Ruby Ramblings

The Magic of Mexico
February 23, 2013, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Tlaquepaque, Travel


After spending a week staying with good friends Grys and Juan, I’m finally back in my old hometown of Tlaquepaque. I felt welcomed back with open arms, and in some ways treated like I never left. Drank some cervezas with the hombres a la tienda. Got the scoop on the local rock band I sang with sometimes breaking up. A few stores have changed, but mostly it’s the same. Gorgeous, and warm, and delicious.

My plan was to rent an apartment from an English teacher who runs a school and rents some apartments in Tlaquepaque. When I got to the school to pick up the keys, the apartment I was hoping to rent wasn’t ready yet, and the cheaper apartments didn’t have internet. This was a problem since part of my plan was to hole up and write some gig proposals for the summer, and answer some long e-mails I’d been ignoring.

When he asked if I knew my way around at all, and I said I used to live and teach here, his eyes lit up, and I could tell he had a notion. It turned out a teacher was sick and he was in need of an emergency sub for that day and the next. He offered me a private apartment for less than the cheaper place in exchange for teaching two days of classes.

So here I am in a gorgeous private apartment, able to practice, have friends over, and write in peace in the center of a fantastic neighborhood. I even made myself a Mexican breakfast of chiliquiles, papaya, and frijoles. DSCF3904

Several people said they were afraid I wasn’t going to come back from Mexico, and if I didn’t have gigs lined up in Maine and Vermont, I might not. I could live here. But it would be almost impossible to play original music on a regular basis. So here’s to one more week in paradise.


Brunch with the stars.
February 24, 2011, 6:28 pm
Filed under: Good Food, Mexico, Tlaquepaque, Travel

There is a lovely woman close to my house who makes me quesadillas and tacos many times a week. She has a little stand in the road in front of her house, and several local regulars collect in the mornings for her superb cooking and amazing guacamole.

Today, I was enjoying my quesadilla when out of nowhere and an old man walks by and says, “Just let me get some juice, I’ll be right back.” in extremely clear English. Since I was obviously the only person around who understood what he said, I assumed this was aimed at me. I’ve never seen him before. He came back with a half gallon of orange juice, sat down at the table, and we proceeded to chat.

After the niceties of where-are-you-from and how-long-will-you-be-in-Mexico, he revealed that he spent 45 years as a professional singer and toured extensively around the US. After seven wives, 15 states, and tours of the Caribbean and Central America, he’s settled happily with his three dogs in Tlaquepaque.

He brought out an old photo album full of 50 year old shots of marquee boards in NYC and Los Angeles with his name as well as other traveling latin performers. My favorite was of esposa numero cinco:

In Mexico, people “invite” you to do things. “I invite you for a sopa” means I am being treated, or given something. A sopa here is a really thick tortilla with a huge pat of butter (or in this case chemical smelling margarine) cooked until the butter melts and the sopa is a little crunchy on the bottom, then salsa and frijoles are sprinkled on top.

After inviting me for a sopa, the sly old man slipped me his phone number stating that if I ever had an emergency or needed help to not hesitate to call. We chatted for a while and he helped translate some of the questions that the locals had been trying to ask me that I didn’t understand. He also said that he sees a Mexican marriage for me in my future, but that I should show him the man first so that he can tell me if he is good or not. This from a man with seven ex-wives. But maybe it takes that kind of man to recognize that kind of man. Then he sang a couple of lines from Love is a Many Splendid Thing.

As I left the taco stand, one of the childhood adages that most American kids learn was presented, “Don’t be shy, mi casa es su casa.”

February 21, 2011, 8:51 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Music, Tlaquepaque, Travel

While my northern friends are buried under piles of snow, wind, and ice, it’s starting to get blistering hot here. Sunday was a wreck from the heat, and the damage I caused myself with margaritas and music on Saturday night.

Sunday night I took a wander down some streets I’d never ventured down before. Most places, some of the most picturesque scenery is of the religious nature. I love the architecture, if not always the sentiment.

Saturday I went to the tostada stand where I get help with my homework. I ended up getting dragged, along with my guitar, to meet Pancho’s family. Pancho and his son, also Pancho, run the tostada stand where I first started playing music in town. He invites me to his sister’s house, and it turns out the cousin lived in California for ten years and speaks great English. He was my advisor for the night and kept an eye on things as people got out of hand and the tequila started to flow. We all headed down to the Parian to play some music and entertain folks, which as you can see, went very well. The bartender was extremely happy that this merry band of young men decided to stay for another round for the chance to sing along with the gringa.

When Pancho, who is older than my father, and has two girlfriends and a wife, started calling me Mamacita, I knew it was time to make my exit.

Relationships in Mexico are an interesting thing. Many of the people I’ve talked to here are not exclusive with their boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses. I asked Pancho (the dad), how he feels about his daughter’s husband cheating on her, and he said he didn’t care. “That’s Mexico.” I asked him how he felt about the fact that Pancho (the son) has seven kids with four different women. He said he was proud he had so many kids. Very different thinking from mine I suppose. It goes to show that a church on every corner doesn’t count for much. Tequila wins over Catholicism every time. For now, I’m choosing to keep my distance and enjoy Latin men from an arm’s length.

Eating Across Mexico
January 28, 2011, 5:08 am
Filed under: Good Food, Mexico, Tlaquepaque, Travel

It is a good thing there is a gym on the corner of my block. It costs less than $20/month, has free in house personal trainers at all times, and is full of buff, sweaty Latin men. I go everyday.

Which is a necessity since I can’t stop eating! Taco stands, tostadas, tortas, empanadas, sorbet, chorizo, fresh fruit by the kilo con creama. Which is actually a real thing. It wasn’t a mistake that I was eating fruit with creama, it is sometimes eaten with fruit. And it is good.

I can only eat rice so many times a week. But tortillas. Tortillas I think I could eat everyday. I’m not even close to being sick of tacos yet.

tacos bistek con limon y quesadilla

Some people come to the plaza for Jesus and the cathedrals. I come for the food.


Procrastination is sometimes a good thing….
January 23, 2011, 2:04 am
Filed under: Mexico, Tlaquepaque, Travel

Last Sunday, as I lamented waiting until the day before my week’s worth of lesson plans were due to actually do them, I needed a taco break. Finding the right balance between getting to explore my new location and do a good job at a quite demanding work load makes procrastination a necessary part of life. I procrastinate to spend hours learning Spanish phrases from the cousins who own the shop down the street. I procrastinate to wander in the Friday-only market to get the week’s fruits and vegetables and try out my new phrases.

On Sunday, I really was going to just have a ceviche tostada and then come right home and finish. I was not at all expecting an evening of music and magic.

I had been to this tostada stand once before. The people were friendly; the son lived in Texas for a while and speaks a little English. Since the first three questions you are likely to hear in either Spanish or English are respectively, “what’s your name?”, “are you married?”, and “how many kids do you have?”, I was able to establish quite quickly that he has nine kids by four different women.

In comes Roman, who I at first took for a potentially homeless drunk using his guitar to coerce pesos out of gringos hands. (Ok, so travelling can make you a little jaded at times.) When he called over to me, my first response was to resist the urge to roll my eyes. I decided to play nice, and it was a damn good choice.

Roman speaks a little English, more than most I’ve met, and is a full time musician, not homeless, although probably rather sauced at most times. Playing the worst guitar I’ve ever seen in my life, he sang a few English songs, pretty darn well, and all the people working started singing along. We chatted some more and I mentioned that I sing and write a bit. He handed over the guitar graciously, and without any of that Nashville worry that it might be taking the spotlight from him. The strings were loose, the neck was held on by a wood screw, and the low E string (extremely important in how I play) hardly stayed in tune for more than one verse. But they loved the song anyway.

A rather somber looking gent at the end of the stand had a beer sent over to me. Roman and I kept chatting and handing the guitar back and forth for a song, and people kept sending over rounds. The somber man invited us across the street for some tequila. At this point I got a little leery, but the waiter and Roman both assured that it was a genuine and unmotivated by unsavory intentions invitation.

It turns out the Somber Man, Pancho, is the owner of the tostada stand, as well as a very expensive and nice club across the street. He is also the brother of the mayor of Tlaquepaque, and he and Roman have been best friends for as long as I’ve been alive.

So we sang more songs, and drank more tequila. The people here are insanely proud of their tequila. It is nothing like Tequila you would drink at a bar in the states. It is smooth as butter, rich, tasty, and doesn’t resemble rubbing alcohol going down. A small glass is sipped with a plate of salt and a bowl of limes. Salt and lime the hand, sip, suck the hand, enjoy. While my compadres gracefully sipped and salted, I managed to get lime juice all over my pants, and couldn’t seem to figure out which hand to salt and which to hold the glass.

So on to another song.

This is how to get lost in Mexico on a Sunday. Go out for tostadas at 3, and come home liquored up at 10. Not too bad for a Sunday’s work.

Tonight Pancho invited me to play music at his 50-something birthday party. I’ll be the token gringa, sing pretty, and enjoy some fine company. But, I’m bringing my guitar this time.

One week down
January 15, 2011, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Tlaquepaque, Travel

I arrived in Mexico on the last day of Christmas, January 6th; The Twelve Days of Christmas is not just a kids song here. Late in the evening as I took my first walk around, peddlers in the streets were trying to get rid of the last of the end of Christmas bread. Rosca is a festive, colorful, circular bread with a baby Jesus hidden on the inside. My friend Alex from Guatemala said in his country, whoever gets the baby Jesus is responsible for hosting a party for all the others that shared the bread. I’ve gotten mixed responses for what it means in Mexico, but it seems to mean having the privilege of doing something kind of generous for others, not just the “winner” of the prize.

For me, this is representative of my first week here. The people are truly warm and genuine. The closest place I’ve been to that is similar is my time spent in Nepal, (well, and Kathy Hussey’s song circle in Nashville). It is quite different from my last teaching assignment where my introduction to the country was a 12-day quarantine and the accusation of being an HIV-riddled, drug-addled pedophile.

So far I think Tlaquepaque is a wonderfully comfortable place to live. The weather is gorgeous (sorry for all of you up north reading this), the food is fresh and vibrant, and the people the same. As far as foreign living goes, either I have become too accustomed to notice or be bothered by differences, or this really is an incredibly easy place to live. There aren’t the stark cultural and behavioral differences that exist in Asia, just the language, which I am plodding through much more easily than say, Korean, Mongolian, or Nepali.

I had a good laugh with a local shop keeper that I have been trading language lessons with. He has cousins in the US and strong English skills. I’ve been buying a homemade substance in plastic cups called “creama” that I thought was yogurt. He asked how I could possibly be using so much creama, and I told him I eat it with papaya every morning, which got a quizzical look. Apparently it’s homemade sour cream, although neither sour, or thick, or in anyway resembling any sour cream I’ve had, and quite delicious on papaya if I may say so myself. But now it would be too embarrassing to buy it again, so I bought some yoplait and a big jug of milk to start making my own yogurt again. Ironically, considering that I’ve never been much of a cook considering that I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life living out of hotel rooms, hostels, and places where the grocery stores are filled with unrecognizable ingredients, I’m the only one of the four of us in this house keeping and eating any groceries at home – even if it’s not what I think it is. Is this the nomad version of settling down?

I stumbled into a Saturday Mass at a Catholic Church last week, and may do it again tonight. It’s interesting for my listening skills (almost non-existent), and the part where they shake hands with all the people sitting near them and wish them well for the week is almost unbearably lovely.

The hood
January 13, 2011, 6:15 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Tlaquepaque, Travel

Our house is the orange one. There are four of us, three Americans and a lone Brit.

The courtyard of our school.

Picking a new direction everyday, we walk. Although we’ve been warned against eating street food, it’s both delicious and all we can afford on a standard Mexican teacher’s salary. So far no one has gotten sick, and the pursuit of the next best gordita stand has become a house past time.

I took a walk with a co-worker on Sunday that brought us to the scenic route of the industrial zone. Unfortunately we weren’t walking in the direction we thought we were, and did see much besides walls of graffiti.

So far life is little except planning lessons, teaching, planning, teaching, planning, eating, teaching, sleeping, eating, planning. But hopefully that will even out soon.