Lydia in Xalapa

Lydia is spending summer 2010 studying in Mexico with SMU-in-Xalapa. She is excited to put her nine years of Spanish classes to good use while immersing herself in Xalapan culture.

A trip through the past two weeks

Okay, so two and a half weeks is a long time, and it’s been two and a half weeks since I last wrote a blog. Triste, yo se. As you can imagine, Xalapa has not stopped teaching me new lessons and offering me new experiences, and I am full of interesting stories to tell. So take a trip back in time with me to two and a half weeks ago… (-Cue twilight zone music-) You are getting very sleepy…


Just kidding! There is no time for sleep in this blog! We are on our way to the Texolo Cascadas (waterfalls), about 45 minutes outside of Xalapa. Truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, the Cascadas and the selva/jungle surrounding them seem to invite us (you and me together, oh dear readers, whoever you are) and my warrior princess self (she’s a separate character) into their mystery.

Lydia4.jpgEvery step is a kodak moment, but our camera (we’re sharing because I forgot mine) will never capture the scope of the absolutely enormous white tree that looks like the Mexican version of the tree of Gondor (any Lord of the Rings fans out there?), nor the amazing wash of greens and browns swimming in and out of each other with the meticulous detail only creation can boast. The sound is immense, it penetrates like a heartbeat, and we are reminded just how powerful water can be, how incredibly, terrifyingly magnificent.

Now I welcome you to the city of Coatepec, about 30 minutes outside Xalapa. The plaza is small, homey and lively. And everyone is looking at you and the very large group to which you belong as we meander, but you don’t mind if you are obviously a foreigner, because, well, who cares right? If we are afraid to be foreigners in the world we won’t ever go visit the world, will we? You taste the sweetest, richest coffee ice cream of your life (if you don’t like coffee-flavored ice cream, pretend), and then you taste your friend’s vanilla Lydia6.jpgflavored ice cream and you cringe a bit because never before have you had ice cream with such strong vanilla flavor! Coatepec is home to both Mexico’s best vanilla and supposedly Mexico’s best coffee. A certain special matriarchal figure will be thankful that we visited this place…

Reaching our lovely little room on the third floor of our lovely house here in Xalapa, you open our bag of clean clothes just picked up from the lavanderia where you payed 35 pesos (about $3) for two bags of laundry that have returned to you neatly folded and smelling like heaven. Yes my friends, sniff, sniff away. Ahhhhhh delightful.

Smells in general have quite the life here. Take, for example, food. That’s the obvious choice: gorditas, tortillas, sopas, carne, pollo, chiles rellenos, frijoles, huevos, arroz rojo, salsa, guacamole, mangos, platanos, sandia, pasteles, helados, churros, helotas, esquites, cacahuates japoneses, cafe, te, agua de pina, agua de jamaica, agua de limon…all you have to do to gain wait here in Mexico is smell, because once you’ve done that you are gone for good. Lydia7.jpg
Y’all are missing out! Oh dear. I just typed y’all. Oh how going to school in Texas changes a person. Tangent, sorry.

Back on the road again on our Journey Through Time (oooooooh), I have brought you to a taxi filled with six people (not including the driver) on the way to see “Toy Story 3” in Spanish at the Plaza Americas. It’s just so much fun that we have to take a picture! (P.S. the movie was awesome! And seeing it in Spanish was a fantastic experience, as I am sure you agree.)

When we return to our Journey Through Time, it will be for a three-day trip through some pretty awesome historic places as well as a visit to the beach, so pack well, and make sure to bring lots and lots of bugspray and sun block, because you are going to need it. And just accept the fact that you are going to sweat all day. It’s better if you just accept it and move on. Everybody sweats.


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So much has happened in the past few days! Ay de mi, no pienso que puedo escribir todo! Seriously, I think I am going to be very disorganized, so prepare yourselves. Prepared? Ok, let’s go.

IMG_5170.jpg First of all, Paleta = popsicle. Here, real chunks of fruit are frozen in a real juice blend with a little bit of chili spice. SO GOOD. There are so many little shops in town with all kinds of goodies. And when we got popsicles, I also got some candied peanuts.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love roasted nuts, especially when they are sweet πŸ™‚ Later that same day we went to this mini-lake in the middle of the city that has a park all around it. Parks are almost always fun, but this one was made especially so by the bike/go-cart contraptions that we, with great difficulty and at the expense of most of our energy, giddily raced around the park. Let’s just say that my partners in crime and I got our exercise that day!IMG_5190.jpg

You know how in the States the most likely ways of hearing Mariachi are either in a nice or maybe just quirky Mexican restaurant, or on the radio when you accidentally turn to the Spanish channel? Ok, maybe you turn there on purpose, but still. I am going to venture to say that we (hmm, that is a rather ambiguous use of the word “we.” Obviously not everyone is included in the stereotype that follows this parenthesis) have this impression of Mariachi as something old and boring that consists of weird guys singing “Guantanamera” over and over again. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT. De verdad. Truly. Mariachi, so much fun, aaaaaannnd it really makes you want to dance.

Or at least it did to me. But I usually want to dance… So basically we went to a Mariachi concert and it was awesome. The huge theater was overflowing with eager, excited, and joyful audience members, who clapped so hard at the “end” of the concert that it just had to go on for another hour. There were some really impressive singers, and obviously talented musicians, and one of the singers even proposed to his new fiance in the middle of the show! I had such a blast!!

I really like my cultural assistant, Sara, who is a music student at La Universidad Veracruzana. She speaks a little bit slower (and is thus easier to understand!) and is incredibly gracious as I stumble and learn in this world that is “living in another language.”

We ate at an awesome restaurant last week; soup, bread, the main meal (pork chop covered in vegetables with rice and bananas) with tortillas (of course), and a small cheese danish thing for dessert all for 40 pesos each, which is about $3.19! An entire three course meal with tortillas (of course) for about seven bucks! And rather delicious, if I do say so myself. We also had agua de jamaica, which tastes kind of like a fancy, upgraded version of how awesome kool-aid tasted when we were kids… or for some of us how it still tastes…

Working off our meal by walking around town a bit, Sara and I passed one of the oldest streets in Xalapa, Callejon Jesus te ampare, whose cobblestone path stretches all the way up to the Cathedral of San Jose, one of the oldest and best preserved colonial monuments of Xalapa. It’s simply beautiful, and the stones feel worn not only with history, but with messages and with memories.

Covering also the modern perspective in our meandering, we visited a museum of contemporary art, which was exhibiting one man’s excellent collection of paintings, sculptures, and engravings. I have been incredibly impressed by Xalapa’s appreciation of art, and by the caliber of work artists of all kinds offer to the community. I hope to go back to this museum, and others in the future, to soak in as much as I can.

We took the camion (bus) to the Plaza Americas, which is basically a big mall with both foreign and Mexican stores, and walked around a bit. I must say, I prefer the boutiques and the callejones (flea-market alleys where people sell jewelry, purses, etc.) in the center of town πŸ™‚ But we enjoyed walking around for a while and chatting. We passed a super nice McDonald's (why are they always nicer in other countries?) Oh, and Hey Ladies, instead of Forever 21, they've got Forever Sexy. Now honestly, which would you rather be? πŸ™‚

That night I went to a jazz concert with my friend Will that was truly incredible. Afterward, Will and I introduced ourselves to the pianist and to the bassist, and Will, who is also a pianist, is going to jam with them sometime! Maybe I can sing along, scat a bit, who knows!

Friday I went with two other SMU students, Will and Oscar, to the house of Oscar's cultural assistant, Iris, in Corrizal, which is about 40 minutes from Xalapa by Camion. Hace calor en Corrizal!! It's generally much hotter because it is lower in altitude and closer to the coast. Ay de mi, the whole day I was sweating up a storm! That's life. People sweat. At least we all do it together…

Annnnnyhoo, Iris's lovely mother and aunt cooked us some amazing camarones con arroz rojo (shrimp with red rice) and tamales made with banana leaves! I had never seen that before. Everything was muy sabroso (delicious/savory/tasty!).

We spent a few hours sitting in the shade in her backyard relaxing and chatting with her family, who were so incredibly nice and funny, and delighted to have us. Without a doubt those few hours spent in good family conversation were some of my favorites that I have spent here in Mexico.

Iris’ uncle took us for a tour of the pueblo and showed us the Corrizal Aguas Termales, which are natural thermal waters that have been turned into a weekend getaway, with normal pools and slides to accompany them. It costs 70 pesos a day (less than 7 bucks). We are most definitely going to return with more people in the future.

The landscape in general of the Veracruz state is breathtaking. The peak of Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico at 18,491 feet (and the mountain that I can see from my window! See last blog for a picture) stretches straight up out of fields of grass, shrubs, small trees, and overall beautiful country. The drive to Corrizal reminded me a little bit of Colorado, my homeland. That is, except for the fields of agave plants from which tequila is made. We just have normal yuccas.

Back in town, Oscar and Will bought nachos americanos, and I bought an esquite: corn, mayonaise, butter, and cheese in a cup. Fattening, warm, and delicious. Don’t worry, I didn’t drink the leftover butter… Anybody grossed out?

That night we went to another symphony concert at the Teatro del Estado. It was wonderful, and I so enjoyed myself. The first half included five or six songs with a lovely mezzo-soprano, and the second half was Stravinski’s Petrushka, which was so cool. I sometimes forget how much I like classical music.

I could write more, but I think I am going to stop for now. My next entry is going to be another long one, as you will soon see. Get ready, it’s gonna be good. Oh man, how am I ever going to decide which pictures to put up???

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Gallos, perros y churros

IMG_5089.jpg We just finished another delicious breakfast of fruit (bananas, cantelope, and pineapple, all fresh!) and cereal, and now I am sitting in my lovely room enjoying the gorgeous view (big mountains!!) and the sounds of the city: cars, people, and “gallos” (roosters). Seriously. Every morning. A little bit annoying, but hey, when will I ever again have the opportunity to have an obnoxious rooster wake me up at 7 am? Seize the day.

So much has happened in the past few days. The play that we went to on Saturday night was wonderful. I didn’t understand every single joke, but I did understand most, and ultimately I found myself very connected to it. I appreciate how appreciative the Xalapeno people are of theater; the entire theater was full, and the response to the final bow was overwhelming!

One of my professors is a director at the University of Veracruz, and he and his students are in the thick of ensayos (rehearsals), a few of which I hope to attend in the next few weeks to continue to broaden my experience of Mexican theater.

IMG_5073.jpg Perros Calientes were in order after our theater outing, and the vendors near the callejon (an alley that works kind of like a mini flea market) on Xalapenos Ilustres (one of the central streets) were happy to provide. Hot dog, bun, ketchup, mayonnaise, tomatoes, peppers, chiles, onions, and grilled/melted whole milk cheese to glue it all together. Ohhhhhh, it was glorious.

IMG_5090.jpg My Sunday morning was spent in Coatepec at a collection of soccer fields where my new friend Alfred had a game. Alfred is one of the Mexican students who lives in the same house as myself and two other SMU students. He has already become like a younger brother to me, teasing and silliness included! He is an excellent player and it was great fun to watch. On our way back to Xalapa we packed seven of us into one cab! Ummmmm … really fun and a little bit cramped? Yes.

IMG_5110.jpg Sunday night was a smorgasbord of fun things. We walked around the center of town for a bit, and somehow I found myself, the very tall, white American Girl, dancing the cumbia in the middle of a very very large crowd of observant Xalapenos. Let me explain: a live band was playing just outside the cathedral for Junio Musical, and Claudia and Maira, the two other SMU girls I live with, and I spent a good while watching the band and the hundreds of people looking on, while only three or four people were dancing.

IMG_5106.jpg Claudia led us into the thick of it and we made our way to the rather empty space in the middle and began doing our version of the all-female-cumbia-outside-the-cathedral dance. Only after we began dancing did several other Xalapenos join in! Three who asked myself, Claudia and Maira to dance. Now, I cannot say why it took the estudiantes extranjeros to get everybody involved, but I can say, with pride, “We started it!”

IMG_5112.jpg We walked around el Parque Juarez and the plaza, and bought the most delicious churros I have ever tasted. Covered in chocolate, carmel, strawberry, and other flavors of your desire, these churros are sure to induce irrevocable infatuation with the deliciousness that is fried bread soaked in lots of cinnamon and sugar. Wow, yummy.

IMG_5114.jpg Then we went to church! Churros and Church. Kind of has a ring to it, no? The cathedral is one of the center points of the city, and it is stunning. The architecture is gorgeous and the interior design perhaps even more so. Mass was difficult to understand because the band was still playing the cumbia just outside, and the microphone was a bit fuzzy, oh AND it was in Spanish. Go figure.

But I still very much enjoyed it. Catholicism is a huge part of the Mexican culture, and although I am a Protestant, I have in the past year enjoyed learning more about the Catholic church and its structure of service. It is an honor to share my faith with the people in Xalapa.

Yesterday was our first day of classes. I am taking a Civilization and Culture class with professor Veronica Leon of SMU and The Latin American Short Story with a professor from the University of Veracruz. From what I can tell, both classes are going to keep me very busy, especially my literature class, but with work that is well worth my while, and which I am very excited to do in order to expand my knowledge of the Latin American world. What can I say, I like school πŸ™‚

IMG_5146.jpg Last night was the Bienvenida, or the welcome ceremony for all of the foreign students studying in Xalapa this summer as well as their families and cultural assistants. After a few formal introductions the stage was turned over to the musicians and dancers who presented an incredible performance of Folkloric Mexican dance. It reminded me of Irish dancing, or extreme tap dancing with a very particular, colorful Mexican flavor. I was amazed!

During some of the dances the women conduct incredible footwork while balancing glasses or bottles full of water on their heads! The men were equally stunning with strong steps and their footwork-courtship of the women. Oh my gosh, it was so much fun! And truly an incredible performance.

IMG_5128.jpg Today I have more classes, and it’s very likely that more spontaneous adventures lie waiting for me to stumble upon them. I might just have to stumble upon another hot dog, or another churro … Hey, the rooster told me to. How can I refuse?

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Mexico at last!

After a long day of traveling on Thursday, June 10, beginning with a flight to Dallas from Denver at 6 a.m. and ending with a five-hour bus ride from Mexico City to Xalapa – the capital of Veracruz – it finally hit me that this beautiful, lively and vibrant city is where I will be for the next six weeks. IMG_4990.JPG

Although I have studied Spanish for almost nine years, I have never had the opportunity to immerse myself completely in a Spanish-speaking country until now. The transition to speaking and hearing only Spanish and, by extension, attempting to think only in Spanish, has been more difficult than I expected. However, I know that total immersion, with all the difficulty that it provides, is exactly what I need to reach the fluency that I desire.

And today, two days after our initial arrival, I can already discern improvement! Hooray! Which is very timely because it is awfully difficult to follow conversations at dinner when “todos charlan” (everyone chats) at the same time. In order to get my two cents in around the table (and as any of my family or friends can tell you, I usually have at least 30/40/50 cents to toss into the conversation at dinner), I had better be able to follow the quickly changing conversation of my housemates!

But I have already jumped ahead of myself. Okay. Mexico. Flying into Mexico City was itself an experience as the buildings continue for miles and miles, and there seem to be multiple skylines throughout the jungle of steel and brick. IMG_4977.JPGPerhaps people say that New York City is a jungle, but I would have to side with Mexico City, should the two cities ever argue which is more jungle-like… because of course cities can argue, right?

The drive from Mexico City to Xalapa was absolutely gorgeous. The mountains remind me of my own Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and when the mist and clouds settled into the crevices of the rock as the sun set, I felt surprisingly at home.IMG_5011.JPGI do not know what terrain I expected to find in Xalapa, but I can say that it is more beautiful than I could have imagined. The buildings are packed together like friendly sardines, and equally friendly people cover the streets. The Xalapan way is to walk. And everyone does. When you walk down the street, there are always people, always something happening, always someone selling and someone purchasing. I have so many places to visit in the next six weeks, I do not know if I am going to have enough time!

I am blessed to have my own room on the third floor of a lovely house tucked into the fabric of the city, and my view is specTACular. A mi me encanta una punta de vista! Two other female students from SMU live in the same house with me. Our new Madre Xalapena, who goes by “Guye,” also rents rooms to other students, thus we are now a house of seven! Three of us from the U.S., one from Costa Rica, and the other three from neighboring cities outside of Xalapa. Guye is wonderful, and already she considers us her own “hijas.” She is also an AMAZING cook!IMG_5021.jpg

In Xalapa, breakfast is around 9 in the morning, and it is usually composed of amazing fruit (for example, the fresh mangoes that we have had the past two days!) and other light items, although the Senoras like to feed their students very well. Sometimes it is difficult to say no! La cena, or the big meal of the day, is at 3, and dinner is only a light snack around 8:30 or 9 p.m. However, food is readily available throughout the city, as restaurants and vendors abound. Today we visited a cafe and got “Mokas frappes,” similar to the frappucinos that you might find at Starbucks, but definitely better. I mean, ours had sprinkles on top. Done. Point for Mexico.

Speaking of points, yesterday we watched Mexico compete against South Africa in their first game in the World Cup, and the whole city has been abuzz with pride. Today at the cafe we watched the game between the United States and England. The World Cup is much more important here than in the States, but we SMU students are proud to cheer for both Mexico and the U.S. Our only hope is that the two countries do not end up playing each other … otherwise we might very quickly become the enemies of our new friends! πŸ™‚ IMG_5052-1.JPG

Yesterday we also attended the Symphony concert of La Orquesta Sinfonica de Xalapa as part of a festival that is taking place this month in the city called Junio Musical (Musical June). It was absolutely wonderful. To me, it seems that music has its own words, and although we may not understand each other’s languages, we can share our souls through the windows that music offers.

Xalapa is in general a very artistic city. Tonight we are attending a theater performance of “Idiotas Contemplando la Nieve” (Idiots Contemplating the Snow). As an SMU theater student, I am very excited to experience theater here in Xalapa where the language and culture are different from my own. Being a part of other cultures not only forces a person to review what one counts as normal in daily life, but also to review one’s definition and practice of the arts. I suspect that my experiences here in Xalapa this summer will continue to inform my art for the rest of my life.

Today we spent a few hours in orientation, and then met our Cultural Assistants: Mexican students at the University of Veracruz who volunteer to pair up with us crazy Americans for the next six weeks and show us the city. My CA’s name is Sarah, and she is wonderful. We spent the bus ride around the city talking about modes in music before she had to leave for her conducting test at the University! I think we are going to be pretty darn good friends πŸ™‚

As one of my favorite teachers always says, “You have to go to be able to come back.” Well, here I am. And I am incredibly excited for what is to come, including my two classes, Civlization and Culture and the Latin American Short Story, which begin on Monday. However, I may not want to go back… The truth is, I will probably leave a little bit of my heart here in Mexico. But alas, that’s what happens when you fall in love, eh? If I take a little of Xalapa’s heart home with me, and I carry it with me throughout the rest of my life, I can only hope that a little bit of my own heart is left in the exchange.

But first I have to think in Spanish. Ay de mi!

More updates to come πŸ™‚

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