viernes, 28 de septiembre de 2007

Why oh why oh why oh why did I answer my phone at 8am on my day off? The behaviour of an idiot. It's like I've never been a welfare officer - the first rule of being a welfare officer is do not answer the phone, the second rule of being a welfare officer is do not answer especially when you are in bed, before 10am on your day off, especially when you haven't had a lie in for two weeks. Well that all went out the window. 8 am Friday, phone rings. It's Elsa telling me that Amandine and I need to go in to Uni to see a conference on teaching maths in the classroom, never mind that it's my day off, that I don't teach maths, that it will be in English, a language Amandine doesn't speak. We get showered and dressed, and wait for a lift in to Uni. It's not until about 10 till 9 that we realise there's a large chance that our lift has already left. It has. We gave up, rather early to be honest, but walking through the heat to squeeze on a bus and be bumped around for a while, is more than I'm prepared to do for a conference on teaching maths.
My birthday was lovely.7.37 woke up to a message from London, into work and spanish class, getting taken to cake shop, huge strawberry cheese cake, lunch, maestos and friends, and people I can't remember the name of, photos, photos, returning home, sweaty and tired, get dragged excitedly upstairs, given a bunch of flowers almost as tall as I am, Paddington bear, slightly teary, message from London, into barrio antiguo, Tomoyo, Becky, Amandine, Amy, Tony, little restuarant, with books, candles, Italian food, sol and lime and salt, chat and laughter (Tomoyo says Japanese men are feisimo - how do you spell that?, but we should all get a Japanese man because they don't talk back, quietly work very very hard and have big hearts. She is currently travelling as far as I can tell, to gawp at all the attractive men, before she goes back to her feo japanese novio, her words not mine!), bar art, lamps and chairs and sofas and not enough room on the balcony, men who look like dads with moustaches playing music, the keyboard with more than a hint of Blackpool or Phoenix Nights, sang Happy Birthday to me, tequila longer than my index finger, hurried panicked search for keys that someone else had and bundled into taxis, attempts not to be charged foreigner prices - Tomoyo goes as far as massaging the taxi driver's shoulders, repeating '60...60..', we still travel the long way round, through the dark dark streets to home. And getting up at 7.40 the next morning. The tequila causing a big enough dent in my immune system to let a nasty cold be finally victorious.

martes, 25 de septiembre de 2007

no immigation no sleep

Hmmm, I think my attempts not to be too slushy ended in people thinking I’m dreadfully unhappy here. Not so. Also mentioned wanting to go home, by which I actually meant to my little house on Río Lerma, to listen to the radio swing between 80’s classics, unidentifiable Mexican music and The Beatles and read strange American books, lent to me by a friendly American in my Spanish class. They refer to Africa as a country, and rely on a knowledge of the geography of the United States, but since the library here is rather less stocked than I thought it would be (Ulysses in Spanish anyone?), and I unloaded all my books on Nora in Costa Rica, I’m rather dependent on Beth’s goodwill and library.
This weekend was lovely, knackering and rather impressive, and seemed to be a lesson in not being so lazy, not going home too early.
Having been a student for the last few years, the daily rise and shine for leaving the house at 8.30am has been rather difficult, and over the last couple of weeks, my attempts to get myself and the correct paperwork to immigration have been constantly thwarted by the need for more photocopies, the life of the coordinator here, Lupita, which seems full of events that prevent her taking me to immigration. I have suggested I’ll go alone (I’ve done it before. I took the list of paperwork we were told we needed in Mexico City. The muchacho at the desk took great pleasure in snorting derisively at the small amount of paper, ‘casi nunca’, and gave me a much longer one with which to return). However, the university seem to want me to go with someone, namely Lupita, in case there is a problem, or something needs explaining. This is a little ironic, since I find her more difficult to understand than almost anyone else I’ve met. She says a lot and quickly, so that I’ve found myself in the past flailing – unable to work out even if she wants me to follow her to a class or stay where I am.
Friday morning felt like the last straw. Friday is my day off, designed so I can go on lots of weekend trips away. I have been trying for a couple of weeks to get to immigration, and Friday was definitely meant to be it. I could have done with a lie-in, washing clothes, boring, mundane, pottering alone time, which I’m rather short of since Amandine moved in (no offense to her, she’s very nice). However, the promise of a car trip to immigration was just too tempting and dragged my carcass out of bed to make it into Uni for 9am as usual. Needless to say I wasn’t best pleased to learn that some event or other had unfolded, and I wouldn’t be going to immigration. If it wasn’t for cake and orange juice in my Spanish lesson, I think I would have wept with frustration. I was not in a good mood. It was lucky they only mentioned the possibility of me teaching Lupita’s one and a half hour class on my day off in passing, or my British roots would have been forgotten, and I might have, God forbid, made a scene.
But the weekend changed all that. Friday afternoon was spent in the cool quiet of MARCO, the modern art gallery, in a Frieda Kahlo exhibition. It was absolutely fantastic. How do you describe an art exhibition? Not only did I fall in love with some of her paintings, but her old letters and postcards had been sealed in plastic, hung from the ceiling so that you could move among them and read. There’s nothing I love more than old letters, and the reading equivalent of eavesdropping. Lovely jubbly.
On Saturday, I took an unexpected road trip. Went to the Grutas of Garcia - a cave system. (And Anna, after watching The Descent, I’m very proud I managed to stay calm). Yet again highly impressive, and indescribable. One of the best things about it, was the way in which some chap had gone around trying to shapes in the rock, and named them. As we walked around the system, every so often, there would be a neon arrow and title, lit up and gaudy, telling you what that piece of cave looked like. There was a donkey, that looked sort of like a donkey, a ‘finger of death’, which looked slightly like a finger, although more like a long piece of rock, and of course Jesus and Mary, neither of which looked anything like them. In fact, the strangest thing was, that right next to what they suggested was the suffering face of Jesus, was a shape that looked very much like a man on a cross. But they didn’t choose that. Strange and mysterious.
After the Grutas and a big lunch, we (Becky, Amandine, Amy & Tony) drove across some amazing countryside, to find some hot springs (aguas termales). Becky had seen reference to them in a leaflet from the tourist office, that said they were close to the Grutas. We started on one of those drives that unfolds further and further, asking every now and again for directions from people on the roadside. The road was curved round, through plains surrounded by mountains. I am in the land of the Western, although with more vegetation and less cacti. I was perfectly content – incredible scenery, a road trip, music, people, all of the above. This was only bettered on the way back, by going through a ‘servi-car’, or Mexican drive thru, my new favourite thing – it looks likes a barn or a warehouse with a road through, and at one side sits a person, waiting to sell you crisps, water, drinks, or, as we bought, cold beer. On the way home, we had car, music, beer, people, speeding through a clear road through the mountains.
Before that, however, we did finally make it the hot springs. I had imagined them, open-aired, very natural, bubbling out of rocks. What we actually found was an isolated and luxurious hotel. If the writer from The Shining ever wants to write a sequel, it would be the perfect place. We paid about 150 pesos, about 7 pounds to go in, which is a lot, but it was definitely worth it. In a room covered in beautiful tiles, between arches, there was an pool of water, of about 40-45 degrees – the temperature of a hot bath – so that with your feet it feels a little too hot, but to swim in it was gorgeous. Felt rather roman lying at the side of the pool, if only there had been a servant to feed me grapes. Well, nowt’s perfect. The other slight problem with the baths was the strong smell of sulphur they gave off, which somewhat stuck to the skin, and also something in the water reacted with any silver jewellery, turning it a shade of blackish, brackish bronze. I could have stayed there all day, swimming in the hot water and showering in the warm, reading and snoozing gently at the side of the pool.
P.S - more on the weekend later, and have found my new cafe 1001, although it's a little more chilled.

domingo, 16 de septiembre de 2007

no shout, no shouting

Now what did I say about sod's law saving up something for me? I knew it was going to be big when I both managed to get back from the supermarket with no problems, and then yesterday I travelled right across Monterrey to get to Becky's flat and I got on the right bus, and off at the right stop. Sod's law rubbed it's hands with glee and saved up something big.
We dressed up rather fetchingly in green, red and white in celebration of our adopted country, even went as far as face paint, hair ribbon and glorious glorious moustaches, which we twiddled and shaped, and left, ultimately, at home. I think that was a good move, since the majority of Mexicans had left behind their green, red and white costumes. Most people had managed to bring their umbrellas and little trumpety things, and lots of people in front of us had generously worn their sombreros.
After standing on the verge of an enormous road for exactly the amount of time it took for me to give up hope and my shoes to become slimey in the rain, we successfully hailed a taxi. We headed for the Macroplaza. The centre had been pedestrianised and was being policed by men in lovely bright yellow raincoats. Very Paddington. Want one. What had previously been an underpass was taken over by stalls selling food, flags, trumpets, face paint. It was a sea of people, all shouting, tooting and eerily lit in yellow. Very odd. Since it was only about 10.15, and it was still spitting with rain (or estaba chispeando, as I learnt in class today - el chipi chipi), we went to find a bar. This was more difficult than it might seem on Independence Day in Mexico - not dressed or desiring an expensive, exclusive club. We ducked into the nearest place with seats and shelter and beer. My slimey shoes were breaking for freedom, so we were moving rather slowly.
It was a karaoke bar, a place to wait until we went back to the plaza for el grito, what the whole celebrations centre on. The shout, by the governor of each place, similtaneously throughout Mexico, of ¡Viva! ¡Viva this! ¡Viva that! and finally and of course ¡Viva Mexico! We were waiting until just before 12 to brave the rain and go out to see a couple of thousand people shout all together, fireworks, celebrations etc etc. I don't normally go in for large public celebrations, and I should have clocked the New Year´s Eve ambiance of the evening, but I thought that I'd probably never be in Mexico for Independence Day again, so I might as go with it. Plus Becky was very excited, and that was rather infectious.
Then sod's law kicked in. Everyone I've spoken to, ditto Becky, had said midnight was the big time. It's definitely the logical time, since the Día de Independencía was actually Sunday, the day after - same as celebrating New Year at midnight on New Year's Eve. However, it was with a growing sense of concern, horror and overwhelming disbelief that we watched the television screens come on. The cameras followed the official through a palace and out onto the balcony, the balcony that was five mintues from the strange little karaoke bar where we were sitting. The governor went to the balcony and el grito commenced. ¡Viva! everybody shouted. At 11pm. Not midnight. How ridiculous is that? We spent the height of celebrations, dressed up and sat in a bar 5 minutes from actually seeing and hearing el grito in action. Sod's Law indeed.
The rest of the evening was still good fun. A German girl called Julia has been here for 2 weeks and is staying with a religious family, but no run of the mill Catholic family. We're not quite sure what, but they don't smoke, they don't drink and she's obviously going stir crazy-I met her at a fiesta we had instead of spanish class. Her first question to me was 'Do you like going out?´.
She spent the first half of the celebrations at a party with no drinks and no music, and the second half, they spent at the macroplaza, so she escaped to find Becky, me and a large bottle of beer. She had been given a chaparone called Estéban, who very sweetly followed us around and asked in utter disbelief if me and Becky were out alone. We went to a chilled out place and ended up listening to a man with a guitar singing lovelily songs that the audience knew all the words to. Was good.

sábado, 15 de septiembre de 2007

no hair no haircut

I thought I'd getting a blog so I could both nauseatingly express every moment of my living day and small thought that crosses my mind, and force you to read it out of your general desire to procrastinate and find some small reason to stay on the internet longer, now you've read postsecret three times this week and changed your facebook status three times in the last hour. I also can't remember who I've emailed and who wants to know what.
So here I am in Monterrey, México, or for those of you who enjoy being a bit multicultural, Mejjjjico. I've been here for the last two weeks, and could probably blather on for a while about how it seems both like a really long time and a really short time, yada yada yada, you've heard it all before, and probably from me.
So, I supose I should first go into a bit about Monterrey. It isn't actually desert, as I was expecting, or at least, not yet, and especially not today. This weekend is Mexican Independence Day, and the weather has come over all British. It's rainy and grey (yes that is grey with an ´e' - I'm working hard to maintain British spelling a few hundred miles from the border). It has parks, and trees and greenery, although I'm sure what happens to the parks, trees and greenery when the hot season hits and so do the mid-40s. Wait till March and tell you all about it. The centre (or downtown) is quite impressive - plazas, museums and a barrio antiguo, which I have yet to explore, but is quiet and pretty in comparison with the area where I'm living. One of the plazas there is where, tonight, at midnight, someone will step forth and shout ¡Viva México!, which happens all over the country, and seems to have a lot of importance and a very long build up for two little words. But hopefully I shall be there to witness it.
I am living in a self contained place attached to the house of Yesika, who works in the office in Uni, where I currently spend most of my days hanging around and wondering what I'm meant to be doing, hoping beyond hope that one day I will have a timetable.
The house/flat/place whatever is sweet and has all mod cons - kitchen, telly, shower, all those type of lovely things, although every now and again and cockroach comes to die on the kitchen floor. I've only seen one live one so far, it was enormous and scared the hell out of me. The cockroach spray was just out of reach, and as I went to get it, I accidently chased the cockroach under the dividing door and into the apartment of Yeskia's very sweet Abuela, which made me feel slightly guilty at the time. Then I thought that she's probably been dealing with cockroaches single-handed whilst carrying three children and a cat, whilst hand-making tortillas, since long before I was born.
I'm living alone at the moment, but there's a french assistant arriving either on Tuesday or in October, depending on either who I heard correctly or has the correct information, at the Uni, who's going to move in. My first reaction when I arrived was to look for somewhere else to live with people and closer to the centre, but I've grown fond of my little kitchen, checked table cloth and all, and new washing machine with a mind of its own. I'm also worried about getting from the centre to the Uni, which is out north. There is a metro being built to connect to the university, but a large portion of it fell down last week, so I'm not holding my breath. I am currently close to the bus to uni and the metro to centre, so going to see how it goes for a while.
After mostly getting into Uni in Yesika's car, last Thursday I was allowed out for the first time - to get the bus home. Everyone at the uni was obviously slightly concerned about this and what would happen, but having spent the last few days getting a lift there and back, I was pretty confident - Hmm, that should have been a warning sign. I blame bus-peer-pressure - I have to get off at a junction, and when the bus stopped at a similar junction, everybody jumped off, and in a split second decision, I jumped up too. I knew as soon as I got off that I was in the wrong place and should have just sat tight and got on the next bus. Instead I wanted to check, to be a hundred percent sure I was in the wrong place, so I proceeded to drag myself across roads of many lanes, across massive traffic islands, which were strangely muddy, nearly losing my shoe, crossing roads like a Mexican, which means not even expecting a crossing but striding forth in front of traffic. This was all done in front of full view of the obligatory old Mexican men sitting on corners who were visibly flummoxed and amused by this strange gringa, pink faced and confused, staggering across roads, and attempting to keep a straight faced 'I know what I'm doing' expression. Of course, I had to repeat the whole exercise in reverse, and go and sit down and wait for the next bus, and got home safe and dry. I walked to the supermarket and back yesterday for the first time and I didn't get lost or absolutely confused, so sod's law is obviously saving something up for me.