Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Monday, February 02, 2009


"This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are." ~ Plato

* * * *

They always let themselves in, because they are Rocio’s parents, and because this is Mexico and people really do marry the entire family here. I reckon that I am married to a lot of people, then, and many have keys to my house. My home is many things, it is a pit stop and a sports lounge and a restaurant and a public bathroom, and all of these things are conveniently situated near the main boulevard. There are currently several huge sacks, each filled with several hundred crushed aluminum cans sitting in my living room.

"Guess what happened?" she asked in Spanish as I emerged from my office this morning before nine o’clock, robed and disheveled and still choking down my first cup of coffee.

I didn’t want to guess. Maybe they were going to turn my living room into a recycling center. Perhaps Mexico was no longer trading in pesos and the crushed aluminum can is the new currency. Possibly, owing to the great bean bag chair craze back some forty years ago, they were bringing us the latest trend in home furnishing, the crushed aluminum can chair.

"We went down to turn these in and the recycling center is closed!" She laughed.

This time I had an answer.

"Yes, well, this is a holiday."

"Which holiday?" she asked.

Some Mexican holidays, much like many on the other side of the big metal fence, are now considered to be floating holidays. The fifth day of February is Constitution Day in Mexico, but now it floats to the nearest Monday. Today is also Ground Hog Day. Today is also my late grandmother’s birthday. Today is also Día de la Candelaria, an obscure religious holiday in Mexico celebrating the blessing of seeds and candles. Some days on the calendar are busier than others.

* * * *

Yesterday, Rocio’s parents came down the hill and watched the super bowl, the spectacle that defines American Football, even though neither understands the game. Soccer is infinitely more simple. Kick a ball into the net. American football is complicated, a game of controlled war without ammunition. They seemed to enjoy themselves anyway. Maybe they liked the halftime show.

Anna is a New England Patriots fan. I would like to tell you exactly how this happened, but I can’t. It seems that she just woke up one day and made a decision. She owns a New England Patriots cap and wears it whenever they show a game on television. One time I tried to give her an historical perspective on her favorite team. I lost her at Jim Plunkett, back in the days when they were called the Boston Patriots. This is what happens.

Everybody ate my first attempt at cooking mole verde, and even though I screwed it up, it was received with rave reviews. One ingredient, a very important one that I completely omitted by mistake, was cilantro. I have a large bag full of cilantro and I completely forgot it! Another ingredient that I knew nothing about, but apparently essential in all green mole, is pumpkin seeds. How would I have known?

I am still learning their food and I am still learning their holidays, but I am gaining on both.

* * * *

The large sacks of Aluminum cans remain static in my living room tonight. I presume that they’ll be gone at some point tomorrow. Before they left this morning, Rocio’s parents again congratulated me on the mole verde, which I knew wasn’t quite right, and so I did the best that I could to be humble in accepting their compliments. When Rocio came home, I mentioned this to her, that her parents have had many of my dishes here that are far more complex, everything from caldo de siete mares to paella. Why would they go so far out of their way to compliment my first attempt at mole when I know that it wasn’t quite right?

"You have to understand," Rocio said. "Mole isn’t just a dish, it is the defining Mexican dish, and it is complex and unique. Family recipes are guarded and passed down from generation to generation. On your first attempt, you surpassed anything that I could ever do, and you’re not even Mexican! We knew what ingredients that you left out because we know. And we also know what you put in. No one told you how to do this, and you did it, the mole was really good."

"Next time, roasted pumpkin seeds and cilantro," I smiled.

"And don’t precook the onions, they need to be raw," she added.

Unless I’ve forgotten some holiday, I’ll be going to the other side of the big metal fence tomorrow. Rechargeable batteries, kidney beans, and cayenne pepper are on my grocery list for items I have a heck of a time procuring in Mexico. But I’ll be trying mole verde again very soon. And I’ll keep my eye on the Mexican calendar, just in case some floating holiday is looming to confuse Rocio’s parents.

Those big sacks of aluminum cans make for very uncomfortable chairs.


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