Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mexican Picker

 In the mid 80's trips to Mexico to find decorative accessories and furnishings for Tex-Mex restaurants were a normal occurrence for me.  Those trips went on and on for almost twenty years  The first trip was flying into Guadalajara to discover factories who manufactured glass, mill work, tile, chairs, tables along with decorative accessories.

Restaurants in Houston and Atlanta, Georgia were the final destination of this first trip.  It was a hoot!  Nothing to me was more exciting then finding a source for a needed item.  The way we found the "factories", which in US terms are usually only a few rooms with a gazillion people working in them, was a hunt!  To find
the glass factories one drove up and down the streets looking for piles of broken glass outside.  Not a sign was to be seen back in those days - just the rubble of items that couldn't be sold.  On the other hand, to find a paper mache factory, one looked for examples to be hung in the doorways. No one had phones then so they hung their merchandise like that so people would know what they made.

On the first glass factory trip, glassware needed to be manufactured to meet TABC standards - that's the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission.  They come in to a restaurant and measure the glassware to make sure that drinks are not being made stronger then allowed!  This first order was all the blue rimmed glasses that were so popular thirty years ago.  I came armed with Tupperwear measuring cups, a baby bottle I think and that was about it.  It would be hilarious now to see photos of that first episode and our measuring water over and over to get each order of glassware correct.
 Mexican chairs for the most part still have a straight back, not the ever so slightly tilted back that is needed for comfort.  So, chairs had to be designed and made.  Literally, once we designed the perfect chair with leather strap seats and backs - the seats were 19 inches, which is another important thing - we shipped eighteen wheeler loads both to Houston and Atlanta.  A favorite chair of many restauranteurs.
 While out a couple of weeks ago with my grandchildren in a yard of all of these items shown in the photos, I felt that little thrill race through my body that I used to feel upon finding a unique item or an item that would be perfect for a project.  Not photographed but found on this trip were several kinds of Corona coolers, Corona metal tabletops, a cool cash register - all things I could imagine in a project.  It almost, but not really, made me want to get back into sourcing for restaurants and hotels.
It seems the 80's and 90's were me in the right place at the right time.  I knew Mexico.  I knew where to go to get the stuff and ended up designing well over 100 Tex-Mex restaurants throughout the USA.  The greatest part of it was getting to spend time in Mexico in the countryside seeing and doing things that others had not yet discovered.  I treasure those memories. IF I didn't know where to go, I'd go to a cab stand, find someone who had lived in the USA who spoke English and off to the villages we would go!  Exploring at its best........
 There wasn't a thing in this yard a few weeks ago that I couldn't have thought of a use for on some project.
It felt good to feel those creative juices moving around again.  Great stuff.
In fact, in a "ahh haa" moment I realized the reason the History Channel with Canadian Pickers and American Pickers are my two favorite shows is because some of it was me for years on the back roads of Mexico as they are in the USA and Canada for those guys.

Then the other day, when a friend was staying at the Quinta Loreto Hotel in San Miguel, I ran into an old friend from Houston who has had a retail store there for probably thirty years.  He used to import from Turkey, Afghanistan and distant places.  Now he's down here looking for things since it is so expensive and difficult to import from those faraway places.  There is still plenty of stuff down here, but, not at the prices we used to get it for.  Those were the golden days, to put it mildly.

You can tell I was never a designer who ordered from a catalog, but rather was ALWAYS looking for the unique and different or designing it and having it made.  What fun it all was......

The challenges of finding freight consolidators, shipping companies, craters and border agents was just that, a challenge and not something that couldn't be overcome.  Now it is so much easier with NAFTA to ship.  But finding the items and having them made still takes someone willing and interested in doing so.

Someone once said, "It gets in your blood".  I guess that was so........

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Road Trips around San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

 Now that I have wheels again and the car is running as smooth as a baby's bottom, I headed out this week in various directions.  Without a final destination in mind, I just head out and see what happens, if anything.
On Tuesday morning, I zipped over to the Tuesday market.  I've written about it many times but never is a trip there the same as any other trip.  With all the crops being harvested at this time of year, just to see the fresh produce is a treat.  The cauliflower and broccoli was beautiful as well as the peppers and all the cactus paddles that were being de-thorned for selling.  A laborious task! 
 I'm not sure if this rabbit was being sold as a pet or as a meal.  Rabbit is served in many high-end restaurants in San Miguel as well as the rest of Mexico.  The French cuisine influence is alive and well.

Wednesday, my destination was to go to Atotonilco.  The UN World Heritage site only fifteen minutes outside of San Miguel.  It is referred to as the "Sistine Chapel" of Mexico.  It appears that all the restoration work in the main church is completed.  A big festival is being held there this weekend.  The altars were covered with pink and red roses in mass profusion.  A lovely sight. I've written about Atotonilco many times over the years as well.

My next stop was Ruth's.  Ruth is a ceramic factory headquartered in Delores Hidalgo that has a side retail store outside San Miguel.  I needed one flower pot.  If you can't find it at Ruth's, you pretty much can't find it anywhere.  I found the pot. Rather then head back to San Miguel, I headed for Delores.  Stopped at Amore where one can watch the artists hand painting free-style the talavera dishes and pots.  They had huge shipments being wrapped, crated, and made ready for export shipment.  Saw lots of great things there for the US and European market.

Instead of heading back to San Miguel at this point, it seemed like the only right thing to do was to head into Delores Hidalgo to Vicente's for the best carnitas on earth.  They have SEVEN restaurants in Delores Hidalgo! 
Yum!  They are always so friendly.  Want to make sure you're happy and filled - I always am.  Have never been able to even eat a half order which is carnitas, tortillas, guacamole and salsas.  
 I was having so much fun that instead of heading home, I headed for the huge plaza in Delores Hidalgo.  It is at least four times bigger then the one in San Miguel, if not more.  While eating my ice cream cone, (Delores Hidalgo is known for its strange and delicious ice cream flavors) sitting on the bench, several people came over to talk.  A young boy who now lives in Corsicana, Texas.  A man from Delores who now lives in Rosharon, Texas and a gringo who now lives in Delores with his Mexican wife.  He was originally from Los Angeles.  Obviously, being a gringo in Delores is noticeable.  All were delightful to talk to and to learn about their lives.  Eventually I headed back to San Miguel shaking my head at how unexpected events bring such pleasure.
 Once I hit the road, I wanted to go more.  So, Friday morning was a trip to Mineral de Pozos.  It's about 45 minutes from San Miguel just like Delores Hidalgo is, but its 1000 ft higher then San Miguel.  The drive is through farmland that is breathtakingly beautiful - especially this time of year.  Mushrooms, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus and corn - lots and lots of corn - to just name a few things grown for export.  All the mushrooms are grown for Whole Foods.  I don't know about the other crops as to their final destination. Approaching Pozos, the mountain peaks are very, very high.  It's a beautiful sight.
 Typically when I drive to Pozos during the week, seeing fifteen people is a lot!  It is an abandoned mining town whose families only seem to come back on the weekends to visit.  So you can imagine my surprise when I pulled up to its plaza on a side street to see a fair being set up.

The lime green and black board was set up for an indigenous ceremony to be held on Saturday morning when the Chichimechas and Otomis along with a tribe from the State of Sonora was going to participate.
Sonora is near Arizona!  A long, long, long way away.  In addition, a local man told me that a rap group from Chicago is going to play Saturday night  Say what? 

Wandering around the plaza, there was much jewelry made for sale along with indigenous musical instruments and some clothing.  It's truly amazing how many minerals come from this area such as amethysts, opals, turquoise along with stones that I couldn't identify. Magnificently made filigreed necklaces and bracelets for very little money.
The photo above is a man playing a drum made locally.  Many had beautiful carvings on the sides.
Mineral de Pozos at one time was a very, very wealthy town with silver mines and some gold.  Today those mnes are closed.  They have been closed since around 1910 when the mines were flooded during the Revolution.

It's so interesting when driving up and down most of the streets over there to see no people living on the streets.  However, I must say that yesterday I saw at least 100 people!  The most I've ever seen in Mineral de Pozos.

The week was capped off last night in going to the performance of Doc Severinsen and several other musicians.  Actually there was a total of fourteen!  Most were Cuban with several Mexican singers as well as musicians.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to photograph the event or record the music.  Suffice to say, that although Doc is now 87, to listen to his solo performances, one would never imagine that.

It was a superb evening of about two hours of WOW music!  I had not heard Doc play in five years, but I promise, he is still as talented as ever.  It was a sold out theater.

The town is hopping with all the tourists here now.  This is our summer "high season" just like we have a high season in the winter from the end of November til the first of April.  There were so many events going on this weekend that one would have to be a whirling dervish to get to half of them!  It will continue this way until mid-August when it will slow down again.

Coming up or ongoing, Guanajuato International Film Festival begins this coming week along with the San Miguel Music Festival.  There is a Blues/Jazz Festival going on as I write this.  Heavens, I can't even list it all.
Come see for yourself!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Distant Neighbors - Authored by Alan Riding

 The saga to acquiring this book began several months ago.  I don't remember the circumstances, or who quoted Alan Riding.  It caused me to sit up and take notice.  Having never heard of Alan Riding (sorry Mr. Riding), I knew from his quote that he understood Mexico and the Mexican people.

I made a note of his name and subsequently looked him up on the internet.  Aah, I discovered he had a book on Mexico and promptly ordered it on Amazon in paperback.  If I remember correctly, it was only available in paperback as it was published back in the 80's.  Believe it or not, this is the first time I have ordered a book to be sent to Mexico from Amazon!

Usually, reading a book takes a day or possibly two for me to read.  THIS one has been a month.  At first, I was so enamored with all the information and comments that were so right on that I turned down pages.  Let me say, I don't usually turn down pages and never on a hardback book.  The next time I picked up the book I realized I had turned down 8 or 10 pages.  So, out came the highlighter.  It has been at least 10 years, if not longer, since I have taken the time to highlight a book.  Again, never a hardback.  This book has so much information that I didn't want to forget or poignant comments that I wanted to remember, that the book now looks florescent yellow inside.

My history with Mexico goes back to 1974.  My love affair began then.  I've read a zillion books during the ensuing years, but, never, have I read a book that has this undercurrent of energy and affection for the Mexican people that this book does.  It's hard to explain.  Alan Riding is a fantastic writer and researcher.
I can't possibly imagine how long it took for him to write this.

It goes over the pre Conquest history, each ruler of Mexico, various parts of Mexico and the oncoming industrialization instead of agrarian society.  He talks about the indigenous peoples of Mexico who fear, still to this day I might add, the assimilation by the Mestizo to dilute their culture.  That plus the well meaning missionaries and gringos who want them to learn the ways of the USA, when their cultures are so much purer.

The book talks in depth about the political party PRI and then PAN.  In addition the development of various areas of Mexico and the families who were instrumental in that movement.

Since it was published in 1984, which was the cusp of the growth of the democracy along with the huge beginning of industrialization and exportation brought on successfully by NAFTA, I wish a sequel had been written.

In my humble opinion, Mexico has changed more since 1984 and especially since 1992 when NAFTA took effect then it has in all of its history.  I'd love to hear Mr. Riding's take on all of this.

It turns out he was born in Brazil but educated in England.   He began his career as a correspondent in Latin America - writing for The Financial Times and The Economist.  Then for six years he was bureau chief for the New York Times from 84 to 89.  He was also The NYTimes bureau chief in Brazil.  I checked to see if he had written a follow up but, alas no.  He has just published a book on Paris which I want to read.

Interesting as I always equate Mexico City and Paris together.  There are so many similarities, again, in my opinion.

Hopefully, you can read Carlos Fuentes comment along with others about the book on the back cover.  His enthusiasm matches mine.

As we watch the quagmire at the border, it becomes more and more apparent to me that the US government and the politicians have no idea about their neighbors to the South.  It is appalling and embarrassing to observe.  IF I had the money, I would order a copy of this book for each and every one of them to read.
Maybe it would help, somewhat.   
Hopefully some day, probably not in my lifetime, the borders in North America will all be open.  The ebb and flow would be so much more healthy for all then the current process.  One of my greatest wishes.

To me this book was as though the author presented Mexico as a flower.  He gently peeled back each petal lovingly as he shared its history, its culture and its people.  A lovely, lovely learning experience.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

A Little Girl Teaches a BIG Lesson

Yesterday started out as a "day of adventure".  When picking up John, Matilda and Sebastian, we talked about what to do and what direction to go.

We finally settled on heading toward Delores Hidalgo because Grammy, that's me, wanted a flower pot to replace one that fell off the ledge and broke.  Ruth's is a good place to find anything that one wants in ceramics.  PLUS next to Ruth's are several big "exploring" places that I knew John and the kids would enjoy while I found a flower pot.

Off we went.  Sebastian asked where we were going and Matilda was saying gleefully, with a Spanish accent, "Delores, Delores".  Sebastian wanted more explanation so I said, "To a junk yard".  Then he wanted to know what junk meant.  I told him it was stuff to sell that the owners didn't want anymore.  His response, "Oh like a garage sale".  That kid is super smart and quick.

I didn't find a flower pot.  They were too expensive for me but, Matilda and Sebastian, along with their Dad enjoyed discovering all kinds of things that I"ll write about in the next post.  This photo of them with some wonderfully carved cantera characters sums up the sense of discovery.

By this time it was near noon, lunch time to Sebastian and Matilda.  Off we headed to Pizza Pig.  A fun place where the kids could run and play while we waited for food.  Alas, it wasn't open yet and wouldn't be ready with food for at least an hour.  NO waiting for little ones.  Off we went to somewhere else after MUCH discussion.

We found a favorite place for lunch.  Then, Grammy offered ice cream cones at Santa Clara.  GREAT ice cream in San Miguel.  As we walked down the street out of the corner of my eye, I saw an elderly woman with extended hand asking for money.  Right past her was an old man sitting on a step doing the same thing.
I was focused on getting to Santa Clara and didn't give them much thought, to tell you the truth.

Since I was leading the charge to Santa Clara, I turned to see if the three were right behind me.  What I saw literally brought tears to my eyes.

Matilda had spotted the woman and man.  She stopped to open her coin purse.  With the most beautiful, glowing smile on her face, she walked up to the woman and told her, in Spanish, that this was a gift. What else she said I didn't hear, but she didn't just give her the money and keep going as most people do.  She engaged with the woman.  And, then with the man as well. 

Without saying anything else, they caught up with me and we entered the Santa Clara ice cream place.  My son took one look at me and said, "I know", as he looked at my face.

This little girl reminded me of what a kind Mexican man told me about fifteen years ago.  He said, "We don't give to the children, they can work.  But, we do give to the elderly.  If not for them we would not be here now".  Actions speak louder then words.  Thanks Matilda for the reminder and the lesson.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

An EXPLOSION of Color!

 With over ten inches of rain at the house since the first part of June, everything is blooming in great, colorful profusion. It is HIGHLY unusual for us to have had this much rain this early.  I'm NOT complaining.
These two photos are only the lower patio.  There is much more to photograph.  However, these are the flowers I see on a daily basis from my computer desk or reading chair.  To say that I love looking up and seeing all this color is a major understatement.

In February when the chain link fence (that wasn't even visible due to plants) was torn down, there was very little left.  Even the bougainvillea were hacked down.  Yes, everyone told me it would come back, but I never imagined it would come back this fast or luxurious.  Thankfully.  The fuscia color is so intense.  From the second floor living room window, it fills the windows with color.

The second photo is the view from the kitchen window looking down the walkway.  It is a sylvan glade of green and color.  The plants are happy and so am I! 

Indeed, now with all the new plants and different shade patterns, Velcro has found other sunning and hiding places to enjoy her daily sleeping or hunting life.  I spotted her the other day in a little patch between the butterfly lilies and the oleanders stretched out like the Cat Queen that she thinks she is.

As I write this at 2PM, the clouds are rolling in with the look of rain coming in a few hours.  It seems to hit about 5:30PM each evening.  How do I know that?  Well, it often knocks out the satellite TV at the thirty minute time frame that I watch the news.  The ONLY time all day that I watch the news.  Oh well, I'm probably better off not knowing the news.

There is more to photograph - the night blooming cereus have started blooming.  The oleanders have finally gotten leaves now that the cutter ants have left.  The orange flowers that pop out everywhere are blooming everywhere too.  Little by little, the yard is beginning to fill in in the empty spots left from the February devastation.  I'll share more with you as time goes on.

The birds  are having a field day with the avocados, the pomegranates and of course the lemons blooming and fruiting.  The white breasted hummingbird flew full force into the window the other day.  Bad maneuver.  But, while laying on the ground, under my watchful but distant eye, it came back to life and flew off.  It is back daily at specific times.  IF the TV is on, it flutters up to the window and hovers there for quite a bit of time.  What the heck is that all about?

Nature is a wonderful, joyful thing to observe.  I am blessed.  Life is good.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Banking in a Foreign Country..........Mexico to be Exact! San Miguel de Allende to be even more so.

It started with FBAR a few years ago.  Not sure what year as it didn't impact me.

Most ex-pats that I know continue to do their banking with their US banks.  They have a small bank account in San Miguel for the following reasons:

(1) It was required in order to get a temporary or permanent visa to have a Mexican bank account.  Then a letter from your bank giving the average amount per month in the account along with a copy of the last three months of that account is also required.

(2) Money is not insured in accounts in Mexico so a sharp devaluation just means you lost it.  Having several friends who have had that happen convinced me to keep everything as simple as possible.

(3) Banks in San Miguel (some of them) will pay your utilities and your household help on whatever schedule that is requested.  It is very helpful if you travel a lot or just want to have good records.

FBAR was implemented and required that those foreign residents with more then $10,000 in an account in a foreign country had to report this on a Form with their income tax return.  Penalty for not doing so, $10,000USD!  Most people didn't even know about this law or form as it was not publicized much at all.
Now, those finding out about it, after the fact, are very concerned about being penalized for all the years they didn't file the form.

FATCA has been a different story.  It has been highly publicized not only by the US press and organizations but by seminars held by the banks here in San Miguel!  There has been a steady stream of comments on the Yahoo Civil List (which isn't always that Civil) along with comments at all kinds of venues.  It too requires that if you have a certain amount of money in foreign banks, anywhere in the world, it must be reported on a specific form along with your income tax.  This new law goes into effect on July 1, 2014.

It has caused an uproar because foreign banks are now required to report on each and every expat account.  Banamex closed their US offices.  They also closed the accounts of any foreign citizens in Mexico.

Worldwide financial institutions are reeling with the requirements imposed on them to report all kinds of private information.  For a clearer explanation and ramifications, please read the article on www.AmericansAbroad.org. It is very comprehensive.

Other people here in San Miguel have now received notification from Fidelity Investments that they no longer will handle accounts of ex-pats.  Geez, it's just the tip of the iceberg that is slowly melting.

Of course I suggest that if reading any of this impacts you, discuss it with your accountant, your financial adviser or whoever helps you with this stuff.  I am not impacted by any of the above as my account here in Mexico is minimal to just meet the requirements of Mexican immigration.

Now the latest bombshell to fall upon expats is the announcement a few weeks back that paper checks written outside the USA will not be honored by US banks. Everywhere, not just Mexico  They will require wire transfers or using ATM machines.  I see the solution on this is, if someone in a foreign country needs to deposit a US check in their account in the US to use one of those smart phones.  A friend of mine does just that. The information about the US checks was given to me by the officer at the bank I use here in San Miguel.  That goes into effect on September 1, 2014.  I confirmed it with my US bank.

I've lived by using an ATM machine for fourteen years. My social security is a direct deposit in the USA.  I probably don't write ten checks a year anymore.  If I do it's to someone in the USA that I mail to them.  So, again, this won't impact me that I can foresee.

It is rather disconcerting though to have all of this happening for many people.  Some expats have gone so far as to renounce their US citizenship.  Sad, but true.

What used to be easy for most is now more complicated and costly.  Again, sad but true.

                                 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Making Lemon Blueberry Bread from LEMONS


Desperation has set in!  There are more lemons then I can possibly use for lemonade.  I've put lemon juice in the freezer for at least a year's supply.  Now I'm scouring recipes for ways to use more.

Luckily some friends came by last week and left with two dozen lemons.  You couldn't even tell that any lemons had been taken from the tree.

What's really surprising is that most people don't have lemon trees in San Miguel but do have lime and orange trees.  Why not lemon trees?  This one is three stories high.

Finally, after saving a recipe for Lemon Blueberry Bread, I made some last week.  In my attempt to not eat it all myself, I ate one slice and froze the rest of the loaf.  It's in the freezer for when company comes - whoever that might be.

Here's the recipe.  I think this is the first time I've ever posted a recipe:

Lemon Blueberry Bread
(1) 8 oz pkg. reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1 1/3 c. sugar, divided (I used Stevia to equal the sugar quantity)
2 eggs
1T lemon juice
1 1/2 c. biscuit banking mix
1T lemon rind, grated
1 1/2 c. blueberries
1/2 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350F.  Coat 9x5x3 loaf pan with Pam or whatever you prefer.

Mix together cream cheese, 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs and lemon juice.
Stir in baking mix and lemon rind until blended.  CAREFULLY stir in blueberries by hand.

Put batter in pan and bake 50-60 minutes depending on your oven.

Remove from oven and immediately poke holes in top at 1 inch intervals with a toothpick.

In microwave combine 1/3 c sugar and 1/2 cup lemon juice, heating until sugar is dissolved.
Pour evenly over top of bread.  Cool and slice.

Side note:  For me it was too much lemon taste.  I probably would not pour the lemon juice and sugar over the top the next time, but that's just my taste.  The bread was very delicious. I might also use some chopped pecans as I love the crunch of nuts in bread.

Anyone want or need LEMONS, just let me know so I can shake the tree and pick up lemons for you.
I never thought in my  life, I would be able to ever say anything like that.