November 9, 2008

How I spent my summer vacation

Well here we are in Santa Rosalia after a week’s vacation in that most festive of Mexican cities, Guadalajara. We stayed at Don Quinto Jose, a delightful B&B in the heart of Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara famous for stores and galleries that are housed in old colonial casonas—grand old houses. Anyone of them would have been perfect to move into with its thick walls to keep you cool inside and shaded fountain courtyards. Those that aren’t shops are fabulous restaurants that throw singing canaries and splashing fountains into the ambiance along with unusual food and music. The main street is just for pedestrians and is lined with shops and benches where talented poor people sing their hearts out for a few coins.

Esperando and I decided that Tlaquepaque and Tonalá (another artisan suburb) are where you would want to go to furnish and decorate your home Mexican style. This means that much of what you find will not fit in your suitcase because it is furniture, chandeliers, glass or ceramic or way too big. Where I could, I bought textiles which transport more easily.

One of our missions was to find an unusual and not too expensive nativity set which we finally encountered in Tequila, an hour’s drive away and our day excursion from Guadalajara. A taxi conveyed us out of Tlaquepaque for a 25 minute trip to the car rental agency in downtown Guadalajara, making a u-turn in the middle of a busy bidirectional 6-lane street, turning from the outside right lane going west across oncoming traffic into the eastbound lane far right to place us right at the front door. Be still, my heart! Once we got in our rental car to undertake the journey, I was sure we has made a really bad decision and would become permanently lost. The full extent of the city’s 3 million population wasn’t so obvious when you just take a taxi across town. It’s once you are on the roads driving and driving and you are still in a city that you begin to realize this. We did miss our turn getting out of central Guadalajara and drove about 10 blocks the wrong direction before we got back on track. The many one way 3- and 4-lane streets seemed daunting initially, but the roads were relatively well signed and the map in our guidebook was sufficiently detailed to get us there.

We took the ‘old’ highway which took us through the little towns on the way rather than the toll road. After we got into blue agave country—much like driving through the California wine country--each little town would have stalls selling tequila along the roadside. Tequila, like Champagne in France, is an appellation limited to the state of Jalisco and a few other small areas of neighboring states and can only be made from blue agave. When we got to Tequila, a quaint and prosperous small town, we had a tour at the world class Jose Cuervo distillery and another of the Sauza family home built in the 1800’s, now a museum housing the family’s history. It was there we found a darling corn sheaf crèche to take back with us to Santa Rosalia.

They wrapped it up carefully in tissue paper and we hand carried it in a paper bag so it wouldn’t get crushed in transit. We drove back to Guadalajara and gave ourselves a pat on the back that we actually maneuvered through the one-way streets and heavy traffic to get back to the National rental counter. Taxi back to the hotel, and another taxi to the airport for our airplane to LA. Once onboard, we placed our delicate little bundle carefully in the overhead bin arguing with the stewardess that it was fragile and we didn’t want to put it in the bin until everyone else had organized their things. Finally we made it back over the course of several days, pressed the green light in customs at the airport in Loreto and almost made it out of the terminal before the agriculture guy said, “Do you have food in the bag.” “No,” said I. “Let me see it,” he said. “You can’t keep this, it is made of plant matter.” “Yes corn sheaves, we bought it in Guadalajara.” figuring Mexican corn sheaves would be acceptable. “Do you have a receipt?” “Yes here.” “But it doesn’t say what it is made from.” “Its made from corn sheaves here in Mexico.” After about 15 minutes of this dialog we finally gave up and left Mary, Joseph and the wise men behind. Because Baby Jesus and a sheep had been packed even more carefully in my suitcase, they survived unscathed, but they look pretty lonely sitting around by themselves. I think maybe the sheep sings lullabys when I’m not in the room.

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