May 31, 2010

Tales of the City

Memorial Day weekend arrived, our first weekend in the Bay Area, a splendid three days for us to relax. Yesterday Esperando and I met with Youngest Daughter and took a picnic to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. When I was growing up in the City, my best friend in high school and I would cart a loaf of bread, Italian antipasti, cheese and peanuts in the shell off to the Arboretum and laze most of the day away on the lawn eating our food, feeding the squirrels and pondering life. Yesterday we couldn’t get near the Arboretum without great effort, so we ended up taking our picnic to Speedway Field. It is a grassy area sporting about 20 scattered picnic tables with adjacent restroom. We got there around 10:30 so we could grab a table, by 11:00 am we were ravenously consuming our Semifreddi bread and cheese, it was too early for wine, and we forgot to bring the cherries and grapes I bought to round out our meal. We ALL forgot our cameras—how could we be so stupid!

This is similar to what our picnic area looked like.

I made a visit to the restroom shortly after our arrival and a flood of memories came rushing back to me. I think every school and public facility in San Francisco is tiled with the same little beige-gold floor tiles, small tiles formed in a complicated matrix pattern. The bathroom was relatively clean, although a few bits pieces of graffiti clung to the stalls, and the stall door had been removed from the handicap stall. That transported me back to the women’s bathroom at Forest Hill Station when I was a teenager taking public transportation back and forth to high school. Then, all the doors were off the stalls and a bunch of tough girls skulked around on the bathroom smoking. I only ventured in there once and after viewing that lot, you couldn’t have drug me in there again with a team of wild horses. San Francisco holds a lot of memories of growing up for me.

When I returned to our picnic table it was in time to view a couple of women advancing down the sidewalk toward our table pushing an 8-foot-tall many branched jointed metal tree on wheels. They almost had a head-on collision with a Parks and Recreation truck that was approaching from the opposite direction. The women got the truck driver to back up a little, pushed the tree against the edge of the sidewalk, and bent its branches away from the sidewalk while the truck driver edged as far over as he could to drive forward again, mangling the bushes growing on the opposite side of the sidewalk as he went, but clearing the women and their tree. Once clear of each other, the tree resumed its progress down the sidewalk toward a busy picnic area to join in the festivities at a group of tables set with white tablecloths and canopies.

Then a Hispanic man, his wife, two excited young boys and other family members arrived at the table adjacent to ours. In several trips they brought a mega stack of paper plates, big aluminum baking pans full of food, soft drinks and beer—and a party jump house with compressor, one of those giant blowup tents in which kids jump up and down inside. They started the compressor repeatedly but it began to look like the whole point of the party wasn’t going to take shape. But, finally the compressor took hold and an enormous jumper began to take form. It was blue and red and featured Spiderman on the roof. The two little boys clung to each other, barely able to suppress their excitement at being the first ones to get a head-start on jumping at what was undoubtedly going to be THE birthday event of the season.

It looked something like this but much larger, and had a big slide on the side besides.

About that time a man with picnic basket in hand came up to us wanting to know what number our table was. We pulled our tablecloth back to discover the number “10” painted on it. Then the Hispanic man came forward to set us all straight that he had rented that and the two adjacent tables for his party. We now understood, if you didn’t reserve a table, you didn’t sit at one. It made sense and we would know better next time. At least we had been able to enjoy the table for several hours and eat our lunch before it was time to go.

It seemed destined for me to have a nostalgic sort of day. We spent the next 2 hours driving all over the City, up to Mt. Davidson to see where my family lived while I was growing up. There we encountered Rob Anderson, step grandson of our old next door neighbor Mrs. Anderson who was 82-years old at the time we arrived. Rob grew up in that house next to ours. He moved in after his grandmother died, probably as a 10-year just about the time I left to away to go to college. So although we never knew each other, we exchanged memories of the neighborhood, and the neighbors who had lived and died there. I was 10 myself when we first moved in and I found Mt. Davidson park itself to be a creepy place. It was known then in the City for its annual Easter Sunrise Service. I remember my father and I often planned to go but we could never quite leave our warm beds in the dark just to climb up the mountain to view the sunrise on Easter morning. After that we drove on to Twin Peaks to admire the beautiful view, then to the Palace Legion of Honor passing through that ritzy manicured area of the rich, Sea Cliff, and then on to the Presidio. Finally we returned Youngest Daughter to her lair and headed back for a well-deserved nap to the East Bay.

The steps up to Mt. Davidson, still the same, still creepy, like approaching some kind of ruin.

May 27, 2010

Graduating from CalArts

Youngest Son had an exuberant graduation ceremony in LA last week to receive his BFA in film animation. Since many of his classmates were theater or dance majors it made for an exciting evening as each one had a few seconds to have his/her selected song played and to act out whatever fantasy they desired while accepting their degrees. It also made the evening a very long one—three hours.

Degree candidates awaiting their turns.

We had a great time people watching. We saw a fully costumed chicken carry a boy up to receive his degree; a fabulous Tahitian dancer with a very long black dreadlocks wig and painted face performed an amazing dance for her degree and turned out to be topless underneath when we saw her off stage later; any number of girls did the hoochy koochy just before accepting their degrees; and a pink painted man-lady who appeared to be naked but really wasn’t sat waiting in the bleachers for his turn. It was hard to know at times who was more remarkable, the students or the audience--from surfer dads to beautifully attired sari-ed women, all with their buttons ready to burst in pride for their children who had accomplished great things.

Audience being equally outrageous.

Considering that all these kids had made it through four years with their noses to the grindstone it was a portentous moment for all. Teachers hugged their students as professors for each discipline went on stage to award degrees to the students. It was obvious that you weren’t just a number here at CalArts, even though the graduating class was huge. I know Youngest Son is really happy to have no more classes, but I think a part of him will miss CalArts and the support he received there.

Bouquets and kudos to the graduates!

May 25, 2010

Day 1 in the Bay Area - Alternative VISA advertisement

Amount of hotel soap used taking a shower while Lupita the Chihuahua consumed two 5-gram dark chocolate candies that the hotel left on our pillows the previous night = $0.02

Amount of gasoline used to race Lupita to the Tri-Valley Emergency Clinic = $1.00

Amount of vet bill to induce vomiting and new red scarf given for being a wonderful patient = $150.00.

Having Lupita the dog still be alive = Priceless

May 17, 2010


My sister Hermana drove up from Taos to stay with me after my mother’s birthday last week. Denver was cold and rainy and snowy, not much of a welcoming reception—but that didn’t stop us from have oodles of fun.

Serious shopping was the order of the day.

We spent the next 5 days combing our favorite bargain and not-so-bargain stores for hours: Target, Tuesday Morning, Hobby Lobby, TJ Maxx, City Floral, and Chicos. We left with our arms full of merchandise, those merchants must have smiled all the way to the bank when we drove off. We filled our nights with take-out and dine out opportunities and enjoyed every bite. And after that we watched old movies until late at night—unusual since we are both go-to-bed-early types.

Lupita modeled all of her clothes and was fully enchanted with Hermana. Hermana decided that Lupita looked like a small deer, maybe Falene who was Bambi’s girlfriend, so now Lupita has two nicknames, ‘Pookie’ and ‘Falene.’ Sadly, Hermana left with a sore throat this morning which we still hope is only allergies.

Bambi before he met Falene

After she left, Lupita and I ran a few errands including returning some items to Target, and then stopping off at King Soopers to buy a few groceries. When I came back to my car an elderly Mexican lady was sitting in the passenger seat of the car next to mine on my driver’s side. I opened my door and greeted Lupita with ‘how are you, have you been enjoying sun bathing?’ Since Lupe was in her little crate on the passenger side she was not visible and I think the lady thought I was nuts talking to myself.

Lupita sunbathing.

Then up on the lady’s lap jumped Lupita’s twin, except aged about 10 years--a mature dog with a turning-white muzzle. I let Lupita out of her crate and showed her the other dog. They both started barking rabidly at each other. And here I thought they could be friends just because they looked alike—goes to show what I know. However as I backed out of the parking space, my little dog jumping up and down in my lap barking, my elderly comadre waved goodbye to me even though her dog was doing exactly the same thing Lupita was. We both loved our little Chihuahuas, they were exactly the same color and size. We were sisters in the bonds of Chihuahuahood, a deep liking recognizing our devotion to our pets. We could be friends even if our dogs couldn’t.

May 7, 2010

Birthday Weekend Blowout

Here we are in Carlsbad celebrating my Mother’s 102nd birthday. After the cool days in Denver last week, it is hot here. Yesterday was 100F, more like Baja than Denver. It has been a busy couple of days catching up with other family members, like a long visit with your best friends. Today when we were visiting at my Mother’s an old family friend, Sally, dropped in to wish my Mother a happy birthday and tell us about the Mescal Roast and Mountain Spirits Dances event sponsored by the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park on the north side of town.

Worthy of a visit

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park is a zoo and botanical garden displaying animals and plants of the Chihuahuan Desert in their native habitats. It is located atop the Ocotillo Hills overlooking the city and the Pecos River. The zoo features more than forty native animal species, and the gardens feature a greenhouse and hundreds of cacti and succulents from around the world.

The Mescal Roast and Mountain Spirits Dances is a Powwow put on by the Mescalero Apaches and features a dinner with traditional Native American food, dances and singing of the Apache peoples. The mescal was essential for their survival in the harsh desert environment of the Southwest. Historically, both the Pecos River Valley and Guadalupe Mountains here were the traditional hunting and gathering territories for the Mescalero Apaches. It was the Apaches' dependence upon the mescal plant, better known as the familiar spiked-leafed agave or century plant, for food which led the early Spanish explorers to call these people the "mescal makers" or Mescaleros.

Dances at the Powwow
Their mescal roasting pits are the best known archaeological sites in the Guadalupe Mountains. Mescal was a very important and nutritious staple food for the Mescaleros. The roasted mescal was sun dried and used in much the same manner as the Plains Indians used dried meat or jerky. Recent tests by New Mexico State University found that dried mescal leaves contain 85% soluble carbohydrates, 1% protein and 14% insoluble fiber and are roughly equivalent in food value to oats.

Chopping the leaves off the plant in preparation for roasting

Our friend Sally said the celebration this weekend was a noteworthy event. In the conversation that ensued my uncle piped up with, “I thought mescal was a drug.” “No,” said someone else, “you are thinking of peyote.” ”Well what is peyote?” someone else asked. I said, “I will look it up on my new Blackberry phone.” Sally said, “Gosh, I’m hooked, I can’t leave until I know the answer.” It turned out peyote was the dried fruit of a kind of cactus which produces halucinogenic dreams and was incorporated into the southwest Native American culture about 100 years ago from the indigenous peoples of Sonora, Mexico.

“But what is mescal?” my sister Hermana asked. “Oh,” I said being the know-it-all I am, ”that is like Tequila, it is distilled from the agave plant from anywhere in Jalisco state. Any other agave, or blue agave produced elsewhere in Mexico is called mescal. First they roast the agave cores, from which a sweet honey wine is made, then they distill it to make the hard liquor. I know this because we went on a tour of the Jose Cuervo distillery in Tequila,” I added. (Dumb me, the Mescaleros were eating mescal long before anyone ever thought of making alcohol out of it.)

“Wow!” said my niece. “I never thought I would come to Grandmommy’s room on her 102nd birthday to talk about drugs and alcohol!”

May 1, 2010

Parting Shots

When we drove out of Santa Rosalia last Friday my goal was to stop at the little marble shop Rancho Sonora at kilometer 149 just north of Catavina to purchase a few marble wind chimes for Esperando’s children, a small token of melodious sound from Mexico. I bought wind chimes there last year when the Brainy Blonde came for a visit and we were driving down from San Diego. It’s kind of a crappy little store all by itself out in the middle of dust and cactus, just a notch up from being a palapa. Then it was manned by a fat Mexican man about my age and his 30-plus year old son who put the hard sell on both of us to buy, buy, buy.

The out in the middle of nowhere marble store

This time Esperando opted to stay in the car for a small snooze since he had been driving continuously for the last 5 hours. I wandered by myself past the two ubiquitous dusty dogs that hung out on the porch, up to open the screen door and went inside. The room was dimly lit. Several shelves bore carvings of alabaster, and hundreds pale alabaster silhouettes hung from the ceiling in the form of wind chimes: turtles, dolphins, sharks, fish, whales, seahorses, stars, moons, suns, horses, seagulls, and so on. I knew already that I wanted sets of sun and moon wind chimes. A fat Mexican man about my age came out from behind the counter and asked if he could help me. So then I told him I wanted three sets of sun and moon chimes, but how much did they cost. Only 100 pesos per wind chime, such a deal! He had them prepackaged, wrapped up in sheets of newspaper. He sorted through them to find the ones I wanted and told me it would be 300 pesos, “What is your name?” he said. I told him. “I am Santiago,” he said.

Then I gave him 400 pesos and he started across the room to where he kept his change. Then he stopped dead in his tracks. “I don’t have change,” he said. “Oh ok, I will go back to the car, I think I have the right change,” I said.
Alabaster seahorse necklace

Out I bopped and said the to slumbering Esperando, “I need 100 pesos.” “Oh,” he said, “I thought I would get more of a snooze.” Wherewith he took his wallet from his pocket and passed the pesos over to me. I returned to the shop and gave Santiago the money. Before he would give me the bag, he started across the room to where he had some individual carvings, like the pieces in the windchime, that were hung on cords for use as necklaces. He chose a seahorse, and I thought he was going to try and sell it to me. Instead he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me to him, thrusting the seahorse in my hands and trying to kiss me on the lips. I turned my check to his lips, muttered gracias for the osequio, a little gift, the price of which was an undesireable kiss and a walloping waft of aftershave which he had applied liberally in my absence. I made a beeline out the door and ran back to the car to tell Esperando what had happened. As we drove off Esperando cackled over my mishap and Francisco’s dogs gave chase to the car. Lupita barked back as fiercely as she could. We both gagged for the next 3 hours on the fumes that adhered to my cheek.

The thing is when he stopped to say he didn’t have change, and I said I would go back to get some, he already had the whole thing planned. He knew he was going to put aftershave on the minute I left. He knew he was going to steal a kiss if he could. I was the fly walking into his little spider web. Ladies, be forewarned. If you stop to buy some marble—DON’T GO INTO HIS SHOP ALONE!!

Happy windchime recipient displaying her acquisition