Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Meanderings in Tepotzlán, Toluca and Valle de Bravo

The pyramid is up there somewhere!
Tepotzlán
How lucky we are with an extra week in our lives to visit places around CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico or Mexico City). A one hour bus ride from the city brings us to this valley surrounded by mountains called Tepotzlán, a pueblo mágico. Somehow we managed to get 3 days of rain so missed the important pyramid above the town called El Tepozteco. We never even saw it from below as the mountains were covered in clouds most of the time.


This didn't stop us from enjoying walking around, having a decaf coffee here and there and favorite pastime was eating delicious vegan food in the stalls of the Mercado. We found several prehispanic vendors with a variety of options so that we had to go back each of our three days. Seems to be our street food week as we also found a vegan taco stand in Mexico City called Por Siempre Vegan Taqueria. Surely a place we will return to. We are making up for the many outdoor markets and stalls we have ignored in our 8+ years of Mexico travel, always passing them for not having items we would like.


This town was hit very hard by the earthquake in Sept, 2017 damaging the large church as well as many buildings in town. We visited the Ex-convento and the exhibit about the earthquake as well as a museum collection of prehispanic artifacts from the area.
Toluca
Here is Richard reporting....
Toluca, just two hours outside of Mexico City, was described to me as semi-modern and so it is. It is the capital of the state of Mexico and seems to have a thriving population. We met our dear friends there from San Miguel, Tomy and Maria Elena and our main reason to go was to visit Cosmovitral a place of great wonder and beauty. The incredible building was once a marketplace and now is covered with huge panels of stained glass telling the story of creation and the ongoing battle where good wins over evil. Inside the walls are gardens and each one is a jewel. It is a place I recommend as a once in a lifetime visit.


Maria Elena and Luz
Our friends have a cousin Luz living in Toluca who wanted to enhance our time, which she did to our  great appreciation. The first night she prepared a feast for us travelers made with her loving hands and catering to our individual dietary specialities. Together with the rest of her family we had a time to catch up and hear many stories of the cousins and their lives growing up in San Miguel. As no one spoke English, it was a chance to see how our Spanish comprehension has improved over the years. 
A view of Nevado de Toluca
from San Andres

The following day she took us all to see a view of Nevado de Toluca, a volcano covered in snow which we saw from the small village of San Andres. In my youth I would have liked to climb it but now it is a mountain to admire. Then we traveled to a another "Pueblo Magico" called Metepec where we climbed up the  
stairs  to visit the church with a great view of the town below. We shared a delicious meal in town and we headed back to Toluca to say goodbye to our new friend Luz.  
overlooking Metepec
An important memory for all of us was our morning coffee in a little cafe called Huitzi Café which in Nahuatl (indigenous language) means colibri or hummingbird. We were entertained each morning by great music of the 60's. We are grateful to have M E and Tomy as our travel companions and look forward to our next trip.

Valle de Bravo
Our balcony in V de B
And now the very last leg of this trip before we go off technology for the next 10 days. We are in another Pueblo Magico - Valle de Bravo on the shores of a very large man made lake. Having only two nights before our 10 day Vipassana silent retreat, we are enthralled with this very beautiful town with much more to see and do than our two days will provide. Another place to return to (only 2 hours from CDMX). 


Once again we follow our usual search for the best vegan food and found it once again at a small spot run by two lovely ladies - Maria and Elina. They have only been here for one month so if your travels bring you to V de B, please visit them.
Today we went to Bridal Falls for a walk in the woods with the sound of waterfalls surrounding us. We took care of a few errands as we will not have the opportunity to do any extra "stuff" during the next days. FYI, we will be in separate quarters with no eye contact, nor communication with each other nor you....our friends and family. I will write my thoughts and comments on this experience later this month.  
At Bridal Falls



Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A successful fifth year of Libros para Todos with Reyna Grande


It would be hard to describe the week with author Reyna Grande for the fifth year of Libros para Todos. Most of you who are reading this post know that it started small in my Spanish conversation class and now is reaching epic proportions. During the Thanksgiving week in and around San Miguel de Allende she spoke to nearly 1000 people and signed 600 books and many more bookmarks. Reyna's ability to express herself with candor and openness drew us into her story like a magnet. Both young and old were able to experience her journey as if it were our own. THANK YOU REYNA.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words so I will post many here and highlight the major events along with a few stories that happened.

Tuesday night was a concert of Cuban pianist Fidel Leal to a standing room crowd. This was a benefit performance for Libros para Todos and special guests were Reyna, her husband Corey, their two children and nephew.

Wednesday was our first rural community event in Banda. This is a very small school where 30 read Reyna's memoir "La Distancia entre Nosotros". We always wonder before the first event how things will go but she was very well received by these young adults (age 13-16) who were moved by the sad and difficult stories of her childhood. This is the class where Richard taught English over several weeks this past fall and so he felt very connected to all these young people.
Each person in Banda wrote their own book
based in each chapter of Reyna's

Here are many of the books written by
the students in Banda.

Here is a review from her website of the book.

"Born in Mexico and raised by her grandparents after her parents left to find work in the U.S., at nine years old, Reyna enters the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant to live with her father. Filled with hope, she quickly realizes that life in America is far from perfect. Her father isn’t the man she dreamed about all those years in Mexico. His big dreams for his children are what gets them across the border, but his alcoholism and rage undermine all his hard work and good intentions. Reyna finds solace from a violent home in books and writing, inspired by the Latina voices she reads. After an explosive altercation, Reyna breaks away, going on to become the first person in her family to obtain a higher education, earning a college degree and then an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.

At a time when immigration politics are at a boiling point in America, Reyna Grande is an important public voice for Mexican Americans and immigrants of every origin. The Distance Between Us has the power to change minds and hearts."

Wednesday evening Reyna was invited to the PEN lecture series and spoke to an audience attentive to this timely story of immigration as she spoke in English with a complete translation and pictures on a large screen. She was introduced by colleague Sandra Cisneros, author and longtime supporter of Libros para Todos.


Thursday began a full day with three events - Los Rodriguez, Naciones Unidas and Pantoja (with students from Don Diego). Each event was well received by the schools and communities that invited us. Common denominators of all the events were gifts and letters handed to Reyna as well as large posters and drawings related to the stories in the book. Bouquets of flowers covered her table as she patiently looked into the eyes of each student as she signed their book addressed personally to each one. 

Friday was spent in Delores Hidalgo - first at a large event in a Secondaria (Middle School) where 200 had received the book however the event included all the school - seats and bleachers were filled. After her talk and Q&A a young woman came with her mike and sang acapella in the most glorious voice I have heard in a very long time. I spoke with her afterwards to find out that she has never had a voice or music teacher. I hope that she encounters someone like Reyna did to help her in the world if she chooses music as her future. 




After a fun few hours in Delores Hidalgo including delicious tacos for all and ice cream at a shop of the family of one of the students, we were off to a very large event of close to 300 people. These were students of local book clubs as well as many parents. Here again the students shared special programs that had been planned for her, gifts and a second song by the same young woman. 





Saturday was a special breakfast for Reyna and her family and our many volunteers and supporters at the lovely Posada Corazon. After a few words from me and Daniela, Reyna spoke and again signed books. A surprise for me followed with all singing "Las Mananitas" along with a birthday pancake and candle. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate a birthday.

And probably the most emotional of all came on Saturday afternoon. Students in the school at Don Diego were moved by her story and the caravan of asylum seekers passing through Mexico and decided to raise money to buy items of necessity for these people. We took 3 carfuls with bags of goods to ABBA House in Celaya - a safe house for these people. We were given a tour, met some of the refugees and witnessed with our own eyes the reality of this situation. After these many days with Reyna, listening to her story of immigration and realizing that this is a very real life for so many people here in this part of the world and in many other parts, now was the opportunity to actually witness it. The emotions were overwhelming for me and many others.

And lastly on Sunday morning Reyna spoke at our local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of SMA on the topic of writing for therapy. Once again, well received by an overflow crowd.

A short summary of my thoughts after a week of Libros para Todos....

  • I am very proud of all our accomplishments to reach so many with a special book. Thanks to the whole team of Libros para Todos and especially to Daniela Franco. It would not happen without her.
  • I would not be surprised if this might be a book that changes the lives of some of these young people. Reyna told us that she received so many personal letters during the week with young people reaching out to her with stories of their pain and suffering.
  • I have hopes that LpT will add a writing program in one or more schools. The students in Pantoja each wrote a personal story as part of the reading of La Distancia entre Nosotros.
  • I am more connected in a visual way to the pain and suffering of so many people escaping difficult situations with the hopes of a better world for themselves and their families after bearing witness to this firsthand at ABBA House.
  • I never doubted the value of writing to work through difficult personal issues but am now even more aware of how it can help change one's inner struggles.
  • I hope that Libros para Todos can make a small difference in the world of some people.
  • I was deeply connected in a personal way knowing that my parents who were Jewish refugees left Germany to come to a better place. Here I am many years later thinking about them and their lives. I have written much in my life about this but am even more connected than ever before. Thinking about Reyna and her family and her ability to understand her parents better after years of writing helped me to realize how I have finally understand a bit more about my own parents and my past.
With our LpT intern, cousin Noa Bearman
Thank you to all our family and friends for following our Libros para Todos program and for supporting us with contributions as well as moral support. We love you all.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Studying and enjoying Guanajuato (GTO), Mexico

I can't believe it has been almost one year since I wrote on this blog. It doesn't mean we haven't done anything or been anywhere. I don't really know what it means.

Steps at the University
Anyway, we had a few weeks free and decided to spend some time in this young and vibrant city - a university town with the U of Guanajuato occupying the attention of all. The city is alive at all hours of the day and night with young people studying, drinking coffee in the many coffee shops, eating and just "being students" as they are all over the world.
Typical scene in our "hood"

There is lots happening for adults as well - a large educated Mexican population and a very small expat community makes a different feel than SMA. We've been to both theaters attending the GTO band concert (at Teatro Juarez) as well as the GTO Symphony (at Teatro Principal). We were lucky to be at the Symphony the night Alfredo Muro (world famous guitarist whom we know from SMA) was playing as a guest musician.


We attended Escuela Falcon for 2 classes/day for 2 weeks working again on the Spanish challenge. We are both far ahead of what we once were however there is always a need for much improvement.

Steps in Museo de Arte
Contemporano
Our small apartment is shared in a house with other students - one from Turkey and one from the Philippines with her husband from the US. I feel like I am back in a college setting of the past - one way to keep us "young".

We are enjoying the many museums, parks and walking up and down the steep cobblestone alleys. The street and several surrounding our house are car free as they are too narrow to accommodate vehicles. It makes for good daily exercise which we were used to in San Miguel where we have been for the prior 3 months.
Diego and Frida at the museum

The city with the cathedral and university in the middle.

E-Hacienda San Gabriel
de Barrera
There were several excursions from school including a walking tour of the city and a visit to the Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera which was built in the early 18th century and was taken over by the government after the 1910 revolution. It consists of a museum, the house with period furniture and numerous gardens.

Delicata Mitsu


I would be remiss if I didn't talk about our favorite activity - eating at restaurants that cater to our style of food and Guanajuato has numerous to choose from. Favorites included Habibitee (Middle Eastern), Delicata Mitsu (Japanese) and all time best - Los Campos which serves an eclectic menu of well presented and tasty food. Having a kitchen at home allowed us to eat meals at home many evenings while enjoying our nightly habit of watching Spanish speaking soap operas (listening in Spanish with subtitles in English).

We are headed back to San Miguel tomorrow to partake in the "big read" event for Libros para Todos. Author Reyna Grande will visit the rural communities surrounding SMA next week. From then we will begin our 4 1/2 month travel adventure in Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia. Look forward to posts as we travel once again.

Words from Ricardo...

We have returned to Guanajuato for the fifth time since our retirement nine years ago. This is the capital of the state in Mexico, the same state in which San Miguel de Allende resides.  It is a very picturesque university town that at one time was the richest town in the world due to silver and gold mining. Guanajuato is known for its largest vein of silver.  Because of its past wealth many things were constructed such as underground roads, theaters, plazas, haciendas and magnificent churches.  Beside enjoying life here we are attending Spanish classes (Escuela Falcon) which rounds our days along with our usual touring. This is a young town in contrast to San Miguel de Allende which has an older population. 
Richard's favorite expression -
Belly full, heart content!
I would like to recommend visiting both places just to experience the contrast. The prices in Guanajuato are much less than San Miguel de Allende and the ambiance here is faster, younger and more colorful however our great community and many social action projects along with the beauty of SMA make it important for us as well. Guanajuato is historic not just for the mines but due to the 1810 revolution when Mexico fought for its independence from Spain. 
Come and spend some time here that you won’t regret, I’m sure.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Parlez-vous français?


First my thoughts on France. We arrived in Pau, France in early October and spent 2 weeks here before heading to Morocco, knowing that we would return again to our same little studio apartment for 3 more weeks in November.

View from apartment of Place
Clemenceau
For me Pau was a very comfortable life - small city with easy access to all that we need. At this time of my life it is the most important thing to me - the ability to live without transportation other than my two feet. Of course that could change but right now they are still happy to take me wherever I want to go. I didn't do much the first two weeks as I was recovering from our "camino" but what better place to be.

Place Clemenceau, Pau
I studied French in High School and was/am amazed at how much is in my head but I never got to the point of ability to really string along sentences. I took a few classes here in Pau and found myself falling back on Spanish when not knowing a word, rather than English. The good news for me was that it helped me realize how much Spanish I have learned over the last several years. I do know that if I put my mind to it and were to live in France for longer periods of time I would dedicate time to the language and surely would get better. Studying is not my favorite pastime so it is always a tradeoff for something else I might rather do.
Church in Pau

Fall in Pau
I found the French people friendly on some level but not at all interested in speaking English which made it a bit difficult for communication. I believe they may know some English but they were not wanting to speak it. Richard had it correct - when being friendly and greeting them with "bonjour" they usually were friendly however it took me a while to realize this. They are formal in their ways. I loved walking around and admiring the women and men dressed so very well and Pau is a city of lovely shopping everywhere. The food is their pride and joy and I admit that it is not my favorite part of their culture as it is so different than my way of cooking and eating. Yes, it is possible to be plant based in France but it is not easy nor welcomed by all. (See my vegan food adventure blog at:
https://vegan-food-adventures.blogspot.fr/

4our friends with 4our new scarves
The very best part of the trip was our friends Erin and Philip who lived on the floor below. They are here now for the 4th time and staying for 6 months. They really know France well, have good connections and have been so kind to us. They have a car and took us on many adventures into the Pyrenees for drives, walks, spa, etc. They even took us on a surprise trip this past weekend through a 5 mile bridge from France to Spain where we lunched. Thanks to you both.

Biarritz
We took side trips to Lourdes, Bayonne and Biarritz. Each was an easy train trip from Pau and an opportunity to see different areas. Biarritz is on the Atlantic coast, a beach resort and a possible place to return for a short visit someday on off season.
Bayonne

Now we are on our last few days as we leave on Thanksgiving and arrive in Mexico on Friday. To sum it up - WOW is all I can say. I am grateful to Ricardo and to the "travel gods" for this many month trip. Remember we started in June from Mexico to the USA and then arrived in Europe in mid August. We have been to Berlin, Buxton, Portugal and Spain by foot, France and Morocco. Each leg had its special moments. It was not always easy as I had several physical problems, most of which are resolved but somehow we both managed to enjoy each day to its fullest. I find that the best way to learn about myself is while traveling and experiencing other cultures. I learn what I like and don't and I am always reminded that most people are the same, no matter where I am and that borders are just man made dividers. Language and culture are different and that is the excitement. I shall probably never be content living always in the same place. What vagabond genes I inherited and from whom??
Happy Thanksgiving to all


At this time of  Thanksgiving, I am grateful to our family and friends who continue to support us as cheerleaders on our travels - some of you understand us, some don't but yet you ALL accept us nonetheless. A Happy Day to you all. With love from Susan.



Thoughts from Ricardo

Finally I have checked off another one of my bucket list items. Our time in France to travel and learn the culture and some of the French language has been a total joy.

This is a country of very proud people who thoroughly identify with all there is to be French -  from their food to their language and their customs.
Streets of Pau

The French are very warm and giving people in many ways. To realize this you must begin every encounter with BONJOUR “hello”. They don’t have much patience for people who are aggressive or in a hurry. The French take their time and with accepting this tempo you will be very welcomed indeed.

Their language is difficult for English speakers as English is for the French. I was told that 60 percent of the English language comes from the French though it is spoken differently with sounds and accents that don’t exist in either language.  Many French do know some English but don’t like to use it because of the difficulty with the pronunciation. Spanish is more straightforward as it is spoken like it is spelled compared with French whose spelling is uniquely French with many letters at the end of words that are silent.

We have been living in Pau, France as a place to settle and regroup after our many travels and this was a good choice for us.  Pau is a very clean and has access by foot to all that one would need to live with ease. We have some very close friends Erin and Philip that are living downstairs from us and we appreciate all that they have done for us to make our time in France so enjoyable. We have traveled to the mountains,  some cities and the ocean and have always remarked at how special France is. It is a very modern country and would be a very easy place to settle.  I know that we will return to France in the near future.


Cathedral of Bayonne
My final feelings of being here in France.  In some ways this part of southern France which has a strong Basque and English influence seems like a dream world.  A mixture of old and modern, it is very up to date with technology and services. Everything seems to be very well thought out having a plan not just being put together haphazardly. I see France as a country who is looking ahead and taking care of it's citizens well.  It is a very warm and compassionate place where I have felt very safe and welcomed.

Sending love,
Ricardo

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Morocco - sights, sounds and smells

I am writing on the plane just as we leave Marrakech for France. I think that this has been the most amazing trip of our lives thus far (and you all know that we have had already had some pretty amazing adventures). Why you ask? I don’t know if I can capture it in words as it is a feeling and experience that doesn’t exactly translate but I will give it a try.

Perhaps it is the contrast to other realities. It is a country of sounds, smells and sights. We experienced cities such as Fez and Marrakech, many oases, Rif and Atlas Mountains and many parts of the Sahara desert. I am adding many photos for those who a have not seen them on Facebook.
Fez



Tagine


the "dyeing" street in
Fez medina.

leather dyeing


spices in medina
Smells...the mint tea everyday and everywhere.  How gracious are the people to invite us to sit and sip this tea at every occasion. There was a slight incense smell in all medinas (central old parts of each city). Normally I am bothered by the smell of incense but here it was mild and pleasant. Because of my personal choice of food I suppose we missed a few different smells but each vegetarian tagine we ate had the smell of different North African spices.
Olives every day.




typical veggie appetizers
Roman ruins at Volubilis
Sights....the visual experiences were even more varied because of both the scenery and the man made artisan products - tiles, leather, fabric, clothing,  jewelry, woven Berber rugs and much more. I chose to continue my “drawing a day” and captured some of the things I saw each day. I often noted the similarities between Mexican handicrafts and those of Morocco. I loved the beautiful and graceful Arabic writing and learned to write my name. We saw so many things growing; dates we picked off trees, olives, pomegranates, almonds, figs, clementines and apples.
Susan in arabic

Chefchauen



Chefchauen, the blue city

Chefchauen


Ifrane, a ski village on the way to Midelt
And the sounds....they range from the VERY noisy Médina in Marrakech with motorcycles weaving in and out of the narrow streets to the complete silence  of the desert. We stayed the night in the Sahara at Merzouga and we were up in the middle of the night to witness the stars and the complete silence. The second opportunity was to sit in the sand dunes at sunrise for this same silence. Between these extremes were the snorting camels, Arabic music in the car with singer Abd Halim singing “Habibitee” which became our favorite song and background conversations going on all the time in either Arabic, Berber dialects or French.

Dates galore

Berber rugs

Berber tent in the desert



Fun with Hami
our "tent" in the Sahara desert
My curiosity was peaked early in the trip to try and figure out the Islamic religion of the Muslim people. I must admit my ignorance before traveling of this religion and it’s people. We had conversations with strict Muslims, more liberal Muslims, Berbers who are all Muslims as it is the religion of the country and those Berbers who might say they are Muslim but who practice their own indigenous religions from the time before the Muslims settled Morocco. We visited Roman ruins who were there way before the Muslims. Sometimes I wish I had paid a bit more attention to World History many years ago but suspect that I might have forgotten some. No history is the same for all people as it written by those in power. Having traveled in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador I always am struck by how the invaders are quick to take the power from the indigenous and it seems to usually be through religion.
Sunset on camels on the desert


Heart shaped sand dune




my name in Arabic


Without going on and on, I will end with my favorite parts of this 15 days. Without a doubt it was our driver, now friend, Cherif who was there for us at every moment. He hand held me across the chaotic streets of bigger cities and took us on a special adventure to a little village to buy fresh dates off a tree. We remarked that we felt like we were buying drugs as we wound through narrow alleys and into a private home. He knows his country and was happy to share that love with us.
A view from Hotel Maison Amazigh
in Dades Valley


The family at Maison Amazigh

The Berber symbol Amazigh
meaning "Free People"

On the long walk to the Berber cave

Sheep and Fatima
outside Berber cave
in the desert

Mom and her children
outside the cave



I asked questions to those who were willing to answer...about women and about their clothing (hajibs). Unfortunately I didn't really get to know any women well enough so I was getting a male perspective. This perspective was also connected to how devout was the person giving me opinions. I could see the difference between the big cosmopolitan modern city of Marrakech which was more Berber and the smaller Fez which is more Arabic.

There were several auberges that stood out - Maison Zoula and guide Hami who took us on our long walk along the river Ziz to several oases. He joined us the next day on our 4x4 trip into the desert. After explaining to Hami about our volunteer experiences in Mexico he inspired me to possibly help organize friends who might want to travel to Morocco and charge a little extra to donate to his Oasis to Oasis project for children’s education. So, let me know if you plan a visit to Morocco and we can help to make this happen.

Another special place was Maison Amizagh in the Dades Valley. There one of the brothers took us on a 14k trip into the mountains to a Berber family living in a cave.

And the story goes on and on but I will end here with these memories and grateful to have had the time, money and health to have this experience. I am grateful as well to my loving habibe Ricardo for being always at my side.

Thank you again for traveling with us.
Much love from Susan  سوزن
,

Ricardo's thoughts about Morocco.

After a trip in such a varied and exotic country as Morocco it would be very difficult for me to explain my many experiences in a few words but I will give it a try here.

dates growing on palms
This place is truly an Islamic country where one will hear the calling of prayers five times each day...Allah Akbar, etc. which makes one stop and listen and for me to wonder how this practice affects one’s sense of the present. Every time I heard the calling of the prayers I paused to listen and I can only imagine how the Muslims were feeling.

Marrakech

Marrakech




We have traveled to mountains, deserts and many oases and the people always call themselves Muslim but with whole different cultures and intensities of faith. The two main cultures are Arabic and Berber.  Berbers were the original inhabitants from time recorded. Muslims all believe in the stories of the Old Testament and of course their Koran which is believed to be sent to them straight from God. They date their lineage to Abraham. What strikes me is how all three religions believe in the same one god and still want to fight each other. To me this is a strictly political problem and probably not religious to any extent.
Djemaa El Fna square


We were able to spend  good time with many Moroccans who were very willing to express themselves in beliefs and culture. What I learned was that what we learn from the news media is nothing like what Islam is all about. “Go figure.”

This is a trip that needs to be guided due to the language and varied distances between the different locations unless you speak French which is the common spoken language.  If anybody wants to learn more about my experiences in Morocco I would be happy to share conversation over a cup of mint tea.

Final day with Cherif and Saoud.
Along with all of the adventures that Susan, my HABIBITEE, my love and I have had here in Morocco, I need to mention our fabulous driver and teacher Cherif who was always protecting us with his watchful eye and who became like a family member after just a few days. This trip would not have been so successful without him.  He spoke English well and was very proud of his Morocco.

We hope to return someday to recapture this special beauty again. We hope that you enjoy the photos to see the different colors of Morocco.

Sending love,
Ricardo

PS - Arabic (and French) words that I enjoyed using on this trip:

Choukran -  Thank you - merci
La choukran - no thank you - non merci
Inshallah - god willing - si dieu le veux
Bismillah- in the name allah - Au nom de dieu
Salam  alechom-hello/greeting/ hi - bon jour
Habibittee (f)....habibi (m)-my love - mon amor
Minfadlick-please - s’il vous plait
Maktoub - it is written