Saturday, November 22, 2008

a big hill

Today Jess and I climbed up a big hill to visit one of my Chol-teachers, Nicolas, and his family. (This is the same hill Gillian and I climbed up a few weeks ago when we took nice pictures of Nico and his wife, but this time my computer didn't break afterwards.)

Tomorrow I'm off to Campanario for a quick visit, and then will meet up with Jess and Ephraim in Palenque on Tuesday. Then back here to get ready for our Día de Gracias. We'll miss all of you Cambridge-Thanksgiving revelers this year and hope you have good ones (but that you miss us a little too).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

back from el norte

After five days in Hermosillo I'm happy to be back in the south. I went with a group from CIESAS and presented at a linguistics conference at the Universidad de Sonora. The conference was great, and it was exciting to see a different kind of Mexico. Hermosillo is in the desert and I didn't see a cloud, or much in the way of greenery, for days. Everything was very flat, except for a hill near the center of town. I went up with a group of linguists (left) to check out the views.

Despite the name, Hermosillo is not especially hermoso. The downtown area is, in urban planning speak, rather blighted (if Jess did have to stay in Mexico for a job, there would be plenty of work to do here). Not very pedestrian friendly, not much going on in the streets, and a lot of run-down or closed businesses. People in Hermosillo apparently do not walk (they looked at us in horror when we told them we were thinking of walking to the top of the hill above). One person attributed this to the fact that if you walk very far in the summer, you die. Last week it was in the mid-90's most of the time. This is November, which is their winter too. We were told in the summer highs can reach 54 celsius. I just plugged that into a converter and it tells me that means 129 degrees fahrenheit. Despite the heat, people in Hermosillo were extremely friendly and had very nice Norteño accents.

On the last day of the conference, the organizers took a group of about 50 linguists to a small beach town called San Carlos (below). I'd never been to such a desert-y beach before, but the cactus-covered hills in the background were lovely, as was the turquoise blue water. You can see by the hotels in the background that San Carlos is growing, and I felt the need to apologize on behalf Gringolandia for the drunken American teenagers screaming as they drove ATVs through groups of sun-bathers and their jetskis through groups of swimmers.

A very nice trip but it's good to be home, though we only have about half of the fahrenheit degrees here in San Cristóbal as they did in Hermosillo and I think I am getting a cold.

Finally, here is our city in the news (thanks David!). We're looking forward to showing it off during visits from Ephraim and the Burgesses next week.

'Stay in Mexico'

Why'd you do it? Why did you break the economy?

Suddenly, everybody I talk to about jobs back home – which used to swim like a school of tuna – tells me to prepare for a "long, hard search". I've also heard "just stay in Mexico", that from my current employer, the guy I was most hoping for job-search help from.

What is this? What have you done?

Whatever it was, I'm none too happy about it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our dogs and their business

We've got a lot of dogs in our neighborhood, and the way they go about their business deserves a little explanation. First of all, most dogs here are kept out in the street, at least during the day, and often at night as well. Our neighborhood doesn't get a lot of car traffic, and that which it does is forced to move pretty slow – we're on a narrowish gravel street – so it's not all that hazardous for them around here.

These half-street/half-pet dogs do things in a way that is almost totally unlike dogs back home. I feel like in the U.S., dogs are in one of 2 modes: "hang-out", which involves lazy sleeping, or play, or ambling about a closed space, be it a house or a yard; "out-and-about", in which the dog follows its human companion for a walk about the world. There really isn't much else.

But these dogs in our neighborhood live their lives outside, and just don't seem to have these same categories for behavior. They hang out plenty, and they go on walks, and do all manner of other things, as well. But everything these dogs do is almost entirely self-directed. When the dog is hanging out, it's not because it doesn't have anywhere to be. It could be anywhere – seriously, several of these dogs have a foraging radius (think of the way that wildlife biologists talk about wolves and bears in their natural habitat) of 8-10 blocks. Others keep pretty close to home – Nacho, pictured at left and one of our favorites, only ranges up and down one block, always on the same street, and can often be found on this same doorstep (thanks Peter for the photo).

But when these dogs are going somewhere, they are going. Another of our favorites, a Chow mix we've named Guapo, has an especially wide range. I have seen him 10-12 blocks from here, down the hill, in another neighborhood entirely. And when this dog is going somewhere, as he often his, there really isn't much going to stop him. He's not asocial about it; he will stop to sniff and tussle with groups of other dogs, and will look up at us as he goes past, but his very directed, trotting pace can't really be made to stop. It is a pace that says "I've got somewhere to be." And this is not especially uncommon among these animals. They go places, and not because anyone tells them to, or drags them from a leash. They've got business, and they're going to see it done.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

dangerous not to swim

Here is an example of an especially badly translated English sign, at the waterfalls in Agua Azul. Jess heeded the sign, while Liz, Walker, and I risked it on the shore.
I've also finally posted more pictures on our Picasa page.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy to me

I went all 27 yesterday, as many of you have congratulated me for (thanks!) and last night we had a little fiestita here at home to celebrate. Walker and Liz were in town for one last night, and our friends Maestro Peter and Student Doctor Dan came over to party with us. It was clear to me that this was going to be a good birthday when, smoking a cigar in the back yard with Walker, Jessica came through the gate with an enormous red-and-white star-shaped piñata.

Piñatas here are made out of clay, and then covered in paper and streamers and what all else. But clay? This thing weighed 8 pounds easy, and when – later in the evening – I broke it with a dining room chair, it came apart in a soaring explosion of candies and other sundry treats, all over the heads of our guests. Really special, and all captured on video (and in the photo, below).

It was a great night way beyond the piñata. The food turned out really good, the boysenberry margaritas were fantastic, and the after-dinner game of successive rounds of draw-pass-describe in writing-repeat was really so much fun. Importantly, everyone brought me presents.

día de los muertos y votación

Liz & Walker just got in their taxi for a long trip back to Boston, so now we are home alone again and back to work. But it's been a really exciting week since the last blog post. On November 1st and 2nd Día de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico. Families make altars in their homes – the ones we saw involved photos, candles, fruit and sweet bread, alcohol, lots of flowers, and pine needles – eat meals together, and go to the cemetary to decorate graves and talk about the deceased. On the second we travelled uphill to the autonomous and traditionally conservative Tzotzil-speaking town of San Juan Chamula. We walked around inside the church (right), which is not your aveage Catholic church (see the link).

From there we walked up to the cemetary. It was late afternoon on the 2nd, and we had clearly missed the party, but the aftermath was pretty amazing. Almost all of the hundreds of graves were covered in pine needles and flowers, and there were empty cans of beer, soda, and posh all around. It was a pretty lovely place to be.
Then it was election day. Someday when our children ask us where we were when Obama was elected president, we will have to tell them that we were in a sports bar called Tequila Zoo in San Cristóbal, Mexico watching coverage on CNN International. Gringolandia was out in force, though there were a number of Mexicans in the crowd as well. It is worth mentioning that the group of gringos who are living in Chiapas are, to put it mildly, not McCain supporters. The older residents – many retirees who decided they could live better off their savings down here – are perhaps the roudiest of the bunch, and often need to be shhshed from their heckling so that we can hear what is going on on the television. The night ended with chants of !Si se puede! and tequila shots all around. We are even more excited about coming back home in a couple of months and it feels a little less embarassing to be an American living abroad.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


We are very happy to have two new visitors this week, Liz and Walker here from Boston. They got in Thursday night, and yesterday morning we set off on a mini-roadtrip to Palenque. On the way we checked out Agua Azul, a big waterfall, and then got to our cabaña in the Panchan (Chol for "sky" or "heaven"), a new-agey jungle hippie haven with excellent Italian-Mexican food and good places to sleep just outside of the entrance to the ruins. We were just in time for a delicious dinner at Don Mucho's ("Mr. Lots"). In the morning after breakfast, again with Don Mucho, we set off for the ruins.
The ruins are pretty impressive. A very nice mix of huge nicely-restored palaces, and also smaller sites in the jungle, overgrown with trees and vines. We spent a few hours climbing up pyramids, then headed back through Chol-country to San Cristóbal, stopping for empanadas at my favorite empanada stand in the small Chol-speaking town of Francisco I. Madero, where I usually wait for combis on my way to Campanario.

Today we are back in San Cristóbal on the first night of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It's my first time in Mexico during this holiday, which we understand is mostly celebrated with families in the home, or around gravesites in the cemetary. But tonight we are going to a public celebration involving live music, dancing, and costumes, along with traditional alters made by small local businesses.