Thursday, August 14, 2008

A letter from Cindy

At a show of traditional ceramics in the nearby town of Tlaquepaque.

To family and friends,

Seven weeks in Mexico. That means five weeks in our apartment. Hard to believe. Our last furniture delivery arrives today - 2 more book shelves to go with the 2 we brought and another 2 we bought. And we really did pare down - a lot. But these last two shelving units aren’t for books; they’re for vases and decorated boxes, fancy plates and mosaic animal figurines, etc - all mementos from other trips, other countries, other homes. That won’t quite complete my shopping binge but it will come close. I’m already thinking about what to get rid of before the next move, which will probably be 2 years from now.

The cathedral in Zapopan, on the border with Guadalajara, is a tourist attraction.

We expected to get a furnished apartment but the pickings were slim. So now I’ve spent 5 weeks outfitting an unfinished 3 bedroom (MBR, TV room, and study for us), 2 bathroom apartment. I've purchased everything from a sofa to sofa pillows, from a refrigerator to casserole dishes and everything in between. This is a major accomplishment for a woman who took 2 years to select a desk for the living room on Dixie. I thank God for WalMart, a store I avoided in the U.S. But here it has become my Bed, Bath, and Beyond, my Home Depot, my Target, for linens, small appliances, kitchen ware, cleaning supplies.

What can’t I find? Cookie sheets, ordinary blankets (I’ve seen one electric blanket and a million comforters), a folding shopping cart (I’ve seen a few fancy ones in the department stores for over $100 but I’m not that desperate - I’ll just build some muscles instead), Weight Watchers.

Guadalajara is mostly like any big city in the U.S. There’s too much traffic; SUVs are very popular; there are skyscrapers and slums; mega malls with recognizable stores and brand names are everywhere; prices are similar (higher for some things, lower for others but still in the ballpark); new movies, in English, premiere every weekend; 70 cable channels and nothing’s on; friendly people.

The differences are not bad, just different. The number one difference, of course, is Spanish. I know the basics for getting around a store. “Solo mirando” (“just looking”) is my favorite. Other than that I use a lot of mime. I plan to get serious about studying the language one of these days.

The weather is outstanding and probably the reason for so many North American retirees in the area. Like most of the buildings in Guadalajara our apartment has no air conditioning or heating. We just missed the hottest months, which occur in late spring. Jim was here for a week in May and though the temperature was high 80s and 90s it wasn’t uncomfortable because there is very low humidity. Now we are in the rainy season which keeps things cooler - sunny days in the high 70s and 80s, rainy nights. There are ceiling fans in the apartment which we rarely use and we have yet to break out the 2 room fans we brought with us.

I miss beautiful buildings. Anything under 4 stories is stucco and usually flat roofed; most skyscrapers are steel and glass. I miss the suburbs and yards and flower gardens. This is definitely not the high desert I was expecting but there is little visible landscaping. I suspect all the good stuff is hidden behind the walls that are built right up to the edge of the sidewalk. Sometimes you can get a glimpse of a small planted plot through a barred door in a wall but it is usually overshadowed by the 2 or 3 space parking pad right next to it. There is a lot of green, though - trees bordering sidewalks, tree lined median strips, lots of parks with lots of trees - for which I am very thankful. I’m learning to look up.

This is the TV room with a fold-down couch frame and futon.

The traffic laws and accepted behavior take some getting used to but then so did moving from Ohio to Maryland, and Connecticut was just plain crazy. I think Mexico is most like Connecticut with the addition of large traffic circles with up to 5 lanes and 8 entry/exit points. I plan my routes in advance to try to avoid them. The infrastructure can’t accommodate all the vehicles anymore so it’s always rush hour and parking can get very inventive with blocked cars, blocked sidewalks, double parking, parking up on the curb. Plus you have to watch out for cars backing into the street no matter how busy the street. The really bad part about the traffic is that it is not conducive to bike riding. And I don’t think the “country” roads are any better unless you have a mountain bike and can get off the highways.

Starbucks has replaced Borders for our weekly treat. We see a lot of movies - in movie theaters, on TV (lots of English offerings), renting from Blockbuster. We live in a very nice area of town with lots of restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, we live on a very busy street with the associated traffic noise (Christine, bring your ear plugs). On the other hand we’re within walking distance of a lot of handy enterprises - Blockbuster, two grocery stores (one sells only products from the states), Starbucks, more than a dozen restaurants and cafes, a 7 / 11, four banks, Subway, Pizza Hut, pharmacy, hardware store, dry cleaners, hair salons, Dairy Queen - the four basic food groups, as you can see.

I miss Let’s Dish. I’m trying out recipes in the half dozen Weight Watcher cookbooks I bought before leaving Baltimore. It’s OK - not my favorite activity but much easier to handle since I’m not working. I’m also cross stitching and working on a photo project, scanning all our photos onto my laptop and getting 2001 thru 2008 into albums. Reading is still my favorite activity and I have luckily discovered an English library of donated paperbacks at the American Society of Jalisco, which I have joined. I thought AmSoc, as it is called, might provide some social opportunities but the members are mostly retirees aged 75 and up and we have dissimilar interests. I’m grateful for the books, though.

Now that the shopping is slowing down we plan to do more touristy things on the weekends. So far we’ve stuck to the city - its parks, colonial squares and buildings, churches, craft markets. I’m ready to do some hiking.

Love to you all,


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:28 PM

    Cindy & Jim,

    Good to hear about your exploits, insights and accommodations (lodging and otherwise). Business as usual in B-more, with a boost of civic adrenaline from Michael Phelps, of course.

    All the best . . . Mark Furst (