Saturday, January 31, 2009

Happy Birthday Dads!

Today we have two Dads with birthdays:

E.J. Paas, who Chris called this morning to wish a happy 50th! and

Mitch Keadle, who Matt called this morning for video Feliz Cumpleaños wishes!

Happy Birthday guys! We miss you!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Photo Gallery: Morelia

Well, friends, I have a whole host of things I'd like to blog on (not least among them a new Bruce Springsteen album!) but I've been delayed by a nasty fever/food poisoning combo double-whammy thing that knocked me out for a few days. (Ok, speaking of Bruce, I can't resist: For a great pre-halftime show read, click here, scroll about halfway down the page to where it says "Marisa Tomei Award" and then read the Sports Guy's prediction about what Bruce will do. Love it, love it, love it.)

But I thank everyone for their well-wishes on the internship placement! We honestly spent all of Monday afternoon and evening researching Seattle, because neither of us have ever been there and know almost nothing about it (me: "I know the Sonics used to play there"; Chris: "Do you know if it's by the water?")... I'm sure you'll see more on this developing subject in this space in the months to come.

And we've got a busy couple of days ahead: Tomorrow we leave for San Juan de Los Lagos, about 2 hours north of here, for the festival of Candelária, which is to say we're going to see one of the biggest religious festivals in the town that Chris is researching. We'll be there for at least a few days, experiencing the festival itself and also exploring the area for possible places to live, as we'll be moving from Guadalajara to the area around San Juan de Los Lagos in March.

In the meantime, I wanted to post some photos from our trip last weekend to Morelia, over in the neighboring state of Michoacan. Like last time, I put captions underneath every single photo, to tell the story of our viaje. We had an especially good time on this one - hopefully the photos reflect at least a bit of that. And so, here they are:

Morelia de Michoacan

Monday, January 26, 2009


Today I received an "internship assignment offer." There's a whole process to go through, with official confirmations needed on both sides, but assuming things fall into place as they should you can click here to find out where we'll be living next year.

PS - !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Photo Gallery: Guadalajara

Ok, I know what you're thinking: Another of Matt's endless photo galleries with no people in any of the pictures. And I hear you. But this is a special photo gallery. I put captions under EVERY photo! Click the link and enjoy...

¡Guadalajara, Guadalajara!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Three Songs and a Speech

I'm watching the Inaugural Parade right now. The Obama family is entering the presidential reviewing stand to watch the parade. When I worked at the U of C lab school, I worked in some of the same classrooms Sasha and Malia attended during the day. How excited are their friends right now? Seriously, how cool would that be?

Anyway, I got lucky today and was able to watch the important stuff live on CNN despite (a) being in a foreign country and (b) having Spanish class. We have a ten-minute break every day at 11am, which turned out to be just in time to catch the end of a Yo-Yo Ma performance, then the swearing-in, and then I stayed twenty minutes past the end of my break to watch the Inaugural Address, which I decided was more important than being introduced to the Present Participle verb tense.

Now I'm home and watching the parade where - no way! - the Jesse White Tumblers are performing! Ok, the commentators say this is the Tumblers' 3rd performance at an inaugural parade. But the Jesse White Tumblers are such a Chicago institution that I can hardly believe I'm watching them on a station that's not WGN.

Anyway (this is going to be a post with a lot of those, I think), I've been itching to comment on the new U2 single, as it seems that everybody else in the blogosphere has already weighed in with their thoughts and analysis. Chris Scharen, author of the excellent One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God, offers his thoughts here along with a helpful roundup of mainstream press reactions, but my favorite fun analysis comes from this random guy whose blog I just discovered last week.

Scharen and LA Times critic Ann Powers seem most excited about how well the song fits the moment, and to some extent I can't help but agree. But if it's moment-fitting we're talking about, then people, please - why are we not discussing Springsteen's latest work? Here's a guy looking at the moment we're in and writing about it with the simple, muscular prose of John Steinbeck and with an eye, like Steinbeck, toward showing us who we are and where we are and offering his art, for whatever it's worth, to help us get to where we're going, whether it's through a Lonesome Day or to a Land of Hopes and Dreams. The new single - and album - is called Working on a Dream, and while it's full of classic (some might say cheesy) Springsteen-isms to make the Springsteen-follower smile, I love it because it's like a hymn for this moment in history.

Anyway, while Bruce has dominated my playlists for the last month, the last two days have indeed seen a rejuvenation of the play count record for my U2 catalog. I've been walking the streets of Guadalajara, to and from class, listening to the new song on my iPod over and over and all I can say is that's it's like someone strapped a rocket to The Fly, whipped him around Pop and All That You Can't Leave Behind and then shot him right into the future. It's chopped-up, disjointed, disconnected, disorienting, deconstructed, and, whether it's timely or not, I feel a strange urge to pull some boots out of my closet and lace 'em up.

But I have to save a longer analysis - which I can't resist writing even if you can resist reading it - for a day when I don't have a million other things on my mind and a million other things to do. I just watched the Inaugural Address, for goodness' sakes. As much as Ann Powers says that now is not yet the time for anthems, I've had an anthem ringing in my ears for the last month, and it's this one.

I bought it because it was a charity single and I thought hey, why not, it's a charity single, and for Amnesty International, no less. And it's true, they didn't do the best job with the video, which seems to have 1980s production values and makes the song hard to take seriously. But somehow I am not sick of this song coming up again and again on my iPod. Every time Emmanuel Jal starts speaking halfway through the song I feel a Spirit welling up in my chest and I want to get on my boots and move. It makes me feel glad to be alive today, in 2009, no matter how bad things might look. It has me ready.

Which, come to think of it, was the effect of President Obama's speech, too, when I watched it today in the lobby of a language school in central Mexico. It calls our generation, wherever we are, scattered around the country and the world, to "the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny," and to do it "with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us." And so we will.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Brush With History

Above: One of the many independently-created t-shirts being sold in the parks and on the street corners of Chicago last summer.

Every once in a while, I use this blog to reflect on some past adventure that's recalled by some current event, like when I used the occasion of the Cubs ill-fated playoff start last fall to remember a great day at Wrigley last spring. Has nothing whatsoever to do with our current adventures, really, but these are the random thoughts that are on my mind as I wander around Mexico.

Tomorrow is Inauguration Day. This is one of those days when I wish I could be back in the States - either in D.C., which would be near impossible, or in Chicago, where I'd just want to walk around and breathe the frigid air, remembering what I'd lived there...

Two years ago, Chris and I were walking back from dinner, probably at Medici's, when I noticed a sign on the door of 57th Street Books advertising a book signing by a local author. 57th Street Books has these kinds of signings all the time; usually the authors teach at the University of Chicago or are outside academics stopping at the U of C as part of a conference or whatnot. The author this time? Former University of Chicago Law Professor Barack Obama.

I had first heard of Obama from a tiny blip in The Economist, who mentioned him as part of their coverage of the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Illinois. It was still during the primaries, and I remember the Economist mentioned something about how he was a Chicagoan and his name began with "O" but he wasn't Irish. A few months later, I caught Obama's speech live during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and I remember my jaw being on the floor about halfway through the speech when he declared that "when a child on the South Side of Chicago can't read, that matters to me, even when it's not my child." And then I distinctly remember leaping off the bed when he declared that "we worship an awesome God in the blue states," which in retrospect seems kind of hard to explain, but you have to remember that at that time the idea that you could be both Christian and progressive was not conventional wisdom in either Christian or progressive camps.

I read Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father, a few months later, and I remember what a page-turner it was for me; I really couldn't put it down. In his reflections on race, I heard echoes of Ralph Ellison, but I also saw a reflection of my own life, standing as it was at a crossroads that winter, as the pages told the story of a young man making sense of where he came from and what he should do. I'd read lots of books before then as I struggled with the roots and fruits of vocation, but here, to my surprise, was an author more carefully thoughtful than most of the thinkers I'd read in college and just as determined as I was to figure out the world.

Two years later Chris and I took a summer road trip to West Virginia, where I explored my own family's roots, and then on to Washington, D.C., where we, two addicts of The West Wing, had wanted to visit for awhile. We stopped at Obama's Senate Office to pick up two tickets to the Senate viewing gallery. There was a White Sox flag hanging on his office door - the Southsiders had won the World Series only a year before. When the friendly receptionist asked us where we were from, we left Indiana behind and said we were from Hyde Park. In only a few weeks, after all, it would be true. Later that year we moved to Chicago, and I began a new stage of my journey at LSTC. And that's when I saw the poster on the door of 57th Street Books.

The book signing, for The Audacity of Hope, was scheduled for the Tuesday of fall break, when I had no morning classes. None of my classmates seemed to be talking much about it, but then again, I mostly kept to myself in those first few months, nervous, determined, introverted, and, truth be told, a little freaked out after that first candidacy interview. When Tuesday morning arrived I took no chances: I woke up early and arrived at 6am for an event scheduled to start at 8am. A line already snaked around the corner of the building.

I stood in line between another young white student like myself and a older black woman who worked at the DuSable Museum for African-American History located only a few blocks away. It was a damp October day and it rained intermittently, so we shared an umbrella while we waited. And we talked. It was probably inevitable, given why we were all there, that we talked about Obama and what we thought he meant, and how he reflected some of our own hopes and dreams for our country, and for our city.

After awhile a black SUV pulled up to the bookstore, and Obama bounded out and waved at us as he headed into the bookstore, jerking his head up and offering a "Hey guys, how's it goin'?" as if we were all old friends. Then the signing began, and the line moved forward steadily. All the while I kept trying to think of what I would say to him when it was my turn. There was all this talk around that time about whether he was going to run for president, and somehow I was convinced, against all reason, that there was something profound I could say to him. I wracked my brain for twenty minutes at least, but came up with nothing. Maybe I could just thank him for his service.

Finally it was almost my turn. The person in front of me took a little longer than everyone else, because, as Obama explained to one of the store's personnel, "This woman delivered my babies!" They exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes, and then it was my turn. The future President of the United States looked me in the eye, smiled, and shook my hand, then looked down again to sign my books. Now! Thank him for his service or something! Nooo, I can't! I'm too nervous! As he scribbled his name, he asked me what I did. I concentrated really hard and got the words out: "I'm a student," I said, "at the seminary here." Of course, I immediately knew that he would probably assume that I was at the University of Chicago Divinity School, but what was I going to do? I had neither the time nor the presence of mind to explain that "I am a student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, one of the eight seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran church body in North America!" Whatever. Then he said something about how he liked the food there (?), and asked me how I liked the program. "It's great," I said, truthfully. "I love it." He wished me luck with my studies and handed me three signed copies of his book. I thanked him and walked away, my brush with history over.

I like telling that story, partly because it fits perfectly whenever conversations inevitably move to the topic of who's met the coolest famous person? Everyone needs a celebrity story for moments like these.

Of course, the story's strength is also exactly what's wrong with it. It confirms the stereotype of Obama as a celebrity whose supporters - like me - sometimes treat him like a fifth Beatle. I think that's probably okay when we're trading celebrity stories, but if that is the totality of our view of the 44th president, if his role as a leader of people ends there, then that's probably not so good, which is why making MLK Day a day of national service is a step in the right direction.

As for my own brush with history, to my great good fortune it was only one moment in a longer journey through the streets of Chicago. A few months after meeting then-Senator Obama, I was accepted into the Urban CPE program, and spent three months doing pastoral care in a homeless shelter on Chicago's North Side. The following autumn I began working in a parish church on the South Side of the city, in the same neighborhood where Obama began his community organizing some two decades earlier. Both experiences sparked a growing love for urban ministry and a deepening commitment to the urban community, its continuing struggles and its collective joys.

All of which is but one more reason why I'm grateful for the two years I've spent in Chicago. The brushes with celebrity, complete with fun stories, are a nice perk. But even better has been the chance to leave the sidelines and be the change I wish to see in the world - on Inauguration Day, and beyond.

Let Me In The Sound!

Actual footage of Matt downloading the new U2 single at 6:15 this morning. Listen here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Rising of the City of Blinding Lights

(Above: Section headlines from El Informador, our daily paper.)

Since I'm geekin' out all the way down in Guadalajara over today's Inaugural Celebration concert on the National Mall in D.C., I couldn't help but post something about it. According to, Bruce Springsteen is set to play "The Rising" (click for a video) and maybe "This Land is Your Land," too, with Pete Seeger - a 1-2 punch that gives me chills just thinking about it. has the full report on that one.

Rumors were that Bono was going to play the concert, too, but those rumors turned out to be false. Instead the FULL BAND, all four members of U2 are gonna be rockin' the Lincoln Memorial. The first U2 live performance since 2006...the upcoming world tour can't be far away now!

Even better: The good people at have a video up of U2's rehearsal for the show. They're playing "Pride," a song about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and, just like he did during the Vertigo Tour shows, near the end of the song Bono starts talking about how Dr. King's dream is "not just an American dream, but an Irish dream, an African dream, a South American dream..." and then he adds this: "And also - a Palestinian dream!" You didn't think my boys were going to play in front of a row of American flags and not get their boots on, did you?

UPDATE: The show is streaming right now on Shakira and Usher are singing Higher Ground with Stevie Wonder. I had forgotten how awesomely weird Shakira's voice is...

UPDATE 2: Ok, now U2 is playing. Mateo is sitting at the computer screen with a stupid grin on his face, unable to move. How awesome a performer is Bono? I mean, he's a complete fool, just like he's always been, ever since those first days in the early 1980s, running all over the stage, opening his arms wide, calling the people up on their feet, doing whatever it takes to bring the crowd
into it, to wake up the people. He's a dork, no doubt, but God help me I do love it. And now Obama is speaking. Bono hands off the mic/baton to Barack? That's the awesomest relay ever!!!!

UPDATE 3: And the show concludes with PETE SEEGER joining Bruce Springsteen and a gospel choir to sing "This Land is Your Land." Pete is wearing a funny hat. Zach, this is your turn to geek out. :) Pete is calling out the words, and the choir and everyone in the crowd is singing the words back to him. Greatest thing ever. I have no more words.

Chivas. Cruz Azul. 'Nuff Said.

Last night I ran home from my first guitar lesson en español so we could eat quickly and get on a bus heading toward Estadio Jalisco, where the Chivas of Guadalajara were set to play Cruz Azul, our old nemeses from Mexico City (they knocked the Pumas out of the playoffs...grrrrrr).

We took a bus downtown, then transferred to one heading north on Calz Independencia. We weren't really sure how to get to the stadium, as this was our first time, but once we boarded the bus there was no doubt. The camion was packed like the Red Line during a Crosstown Classic. We stuffed ourselves in like sardines, and the driver played the same three ranchera songs over and over, and a dude behind us in a Chivas jersey - ok, EVERYONE was in red-and-white striped Chivas jerseys (hence the Chivas nicknames, Las Rojiblancas and La Rebaña) - kept dancing around in a circle - yes, in a circle in a packed city bus - and yelling something like "Súbele, chofér, súbele! (Turn it up, bus driver, turn it up!)" over and over and over. People kept laughing at him, but you could tell they loved it.

We get off the bus with everyone else and cross the street to the stadium. The stadium is seriously towering; it's half the size of Estadio Azteca in Mexico City but it looks at least as big from the outside. And it's definitely twice as big as Estadio Universitario, where the Pumas play. I love my old Pumas, but this was a whole new level of fanaticism. Not only street stands with official and pirate merchandise (Can some enterprising person please start up a pirate merchandise market in the States? It's the only reason that everyone here, no matter their income, can afford their own jersey. Both the official and pirate markets thrive, side by side! Wrigleyville, make this happen.) but also street food, tacos and tortas ahogadas and the like, not tailgating so much as little temporary mini-stands where you can grab a bite before the game. We make our way through this red-and-white gauntlet, packed with people, and get in a crazy-long line for the ticket booth.

...And unfortunately, that was the end of our night at Estadio Jalisco. Apparently Chivas games actually, um, sell out. Hey, we didn't know! Pumas games almost never did, unless they were playing a cross-town rival or something; we always just walked up and bought our tickets on game day. We probably should have remembered that the Chivas are the most popular team in the country and that Cruz Azul were the national runners-up last fall, losing in a close shootout to the champs of Toluca. So it was a big game.

We didn't get in the stadium, but we made our way back downtown and found a sports bar, where we ordered some Victorias and watched the rest of the game on TV, which was actually pretty cool because believe it or not we've seen like five games in person from high up in the stands but only one or two games on TV. It's cool to be able to actually see faces and names on the back of the jerseys and especially to get replays of some incredible goals (dude scored a goal with his head, with his head). You can see some of the replays yourself below.

And next time, we're buying our tickets ahead of time.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Back to School

Now playing: Cafe Tacuba - Volver a comenzar
via FoxyTunes

It was back to the grind for us this week - Chris to the archives, Matt to language school, where he is always better known as Mateo.

I'm taking classes at a place called IMAC. It's, um, not a computer; if you Google "iMac," my language school is the second thing that comes up, after the beloved manzanita machines, even though it appears that the language school came first with something like three decades of existing before Apple came along. Anyway, in the case of my school, IMAC stands for "Instituto Mexico-Americano de Cultura," which translates, as you might guess, as the "Mexican-American Insistute of Culture."

I think the school is mostly known around Guadalajara for its English classes, because when I showed up on the first day the sign on the door said "IMAC" and then in big, bold letters "INGLES TOTAL." But there was no other IMAC around, and I knew I had the right address, so I walked in anyway. I stood in line for awhile and then listened confusedly as the receptionist told me they had my name but hadn't registered me for class because they never received the deposit I made online and now the class was full so I was on a waiting list but he'd have me take the oral placement exam anyway just in case. So I did, then returned the reception room and waited, imagining things I could do with my week if I couldn't start class yet. But the receptionist returned and told me there would be room for me after all, because they no longer wanted me in the old class: I had placed into a higher level. Yes! I have made progress!

Because IMAC has a much larger school than the other two language programs I've been through, it's easier for them to match students to appropriate course level (rather than simply "beginning students," inevitably too easy, and "advanced students," inevitably too hard). Everyone in my class is about at the same level. We also have textbooks, which are crazy-helpful and which the other programs did not have. And the school has a computer lab with language games, which might just be as helpful as the class itself. So, if you are considering taking a language class in a foreign country: Consider these features. Consider them well.

As you might imagine, I've thought back on my other language classes a lot this week. And, besides the different classmates and the different teaching strategies, the biggest difference between now and then is, well, me.

I realized, sometime on the first day, that my motives for learning Spanish have changed, dramatically. Back in August, when I explained why I wanted to learn Spanish, I always said that it was because Mexico was my new home. Not for three weeks or a few months but for a full year, and I wanted to be able to live that year, to live it fully, and to do that I needed to know Spanish. I needed to learn Spanish to live in Mexico.

But now... now it's different. I've been living in Mexico for six months, and I get by pretty well. I haven't used my fledgling Spanish nearly as much as I thought I would, mostly due to last fall's isolated, paradoxically bubble-like semester program, and for all of the awesome things we experienced these last few months I'm disappointed about that one thing - language - we didn't experience, at least not as much as I'd have liked. Of course, I still want to learn Spanish, which is why I'm taking classes again. But now I find myself thinking as much about the future as I do about the present, thinking as much about how I'll use Spanish back in the States as I do thinking about how I'll use it during our time remaining here across the border.

Chris says that that shouldn't be surprising - of course my motives have changed over the course of six months. But there's still something kind of bittersweet about it. Maybe that bittersweetness lies in the nostalgia of thinking back to those first few weeks in Mexico, how I felt so nervous and so excited at the same time, the anxiety and adventurousness swirling around in a heady motivating mixture. Or maybe it's not looking back por atras at all - maybe it's looking forward al futuro. Maybe it's the first sign of what's to come in the next six months. Re-entry will be here before we know it. The next horizon comes ever closer.

But, as U2 is getting ready to tell us, there's no line on that horizon. (Yes, that was a super-cheesy transition, but y'all best get used to those - there's gonna be new U2 and Bruce Springsteen albums coming out in the next few months, which means that Matt will be kicking into a new gear of fan -tastic geekdom.) It's true, I don't actually know what "no line on the horizon" means just yet, but maybe it means something like this:

On Wednesday I made my first Mexican friend. I know that sounds funny, but that is actually how he proposed it. The conversation went something like this: "I'm Andres, I'm studying English." Soy Mateo, estoy estudiando español. "Do you have any Mexican friends to practice your Spanish with?", Andres, no tengo amigos Mexicanos ahora. "Do you want to be Facebook friends? Then we can practice language together online!" Si, es un buen idea!

We chatted for a while longer - Andres chats with everyone, it seems - and at the end of the day, sure enough, I had a Facebook friend confirmation waiting for me. Oh, Facebook, you make friending so easy. You even turned "friend" into a verb...

And so, with one week of language class down, the adventure begins again. I have a new set of classmates, a new daily routine, even a new futbol team. Bring it, horizon, bring it on...

No Line On The Horizon

It's coming. It's coming soon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


How crazy is this? You can actually watch the Inauguration from our blog - which, if you're us, you might actually have to do...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tequila: Photo Gallery

Photos from our trip to Tequila. Some of these are in the written post below, some aren't. But I thought it was a cool enough place for full-fledged photo gallery...


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tequila's Hidden Treasures

On Saturday we went to the town of Tequila for our last day of adventuring with Erica and Fred. The town is probably about an hour and a half from where we live as the crow flies, but after getting to the bus station and then riding the bus back through the bustling city, it took us a little over three hours to get there. Ah, la ciudad...

Even though it took awhile, the ride out into the country was well worth the time. Because we live in a very urban suburb, it's easy to forget that just outside the city limits lie the dusty rolling hills of rural Jalisco. It's like Iowa, if Iowa were dusty, hilly, had a mountainous background, and grew blue agave instead of corn. (Ok, maybe Iowa was not the best analogy.)

As we approached the town itself, I didn't know what to expect. Would it be overrun with tourists, young Americans in search of endless shot glasses? Would the descendants of José Cuervo have turned the place into a tequila theme park? It was hard to know what to expect.

But Tequila is full of little surprises. We arrived on a Saturday, but despite being the heart of the weekend the town was rather quiet. The streets were dusty, the sidewalks narrow. Our bus dropped us off in a station on the edge of town, and there were no obvious signs to helpfully point the way toward the downtown zócalo, which was both a little flustering but also sort of perversely charming for a town that was recently designated a pueblo magico by Mexico's national tourism board. Tourist, we are who we are, it seemed to say. You are welcome here, but you can find your own way around... Fortunately for us, we had our trusty Lonely Planet Mexico guide, so we headed off down the appointed street and made our way toward the central square - the first stop in any Mexican town.

There was the traditional peña, perfect for live music in the evenings, with plenty of room for strolling, selling balloons, or simply sitting on the iron benches that lie on the edges. And this zócalo was looked over by a church that was striking for the utter simplicity of its cobblestone exterior. Looking at it now, it strikes me how different Tequila's central church is from the one in Taxco, that other pueblo magico that revolves around a single lucrative industry. In Taxco, they used to say that "God gives to [great silver magnate Jose de la] Borda, and Borda gives to God," and the wealthy Sr. Borda did in the form of a crazily ornate central church. But in Tequila, José Antonio de Cuervo - or his rival Don Cenobio Sauza, for that matter - didn't seem to follow the same model, and they seem to have largely left the architecture of their parish church alone. I'm no architecture critic, but I think that was probably for the better, at least for this town. Tequila's iglesia parroquia fits this dusty little place perfectly.

But it's not merely the outside of the church that's a surprise - Chris had a jaw-dropper moment when she entered and found, in a little stone side room, not only a shrine to but the final resting place of Santo Toribio Romo.

Ok, a little background on Saint Toribio. Toribio Romo was born in the highlands of Jalisco and went to seminary in San Juan de Los Lagos, which, as you may remember, is the little Jalisco town at the center of Chris' research. When the religious persecutions began in Mexico in the 1920s (sparking Jalisco's Cristero Rebellion), Father Toribio refused to flee, and continued administering the sacraments. He was eventually sent to Tequila for his safety, but within a year was discovered - still carrying out his priestly duties - by soldiers and was promptly shot to death. (Sidenotes: If you are at all interested in stories like this one, please, please, please read Graham Greene's short novel The Power and the Glory, which has climbed into my top 3 favorite books ever. Alternatively, you can read a nonfiction NY Times article about Santo Toribio's increasing popularity with present-day migrants here.) He was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2000; check out who he's the patron saint of.

Saints aside, there is, finally, the tourist industry surrounding the fermented juice of the blue agave. Little shops line the main streets, selling all manner of t-shirts and keychains as well as bottles and, yes, little wooden barrels full of tequila of what I can only assume is widely varying quality. And even more fun: You know the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile? Well, in Tequila they have not just one but two versions of this, in the form of the Tequila Barrel-mobile and the Tequila Bottle-mobile, both of which apparently tour the countryside before driving you around town. The botella-mobile is seen below disappearing around a corner...

And then, of course, there is the José Cuervo distillery, known rather humbly as El Mundo Cuervo. Tequila is actually distilled here, but the main draw is the factory tour. It's like the tour of the Miller Brewery that I went on last summer in Milwaukee, except that at José Cuervo (a) you have to pay for the tour and (b) there isn't a major leage baseball stadium a block away.

But while Tequila is no Milwaukee, there are some benefits to Cuervo's tour. For one thing, you get to see how the blue agave goes from plant to drink. It begins as this, the plant that covers the land of northeast Jalisco and must be cultivated for 10-12 years before it is ready to harvest...

...which the harvesters, or jimadores, prepare by slicing off the hard-as-knives (and actually used as knives in ancient Mexico) bluish-green leaves with a long tool that looks kind of like a hoe but is called a coa de jima, the jimadores all the while forming the iconic image that has become a kind of symbol of this region...

...and they do this until the plant is left looking like a pineapple, which is why they call the object in the photo below a piña...

...and they collect tons of these piñas every day, even though each one weighs between 80 and 300 pounds but the jimadores muscle through it because each of these piñas can produce about 7 liters of tequila...

...and that's all they would let me take pictures of. But if you're really interested in the production of tequila, I recommend this website, which in addition to being full of semi-useful information also has a sweet Indiana Jones-like title.

And yes, of course, there are the inevitable samples of tequila. You can try them in various stages of production, including an early version that's over 50% alcohol (whoa) and then two finished products in quick succession, reposado (rested) and añejo (aged), both of which were 100% blue agave, which I don't think I've ever had before. Our Lonely Planet guide was snotty about Cuervo's tequila ("the factory produces more José Cuervo tequila than the world needs...try Tradicional, Cuervo's saving grace...") but to my still-indiscriminate tequila palette, the stuff was alright. You can learn more about the various types of tequila here.

Most importantly, though, you get to wear awesome hairnets throughout the factory! And any factory tour where you get free headwear is alright by me.

All in all we had a nice close to our winter vacation, a time in which we explored the far reaches of Jalisco from the blue-green Pacific Ocean to the blue-green tequila fields and the finer points of Guadalajara from the towering murals of Orozco to the sprawling markets of Tonalá. Best of all, we did our exploring with some fellow adventurers. We miss them already.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Viaje a Vallarta Viejo

We just got back from a short "weekend" trip in Puerto Vallarta with Erica and Fred. We stayed in Old Vallarta this time, an area of PV a good walk south of the main Señor Frog's/Hard Rock Café tourist district.

Old Vallarta - Vallarta Viejo - isn't devoid of tourists, of course, but it does have a smaller, quirkier feel than its northern cousin. There are used-paperback bookstores and little coffee shops with baked goods on more than one street corner. A wide range of restaurants, most with enterprising guitarists strolling in and out offering diners a song or two, light up the streets in the evenings. We took advantage of the opportunity to not only get some good Pacific Ocean seafood but some hard-to-find-in-Guadalajara American-style hamburgers and pizza, too.

At night we stayed in a small, semi-budget hotel with a spacious rooftop terrace overlooking the Playa de los Muertos (the Beach of the Dead, and no, I don't know why it's called that - I'm afraid to ask). Somehow, despite being across the street from the beach, we ended up with an ocean view (!) from our balcony.

(Above: Actual view from our hotel balcony. Two bedrooms. Ocean view. Less than US $60/night. I love Mexico.)

Also during our trip: After investigating in the local tourist office and stopping a few locals on the street, Chris and I finally found a rosca de reyes in a grocery store near our hotel, and so succeeded in our goal of having the Mexican version of king cake for the Dia de Reyes on Tuesday.

(Above: Life-size sand sculptures of the Magi making their way to Jesus.)

Truth be told, though, we spent most of our time sprawled out on the sandy beach: soaking up the sun, eating shrimp-on-a-stick from strolling vendors, whale-watching (Fred, with his eagle-eyes, actually spotted leaping humpback whales from the shore; in contrast, I always seem to look up after everyone has pointed excitedly and catch, sigh, only the distinctive whale-tail heading back into the water), and doing lots and lots of reading.

Tomorrow, for Erica and Fred's last day, we're going to try and head to Tequila, where they produce, well, I think you know what. Oh, Jalisco, your wonders never cease...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany // Thoughts

Tonight, for el Dia de los Tres Reyes, Three Kings' Day, we'll try to find a Rosca de Reyes, the Mexican version of a King Cake, at a local bakery.

(Above: A local bakery advertising its traditional offerings for the winter fiestas.)

What follows are just some random thoughts, nascent musings, seeds for future contemplation...

I find these kinds of traditions fascinating. For one thing, there's the "other" factor; eating fruitcake on January 6 is new to me and so it feels fresh and exciting, even if it is just, well, fruitcake. But for another, these traditions redefine realities that I already have, shaking them up and pushing me to think in new ways.

See, where I grew up, there was Thanksgiving, an Advent-y kind of pre-Christmas season, Christmas, New Year's, Back-to-school, Valentine's Day, and then usually some kind of Mardi Gras recognition only because I have an uncle and aunt who live near New Orleans. By contrast, here in Mexico I have experienced the Day of Guadalupe (or María), the Posadas (Mary and Joseph looking for lodging), Christmas, New Year's, Three King's Day, and then in a few weeks we're looking forward to candelaria or the Festival of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. See? With the exception of New Year's, all of the main Mexican celebrations are (1) deeply religious (Christian, obviously, but there are prehispanic ties, too, that are probably better left to another post) and (2) tell the story of Jesus' life.

That story is not new to me, because I (a) grew up in the church and (b) now am in seminary, where we love the lectionary and so of course we go step-by-step through the life of Jesus and the Holy Family during the time before and after Christmas. But you'll only get most of that story if you attend church regularly and pay much attention to the lectionary, which is something I absolutely did not do before I came to seminary. On the other hand, here in Mexico, this story - from Mary through the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (and beyond? stay tuned for Holy Week) - is (1) not confined to the church but is out in the public sphere and (2) is not only commemorated with a sermon but always has some kind of unique physical concrete practice attached to it (e.g., visit homes and act out a play during the Posadas, eat cake on Epiphany, etc).

By "out in the public sphere" I mean this: The biggest promotion at Wal-Mart today was Rosca de Reyes (Mexican king cake). They have these things stacked to the ceiling in all different sizes. Now, this begs lots of questions - Is it really religious or just a social tradition? Do we really want religion in the public sphere when that usually ends badly for both parties? - but I am simply struck by the fact that Epiphany is not some forgotten tack-on to Christmas that only churchy types care about but is in fact as visible as Christmas to the point that it is, yes, in the Wal-Mart.

(Above: Wal-Mart's rosca de reyes packaging. In the corner it says in Spanish: "The only one certified by Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.")

By "concrete practice" I mean, well: For Epiphany we eat cake. Cake shaped in a circle that contains a little plastic baby inside of it. Whoever gets that little plastic baby is obligated to throw a Candelaria party in a few weeks. Which means, if nothing else, that February 2, the day that Jesus is Presented in the Temple, is also (a) not forgotten and (b) remembered with not only a brilliant sermon but also a lively fiesta.

Anyway. Just some random thoughts, nascent musings, seeds for future contemplation. You know, because I'm (a) hoping to be a pastor someday and (b) just find this stuff fascinating.

Monday, January 5, 2009

On the 12th and last day of Christmastide ... a song by Javier Solís, one of Mexico's three greatest singer/actors of the 1940s and 50s, about the Día de Reyes, Mexico's version of Epiphany.

Today we went to Zapopan to:

1. Check out the massive Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopan, the third-most important religious pilgrimage site in Mexico (y'all know what the second-most important is)

2. Explore the Huichol museum attached to the Basilica, where every peso of your admittance fee goes to help evangelize the indigenous Huichols, whether you like it or not

3. Eat some surprisingly delicious Greek food and take some pictures.

Tomorrow we head to the Pacific coast because, well, it's there and it's awesome and our visitors, like any visiting Northerners in January, crave the sand and shore. Buen viaje...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

On the 11th day of Christmas ... a video to prepare for the Dia de los Tres Reyes on January 6, a.k.a. Three Kings Day, a.k.a Epiphany, on this, Epiphany Sunday, when we remember the visit of the Magi to the nacimiento.

Is this not a sweet video?


Today we visited Tonalá and Tlaquepaque. On Sundays there is a massive street market in Tonalá, up and down the streets and winding around blocks and blocks, with crafts from all over Mexico. I even found a stand where I recognized handmade crafts from Chiapas - little woolen stuffed animals in deep colors, muy chiapaneco. After a few hours of browsing the craft stands, Erica and Fred ducked into a little store to buy some shiny blown glass creations. Chris and I stood on a corner to wait, and a man hurried over and handed us a flyer for his seafood restaurant. Seeing that he had a few minutes before the next tourist would cross his path, he asked us where we were from, and we had a lively conversation about different places in the United States and in Mexico. The man told us he had some family living in the United States, but he preferred to live in Mexico. "Es mas libre," he told us, explaining that he felt Mexico was a freer place because there were people out and about, on the streets and in the plazas day and night. Looking around at the hundreds of people crowding Tonalá's streets, it was hard to disagree.

Next we hopped a bus for the short ride to neighboring Tlaquepaque. It is difficult to overstate just how much fun that word is to say. It's pronounced "TLAH-kay-PAH-kay." See? Just try saying it only once. I can't decide which place name is better to say out loud: Tlaquepaque or Zacatecas.

After getting some food at a little plaza with live mariachi music and traditional Jalisco dances, we ambled down Tlaquepaque's streets, where most of the galleries and upscale shops were closed for Sunday. A few outdoor stands were still open, and Chris stopped to buy a kind of bag she'd had her eye on for awhile. Here she is with her nuevo bolso (and in her new scarf, I should add - muy bohemia, no?)...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

On the 10th day of Christmas... a song from Chris's iTunes library. I turn my back for 2 seconds and all of a sudden she's bought a dozen new songs. Here's one of her new favorites:

Songs-of-the-day aside, today was our first day being tour guides with our friends who are in for the week from Milwaukee. (I'm forgoing the full report for lack of time and sufficing with a photo journal. Sorry.)

We checked out the terrifying Hidalgo mural by Jose Clemente Orozco inside the Palacio Municipal (notice our heads staring up at it) ...

Erica and Fred shared a quiet moment that wasn't posed at all...

Chris made a new friend, er, chair...

And we bought a fun ball to play with, except that it didn't last very long ...

So Chris used the streamers to make a hair tie instead...

And of course, no day is complete without Chris running into her best friend, the mascot for Farmacias Similares!

Anyway, we're having fun this weekend, and we hope you are too, wherever you are!

Friday, January 2, 2009

On the 9th day of Christmas ... visitors!

(above: Guadalajara's towering Los Arcos (arches) - Welcome to Guadalajara!)

Chris's sister Erica and her boyfriend Fred are arriving this evening and they'll stay with us for a little over a week. We're very excited. So excited, in fact, that this music-video-of-the-day probably best expresses our sentiments...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Año Nuevo en Guadalajara

(Above: Mariachis performing the classic song "Guadalajara.")

Last night we went to the city center to celebrate New Year’s with the tapatíos.

Chris did some research online and discovered that there would be a regional orchestra playing at 6:00, mariachi music starting at 7:30, and then a party at 9:00. Chris thought it would be best if we could catch the early music, see a bit of the party, and leave early enough to make it home on public transportation. So, running late as usual, we hopped on the city bus that picks us up a block from our house and headed downtown around 7, made the half-hour trip from our apartment to the city center, and started walking toward the central plaza around 7:30.

But when we arrived at 7:30, there was no sign of mariachis anywhere. There was no sign that any orchestra had just played. There did seem to be a big outdoor party coming, indicated by the giant rock-and-roll style temporary stage set up on the plaza behind the cathedral. We found a sign on a telephone poll in the plaza: New Year’s Eve party to start at… 10:00.

We wandered around the downtown for awhile, faintly hoping that we just had the place wrong and that we’d stumble upon some awesome mariachi concert a few blocks away, but no dice. So, our plans bewilderingly thrown out the window, we decided to get some ice cream and just wait for the late party.

First we sat in front of the cathedral, which was beautifully lit up for the evening. Guadalajara’s cathedral is not that tall compared to some of the other cathedrals in Mexico, but it is hulking in its own way, taking up a full city block and offering imposing architecture. Tonight we noticed for the first time some statues to individual martyrs built into the sides of the cathedral, peering down at us, martyrs who died in a bitter rebellion in the 1920s. These were the famous Cristeros, who I’ve been trying to learn about ever since arriving in Mexico (see earlier post back in August, when I stumped a history lecturer with some obscure question about the Cristeros). More on them later.

After awhile we wandered around to the other side of the cathedral, crossing another big plaza as we went. Guadalajara’s zocalo is a little different from the typical Mexican design: Its cathedral is surrounded by four city-block-sized plazas, one on each side. Behind the cathedral, where the New Year’s Eve party would be held, the plaza extends to the Teatro Degollado, where the Guadalajara orchestra and folkloric dance company perform. Tonight it is lit up with blue spotlights, and dapperly dressed folks are crowding around outside. They are so well-dressed in preparation for whatever event they’re going to that I half-expect one of them to pull out a monocle. But no one does. Sigh.

More and more people are gradually gathering around the rock-and-roll stage and in its massive plaza. Kids are everywhere. And because kids are everywhere, street vendors are everywhere, selling glow sticks and sparkly tiaras and especially little glowing bouncy balls with streamers attached to them. Before long every kid has a little glowing bouncy ball with streamers attached to it, and they are whipping them around on a string before letting them fly into the air, fall to the ground, bounce a few times, stop, and then the whole process begins again. Of course, very few of the kids have much precision with their bouncy-ball-throwing, so the balls fly everywhere – at people’s heads, into baby strollers, into the street. One little girl gets her toy stuck in a tree – tragedy! – but then her brother give her his, and she rejoins the fun.

Finally it is 10:00, and the party is supposed to start. Except that instead of a band playing, a DJ starts playing canned music. “Hey DJ, you know what would be a great song to kick off a party? How about Phil Collins’ ‘Easy Lover’?” Now, I love Phil Collins as much as the next 80s nostalgist (as my college roommate knows, I proudly own his greatest hits album), but this just seemed like an odd choice for a 2009 Mexican fiesta. It only got worse from there. Every song was in English, mostly American, but lots of techno, too, and even some really raunchy punk songs that just didn’t seem to fit the multigenerational, family-friendly, muy mexicana crowd of this New Year’s Eve party. And after a half-hour or so, people started getting really annoyed that the live band – advertised online for 9:00, advertised in the square for 10:00, and now not actually playing until 11:00 – was still not onstage. Mexicans express this heckling sentiment by whistling. Angry whistles went up everywhere.

Finally, at 11:15, a representative of the city government – Guadalajara’s version of Chicago’s “Mayor’s Office of Special Events” person – came onstage to welcome everyone. “Muy buenas noches,” he says. Not just buenas noches, but muy buenas noches? Well, yeah, Chris says, he’s got to be really polite now to all these annoyed people. He finally introduces the band.

Jane’s Addiction kicks into their first song. Ok, it’s not really Jane’s Addiction, but the lead singer really wanted to be Perry Farrell, or maybe some cross between Perry Farrell and the guys from Jet. All of their songs were completely in English, which I thought was really weird since, again, we’re in Guadalajara, supposedly the most Mexican of cities, and 99% of the people in the square were clearly Mexican. (And, on a side note, I've been immersing myself in the rock en español section of the iTunes music store all week, and then we go to a Mexican New Year's Eve celebration to hear rock en ingles? What's up with that?) Even weirder, every time the lead singer spoke to the crowd, he spoke in rapid Spanish, and then he kicked back into another English song, which just totally messed with my head. I’m all for bilingualism, but this is ridiculous.

In truth, the band wasn’t all that bad – they were tight, their songs were driving and taut with some electronica underneath that you could almost dance to – but this was a family crowd, and for the first song most people stood perfectly still staring at the people on stage blaring their too-loud-for-this-venue music. A dude stood with a cowboy hat on his head and his hands in his pockets giving the stage a blank stare for awhile. After a few songs, a lot of people left. I watched a family get into a taxi. It was too bad, really. I remember the best multigenerational, multicultural concert I’ve ever been to: Stevie Wonder in Grant Park. I don’t know who the Mexican Stevie Wonder is, but they should’ve booked him instead of the Perry Farrell wannabe. (Later, watching the TV news, we discovered that the norteño band Los Tigres del Norte played for free in downtown Mexico City. Los Tigres del Norte! So that’s who the Mexican Stevie Wonder is…)

Anyway, midnight finally came, and we all counted down from 10:


Fireworks shot up into the air. We watched them for a few minutes, bursting into color over the cathedral, and then we walk over to the street to hail a taxi and head home.

Feliz año nuevo a todos!