Always on the Verge

Reflections and connections of a life-long learner.

Post-Mexico Post – a Potpourri

Going through photos and recalling our Mexico adventure via the rear view mirror helped me realize that I had a mixed assortment of images that never made it into a blog post but were still ones that I would like to share. First off, a curiosity of museums: (BTW – there is no collective noun for a group of museums, but I figured “curiosity” would work).

Alhóndiga de Granaditas, a former grain storage building in Guanajuato Centro where the first battle for Mexican independence took place. The bullet damage to the facade is in sharp contrast to the fabulously curated interior.  The building has a large open courtyard and two floors of exhibits celebrating the heroes of the revolution and the cultural roots of Mexico. The hand-woven hat in the photo at the top of this post is in one of the displays.


One of the galleries featured family portraits and paintings. Love so much about this piece: the Primitive Style, the preponderance of religious iconography, the look of the Señor’s head laying atop the pillow, the chamber pot so casually included.


The large stairwells are filled with murals. This one, “Song of Guanajuato” by José Chávez Morado, represents the evolution of the city from the colonial period to contemporary days.


And while on the topic of museums, we did go Diego Rivera’s home. No photos allowed but that was okay as there were not many things that caught our attention. And why so little about Frieda? It was a good stop – but not great, frankly. On the other hand…

We really enjoyed the small modern art gallery that was just a few doors away from Diego Rivera.


When we were at the Museo de Arte e Historia in Leon we saw this huge cut-away map of the mining tunnels around Guanajuato. We vowed to spend a day learning more, which takes us to the next set of photos.


Once the source of most of the world’s silver and a financial cornerstone for Spain’s colonization efforts, many of the mines are now closed. Those that are still being worked are not open to visitors. Thanks to the efforts of the University of Guanajuato, we did find one we could tour.


Yes, they did make us wear hard hats. Yes, I did choose one that matched my outfit.


We were allowed to walk below ground into a shaft. Neither of us are claustrophobic, but it was beginning to feel a bit close down there.


The literal, not proverbial, light at the end of the tunnel.


Once above ground we visited an abandoned residential area on the hillside above the mine. This is a former church, complete with cactus growing out of the wall (upper right).


Bob clowning around with one of the repurposed pieces of mining equipment in the parque.


And of course there are the many flights of steps that led from the residential area to the mine itself.


New topic.  For those of you who remembered that I said I would post a few photos of our house and were wondering when I would get around to it…here goes:

A portion of the gorgeously landscaped walk up to our front door.


The beautiful bovega ceiling in the master bedroom. This ceiling, which is made by hand and without scaffolding, is classic Guanajuato. My first thought: How amazing. Bob’s first thought: What happens in an earthquake?


View from the lower level looking up to the third floor cupola.


The opposite point of view; from the top landing down to the main floor.


And from here on the photos are totally random.

This one is for my dad, mail carrier extraordinaire: the only post office in the city.


Not many public restrooms (sanitorios) in Mexico, but there was one conveniently located at La Comer, a supermarket/big box store of sorts. The toilet paper hangs on a large roll in the entrance to the facilities. “Do the paperwork first”, Bob reminds me.


My guideline for baked goods: never cookies, was debunked by these molasses treats that were on the breakfast bar at our hotel in Querérato. And while I am on the subject – all breakfast bars offer dessert options. I am so okay with this…


They may look friendly, but they are just another form of topes.


A fond adiós to a favorite place.


Hanging out in Querétaro with Maria.

Off on another road trip – this time to Querétaro, about a 2 hour drive from Guanajuato. (FYI: Querérato, like Guanajuato is both a state and a city within that state. This sometimes causes confusion as both the city and state are typically referred to by a single name. If you live here it doesn’t seem to be a problem; people pretty quickly figure which of the two you are talking about. It is the non-locals who have to scratch their heads a bit before getting the distinction.) Querétaro is pretty much the ying to Guanajuato’s yang as it’s modern feel and robust economy (largely based on IT/data centers and aerospace manufacturing and research) provides a young and progressive vibe. But that doesn’t mean it is without a wealth of historical, cultural and artistic opportunities to enjoy. In fact, we found so much to see and do that we extended our stay by one night and still feel like we have barely dipped our toes into the Querétaro waters.

We like to do our initial investigations on foot. Just blocks away from our hotel was Plaza de Armas with its wide variety of dining options. We decided to grab a quick lunch, staying with cuisine typico; Bob had chili relleno and I ordered enchiladas Querétaroan. Next we headed down the way to go to the artisan’s market/shop but found they were closed from 2-4p. Siesta time? So instead we strolled the Portal de Dolores, where we chanced upon Maria, the best known muñecas de trapo (rag doll) in Mexico. The story behind this doll is quite interesting and if you want more you can check out this link: Maria Doll.

On to Museo de Arte, housed in the former monastery of San Agustin; the building is a marvel of Baroque architecture.


Vividly colored vaulted ceilings.


Tiled domes.


Beautiful and highly detailed carvings on towers.


And pillars that camouflage water spouts!


On our way to Plaza Zenea for some bench time we passed shop after shop of wedding/bridal party dresses. Love the romance of a full skirt.


What the well-dressed Catholic bride is wearing this season: complete with rosary and Bible.


Some stores had more than one floor of dress options. The top of the building reminds me of a crown – like Prince Charming?


While at Plaza Zenea we admired the Temple of San Francisco.


And we wished we could have seen the view from one of these roof gardens that overlooked the square.


Fabulous idea noted: free Internet access sites that are moved about through the city. When we went by that little place was packed.


Alameda Hidalgo Park, across from our hotel, is about two city blocks square and filled with play areas for children and families. The park is undergoing serious renovation and updating so we couldn’t enter, but I did peak through the fence and was impressed with the extent of the changes being made.


The broad boulevards that surround the park are filled with people. There is music playing from overhead speakers. Fountains on the sidewalk tempt children to come and play on warm days.


Went on a hunt to find some of the delicious nut mix we enjoyed at happy hour the previous evening. Quite a few stores (clothing as well as food outlets) have popcorn machines near the front doors and the aroma was very enticing. Good gimmick!


Wandering through the side lanes and alleys often resulted in surprising sights. This fountain with a statue of a traditional dancer is one example.


And in Plaza de la Corregidora there is the statue of doña Josefa Ortiz, a hero of the revolution. The mother of 14 children, during her lifetime she was labeled an insurgent and radical. I think I would have liked her.


And following that, as an quirky synchronicity, I came upon this protest by telephone workers.


Adiós, Querétaro.  We will be back

Miguel & Dolores & Rosa – Oh, My!

Definitely not in Kansas… and this sweet pup is not Toto, but he sure was interested in what I was doing on the street below.

But before we get to the pup, I guess it would be best to go back to the start of our great circle route: San Miguel de Allende to Dolores Hidalgo to Santa Rosa. This was going to be our first visit to San Miguel, though we know many folks who regularly visit here and rave about the town. It has quite a large expat population and there is deep history and gorgeous art. Bob and I were both wondering if we would be so taken with the town that we would feel differently about our beloved Guanajuato. We even had prepared a list of places to check out as potential winter lodgings in the coming year.

We were more than halfway to San Miguel when we started seeing lines of people walking up the road. This was pretty much in the middle of nowhere as there were no actual towns in sight. The lines went on for kilometer after kilometer; hundreds of people. We knew we were seeing something unique and special.  But what??


At one point religious flags and a large group singing and saying prayers aloud passed in front of us.


This group carried a reliquary, a glass box with their patron saint’s image inside. By now we are confident that we are witnessing a religious ritual or pilgrimage of some short. We figured that it would be impolite to call out a question to the marchers, but we planned to definitely ask about all of this when we arrived in town.


Overview of San Miguel. You can identify El Centro by the predominance of church spires.


First thing we did was find our hotel. This is the lovely inner courtyard. Our room was right across from the fountain.


Mural of Frida Kahlo in the hotel lobby. No information on the processional, but we did get a good recommendation for lunch – so off we go.


An example of the rooftop greenery that is everywhere in the city. Behind those pots is likely a lovely rooftop garden and/or seating area.


The houses we pass come right to the sidewalk and we see unique door ornaments and alcoves with art in them.


Priest behind bars?!?


After lunch we walk around the area to see the various offerings in the shops. We then head toward the plaza to check out one of the nine large churches/cathedrals within the main section of town. I liked the contrast of beautiful stone work and the signs of age on this one.


Inside there were five magnificent chandeliers.


And the bell tower was home to a number of pigeons.


Back in the car: we drove about town to check out those VRBO sites we had identified. Lots of stone-paved roads, narrow streets, construction (both of homes and of infrastructure), and market areas. Overall, we found it interesting enough, but nothing seemed to draw us like Guanajuato does. I am sure there are things we may have missed or overlooked. I would love to hear from my friends who come to San Miguel and truly enjoy it. Our minds are still open on this…

Oh – the good news is we found information about the procession. We went to a happy hour (mojitos and margaritas down the street from our hotel) and asked our server what the occasion might have been.  Between his understanding of my spoken Spanish and my interpretation of his spoken English we determined that we were seeing a sanctification of the saints by Saint Mary. Again – if someone else has anything to add to this – comment away, please.


Next morning we head to Dolores Hidalgo, “the cradle of independence”. It was here that Father Hidalgo first issued a cry for Mexico’s freedom from Spanish rule. As you can see by the sign, this area is famous for colorful ceramics.


Monument to the Heroes of Independence. The sculpture is 25 meters in height, carved from pink stone and boasts the colossal figures of Hidalgo, Morelos, Allende and Aldama.


Beautifully laid out streets with landscaped medians. These palms seem carved to resemble pineapples.


From Dolores Hidalgo we travel over a very, very windy and steep road to Santa Rosa. At this point we are just shy of 9000 feet. It’s not quite the vista we had in Norway this past June, but it is still quite breathtaking.


Getting close to a cactus patch.


We passed a forest firefighters camp and tower along the way. Hard to imagine fighting fires in this elevation and using these roads.


Here is our reason for including Santa Rosa on our outing.  All items are made on site, and they employ 30 painters who do all of the decorating by hand.


‘Story panel tiles” on the gate front of the house next to the ceramics store.


Another beautiful panel. And it is from the roof of this building that the dear pup peeped out his head to see what I was doing.


House with Mayolica adornments.


As we were getting in our car to leave we noticed that school was letting out. No school buses in this town of 1,085 residents. Interestingly, most every group of students had a adult who had come to walk them home. Guess that rather than the “Kiss and Ride” lanes at many American schools this would be a “Kiss and Walk”. I like it.

Feet on the Streets: A Saturday Walk-About and a Surprising Dinner Outing


Saturday in Guanajuato means tourists – lots of them; most from other parts of Mexico coming here to enjoy the historical and cultural offerings of this World Heritage site. And the number of visitors promises lots going on: more street performers, more music, more food stands, more sellers of souvenirs, more opportunities to people-watch. So a plan was hatched: I was off to city center to enjoy the activities and squeeze in a couple of errands. Bob would  remain at the house to scout out a place for dinner. We arranged for a meet-up spot for when I was finished and we would try out the restaurant that sounded the most promising.

What follows is mostly pictures. If you are the type that cringes when someone suggests you come over to see their travel photos, you may want to exit now as the first part of this post is pretty much that. Or, if you are someone that rolls their eyes when you realize that you are going to be clicking through food photos, you may want to skip the end portion of this post. Consider yourselves warned…

Looking back up toward our street. We travel 5 of these step sections (in various forms) to get down to the main area of commerce.


Sometimes we take advantage of this park to catch our breath. I like they way the trees are shaped.


Stopped at the post office to mail a letter. This is the ONLY mailbox at the main post office in Guanajuato, and the only place we have found to send off our mail. Fortunately it’s not too far from the house.


A couple of winding blocks later I come to the Teatro Juarez. The steps were packed with people resting and listening to costumed University of Guanajuato students shouting out tourist information.


Festival flags on a street nearby.


One of the street artists portraying La Calavera Catrina.


Callejón Del Beso, the Alley of the Kiss. The passage is so narrow (27 inches) that a person can stick her/his head out the window of a building on one side of the passage and kiss the person across the way. There are many tales and legends that go along with this alley. One has it that if you kiss you lover on the third step you will have everlasting love. (Thus the long lines…) Not sure it this is confirmation or not, but Bob and I kissed on the third step last time we were in Guanajuato and we are still going strong.


On to Mercado Hidalgo and our favorite tortilla seller. Tortillas are made once a day. When they are gone, you are out of luck.


Passing the “candy aisle” as I head back out to the street. The international truth of the impulse buy.


One of the tunnels that lead up and down throughout city center.


Before leaving the area I stop at the bakery. First I pick up a tray and tongs.


Then I scout the shelves to see what will tempt me. We have developed a few guidelines: Never buy cookies. Pastries that have flaky (phyllo-type) crusts are much better than those that don’t. Any bread is amazing.


Down the street from the bakery I notice a mining cart used as planter.


And then I am at the Basilico do Guanajuato.


Where I notice a member of a wedding party waiting to enter the sanctuary.


One more stop before heading to our meeting place: the artisan’s gallery and market. This large space features artists from all areas of the state of Guanajuato, and the work is amazing. I am making a list.


At the Jardin de la Union – which is actually only about 10 minutes from our house.  You may have noticed the iron benches in all of the parks, These are the legacy of Portofiro Diaz, a former President of Mexico and a declared Francophile. He wanted the parks of Mexico to reflect the refinement of parks in France so he commissioned iron benches be made for them. Incidentally, his brother, who owned an ironworks, got the contract.


Mariachis getting ready to perform.


Our chosen dinner spot. We look over the massive and highly tempting menu and decide to go with Menu Degustacion: “A gastronomic tour of our restaurant in a twinkling of an eye.” It is seven courses paired with wine. We’re in!


Course #1   Shrimp ceviche with coconut milk, basil, cilantro, serrano pepper, citrus and mango; smoked at the moment.  I am embarrassed to say that I missed a photo of course #2 which was lychees stuffed with goat cheese and smoked salmon. I was just too into the experience I guess.


Course #3   Sweet corn cream with vanilla bean. When the martini glass came to the table there was just a cube of cinnamon and sugar in the bottom and the hot soup was poured over.


Course #4   Sesame seed encrusted tuna served with an oriental salad, accompanied by two styles of sauce.


Palate cleanser of lemon and mint sorbet. Truly, I could have stopped here but there was more to come.


Course #5    Beef tenderloin filet covered in Mole with corn, mashed banana and onion rings.


Course #6   Selection of cheeses with seasonal fruit, balsamic reduction and apple compote. Note: the green scoop is Gorgonzola ice cream. I loved it. Bob not so much.


Course #7 (and by now I am stuffed and sort of embarrassed that all this food came my way – but look at it!) Cinnamon and sugar Buñuelos with cinnamon gelato, piloncillo sauce, and caramel sauce.


And after a short respite over a cup of coffee we head back up the steps…


Up the inclined paths…


And finally to our street where the lights of the tunnels tell us we are home.

Roadtrip! Paracho, Michoacán

Paracho: Guitar Capital of Mexico for over 100 hundred years. The home to most of the world’s guitar factories – though this is changing as mass manufacturing has moved to other countries where it can be done cheaper. (Have we heard this story before???) The city is now remaking itself and rather than being the maker of many guitars it is the home of some of the world’s best hand crafted guitars. And so we journey out to find a guitar for Bob. He had purchased a guitar in Paracho just over 30 years ago and loved it. Unfortunately, he loaned it to a friend and it was never seen again. Ever since then he has been hankering to get back and buy another.

Statue of Vasco de Quirga, priest, and a luthier (maker of guitars). The story goes that de Quirga came to Michoacán to disperse Catolicism and teach economically viable craft skills. He encouraged the citizens to take advantage of the vast forests that surrounded Paracho and produce items made of wood. Some individuals went into furniture and kitchen implement making but many more took up the making of instruments. Currently there are more luthiers in Paracho than in all of the United States.


Walking up and down the streets, Bob checked out the various options. Our very last stop of the day was at David Caro’s shop.


David, on the left, had Bob try out a few different instruments to get the feel for their sound and how they played. In the photo Bob is holding the guitar he eventually purchased – a beautiful instrument made of rosewood, red cedar, Canadian pine, and madera de Granadillo (an exotic hardwood).


Interesting backstory:  David Caro is quite a famous and highly-regarded guitar maker.  He is no longer making guitars but at one time he made 40 per year and they sold for $600 if purchased in Mexico and $900 if they were sent to the states. The guitar Bob purchased was made by his son, Salomón, who has assumed the family trade.

While Bob was finalizing his purchase I walked up the street to the Zocalo (town square) to take in some local color. My first stop was the cathedral. They have two very large mobiles hanging in the sanctuary – with guitars on them, of course.


Across the street from the cathedral I had a telephone siting! Another one for my collection.


I went over to look inside and noted the poster. My immediate reaction was to begin humming Manhattan Transfer’s “Operator”. For those of you who are not familiar I encourage you to go to this YouTube link – Operator by Manhattan Transfer


Each village in Michoacán has its own style of traditional dress. The garments are quite distinctive and colorful. Skirts are long and there are frequently layers of blouses, tunics (hupil) and ponchos (quechquémitl). This kind and handsome young lady agreed to be photographed. Though it is a bit difficult to see, her blouse is heavily hand embellished and embroidered. She is wearing a rebozo (shawl) as a belt. The color and pattern indicate that she is from Paracho. Her embroidered aprons is also typical for this region.


Other sites that caught our eye while we were in Paracho:

The view out the back window of our hotel. There is an interesting contrast of building styles and quality of construction.


The edge of the brick house in the right corner of the above photo is getting a patio. I was taken with the method used to put on the roof. Also interesting to me: most buildings that have columns begin with four, not necessarily equal, lengths of rebar. The rebar are set in and then bricks or other surround materials are added until the column is the height desired. Building on the column then stops and various portions of rebar are left sticking up out of the structure. This is common throughout Mexico. The lovely home we are staying in has rebar lengths atop all of the columns in the brick walls.


We stayed in a corner room and directly next to our little outdoor deck area was this electric pole. The wires were strung right next to the building making standing on the other deck impossible. I am familiar with overhead wire (Reno Midtown residents, don’t you know) but this was a bit close for even me.


I love the fact that Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are on opposite sides of the 500 peso bill. BTW: at the current exchange rate 500 pesos is approximately equal to $25. You should see the bundle of money the ATM spits out when we go to get cash!


Before leaving town we walked over to Los Arcos for a bite to eat. As we stepped up and down along the sidewalk I couldn’t help but think of my father, Roy, who was a mail carrier. He would have immediately commented on the curbs to be navigated. Turns out each storefront or building owner puts in their own frontage, thus the variation.


Bob ordered a rum and Coke and was amused by the way it was served. No ice, of course – by request. There are still water precautions to heed.


I ordered a coffee meil (coffee with cream). Our gracious server made a real point of bringing me cream – a packet of powdered Coffee Mate on its own saucer. So adorable.


And we are finally on our way back to Guanajuato. It is about a 4 hour drive, and we took different routes down and back so we had lots of time to take in the various cities and expanses of countryside. We drove through Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, on the way down. Morelia is a large city and currently experiencing rapid growth which puts it at odds with its historical roots and there has been controversy about how native forests are being overtaken. We were especially interested in seeing the beautiful Spanish buildings, most made of pink granite, which the area is known for. I believe my favorite building was the Palace of Justice; isn’t that a nice name for courthouse?


Wondering where your strawberries come from in January? I am guessing it might be from one of these huge agri-business areas. In addition to the miles and miles of green houses, we passed roadsides stands that tempted us with “Fresas and Crema” (strawberries and cream).  In many areas it felt like we were in a major California produce zone. One of our biggest surprises along the drive was the expansion of corn farming. It has been about 20 years since we spent a significant amount of time traveling through Mexico and the changes are notable. So much more mechanization and commercial farming. Dekalb and Pioneer corn signs are ubiquitous; huge corn shelling operations and storage silos frequently dotted the landscape.


And finally, another agricultural product – blue agave. We drove through one of the main areas for tequila production. Though not a drinker of tequila myself, it was interesting to learn about. The majority of agave is grown in the state of Jalisco, where the town of Tequila is located. The drink, tequila, has a “domination of origin status” (think Champagne or Manchengo cheese) so any liquor that says tequila on the bottle must be distilled (though not necessarily bottled) in government-designated areas of Mexico. In addition, tequila that is sold in the states must be 41%. Tequila sold in Mexico is 37.5%. Most distilleries bottle many different brands of tequila and the quality and price can very greatly – and a higher price does not guarantee a better drink. More than you wanted to know?  But, if you are interested in further information, here is a site that I found helpful: Taste of Tequila

León: Face to Face

León: the largest city in the state of Guanajuato with about 1.5 million people; very industrial; known for leather goods. Also the location of a very good Mac Store which helped me solve my USB port issue so I could use my photo card to get pictures uploaded for the blog – Whew!!!

Aside from the relief of having my technology working again, the brightest part of our day was a visit to this jewel of a museum.


We were greeted by this massive sculpture at the entrance to the building.


And the architecture of the museum itself is stunning. It reminded Bob and I of C.Y. Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State University in its use of form-marked poured concrete and wood slatted ceilings. We even checked to see if it may have been the same architect – nope.


Our first stop was the Sala de Cultural Regional. The Iowa theme continues – corn (el maiz).


Corn goddess.


This gorgeous mural portrays the role of corn in community life. I think the figure in the center is mesmerizing. That face.


But this … the little babe in the pack with legs sticking out on each side. And the tranquility of the child holding both the babe and flowers. So lovely. (And be sure to notice the young girl has a dog to care for as well.)


The section of the exhibit that displayed early artifacts had this intriguing representation of madre and nino.


One of the featured exhibits was by Jorge Yazpik, a conceptual artist whose focus is materials and form.


If I could have purchased one piece, this would have been it. Beautiful from even angle.


The highlight of the tour was this beautifully curated exhibit, and of course photos were not allowed. There were samurai costumes and glowing illustrations on paper but the end-of-show pieces that were a fusion of Japanese-style painting of Mexican motifs was incredible. Very modern yet classically recognizable.


Our final stop was El Canon Griego – reproductions of “33 important Greek and Roman sculptures”.


Yes, there was Winged Victory and Clio, the Goddess of History, but who doesn’t love a good interpretation of Child with Goose? Remember this is one of 33 important sculptures!


As we left we walked though the Jadin do las Escultures – my weakness, a sculpture garden. The photo at the beginning of this blog post is one of the cubes from this piece.


Mexican Math Practice

House of Heaven as seen from street level.

There are no flat lands in Guanajuato and it has been interesting hiking up and down throughout the neighborhood. We try to get feet on the streets at least once a day and that has meant lots of stair climbing. The rental home’s owner claims we walk up five flights to our entry but it certainly felt like more, so we did a bit of math. The winding road up to the house is pretty much 50:50 steps and ramps. We counted 75 steps. At a rise of 8 inches each (on average) that comes to 600 inches in all, which equals 50 feet. Figuring 12 feet per story that means the steps alone make up 4 stories; add in the ramps and we are probably closer to 8 stories. No wonder we have been feeling exhausted when we get to the top!

And while we are on the subject of math, remember the adage, measure twice; cut once? Seems not to be a guideline for the person who was responsible for the preparing the footers on one of the houses across the way from us.

I am thinking that this is more a case of using what is available, but the entire operation looks a bit shaky (literally) to me.

There is a lot of building going on in our neighborhood right now. We enjoy sitting on our deck watching the crews and marveling at how they get things done.

This fellow has loaded concrete block on his back and will carry it up about four levels to where they are putting up a wall.
And the other day these bags were filled from a sandpile near the curb and stacked for manual transport. The bags were to be carried up, dumped by the concrete mixing area and brought down for refilling. It is quite a process. The guys (we have only seen guys) are so strong and hard-working! This load of bags was already carried up by the time we returned from our market outing – no more than an hour.

We imagine what it would have been like to build the home we are staying in. We have admired the construction and craftsmanship and can only wonder at the manpower involved. Interestingly, we have also noted that many of our outdoor walls are still being built as they were way back when Mayans contracted their buildings.

Concrete between large rocks has small chips of rock and brick embedded in it. This construction technique is one of the ways they can date the Mexican pyramids.

Guanajuato 2018 – the adventure begins

View from the porthole window in kitchen.

Warm greetings from central and mountainous Mexico. We have been here about 24 hours and are pretty settled into the rental property. It is an architectural delight; totally worth the 5 flights of outdoor stairs and walkways it takes just to get to the front door. Once inside there are three uniquely configured floors (bedrooms on first level, kitchen and living area on second level, outdoor patio/balcony on third level.) Needless to say, we have had to admit to our lack of cardio fitness and are hoping that daily trips into town will soon make it possible for us to go from the street to our kitchen without losing our breath. FYI: For you design types I will be posting some of the features of the house as the blog unfolds.

After two trips up and down the hill unloading we actually decided we had enough stamina left to venture out for dinner in town. Our hostess recommended a lovely French Restaurant that was less than a 15 minute walk from the house (more up and down steps, of course). But she was right, the food was excellent and we got a kick out of the Edith Piaf recordings playing in the dining room.
View from our dining table out onto the plaza.  The restaurant is on the third floor of a building right next to the Teatro Principal. The area was teeming with people – many families and young couples.
On our way back we stopped for a bit at another plaza – just to watch the world go by. Everyone who passed greeted us with a “Buenos Noches”. It was lovely.

Today was about practical things: finding a grocery store so we could get staples and a trip to an ATM so we could finally operate using pesos. Our host took us on a car tour so we could get a feel for the layout of our area of the city. She is very familiar with the tunnel system (cars go under, not though the center of the city) so that was a great help, even though we will mostly travel on foot. She also pointed out some good restaurants, parks, and entertainments. Tomorrow we plan to go to Mercado Hidalgo for more local foods and flavors. After that… who knows!?!

A final image that struck our fancy. When was the last time you saw a pay phone in the USA? I have always loved taking photos of them as we have traveled throughout the states and in other countries; thought the opportunity to capture them was over. Maybe not…

The Kindness of Strangers

This is the blessing we received today.

We set out west this morning for some wine tastings and a happily anticipated family wedding celebration in Santa Barbara. Homer, our trusty motor home is our transport and lodging.

We do our time on I-80 and turn south on I-5 towards our initial stop in Paso Robles when one of our tires succumbs to the plethora of serious potholes on the road and we have… tread separation.

This equipment failure is not new to us, but here is how today was different: Bob knew we were in need of a tire change so we travelled slowly along until we could get to a gas station. Voila! Upon arrival at our first available service point we pull up to the pump and Bob spots a highway patrolman parked at the adjoining island.  Bob approaches and says, “Just the man I have been looking for.” And the patrolman says, “What did I do wrong?” (Already, you have to love this guy for his humble wit. And his demeanor totally made it work.) Bob explained our plight and asked about a tire store. The patrolman got us information on the nearest place –  Billingsly Automotive – complete with address and phone number.

We s-l-o-w-l-y head on down the road and shortly thereafter are aggressively flagged down by a cowboy-hat wearing gentleman (literally standing in the middle of a traffic lane) who is wanting to make us aware of our tire problem. And while this roadside exchange is going on another driver stops and asks if we know that one of our tires is failing.

And THIS IS THE MOMENT. We are in jeopardy and an array of totally unrelated souls reached out on our behalf. It was so personal: being the beneficiary of non-obligated kindness.

And yet – there is more. The head dude, Pat at the tire store we have been directed to, has tires to fit and arranges to do the replacement as soon as we arrive. He will also have a matching pair of tires ready for Homer’s other side before we make our way back up the coast and home to Reno. He has gone the extra mile to make things work for us. (And he is funny and has a sly drollness that sings of familiarity.)

How to explain this? I won’t try. I am caught up in the deliciousness of the goodness that surrounds us. Namaste.

The inner view of our fated tired: broken chords. Now  mended in human accord.

We Came, We Learned, We Ate

It all began with a lottery…

Since we first came to Reno we had been hearing about this amazing opportunity – a culinary class taught by chefs flown over from Italy. But the catch – the venue only seats 40 people and attendance is determined by a random drawing. Well, you know the old saying, “You can’t win if you don’t try.” So try I did. And we were chosen!

Part of the fascination with the class is it’s location. The kitchen/dining facilities are in a historical mansion which was designed by Fredrick deLongchamps, Reno’s premier architect. It is currently home to Arte Italia, a foundation whose goal is to commemorate and perpetuate Italian culture through the exploration and conservation of culinary and visual arts.

Built in 1914 for Joseph Giraud, a local sheep rancher, this home has been the site of a number of restaurants and was the first building on Reno’s Register of Historic Places.

Without knowing who would be teaching the class or what the menu would be we immediately sent in our reservation request. As we walked into the kitchen we saw that our teacher for the evening was already at work.

Master Chef Marcello Spadone is a contemporary Mediterranean chef who ties his Michelin-starred La Bandiera menu to the traditions of Italy’s central Abruzzo region.

While waiting for the other participants to arrive we enjoyed small bites and wine.  We also looked over the menu and the accompanying information pages that listed the various ingredients that would be used throughout the evening, many familiar but others not (eggplant powder?).

The appetizer, Eggplant Parmesan – Revisited, turned out to feature one of my favorite ways to serve dishes – deconstructed. Always a fan of eggplant, I was eager to see how this would play out. In Chef Spando’s restaurant this dish is served in a hand-blown sugar “bowl” that looks like a baby eggplant. When the ingredients are layered inside the “eggplant” falls open and reveals the luscious interior elements; grilled eggplant cubes, buratta cheese, Parmesan chips, oven dried tomatoes, fresh basil and oregano.

As the chef prepared the dish we watched the chef’s son create the eggplant-shaped sugar vessel. The dish comes to the table with the shell intact but cracks apart as the warm insides cause the shell to crack.(Note the speckled pieces to the upper right in the photo.)

Because it would be impossible to make 40 candy shells and be able to serve in a timely manner, we got our eggplant parmesan in glass globes. We were able to admire the lovely layers and we also got the addition of a light foam on top. (Foam – a topic for a complete blog post! Don’t get me started…)

On to the first course: Duck a’la Orange Tortelli with BlackTruffle.

Watching the chef make the pasta was great fun. Truthfully, the duck stuffing took longer to create, but the hand-working of individual pasta, done well, is quite a show stopper. The chef to the left is Chef Philippe Léveillé, from the El Dorado here in Reno. He choses the visiting chef and does much of the translation during the class.
This is the beautiful bowl of food that was set before me. The black truffle, which the chef brought with him from Italy, was milder than I have had before and the touch of orange in the duck filling was a perfect way to cut the richness of the dish. The sauce is a simple (though not low calorie or low fat!) combination of Parmesan cheese and whipping cream with a bit of demi-glace. The pasta was incredibly thin and seemed to practically melt in the mouth.

On to course number two: Chicken and his Grain. The chef created this dish as a whimsical tribute to chicken as a food source. The grains on the plate represent all of the things chickens would eat as they are raised. (Of course we are talking locally-raised chickens as used in Chef’s restaurant, not those from poultry facilities. If the latter we would have had some sort of manufactured kibble strewn about.)

The chicken breasts were lightly grilled and then finished off in the oven. The dark meats portions were made into croquettes. Our table participants had quite a discussion on which meat serving was their favorite. Interestingly, it split 50-50.

And on to dessert: Ginsing Creme Brule with Almond Sorbet and Dill Broth.

This is the dish that threw me a bit. Though I am more than fond of creme brule, the ginseng was too much of a flavor profile for me. The ice cream, however, was sensational. And I am still not sure where I stand on the dill broth. The fragrance was robust but, when tasted, it didn’t have much punch. It was suggested we could drizzle the broth over the dish or use it as a palate cleanser. I did a bit of each, drizzling to see how it affected the taste (minimally) and then saving some for the end of the course. I was glad I did the saving as the dill was a nice counterpoint to the lingering ginseng flavor.

So – what will I take away from this class?  Appetizer round: I learned a new method for oven roasting eggplant and I am still not a fan of foam. First course: I will definitely make the simple pasta sauce but it will be quite a while before I make my own pasta. Second course: Our Thanksgiving plates may have a new look this year. Bring on the popcorn! Dessert course: Old bread, crumbled and combined with a bit of brown sugar and butter, makes a scrumptious topping using things I typically have on hand. I also want a browning torch.

So – with apologies to those who are tired of seeing food photos, this ends the tale our adventure. Except to say that, as a dietary correction, it’s green salad for dinner tonight!