sad song today. 

Well knowing that the Welcome Table mean't the table of their owners made us look at the story in quite a different light.  Most of us had presumed that the Welcome Table was in heaven and we puzzled over why this old lady had even gone to the white church. It made us wonder how important it is to understand the context and how many other pieces of literature have we "mis-interpreted" because we didn't have enough information.

After breakfast we spent almost two hours looking at a DVD that Natalia, our cook, had given to Fred & Kat.  It was a professionally done video of their daughter Casandra's "Quinceañera ."   It was quite an elaborate affair.  I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that it was an Aztec tradition as far back as 500BC where both boys and girls at age 15 were considered to be the mother and father of future warriors.  It has different components in the various South American countries, but now is only a celebration for girls.  Casandra's video began with her at the beauty parlor getting made up.  Wikipedia said it used to be that this celebration would be the first time that a girl would have been permitted to wear make-up, but times have changed.  

Casandra is a beautiful young woman and with the professional make-up and hair styled beautifully she looked quite amazing in her lavender strapless gown with a bejeweled bodice and large crinoline.  The first stop was the church where a "Thanksgiving Mass" was celebrated.  It was all in Spanish so I'm not sure what it was all about, but Casandra was clearly the center of attention.  After the service, everyone went to the party where there was a beautiful four-tiered cake, a DJ and a singer and food and drink.  Casandra danced with her father for "the first waltz".  In the past, this would have been the very first time that this 15 year old would have danced in public... but times have changed.  After the waltz with her father the show really began.  Casandra's older brother, Raul and another young gentleman did four more dances with Casandra.  These dances were very well choreographed and these young people must have practiced for a long time.  The first  two dances Casandra wore her beautiful lavender ball gown.  Then there was a break and she reappeared in shorts and a tank top with the boys in t-shirts that said, "We Rebel".  They did a modern jazzy type of dance. Then there was another costume change andCasandra came out looking like a Michael Jackson dancer with a hat and long thin pants.  Her escorts were in black and each had a black glove on one hand.  They did a fabulous dance to Michael Jackson's "Bad."  

After that Casandra changed in to a darling short salmon colored dress and the video closed with her dancing with all of her friends on the dance floor.  It was quite a show!  The whole thing must have cost a fortune and I couldn't help wondering what these people do for the wedding!! 

After our video, Loren and I set out to go to the Borda Gardens.  WE had heard that they had done a lot of renovating and we thought we would take a picnic lunch and have it in the gardens.  We walked to the Zocolo and went in to a new Starbucks- it could have been plopped down in San Francisco.  Nothing needed to be translated into Spanish:  grande latte, tall cafe mocha-  Starbucks is a universal language.  

We picked up a ham sandwich and some iced tea and headed to Borda.  Sundays are free at Borda Gardens so there were many families there and crafts people selling their wares as well.  It had definitely been cleaned up and the several fountains were filled this time.  We had a nice lunch by a small lake.

We left and headed back towards the Zocolo.  I was thirsty so Loren suggested we try a little cafe we had seen.  We ordered two Cafe Frappucinos and this is what we got:

They were delicious and the bill came to about $5.

We had a very interesting discussion last night about the Palestinian/Israeli situation.  There were a myriad views presented which made us all agree that it is a complicated problem.  One posited that it was the United States with others who were responsible for establishing the State of Israel and we need to support it fully.  

Another view was that the settlements weren't the problem as Israel had been willing to stop the settlements twice before and the Palestinians rejected the offer and continued bombing.  There would be no solution as long as the Arabs continued to affirm that Israel did not have a right to even exist.  

Still another perspective pointed out how dominant Israel was and until they were willing to concede some of their dominance over the Palestinians there would be no room for compromise.  

Although it was too bad that Trump said he would leave the idea of one state on the table, the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu seemed to go fairly well with Trump stating that he would agree to whatever the two sides came up with.  Not sure what all that means, but at least it left room for negotiations.  One of the guests said that the permanent settlements would never be able to be turned over, but that there could be some Israeli land that could be turned over to the Palestinians in exchange for those settlements - that seemed to be an intriguing offer.  By the end of the discussion many had tempered their original stance.  It's not a simple problem.

The next morning we all received a very interesting article called The Road to Peace by David Ross of The Washington Institute.  If you're interested in this complex issue, I recommend this article.  Basically he's saying if you think a two-state solution is dead, you need to pick up your shovel and think again as there are many Arab countries who might be willing to help in the peace process.  Check it out HERE.

It's now Tuesday morning and we lost another wonderful couple.  As they were leaving, Mac gave me a big hug and said, "Well, you have taught me that even far left Whackos like you can be nice!"  I was a bit taken aback- but I think Mac likes to take on the role of the kidder...

Another couple arrives this afternoon so I'm sure the interesting discussions will continue.  More later...

PS- Fred told me he had a correction for the Rules of the House:  #3 is:  If you ask a question, you must listen to the answer!!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Natalia's Day Off

Friday is Natalia, our amazing cook's day off so we take Fred and Kat out for lunch and dinner.  Today we went to Las Mananitas for lunch.  It is a very special and beautiful hotel with gorgeous grounds and a lovely restaurant.  The unique thing about it is there are exotic birds that roam the grounds freely and add to the ambiance.    Mariachis come by the table singing things like Besame Mucho while we dine on delicious Mexican food.

It is a great group and we are all having a wonderful time together, and the conversations are non-stop.

This morning there was a conversation about economics and bailouts that was a bit over my head, but when it was winding down, I was prompted to ask about regulations:  Should there be more or less?  The answer was "Better."  Then I asked about one of Trump's executive orders that, according to the media that I have accessed said that financial institutions no longer need to work in the best interest of their clients.

And a short education lesson began:  It is in the fabric of our legal system that any investment firm must have their clients' well being in mind and try to do what is best for their financial success.  But as a popular political move, something was enacted that would make it very easy to sue one's financial advisor when things didn't go as well as expected.  There have been cases where a client was advised that his holding was high risk and it would be wise to divest in some of it.  The advice was not taken, the client sued the firm and won.  Trumps' executive order just put things back to where they have been for decades.  After hearing this side of things, I get very discouraged.  When I read the headlines that were presented to me:  "Trump signs order giving Financial Institutions the power NOT to have the Best Interest of their Clients in Mind" I was outraged.  How could Trump do such a thing.

Fred Hickman was a very successful tax lawyer and was Under Secretary of the Treasurer under Nixon.  He is thoughtful and he knows his subject.  So I had to ask him what he thought about Trump not disclosing his tax statements.  Fred said he didn't think it was a good idea while he was being audited as it would throw it out there for hundreds of people to weigh in on their opinions.

I said it made me uneasy and that I couldn't help but think he had something to hide.  Isn't it important to know if he has holdings in Russia or China and how much he owes and to whom?  Fred replied that releasing his taxes wouldn't show us any of that information.  It would probably reveal that he didn't pay any taxes, but he's already confessed to that and said it was because he was a smart business man.  Demanding that he release his taxes is a political thing and not very important overall.

We also talked about Trumps' relationship with Putin.  I asked if wanting to be Putin's friend was a good idea.  Immediately someone said, "well, those are your words," and then went on to give me a historical perspective.  It was Bush who claimed he looked in to Putin's eyes and saw his soul - well that didn't lead to much.  Obama said he wanted to "re-set" relations with Russian - and that wasn't too successful.  There is also a story that during the Nixon administration, a newly appointed ambassador to Russia asked Kissinger, "What do I tell the Russians about Nixon?"  Kissinger told him to tell them he's smart, he's a strong leader, but sometimes he's a little crazy.  It was the unpredictability of Nixon's nature that kept the Russians at the table.  Now fast forward to Donald Trump... what is he trying to do with Putin?  No one really knows, and maybe that's a good thing!!

We ended our evening at Gustos, a fabulous restaurant just around the corner from where we're staying.  It is all lit up at night and a trio on the other side of the pool is playing lovely music.  The food is so Mexican and so elegantly presented.  I had a three chilies soup that was delicious- I wish I could get the recipe.  Everyone had amazing looking dishes and a few ordered figs flambé with artisan cheese ice cream for dessert.  It was prepared right at the table with fire and finesse.  WE had margaritas and wine and left a generous tip and it came o about $35.00 a person.  Quite a change from an evening out in San Francisco!   A grand ending to another great day!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Starring Robert Stack and Alice Walker

Last night's discussion veered from the political and covered an array of topics from sports to Chicago neighborhoods, restaurants, and karioke.

Then today a rather unique adventure awaited us.  We were told that Rosemarie Stack the widow of Robert Stack -aka Eliot Ness of the Untouchables- was selling her house in Cuernavaca along with most of its contents.  Did we want to go over and check it out?  Claro Que Si!!

Five of us took up the offer and we spend a couple of hours gawking at the abundance of things that the Rich and Famous Stacks had accumulated over the years.

... a bit of history...   Robert, Rosemarie and their two children began coming to Cuernavaca in the '70s.  They rented a place and would come down for vacation two or three times a years.  Shortly after Robert died in 2003, Rosemarie bought a house in Cuernavaca and moved down permanently.  She has lived here for almost fifteen years.  She is presently 85 years old and wants to downsize to a smaller place.  It is her idea to sell her belongings.

I love visiting the houses in Cuernavaca because they are hidden gems.  All of the houses have large walls surrounding them, many of them crumbling and worn.  Inside the walls there are wonderful sites.

When we went to her house we were shown to the guest house where tables of jewelry, Hermes bags, candlesticks, dishes, glassware, linens, silver in abundance were displayed.  It was quite amazing.  We also saw racks of clothing and furs and she has a very large collection of art.  To think that she must have brought all of these items from Hollywood is mind boggling.  I wanted to take advantage of this unique experience and buy something so I ended up with six placemats and matching napkins that I plan to use for a Mexican dinner in San Francisco. Others returned with an Hermes bag (which she paid $25.00 for),  three unique and amazing necklaces, a couple of art deco broaches (one of which featured Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers dancing!) a bottle of French perfume that turns out to be very expensive and assorted other items.

After our shopping spree we were taken into the main house where the cook was serving Gorditos- delicious stuffed tortillas with a spicy salsa.    Yum!  Rosemarie has five servant working full time for her.  -She had a lot of silver that needed polishing!  And the grounds were beautiful with lovely sculptures randomly placed.

Tonight we had a lively discussion about an Alice Walker short story that we had been given to read at breakfast.  The Welcome Table gets its title from an old Negro Spiritual.

I'm going to sit at the Welcome table
Shout my troubles over
Walk and talk with Jesus
Tell God how your treat me
One of these days!

An old black woman, "dressed in her Sunday meeting clothes walks down the street alone...toward the big white church...just her and her eyes raised dully to the glittering cross that crowned the sheer silver steeple."  She enters the church and the white preacher says kindly, "Auntie, you know this is not your church?  As if one could choose the wrong one."  But the old woman brushed by him because she was in a hurry.  She sits in the back of the church but is eventually tossed out by a band of burly men being exhorted by their women who knew what had to be done.  

Outside, the woman encounters Christ and walks with him.  She is grinning with giggles of joy when Christ says, "Follow Me."  The people in the church never knew what happened to the old woman and never spoke of her again.  It was rumored that an old woman had fallen dead along the highway.  Some say she had "walked herself to death."

If this short synopsis encourages you to read the whole story, I recommend it. The fun part was in hearing the different interpretations about what Alice Walker might have been saying.  They ranged from "She's just writing a story and it has no hidden meaning," to the Church is hypocritical and Christ can only be found outside of the walls of the church.  A few thought the old woman knew her end was near and she was searching for the Welcome table.  But why did she go to the white church to find God?  Why didn't she go to her own church?  We weren't sure about that.

The dinner conversation was varied.  We covered the Chicago Mafia and the Jewish Mafia and ended the conversation talking about the Red Notice by Bill Browder,  a fascinating book that a couple of people had read about an American investing in Russia and meeting up with some pretty ugly fellows.

Tomorrow is Natalia, the cook's, day off so that means we all take Fred and Kat out for lunch and dinner.  Not sure where we'll go, but I always love exploring other places.  

Hasta Luego.