Tag Archives: Mexico

Here’s a Guadalupe Gateway

I’m not a diligent blogger. I think I’m too lazy. But happily there are enough of us writing that the “full story” eventually gets out there. Here’s a link to lots of blogs written from and about my beloved “Virgin Territory,” Mexico.
http://themexicoreport.com/2011/08/16/mexico-bloggers/

My Inner Guadalupe Is Getting to Work

This is to let subscribers to this Welcome to Virgin Territory blog know what I’m doing. Or at least as I’m trying to figure it out, I thought I’d let you in on my process.  A new blog of mine, “Clothed With the Sun, Feet on the Ground,” is where I’m starting to get back to doing what I used to be pretty good at — before I turned into a reactionary, screaming angry harridan who internalized all those feelings, moved to Mexico, got embroiled with countless health issues and almost checked out. What I was pretty good at back before I got sidetracked by all that was finding a spiritual perspective on daily life.

Although the recent craziness in the U.S. capital has nudged me back toward the angry harridan position, I am refusing to go. I insist, dang it, that I will draw on those Inner Guadalupe virgin qualities, take refuge in virginity innate wholeness, sanity, and steadfast presence of Mind. (OK, I’m repeating this to myself, reminding myself. It’s a constant process.) My true treasure — my ability to love life and live love — remains pure and intact. No one in Washington can touch that.

I’m not quite up to loving my fellow beings on the political scene. Maybe because I’m still American and they’re like, well, family. You expect a lot more from your family, and it hurts more when they hurt you.

I’m reminded of a story I heard as a jail chaplain. Two inmates shared a cell. Each felt they were in jail because of betrayal and false charges by someone close to them, one by an employer, the other by a brother-in-law. After “getting religion” they each knew that love and forgiveness were key elements toward winning their freedom — freedom on so many levels. But each felt incapable of loving or forgiving the person close to them.

“So, why don’t I take on sending love and light to your brother-in-law, and you send love and light to my @#$%* boss?” one asked the other one day.

“Agreed,” came the reply. “I don’t know your @#$% boss, but he can’t be as bad as my @#$%. brother-in-law. I’ll be happy to send him love and light.” So they did. And it wasn’t long before both the @#$%s had rethought their stories and all charges were dropped against the two cellmates.

I’m wondering if that can’t work on an international level. Maybe I should ask my Canadian friends to send a little love and light to our U.S. Congress and President. I, in the meantime, will take on the drug violence in Mexico. And that’s where “Clothed with the Sun, Feet on the Ground” is headed. I’m making that blog a frequent practice in sending love and light to that particular situation. I invite you to join me there, and on the corresponding Facebook page put up by my friend Chris Raymond, Corazon a Corazon – A Spiritual Defense of Mexico. That’s an open page, which means if you have a little love and light to lend you can post it yourself. Heart to heart, we’ll get through all this.

* Did you catch the * after the @#$%? I decided to use @#$% because all profanity is either sexist, racist, unintelligible or unimaginative.  This way you can create your own.

Heart to Heart from Virgin Territory

In Mexico they call this Dia de Amistad y Amor. Friendship and love. I’m feeling both right now. It’s been one tumultuous year this week since Virgin Territory came out. I’ve made so many phenomenal new friends, and become reacquainted with old ones in deeper ways. I wish I could have a party and bestow abrazos on everyone of them. If you’re reading this, you are in that circle. Consider yourself hugged.

But there is no time for a formal celebration, though Larry brought me a rose this morning and is washing the dog as I write this, two major acts of love. We’re not going to eat out, because I’m busy getting ready to head off tomorrow morning to the San Miguel de Allende Writers’ Conference. Cleaning out the fridge is a priority this evening, so green furry things won’t greet me when I get back next week.

One of my favorite writers in the world, Sandra Cisneros, is the keynote speaker, and I’m clutching my copy of Woman Hollering Creek, eager to get it signed. (I’ve loaned out her other works, Caramelo and The House on Mango Street, because nothing pleases me more than sharing work that I love. But where are they?)  I also submitted the first thirty pages of VT, along with a one-page synopsis to the Writers’ Conference manuscript contest. I was one of just a few to win a private appointment with a hotshot literary agent. Please keep your fingers crossed and your prayerful knees bent for me.

But most of all, I just want to say “Thanks.” I scroll through my contacts list, my friends on Facebook, and I do remember the people behind the names, the kindness they showed, and the encouragement they’ve given. May you have the happiest of days filled with heartfelt affection from south of the border.

‘Round Yon Virgin — A Time Warp

I’m writing this piece under the solemn gaze of a four-year-old girl who is waiting to show me the killer dance moves she has learned from watching Shakira. “Espérate,” I tell Valeria. Wait a while. Like about eleven more years, please.

Quincianeras are celebrated in Mexico when a young girl reaches fifteen years old. They mark an official passage into womanhood. For one day of her life she changes costumes more times than Cher, gets the kind of attention Miley Cyrus takes for granted, and her parents hire a band to play sentimental songs like “Turnaround” from the Kodak commercial.  Larry and I were invited to a big quincianera this past weekend.

I think we scored tickets because the proud papa at first considered staging it in our RV park. There have been parties there before because it’s pretty, paved, and has plenty of bathrooms and electrical outlets. It’s also private and easily secured, a major consideration these days when Mexicans throw a big party. It was available because with travel advisories against driving in Mexico, we’re not getting a whole lot of business.

But Papa’s guest list grew and grew, and our little RV park was not big enough for a sit-down dinner for five hundred, a VIP lounge area, a dance floor and a twelve-piece band from Guadalajara. Papa eventually rented Hacienda La Peñita, a square city block studded with towering palms, and enclosed by high stonewalls. It’s dreamy beautiful, but in the whole place there is only one outside electric outlet and not one easily accessible bathroom. No problema.  There’s not a lot you can’t accomplish in Mexico if you’ve got pesos. Papa hired a semi-truck with fancy built-in restrooms, and a substantial “gratuity” insured a direct hook-up to a nearby power pole. Within hours the Hacienda was transformed.

The invitation said a partir de las ocho. “If it begins at eight o’clock,” I thought,” leaving at nine will make us fashionably on time — according to Latin standards.” I am married to a man whose lights go dim before the evening news, so leaving for a party around nine in the evening was a major challenge for him, let alone putting on a tie. But just after nine, we approached the Hacienda slowly, very slowly, cruising for a parking place, subjecting our open, honest faces to the scrutiny of armed guards who were posted on all four sides of the party place. Papa greeted us, seemed overjoyed that we’d come, and led us to a table with the four other gringos in attendance. We were obviously early.

We also thought we’d scrubbed up pretty well, but we didn’t hold a candle to the glamour that surrounded us.  My Mexican neighbor had counseled me about quincianera protocol. She told me to expect elegance — una noche de largas mantelas – literally, a night of long tablecloths. Party after party of the most beautiful and stylish people gradually populated the tables around us. Languidly, guests staked claim to white-shrouded tables —  and stayed there.  Maybe it’s just hard to mingle on a soft lawn when you’re wearing four-inch heels. It was honored-daughter, with her attendant court of young men and women, who promenaded from table to table, greeting guests, allowing plenty of time to take in the details of each others’ dress. The young men were seamless in their manners, their partners accepting their attentions with a grace engrained since kindergarten.

There were also lots of waiters, bearing lots of wine, lots of tequila, and eventually – wait for it, because we did — dinner rolls. I’d fed us a little something before going, but the combination of soft dinner music and growing hunger pangs were putting a glaze in Larry’s eyes.  Soup was finally served about ten thirty, cream of corn with a hint of curry, but Larry gave up around eleven and took a cab home. The entrees arrived about twenty minutes later, a variety of coconut shrimp, filet mignon, and garlic-laced dorado with side salads of baby lettuces and blackberries. Just before midnight, an MC took the stage and announced that honored daughter had una sorpresita for us – a little surprise. Serve Larry right for leaving early. Not only did he miss the meal. He missed her belly dance, complete with appropriate drapery.

It was after midnight before the live band struck up with Latin rhythms that finally pried guests away from the long tablecloths and out onto the dance floor. There were trumpets, drums, choreography and vocals that rocked the neighborhood. The teen-age queen had yet another costume change, and when I left just before one, the lively part of the evening was just getting started.

Are the rhythms of Mexican life really that much different than those of their northern neighbors? Concerning party times, manners, and table service, yep, they are. But some things move at the same pace north or south of the border – like waiting forever for a grown up to finish what she’s doing, or watching a young girl grow up in the blink of an eye.  I’m almost finished, Valeria. I’ll watch you dance. It will only be a moment, and then it will be — gone.

“Honorary Virgins”

“Honorary virgins.” The phrase has stuck in my head ever since I read it last Friday in The New York Times. It had to do with Republicans who will probably be swept into office today. “The fact that they aren’t incumbents is a technicality,” Russell Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers explains. “They still have a lot of political experience.”

The quote caught my attention because I’m always on the lookout for good virgin references.  My own book is Virgin Territory: How I Found My Inner Guadalupe. But I set this quote aside at the time, because frankly, I just didn’t want to get into the whole political scene. That’s one of the reasons we moved four years ago to Mexico, where the Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere. We were just tired of the fight – tired of the polarization, the rhetoric, and the battles being waged on so many levels and on so many fronts. Yes, we voted for Obama, and No, we didn’t expect the world to be transformed by his presence. We did expect to see a few new faces in the administration on the financial front. That didn’t happen. But I’m still grateful he was elected. It was transformational for the country in the mere fact that it was done. It was proof that a majority of Americans are looking for a new way of doing things. Obama, if he is not re-elected in 2012, will be able to play with more freedom on the world stage than he could as President of the United States. Like Jimmy Carter, the presidency may serve for him as a springboard to greater accomplishments. It may be one of many accomplishments for which Obama will be known.

“Being known” is what draws me to that phrase “honorary virgin.” There is, as I’m sure we’re all aware, a Biblical sense of that word, as in “And Adam knew Eve, and she conceived.” Carnal knowledge is what we associate with losing virginity. But that’s the kind of virginity that deals in technicalities. The concept of virginity that I’ve been touting is that of the original meaning of the Greek word translated virgin. That would be someone who was “one-in-herself,” a complete entity, undefined by any relationship other than the original one she had with her Creator. It was this kind of virginity that Mary expressed when she said, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord!” She didn’t say, “What are Mom and Dad going to think?” or “How is this going to play down at the temple?”

I’d like to reclaim my own virginity. I don’t want to be known as somebody’s daughter, somebody’s wife, or somebody’s mother. I don’t want to be solely identified by any carnal relationship, real or metaphorical. And that includes, in particular, the body politic. Don’t shove me in a corner and stick me with the name of Republican, Democrat, or anything else. Looking at the options offered, I feel my mental knees slamming shut. You don’t know me! You can’t know me!

I grew up attending church, so I’m hardwired with Bible language. The Sunday service I went to always ended with the same verse from First John, which included these words: “Therefore the world knoweth us not.” It came on the heels of words by Mary Baker Eddy that said that right here and now, we were not material beings, but spiritual.  I had a real Aha! moment a few years back when I read about the practice of using acronyms for legal charges in Victorian England. So when someone was arrested for engaging the services of a prostitute we do not find the entire entry, “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” but just the first letter of each word. “Aha!” I saw. “It’s only when I lose sight of who I really am, and identify myself as some body, or with some “body” of thought, that I get, ahem, known.”

The people of the United States, the citizens who pay taxes and have seen Wall Street and the banks bailed out, have been well and truly known. Many would indeed use that f-word.  And still we get promises that So-and-so running for such-and-such knows how we feel. In all due respect you don’t know how I feel. But that’s not to say I don’t want to be known.  I just want it to be more. I’ve voted, but I honestly don’t think that the seeds of what I as a person, or we as a nation will become lie in what goes on in Washington. We’ve been there, done that, and done it over and over again. Right now we’ve been used, violated, and left on the side of the road. No mortal hero, congressional, senatorial or presidential is going to fix that.

One manner of dealing with trauma, the most common, is dissociation. People seal themselves off, isolate the hurt, find ways, consciously or not, to avoid thinking about it. That’s another reason I left the country. But being broken can also mean being broken open. I refer with tongue in cheek to “My Inner Guadalupe.” It’s a euphemism, inspired by my new surroundings, for that open place inside of each of us that’s ready for new things. I’m wondering if we’re ready as Americans for that “new thing.” Are we ready, rather than being the all-knowledgeable, all knowing, to open up and be, well, virginal?

Open up to whom? Or should I ask, to what? I find myself tip-toeing around God-talk these days — even another reason for my geographical distance. There are some subjects that are too intimate, too tender for those who are traumatized to articulate, or hash over on talk radio or television in soundbites. That’s why the Psalms have served humanity over millennia. They give us words to express our longings, a means to voice our pain. Confronted with public noise, recorded phone messages, a barrage of advertising and rhetoric, I whisper ancient words. “Behold, you want truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part you will make me to know wisdom.” Modern words from The Message put it this way:What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.”

Maybe what we need is not a new Congress or even a new President. Maybe what we need is a midwife.

Stand up to the Bully named FEAR

The economy here on Jaltemba Bay, the body of water on which sits our adopted home in Guayabitos, has received a one-two punch this year. I hope it’s not down for the count.

First of all, Mexico received more rain last summer than they have EVER received in a summer before. It was record-breaking. Most news stories have focused on the States of Oaxaca, Tabasco and Veracruz. The devastation is heart-wrenching, if one has not become inured to images of soggy humanity across the hemispheres, east and west.

But there was lots of rain here on the central Pacific Coast north of Puerto Vallarta. In fact the northbound two-lane span of the bridge which takes us from here on Jaltemba Bay to there on bigger Banderas Bay washed away completely. Here we are, not quite cut off from the airport, Sam’s Club and COSTCO (I speak with tongue in cheek), but having to expand our timelines to accommodate time spent confined to one lane each direction.

No lives here were lost on a par with Oaxaca or Veracruz, gracias a Dios, as our neighbors remind us.  But being able to make a living has definitely taken a nosedive. Here in the State of Nayarit, for a period of about seven weeks this past summer we received between six and eight inches practically every night. Where does most of that water go? Away! And it carries a lot of infrastructure and landscape with it. “Worse than Kenna,” my friend Chelo intones, nodding her head sadly, referring to the 2002 hurricane from which the local market town of La Penita has never fully recovered. It was only this past winter that further progress was made in clearing the waterfront wreckage from that storm.  Kenna came and went, as giant whirlwinds are wont to do. The rain this past summer was relentless, a slow pummeling of a people and economy that were already on the ropes, weakened by bad press revolving around narcotraficante wars and swine flu.

The bruises from this recent pounding are evident. The main roads into both San Pancho and Sayulita, beach towns to the south of us, are still closed. Access to those towns is by pedestrian footbridge in one case and in the other by a circuitous route that bumps and grinds its way through back streets full of potholes. Gas trucks with fresh water and butane have difficulty supplying their customers. This is not great for tourism.

There’s more. The famous surfing beach at Sayulita that attracts winter crowds of experts as well as wannabes is now a sand bar way off shore.  The stretch of sand in front of Don Pedro’s Restaurant where rows of cobalt blue cabanas and beach chairs used to stand sentry over the surfers are gone. Water laps at the wall right below your “beach side” table.  And the pavement on Highway 200, the artery that connects these beach towns like pendants and beads on a necklace – it can be as unpredictable as that necklace you buy on the beach.  Don’t put a lot of stress on it, or it will break and scatter the pieces it’s supposed to hold together.

Number two punch, actually two short jabs right to the gut, were travel advisories issued by both the Canadian and U. S. governments. There’s nothing like putting an official stamp of approval on a rampant case of heebie-jeebies. Every time there is a shooting in Juarez or Tijuana, ten people or more cancel a trailer park reservation in Guayabitos, La Peñita, or Lo de Marcos, all of them over a thousand miles to the south. Yes there is violence along the border, but it is a rare case indeed when touring motorists are involved. On our two trips crossing the border this summer, we had no problems. We hear the same from the friends who have started trickling back into town. Their stories match ours: The Federales were present at many checkpoints, and all were solicitous that Americans and Canadians feel safe and secure in their travels. In our own case, the immigration official at the Columbia crossing west of Laredo was particularly cordial when he stamped our documents. The cleaning lady had had to go wake him up, as we were the first foreign visitors to come through in several hours. He was overjoyed to see us! And for those who are especially cautious, the Green Angels have offered free escort service to anyone who wants it.

So this is directed to those who love this area, who think of it as a second home. Are you a fair-weather friend? Your second home neighbors miss you! Get into the ring and lend a hand. Mexico wants you here. Mexico needs you here. Yes, flights into Vallarta are full of one week vacationers, but snowbirds from the frozen north — snowbirds who spend months here, not days — are the bread and butter of this coast. These are the people who provide fuel for the local economy, a hitherto growing economy fostering a burgeoning middle class, an economy that provided a buffer and defense against those narcotraficante recruitment posters that ask, “Tired of eating beans and rice? Join us!”

Come on! Do your part. Let’s stand up to the bully named FEAR. If you’re going to throw in the towel, do it on the beach!

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Mexico Road Trips is a site that offers traffic and safety reports. Check them out. They are frank, up front and reliable. Dot and Bill Bell have put more miles on their car traveling Mexico’s highways than anyone else I know – 10,000 miles alone this summer, crossing the border many times.

Prayer in the face of social networking

When Larry picked me up at Puerto Vallarta’s Diaz Ordaz airport last Sunday, I had been away from Mexico, for all intents and purposes, since August 1. I was eager to return to my “quiet spot” on the globe and try to digest the megatons of information, contacts, counsel and inspiration one tends to pick up on a book and conference tour. We exited the airport and sat in traffic for an hour and a half. No lie. There was a bicycle marathon, and four lanes of the main road through PV had been shut off for the purpose. It was a sabbath-day gridlock.

I’ve felt the same way about my poor brain. It’s a mess in there, a veritable jam-up of post-publication counsel on how to “get my message out there.” I’m advised to LinkIn, Tweet, Facebook, gather my tribe, organize my contacts, make lists on FaceBook, put together video trailers for Youtube, polish up 10-second, 30-second, 2-minute soundbites, get a decent photo, form partnerships, teleconference, tag and drive traffic to my website, seminarize, monetize, categorize…..frankly, “Ize” gettin’ a little overwhelmed.

As I was crawling under the covers last night and emerging this morning, the last verse of a hymn I’ve known since childhood came cruising in like a welcome traffic cop. The words point the way out of the gridlock, a pointy arrow of direction, if not to the fast lane, at least to a clear path.  They are part of a poem written by that “other Mary” in my life, Mary Baker Eddy.

My prayer, — some daily good to do to Thine, for Thee —

An offering pure of love, whereto God leadeth me.