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.