Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mountains and wildflowers in Hidalgo state

Colorful staircase in Pachuca
This weekend, we  took a little getaway to the state of Hidalgo, which borders the state of Puebla (which is where I am currently hanging out, avoiding Trump's America and the hordes of fans that stalk me at home, demanding a sequel to BreakupBabe).

You don't hear about Hidalgo much. Which is probably a good thing - it's not in the news for drugs and violence. It's also definitely not on the gringo tourist trail, and perhaps not much on the Mexican tourist trail, except for  people who live nearby.

But I was looking for a place to go over Thanksgiving break that wasn't far and that would serve up some nature - something that's sorely lacking here in the traffic-choked city of Puebla. More than anything when I'm here, I miss the green spaces of Seattle, the lakes, the Puget Sound, the snowy peaks (sob).

And so, on Thanksgiving Day, we bound a bus for the city of Pachuca. The capital of Hidalgo state, it's not too famous for much of anything except soccer and "pastes" (aka Cornish pasties), both brought by Cornish miners who went there to work the silver mines in the 1900s.

We did stuff ourselves with pastes,  but what we enjoyed most in Pachuca was "Las Palmitas." It's a once-sketchy neighborhood perched on a hillside that - thanks to a community effort - was turned into one big eye-poppingly colorful mural. (The Guardian published an article about it a few years ago).

We were the only ones around
You'd expect such a pretty place to be full of tourists, but we were the only ones wandering around taking pictures. (In fact, we were practically the only ones wandering around at all).

And one resident, when she saw me take a picture, got very grumpy and started ranting about how I shouldn't take pictures because I didn't live there, and the neighborhood belonged to the people who did.

This has never happened to me before in Mexico, but then again, I guess I'm usually in more touristy places. You'd expect this place to be more touristy. If Las Palmitas was, say, in a neighborhood in San Francisco, CA, it would be  packed with tourists drinking $8 lattes, $15 glasses of wine, and buying t-shirts.

Mural in Comuna 13, Medellin
In fact, it reminded me of a similar - but much more vibrant -  neighborhood I visited last year in Medellin called "Comuna 13". Comuna 13 also used to be a violence-ridden place until the Colombian government cleaned it up (ahem, using some violent methods of their own). Now it's a safe, bustling neighborhood bursting with murals, souvenir shops, and people taking pictures.

 In any case, there were no lattes or souvenir shops to be found, just empty, colorful streets - a little on the haunting side in their loneliness.

Into the mountains to Mineral del Chico

After a night in Pachuca, we hopped on one of the passenger vans that ferries people up into the mountains. After a sinuous 40-minute drive, we arrived in the picturesque mining town of Mineral del Chico. It's one of Mexico's mostly recently-designated pueblos magicos - or "magic towns."

What makes this one "magic?" Well, it's got a beautiful old church, of course. It's also set in the middle of a national park, which means that many of the vistas from the town included striking rock formations and acres of forest.

And luckily, we found the perfect hike to do amidst this wilderness. I say "luckily" because it's not always a given that you'll find such things as "maps" in a national park in Mexico. In fact, there were no maps to be found in Mineral del Chico, but there was a bright red information booth, and even though it opened late (eye roll), there was a friendly person in there who dispensed advice.

This guy enjoyed the view too
We hiked up and up, first to a mirador called La Pena del Cuervo, which offered a 360-view of the surrounding scenery and the valley below. Then, encouraged by a friendly Hidalgo couple we met there,  we hiked up further to an abandoned lookout, which we had to ourselves and which was surrounded by wildflowers.

I was so excited to see wildlflowers! I thought I'd seen the last of them in August, when I hiked at Mount Rainier. But no, here they were in late November, and suddenly, for the half an hour that I wandered around on this little peak, surrounded bursts of white, yellow, and red flowers, I felt at home for the first time since I came to Mexico over a month ago. 

That alone made the trip worth it.

Not that the trip was difficult. It just had minor annoyances, like trips tend to do. But they were so minor they are not even worth going into (much as I'd like to bitch about the couple that was constantly having sex above us in our otherwise peaceful lodging in Mineral del Chico. I mean, people, once a week is enough for most couples. Do you really need to be having sex several times a DAY?).

So, instead, I won't gripe. I'll leave you with this image. Mountains. Flowers. Sunshine. Blue sky. Much as I miss for Seattle and long for it when I'm gone, you're certainly not gonna find a scene like this there in late November. Viva Mexico! 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Just another day in Mexico

Mexico is such a land of contrasts.

It has a vibrant culture, systemic corruption, a joyous spirit, abject poverty.

The feelings that it stirs up in me are a jumble of contrasts too. Love, hate, annoyance, longing, disgust, sadness, admiration.

I love it because it's beautiful and welcoming and epic, and because Ian is here. I hate it at times because...well, I'm a spoiled American and things don't always go the way I want.

Let's take Monday, for example. I was in Mexico City to see some friends who were visiting from the States. Our big plan for the day was to dine at Pujol, the #13 rated restaurant on the oh-so-trendy list of the world's top 50 restaurants.

Because I had to work  til lunchtime, my plan was to go to the café-bookstore right near the restaurant and work from there until it was time to eat. Although I had never been to this particular café, it has several locations in Mexico City, and I always like to work from there when I'm in town because of the great food, welcoming vibe, and stable Internet.

I managed the Metro ok. This in itself was a bit of a triumph because the metro in Mexico City used to make me claustrophobic and panicky. Now I can handle it with mostly no problem AND actually get places I need to go (which is no small feat for someone as directionally challenged as me).

Then came the first annoying part of the day. For this, I have no one to blame but myself. I popped out of the metro in the swanky neighborhood of Polanco and started following Google maps to the bookstore/café. I saw a panaderia and popped in for a concha, my favorite pan dulce. 

Conchas, mmm
Unfortunately, the concha was both terrible AND overpriced. But that wasn't the annoying part.  (At least with an overpriced pastry in Mexico, you're talking $1.50 instead of $7).

The annoying part was that 1)I left my jacket in the bakery 2)realized it almost right away  3)but then couldn't find the bakery again even though - I SWEAR - it was right around the corner. Mexico City is not always the easiest place to navigate!

I knew I would find it eventually but the problem was I had to start work ASAP.  After searching fruitlessly for the panaderia for 10-15 minutes, I was threatening to make myself late. OK, fine. I would find my jacket later. Hopefully no one would have stolen my jacket by then (because that concha really wasn't worth it!) 

Then I got a little lost trying to find the bookstore. When I rushed in, it was about 11:01. I was one minute late for work. I logged on, worked for two whole minutes, and then - BAM - there was no Internet. 

"Oh, the Internet isn't working right now," the server said to me casually when she brought me my coffee. 

*&$!*! %$ 

The Internet continued to not work and not work. For the whole two hours I was supposed to be working, I got online for maybe 10 minutes total, thus losing a a bunch of money because I could not bill for that time. This I blame squarely on Mexico. 

Thank you Mexico and your terrible Internet. 

So that was the morning. But then there was lunch. 

And lunch was a miracle of deliciousness and beauty. None of the hustle-bustle and heat of Mexico City or the country's problems was to be found in Pujol.

Blissful dining in Pujol
No, Pujol represents only the best of Mexico: fresh Mexican ingredients welded into amazing lovely-to-behold creations. Attentive service. An architectural design that makes you feel both energized and relaxed.

Then, after three hours, it was over. I was dumped back out onto the street with the hoi polloi. I proceeded to have an experience that was almost the exact opposite of my decadent, leisurely interlude in Pujol.

I went to the doctor.

I had a female problem. And, it became obvious during lunch when I visited the bathroom five times, that I needed to get it looked at urgently. And so I did what a lot of Mexicans do when they need to see someone quickly and cheaply, and they don't have health insurance: I went to a farmacia.

When you go to a pharmacy, you pay $0 to $3 to see the doctor, and then you inevitably go into the actual pharmacy and spend a lot of money on whatever they prescribed to you. And they always prescribe something because the doctors who work there are subsidized by the pharmacies.

Anyway, at this particular pharmacy, the waiting room was broiling hot and packed with people. To make matters worse, due to my female problem, I had to pee like a mo' fo but there were no public bathrooms available.

So I waited. And waited. And sweated. And waited. Finally I got into see the doctor, who turned out to be a lovely, friendly overworked young woman stuffed into a stinky, windowless and dirty office.  Even though I liked this doctor very much and was relieved she was a woman, I did not like wondering what the pinkish-reddish stains on the walls and floors were.

Was it BLOOD?

I tried not to think about it as she examined me. As she wrote up my prescriptions, I wished for her a better job - something less hectic, more peaceful, where she at least at time to clean up the bloodstains (or juice stains), look out a window, or let a breath of fresh air in the office before the next patient.

Then I ran back to my AirBB, trying not to pee in my pants. Meanwhile, I passed by Parque Mexico, one of the loveliest and most peaceful urban parks anywhere (and even though I wasn't in the best frame of mind to enjoy it, there was still part of me appreciating it just like I always did).

So, really, it was just another typical day in Mexico for me.

OK, so maybe going to one of the world's best restaurants isn't exactly typical. But the way the day encompassed both beautiful and ugly, hectic and calm, warm and difficult -- all these contrasts, for me, are Mexico in a nutshell.

(Oh, and by the way, I did find my jacket again.)

Monday, September 10, 2018

A fresh ground story, coming right up

In June of this year, I achieved a big goal of mine, which was to speak at a live storytelling event. The event I spoke at was Fresh Ground Stories, a once-monthly get-together that happens at a coffeehouse in Seattle. It's very popular! The place was packed, and the audience very supportive.  The theme for this evening was "Under the illusion." I was thrilled that I got a chance to get up there and tell my story. You all know I love me some spotlight. You can listen to it here.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Celebrating my ex mother-in-law on Mother's Day

With my stylish MIL in happier times

My mother-in-law literally used to give me the clothes off her back.

It happened more than once that she’d be wearing a stylish shirt or sweater and I’d say, “M-, I love that sweater.”

“Do you want it?” she’d say. “Take it!” Then she’d hand it to me despite my (feeble) protests, saying something like “I have so many others” or “But it looks better on you than it does on me.”

It would then inevitably become one of my favorite and most-complimented sweaters because she was one of the most stylish people I knew.

Her generosity took other forms too. Like the elaborate meals she used to cook for us, not permitting us to lift a finger in the preparation or the clean-up.

“I’ll do the dishes tomorrow!” she used to say, though she was 78 with MS, and we were fit and mid-40s and very capable of washing dishes (even if we were stuffed with chicken piccata and chocolate cake). I’m embarrassed to say we always obeyed. 

I used to say I won the “mother-in-law lottery.” Instead of a mother-in-law who didn’t think I was good enough for her son, or who was crazy, or just plain annoying, I got a mother-in-law who made me feel special, beautiful, and brilliant.

She had a talent for making people feel good.

Also a talent for looking good. If once I’d thought getting older meant letting myself go or falling out of step fashionwise, she taught me that didn’t have to be the case. Her hair was usually a perfect honey-blonde, her outfit something hip from Nordstrom’s.

And yet, her sister – also a beloved figure in my life – presented a contrasting yet equally vibrant picture of old age. She had a head full of unapologetic white hair, wore track suits so bright they hurt your eyes, and was full of energy in her 80s.

They were fun to be around. They made me feel like getting old was possible, and possibly not so bad. In my own family, everyone died before 70. My dad and my grandparents were all long gone by the time I met my mother-in-law in 2007. So I needed older and wiser people like her in my life.

Especially after my mom died in 2012 at 68. The pampering presence of my mother-in-law became even more of a comfort to me then. So did her own hard-won perspective on life and loss. 

Occasionally I thought of her as a second mom, but in reality, she acted more like a grandmother – never criticizing, always adoring, lavishing love and attention on me.

Then, in late 2016, my husband and I split up.  I had naïve hopes that my relationship with her would survive the messy divorce. That once the dust settled, we’d get back to the business of being besties.

So I reached out to her with cards and email. Tried to stay in touch. But the divorce became final a year ago, and more time than that has passed without a response from her. And I’m just starting to accept that our relationship is a thing of the past.

It hurts, of course, but I understand. And when it hurts a lot, I remind myself of something she said to me at the beginning of the divorce process, before I moved away.

“You’ll always be my little girl,” she said. It was quick and whispered. She said it almost in passing, when she was helping my ex move out of our house.

She had never called me her little girl before. But of course I was. I was the daughter she’d never had, plus adoring granddaughter rolled into one.

Which is why, although I might not be in her life anymore, I like to think I’m still in her heart. In my own special room, eating homemade chocolate cake and staying forever warm in a spontaneously gifted sweater from Nordstrom’s. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Am I too old for him?

I recently published an essay in The Globe and Mail - whoohoo! It' s about dating someone much younger than me, and the insecurities (and occasional mean looks) that go along with it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dear Mom, I miss you.

Dear Mom,
I hope you’re doing well where you are. When I saw you, over a year ago now in that dream, you looked great. I carry that image of you smiling at me wherever I go. 

I’m really annoyed that you’re dead. I still need you so much. Although I often wonder what the "flesh-and-blood" you would think of the choices I’m making now.

Dating someone half my age from a different culture. Travelling all the time. Living in Mexico, where someone else prepares my meals and cleans my apartment, and my only responsibility is working a few hours a week at my easy Internet job.

Not exactly what you pictured for me at this age, was it?  

First, of course, before you could attempt to come to terms with my age-inappropriate lifestyle, you would have to get over the shock of my divorce.

You loved my ex so much, I know. So did I.

But I also know you would have supported me in getting a divorce, given the circumstances. You might even have encouraged me to do it sooner than I did.

Still, it sucks, I know. I was supposed to be the parent of an adopted kid by now, living a life of domesticity in my big house with its garden and the fancy food processor and the two pugs. Finally “settled down.”

But nothing ever really works out as planned, does it? Thanks anyway, for paying for the wedding. It was beautiful. I’m so sorry you couldn’t make it. We read one of your poems and talked about you.  
I do think that the "flesh-and-blood" you would approve of some of the other things I’m trying to do. Like becoming an ESL teacher and an interpreter.

(And of course publishing another book. Sorry I couldn’t make that happen before you left. At least you got to see me publish one. Thanks for coming all the way to Seattle for my book launch party. That was great, wasn’t it?).

And I know the "flesh-and-blood" you would have already been down here to Mexico visit me at least once or twice because that’s how we Agiewiches roll. Travel is in our DNA, at least ever since Dad got sick and decided life was too short to sit at home watching TV.

In real life you were awesome, don’t get me wrong. You were the best mom anyone could ask for. You helped make me the person I am, who is mostly strong, confident, and unafraid (Well I’m afraid all the time but I’m good at hiding it).

I soldier on no matter what, just like you always did, even though I often just wish I could melt down completely.

With dad getting sick and then dying so young, your life didn’t turn out exactly as planned either. But that didn’t stop you. You cared for him, you cared for us, and meanwhile you got on with things – making new friends, writing, helping people, traveling.

I hope I’m a little bit like you, mom.

Anyway, now that you’re ethereal and all-knowing, I know that you’re totally down with all the stuff I’m doing. Young boyfriend, vagabond lifestyle, and all. You’re not burdened by earthly expectations or judgements anymore.

“It’s all good,” you’re saying, which is something you would never say in real life.

At least, when I saw you in that dream a year and a half ago, when you couldn’t stop smiling at me, that’s what you seemed to be saying. And even now, thinking of that smile, so much more vivid than anything I can remember from when you were alive, I feel your warmth and your unconditional love.

I love you and I miss you more than you could ever know, mom. Come visit again soon.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Happy anniversary to me

All photos by Sara Tro
So, last night in honor of my upcoming five-year wedding anniversary I watched a bunch of old videos of me and my ex, drank some tequila, and cried myself to sleep.

Because not only would August 25th be my five-year anniversary, it is also the one-year anniversary of the day I asked for a divorce.

Somehow, without planning it, I ended up asking for a divorce on our anniversary- a moment that's burned into my brain for the relative lack of drama with which it occurred and all the drama it unleashed soon thereafter.

Weddings small and big

We actually had two weddings. The first was on August 25th, at my mom's house in California. That was our legal wedding. On September 1st, we had a wedding and reception in Seattle.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. There was only supposed to be one wedding - in Seattle - and my mom was supposed to be there. When we'd announced our engagement 7 months earlier, in February 2012, my mom had been thrilled.

She loved my ex. She had lung cancer. She liked the idea of me finally tying the knot.

So she offered to pay, and we immediately set about planning the wedding together. We picked the venue, the caterer, quibbled over the invitations. Then her health took a dramatic turn for the worse and she couldn't help me anymore. But the wedding planning kept me afloat as I watched her go downhill, the cancer creeping into her brain.

I wondered, many times, selfishly, if I would have to cancel the wedding. Couldn't she live long enough for me to have my big day? It turns out she did.

But by late August of 2012, she wasn't well enough to travel. She wasn't going to get to enjoy the beautiful venue that I'd found (with her help), a rowing club on Lake Union.

And so we had a very small ceremony at her house, with a rabbi. It was beautiful in its own way. I'm not even sure my mom fully understood what was going on by that point. But I think she knew it was a momentous and happy occasion. She seemed happy, anyway.

We were too. Nervous but happy. Hopeful. And so were my sister and brother in law, the only other ones there.

The wedding in September was beautiful too. Everything I ever dreamed a wedding should be. A handsome husband, a gorgeous locale, many smiling friends. Champagne. Karaoke.

A dream.

The only thing missing was my mom.

A month and a half after the wedding, she died.

The divorce years

And things went downhill after that, as they have a way of doing. Two years later, my sister and her husband of 12 years had split up. Two years after that, it was us.

I'd like to say that I'm glad that  my mom doesn't know.

But I think she actually does. Because she came to me once in a dream, six months before my ex and I split up, to reassure me that everything was going to be OK.

She didn't say anything. She just smiled. A lot.

That's how I knew something big and scary was coming. And that I was going to survive it.

How well I'm surviving depends on the day. Last night, as I watched old videos of us from seven or eight  years ago, I felt like a jealous interloper spying on my old life. (Because of course all old videos are happy. Who ever videos the screaming fights? The throwing of the Xbox controller ? The tears?)

Look how happy we were sitting on the couch with our old pug, Snuffy. Playing guitar, singing songs together, not doing much of anything.

Look at how he looks at me. So lovingly.

Look how pretty and happy I look.

Look how you can see the lights of Seattle in my old condo.

I miss that condo.

I miss Snuffy.

I miss my mom.

I miss...