Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Nothing Fancy
Just my very best wishes for all of you!  
May you have a joyous Christmas!

Love, Dona

Here's a Christmas Memory for You.

Illinois.  Snow.  Ice.  White!
Shuffle to Aunt Carol's house.
Back to Aunt Ann's
Watch Joseph.  He's into everything!
Where is Philip?  Where is that boy?
"You know, they really aren't my boys.  Remember?"

Christmas Eve:
Coats.  Scarves.  Hats.  Mittens.
Bone Chilling Cold Outside.
The church stifling hot.

Back at Aunt Ann's.
"Boys, you better calm down.
Mom's in a BAD mood."

How will Santa know we're here?
So tempting to say, "He probably won't know."
Oh, but he knows.  He always knows.

Christmas Morning
Presents.  Toys. 
Too Much.  Too Little.
Too Late.  Too Early.

For me . . .
A baby doll, my last.
Nylon hose, my first.

Next Day
Pack up. Early Start.
We're Going Back Home.  "Thank God."

Stuck in the middle.  LONG TRIP!
One brother old enough to know better.
The other, obviously to young to discipline.

Illinois.  Missouri.  Arkansas.  Oklahoma, Texas.
You never looked so good.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Parras, November 2012 Waiting for the Visas

In spite of all the stress while we were waiting for all the paperwork to clear in Torreon, we had some good times in Parras.  Tops on the list was a visit from a good friend, Enrique Sada and his friend Liliana Uribe.

Just a word about Liliana - precious.  She is a published poet, mother, model, advocate for women - especially in the production of Native crafts, She is an example to all of us.  Besides that, she's drop dead gorgeous.  Thanks, Enrique for bringing her into our lives.  We are richer for having met her.  

We exchanged books about Parras - the book I gave him is in English which he will consume in an afternoon - the book he gave me is in Spanish and it will take forever and nine days for me to finish it.  Oh, well, all in good fun!  We took wine glasses out to the back garden to watch the sun set as we talked about books and travels and grape/wine production.  We finished off the evening with dinner at the Hostel Farol.  Always a treat!

Next morning after breakfast we went on a small tour following the aqueducts

from Perote

to downtown Parras.

We all enjoyed the visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, one Stanley and I had never visited.

Details on the inside were very interesting.
The object in the lower left hand corner depicts the archangels in all their glory.  An unusual piece.  All of the art is old and much of it is crumbling.  I'm so glad we saw it before it deteriorates more.

After a tour of the Santa Madero Chapel and a quick look at the Plaza del Reloj, it was time for lunch
When I suggested Casa Vieja I had no idea it was one of Enrique's favorite places.  Happy coincidence.  And a happy end to a great day.  

Other note-worthy items:
November roses.  Still blooming and fragrant.  The lucky roses that bloom in November last a lot longer than the ones blooming in July.  And, we appreciate them even more!
Okra, gone to seed.  I just thought it was interesting!
The vineyard at its unruly best!  

A world of lemon grass.
Living several days in a world lit only by fire - always a good experience.

New pavement both on the entrance road and almost all the parking lots.

No pictures to share, but other highlights were all about wine.  We had plenty of time to rack all our wine from 2012 and complete the bottling of 2011 wine.  We also had the privileged of helping Ernesto and his family rack their 2012 wine.  

We took a couple of barrels to the shop for repairs; had nice meal with Catherine and Roberto at the Enoteca; got to know Paco, Monica, and Alien a little better (thanks for the pumpkin pie - it was delicious); missed seeing Nacho when he flew through town; had some great coffee at the coffee shop with Monica; and celebrated Thanksgiving with a thick grilled steak a la Narro.  Aside from the visa situation, it was a pretty nice November!  

International Day of the Migrant

We returned to Torreon on the 29th arriving at the office before it was even up and running.  It seems there was another reason for this second return trip.  The visa application had to be signed and fingerprinted.  Now I understood.  The official paperwork had not been completed when we were in the office two days before.

Oh, well . . . it was done quickly enough.  And with our crisp Permisos de Salir in hand, we felt as free as . . . well, as free as Americans in Mexico with FM3 visas. Now we had time to kill before the celebration  beginning at 12:00 noon.
We wandered through the newly renovated Plaza Major 
and admired the art work.  This sculpture collection is called "Winged City."  Torreon is trying to rework its imagine, but it has a tough road ahead.

Then, a five block walk to the Marriott - a stunningly beautiful hotel.  Festivities were to start promptly at 12:00 so we hurried right along.  

Everyone was to take something representative of their home country.  Without salmon, moose, or caribou Alaska was pretty hard to represent.  I thought these people could probably make Mexican food much better than I so Tex-Mex cuisine was out.  I took a salad.  It was very good, but I must admit it was not a shining star among all the delicious food prepared by other migrants.  Recipes from all over the world, exotic spices, bread made from every grain you can imagine and in almost as many shapes.  It was a very impressive display.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The table decorations were fun and very well done.
At 12:00, there were only four seats taken.  At 12:30 the crew showed up to make adjustments to the dance floor. 

Finally, about 1:15 the welcoming speeches began and many seats were occupied.  However, as the festivities continued people trickled in.   My stomach was growling, but I soon forgot how hungry I was as I watched the dazzling dance performances.
First, a ballet from Japan.
Then a tango from Argentina.
A hip-hop group representing the United States.
Several dances respresenting countries from all over Latin America.

A fantastic belly dancer.  She wowed the audience.

Then the matachines.
And finally, the Mariachis.

Dinner.  Did I mention the food was delicious?  In addition to all the food brought by the migrants, the hotel prepared a beautiful Mexican buffet.  I'm sure it was as good as it looked, but I couldn't pass up the chance to try all those new foods.  

We had to leave as soon as my salad bowl was empty in order to catch our bus back home.  It had been a fabulous day and left me with a much better view of the Mexican Immigration Department than I had had just a few days before.

Now, to get this Permiso de Salir signed and stamped.  Will the troubles never end?

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Visa Saga Continues

Almost exactly two weeks after we turned in our renewal paperwork, we received notice that we should appear at the Torreon office as soon as possible.  Stupid me . .. I actually held out hope that our visas were ready.  Miracles do happen, right?  Well, the visas weren't ready, but the powers that be had decided it would be OK to pay at the bank like we had always done.

Given the cynical nature of my thoughts regarding Mexican bureaucracy   you may think we were only called back to Torreon for the money, but there is a shining gold star in all of this.  For the very first time we were given the opportunity to pay for two years meaning we would not have to repeat this process until November 2014!  What a gift!

Also, we were told that buried deep within the new manuals just received from Mexico City, there was indeed a form called Permiso de Salir y Entrar.  For a small fee (about $35.00 each) we could have one of those so that we could leave the country before the new visas appeared which we learned would not be before the 15th of January.  I swear they read my last post about Christmas in Texas and decided they should get high behind.

We made a dash for the bank and spent about an hour getting our money together.  With no warning we would be able to pay for two years, plus the fee for the Permisos de Salir, we were on short notice to come up with a significant amount of cash.  We managed!

Back to the office just in the nick of time.  You aren't going to believe what happened next.  We were invited to attend a luncheon and show on November 29 at the Marriott Hotel in Torreon.  The theme:  International Day of the Migrant.

I really didn't had no desire to attend anything put on by Migracion.

Thanks, I said.  I'll just take my Permisos de Salir now and skip the party on Thursday.

Lo siento, he said.  The permisos will not be ready until Thursday.

I sighed.  Can you hear the sigh?  It was long and breathy.

See you on Thursday, I said.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Back to the Hacienda

We got back to Mexico and I started putting our 

packets together for visa renewal.  I checked on the 

computer to see if the long promised internet site was 

up along with the long awaited fill-in forms.  Much to 

my surprise, the web site was up, but there was only 

one of a bunch of forms.  Not to be outdone, I went 

searching some sites that gringo ex-pats maintain trying 

to make sense of Mexican bureaucracy.  Wouldn't you 

know the gringos had transformed those forms into the 

computer fill-in variety.  I learned so much on the one 

web site, I felt like a expert.  

The new system was going to be a lot faster.
Visas would be issued in a week instead of the

 customary two weeks.  

Travel would be allowed with temporary visas

 while the permanent ones were being processed.
We were all going to be thrilled with the new process. 

I filled out all my forms, made my copies and we
hit the office in Torreon  full of optimism. 

First laugh of the day:  they had never seen the

computer generated forms I presented. "Yes, they

are what the government has approved, but they

are not officially available yet and we may not be

able to accept them."  I honestly thought they

were going to make me copy everything over in

 ink.  Thankfully, that disaster was averted.  We left

 the office to have our photos made and returned in

 high good humor.  

The packets were evaluated and pronounced fine and

wonderful.  OK!  We're moving now!  

Second laugh:  When will the visas be ready?  "In

about a month, mas o menos."  A month?  What

happened to the much quicker service?  "Sorry.

All the papers have to go to Mexico City and your

visa will be issued from there."

Third laugh:  OK.  Not a problem.  We need the

temporary visa to allow travel outside Mexico in

the meantime.  "Sorry.  No es posible.  The system

has not gotten quite that far."  So, we can't leave

Mexico for a month?  "That's about the size of it

Mas o menos"  I think you probably know that it 

is far more likely to be mas than menos.

Fourth laugh:  Well, I guess we can handle that.  It

isn't the worse thing that ever happened.  Let me 

just pay for this and we'll go back to Parras, have a

glass of wine, and lick our wounds.  "Sorry.  The

system isn't ready to receive payments yet."  Can I

pay at the bank like I've been doing for the last

 upteen years?  "No.  We can't receive payments

 like that anymore.  I'll send you an email when the

 system is ready."  Will this delay my visa?

 "Probablemente no pero no soy cierto."

You need to know that by now the laughter had a few

 tears mixed in.  But you haven't heard the best part.

When we arrived at Perote on Sunday evening the

 lights were shining brightly,water was pouring out of

 the spout.  All was well.  Monday morning we had the

 same utilities.  Monday afternoon everything went off. 

After considerable effort we discovered that Perote

was involved in a dispute with the electrical

commission - another government entity - about the

discrepancies between the rates paid for agriculture 

virsus commercial.  Until the dispute is settled it was

agreed to allow electricity on the week-ends only.  

Well, you know me well enough to know I don't 

function very well without lights and water.  

So . . . we are staying for the duration in a house that

Nacho owns right downtown on main street.  It hasn't 

been lived in for years, but little by little we're making

 it feel like home.   Pretty soon we'll have half our stuff

 in this 200 year old Mexican house with the funkiest

 bathroom you ever saw and the very most basic of 

kitchens.  We're listening to XM radio and thinking

 about watching a DVD.  Tomorrow we'll bring the

microwave so Stanley can heat up his coffee and we'll

 be able to make microwave pop corn.  I told you we 

were making this feel like home. 

I'm convinced we will be in Texas by Christmas, but

 the idea of being there for Thanksgiving has gone

 directly out the window.  Tomorrow, the Mexican

 government is closed for Revolution Day and I want 

to celebrate with all these good people, but if I'm not in

 Texas for Christmas, they are likely to learn a thing or

two about a real revolution.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eating in Bologna

I don't usually make so much of where and what we eat, but this deserves its own special post.

On the day we traveled to Bologna, we ate a very early breakfast and then refrained from eating anything else because we knew Bologna was world famous for its food.  Arriving in Bologna about 5:30, we were hungry!  We walked all over the downtown Bologna but between 4:00 and 7:00 in the afternoon every restaurant in town is closed.  Finally, we found a little caffe/bar that looked like it had real food.  We walked in and the manager (later we learned his name was Merco) asked us if we would like something to eat.  Stanley said that would depend on what we saw on the menu and Merco responded, "I am the menu."  Instinctively, I knew we were eating the dinner of the management and staff- tortellini stuffed with cheese and artichokes followed by a cake made primarily with chestnuts.

It was so good we asked if we could return the next evening.  Merco said, "Sure."  I saw the look in the cook's eyes, but I chose not to ask any questions.  I knew two things very well:  1.  Preparing a four course dinner for two people was not in the ordinary schedule for that cook and 2.  There was no place in Bologna I would get a better, more authentic meal.  For the next 24 hours, dinner was never far from my mind.

We arrived punctually at 7:00 the next evening and the first thing we learned was the cook's name:  Roberta. The second thing we learned was Roberta's true status:  She owned the caffe.  The third thing was that I had been totally correct in my assumption that dinner would be delicious.

I was not disappointed!

Picture a small round table, a starched and ironed white tablecloth with inserts of hand-made lace, snowy linen napkins, tall wine glasses sparkling in the lamplight, silverware so heavy the food seemed to have no weight at all, and an eclectic array of plates and platters.  Put this table in a quiet corner next to a large world globe on a floor stand.  Light the globe from within and give all the landmarks, oceans and countries exotic sounding Italian names.

Now bring on the food.  First, razor thin slices of ham and cheese with bread crisps - two kinds of ham and three kinds of cheese.  Next, a dish made with lasagna noodles smothered in a thick mushroom sauce.  Next tortellini stuffed with sausage.  And next - yes there is a next - grilled chicken with Gorgonzola cheese and prosciutto.  Add a chilled bottle of Prosecco.

Give yourself a few moments to recover and then dive into a luscious chocolate tart with a cup of coffee that may very well be the best in Italy.

It was a lovely experience and if I am lucky enough to return to Bologna, I know where I'll be eating.  That is - if Roberta is willing to do this again.  What a privilege!

If you get there before I do - here's the address:

Pere Caffe e Tulipani
Via Alessandrini, 7
40100 Bologna, Italy

And may I introduce Roberta and Merco.  Did I mention that she sings?  One moment you hear her singing an aria and the next moment she's off on "Dream Lover."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bologna, Italy

We got back on that screaming eagle fast train in Naples and flew through the Tuscan countryside stopping only briefly in Rome and Florence to add and subtract passengers.  I didn't see anything more of the scenery this time than I did before.  I do love the idea of fast trains, but if you really want to see the country, you need to look for the milk runs.  Back in Bologna, we checked in to the Mercury Hotel which I can highly recommend.

Looking back, my first impression of Naples was that it needed a good cleaning; the side walks were in need of repair; the work on public transportation should be accelerated; and the graffiti should be scrubbed off the buildings.  It was impossible to follow the tourist map around the old part of town so they certainly needed more signs.  I wasn't sure there was anything like a Board of Health, but if there was it needed a complete revamping.  Then it occurred to me that if all that was done, the city would not be Naples.  All those little details are what make Naples a unique city.

My first impression of Bologna was of a clean city with broad smooth sidewalks, a workable public transportation system, fabulous signage, and the cleanest restaurants you could hope to find.  Now, about the graffiti - Bologna has its share.  Although Bologna is a very prosperous city (by today's standards) like all of Italy's cities, it is plagued by a high rate of unemployment, mostly unemployed youth.  They are angry, frustrated, and out of patience.  Graffiti doesn't solve any of their problems, but it is a cheap way to vent.  The venting is cheap, the clean-up is expensive.

Now for the really good stuff.  If you like arched covered walkways and great food;  friendly people who aren't cynical tourist predators; lovely piazzas lined with architectural wonders - Bologna is a great place to visit.  This is a prosperous, progressive society which respects their history rather than worships it.

I loved the porticos.  They stretched uninterrupted block after city block.  Here are the photos of some of the many different arches.  It was amazing how many variations on the theme I saw.

Excavating the past

This shows a portion of the stairs leading to a beautiful park.
Sculpture  (Large Format Garden Art)

Book Stores Out the Zakoo.  Huge stores and small kiosks.  Italians are great readers and the folks in Bologna seem to be the best.
When we arrived in Naples, we faced blocks of unorganized flea market.  In Bologna, we found the extreme opposite.  A flea market under cover with wide aisles and neatly arranged inventory.  Try as I did, I was unsuccesful in photographing the inside, but here is the sea of white plastic tents that covered the area.
As we walked back to the hotel later that evening, the entire flea market had disappeared and a crew of workers was there cleaning up the litter.  The next morning, the piazza was spotless.

Lots of interesting shops


Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica of San Petronio

 Cameras were prohibited inside the basilica, but I bought postcards which I will scan and add later.  It was another great variation on the common thread that runs through every Catholic Church I have ever visited.

The Towers

Piazza San Martin

Drawing a Crowd
This man was completely surrounded by folks crowding in to see watch his fingers perform magic.  What was he creating?
Dragons of course!  Not a rat in the bunch.

The City Wall

This large portion of the old city wall actually serves as the back wall of our hotel garden.  These photos were made from outside the garden.
And these photos were made inside the garden.  In the 'old days' this side of the wall would have faced outside the city.  This wall and the gate just down the street were the scene of a huge battle between the people of Bologna and the Austrians.  
The Bolognese were victorious and the battle became a turning point in their history.