Saturday, August 27, 2011

Surviving the Apocalypse

I recently e-mailed me family in New York and Washington, DC, asking if they felt the earthquake and how it went. My sister's response from DC:

yeah it was kind of crazy!  I was just sitting in my cube talking to someone and suddenly things started moving.  There's an apartment building being built next door to us so we thought maybe there was an explosion.  But then the shaking stopped and started again and was stronger.  Everyone was just shocked/confused.  So we're all milling around the hall, kind of figuring it was an earthquake.  And then we were told we had to evacuate, so we all filed down the stairs.  Is it wrong that I went to the bathroom first?  Either way I'm glad I did because we ended up standing outside for 45 minutes until we were ordered to go back in the building, grab our things and leave.  So we were dismissed the rest of the day.  Several people went to the trauma counseling center down the street to grab beers and play pool.  And by trauma center I mean the bar.  Naturally, I sought counseling as well.  

The national cathedral lost the tip of one of its spires.  I can see the cathedral from my rooftop (it's only a mile away) but haven't checked it out yet.  Now that we're under a tropical storm warning with Irene coming, I doubt i'll be venturing outside much this weekend.  Never a dull moment here!  


And now for my dad's response (from Rochester, NY, where nothing was felt):

It was Hell.  We thought the entire East coast was going to be swallowed whole.  I'm not sure how we got through it .  We didn't actually feel any tremors up here in New York but still it could have happened.  Just thinking about it gets to me.

Hell on earth.

And now I have to worry about Hurricane Irene crushing all my fellow citizens up and down the Atlantic coast.  Look at that monster.  Let's hope lake Ontario stays calm.  It's supposed to be sunny up here but you never know.  Gosh, I don't want any rain getting on me.

Easy, Irene... easy...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


To my daughter Olivia, aged 9.5 months:


Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
my little one,
my baby.

Like a tender ewe, you are
looking up at me
with unblemished trust.

Your cheek is like a half-pear,
dusted with the shadow
of long lashes.

Your smile shines through your eyes,
filling your mother's heart
with delight.

How sweetly you speak, my love;
your wordless babbling is music
to my ears.

You are all innocence,
all beauty,
all purity,
the faultless reflection of love and joy.

Come, my baby,
to your mother's waiting arms.
You have ravished my heart
with the sound of your heartbeat,
with a single movement of your finger,
with your very existence.

Come, my little one,
let me nourish you with my own life,
with my milk,
with my prayer.

You are mine, but even more,
you are His.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Elixir of Choice

The forbidden grape.
It is the evening, and the Husband is off at a weekly men's meeting. The Baby is asleep. And I am enjoying a glass of wine, together with some bits of gourmet chocolate foraged from the pantry. The trick is to take a sip of wine while the chocolate (preferably dark) is semi-melted in your mouth. The flavors run together like a river of decadent pleasure, and the caffeine and alcohol kiss and cancel each other out.

Today we went to the pediatrician's for Olivia's bimonthly checkup. Since I am breastfeeding and my husband gives me The Eye every time I pour myself a second glass of wine, I took advantage to ask, "And if I have a glass of wine, does the alcohol enter into the milk?"

The doctor, bless his dear heart, said, "Of course not."

Feeling heartened, I asked, "What if it's two glasses of wine?"

"Tampoco," he said. (That means, "Not either.")

Thinking of last Saturday, I asked, "And what if I have a mixed drink with a hard alcohol, like with vodka?"

"Not a problem," he said.

"What if I have several?" I asked. Like Moses, I didn't want to press the issue too hard. But I had to know. And more importantly, The Husband had to know.

"Don't you worry at all," he said. "The alcohol doesn't pass into the breastmilk. The only thing your baby might feel is a bit of a hangover the next morning."

Something tells me (OK, the La Leche League tells me) that that's not quite right. But it gave me ample occasion to give my husband a big grin of "See?  I was right all along!" And the enjoyment (followed by instant remorse) of his sheepish grin.

I will regulate myself as I usually do. I'll probably stick to one glass of wine, maybe two. Hard liquor, not so often... and Baby will get formula if I go too far on a given night. But still, it's nice to get a carte blanche to drink what I want, especially when I know another pregnancy will leave me drinking V8 while everyone else is enjoying a Cabernet Sauvignon.

And so it was that a few hours later, with JC away and the baby asleep, I was busily planting a corkscrew into a bottle of Merlot, watching its silver arms rose like Moses standing vigil over a battlefield. When I pulled the arms down, the cork went "pfft!" and then "glug-glug-glug" into the waiting tulip glass, fat and rounded with expectation. I waited a bit, then took the first sip of burgundy heaven, letting the warmth course down into my stomach.

Silence, a bit of time to myself with my Elixir of choice... what more could a woman ask for on a Monday night?

One day, when I am rich and no longer need to work, that question will be accompanied by a few hours of leisure time, free from the weight of pending work from the day, free from the prospect of translating while buzzed on chocolate and wine. I cannot ever fully relax. But I like to pretend that I can. Mothers who work must take their rest when they can, even if it is in media res.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cooking Up a Storm

One needs a big head to fill such a hat.
Ever since my husband and I decided to host weekly dinners for other couples, both relatives and friends, I've been practicing the art of cooking.

The Art of Cooking, mind you. From scratch, using all natural ingredients. The Real Deal.

The ideal in the back of my mind is, of course, Julia Child. And one of my driving motivations is to impress our guests with my effortless mastery of all things culinary, including the arcane fine points where cooking becomes alchemy. Who needs stewed tomatoes when you can make tomato sauce from real tomatoes?   Canned foods are beneath The Chef's dignity, and unworthy of our most excellent guests, say I, with an elegant flourish of my whisk. 

One day, when I am old and accomplished, I shall flutter around the kitchen like a diva on her stage, in perfect command of my orchestra of vegetables, meats, pastas, fruits, wines, pastries. It will be a simmering symphony of scents, a veritable heaven for The Husband, who will enter my sanctuary only to nod approvingly and perhaps taste an exquisite bit of sauce before wandering off and straightening a fork on the already-set table. 

One day I will get there.  But for now, I am usually hunched anxiously over an online recipe on my laptop, which is perched precariously on the baby's plastic high chair. There are road blocks on my way to greatness: figuring out how to convert ounces to kilograms, realizing after the fact that I should have started the sauce before making the salad and that-- oh God-- I forgot a key ingredient. And what exactly does "browning" mean?  

Even for a neophyte, there is something so primordially fulfilling about cooking for special occasions. It's a thrill to toss the tiny pieces of garlic into a pan full of hot oil and watch them sizzle. Ladies and gentlemen, the garlic has arrived! Small but powerful! And now the onion, a force to be reckoned with! I swish them around until translucent, then toss in the green peppers. Then the tomatoes!  And then... the tour de force... the wine!  

The kitchen is soon steeped in a heavenly scent and I feel like I am working magic, engaged in an eminently creative task (even if I am just diligently following the recipe, like my mother has always insisted). The vegetables and spices are responding!  It's working!  It's going to be delicious!

And since I finished an hour later than the dinner was supposed to begin, I have an additional miracle to be grateful for: like good Mexicans, our guests are fashionably late. Two hours, to be exact. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is nine o'clock at night and... dinner is served!

Ta-ta for now... 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Parting the Skin Sea

Today: a day of contrasts.

Death sometimes takes away the person you'd least expect. Three days ago, one of my husband's aunts (his father's cousin) was hit by a drunk driver gunning his car in reverse. One minute Emma was out buying tamales for her family, and the next minute she was in a coma with massive head injuries and almost every bone in her body broken, while the driver paid off the police and slipped away.

She lasted two days suspended between life and death in the hospital before crossing the threshold yesterday. So today we went to the funeral Mass, and Baby Olivia's cheerful cooing echoed across the church like a promise of new life.


Later, we had to make an appointment, so off we went, navigating the city's twisty streets with the thousand stoplights and slow-moving buses farting out thick clouds of exhaust.

"We're going a different way this time, aren't we?" I asked.

"I just felt like going this way today," said JC.

Then we got to a major intersection where five roads come together in a kind of circular roundabout and my husband groaned.

"This," he said, gesturing at the crowd of 400 almost-naked men clustered on both sides of the road ahead, "is why I wanted to go another way. I knew they'd be somewhere around here, but I thought I was going to avoid them going this way."

It was a protest against a Mexico City politician named Marcelo Ebrard. We are not exactly sure why they were protesting a Mexico City politician in Xalapa, which is five hours away. But protesting they were. In their underwear.

Not boxer shorts, mind you. Speedo-type undies. And each protester had stapled a picture of Marcelo Ebrard's face just over his loins.

Doing the two-step without a smile.
Nothing says contempt like putting someone's picture over your loins and then dancing the meringue semi-nude in the street. The music was playing and the sea of skin was moving in waves. Young and old, fit and barrel-bellied, they were dancing along the sides of the street.

You'd think men would have to be drunk to try a stunt like that, but they were stone cold sober. Even their faces spoke of sobriety. Not a smile to be seen.

Except for on my face, of course...I didn't mean to be disrespectful of their protest of Marcelo Ebrard as "The Oppressor of the People." But... who thought of it?

"Hey guys, I have a great idea!  Let's all go out in our underwear!"

"Yeah, yeah!  Let's staple the SOB's face to our underwear! That'll show 'em!"

They had to be drunk when they came up with that one.

Grumbling all the while, my husband parted the Skin Sea with his Mitsubishi, bringing his wife and infant child safely to shore.


After the doctor's office, we made another stop (going by a different route) at JC's grandmother's house. She is actually Olivia's great-grandmother, and has reached the ripe old age of 95 with few encumbrances save the occasional fall, from which she recovers quickly. She's a trooper.

Lolita is a rarity in Xalapa, with blue eyes and what used to be blonde hair. She was considered a beauty in her time, as was her sister. Her brother was a Supreme Court justice in the nation, and was widely respected for his integrity and honesty. Time strips away all honors, and now she lives in a very simple house crowded with pictures, shuffling about in what looks like a nightgown. With her stoop, she is about four feet tall. Her hearing is nearly gone, but her eyes are alert and interested, and they homed in on The Baby as we walked through the door.

Once a mother, always a mother. Once a grandmother, twice a mother. And once a great-grandmother... ni se diga.

With the sense of ownership that comes from being a grand matriarch, Lolita leaned over and planted a delicate kiss on Olivia's cheek.

And my baby... let out a wail of fear and began sobbing into my chest. I felt so sorry for Lolita, but her indulgent smile said that she understood everything.

So we gave Olivia time to adjust, and in about five minutes she was proudly showing her great-grandmother her prowess at shaking her rattle. In ten minutes, she was smiling and gurgling. Lolita never took her eyes off her.
95 years and (currently) 9 months.

Old people-- very old people-- seem to have a kind of otherworldly simplicity. Maybe living for so long and witnessing so much life and death simplifies your perspective. Or maybe as you grow very old, you acquire the right to be at peace.  Let the young people do the heavy lifting of worrying and protesting half-naked in the street. Now is the time to live in the hand of God, like a passenger ready to board a ship for the western seas, enjoying the scenery until the whistle blows. Or maybe the mind begins to lose its grasp of all the minor details, and only the important things remain.

In any case, by the time we left, Olivia and Lolita were good friends, having bonded over the essential: play.


A strange day, with the tragic and the comic side by side, populating the same streets.

And later that night, our dinner was-- entirely by coincidence-- tamales. 

Rest in peace, Emma.