Paseo Colon

IMG_4641Every Sunday morning Clazada Cristobal Colón, one of the main avenues of the town center (el centro), is closed to motor traffic for about eight blocks and opened to pedestrians, skaters, and babies in strollers.  Starting at 9 a.m., there are art exhibits, music events, car shows, and an antiques market. There are kids’ basketball games and opportunities to participate in arts and crafts events. The restaurants are open for breakfast. There’s a market just for women to sell crafts, food items and other products.

I knew about this event for months before I finally went, in February. I went on this particular day because our school was hosting an event for World Read-Aloud Day, and teachers were invited to participate. It turns out that “any age, any genre” meant any reading level or genre of children’s books, and since I had brought Cold Mountain and Charlotte’s Web, I read the chapter in which Wilbur meets Charlotte to my student language partner, and then she and I just walked around.

IMG-20170212-WA0002 (2)We strolled through the side street with all the junk dealers.

We saw a photo exhibit of the work of a local artist in the center of the avenue. (The following week, I became Facebook  friends with him and then a month or so later, met him at a school event where his work was on exhibit.) In the women’s market, we looked at knit and crochet items, bakery goods, and health products, and bought a glasses of aqua fresca with cucumber and mint. There was a massage therapist in the middle of the avenue with her folding table offering pain relief to passersby.

IMG-20170212-WA0013The sun was getting hot, and the participants began to pack up. We went to have some lunch. The restaurants were mostly empty by that time, since most people had apparently eaten before walking around. It didn’t take long to get our food. She had a hamburger, I had a salad; a typical American-style lunch.

This event takes place every Sunday. There are many other events in El Centro to be found now that I know where to look. I feel comfortable going alone and I am also meeting local people to go with.

I feel like I’m settling in.

 

 

La Plaza Mayor

“La Plaza Mayor” just means the main square of the town. The one in Madrid is one hectare (10,000 square meters) big. The tourism website for Torreón describes this main plaza as 12,000 square meters. I didn’t measure it, but I guess it is about like a square city block. It was finished in 1914.

The first time I went to El Centro (downtown), was back in September. I hadn’t been anywhere up to that point besides school and the supermarkets. There is a monthly event, called “Moreleando” and I wanted to check it out.

I went early, by Mexican standards. At seven o’clock, the sun had gone down behind the buildings surrounding the plaza and a few (mostly young; but I suppose that’s a relative term) people were strolling along the avenue and in the plaza itself. Nothing else seemed to be happening. I walked around the plaza, taking photos.

And wandered up Avenida Morelos.

I went with coworkers to a concert in La Plaza Mayor for Independence day, and I went again for El Dia de los Muertes.

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There was a car show one night; Mustangs. I was sitting on the balcony of Cafe Tumbao when they roared out of the plaza and into the street below me.

The city hall (la Presidencia Municipal), which you can see from the balcony of the cafe, is, according to the government website, one of the most modern in Coahuila. On the opposite side is the federal building where we go to apply for and receive our work visas. It is being completely remodeled from the inside out.

Maybe La Plaza Mayor isn’t as historically significant as La Plaza de Armas but, in my opinion, it’s prettier. There are plenty of places to eat and drink close by and Teatro Isauro Martinez is adjoining (I’ll show you that in another post). The people sitting in the park seem friendly and I feel comfortable walking alone there.

And this Plaza has hollyhocks.

 

Evening Storm

In Louisiana, it rains a lot.  In El Norte, not much. In fact, from November to February, there was one evening shower at my house.

But one evening, I was caught in a storm.

As I was getting ready to close the kitchen for the night, I realized that I didn’t have enough coffee for the morning. So I set out for the supermarket.

AlSuper is about three blocks away. I can walk there in less than five minutes.

When I went out of the house, I saw a little lightning. By the time I was in the parking lot of the store, the wind was throwing up a little dirt.

When I came out five minutes later, there was a haze from the street to the sky, pale yellow in the street light. Waves of dust and dirt were swirling in the wind.

There was no point trying to get a ride home. Walking, I’d be there in less time than it would take to get into a taxi. I walked fast, through the dirt and dust.

I wasn’t thinking about taking photos.

This was the second time I’d been caught in a dust storm. The first time was only a few days after I arrived. Since then, I’d been fortunate enough to be at home when these little events took place.

When you are out in it, the dust and dirt filter through the eyelashes and into the eyes. It sifts down into the hair, pushes into the weave of the clothes.

By the time I got home, and the wind had picked up even more. There was thunder and lightning.

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And then, rain.

Rain,  in the desert, with thunder and lightning . . . in the evening.

What could be more heavenly?

A warm shower to wash away the dust was the only thing to add.

 

Sunrise

The morning after the karaoke party, having been awake since three o’clock, I was ready for breakfast by seven. And I was out of eggs. So I got dressed and went to 7-Eleven.

When I stepped out into the street, I could feel the sea.

It was like being next to a beach.

Of course I know that all the water covering the planet is mixed together, but how can you feel the sea in the air in the middle of a desert? Yet, on this cloudy, breezy morning, I could feel it.

The sun rose over the roofs . . .

. . . and shot over the neighborhood to the mountains, turning them gold.

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Pigeons and grackles bustled around in the street. Everything touched by the light glowed with warmth. The sea began to recede.

I purchased the eggs and started back toward home. The bakery was open. On the opposite corner, a business owner was starting her day, setting up her umbrellas to shield her breakfast preparations from the sun, pausing to take her own photos of the mountains.

Most days at sunrise, I am just arriving at school. I go through the  line to clock in, climb the stairs and unlock my classroom door, sit down and wake up my computer. Now and then I look out the window. On this Sunday morning, though, being out in the street at sunrise, with time and quiet to hear and see and feel all the parts of this time of day, was a treat. It wasn’t more than twenty minutes, but in that time I felt a connection to earth and sky, a refreshing of my mind and spirit, and a comforting reminder of the oneness of creation.

 

 

 

Tamales

On a Sunday morning, my landlady opened the foyer door and called out, “Miss?”

She does this sometimes because it’s easier than tapping on the door and waiting from me to run downstairs and unlock it.

Usually, she is bringing me food.

On this particular weekend, she and the family had been to a party to celebrate one of the grandchildren’s first communion. I had waved goodbye that evening when they left for church. Still, the possibility that there might be leftovers didn’t cross my mind . . .

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. . . until she showed up the next morning with a plate of three–THREE!–kinds of tamales: green, red, and sweet.

I didn’t know about sweet tamales!

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They were filled with dates, I think, and pecans, and some spice–cinnamon, probably. My landlady said a little coffee would go with it perfectly. She was right. It was scrumptious.

When I was little, my daddy would come home once in a blue moon with “hot tamales.” Those were Louisiana tamales. (What? How?? I’ll need to go to Natchitoches*, probably, to get to the bottom of that enigma.) They were too hot for little girls, even if we hadn’t been the pickiest eaters on the planet. But I remember my dad’s delight over the newspaper-wrapped package and his relish while eating and his pain from the heat of the spices.

Tamales could be found in cans on supermarket shelves in the 1970s. (They still are, in some places.) I don’t think we ever had any of those.

In the late 1980s, I went to work in a Tex-Mex restaurant, the first of several for me. I ate beans and tacos and nachos and guacamole.  Later, much later, while working at another restaurant, I discovered tamales.

I loved them.

But here!

Oh, my goodness, here, in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico! I’m in tamale heaven.

I bought some at the Christmas market that were really big, wrapped in banana leaves, containing a piece of chicken with the bones! They were delicious. And the ones that my landlady shares with me, the ones her sister makes, well . . . I have no words.

Here in Torreón, there’s no Mardi Gras or Carnival celebration. If you “got the baby” from the King Cake (here known as Rosca de Reyes) on El Dia de Reyes (12th Night), you bring tamales on February 2 for Candlemas.

I missed that, but I’m going to ask my landlady to ask her sister if she will make tamales for me to eat on Fat Tuesday. I’m thinking they may be just what I need to take the place of the crawfish I won’t be having.

 

 

*For my friends outside Louisiana: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natchitoches,_Louisiana

Not my photo. Copied from Google Images.

 

 

Sleep Schedules

The karaoke party started at three a.m.

Maybe it’s my Northern European genes, but my body thinks–nay, truly believes–that it should be resting when it’s dark outside.  I go to bed too early and wake up too early for a part of the continent where people don’t eat dinner until ten o’clock at night.

So it’s a Sunday morning, and even the rain noise in my earphones can’t drown out the racket coming from across the street.

I’ve heard some bad karaoke in my lifetime. I have sung many a song, myself. But this is truly terrible. Some kind of Latin folk music. With tubas. At top volume. At three in the morning. On Sunday.

I wanted to sleep in. At least until  seven.

This isn’t the first time they’ve had this kind of shindig over there.

I have fantasies. What would James Bond do? He’d have some handy-dandy gadget to sabotage the electric power to the house. What about Batman? He’d dash across the rooftops and shoot the speaker with his mini-crossbow.

Unfortunately, I have neither James Bond’s nor Batman’s number, so at four o’clock I concede and get up to make coffee. I decide to watch Netflix for awhile and maybe by the time the movie is finished the revelers will have run out of steam.

I can’t concentrate on the movie. Kate H. and Matt McC. can’t hold my attention over the pounding and yelling I hear even with earphones in.

A few minutes after six, I hear a couple of honks from a siren and then a couple more. The sound reverberates sharply off the walls. I’m slightly amazed; someone has called the cops. (Not me.) The voices carry on, off-key, discordant, loud. Mr. Security turns on the siren and wakes anyone in the neighborhood who might be sleeping through the caterwauling. A few minutes pass and then a shadow appears at the gate. It stands there for a few minutes, talking with the policeman, and then goes back into the house. The music stops, and a voice speaks over the microphone. I don’t understand it, but it is clearly an announcement. Shortly, a young man comes out into the street, wearing a suit and tie, and has a long chat with the policeman. I am on my balcony, listening, but I can’t follow the conversation. Finally the cop leaves, and the young man goes back inside.

There’s another half-hour of loud conversation in the house and goodbyes in the street, and then at last, quiet.

I’ve been thinking that I should learn how to nap.

Today may be the day to begin.

 

 

 

La Plaza de Armas

“The Plaza de Armas (literally Weapons Square, but better translated as Parade Square or parade ground) is the name for the main square in many Hispanic American cities. .  . While some large cities have both a Plaza de Armas and a Plaza Mayor, in most cities those are two names for the same place.” –Wikipedia

In Torreón, there are both.

I went on a tour with my boss and some coworkers to La Plaza de Armas on a Saturday in January. I love history and this kind of thing is right up my alley.

Torreón is a young town, compared to many cities in Latin America; a railroad town that was born in the early years of the twentieth century, much like DeQuincy.*  The date of incorporation is 1907. The architecture is pretty ordinary, but there are a few things that really stand out and give my wistful soul a thrill.

Teatro Nazas (somewhat of a misnomer considering that the name comes from the baskets that natives used to use to catch fish: “la nasa,” en español), built in the 1940s, is pretty cool because the entire facade is made of zinc. Zinc is a mineral mined in the state of Chihuahua and processed in Torreón, along with gold and silver.

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Torreón was, it seems, very proud of the bank building that went up in the nineteen-teens. It was at the time the tallest building in town. It is now a municipal building where you can go to pay your taxes and request permits for whatever you need them for,  but inside is a beautiful mural, painted by a local teacher, depicting the history of the city (including the native people catching fish with their nasas), and a museum with the original bank vault.

Just off the plaza is a beautiful old building (c. 1906) and I can’t remember what our guide told us it started its life as, but at various times it was used as a stable for horses, a headquarters for Pancho Villa, and a hotel. It has been abandoned for years now, but from the outside, it brings to the imaginative mind pictures of Victorian ladies and gentlemen covered in dust looking for a bed and a meal and a bath and the clerk behind the desk taking keys from the cubby . . .

. . . but the last one, well, since we could go in, we actually saw the clerk who takes care of the keys.

I didn’t get a picture of the desk clerk and her cubby (or the original switchboard!), but Hotel Galicia is  still open for business. It is of the Art Deco style of architecture, so I guess it came along a little later than the Princessa (which didn’t start out as a hotel, anyhow). Now, it looks rough, like an old lady who didn’t take care of herself that much during her wild life and now wears a twenty-five-year-old dress with frayed cuffs and hems to church. But it’s still beautiful.

The billboards on top of the house and the awnings on the sidewalks seem jarring in contrast to the filigree and reliefs on the balcony  that make me think of decorative frosting on a layer cake.

 

The tiles were imported from Europe, and I don’t know where the stained-glass window came from, but it’s really famous ’round these parts. Well, in the circles who care about the history of Torreón, anyhow.

I didn’t take a single photo of the square itself. It is decorated with four fountains (at least one with a sculpture of a mermaid) and there’s a story about one of the original statues being removed in the 1970s because it was wearing no clothes. There are food vendors and musicians and stalls with toys and a newsstand.  There’s a hexagonal clock tower (or is it octogonal? I don’t know, I didn’t count the sides). A wrought-iron fence draws a circle around the clock tower and outside the circle are the four fountains.

There was more, but I’ve gone on long enough. Don’t want to bore anyone.

Next: La Plaza Mayor.

Keep growing!

*DeQuincy, Louisiana: the town where I was born and that most of my mother’s side of the family hail from.

 

January

January is a miserable month in Louisiana.

In the first place, there’s the big let-down because all the excitement of Christmas is over. The tree comes down January 7 (if not a lot sooner), there’s a depressing can or box of crumbly fudge or cookies still lingering on the table, and there’s no money left. The constant availability of King Cake defies any resolution to “eat healthy” this year, and the plan to walk every day is thwarted by the incessant rain.

When the sun does come out from behind the clouds, it is so low in the sky that the rays hit the eyes uncomfortably at any time of day.

I was prepared to be huddled inside my apartment this January. I bought electric space heaters back in November and brought my electric blanket back with me from Louisiana.

But January here in Torreón is like . . . well, like no month in Louisiana.

The sun shone every day of the month for the first two weeks. The early morning temperature didn’t drop below 45, and in the sunny afternoons it rose into the low 80s. There was no rain, even when a norther blew through. The sunset was brilliant.

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On the day that it was cloudy, it wasn’t cold. And the next day, the sun was out again.

My apartment is special, because in my neighborhood, a second story is unusual. This makes the view from my windows unimpeded to the northeast and southwest and allows the winter sun to stream in almost all day.

On a Saturday, I went with some coworkers to do a tour of La Plaza de Armas. The wind blew a lot while we were out, and shortly after I returned home in the afternoon, it blew even more. The sky was gray with dust.

But it didn’t get cold, and the next day the sun shone and the sky was brilliant blue and I had the doors open while I cleaned and cooked.The clothes were dry on the line in half an hour.

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The very last weekend of the month, we had some cloudy days. The temperature forecast was 6 degrees Celsius. I stayed inside and made cookies and hot chocolate, but it never did get that cold.

It’s not perfect. It’s really dry and half the population has coughs and sniffles. I myself had a couple of days of hay fever.

Now we are a week into February, and the weather is getting warmer. The sun shines every day.

A little rain wouldn’t hurt us.

 

 

 

Worthiness

I actually worked today. On a Sunday.

Last semester, I stayed late at school three days a week. I knew I wouldn’t work at home, so I stayed at school for the late bus almost every day it was available. By the time November arrived, I was too exhausted and burned out to drag myself to yoga class. I even worked during Thanksgiving break.

After that, I made up my mind to cut back on the late afternoons. I worked hard that last couple of weeks, during finals, studying and planning and getting ready for the Spring semester.

Of course, I didn’t get nearly as much done as I wanted/planned/hoped/intended to.

Now this month, January 2017, is done and I feel like I’ve been behind since the first week.

Still, I’ve only stayed late one or maybe two days this month. And somehow, it always turns out ok. For the most part, I’m enjoying myself. I have a good schedule with plenty of planning time during the day, and I use it. But because 1. I’m a “new teacher” and 2. I’m teaching a subject I never studied in school, I find something every day that I need to implement into my lessons,  and sometimes I don’t have enough time unless I stay late.

This week Friday arrived and I realized that I would need to give a presentation on Monday. There is no late bus on Fridays. So on this last Sunday afternoon of January, I spent about two hours reading and summarizing and making a slide presentation in Google.

When I was finished and had closed the Drive, I told myself, “Now I am a worthy teacher!”

Hmmmm.

It’s been cold and dreary all day and suddenly I see a bit of blue sky through the curtains. The shadows on the tiles just got sharper. I think I’ll go to the grocery store and come back to this subject another day.

 

 

 

Desperados Waiting for a Plane

Coming back to Mexico from Christmas vacation, I had planned to leave at 4 a.m. to catch a flight at 6:10 to Dallas, make my connection there, and be back in Torreón by two o’clock. Then I’d have time to unpack and go to the supermarket and the next day, run errands and go to school for a bit to work in my classroom before returning to class the following day.

But there was a storm system moving through Louisiana that morning, and the airline called at 3:30 to let me know that my flight had been delayed.

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Of course, this meant that I would miss my connection to Torreón, and have to wait for the next scheduled flight–at 6:00 p.m.

Which resulted in a seven-hour wait in DFW.

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The first thing I did when I got there was to go back to TGI Fridays (in “A” terminal) and get a hamburger and fries.  After that I found a comfortable seat at Gate A10 to put my feet up, my sleep mask on and my earphones in and have a little snooze.

I have never been an easy sleeper. Well, not since early adulthood, anyway. I can’t sleep when it’s light outside, can’t sleep sitting up, can’t sleep if I’m cold. But I was able to tune out the TV and the elevator music with my sleep sounds app and rest a bit.

After that, I plugged in the laptop and phone at the charging station and chatted in Skype with my Egyptian friend in Dubai and my language partner in Venezuela.

I decided I’d check the departure gate for the flight to Torreón online and to my surprise, even though it was an American Eagle flight, it was departing from Gate 10 in Terminal D. So I walked toward Terminal D–a long, long walk– and came upon a yoga studio there in the empty hallway.

So I stopped and did a few sun salutations and a few minutes of quiet meditation. (Which is something else I’m not particularly good at; but it was worth the effort, anyway.)

I found Gate 10, and there was a nice cafe there so I sat down and took a few photos and uploaded the ones on the iPhone to the laptop. I looked up and saw one of my coworkers gazing up at the board. I called out to her and she joined me for a glass of wine while we discussed the flight delay woes that had beset us coming and going.

Later, at the gate, we were joined by several other coworkers who were on the same flight home. We moaned a bit more about our day, and then one sweet person reminded us how fortunate we were to be able to travel home for Christmas, when there were, undoubtedly, others all over the world who, for various reasons, had spent the holiday far from  home and loved ones.

Yes, it’s annoying having to wait so long. It’s terribly expensive to eat or even drink water in an airport.  It’s noisy.  There’s no comfortable place to rest unless, maybe, you are a VIP of some variety.  But it’s an airport. I like waiting there more than I like waiting on the side of a hot highway with a flat tire. I like it a lot better than waiting in the emergency room of a hospital. I definitely prefer it to waiting for a loved one’s body to be prepared for viewing by the funeral home.

Being stranded, delayed, held over, thwarted, frustrated… what better opportunity to count my blessings?  I had nothing else to do.

I could have spent the entire seven hours counting my blessings and still not finished.