Long-time Friendship and Uxmal

For many reasons – of all the archaeological sites in Yucatan – Uxmal is my favourite.  So when my girlhood friend, Ramona and her husband, Tom came to visit Jorge and me at the end of January, we made it a priority to spend a day there.

The ancient city is located approximately 80 kilometres south of Merida – nestled into the Puuc hills – the ONLY location in our state with ANY elevation at all.  Ramona and I are from British Columbia where there is barely any flat terrain – she found it hilarious when I called the area – the Yucatecan Alps.

Uxmal was founded around 700 AD, and at its peak, it housed about 25,000 inhabitants. Unlike most Maya sites, Uxmal is not laid out geometrically.  Nonetheless the coordinates of the structures do demonstrate astral alignments, including the rising and setting of Venus. The design of Uxmal is also adapted to the topography –  many buildings set atop the hills – they look quite grand.

The complex mosaics on the facades showcase the abilities of the Maya artists in the region. Archaeological excavations and radiocarbon studies  indicate that the major structures – the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery, the Governor’s Palace, House of the Turtles, and the Ballcourt– were built between the VIII and X Centuries AD. The southern section is yet to be extensively studied. The entire site has a slight inclination that allows rainwater to drain into manmade underground reservoirs, called, chultunes.  This feature allowed the city to thrive because in the entire Puuc region, there are no surface bodies of fresh water.

Because of conflict with other Maya centers and also because of drought, Uxmal was abandoned and re-built three times.

Umal is a very interesting and beautiful site indeed, but there is even more to love. The first thing is the silence. I never see huge crowds and there are no vendors pestering the tourists. There is almost always a breeze and the trees growing on the esplanades offer some shade.

The birds seen at Uxmal, even during the day are remarkable. Last year, I walked with my friend, Michael Schussler through a woodsy area in the eastern section of the site. We saw at least FORTY mots-mots – it was mating season and they were courting – their iridescent plumage and long tails glittering. Spectacular! Ramona, Tom and I did not see any such flashiness, but we did see a large number of buntings, flycatchers, jays, orioles and a hawk.

The Hotel Hacienda Uxmal (one of my favourite hotels in Yucatan) is located right outside the entrance to the site. The graceful decor and lush gardens, the attentive staff and the Museum are features not found at many other properties  I’ve ever seen. The Chocolate Museum, located right beside the hotel is another (yummy) attraction.

If you have a car, and drive 10 K further up the road towards Kabah, you’ll come to the Pickled Onion, a small inn (another of my personal favorites) and restaurant owned by my good friend Valerie Pickles.  She has 10 modestly-priced, quaint and comfortable rooms, as well as an excellent restaurant. Many of my guests have spent a couple of nights at The Onion – and when they return to Merida they are so relaxed – they practically glide into my house.

Ramona – who has been my friend since Grade 3 – and I laughed so hard as we reminisced about our early years. Our large families belonged to Holy Trinity Church and all us kids went to the adjacent school. We got together often for camping trips, meals – almost every weekend, my mother or Mrs. Helm would drive a full car of us – to the never-ending basketball, volleyball, track & field events. One time we were making so much noise, we flustered Mom and when she backed our big station wagon out of the parking area, she ploughed into the only other car in the lot, a big black shiny Mercedes.

Ah-ah-ah – there are many things I do NOT like about aging – but having rich friendships that span five decades is a true perk. And living in Mexico as I do, my home is much in demand. Lucky me!

Unexpected Treasure

Mexico City is like an anthill. Yet with more than 21 million people living in the greater metropolitan area, could it be otherwise?

Jorge and I stayed for a week at the Metropol Hotel, located close by many of the attractions we like to visit – the Zocalo, Bellas Artes, Templo Mayor, galleries, shops, restaurants and so on. But of course, this area is also the heart of the business, governmental, and public services district.

On our last morning, just two blocks from the Metropol, we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd queuing-up on the ground level esplanade of a tall administrative complex that houses the Foreign Affairs Department, Mexico City’s  Appellate Courthouse, and who knows how many other ultra-chaotic offices. Literally thousands of people clutching manila folders waited their turn to gain entry through the security controlled access points. The parking lot could not possibly handle the volume of vehicles, and frenzied drivers circled round and round, their eyes keen to pick out someone just leaving their spot. If those waiting in the lines moved over at all, they would be surely be mowed over.

Our eyes scanned the distance for the quickest path out of the bedlam, but then I saw the shoes. Just the kind I needed – colourful, comfortable, and well made – so I stopped. Jorge rolled his eyes and tried to keep me moving, but a blouse festooned with iridescent dragonflies caught my eye, and then I spied more leather goods; backpacks, purses and totes, hanging from a  pegboard. Tables of jewellery sparkled in a sunbeam that had somehow filtered into the dim cavern. How could this delightful island of high-quality, handmade treasure be here? “Wait a minute. Look at these,” I said, holding out a pair of green striped flats for him to admire. Jorge is a sage husband; he knows when the Imelda Marcos in me will not be denied. “They are beautiful,” he said.

The shoemaker had come with his family from Leon, the footwear capital of the country.  His young daughter gazed at me with her big brown eyes and swept her small hand over the array her family hoped to sell. “Have you seen the movie, Coco,” I impulsively asked.  “Oh yes, and I am not like that boy who wanted to be a singer. I like the shoe business,” she replied. What a little charmer! I bought the green striped shoes – how could I not – as well as the blouse and a T-shirt. As I was leaving, the charmer’s father gave me a small amulet hanging from a leather lace. “God’s peace be with you,” he said.

I felt so touched by his gesture that I worried I’d start crying. The ten minutes Jorge and I spent with vendors had reaffirmed what I know to be true:

The talent of the Mexican people, their eye for colour and design, is surpassed only by their resourcefulness and kindness.  

I feel grateful that Jorge and I ended our Mexico City experience on the periphery of that sooty, stuffy parking lot. Tangible and non-tangible treasure is found in the most unexpected places, isn’t it?

Elena Poniatowska II


Today I am going to write more about lunch with the writer, Elena Poniatowska.

Elena Poniatowska is a firm supporter of Mexico’s recently-instated president, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). In fact she has been his advocate since 2006 when he ran against the victorious PAN candidate. It is generally agreed that AMLO lost that election because of fraud. The same is said about the following race in 2012 when he lost to the PRI. And yet, 18 years after the first campaign, Andrés Manuel’s newly-formed MORENA party won the presidency, as well as a majority in the Congress and the Senate.

In the past I have compared Mexico to a candy store. 25% of the citizens could walk right in – and they did so – taking away whatever they wanted. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the population had to stand outside the candy store, unable to do more than watch the country´s wealth disappear into private foreign bank accounts and the corrupt socio-political system. Elena knows that AMLO will not make all the people happy, all the time. Most probably, his high goals will not all be accomplished, but for the FIRST TIME in decades, there is hope on the faces of Mexicans who have endured so much injustice.

Elena’s eyes smile as she pours a generous shot of tequila for Jorge, me, and the other two guests. Michael Schuessler, UAM professor and author is one of them – such an affable man – he had just returned from Burma with an abundance of observations and insights.

We all toasted our new president and the start of what we sincerely hope will be a transformation in the country. While enjoying our meal of salmon in caper sauce, Elena told us about her family and the foundation she has started.

Jorge looking at Elena’s travel trunk

The Elena Poniatowska Foundation, located at Av. José Martí 105, Escandón I Secc, 11800 Ciudad de México, CDMX, is a cultural center and the repository of her personal library, correspondence, photographs and other memorabilia. She explained that many of the acclaimed artists and writers she has known have sold their archives to foreign universities. But when she told her son, Felipe, that she had been approached by an American buyer, he agreed that her work should stay in Mexico. Earlier in the week Jorge and I went to visit the new installations. The staff enthusiastically showed us around, and seem eager to make the foundation grow. It obviously pleases Elena to know her legacy is in good hands.

She looks serene. And so she should. At 87 years of age, the time has come for others to carry the torch. Her husband, Guillermo Haro died some years ago, but she has three children and lots of grandchildren to spend wonderful hours with.

I was surprised to see some of the canvases she has been working on. I did not know she paints. I didn’t get a chance to ask her, if like me, she thinks her time spent at the easel helps develop her writing? And I wish I’d asked if she paints with her grandchildren?

I don’t know when Jorge and I will go again to Mexico City, but whenever that is, it will be all the more special if we get to spend another afternoon, in Elena’s delightful company.

Tomorrow I will continue with another story about our trip to Central Mexico. Most people know how much Jorge and I love artisan markets – and on our last day in Mexico City we discovered a new one – set up in a parking lot.

Elena Poniatowska I

Elena Poniatowska with  Jorge and Joanna Rosado

Inside the Actors Studio with moderator James Lipton is a TV program I always enjoyed watching. Now-a-days though, dated YouTube re-runs are all I can see.

Mr. Lipton always asked the same simple questions, but the content never seemed repetative because his non-aggressive style relaxed his guests to the point that they’d reveal more about themselves than they’d planned on. Oh yes, surprising responses came from those benign prompts. I especially liked it when he’d ask:

If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would you choose?

Who would you pick if asked this question? There are many people from my personal life, as well as famous figures, who I would l-o-v-e to dine with. And last week in Mexico City, Jorge and I had the great pleasure of sharing lunch with one of the people who’d be near the top of my list, none other than, Elena Poniatowska.

Born in Paris, Ms. Poniatowska left France when World War II began. Her Mexican-born mother and her father, an officer in the French army (who in fact was descended from the royal Polish family) decided that their children should be taken to safety with the maternal family. At the time, no one imagined that the ten year old émigré would become – a voice for the oppressed in Latin America – especially women.

In 1954, at age 18, Elena began working for the Mexican newspaper, Excelsior. Since then, she has published more than fifty literary works in her name, as well as thousands of editorial pieces. Her most famous book, La Noche de Tlatelolco (published in English as Massacre in Mexico) is about the 1968 student protests and killings. Her reporting of political dissention and retaliatory government cruelty made her a hero to all activists and critical thinkers in the country.

Known as Elenita to her millions of fans, she is the fourth woman to be awarded the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious honor for Spanish language literature. It is given every year on April 23rd, the death date of author, Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) for whom the prize is named.

“The silence of the poor is a silence representing centuries’ worth of being forgotten and pushed back to the edges of society,” said the author when she accepted the 2014 Cervantes in Madrid. In the same speech, she paid homage to Gabriel García Marquez She said that his novel – One Hundred Years of Solitude – inspired Latin Americans to raise their voices.

The Spanish jury lauded Elena’s “firm commitment to contemporary history” and described the author as “one of the most powerful voices in Spanish-language literature.”

At her home, everything is “Elenisima”. The house is inviting, and small like her. Flowers of every hue grow all over – in the garden, on windowsills – and perched on a tiered stand under a skylight in the dining room. Books – especially the ones on the end tables next to the comfy yellow couch – lay open, not carefully shelved.

Read more tomorrow…

MEL Silent Auction


On Tuesday, January 29, the Merida English Library (MEL) is holding its most important event of the year – a Silent Auction – to raise funds for Phase 2 of our building expansion, which will add 2 classrooms, a cafe and 3 additional bathrooms.

This year’s auction items reflect the time and talent of MEL members and other community leaders. We have a variety of personal services, classes, day trips, artwork, and vacation stays. Below is just a sample of what you will have an opportunity to enjoy in exchange your for financial contribution.

I hope you will join us on January 29 at 7pm to help us reach our 2019 fundraising goal.
Tickets are 300 pesos and are available at MEL, Calle 53 #524 x 66 y 68, Merida Centro.

Check out http://www.meridaenglishlibrary.com/silent-auction/ for a constant update of auction items.

Lunch and massage for 2 at Rosas y Xocolate Spa
A Persian Dinner for 10 people

Sunday Brunch with Christopher Collins

Vietnamese lunch or dinner for 6 in your home

Traditional Mole dinner for 6, with a serenade by Maricarmen Perez, and dessert baked by Marianne Kehoe

Four hour cruise for 2 with lunch aboard a 41ft yacht

Day trip to Izamal with driver and lunch

Secret Cenote Day Trip

Day trip to Baca Henequen desfibrador to learn how to dye and weave

Ranch Haltun Xiki BBQ, horseback riding and tour for 4

Car and Driver for a day

One week of pet boarding plus dog grooming

Cocktail party for 30 catered in your home

Have your portrait painted

Magic Show performed at your party

Interior Design consultation services

A day of home maintenance services

Novice Sommelier course for 6

Cooking class at Hotel Boutique by the Museo

Glass Fusion Class for 4

1 month (60 hrs.) of Spanish Language Classes

Computer classes

Origami class

Pasta making class for 6

6 session course for group of 4 on light and shadow as determinants of form

Cuttlefish casting in pewter class for 4

Creative writing classes

Ek Balam tour and night at an ecolodge

1-night stay at the Pickled Onion in Santa Elena

Weekend for 6 at Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve

Weekend stay in Mexico City, including RT airfare for 2

Stay at Casa Sirena on Isla Mujeres

Weekday stay for 2 at BnB in Tepakan including breakfast and village tour

Weekend stay at house in Puerto Morelos

3-night stay in Tulum

4 night stay at Canyon Lake, TX

2-night stay in South Kingstown, Rhode Island



Security experts have praised López Obrador’s willingness to take on fuel theft, an issue that was largely ignored under previous administrations, even though the problem was spiralling out of control. But two nights ago, I watched a political commentary program on TV, and the order of the day for the anti-AMLO segment of Mexico’s population is to scream bloody murder because of the gas shortages. (The people, the people… the POOR people,lamented one of the panel members.)

Many Mexicans and international residents of this country do not understand how the gas is stolen and why there are such shortages now. Today I will  attempt to explain this calamity as best I can.

Those who physically carry out the theft are mostly the poor bottom-feeders of “illicit groups”. They are called, huachicoleros. The closest “translation” I can come up with is “moonshiners” (I suppose because they try to stay hidden while they “do what they do”)

They know exactly where to find the product they need because their employers and their “associates” bribe Pemex employees to tell them what kind of gasoline runs through which duct. (It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out who the “associates”are.) To avoid catastrophic explosions the huachicolros must also know the pressure ratio inside the oil duct (Blow-ups happen more regularly than is reported.) During the peak of the huachicolero operation, it is estimated that 60,000 barrels of gasoline were stolen every day.

Once the pressure and pumping specifics of the selected oil duct have been confirmed, the huachicoleros  locate an unguarded spot along the route. Their support vehicles get into place. And with armed guards watching the area, the “experts” quickly drill a hole most of the way through the pipe, and then, so as not to cause a spark, they used a rubber mallet to crack open the last bit. Quickly a valve is inserted into the opening. This in turn is connected to a hose, that is attached to a tanker truck.  Apparently, the average procedure takes about 20 minutes.

The stolen gasoline is then trucked to clandestine depositories, and from these places, sold to gas stations for purchase by the public, or to companies with large fleets who use the illegal gas to fuel their convoys, and keep their expenses down.

Pemex used to be the highest revenue producer in Mexico, but with progressively more and more privatization, income from “the people’s oil company” dropped  lower; and once the huachicoleros stepped up their activities, the earnings plummeted even further.

The blame lies with PEMEX big-shots and the politicians, who have actively ignored security and allowed wholesale theft. As well, in recent years, some of the country’s most dangerous drug cartels have become involved in fuel theft.

Just this week, the Army found a two kilometre “side duct” on a major pipeline, leading to a clandestine storage center. This gas was purchased at below market cost and without being taxed. Several hundred stations around the country, that purportedly bought the illegal product, have closed for lack of gas to sell. Some critics claim that although AMLO may have good intentions, he should have “done this differently”. But they never explain just “how” he might have done so.

It is estimated that $7.4 billion in fuel has been stolen since 2016. The cartels are unlikely to accept such a massive losses in revenue without responding.

However, this practise is robbing the nation on a massive scale, and thus cuts government funding for all the state expenses. Like health care, building highways, old-age pensions. It has to be stopped.

Yes, there is a gasoline shortage right now. It may last longer than initially anticipated, but in the end, it should reflect more revenue for the state, without much affecting the “regular” consumers’  cost for gasoline. The old guard can whine all they want, but I suspect that the complaints are more about the loss of income from their “side jobs” than from their concern about “the people of Mexico”.

And one final comment. I do feel sorry for the states without enough gas, but we need to support our president in his efforts to clean up the many messes in Mexico. The way the newscasters carry on seems like a plea to get themselves back in the limelight, and mostly supports their own interests.

Among the information sources for this post is: Mexfiles. The author usually proves to be spot-on. Well reported Richard!

An Ode to January Austerity


There’s an unhappy woman in town,

Who has trouble zipping her gown.

Did it shrink in the wash?

That thought, she must squash…

If she wants her weight to go down.


She knows that she is “in the dumps”.

But finds it hard to “take her lumps.”

And shed all the pounds she put on.

Ah, but they won’t ever be gone…

Until through the hoops, she jumps.


 Resigned, she gives away her sweets…

No sweat, they aren’t her favourite treats.

But life without pasta, is not fair,

It is really more than she can bear.

She’s in denial, and dragging both feet.


But the “naked truth” is something she knows

And do those extra pounds ever show!

She tries to avoid the full length mirror,

Especially that view of her posterior

It is a fact, to the stadium, she must go!


To walk and stretch her broadened hips,

Then come back home, and zip her lips.

For women who are “past their prime”.

Getting back in shape, does take time

But to not do so… is worse than having zits.


According to our world’s youthful society

We should look great, for all eternity.

While we cannot go along with that,

Our vanity refuses to accept the fat.

Goddess… grant us all… serenity!


Good luck to all readers who, like me, are paying the price for their Guadalupe-Reyes indulgence!







The 2018 Planet Rosado – van der Gracht Gazette

Before the Internet came along, communication with my far-away family and friends was spotty at best. For almost 30 years, my mother and I wrote long letters to each other. I’d run out to meet the mailman when I’d hear his motorcycle put-put-putting up the street. “Here comes your boyfriend,” Jorge would tease. Often I’d receive no mail for about 15 days, and then I’d get 3 or 4 envelopes at once. Finally the postman confessed, “I don’t deliver the mail to any part of my route, until there are enough pieces to make it worth my time – and with the price of gas being what it is – – – ”

I had not yet become familiar with the custom of extending monetary compensation to those I figured were just doing their job, but if receiving my mail was at risk, I would give the guy a tip.

At Christmas time, close to 100 cards would find their way to Merida, and my mailman had a field day. Some of the cards came with a hand-written or photcopied page or two – the sender’s “Family Highlights of the Year” – there were often photos too. Now-a-days we are inundated with photographs, but before the mid 90s, when digital cameras became common-place, receiving photos by long-distance post was a big deal.

This year I got several e-cards, and a single one by snail mail. It came from my friend who lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (Thanks so much Paul) And since I didn’t even manage to find time to write a Christmas post, I have decided to compose an old-time-newsletter (with a sappy title, photos and all)

The Planet Rosado – van der Gracht Gazette

Jorge and me in Cancun – Christmas 2017

Carlos and Emma on a picnic in Norway – Christmastime, 2017

In 2017, my son Carlos and my daughter, Maggie spent Christmas with Emma,  his daughter who lives in Norway – they got it into their heads to go on a picnic – in sub-zero weather. My teeth started chattering just looking at them. Meanwhile, Jorge and I basked in the sun at Cancun. I’d say these two scenarios are solid proof that with age, comes wisdom.

On Valentines Day, I posted this feathery heart card with a favourite Emily Dickinson quote. The poet is spot-on when she writes that hope is ever-enduring. I believe that when we have challenges, we can never stop hoping for the best outcome – and if we are patient enough – our wishes usually come true.

Three days later, we celebrated Jorge’s birthday with our first BIG party of the year.

“A promise made is a debt unpaid,” and for 3 years I’d carried one for Suzi,  my Canadian friend who lives in Mexico City. She told me on her eightieth birthday that the area of Mexico  she’d never seen was southern Quintana Roo and Campeche – I glibly said we would go, and finally in March 2018, with six others, I made good on my promise. We only had one problem, Suzi had broken her shoulder just a month before the trip. None-the-less, at 83, she soldiered on. I sure hope I’ll be a trooper like her when I get to be that age.

Also in March, my friend, Michael Schuessler came to Merida for the FILEY (a literary event) where he presented his book, La Undécima Musa – it is about Pita Amor – Pita was a poet and the eccentric aunt of Elena Poniatowska. Jorge took this photo of Michael and me while when we skipped a couple of conferences, and went birding. We saw about 20 mot-mots on that afternoon walk.

In May, I spent my 65th birthday in Vancouver. Maggie flew from Los  Angeles to join me and 18 female family and friends. I must say this birthday was a bit difficult to get my head around. I kept wondering HOW – so much time had passed – so quickly? But as Jorge says, “The alternative is worse!”

I stayed in Kamloops for the month of June and did quite a bit of painting. This one is my favourite. I used acrylic paint on vellum, and laid the piece over textured cardboard to get the unusual mottling. I would like to try this again.

I returned to Merida in time for Mexico’s federal election on July 1st. My candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador won by a gigantic margin. I know he won’t please all of the people, all of the time, but I believe he is our best hope. For some time I had stopped thinking that Mexico could escape the ever-escalating corruption and violence. Poverty is a grim reality (to some degree or another) for 80% of the population in Mexico. Everything that affects the people living here – immigration, energy, housing, agriculture, environment, health care, and education policies – are sorely in need of improvement.  These issues are still far from resolved, but since his inauguration, AMLO has made bold moves, and I feel so much more confident about the future of Mexico.

Carlos and Emma were reunited again in the summer when Carlos returned to Norway. Emma also got to see Auntie Maggie again and she met her Canadian cousins who live in Copenhagen. Now-a-days, families are so internationalised, and children have many opportunities to learn about the world.

Emma meets her Canadian family who live in Norway

In fact, over the summer in Merida, Jorge and I had our own cultural exchanges. Our nephew Pepe married Camila, a lovely woman he met while working in China. She is from Kazakhstan and the couple like to say, “Our daughter is descended from Nachi Cocom” – a XVI C. Maya rebel leader – “and Genghis Khan.” – the XII C. Mongol lord whose name needs no additional reference.  What fun, interesting times we had with this young family.

Making Pollo Pibil and Guacamole

Our friend, Marianne had her granddaughters visiting for a month, and we had some excellent adventures with them too. In this picture, the girls are making Pollo Pibil and Guacamole. Their natural talent shines in the kitchen, and in fact, they excell at whatever they take on.

Sadly, our idyllic summer ended on September 15th when I got a phone call telling me that my adored sister, Anne, had been killed instantly in a car crash. I travelled to Canada immediately, and Maggie joined me there. We drove to Kamloops where the family had gathered. I felt such relief to be with my sisters, but my daughter was the glue that kept me from falling apart. At one point I asked her, “Mags, when did you become the mother here?” She hugged me and said that women assume many roles for one another, as is needed. I am so grateful and proud to see the fine woman she has become.

Anne, Barb, Cathy and Joany, in Kamloops about 5 years ago.

Back in Merida with a horrible cold I picked up from one of the grandnieces (who is so sweet that I couldn’t resist hugging & kissing her at every opportunity) I found that Jorge and the rest of the men in my world had Thanksgiving dinner waiting, which brought on lots of emotion for me. Our friend Eduardo was in Merida because his sister had also just passed, and the two of us comforted each other. Thank you Guys for your loving support.

Maggie and Mike had let us know they would be coming to Merida to get married on November 6th. To tell a hectic story, in a short space, let me just say that Maggie’s friends, Mike’s mom and I had to go into hyper-drive to get everything ready on time. The happy couple looked gorgeous. And OMG! I almost forgot – that evening, both Carlos and Maggie completed their final exam for their Masters program in Translation Competencies – the result of two years of hard study.

Jorge at the fortress wall in Cartegena

And, that wasn’t the end of the excitement – months earlier, Jorge and I had made reservations to leave the next day for Colombia – to attend our nephew Raul’s marriage with Jassel, his long-time love. We were literally putting away the last of the china when Carlos came to take us to meet up with our group of 13.

Loretta, Susi and I pose wearing Colombian hair bands

We loved the time we spent in Bogota and Cartegena, and in Baranquilla, Jassel’s hometown. But a funny – actually not funny at all – incident happened on the way to the wedding reception. The van that was hired to deliver our group, dropped us off at the wrong place. And before we realised this, the driver had sped away. Abandoned at night, on the edge of a jungle in Colombia – you just KNOW what I was thinking – but before anyone could get too hysterical, a sweet taxi driver somehow showed up, called his buddies, loaded us all aboard, and we made it to the wedding celebration. Very wind-blown as you can see from the photo!

As soon as we got back in Merida, we were thrilled to have a visit from Susan Jones, an English friend who lived in Merida when I first arrived. Her husband, Charlie worked on an oil rig, and was out of town for 3 weeks at a stretch. With Jorge also away a lot on tours, Susan and I became great friends – and the forty years we’ve been apart has not changed that – we had an amazing reunion.

Once Susan returned to England, Jorge and I began preparations for December 2018 – or as we call it – Holidays on Steroids.  We decorated the house in time for the IWC’s (International Women’s Club) Christmas Tea – more than 100 guests came – and we loved every minute. We’ve held this party almost every December for about 35 years – seeing so many friends is our way of getting the festive season underway.

These are two of the young men who rode all the way to Mexico City and back…

On the Día de Guadalupe, we made our two-person pilgrimage to the Church of San Cristobal to see the hardier pilgrims come running or cycling into the atrium. What a show of devotion – one group of young men rode their bikes all the way to the Basilica in Mexico City and back – with 60 pound statues of  Guadalupe balanced on their bike racks.

The TTT Teachers’ Breakfast and Students’ Carolling were fun as always. Ou college is in its 28th year now.

What fun we had at Maggie’s shower.

Mid-month, we  a got a chance to see our friends, Lee and Paul, and have dinner with them at Michaela (five stars in my book!) And we were invited to a quiet dinner with them at the home of our mutual friend, Greg. Catered by Carlos Jimenez of “A Moveable Feast”, this was one of my favourite evenings of the whole year. Another night, I went with my great friend Jo to El Pich, a cute bar on 47th Street – not too loud –  On the 15th, I attended Maggie’s shower with her girl friends. Those young women all hold such a warm place in my heart.

Shopping, cooking and decorating took up all our  time the following week, as we prepared for Maggie and Mike’s wedding celebration. The actual wedding in Novemeber had been just for family, and was followed by a lunch. This party would be attended by more than 100 of their “closest” friends. They had dancing, a video arcade, tacos al pastor and cochinita. When a “Marquesita” truck pulled up to the party entrance door, it was a big hit. We finally crawled home at 5 am.

On Christmas Eve, Jorge and I joined a big bilingual crowd at Saint Luke’s for carols and a Eucharist celebration. Absolutely lovely – Padre José told an amusing story about “Our Lady of Plastic Surgery” – a light-weight lead in to his homily that centered on the plight of refugees and migrants. Jorge and I wholly agree with his sentiments. After all, did Mary and Joseph not share this plight?

And of course, we can’t forget our Christmas dinner. After so many times preparing “Traditional Turkey with all the Trimmings”, Jorge and I have nailed it down to an art. As usual, we sat outside with our guests. The weather was crisp by Merida’s yardstick, which only added to the festive ambiance.

Again, Carlos was not with us this year; he went to Norway to spend Christmas and New Year’s with Emma. We so hope 2019 will be the year that our beautiful granddaughter gets the chance to join us for a holiday here in Mexico.

And this week, it has been pretty low-key on “Planet Rosado–van der Gracht”. Jorge and I have caught up on Netflix recommendations, including “Roma” – such an amazing movie – but doing laundry and ferrying pots, pans, chairs and other borrowed / lent items to their rightful spots has kept us from settling in too deep in front of the TV screen.

And how do I feel after a year that has been full in every way? I must admit to a sense of satisfaction that my no-longer-young self seems to be able to hold up physically. And Jorge, 9 years older, is remarkable. Our curiosity is as stimulated as ever by the people and places we come in contact with. And our hearts beat just as passionately about all we care for. I must admit though to a desire to spend less time – at full tilt – which would allow me time to do more painting and writing.

Jorge and I will be spending New Year’s Eve at our favourite restaurant, Amaro. Our good friends, Allison and Cliff. will be celebrating their 40th anniversary. And THAT will be a great beginning to 2019.

We have a couple of fund-raising trips lined up for early in the year, and invitations have been received for two Canadian nephews’ weddings, as well as one for a niece. Yes Jillian is getting married in September, and we sure don’t want to miss her brothers’ weddings, or hers.

I feel frustration over having gained back half the weight I had managed to lose and keep off for a year. But THAT is the story of my life! I will be back on a low-carb eating plan, as soon as I can force my willpower to comply.

Summing it all up, in 2018, Jorge and I were happy most days, and sad on a few. Pretty much like everyone we know. We’ve worked hard and done the best we could every day – well – almost every day.

Happy New Year to All!

Guadalupe – Reyes


Many a confused northerner has asked: What is Guadalupe – Reyes?

Well, unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve noticed that Merida is an extremely social place – all year ‘round – but the revelry goes into hyper drive at the end of the outgoing year and the first week of the new one.

Guadalupe – Reyes, Mexico’s 26-day celebratory period has religious roots. It starts with the feast of the Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe) on December 12th, and ends with the Día de los Tres Reyes (The Epiphany) on January 6th. And although there is still religious observance during Guadalupe-Reyes, it is overshadowed by mucha, mucha fiesta.

Many out-of-town family members come “Home for the Holidays”, and festivities are planned during the Guadalupe-Reyes season, so that the maximum number of loved ones can join in the fun.  In keeping with this, our daughter and son-in-law will throw a party to celebrate their marriage – there will be dancing, singing, eating and drinking ‘till dawn – for 180.

And in fact the fun has already begun. Saturday night Maggie’s friends and cousins threw a Bachelorette. At 15, these girls started going to the discos. They were too young to drive, so one of the mothers would take the girls there, and usually Jorge and I would drive them home at 2 or 3 am.  On most occasions, several stayed at our house for the night, and the next day, they’d watch movies and hang out. I got to know them well, and I grew to love them like daughters.

Fast forward 15+ years, and these “girls” are still Maggie’s best friends. They invited me to the Bachelorette, and I can vouch for one fact – although they have matured into accomplished young women – they have definitely not forgotten how to party!  We started out with dinner and drinks at the Sonoma Grill in Alta Brisa. The delicious food and plentiful libations got everyone into a girls-just-wanna-have fun frame of mind. So to off we went to the Honky-Tonk at City Center.

What happens at Honkey Tonk stays at Honky Tonk, and suffice to say we enjoyed a fabulous night.  I was the oldest person there (by at least 20 years) but I kept up with the girls – for a few hours – then toddled home to bed.

Even blurry photos are worth a thousand words…

Spain’s Camino de Santiago Compostela is a world famous pilgrimage. People from all over walk for hundreds of kilometers to renew their spiritual energy. And in Mexico, we have a similar tradition – the annual pilgrimage from every Mexican village, town and city, to one of the churches dedicated to the patron saint of Mexico – La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Last night Jorge and I joined thousands of our fellow citizens at San Cristobal, the Guadalupana church in Merida. We have been many times, and I am always humbled by this show of faith, hope and love. Nothing I write could adequately describe the sight of thousands gathered to honour the patron saint of Mexico.

We spoke with so many antorchistas – pilgrims – who ran in relays from their homes, to this church. The elderly ones rode in the back of pick-up trucks with the children, and fit young people took turns running, or riding bikes with their torches held high. A few of them rode their bicycles from their villages in Yucatan – all the way to Mexico City to the Basilica there – and back again.

One young man I spoke with, not only completed the journey – all the way  to Mexico City and back – but he carried a life-size statue of La Virgen strapped to the back of his bike!  I asked him why he wanted to do this.

“I wanted to test myself. And that long ride nearly beat me. It was so hard. Many times I almost quit but my friends who came with me kept me going. And I kept them going. Many strangers gave us food and a place to sleep. We experienced a big change in our hearts. We learned that our families are our greatest treasure. I want to keep working hard for my family and for Mexico – Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!”

I am at a loss to explain how such shows of faith and determination inspire me, and give me hope for the future. When this young man returns to his daily life, his fervour will no doubt diminish, but It will live on in him. And when he is tested, he will remember what he’s capable of.

I believe all of Mexico is in a similar state. We are on the verge of possible change – possibly great change – I hope as a country we will stay strong. I hope we will remember what we are capable of, and have the courage ride on.

Here’s a slide show of some scenes from last night:

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Lee Steele

Actually, you might want to go to leesteele.com


Author and illustrator Alex Wallner

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