Thursday, April 24, 2014

grimms / die zertanzten schuhe / the twelve dancing princesses

R asked the other day if I had The Twelve Dancing Princesses in my copy of Grimms.


I remembered a story with twelve dancing princesses but not with that title. I flipped through the pages and found Die Zertanzten Schuhe. Schuhe = shoes. The title isn't translated literally because there's no English equivalent for zertanzt, which means something like "danced to smithereens" or "worn to nothingness from dancing". You can see the stem of the word dance or tanz.

Did you know that once upon a time English and German came from the same language? You can still see that in everyday words like sun/Sonne, moon/Mond, salt/Salz, milk/Milch, etc.

In German, when you put the prefix zer before a word, you add destruction. For example, to zerschlag a bowl doesn't just mean you broke it. You shattered it into tiny bits. Shoes that were zertanzt aren't even worth taking to get reheeled. They've been danced to garbage.

There may not be a single English word to translate zertanzt, but gee. The story could have been called Shoes Danced to Shreds. Or how about Dance-Mashed Shoes? Almost anything would have more pizzazz than The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Especially since the twelve of them exhibit no individual characteristics. They're simply a gaggle of girls who wreck their shoes with dancing. The twelve pairs of shoes matter more than the princesses do. Only the eldest and the youngest ever speak.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.

There was once a king who had twelve daughters, one more beautiful than the next.
--I don't like these kind of family comparisons. It doesn't foster good relations between siblings.

They slept in a room with their beds side by side, and in the evening when they went to bed the king locked the door behind them.
In the morning, though, when he opened it, he saw that their shoes were danced to shreds and no one could understand how this had happened.
--me neither, but I'm glad the girls figured out how to escape a father who locked them up every night. And look at that fancy collection of shoes!


The king made a proclamation that whoever could discover where his daughters danced in the night would have one of them for a wife, and after his death would inherit the throne. However, if a person came forward and discovered nothing after three days and nights, that person would be put to death.
--I suppose that's one way to make sure only serious (or stupid) contenders come forward.

In little time a prince arrived to undertake the challenge. He was made welcome and in the evening led to a room outside the bedroom where the princesses slept. A bed was made for him, and so that he could watch where they went, the doors were left open.
But the prince fell sound asleep, and when he woke in the morning the twelve pairs of shoes were worn through with holes from dancing.
The same happened on the second and third night, and so he was beheaded without mercy.
Others came to try their luck and lost their lives to the wager.
So it happened that a poor soldier, who was wounded and could no longer serve his country, found himself on the road to the city where the king lived.
He met an old woman who asked where he was going.
"I don't really know," he said. And as a joke added, "I wouldn't mind finding out where those princesses wreck their shoes dancing so I could become king."
--he would also get one of the dance-besotted princesses for a wife, but that doesn't seem to be an incentive

"That's not so hard," the old woman said. "Don't drink the wine they bring you in the evening and pretend you're sound asleep." Then she gave him a cloak. "When you wear this, you'll be invisible and can follow the twelve princesses."
This good advice made the soldier decide to go to the palace and undertake the challenge.
--more than the advice, I'm thinking the cloak will do the trick

He was welcomed as the others had been and brought royal clothing.
--maybe he didn't have formal wear in his soldier's duffel bag and they wanted him to look nice at supper?

In the evening, when he was brought to the room outside the bedroom, the eldest daughter brought him a cup of wine. He'd tied foam under his chin and let the wine soak it up so that he didn't drink a drop.
--I'm trying to visualize this and can't, but I didn't write it; I'm only translating.

He lay down and after a while began snoring as if sound asleep.
The twelve princesses heard him and laughed. The eldest said, "What a fool. He could have saved his life too."
--it's the first she's spoken and already I don't like her

They got up and opened their wardrobes, brought out their magnificent clothes, preened before the mirrors and looked forward to the dance. Only the youngest said, "You're all so happy but I feel uneasy. I'm sure something bad will happen tonight."
"You're such a goose," said the eldest. "You're always afraid. Have you forgotten how many princes have already tried and failed? I didn't even have to bring that soldier a sleeping potion. He's such a lout he would never have woken."
--the eldest princess seems made of the same stuff as her father who locks up his daughters and chops off heads. Or is the eldest princess like this because of her father? A chicken and egg argument.

When the princesses were ready, they checked on the soldier who had closed his eyes and didn't move, and they believed they were quite safe.
The eldest went to her bed and knocked on it. It sank into the earth
--the word is Erde--earth--not floor

and they stepped through the opening, one after the other, the eldest first.
The soldier, who had been watching, didn't hesitate. He swung the cloak around himself and followed the youngest princess down the stairs. Halfway down, he stepped on the edge of her dress. She cried out, "What's that? Something's caught my dress!"
"Don't be so silly," the eldest said. "There was a hook on the wall."
They continued down the stairs until they were at the bottom where there was a magnificent alley of trees that had leaves of silver that gleamed and shimmered.
The soldier thought he should take proof with him and broke off a twig. The tree made a tremendous crack and the youngest princess said, "Did you hear that? Something isn't right."
The eldest said, "Those are cries of joy because soon our princes will be free."
They came to another alley of trees where the leaves were of gold, and finally to a third alley where the leaves were of glittering diamonds. In both, the soldier broke off a twig and each time the tree cracked with such a groan that the youngest princess shrieked. The eldest still insisted the sounds were cries of joy.
They came to a lake where there were twelve small boats, and in each sat a handsome prince. Each princess stepped into a boat. The soldier followed the youngest into hers.
The prince said, "The boat seems heavier today. It's taking all my strength to row it."
"Why should that be?" said the princess. "The air feels so close too. I feel hot."
Across the water stood a beautifully lit-up castle where trumpets and drums were making merry music. The princes moored their boats, and each led his princess inside where they began dancing.

The soldier danced invisibly along, and if someone held a cup of wine, he drank from it, so that it was empty when they lifted it. 
--this, like the sponge under the chin, is hard to visualize. Unless, of course, he had a straw. 
Okay, I just looked this up: straws date back to prehistoric times. Obviously not the plastic straw as we know it, but hollow reeds were used for sucking up liquid. It is possible the soldier who had an invisible cloak also had some form of straw. After all, he was equipped with a sponge. 

The youngest princess was alarmed when she saw that her cup, from which she hadn't drunk, was empty, but again the eldest calmed her. 
The princesses danced until three in the morning when their shoes were worn through and they had to stop. The princes rowed them across the water again, and this time the soldier sat in the first boat with the eldest. On the bank the princesses took leave of their princes and promised to come again the next night. The soldier ran ahead and lay in his bed, and as the twelve exhausted princesses slowly climbed the stairs, he snored so loudly they could all hear him, and they said, "We don't have to give ourselves any worries about him."
They took off their fine clothes, put them away, set their danced-to-shreds shoes under their beds and lay down. 
In the morning the soldier decided to say nothing so he could follow and watch them again, which he did for a second then a third night. Everything proceeded as on the first night. Every night the princesses danced until their shoes were worn to holes.  
--I would start to get bored, but I'm not a princess. Also, one must never underrate the attraction of the forbidden.

The third time the soldier brought a cup away with him as proof. 
When the hour came that he was supposed to give his answer, he took the three twigs and the cup and went to the king. The twelve princesses stood behind the door and listened. The king said, "Where did my twelve daughters wreck their shoes in the night?"
"With twelve princes in an underground castle." The soldier recounted all he'd seen and brought out his signs of proof. 
The king called his daughters and asked if the soldier spoke the truth. When they saw their secret had been discovered and lying wouldn't help, they confessed to everything. 
--I expected that at least the mouthy eldest daughter would put up some resistance, maybe try to discredit the soldier, object to his supposed articles of proof. This doesn't make for any drama. The princesses are discovered and they surrender. Or maybe the Grimms brothers decided it was time to end the story. 

The king asked the soldier which daughter he wanted for a wife. 
--my guess would be the youngest because he's already stepped on her dress and drunk from her cup, but the soldier isn't reading from a Hollywood script. Or perhaps he's looking forward to years of domestic revenge for being called a lout. The German, by the way, in the event you're travelling and need it, is Lümmel. 

"I am no longer so young myself, so give me the eldest."
The wedding took place on the very same day and he was promised that he would inherit the throne upon the king's death. 
The princes were cursed for as many days again as they had danced with the twelve princesses. 
THE END

I announce the end because the objective of the story is so unclear, you might not know the story is finished. I turned the page myself, expecting something else to happen. It bothers me that ten of the twelve princesses never made a peep except for a collective laugh. Why include twelve princesses if they serve no purpose in themselves? For the crowd effect? The two who spoke were no more than stereotypes. What must the eldest have been thinking when she had to marry a man she thought a lout? Or maybe her opinion improved when she saw he'd succeeded where the others had failed.  
Questions, questions. 
I don't believe this story is about the princesses at all.  It's about the shoes. 
Which brings me back to my objection to the English version of the title.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

how not to steal a purse / easter eggs

I'm not giving lessons on purse-snatching do's and don'ts. Heck, I just lost a purse! But as an overview, simply observing...

Yesterday I was browsing through the kitchen aisles of a large thrift store. I'm not trying to hide the name. It used to be the Sally Ann, aka Salvation Army, on Notre Dame, which is what I still call it. I think it has a non-denominational name now, but I've never paid attention to what it is.

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and lots of people were in the store, shoving through hangers, stretching sweaters across their chests, picking up dusty cups, discussing the virtues of chipped veneer dressers. I want to make a tabletop greenhouse. I'll explain how and why in another post. I had just spent a hefty $40 at Canadian Tire for part of what I need, and was trying to find something to cover the table. R said he'd make me a glass or plexiglass box, but in the meantime I want to get started. I thought I might find some cheap cake covers at the Sally Ann.

A woman was walking through the store, shouting in a strident, potentially crazy voice. You know that register where you don't listen because it doesn't sound like the person is saying anything you want to hear or that will make sense. I wondered that the employees didn't ask her to stop.

She got closer to where I was looking through the larger dishes--her voice so loud and insistent--I couldn't help but hear. "I don't care about the money but there's important papers in that purse. Take the money. Give me back my purse. I need those papers. I know you're in here. You just took my purse. Give it back. Give it to the ladies at the cash. I need the papers in that purse. Take the money and get out but give me purse. I need the papers in that purse."

She wasn't crazy. She was demanding. She didn't need a megaphone. Her voice carried. I'll bet she has six kids--all grown up now--and they still hear her voice in their dreams. She was about sixty, maybe older. Her hair was dyed an orangey red to match her voice. She wore beige slacks and a cream sweater with a glittery design. High heels. She was out for an afternoon of leisurely shopping. Her coat was thrown over the handle of the shopping cart she was pushing. Presumably her purse had been next to her coat. She strutted up and down the aisles. She wasn't panicked. She was set on flushing the thief from between the winter coats or the curtains or wherever she imagined him hiding.

I'd found two cake covers and decided to look at the back of the store among the lamps and ancient computers. You never know what gets filed where in a thrift store.

I didn't find anything else and went to the cash to pay. She was at the front of the store, triumphant, with her purse in hand, talking on her cell phone. The cashiers were excited and talking amongst themselves. It seemed the man who'd stolen the purse had left the store then returned with it--maybe to try to steal another purse, maybe to return the purse from where he'd taken it? I gathered no one asked him. He walked back into the store with the purse he'd already stolen in plain view. One of the cashiers recognized it and gave the alarm. Some Sally Ann employees chased him into the street and got the purse back. I didn't see him anywhere, but they were saying they'd got him too.

Excitement at the thrift store. Plus I got two cake covers for $2.70.

 
And here are some Easter eggs. The two small marbled eggs have real gold leaf on them. That's Austrian handiwork, made by my cousin Sabine who unfortunately, far too young, passed away last year. I can't recall who gave me the flower egg. I used to have a completely gold-leafed goose egg (also from an Austrian relative--my aunt Franziska?) that was accidentally broken. The custom is to hang Easter eggs from window frames or chandeliers. That's how the golden goose egg got broken, so I don't do it anymore. R and I painted the other eggs.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

reading to children / curious george


If you have children, or if you were read to as a child, you're probably familiar with the phenomenon of Curious George--a monkey captured in Africa by the Man with the Yellow Hat who brought him to a big city to live in a zoo. Yellow bananas, yellow banana-shaped hat.

Curious George has adventures that backfire. Despite tense moments, everything ends with a smile. I think children enjoy the naughtiness of George's daring. Critics discuss the post-colonial representation of a slave-capture narrative.

The first Curious George book was published in 1941, followed by a series of more Curious George books, followed by television, followed by more books.

I'm not sure how I grew up never hearing about Curious George. I only know about the monkey since I've started reading to children at an unidentified place which I cannot name. I'm taken aback by the number of children who aren't interested in the two large bins of books we can choose from--one English, one French--the instant they see the monkey. "Curious George! Georges, le Petit Curieux!"

I thought of printing up a few of the essays about the slave-capture narrative to give to the committee who purchases the books, but later Curious George books don't refer to his arrival from Africa. He's simply here in the city. The more recent Curious George books have grown more tame in response to parental concern that George wasn't a good role model. George's adventures aren't even all that naughty anymore.

I find Curious George dull to read, especially after having read the books out loud a few dozen times already. I don't have a child's fascination for ongoing repetition. (What is that all about? Does it make kids feel  secure?) What I do now is hide the Curious George books in the cupboard. I show the kids the other books I can read to them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

dancing in mexico city / one statue one skeleton

Anyone who expects a picture of me dancing doesn't know me very well. I have a major disconnect between the way my ear hears music and however my brain sends those signals to my limbs. When I was younger, people used to insist I try--only to tell me when I was out there wagging my elbows and swaying my hips that it was true: I can't.

One aspect I love about Mexico City--and no doubt elsewhere in Mexico--is how people get dolled up in their finery on weekends and come to the parks to dance. In larger parks there's a band or a DJ. Sometimes there's no more incentive than a boombox blasting music. I took a lot of pictures the first Saturday we were there, but my camera was stolen. After that, I could use R's camera, but I felt cranky about bothering to take pictures if who knows who might run off with them. So I took only a few.

These are mostly pix of older couples because I was interested in how older women continue to see themselves as sexy and desirable even as their waists thicken and get truck-driver heavy. The men, too, retain a fine sense of how to dress up. I watched these couples, some of whom must be dancing together for fifty years, and wondered if the gentleness and sureness with which their feet moved in time translated to their private lives. I certainly hope so.


I know for a fact I will never have the kind of self-assurance--or whatever it is--it would take to wear a hot pink dress shirred up the butt crack.
   

This next couple broke my heart--the woman in the orange and yellow dress. She'd had a stroke. Half of her face was partly sagged. One side of body dragged a bit. Her husband handed her around so delicately, keeping her well away from anyone who might bump into them.


This woman's outfit is complete even to her bracelets matching the straps on her shoes. I'll bet her lingerie matches too. Her partner looks more stoic than enthusiastic in this photo, but you can't see the rhythm in his movements or how deftly he twists her around.  


 There were younger dancers too. Free-style.


Here's a picture from one of the many amazing exhibits in the Anthropology Museum. It makes me think of how important a nose is to a face. Without a nose, it's hard to broadcast a come-hither look.


On my stolen camera there were lots of pix of skeletons--skeletons dressed up in costumes, skeletons arranged in lifelike poses, skeletons with human masks strapped to their bony skulls, pretending to be people, dioramas of small skeletons enacting historical scenes. Those pix are gone, but here's one that R took.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

the stolen purse / mexican police / learning spanish / mexico city 2014


I can't say how it happened because I don't know.
We'd sat down to have lunch in a small restaurant. Lunch in Mexico City usually means a meal of three courses. I don't like to eat that much in the afternoon, but when you're travelling, it's best to go with the flow. My one attempt to explain to a waiter that all I wanted was a piece of bread with cheese and a slice of avocado was disastrous. I got stale bread, an inch-high mound of melted chewing gum, a thin smear of avocado, and the whole doused with meat grease and drippings because the cook didn't want such a drab plate to leave her kitchen.
The three-course meals are actually only one meal served in three stages: 1) soup or salad 2) rice or pasta 3) meat or fish. Vegetarian options are nil. When I said vegetariano--which I'd checked in several sources to make sure I had the right word--I met with blank faces. When I said no carne--no meat--the waiters shook their heads.
You're thinking: this is Mexico; doesn't she know about beans? You go to Mexico. Try the beans. They're heavily salted and dosed with animal fat. I would sooner eat meat.

I haven't travelled a lot, but I've travelled. I know not to carry my passport and money in a purse. I still carry some form of bag because where else can I keep those daily necessaries I like to have within reach? Notebook, lip balm, kleenex, gum...
The bag I took to Mexico was a half-moon I'd sewn from a piece of paisley fabric I bought on St-Hubert. It wasn't even lined. I'd made it in a rush to use on a particular afternoon--and kept using it. Here, in Montreal, anyone with a decent eye would have recognized it was homemade.
Usually in a restaurant or cafe, even with nothing important in it, I keep my bag on my lap, but that day I slung it on the back of my chair, which was against the wall and more than a meter from the street with another table between ours and the street. The bag was still there when I reached for it to get my camera--yup, I had my camera in my bag--to take some pix of the restaurant interior. The gigantic papaya and cactus pads on the counter. The ongoing work of making tortillas. The woman pinched a ball of dough onto the press, squeezed it flat, flipped it to the griddle. The cooked tortillas got dropped into a large round basket. She moved non-stop, if at a relaxed pace. Depending on the meal you ordered, the waitress brought a stack of tortillas from the basket to your table.
I can't remember what R and I ate that day. I probably braved the salad--ie the tap water in which the lettuce was washed--refused the rice/pasta--ordered some form of tortilla dish.

When we finished and I reached for my bag to leave, it was gone. Nobody in the restaurant seemed to have noticed anything. Or--and I don't want to think this--they'd noticed and were complicit. The two men next to us were eating and talking. They were in their shirt sleeves. They had nowhere to put a bag. R recalled seeing an antsy man who'd sat at the table closest to the street without ordering a meal. He was talking on a cell phone. Or pretending to. But he was long gone.
I was trying to recall what I had in my purse. My digital camera was already three years old and not an expensive camera to begin with. But to me it was valuable because it was mine, and it had four days of pictures on it.
My prescription sunglasses would be useless to anyone who didn't have my exact prescription and focal point. Though I suppose the lenses could be popped out and the frames... I don't know what the frames would be worth in Mexico. I had to buy medication at one point and it was a twelfth of the cost it would have been in Canada, so maybe frames are really cheap in Mexico too. But, for me, those prescription sunglasses were a luxury--the first time in my life I'd ever had prescription sunglasses. A special treat.
My notebook, my notebook... I write fiction based on scenes and descriptions in my notebooks. Even if someone could read English and figure out what I'd written--of what use would my notes about Mexico City be to anyone but myself? I'm still more sad about my notebook and the pix on my camera than anything else.
There were other odds and ends. A scarf wide enough to make a shawl, but light enough to carry. Extra heart medication in an unidentified bottle. What if the thief took one of the blue pills to see what effect it had. He or she wouldn't notice anything unless they were attuned to how their heart beat. Maybe then he or she would pop the rest of the pills and it would make his or her heart stop. Ha! I should look that up--whether an overdose of Sotalol could be toxic.

We didn't immediately think of going to the police because I hadn't lost any money. Was I going to complain because my favourite hair clips were stolen? My notebook? My photos? I felt so dumb. You can travel and be careful all the time. It's the one time you're not that something happens. I was mugged in 1985 in Barcelona and that was a lot more scary. I lost my passport and $5000 of travellers' cheques. Travelling and having access to your money is so much easier since the advent of banking cards. You only have to go to a machine and take out what you need. Before that, people had to carry travellers' cheques for the whole of their trip. R and I were travelling for a yr in Europe and I got mugged three months into the trip. I spent one very scary night feeling like a non-person. Mind you, it all ended well except for the fright. American Express reimbursed all my travellers' cheques, and a darling Spanish photographer, who wore a velvet smoking jacket and had a waxed moustache (not quite Salvador Dali), made the most flattering passport photo I've ever had. I think he airbrushed it.

Having my purse disappear wasn't as bad--not as shocking--as being mugged. It still took a while to remember that travel insurance might reimburse me for my sunglasses and camera. Might. Maybe. Who knows with insurance companies? But I would need a police report in order to make a claim.
We made our way to the station that the guidebook said handled tourist problems. The ground floor of the building was cavernous, divided into numerous tiny cubicles separated by walls topped with glass. From where I stood at the counter, I could see many heads bent over their desks. Everyone looked busy. No one noticed me--or noticed in such a way as to respond. None of the cubicles even opened toward the counter. It wasn't clear who was responsible. A police officer walked past and ignored me.
Since I anticipated that the procuration of a police report could take some time, I wanted to get started. I stepped around the counter and called out, "Hola!" This was why I'd studied Spanish, wasn't it? So I wouldn't be tongue-tied in a Hispanic country.
The woman at the first desk looked up in surprise. Maybe I wasn't supposed to step past the counter uninvited. At the same time, I saw that the task, in which was so engrossed, was the close examination of the glossy photos in a fashion magazine. So we had one of those visual exchanges that last less than three seconds, but that readjust the climate between the participants. I let her understand that I knew she wasn't working. She waved at the chair before her desk and asked what was wrong.
That was when I realized what else had been in my purse that was stolen--my Spanish-English dictionary. I didn't know the word for stolen and would have to guess at what--to my English ear--sounded Spanish. I knew that a purse was un bolso. I said, "Mi bolso es robo."
She looked startled. I don't yet know how to form past tense. My Spanish classes didn't get that far. My purse obviously wasn't being stolen while I was sitting there. People listening to foreigners could exercise a little imagination, eh? Maybe robo wasn't the right word either. I decided to add another syllable or two. "Mi bolso es robado. Robodo. Robolo..." Gone! I showed her I was sitting there without the requisite accoutrement that often hangs off a woman's shoulder.
By then I was speaking (shouting?) loudly enough that the woman at the next cubicle had got up to come listen. She was sucking a long caramel candy on a stick. I assured both women I was not carrying a passport, credit cards--tarjetas de crédito--or money in the purse. We did learn some useful vocab in my Spanish classes. I explained that I wasn't trying to pursue justice or find the thief. I only wanted a police report for the... here I blocked big time. No idea what the word for insurance was, so I used French. It's a completely impractical notion, yet the belief still persists that Romance languages are similar. I said, "para mi assurance."
Later that evening, when I bought a new dictionary, I looked up insurance. It's seguro. No wonder no one understood.
A police officer in a bullet-proof vest had joined the group. He and the two women conferred in rapid Spanish which I couldn't follow. The woman with the caramel candy said she would help me and returned to her desk.
The woman at whose desk I was sitting seemed to feel the problem had been solved. She returned to her magazine. Then, as if she'd just remembered, she upended a fancy paper shopping bag that was on the corner of her desk. She'd been given some hand cream samples, several small tubes, maybe on her lunch break. She dabbed cream on her hands, rubbed them together and smelled them. She didn't offer to share, which was just as well. I only use unscented products. She opened a drawer in her desk where she had other hand cream samples, which she scornfully tossed in the garbage, and dropped the new tubes in the drawer.
Through the glass, I could hear the woman at the new desk slapping papers about on her desk. I could only see her head--she was still sucking on that lollipop--seemingly busy on my behalf. I wondered how she could be filling out a police report since she hadn't even asked for my name.
The police officer in the bullet-proof vest reappeared and announced he was ready. The woman with the lollipop rose briskly and came around to where I sat. She had a torn scrap of paper which she read out with laborious effort.


I appreciated the effort she'd taken to write this out. Perhaps I can't express myself as well in Spanish. I thought I could, but I realized no one had understood yet I hadn't had any money stolen. Maybe it's my accent. I have a friend who speaks Spanish and tells me I have a German accent, which doesn't make sense, but I guess my brain and my mouth get mixed up.
Certainly the woman's colleagues--the woman with the hand cream and the police officer--were very impressed as she read these words.
I asked why I had to go somewhere else. She said it was because this other police station worked with my embassy. "What embassy," I asked? "You don't know what I am. Ustedes no preguntan cuál nacionalidad soy!" So, okay, that probably isn't a sentence at all. I have no idea if pregunta, which is a noun, can even be turned into a verb à la contemporary American journalism, but I am pleased that I remembered to use the polite form of address. I wasn't a total gringa.
I nearly got the lollipop bopped on my nose. Seems I was making silly objections. This other police station dealt with all the embassies. She waved me off. Couldn't I see the officer was waiting to drive me?
He was going to drive me? I wasn't sure how I felt about that. I asked how long it would take to get there. She splayed her fingers. Two. Maybe three. "Horas?" I asked. She nodded.
It was already four o'clock. We had tickets for the opera that evening. I wasn't missing it. I'm not such an opera buff, but I really wanted to get inside the famous Palacio de Bellas Artes.
As soon as I said I had tickets to the opera, everyone's manner changed. Culture is BIG in Mexico City. The lollipop got tucked into a cheek, the fashion magazine pushed aside. The officer said I could go to the other police station tomorrow. For now he would drive me to my hotel so I could get ready for the opera. I thought he was kidding. He waved a regal arm--which was cute since he was barely as tall as I was. I said mi esposo was with me, out there on the other side of the counter. I had a very tiny concern that I might be whisked off, never to be seen again. I still couldn't quite believe a police officer was going to drive us to our hotel so I could get ready for the opera.
In the street there was a formal changing of the guards kind of maneuver between my cop and the one waiting in the car who had to leave his front seat and get in the back behind my seat, so that R and I were as far as possible from each other. I reached for my seat belt--good Canuck that I am--and only when I tried to click it in place did I realize there was a submachine gun between the seats. I didn't know what to do with my seat belt and stupidly held it at my hip. The officer driving didn't wear his.
By then it was rush hour--though it might be rush hour all day long in Mexico City; I'm not sure when it ever abates--and the officer pulled some deft U-turns and tapped his horn to bypass vehicles. He asked which opera we were going to see. He asked what time it began. He didn't know I was only going to change my Tshirt and brush my hair, and then we were going to walk the half-hour stretch to the Palacio. Grab a cheap meal along the way.
Usually, when we arrived at the hotel there was a doorman or a bartender out front with a ready smile, but this time, when we showed up in a police car, everyone ignored us. If they had any curiosity, it was kept well hidden.
When I got out of the car, the police officer told me that it didn't matter if I went to the other police station. The thief had escaped. I would never get my purse back. Since I still didn't have the right word to explain about needing a police report for insurance purposes, no one had understood yet why I so particularly wanted to file a report. And now, in retrospect, dealing with the insurance company, I'm wondering myself.
But we did go the next day. The office of the policeman, who'd been assigned to deal with tourists, was only large enough for his desk and two chairs. I don't think it was a promotion. I don't think he was happy. He listened to my simplistic Spanish with no expression. When I finished he said--in very good English--that he needed two copies of my passport. I made to give him my passport and he reared back his head. "Aren't you going to make copies?" I asked. "No." I asked him where I should make copies.
When I returned with the copies of my passport, he placed the keyboard in front of me, twisted the screen to face me and told me to fill in the form. I guess he didn't want to have to be typing all kinds of foreign names, though he watched the screen closely and told me whenever I missed a slot. Then he took the keyboard and typed for a long time. I'm not sure sure to what purpose since, on the papers he gave me, there are only three sentences.
With great solemnity he said, "I am going to certificate this for you without charge."
Oh. I hadn't realized I was going to have to pay anything.
"If you pay," he explained, "you will have to go to another place and wait three hours and then come back to show me the proof that you paid."
So that was what took so long--waiting to pay. And now it was almost eleven, and this man wanted to have his lunch on time without having to wait for a tourist to return with papers he was going to have to certificate.
"Thank you," I said. I wondered how much it would have cost--just wondering, not because I wanted to contribute to the coffers of Mexico City. But I didn't ask because he looked like a man who could easily change his mind, and not to my benefit.

Of course, I had to go the market to buy myself a new cheap bag for my hair clips, my lip balm, my kleenex, a new notebook. Though I have to admit I didn't write much for the rest of our stay.


Friday, March 21, 2014

archways / Mexico City 2014

What is it that welcomes--draws the eye--about an archway?




Because they beckon farther/further? (I'm not sure if I mean a physical sense of distance--in which case farther--or an abstract depth.)




Here's the mascot to attract passersby through an archway to an exhibition of humouristic books in a courtyard.

I went in to see what I could understand. I'm in the middle ground--the palest person in the courtyard. The sign belongs to an artist who was offering to draw personalized caricatures. He offered to do one of me. I told him mi esposo drew--and who could get more personal than that? He gave a nod informed with the gravity of ancient Aztec culture. I was proud to get such a dignified response to my primitive Spanish.
Though he might only have been thinking: stingy tourist go home.



I'd bought opera tickets in order to get inside the magnificent Palacio de Bellas Artes. I expected an old style playhouse with proscenium arch and private boxes for patrons--and wasn't disappointed.


Though, with our cheapest of the cheap tickets, we were closer to the stained-glass ceiling than the opera--so close that I could only get part of it in the frame.


And here is the monumental Monumento a la Revolución which stands high and imposing in the brilliant sunshine.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

things that grow / March 2014 Mexico City

First morning in a park. I'm in the turquoise Tshirt and sunglasses, which have not yet been stolen. There's a friendly dog in a striped, knitted jacket nosing around the fountain, and through the trees the backdrop of a fresco Madonna whose building is for sale. 04455-5402-4597.  


The flowering jacaranda trees against the sky and the art deco buildings.


Though I liked the fallen jacaranda blossoms almost as much as the ones in the air. Every evening the twig brooms were busy, sweeping them into huge purple tissue-paper mounds.


 The sun and the warmth have trees sprouting out of the most unlikely places.


Can anyone tell me what this tree with red flowers is? What kind of fruit it grows?


For sure, there's fruit. This is Mexico. The vendor wasn't holding a knife. It was more of a domestic, home-use machete.


Even on a rooftop terrace over the city, there's greenery. That in the background is the excavation of an Aztec temple, the Templo Mayor, which was discovered in 1978 when some city workers--subway people from one source, electric company from another--came up against a wall they recognized was no ordinary wall. Work is ongoing. Skeleton-studded blocks, stone carvings, etc.


And if there isn't enough growing already, why not pot a few plants on top of an old van in the street?


We always had to watch where we were walking, because the same lovely proliferation of trees made for cracked and heaved sidewalks. Not every tree root likes to be buried under asphalt. Do you blame them?


Thank you to R who let me use his photos.