My awesome image caption
  • 13

    The birthday in Tepoztlan was beautiful. The hike up to the pyramid is exhausting but incredible… 2 kms of steep uphill climbing, coupled with the fact that you are ascending about 600 m in an hour (at some point my ears began to pop!). Especially beautiful on weekday mornings, when ther are few people around, so you really have a sense of both the history and the ecology around you… the entire hike is in a preserved ecological park, not a single puesto or shop from when you enter until you reach the very top, and impressively almost no garbage either. I had to stop more times than I care to remember, and I coudnt help thinking that if that´s how out of shape I am, those kids in Zoatecpan are going to destroy me! They run about the mountainside like little goats, and since we will be accompanying them on their trips to photograph local flora and fauna, we will have to keep pace. They are going to have fun laughing at us city folk, ah well, it´s a well earned laugh! Almost all those children have, from the age of 4 or 5, been accompanying their mothers to bring firewood and water from far off places: their little legs, arms, and backs are incredibly stronger than most of ours have ever been. Who knows, maybe 3 weeks of working with them will whip us into some kind of shape, in ways that are much more fun than going to the gym! 😉

    At any rate, despite the one mandatory moment of “I give up, I can´t complete this hike,” when you do get to the top, the view makes up for everything. The cliffs around that area are beautiful and strange, one can spend forever looking at them and looking for shapes as one does in clouds. And when you get to the top, you also feel a certain camaraderie with whoever else is there… people who would never have stopped to exchange glances in the city suddenly smile at each other and make small talk, as if we now know that we are together in the moment. After a Spoken Word night at SLC some weeks ago, JS said something about the magic of the fact that it took millions of years of growth in different parts of the earth to ensure that all of us shared that night together in that teahouse… I felt something similar about being on top of that pyramid, by myself, and with groups of strangers who came and went while I sat there drinking it in. I spent more than hour at the summit, soaking in the view, soaking in the history, trying to imagine the past, wondering at the generations and centuries that have been part of this spot– the Aztecs, the Spanish, and now tourists like myself–, marveling at the journey that has brought me from my childhood home in a little mountain town in the Himalayas to this little mountain town in Mexico. In so many ways, I felt incredibly fortunate. In a place where hundreds of thousands have prayed, I offered a prayer of gratitude as well. it´s the kind of place that makes you pray, regardless of whether you believe in prayer.

    The descent was much easier, although I was so exhausted that at one point, I realized that whenever i stood still for a moment, to catch my breath or admire the view or tie my showlace, my legs began to tremble unconrtollably (keep in mind that I was staying in a guest house all the way across town from where the ecological reserve begins, so before the hike even began, i had already walked quite a bit). Finally decided I´d sit down for a few minutes at one of the rest stops, and struck up a conversation with an old gentleman sitting there. He had come from another state with his family, but by the time they got to the about the halfway point on the hike, he didn´t feel up to carrying on, felt it was too much of a risk at his age. So he sat down at this spot, and his family continued on. he asked me how much longer he shoudl expect to wait, I had to tell him it would be at least an hour and probaby more before they got back, and he sighed saying “they didn´t even leave me the car keys!” We chatted a little longer, he asked where i was from and what I was doing there by myself, and I ended up telling him a little about the project in Puebla and about how this little trip out of DF was my birthday present to myself. He wished me a happy birthday, then asked if I would allow him to give me a birthday hug. Sweet old man, hugged me and wished me all the very best for the project and for my trip, assured me that God would fulfil all my desires… I thanked him, and we parted ways, he continued to wait for his family, and I continued my descent. I stopped for lunch 8around 4:30 PM!) just outside the ecological reserve… I actually just stopepd to read a menu, and an old lady dressed in a traditional dress of one of the indigenous communities called out to me, “What can I get you, hija?”. I swear, she could have offered me plain toast and I would have probably agreed, so sweet and grandmotherly was she. I asked her for something traditional and she offered me itacates– how should I explain them? Think of it as a sandwich of 2 mini paranthas with chicked or potato or whatever stuffing you want inside. She slapped the dough into perfect traingles with her hands, just the way the señoras in Zoatecpan make tortillas, none of those city machine made tortillas, and two of those itacates were more than enough to fill my stomach. I thanked her, paid, and carried on, warmed by her warmth… even though this was a commercial exchange of a meal, it felt so much more personal than a regular meal in a restaurant. Both of those encounters reminded again of the warmth of this culture and its people, especially in small towns and villages, which in turn reminds me so much of home in India.

    All in all, a beautiful day. Got back to DF later that night, absolutely exhausted, and every muscle in my body hurt yesterday. And yet, when I sat in on L´s more traditioanl birthday celebration last night, with cake and alcohol and a room filled with people, I felt so glad and so grateful for the way in which i got to spend mine. Don´t get me wrong, I definitely had my moment of missing everyone and wishing I could have come home to close friends and family that night… but all the same, I felt so happy and so complete out with nature and the indigenous gods, it felt like the right way to spend the first day of the next 25 years of my life!

    And all your wonderful emails and facebook messages only made the day more special, brought all of you here with me. I love you all.

  • 10

    Here I am, then, in this beautiful little mountain town, only an hour outside Mexico City but in other ways a world apart. I hear that it gets very crazy here on weekends because of the proximity to DF, but right now, it feels like a wonderful sleepy little town that knows it has something special to offer (it was named one of Mexico´s “magic towns”)… so yes, little puestos selling local handicrafts and all crop up here and there, yet it feels far from touristy in the nuisance sense of the word.

    I admit I was a little nervous about taking that bus out of Mexico City without knowing where i would stay or having a cell phone or having a map of the area. But all that nervousness has slipped away now; things have been remarkably easy. The bus driver announced my stop, i got off on the highway, asked around for the town… there was really only one way to go, and a BEAUTIFUL half hour walk later i found myself in the town center. A local government building there was able to procure me a map of the town, although not after looking at me strangely, this tourist who shows up on a Thursday morning. I walked for about an hour, checking out various places to stay and askng for prices… I finally settled on a lovely little guest house called Posada Saritas on the outskirts of the town. Basic, but has a lovely garden with a hammock, is clean, and is run by a sweet lady who makes me feel safe and welcomed– what more could I ask for? Spent today just walking about town, but think i will head back to read or write or something like that early today so that i can wake up and leave for the pyramids early in the morning tomorrow.

    Had the most amazing ice cream from a famous chain here. For 20 pesos (a little under USD 2), you can get a cup with three flavors in it… now, the hard part is choosing which 3 flavors! When I can, I shall post a photo I took of their list of flavors… i think they had about a hundred, you name it, they have it. They even had lettuce flavored ice cream, which i admit i was tempted to try, but i let that one pass! However, their “mangolin” flavor, a mix of mango, lemon, and chile, is to die for. Never tasted anything like it; if any of you are ever in this part of the world, you know you have to try it. Also passed a wonderful looking “Mexican chocolaterie,” made a mental note to myself to find it again tomorrow, I know where my birthday slice of cake is coming from now 😉

    All right, more later, I´m going out to continue my walk. Just wanted to let you all know that i am here safely and enjoying myself!

  • 08

    One week in, I´m starting to get restless.

    I miss having a regular schedule, somewhere to be, something to do everyday. It´s nice for a few days, but i get tired of it very fast. Of all the things I miss about my other homes, i miss my alarm clock the most! I need to go buy myself a travel alarm clock… somehow, just being able to wake up at the same time everyday helps me feel more in rhythm, something as small as that will probably take away some of this restlessness I feel. Actually, everything about adjusting to the days here has thrown me off a little. Breakfast at 10, Lunch at 4 PM! My body is weirded out. I expect to get used to it in another week or so, then there will be the task of re-accustoming myself to New York timings in a few weeks. Similarly for the language, i already find myself starting to think in spanish more and more, but at the same time, it´s a little frustrating and a little stressful not to be around any English speaking people (although when I did bump into some Americans at the artesania market yesterday, i distanced myself from their English-speaking-ness as fast as I could!) Ah well, therein lies the joy and the challenge of travel no?

    And then of course there´s the fact that Y is in Argentina this week and L has classes 8AM- 8PM this week. I wouldnt exactly say that I´m lonely– thats not it–´but figuring out what to do with myself, all by myself, all day is proving a challenge! I think I´m going to head out to Xochimilco today, not so much to the museum (I´m not in a touristy mood) as just to sit by the water and read, perhaps. That´s something to be thankful for, the fact that I am comfortable enough in this city and this neighborhood to feel like I can get around by myself.

    The plus side remains the writing I have been able to do over the last couple of days. That long poem is coming along in very interesting ways, almost all the sections have by now been rewritten several times, and i am going to start typing it up today… it´s hard to edit and move around sections on paper! Maybe it´ll become one of my first poems to go up on this blog; many of you have asked me why none of my poetry makes its way into this space, and the truth is I´m not sure. So maybe it will.

    Also found some very interesting reads on L´s bookshelf. One book about popular education movements in Central America caught my attention in particular. And yssel lent me a book about indigenous populations in Mexico, a very interesting read, trying to look at the ways in which there seems to be a separation in the understanding of indigenous identity and mainstream Mexican identity, problematizing this divide and suggesting that we look at a multicultural society instead of locating these two aspects of Mexico in different time periods. More on that as I read further (although, I really should go buy myself a Spanish-English dictionary if I want to be reading these fairly complex texts in Spanish!). Between all that reading and my own writing and the 3 novels I bought at the airport, I should be able to keep busy until we head into the mountains. So yeah, J, you were right, I´m ending up doing more research here than I had expected, what can I say, you know me too well! 😛

    Ah well. Zochimilco today, perhaps el Zocalo tomorrow (I want to go look at Diego´s “El hombre y la ciencia” again). And Thursday, I´m going to head out to Tepoztlan because I want to wake up in the mountains on Friday, my birthday! Saturday L celebrates her birthday early because we will be in the mountains on the actual date, so I guess we´ll end up celebrating together with her friends! Then a couple more days here before heading into the Sierra… we seem to have found a place to stay in Cuetzalan, still to confirm it, but looking like it will work out, which will be fantastic (as compared to arriving there with our backpacks and hoping for a room to rent!). Well, this entry is really going nowhere, is it? So more later.

  • 07

    I intended to go out to Xochimilco Centro yesterday, to take a trajinera ride along the ancient Aztec canals (yes, james, I asked around, they are the ancient Aztec canals). Not the tourist boats but the local “bus” that is used by the people who live and practice agriculture on the little manmade islands created there more than a thousand years ago. But eventually, me dio flojera as they would say here, and I decided to stay home instead.

    Still, it was a good day. Wrote 9 1/2 pages of poetry yesterday, part of the first draft of what might become my first long poem in sections (or a series of short poems). Was on quite a roll there! Also, 7 pages of prose in my diary, although that´s less of an accomplishment (judging by the length of my emails and blog posts, you can imagine that my diary entries tend to be long in general). Still, good writing day.

    Currently reading “Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai. I admit I was prejudiced against the book because of an interview I heard with the author, got annoyed by some of her takes on the writing life. But the book is utterly beautiful. I´m actually trying to hold off reading too much of it in one day because I am afraid it´s going by too fast, want to hold on to it, savor it more… finally realized I could always come back and reread it another time, and that allowed me to keep reading! The woman is a great story teller, but she´s also a poet, there are so many lines of poetry hidden in her novel (here´s one of my favoties: “his laugh would have registered bright pink on the litmus test”). In fact, this long poem of mine carries an epigraph from the book as well. It´s been a long time since I raved about a book like this, so yes, I highly recommend the read!

    Also, finally finished converting hundreds of video clips towards our documentary into the right format for us to work with them. Utterly boring work, days of copy-paste, L and I are so glad to have finally completed it. Now, the process od actually trying to create a 30 minute video from this footage should be more interesting. I didn´t think I´d be learning iMovie, of all things, during this Mexico trip, but in some ways, that´s the nature of this work, isn´t it? The visible work in the community is one aspect, and all these other skills need to go into making that possible! Plus, I´ve wanted to learn to use iMovie anyway, so no complaints there!

    Then there were the conversations with my host father. He´s such a wonderful man, old fashioned and the patriarch in many ways, yes, but so sincere and clearhearted, so honest and so simple, that it´s hard not to love him. He grew up in a small agricultural village in Oaxaca (which I visited for an afforestation campaign during my previous visit to mexico), came to Mexico City when he was 25, and for forty years worked at the same department store as a clothes salesperson. He retired last year at age 64, and now he has set up a little stand selling music outside his house. I shall take photos of that to explain what I mean, but it´s one of the things I love about this neighborhood: for many houses, the division between home and work isnt so sharp, all over the neighborhood you see posters outside houses advertising whatever they can sell– from fresh cheese and lunch to dance classes to the lady who will read your letters out to you. Señor O sells music. His CDs hang off a special rack on his front gate, and he stands there in his sombrero, blasting pop music on the small stereo he has there. I haven´t seen more than a couple of people stop by in the course of an hour, sometimes he sells more than at other times, but the way L puts it, it isn{t so much about earning money off of this work but more as a therapy, a having “something to do” now that he is retired. My bedroom window is right above the gate, and I sometimes leave the window open at night because it can get very warm inside without even a fan, in which case I wake up to the mix of loud Mexican music and the calls of his roosters. It´s a wonderful way to start my day 🙂

    He´s curious about India and about the USA, curioous about the world beyond Mexico, the only country he knows. Every so often, he will ask me a question that throws me off completely. One day, he wanted to know how well I have planned my life, do i know what age i want to be when my children finish primary school? (He was disappointed to learn that I didn´t). Another time, it was about whether men in other parts of the world are as attached to their mothers as Mexican men are (Have you heard of mamitis? Everyone here jokes about thsi peculiar disease that befalls mexican men, where they cannot stop comparing every woman in the world unfavorably to their absolutely perfect mothers!). He wanted to know what I would do if I were married to a man with mamitis– how would I win him back? I laughed and told him I´d never thought much about that either, but he was dead serious about those questions, insisted that most divorces are born out of yong brides not knowing what to do about their husbands´ mamitis. Then, he talked to me, L, and two other friends who were having dinner with us about the importance of cultivating love like a rose… when it recieves the proper care, it blossoms beautifully. L joked that some love is like the camphor flower, parasitic, destroying everything in its path, caring only for itself.. that you never know if it is indeed going to turn out to be a rose. Different flower metaphors crowded around our dinner table, and he grew a little upset with L´s cynicism… finally just told us that, although we might choose to look at the world that way, he had tended love like a rose and it had given him beautiful results. L´s mother died 6 years ago, but you still hear him talk about her as if she just left the room for a bit, so much love, she is so present in this family, it´s hard to deny him his conviction in love like a rose!

    So much for that. This week, L has classes everyday, leaves home at 7 AM, returns around 9 PM. I have to contimue working on that video, but also must find other ways to entertain myself. A trip to the city center sounds good today… hoping to visit a local handicrafts market, I love Mexican handicrafts, and handicrafts in general, and who knows, I might even find little gifts for some of you while I am there! 😛

  • 06

    Yesterday, L, L´s father, and I went to a festival of Mexican folk music, being held at the National Teachers´ College in Mexico City. It´s a three day free festival, 10 AM to 10 PM, with God-knows-how-many groups playing 4 or 5 songs each. We spent about three hours there, listening to music from the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Michoacan (I might have missed some others). What a treat, while I cannot at the end of the day tell the difference between the different folk traditions, the groups from Guerrero and Oaxaca really touched me in a way few musicians ever have. 

    They had a huge wooden dance floor in the middle, and at any given moment there must have been 3 or 4 hundred people, perhaps more, dancing to the music. I found myself repeatedly amazed by how well people knew all the different folk dances, there was some free styling, but in general, you could see the formal elements of the folk dance throughout the dance floor. The dancers included everyone from young couples to parents out with young children to groups of teenaged friends to elderly couples or this one beautiful woman, probably in her 80s, who twirled her skirt and danced in a world all her own. There´s one dance from Michoacan, I forget its name but have seen it before, where the movements are those of “los viejos” (the old people)… it also involves making a train of people that moves across the dance floor. More than 9 trains of people formed across this dance floor when that music came on, each must have had 40, 50, 60 people, and as they all moved about the floor, I was amazed to note that there wasn´t a single collision across that very packed floor! It looked like so much fun too, one of those moments when I really wanted to jump up and join in, then had to remind myself I didn´t know the dance! There is something about Mexican folk culture, though… it´s the only music and the only dance that has ever made me want to join in. I´m thinking both about a community dance held at Zoatecpan while I lived there and at the Dia de los muerots celebrations in Santa Ana, the only 2 times in my life that i have voluntarily joined in a dance and enjoyed it. Partly, it´s the music that gets under one´s skin in a way that forces one to move, even if one is sitting in a chair, and partly it´s the community aspect of it… I remember watching a mother dance with an infant strapped to her back in a shawl. Amidst music so loud that we had to shout to be heard, and amidst her not at all subdued dance moves, the 1 year old slept blissfully. I loved that these moments were enough a part of that child´s life.

    In the metro on the way back, though, I found some of that evening´s high slip away from me. I´ve written before about how Mexico City´s subways are full of people selling everything from lollipops to pirated DVDs and also about the variety of preformers who board the train and do their thing, then ask for money. In general, I enjoy that madness of the train, there´s never a dull moment. Yesterday, though, I had to shut my eyes and wish it away. A man got into my subway car, bare chested, and scattered broken beer bottles across the floor. Then, he began his stunt show, throwing himself against the pieces of glass, his back, his chest, breaking them further with the weight of his body and with his fist. I shut my eyes, but could still hear the sickning clink of flesh against broken glass. When he finished, nobody wanted to pay him for that stunt, so he gathered his glass and moved on to the next car. As he walked away from us, I searched his back for scars and saw none, just one gash across his shoulder. Then, I could hear the clink from the next car, and I felt my stomach turn. I can´t understand how one could do that to oneself, and as much as I outherwise like supporting street performers, this one just left me with a bitter aftertaste that I couldn´t quite shake off.


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