Sunday, May 31, 2009


We never would have predicted it in a million years... and we still can't believe it! The Pumas have just won the championship, their 6th overall in their history, in the craziest game ever against Mexico's-oldest-team Pachuca! The match went into OVERTIME and the Pumas were able to score to avoid a shootout of penalty kicks and win outright... whew. I can't even describe it. This is too cool.

But even cooler: Walking back to our hotel through the streets of Guadalajara (where we are for the week) and having cars with Pumas flags on them beep at us because I'm decked out in Pumas gear, and having a dude on a bike ride past us singing the Pumas' rally song: "Como no te voy a querer, como no te voy a querer, si mi corazon azul y mi piel dorado siempre te querer!"

What a way to end our year of Mexican futbol! :)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

La Batalla Final de los Pumas

Our beloved Pumas won on Thursday night, 1-0 in Estadio Universitario, their home stadium. Tomorrow night they play the second match of the finals at Estadio Miguel Hidalgo against Pachuca. It's a heck of a matchup, pitting the best defensive team in the league, the Pumas, against the best offensive team, Pachuca. One more victory and the Pumas are campeones!

Quick explanation for Adam: Each "round" in the playoffs consists of two matches which are sort of conceived of as one long match. Each team gets one match at home and one match away. The team with the higher aggregate score at the end of both matches wins. (Zach can likely explain the finer complexities, but that's the basic deal.) Earlier, the Tecos had crushed the Pumas 2-0, but in the second match of that round, the Pumas miraculously turned things around to the extent that at the end of the second match their aggregate score surpassed the Tecos. Got it? :)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Progressive Pentecost

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2:4

A rush of wind and suddenly you’re fluent? If only learning a new language were always this easy.

I’ve spent the last three years trying to learn Spanish. Back in 2006, when I first realized we would spend a year in Latin America, I started listening to audiotapes like a man on a mission. Thirty hours of repetition later, I knew quite a few phrases and I had started to get a sense for verbs in the present tense. But when I tried to watch TV shows in Spanish – a dubbed version of The Simpsons, for example – I still needed English-language subtitles to understand exactly why Homer was running for Springfield sanitation commissioner.

For the next two years I set Spanish on the shelf in order to learn the more, um, “useful” languages of Greek and Hebrew, but by 2008 there was nothing for it: It was time to take the plunge into full Spanish immersion.

First a three-week “Spanish Language for Ministry” program, where I learned the very, very basics by day and lived in a Mexican home by night. The first week of the program was wonderful, full of the adrenaline rush of new things, but by the second week I was frustrated at the slow progress I was making. I wasn’t learning as much as I’d wanted to as fast as I’d wanted to. Yet I got over many fears during those three weeks, and had some of my first great triumphs of using Spanish out in the real world.

Over the next several months I spent every weekend with a Mexican family. I tried sharing what we’d learned in Bible study with my very patient host mom, who was no doubt used to dealing with foreigners whose language skills were feeble at best. I talked Mexican soccer with my host dad, describing as well as I could how much I was enjoying attending soccer matches at the massive Mexico City stadiums. I had countless awkward conversations with their teenage kids, who had as little an idea of what to say to us as we did to them. And I watched hours of Spanish-dubbed Disney Channel TV shows with their youngest son, whose boundless energy brought a smile to everyone’s face. Yet in nearly every interaction I was painfully aware of my inability to speak in any tense other than the present. I cringed whenever I translated the tenses I was saying into English, imagining how awful I must sound. I knew I could do better with a good textbook and some well-organized teaching.

So in January and February I took six more weeks of Spanish language courses in a certified Spanish language school. We breezed through one textbook, supplementing its verb charts with computer-based exercises and in-class conversations. I gave oral presentations on current events and debated the merits of Guadalajara soccer teams with my teacher. I made lots of progress over these winter months, improving my ability to read, write, and speak the language of my new home country at a level and a pace that I’d always hoped for. And then, just as we were passing the halfway point of our second textbook, it was time to move again, out of the city – and far from any language school.

Over the next three months in the rural ranchlands of Jalisco I felt the well-structured grammar I’d learned in class slowly slip away, withering without the constant tending of daily homework and weekly exams. No doubt this feeling of hard-earned learning slipping through my fingers like sand contributed to the frustrated restlessness I couldn’t seem to shake off during the long, dry month of April.

And yet, as it so often happens, even while I was staring at the skies looking for answers, God was hard at work on the earth below. By May there were a handful of people around Lagos de Moreno who knew us by name and who seemed to relish the opportunity to speak with a couple of gringos from out of town. And somehow, over three months here, my ability to speak with them flourished.

“¿Que hay?” the barista at our favorite coffee shop says every time I walk in, using one of the Mexican equivalents of “What’s up?” He always seems to be expecting me – which makes sense, since I go there nearly every day. During the Mexican soccer season, Chris asked him where we could go in Lagos to watch a Chivas game. He recommended La Cura, a seafood bar where the most die-hard Chivas fanaticos gathered every Saturday night to watch their beloved Rebaño. Watching the Chivas-America Superclasico match there, shrimp-spiked michelada in hand, is a memory I’ll cherish nearly as much as the Superclasico we watched live at Estadio Azteca.

Across town, nearer to our apartment, is the Super-Fruteria El Gordo Salazar Jr. (phew!), the Lagos equivalent of Hyde Park Produce back home. The manager of the super-fruteria, a young guy with a big smile, has been super-friendly to us since the first time Chris stopped in for groceries. At first, I used to wait outside with our backpacks while Chris shopped, and the friendly fruteriero would ask Chris why I was afraid to come inside. When I finally did begin going inside the store – nearly every day – he grinned. “¿No tienes miedo?” You’re not afraid? No, I said, I’m not afraid, shaking my head with an embarrassed smile.

Now the fear, real or imagined, is a distant memory. On Wednesday he noticed my Chicago Fire jersey and asked me if I liked “el fut” (i.e. soccer). Of course, I answered. “Then are you going to watch the game today, Barcelona and Manchester United? Barcelona is my team. How about you?” Eeesh. I don’t really know, I told him, I only really watch Mexican and MLS soccer, not so much the European leagues… “Ah, but these teams are the best in the world! You have to watch. It’s on at 2:00 today. At 2:00!” So I did. And the next day, when he asked me if I watched the match, I could respond affirmatively. And congratulate him on his team’s victory.

Then there’s the owner of a local pizza place, where we always watch Mexican National Team matches. Like the barista, he, too, has a brother in the States he hasn’t seen in years.

And there’s the lady who runs the corner convenience store across the street. She always apologizes about the dust on the jugs of drinking water we buy, as if there were some way to avoid dust in this time before the rains.

There’s the man who runs a tailor shop next door to our apartment gate. Chris always says hello to him, but I continue to hold a silent grudge ever since he scolded Adam and I for playing soccer in the driveway.

There’s even my barber, who remembered me – with surprising joy – when I went in for a second haircut a few weeks ago. He hopes I’ll come back one more time before I leave.

And then, of course, there’s Luis. Yesterday he came by ostensibly to practice his English, but over the next three hours (!) we conversed in our usual English-Spanish hybrid – mostly Spanish, but trying English words whenever Spanish words didn’t seem to be hitting their mark. My conversations with Luis can be wide-ranging; at one point I explained that the lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Luis’s favorite band, is actually from California even though he writes all his songs about the Louisiana bayou. “Ah,” Luis says, nodding, “It would be like if you, from Chicago, were to write all of your songs about Lagos de Moreno!” Exactly. ☺

But yesterday Luis said something that surprised me. “Your Spanish,” he said,” has become much better.” Nah, I said, waving away what I took to be an empty compliment. “No,” he insisted, “When you first arrived you had so much fear, you’d hardly spoke at all. Now you’re speaking a lot, and getting better and better…” And it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, he might be right.

I’m a long way from being fluent, I really am. As one who’s loved grammar since he was in eighth grade (thanks, Mrs. Smith), it still pains me not to have proper verb conjugation at the tip of my tongue. My vocabulary is in the stratosphere compared to where it was a year ago and I’m even getting pretty good at understanding and pronunciation, but I still have interactions, like the unfortunate and, truth be told, rather terrifying interaction I had with an immigration official in the Guadalajara airport.

And yet, and yet. Little by little, step by step, paso a paso, I am beginning to speak in another language. As the Spirit, mysterious as she is, moving around like the wind, at her own pace, in her own unpredictable directions, is giving me ability. She has taken her sweet time, but she is filling me up, fanning my Pentecostal fire.

This slow-cooked version of speaking another language, filled as it is with imperfections, fits and false starts, and continued learning over a long period of time, is very different from how we often think of the Spirit’s work. It’s certainly different from the way we read the second chapter of Acts. WHOOOSH! a rush of wind and then BAM! you can suddenly speak another language – fluently and without missteps, we presume. If only it were that easy.

In the run-up to our Mexico trip I tried everything to get into Spanish-language ministry experiences. But always I faced the same roadblock. “Are you fluent? No? Well, this opportunity is only open to those who are fluent.” And so I was rejected from multilingual ministry because I wasn’t starting with fluency. And I thought, if this is our model, then this church will never be a multicultural church.

I’m not complaining about those rejections today, though there was a time when I did. Sometimes, I’ve come to understand, those decisions were, given the individual situation, for the best. And, as for me, I like my life the way it turned out better than the hypothetical way I’d planned it in my head. But I learned something from those come-fluent-or-go-home roadblocks, something that leads me to challenge the attitude that permits only the fluent to go forward.

In a sermon my first year at LSTC, my advisor, Dr. Richard Perry, urged the student body to take some uncomfortable first steps in learning a new language. He acknowledged that we’d probably feel pretty awkward at first, and tried himself to use a few Spanish words while we all laughed. But that was the point. Perfection – fluency – wasn’t where we started. A step was where we started. A word, two words, a phrase. Enough to make that first connection with someone else, someone you thought was so different you’d never bridge that gap. But you do, with those first awkward steps.

And then there will be a few more steps. And a few more after that. And eventually, the Spirit will fill you up. She will give you ability. Sometimes she takes her time, avoiding shortcuts and taking the long way round. But she will get you there. She will.

Eventually. Gracias a Dios.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

¡Pumas en los Finales!

My beloved Pumas rock and roll tonight against the best offensive team in the league, Pachuca in the first match of the FINALS. Winner of tonight's match is halfway toward the Apertura 2009 championship. Don't get Mexican soccer on your TV? Follow along here.

La Cocina Mexicana

While I was in Seattle this past weekend I was asked more than once about what kind of food we eat here.

"You know," people would add, "like how is it different from what we think of as Mexican food?"

Well, I'd answer, what is it that you think of as Mexican food?

"Well, like tacos and that kind of thing."

Truth is, we do eat a lot of tacos here. Not the ground beef and iceberg lettuce variety served at your standard fast food chain, mind you, but definitely lots of cooked or stewed fillings stuffed inside of soft, warmed corn tortillas. Just yesterday, for example, I made a taco filling for dinner. I followed a couple of pretty standard Mexican cooking steps.

First I cleaned and disinfected the raw vegetables - always a necessity here. You start with a tiny bottle of iodine-based cleaner, seen below.

See the little drop-man cartoon? You drop about 10 of him and his drop buddies into a giant pot filled with water, wait for the chemicals to disperse, and then soak your veggies for about 10 minutes, like so.

After they've dried, you're ready to begin. I began this particular taco filling by pan-roasting two dozen little tomatillos, known here as tomates verdes. I found them pretty easy to find in Chicago, so we've been cooking with tomatillos for a few years now. They've got a fantastic tangy taste that goes perfectly with a spicy chile to make some of my favorite salsas.

Together with the tomatillos, I pan-roasted a serrano chile pepper. Rick Bayless, author of our Mexican cookbooks, recommends 2-3 serranos, but I tried that once and the sauce was so spicy it was barely edible... so I usually go with 1 or 1.5. When these were done roasting, I threw them into a blender and let them cool while I pan-fried some chopped onion and garlic, stirring them around until the onions were fully caramelized. Then I added those to the blender, too, and pureed the whole thing.

At this point Rick has you cook this wonderful little sauce you've made. Throw a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil into the pan, turn up the heat real high, and then pour the sauce in all at once, stirring it for a few minutes as it sears. Once the color darkens, you cover it, turn down the heat, throw in a cup or so of chicken or vegetable broth, and let it simmer down for a good ten minutes or so. This gives the sauce a deep and complex flavor, one that almost tastes like you've slow-cooked it.

To complete the taco filling, I threw in some shredded cooked chicken and whole bunch of chopped green chard leaves (seen soaking above) and stirred the pot until everything had been coated in the sauce. Voila! (oops, voila is French...I'm mixing cultures here!) Heat up a few tortillas from the tortilleria, break out some cold beers, and dig in.

Chris got home from work just as I was finishing things up. She gasped when she saw what I'd made. "You made my favorite!"

Wow... delicious food and it somehow turns out to be your wife's favorite! This is the life...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Viaje a Seattle

Just got back from my quick whirlwind of a trip to Seattle. To give you an idea of the travel involved: On Monday morning I took a 3:30 AM shuttle to the Seattle-Tacoma airport, flew from Seattle to Phoenix, had a one hour layover, flew from Phoenix to Guadalajara, took a taxi from the airport to the bus station, took a bus from Guadalajara to Lagos de Moreno, and finally walked up the long steep hill to our apartment in Lagos. Phew! Still, the fact that you can travel all the way from the Pacific Northwest to Central Mexico in only one day of travel is definitely a modern marvel. I am both exhausted and amazed.

And what a weekend it was! Landing was like arriving at another planet. I leave the deserts of Jalisco in the morning, and by the afternoon we begin a descent over Mount Rainier (!!!!!!!) and then down into endless pine trees and the clear waters of the Puget Sound. Incredible. How is any one place allowed to be this gorgeous? And I thought there was only one West Coast state this cool... California, you're on notice.

Of course, I'll be spending most of my time doing the hard work of internship, with my time divided between St. John United Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Public Policy Office (LPPO) of Washington State. After visiting, I'm even more excited about both places.

In the summer of 2007, I did my CPE work in a homeless shelter on Chicago's north side. It was one of my best experiences at seminary, a time when everything I was learning was coming together in something that felt more like ministry than anything else I did in my first two years at LSTC. I missed having those experiences during my second year, when life was full of books and papers. But I find it all coming back to me now. St. John's, my internship parish, hosts a soup kitchen and overnight shelter for homeless men twice a week, and has close relationships with several people who live in vans in the surrounding area. This outreach, these relationships, are an important part of who they - we - are.

And only the night before I found myself back in conversation about the policy debates around homelessness. Proposals poorly implemented by too-eager local governments, funding shortages, the "not-in-my-backyard" syndrome - all of these are familiar from the months I studied them closely just two years ago. I can't believe I'll be able to be a part of these relationships and policy conversations again!

Of course, this is only one of many areas of ministry I learned about this weekend that seemed so encouraging, so indicative of the possibility of an great internship year. I have no doubt there will be real challenges and rough patches ahead. But here at the beginning of things, I am full of energy and excitement. I think that's a good place to be. :)

Below are some pictures I took from the weekend, as well as a map showing where we'll be in the Emerald City. Enjoy!

This is the church where I'll be working next year.

An image outside the church. I like the words in it, which you can read if you click on the image to make it bigger.

This is the view from my future office. See the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains in the background (you can just see the white snow outlines through the power lines)? Wow. :)

The congregation's community garden. This is too cool.

There is a BBQ joint across the street from our apartment. Seriously. My mouth is already watering. If they have sweet tea I'm going to eat here every day.

I stayed overnight with my supervisor's family. They live on the Puget Sound north of Seattle. This is the view from their living room. Really.

This tree is in their backyard. It's like, 500 years old. In Mexico we have churches that are 500 years old. In the Pacific Northwest they have trees that are even older. Probably this tree was here on the shore of the Puget Sound when this area was "discovered" by Europeans. Unbelievable.

While I was there Seattle was hosting its annual Northwest Folklife Festival. It's full of dozens of "official" performers at dozens of stages, but also welcomes informal street performers to set up shop throughout the park. This was a bluegrassy kind of band that was really good. I couldn't help but think of the Old Town School of Folk Music in if the Old Town School suddenly spilled out into Millenium Park for the weekend. Just. Too. Cool.

At the Folklife Festival they were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. This was one of the clever posters for the AYP commemoration.

And they have a big ol' public fountain too! (The fountain, as some of you may know, is my absolute favorite thing in Millenium Park in Chicago.)

Seattle is just too cool. Below you can see where in it we'll be living. Click on the blue markers to see what each one represents.

View Internship 2008-09 in a larger map

Friday, May 22, 2009

En el aeropuerto

Made it to the airport, check. Made it through immigration, check (but check with difficulty). Now I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Miguel Hidalgo International Airport, copping wi-fi from the Chili's across the way, while I wait for my flight.

Americans are all around me, speaking English - it's a little disconcerting. Dude sitting at the next table is on a cell phone talking business with somebody, in a drawled-out English. "We've just got to set that aside and figure out a way to win," he tells the person on the other end of the line. It's not even 7am yet - at least not here. A couple just sat down at another table in the Starbucks and the woman asked the man, "Do you think they take credit cards?" (It strikes me that these might be pretty common things to hear wherever you are, dear reader. But this is the first I've heard them since...well, at least since my last time in the States.)

I have another half an hour until my flight boards, so I'm downloading audio podcasts on iTunes for the trip. No Democracy Now! yet, unfortunately, but amazingly the Slate Political Gabfest is already out. Wonderful. That should keep my mind occupied until I fall asleep, something I desperately need to do if I'm going to make it through a day in which I'll travel across one border and almost all the way up to another one before meeting with one of my two future supervisors all afternoon and evening. Whew. Here we go...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This Chicago Fire Jersey Is Too Awesome

Cielos Nublados

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:9

Clouds. There are more of them here in north-central Mexico now, more of them then there were before. Vienen las lluvias – the rains are coming, announce the hardware stores. Showers of actual rain are still rare, but the cielos nublados, cloudy skies, with their nubes gordos, fat clouds, are harbingers of the falling water to come.

Here in the neighborhood of La Luz, people are so desperate for clouds that they make their own. In an annual celebration of their patron virgen, Santa Maria de La Luz, laypeople at the domed, medieval-looking church at the bottom of the hill are sending off powerful explosive CRACKs that bounce off the mountains and hillsides of town, setting off car alarms and leaving behind, high in the air, a puff of cloudy smoke that quickly dissipates in the wind.

Whether these explosions are the result of fireworks or a trigger-happy shotgun is unclear to these sheltered ears, but the sound is so ear-shatteringly loud that I physically jerk every time I hear it. Is this celebration or penance? I’d like to be charitable and join the celebration, but my idea of celebration is not to recreate the horrific sounds of a war zone. But maybe my grouchiness is merely due to a lack of sleep: The burst of apartment-shaking, popping-popcorn-on-steroids usually begins at 5:00 in the morning, a daily unwanted wake-up call when the skies are still too dark for an audience to see the brief smoky clouds that are left behind.

Clouds have long been a source of human fascination. We stare up at them, imagining what familiar objects they might look like. Sometimes we even look up to the clouds and find God. My new Green Letter Bible lists more references to Clouds than to such stereotypically Biblical nature objects as Deserts, Seeds, and Vineyards. Even Rain has fewer references than its mother, the Cloud. First God creates clouds, covering the planet with them in Genesis, and then by Exodus the Lord is using clouds to speak to Moses, to fill the temple, to lead the people by day. God uses clouds so much that when Job asks, “Can anyone understand the clouds?” it’s clear the poor man is just asking, in another way, Can anyone understand God?

Of course, the clouds are not God; rather, they simply become one of God’s primary traveling cloaks, a traveling tool God uses whenever God decides it’s time for a formal visit. The writer of Psalm 104 sees this pattern and calls the clouds God’s Winnebago: “You make the clouds your chariot.” “The Lord is riding on a swift cloud,” Isaiah says, continuing the transportation theme. For all the fun with winged wheels, though, the point, for both Isaiah and the Psalmist, is that the clouds are a sign that God is coming – or that God is already here.

Which is why it comes as a bit of a shock when the clouds come, in our Ascension Day readings, to take Jesus away. The disciples stand openmouthed, dumbfounded. It wasn’t that they didn’t expect clouds to be involved. Clouds always seemed to be showing up at important moments. Matthew records a voice coming out of a cloud at Jesus’ baptism, Mark writes of a cloud overshadowing the Transfiguration, and Luke tells us of Jesus’ proclamation that in the last days people will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory.” But that a cloud would come to take Jesus away? Away? Whatever can this mean?

When the clouds come, they bring a change. Here in Jalisco, the weather is cooler now with the clouds hovering over us; there is relief from the unrelenting heat of the sun but new cause to throw on a jacket. Soon there will be more cracks in the sky, accompanied by their fiery bolts of light, and the waters will come. Farmers will rejoice. And the season will change.

I walk up to the roof to see about the need for that jacket. The clouds are increasing, rolling heavily through an overcast sky. Vienen las llluvias, the hardware store announces. It won’t be long now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Preparando Para Pacifico Noreste

This Friday I'll board a plane bound for Seattle, Washington, and put my feet on American soil for only the second time this year. My upcoming internship site - a joint placement split between St. John United Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State - is flying me out to meet people, tour the area, and generally get an idea of what to expect when I arrive there sometime this August.

I'm simultaneously totally psyched and a bit nervous.

Totally psyched: I've been reading Timothy Egan's The Good Rain, a book about the Pacific Northwest. Egan is an gifted writer (seriously, I've read a lot of books this year, and he's good), and my insides are rip-roaring to get out there and see the shimmering beauties and gut-wrenching struggles that he describes coursing through both the natural landscapes and human communities. It's not a given that a seminarian be excited about his internship placement before he begins, but I find myself more and more excited every day by the woolly wilderness and the citizens of the city alike. This is a good place to start, I hope.

Bit nervous: After ten months in Mexico, I'm full to the brim of Mexican history, culture, and even a little language, but it's been months since I've thought theologically. In short: I'm way out of pastor shape. My friend Zach is nine months into his internship and he's like Rocky after all of his Siberian training in Rocky IV, all set to take on Drago, if Rocky were a pastor and Drago were, well...something. Me, on the other hand, I'm like Rocky before all of that log-lifting and mountain-jogging. I could give you a 20-minute lecture without notes on the importance of Benito Juarez in Mexico's political and religious history, but if you ask me my call story, I'm up a creek - nay, I'm up the Columbia River - without a paddle.

Funny thing, then, that I ran into Luis at the coffee shop today and he flat-out asked me why I wanted to be a pastor. After batting around a handful of wildly disparate topics, he says to me, in his broken English: "I want to ask you about your religion."

Luis has asked me this many times now, and I keep trying to explain it to him, but it never seems quite satisfactory enough. This time, after I try again to explain the mysteries of the Lutheran tradition to a Mexican Catholic, he moves to my own life, asks me again if I will get paid for this (this part is always a great mystery to Luis, who spends his days breathlessly running around Lagos trying to complete real estate deals), and then asks me a question in Spanish that I think I understand even while I hope I don't. I ask him to repeat it, and then it's clear: He's asking me my call story.

I go the short and simple route, drawing a line from the muchas preguntas y pocas respuestas of college philosophy classes to the singularly helpful respuesta I found in the particular brand of faithfulness practiced by a little Lutheran community in southern Indiana. I can't tell whether this version of my call story is satisfying or not. But suddenly Luis opens his mouth and out pour preguntas, questions both personal and abstract but all filled with confusion, anger, sadness, preguntas in which I hear myself eighteen months ago, broken and angry by the violence filling Chicago's streets, preguntas about the presence of continued unspeakable evil in a God-loved world.

I have no clean-fix respuesta for Luis - or for myself. I make no attempt to pretend that I do. Yet in the midst of our exchange I notice two curious things I did not expect.

The first thing I notice is that my faith feels stronger now; while craters still lie gaping where answers should be, the substance of the pregunta-pocked meteorite that is my faith has been chemically altered by what I've learned about Jesus Christ over these past three years, two in seminary, one in Mexico. And the second thing I notice is that this entire exchange feels like God showing up, like the Grim Reaper in a bad movie, a meeting that somehow feels long-expected even while unplanned (how's that for imagery, Z?). The opening pages of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory come to mind. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in...

Life is about to shift gears in a big way. There's nothing for it: The getting ready begins now.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Adios Amigos

We bid adios to our friends Zach and Hannah early Thursday morning, an hour before the sun shed its first light. For nine days they shared their inimitable company with us, and we tried our best to share with them a bit of our “Mexican experience.”

From the bustling dusty street market of Tonalá to spending Mother's Day with the Virgin of San Juan, from taking a ramshackle pickup truck tour of the lesser-known neighborhoods of Lagos with the now world-famous Luis to designing a new publicity campaign for the Primera Plus bus line, from breaking the Guinness book record for Mexican map puzzling to witnessing a veritable owl attack in the Mexican futbol playoffs, Z & H left their mark, and Mexico will never be the same.

The photos – and unforgettable soccer story – that we’ve posted over the past few days only tell a few sliver-sized slices of our time together, but I’ll post a few more anyway, hopeful that they’ll convey a just a bit of the, well, bonanza of fun that we had in the company of our friends.

Z&H's Mexican Experience

I began the week thinking of how grateful I felt for our friends' visit, given how tenuous it seemed only two weekends ago, and I end the week with that same single overwhelming feeling: Gratitude, a grace-rooted word that feels like rain in this desert of a place. Would that we would carry these memories with us through the – can it be? – less than two months that remain in our Mexican journey…

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tecos. Pumas. Playoffs. ¿Que mas?

Last Saturday we planned to attend the Atlas-Pachuca futbol match, the last match of the Mexican futbol season to be held in the city of Guadalajara. Zach and Hannah and I sat outside making our final preparations when Chris came downstairs with bad news. “I just checked the Atlas website,” she said. “They’re closing the doors at Estadio Jalisco.”

For three weeks now the Mexican Futbol Federation has shuttered stadiums across Mexico for fear of the flu, playing the final games of the spring (Clausura) season without fan support. This week they went back and forth, first announcing closed doors, then opening them, and then, hours before the match was to begin, closing them again. There would be no Mexican soccer experience for Zach, the most die-hard soccer fan I know.

Disappointed but undaunted, we spent the last half of the weekend in Los Altos, and Z & H stayed in our “guest room,” which right now looks like the bedroom of a 13-year-old boy. The bed is covered with a Chivas bedspread, and it lays in the shadow of one wall plastered with photos of soccer players from around the world and another wall strewn with soccer jerseys from around Mexico. Gazing at the jersey collection through a sleep-induced haze Zach suddenly made a decision. Whether he attended a match or not, he would throw his support behind a Mexican soccer club. “The Owl, Matt,” he says. “The Owl.”

Now Zach is far too independent a sports fan to join either the Chivas, whose fan base is the most massive in Mexico, or the Pumas, who I’ve supported since our time in DF. Nor would he support Atlas, whose jersey Adam now proudly owns, nor even Pachuca, who currently stars a jugador from the US national team. No, rejecting all of these formidable clubs vying for his attention Zach instead opted for a Guadalajara team whose fan base is so small that a local taxi driver once told us that not even their family members support them. “Yep,” Zach said upon hearing that story, “That’s the team for me.” And so it was that Zachary Parris become a fan of the UAG Tecolotes.

That night we waited in the Lagos de Moreno bus station, aimlessly eyeing the newspapers when we suddenly noticed that the futbol playoff brackets had been announced. I looked at the schedule for several long seconds before it dawned on me what I was seeing.

“Look at this,” I said, pointing at the broadsheet. “The Pumas are assigned to play the Tecos in the opening round!” Then we both noticed the details of the first match. Wednesday, May 13 – Z & H’s last night in Mexico. Estadio 3 de Marzo – the Tecos’ stadium located 15 minutes from our apartments in Guadalajara. We looked at each other wide-eyed. Maybe we would attend a soccer match after all!

“I’ll be right back!” I said, throwing my backpack down and sprinting back up the hill to our Lagos apartment to grab all the Pumas gear I had.


We arrived at the stadium an hour before the match was set to begin. Chris had made a solo trip earlier in the day to buy our tickets, and it was a good thing – the cheap seats were already gone, and the remaining seats were few in number due to the flu-induced attendance restrictions. The restrictions were probably good for the Tecos, though – from the looks of it, any more seats sold were likely to go to Pumas fans.

From the moment we arrived it seemed like we were outside Estadio Olimpico Universitario in Mexico City, where we saw the Pumas four glorious times last fall. Groups of Pumas fans were everywhere, peppered by a comparative handful of Tecos fans. Merchant stands lined the east side of the stadium, selling both Tecos and Pumas gear – but, truth be told, Pumas gear outnumbered Tecos gear at this, the Tecos home stadium. I reveled in it all, nothing less than thrilled to get one last taste of the Pumas passion I’d soaked up since the first soccer matches we attended last August.

But all this Puma power only further riled up the Tecos’ newest fan. Earlier in the day Zach bought a jersey at the Guadalajara market. We had to look in multiple stands to find one. We asked one merchant if she had any Tecos jerseys, and she looked at us incredulously. “Tecos?!” she asked again, as if we were crazy. Then she laughed at us. (We did end up finding one. Eventually.)

Jersey firmly in hand, Zach decided to invent a new cheer for his team. Channeling his inner owl (the Tecos’ mascot), Zach began…hooting. As only an owl can. Soon he added flapping wings to his hooting calls and then of course with all this owlish fury I couldn’t help but bring out a puma snarl and vicious paw swipe and soon there were two gringos acting like wild animals challenging each other on the sidewalk of one of the busiest streets in Guadalajara. Will this continue long after the game is over? Yes, yes it will.

Joining in the fandom (though at a slightly higher level of adulthood) Hannah bought a Tecos headband and Chris draped our Pumas scarf around her neck, and the four of us headed into the stadium. Seeing that we would be required to wear cubrebocas (surgical masks) because of flu fears, Zach and I bought special cubrebocas emblazoned with the logos of the Tecos and Pumas and the words “Eres mi cura” – “You are my cure.” Oh, Mexico. All week we’ve seen blue surgical masks on bronze statues and even giant ones on cars, and now die-hard futbol fans are declaring their teams to be their personal “cure” for the flu. Laughing in the face of death and disease – este es Mexico.

But the flu prevention did not stop with cubrebocas. Security guards squirted antibacterial gel on our hands, and then doctors in white lab coats pointed what looked like radar guns at our necks and took our temperatures. When this flu scare recedes, Mexico is going to be the healthiest place in the world. (Or maybe just the least germy place - antibacterial gel is everywhere.)

Safely sanitized, we made our way to our seats. Chris and I looked at each other in amazement: After Estadio Azteca, Estadio Olimpico Universitario, and Estadio Jalisco, three of the biggest stadiums in Mexico (and three of the biggest soccer-specific stadiums in North America), Estadio 3 de Marzo seemed really small. And yet this was the best of all possible situations, for we could see our beloved Pumas up close. Though we had attended four UNAM games in Mexico City and one in Guadalajara before today, we had never, ever been this close to the Pumas. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had seats this good since the 6th-row Cubs-Brewers seats Adam and I accidentally acquired a year ago this month.

The first half of the match was a thrill to watch. For the first time I realized just how much the Pumas’ 15-year-veteran goalkeeper Bernal absolutely runs the team from the goalie box, pointing and shouting commands and directing the top-ranked defense in the entire league. The Pumas weren’t scoring any goals, but they looked like a team that came to this match battle-ready to win. As did their fans.

At mediotiempo, the score was still tied 0-0. But now, of course, it was time for the halftime show. The Tecos, it turns out, have the greatest halftime show in the league. Like most Mexican soccer halftime shows, it consists of an obstacle course, but this particular obstacle course featured lucha libre fighters in the middle of it! To get through the course, the contestants had to either fight the two luchadores – usually getting flipped into the air or slammed into the mat – or try to avoid them, a tactic which was usually followed by the luchadores chasing them down the field. After all of this the contestant had to try and kick a soccer ball into the net – and more than once this turned out like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football. As the Tecos’ giant owl mascot walked off the field with the luchadores, we all concluded that it was one of the best halftime shows we’d seen.

But now it was back to the game. As the second half began with yet another Pumas ¡GOYA! cheer, Zach shook his head. “Just wait,” he tells us. “When the sun goes down, the OWLS come out!” And somehow, someway, as the sun disappeared behind the stadium lights and the crazy man next to me hooted like an owl, the Tecos’ newest fan would be proved right.

Within minutes of the start of the second half the Tecos scored a golazo. As we stared at the goal in disbelief, we realized the Pumas’ veteran star was missing, a young substitute keeper in his place. For a few minutes the Pumas tried to rally, but suddenly Palencia, the best Pumas player on the field, was pulled out of the match, and, now missing their four best players (national team call-up Leandro and top-scorer Cacho were already out with injury) the blue-and-gold seemed to wilt. Late in the second half the Tecos were awarded a penalty kick and went up 2-0 and then, without warning, it was all over. The sun had gone down. The Owls had come out!

We poured out of the stadium, picked up a few more pieces of Tecos and Pumas gear to take home with us, and then found a place to wait for the bus. Suddenly we heard drums. And not just any drums…familiar drums…the drums of the UNAM…and sure enough, it was the Pumas supporter club, marching out of the stadium, drumming and chanting loudly and enthusiastically and seemingly having the time of the their lives. I remembered a match we attended in the fall in which the Pumas lost brutally, but after the game the fans marched out of the stadium with the full band, as passionate in their support after the loss as they were before the game. This is what I love about the Pumas, I thought. This is what I love about soccer.

The Puma fans paraded out into the four-lane street, filling it and marching on, drums pounding, out into the night. A few minutes later our bus came by and we filed on, riding home for an after-party on the porch, neighbors for one more night, our fantastic week dotted with the exclamation point of a soccer night.

And somewhere in the distance, an owl is still hooting…

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


We just had an INCREDIBLE SOCCER EXPERIENCE tonight. Let me repeat: INCREDIBLE. SOCCER. EXPERIENCE. Full description to come...soon.

Postales #3

More postales!

While on vacation, every morning should begin with a good breakfast. Mexican-style sweet breads and bananas, for example...

And if your clothes happen to match the color of the food, walls, and friends, all the better... even if it gets that Coldplay song stuck in your head for awhile...

Fun with the self-timer...

But before leaving you must complete the daily ritual of putting together the Mexican States Puzzle! It took Z&H a whole ten minutes to complete the puzzle on their first day here, and then they halved it the day after that and halved it again the day after that and yesterday morning? Under two minutes!

But now for a day of shopping. First the Tuesday tianguis (or mercado de martes) two blocks from our apartments, where Chris checked out some new jewelry...

And then on to Tlaquepaque! Full of giant outdoor sculptures...

...and foreign tourists...

...and, uh, people comparing shoe sizes...

...and chairs where your feet don't touch the ground...

...and fun times with friends. (Even if the pterodactyls threaten your peace and security...long story.)

Finally a dinner of tamales on the way home... finish up the day and move one step closer to the end of the week.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Postales #2

From Chris: Matt is out picking up breakfast for me, so I thought I'd put up some of his new photos from the last couple days.... we're still having a great time with Zach and Hannah!

At lunch in Zapopan in the cool courtyard of Aggios Aggelos Greek restaurant....

On our weekend "road trip" to San Juan de los Lagos and Lagos de Moreno: the four of us outside the Cathedral-Basilica in San Juan...

And on the way home, Zach and Hannah show off their "plusness" in the special first-class waiting room for Primera Plus buslines - the "plUs bUs"....

Friday, May 8, 2009


At the sprawling Thursday market in Tonalá...

And below, trying pulque, a traditional fermented cactus drink, for the first time ever... I thought I was getting like a little plastic cup, but instead they gave me a gi-normous clay mug! So I shared. (A little.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009


So I'm really bad at taking pictures of people. I don't know why. I just am. So y'all may just have to wait for Hannah's shots whenever she gets them uploaded. But in the meantime...

Zach and Hannah arrived in the afternoon on Tuesday (¡el Cinco de Mayo!) We spent Wednesday touring the Historic Center of Guadalajara, checking out political murals and religious cathedrals (or are they religious murals and political cathedrals? think on that one... :)), but mostly we've been just, well, hanging out. Hanging out in the courtyard of the city market watching kids act out lucha libre, hanging out on the promenade eating ice cream, and best of all hanging out on the back porch of our temporary apartments in a throwback to old times.

Mexico's bright colors rarely shine so bright as when friends are here to take it all in with you. And so we take it in, grateful for everything...

Monday, May 4, 2009

La Tranquilidad Continua..

As soon as I can hook up my own trusty blogging machine to some wi-fi, I´ll post a better update. In the meantime, the NY Times´accounts of the decline in panic in Mexico City are surprisingly accurate to our area as well. Hardly anyone is wearing a mask anymore. Also, last night, Sunday night, there were more people out in the square than we have seen in over a month - just an insane number of people. We guess cabin fever probably got to them... plus, all of the cafes and bars are closed, so where else are you going to go but outside, right?

Also, I love, love, love this article about the flu. It features a photo from this guy´s blog, which is just, well, perfect humor for a country that celebrates a day of the dead. Classic Mexico.

And now, we are diligently preparing for the arrival of our dear friends tomorrow afternoon... Expect great pictures soon! :)

Saturday, May 2, 2009