Friday, January 26, 2007

Mornings at the Gym

While keeping up the habit of regular exercise is always a challenge, it is especially so for us wanderers. You find a good gym, get into a pattern, start to make some progress – and it’s time to move. So it was a great pleasure to find a gym close to our apartment and to the school, at the right price, and with the appropriately anachronistic atmosphere.

It has felt just right to get up early each weekday, have a cup of coffee and hie off to the gym. Martin, the owner, and his wife are both body builders, so there are none of the aerobic machines found in some gyms, only weights, free and machines. Although he speaks excellent American English, Martin has been kind enough to indulge my need to practice Spanish. By default he has become the teacher of my first class each day. And an excellent class it has been, including new ways to use familiar machines to tone up different muscle groups and new verbal constructions at the same time. Martin and his wife and daughter live upstairs, but their kitchen table, and other domestic spaces are in the gym. So it was usual for me and one or two other early birds to be straining away next to the family having their morning coffee, or whilst their teen age daughter fixed her hair looking in the same mirror I was using to get the position right for behind the back lifts. In a small way, it's been like being part of the family.

The center of the gym, like most buildings in central Morelia is a courtyard open to the sky. So each morning I got to work out watching the sky brighten with the sunrise, while large flocks of purest white cattle egrets flew over from North to South, illuminated in brilliant orange, red or yellow tones, depending on the mood of the dawn. It may be a while before we find another gym as welcoming, or as inspiring.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Market

We shopped in our local market today, and found the produce and the displays especially pleasing. This must mean we have recovered from this past week when we both experienced Moctezuma's Revenge. For four or five days we merely studied, slept, and tried hard not to think about food. Now we are back at full strength, and plotting our next batch of salsa.
The Mercado Revolucíon is one of dozens of public markets in Morelia. At first we found the arrangement chaotic and shopping difficult, especially in comparison to a suermarket. So many vendors, dozens who carry the same fruits and vegetables; others who offer meat, poultry, dairy products, seafood, but in no easily discernible arrangement. As we’ve become more familiar, we’ve learned that the Mexican public market offers huge attractions, even if efficiency is not one of them.

First and foremost, since vendors vie for buyers under the same roof, they are constantly working to make their offerings stand out, always arranging and rearranging, culling sad produce, and happy to tout their own wares. Advice and information about the items sold is freely offered. If one vendor doesn’t carry cilantro or peas, he will happily send you over to the fellow who has them.

Each vendor is an independent business, and few fail to add odd items to their inventory to boost total sales. Pinatas hang above the produce; baskets and bags and pots and pans line the fronts and tops of stalls. The chaotic activity and brilliant colors make all supermarkets seem sterile.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Idyll in Querétaro

We spent an idyllic weekend in Querétaro, a city slightly larger than Morelia, and about three hours to the northeast. Like Morelia, Querétaro has a remarkable historic city center; different is the fact that Querétaro has many streets closed to traffic, and a greater variety of building styles. We had beautiful, warm days, and the comforts of a first class, hacienda style hotel. The city was festive but mellow, as Saturday was Epiphany, the day of the Tres Reyes (The Three Kings), and the day Mexican children recieve their holiday gifts. Everyone was in family mode, the public squares - particularly beautiful in Querétaro - were full of extended family groups, including children with new toys.

Querétaro is key in much of Mexican history. My favorite event is from mid-ninteenth century. The French and Spanish tried to put the economic squeeze on the young, indebted Mexican nation and, in 1864, sent Maximilian of Hapsburg to be Emperor. It took the Mexicans less than three years to oust the French, and Maximilian was executed in Querétaro, the subject of this painting by Manet. The site of this morbid event is now a beautiful public park, atop the highest point in the city, with a panoramic view that reveals the much larger, much industrialized, city that circles the historic center.

But enough of this more romantic Mexico. Now it is time to buckle down to three more weeks of Spanish study. Here is a photo of the Captain, getting ready for another day of classes.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Vagabond's Lament

The city is becoming familiar – we know the streets, and have located our favorite buildings. Mine is this storefront around the corner, with its list of cures offered by a patent medicine. We are beginning to realize the benefits of our studies – we can carry on conversations now and then, and can certainly conduct the business of daily life. We settled into a new apartment, one that gets more light than the first, and even has a tiny slot view of the distant hills. We finally found a place to hike in the hills at the edge of the city, and stretched our legs on a fine streamside trek over the weekend. And we had great Christmas and New Year’s celebrations with friends made at the school.
As vagabonds, we’ve become addicted to change. But here we are settled and dedicated to learning the nuances of the Spanish language and life inland in Michoacán. We are thinking that this is the part of travel that is productive, if not always exciting.