Thursday, November 29, 2012

Creative Solutions

The winner of this weeks 'most creative award' for electrical solution goes to the owners of a house on Calle Refugio where the typical front porch light bulb dangling from a hole in the wall, is transformed into an elegant statement of simplicity, functionality and pure thriftiness. Behold the beauty that blossoms from the simple desire to be illuminated.

Keepin' it real, people.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Survive the End of Time

Mayan Calendar
So the countdown to the end of the Mayan calendar has begun, and  with less than a month to go, there are more theories than days of the year to fire up our imaginations as to what this may mean for the planet and those that inhabit it. The Mayan calendar, designed around cycles of time, began on August 13th, 3114 BC, and ends on December 21st, 2012, completing a 5,200 year cycle. 
Everyone from astrologers to movie directors are telling us to  be prepared for anything from a doomsday apocalypse to cosmic paradigm shifts. 
But exactly how does one prepare for the possibility of a monumental change when we really have no idea what to expect?

Ixcacao, goddess of Chocolate
Well, I for one have a plan. And it has to do with eating enormous amounts of chocolate.
Here's my theory:

It is reported that the Mayans consumed copious amounts of chocolate in the form of a hot drink, derived from cacao beans called xocoatl (In fact, our word "chocolate" is believed to have come from this very word). 

It is a scientific fact that the effects of chocolate on the brain are positive ones, and that consumption of a cocoa drink rich in flavanols, a major ingredient of dark chocolate, boosts blood flow to key areas of the brain, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen,  helping to increase performance in specific tasks and boost general alertness. Not to mention helping to create a race of highly intelligent creative people.

Why was Mayan culture so much more advanced in scientific achievements  than other civilizations of its time? Aside from developing a complex calendar and one of the world's first written languages, they were adept at mathematics and were believed to have invented the number zero. They were also master astronomers and were able to predict solar eclipses, and built major cities without the use of the wheel. 

Could there be a connection? I'm betting that there is. 
As it turns out, the site of Izapa, the center of the ancient Mayan civilization that is considered to be the birthplace of the Mayan calendar, is the very same place where cacao was first cultivated, traded, and drunk by the gallon by thousands of Mayans. 

Classic Mayan vase painting 
depicting chocolate drink

What better reason could there be for indulging in my favorite food? So bring on the truffles, dark chocolate candy bars, hot cocoa, double chocolate fudge ice cream, chocolate mousse! Perhaps the increased blood flow to my brain will help me to survive the end of time and whatever cataclysmic changes that result from it. 
And if turns out not to be true, that December 21st is just another day like any other, then the worst thing that may happen is I'll gain a few pounds. Which, when put into perspective next to the possibility of an apocalypse, doesn't seem like such a bad thing, after all. 


Disclaimer: Please understand that this is only a theory based on my own imaginative and wishful musings...


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mark's Mexico

I'm not sure what I got myself into here. Late at night when I wake up in our temporary home and stare up at the cupola above our bed, my mind cranks out scenes of certain failure and a gruesome death. The gears turn and my confidence and the sense of unlimited possibilities that I felt during the day turn to nightmares of doom.

The inside of my head

I'm the type of person that likes routine and things I can count on, the familiar. For me, here in San Miguel, this is the antithesis of that idea. And though I know intellectually that overcoming my fear of the unfamiliar is an important personal challenge for me, one that I willingly accept and desire, it's still a huge struggle and conflicts with my overriding base interest to be comfortable and at peace.

So, I concentrate on the culture, observing the ways of the people. I learn the terrain and become very familiar with the map of the city memorizing as many street names as possible. I study my Spanish lessons with a clear focus and I do all of these things in the interest of fitting in and assimilating and ultimately replacing my old comforts and familiar routines with new. Reacquiring my sense of peace in a new land with new ways.

When you need it and where
Very accessible
While these late night feelings of terror soon dissipate with the morning sun and I resume my activities to pursue a permanent place to live and a new career, I can't help but occasionally be reminded of my late night fears for brief moments now and again. Especially when I struggle with my very poor Spanish to make myself understood. But here in San Miguel, I don't stay self centered for long as there is so much real life going on around me all the time. My objectivity is reinforced by marching bands with mojigangas that come out of nowhere, crowds of revelers trailing behind celebrating who knows what. Fireworks set off for no apparent reason light up the night and break through the normal noise of barking dogs, screaming kids and traffic, with startling percussive. As a handyman I'm also distracted and curious about the way the trades people apply their crafts, especially the electricians. Always interesting and usually amusing. For some reason, these things help keep me grounded and out of my head.


On the other hand, Mexico is the perfect place for my personality type. The surreal sense of place here allows for wakeful dreaming, a way to lose myself. I walk down the cobbled street back home into the glare of the sun and pass a teenage boy sitting at the step of the darkened doorway to his home, a fighting cock held on his lap. The sharp angle of the sun highlighting the colors of the golden bronze feathers with steel blue highlights. His white dog stands beside him following me as I pass with pale blue eyes. Further on an old drunk Mexican man resides at the curb nursing a home made drink in a plastic soda bottle. He calls to me as I pass, "Mijo!" and I don't understand the rest of his inebriated plead. My first impulse is to ignore him and carry on but something in his voice tells me to regard him with respect and I see he's pointing to the white plastic cap that goes to his bottle. It's somehow rolled to the center of the street. I turn back and get it for him, placing it in his weathered hand, and he acknowledges my sympathy with more unintelligible words. I move on and reflect on the exchange and feel glad I took the time to help. This is my Mexico.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Transitions 2

Autumn in Mexico

Welcome back to Gringado, where we hope to once again enlighten and entertain you with our adventures and observations in Mexico.
We have been back in San Miguel for a whole week, and it is as if we never left.
The sky is still blue as a dagger, the roof dogs greet us from every corner, happy to annoy us once again, and the cobblestones are littered with bougainvillea blossoms.

This year we are taking 'The Big Leap,' and are planning to stay in Mexico indefinitely (yikes!) 
So after selling most of our stuff and  cramming the rest into a 10X10 storage space, we packed our essentials into several overstuffed worn suitcases. Tubes of paint, canvases, yoga mat, thick soled shoes, and of course a mind boggling amount of beer  equipment, which to me could have easily passed for suspicious bomb making supplies. But as usual the customs guy just grinned with amusement. Home made cerveza??? ¡Que bueno!  And only then could I breathe easily and take the Mexican air into my lungs- that earthy, smoky, early morning desert air, and realize that we have finally done it. 
We have crossed over to the other side. 
Whatever that means. 
We will try to keep you posted.

Meanwhile, a prose poem, written after the flight...

Some Personal Items May Have Shifted During Flight

Some personal items may have shifted during flight,
during the time that your wheels left the ground
and you became suspended in a place
between the one you have grown tired of
and the one that you fear but must go towards.

It could be that your heart is not where you left it,
It may be jostled and nudged into a far corner or split open
From the pressure of the flight.

Open the overhead bin carefully, lest the loose ends of your life
find a foothold in someone else's luggage.
Lest you accidentally grab someone else's stories by mistake,
and forever lose your own, which have taken so long to collect.

Some items may have shifted during flight.
Perhaps your personal bits of ephemera
have been tossed and unsettled from unforeseen turbulence
and what you once held dear is only so much fluff in the wind.

You had best check the contents of your luggage
to see if it is lighter or heavier than you remember.
If it is the latter then be sure to toss out a few unnecessary items
so that you will have space for new ones.
If it is the former then lucky you, you may proceed with joy.

Some personal items may have shifted during flight.
Your memories, for instance, or your fear of death.
Worries and concerns may be lost and unfounded. 
It could be that your neatly organized opinions
have turned over or smashed into shards of broken glass

Perhaps you open your suitcase to discover
that all that has meaning is in fact invisible,
transparent as a ghost.
Syllables may have been added to your name
And your reflection might be of someone you hardly recognize

In the hollow space where you kept your fear
you may now find fragments of hope,
And perhaps few twinges of excitement,
And one lone crazy  red sock.

Some personal items - your agenda, your state of mind,
may be altered beyond recognition
as you find yourself disembarking
on a new land that feels strangely familiar
yet foreboding all at once.

Perhaps the sequence of things seems a little scrambled.
Suddenly there is no longer a forward or a backward, 
Only this: A gentle expansion and contraction,
the simple tug and pull of muscle and desire,
pulsing to a beat so universal, so primal,
it becomes your own simple heart beating
to a rhythm you recall 
from a time before wings.

-Susan Dorf