Madame Butterfly Today for Students

DSC_60341500 primary and middle school children were treated to two operatic performances of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly today in the Angela Peralta Theater accompanied by our beloved Camerata Mazatlán. What a dream come true, right? Or a nightmare, depending on what kind of child you are. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I have long been a fan of the free performances, “Cultura in the Community,” and today’s event was no exception. It was a win for the children and for the performers, as the cast who were given the terrific opportunity to play these major roles are all from our Municipal School of the Arts:

  • María de Jesús Herrada sang the title role of Cho-cho, the spurned Japanese girl
  • Alejandro Yepes and Alejandro Pacheco took turns as Pinkerton, the spineless American who marries her for convenience
  • Rodolfo Ituarte and Mario Canela performed as Sharpless, the US American consul who is tasked with delivering the bad news that Pinkerton has married another
  • Daniela Cortés and Mariela Angulo rotated as the maid, Suzuki
  • Bonze, the Buddhist monk who curses Cho-cho, was wonderfully performed by José Lora and Miguel Valenzuela
  • Goro, the marriage broker, was, in true kabuki fashion, performed by Eduardo Tapia

The choice of opera for the crowd of students seemed appropriate, as it can be seen as a cautionary tale against teenage pregnancy. The students’ were audibly shocked when María de Jesús announced she was fifteen years old, and then again when she appeared with her child conceived with Pinkerton. The kids absolutely loved Bonze, Cho-cho’s evil uncle, the Buddhist monk. The role was superbly acted. Of course, in the end Pinkerton and his new wife Kate adopt the child, and Madama Butterfly commits seppuku with her father’s sword.

Marsol Quiñonez Castro, General Director of Cultura Mazatlán, reported that it is the first time in the past five years that there has been a full house for an opera performed for children, and that she was very pleased with the audience’s response. Some of the kids looked spellbound, fortunately, and others slept or talked through the performance, causing Maestro Enrique Patrón de Rueda to “shush” the crowd several times.

Roberto Rodríguez Lizárraga, director of DIF Mazatlán, said he was grateful for the opportunity to host students from junior highs Eti #5, Federal #2, Federal #5, Santa Teresa y Solidaridad, and the Valladolid primary school.

There will be one more performances for students tomorrow morning, Wednesday the 20th, followed by a second at noon for the elderly and disabled.

Book Review: Why We Left

616zADxrq6LBook Review: Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, Collected essays of 27 women happily living in Mexico
© 2019 by Janet Blaser
Available on Kindle and in paperback
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The 27 women contributing to this volume clearly communicate the numerous and varied reasons they left the USA, as the title suggests, focusing primarily on how they made the transition and have forged new lives in a culture and language so very different from their own. I eagerly looked forward to relishing the reading of this book, but it is even richer than I imagined. It contains loads of tips on relocating to Mexico, the advantages and challenges these women encounter in this new land, and what these immigrants have learned by living in their adopted homes.

The volume is comprised of unique and interesting voices whose stories are completely different from one another and yet, on a profound level, very much the same. Amazing to me is that despite huge differences in histories, circumstances and reasons for leaving, every one of the contributors is happy she made the move and feels more connected to herself than ever before.

So, why did these US American women leave? Quite a few were sick of consumerism gone wild, the over-consumption and waste. Some of them were bored or frustrated. Several were tired of the never-ending, senseless murders at concerts, in schools and movie theaters. You’ll read about economic refugees who can’t afford to continue living in the USA, as well as women who are well off yet choose to escape their seemingly perfect lives. Some of the authors were weary of the rat race; that they didn’t have time for family and friends; that they’d come home from vacation to an overflowing, stress-filled in-box. A few fled financial ruin, divorce, or the death of loved ones. A couple moved after serious illness “woke them up” to the fact that life is short and they should live their dreams while they still can. Some mention escaping the rhetoric of intolerance and hatred.

The stories you read in these pages are real and revelatory, not promotional. You learn of a friend who dies in a hospital in Mexico who shouldn’t have, and another who gets state-of-the-art, personalized care for pennies to the dollar. Both are the “real” Mexico, the land of paradox, home of the world’s most comfortable hammocks and most uncomfortable chairs, the land where people greet crisis with both stoicism and joy. The reader will get terrific advice on how to choose where to live, how to prepare for the move, what to pack and what to leave behind, which is the best and most affordable health insurance, where to bank most easily and save fees, how to get the best health care, raising children and dating in Mexico. You’ll learn that wherever you go, there you are; moving abroad will exacerbate—not solve—relationship troubles, family problems or self-esteem issues.

The women who have written these pages are single, widowed, divorced, raising children and taking care of elderly parents. They live in every region of Mexico, with varied income levels, in big cities, small towns and even completely off the grid. Some of them made the decision to move strategically, with careful, step-by-step planning; others fell in love with Mexico and spontaneously made the decision to move. They make ends meet by telecommuting, starting businesses, working a job, housesitting or collecting a pension or social security. Many came to Mexico the first time on holiday, on a cruise or sabbatical. We learn about women who rent their homes, buy them or live in homes on wheels.

Common themes include how emotional and time-consuming it can be to cull through a lifetime accumulation of “stuff” to make the move—that we identify with our belongings more than we realize, and that the reality of US American life necessitates a lot of shredding. Many of these women speak about how their friends and family think they are crazy for moving to Mexico, and refuse to visit them—out of fear, primarily. Most every American woman in this volume speaks to the challenge of learning a new culture and a new language, as well as the fact that living in a foreign language and culture keeps one’s brain agile and active.

A couple of the authors experienced natural disasters while living in Mexico, and advise of the challenging lack of official government response or help. They caution those who would move here that the country is noisy: parties, laughter, music and fireworks, at all hours of the day and night. The daily bureaucracy can be oppressive; paying bills, banking, it can take weeks to accomplish basic things. There is a huge dichotomy between rich and poor in Mexico, they counsel, and huge differences in male-female dynamics. Some of the women warn about scorpions, mosquitos, street dogs, spiders and iguanas, about the difficulty of leaving family behind. Quite a few of these women, despite the challenges, have become integral members of and even leaders in their communities; all of them speak to deep connections and relationships.

They tell us that Mexico has taught them to smile more, to relax more easily, to be more patient. They say they are thinner and healthier here, eating whole foods rather than processed, and walking more, swimming, hiking, biking and golfing. Many of them take painting or writing classes and volunteer in their new hometowns. They write of a broad variety of friends, local and international, from a variety of backgrounds, who are passionate about life. They tell the reader of the resilience one gains by living abroad, the sense of wonder one feels, that they learn something new every day. These women report learning not to make assumptions, to go with the flow. They report that they’ve become more empathetic, accepting and less judgmental— they experience a freedom in Mexico that they do not in the USA. They admire the culture, history and art in their new home, but most of all Mexico’s hardworking, creative people. They have learned to be more humble, less materialistic, to slow down and not feel so entitled. Many of them report that they now experience culture shock when they go north, back “home.”

The women authors of this book appreciate the proximity of their new homes to their birthplaces in the USA: easier to see children and grandchildren, to care for aging parents, to meet dear lifelong friends. They are grateful for the affordability of their new home, be it the price of housing, food, travel or healthcare. Despite mass media reports to the contrary, the women in this volume report feeling safer living in Mexico than they did in the USA. They find Mexican people generally gentle, kind, happy, helpful and honest. They take pride in raising multilingual, multicultural kids here and to having opportunities they would never have at home. They cite the environmental beauty of Mexico, and, of course, the fact that the winters are far less cold. Many of the women write about the value of their friendships in Mexico and treasure the fact that family and community connection are still huge priorities in life. Several women mention they love all the outdoor living and the deep roots and tradition.

If you are thinking about moving overseas—to Mexico or anywhere else on the planet—this book can be an immense help, whatever your gender. It is living proof that risk has its rewards. If you’ve already made the move, it’ll provide good context for the journey you’ve made, and aid in making sense of your own experience. It’s not a volume to read all in one sitting, but, rather, to sit with when you have time to enjoy and reflect on what you are reading.

Pajaritos: A Mazatlecan Tradition

DSC_5515-PanoMazatlán has a decades-long tradition of fishing for and enjoying pajaritos; it is a highly anticipated and valued part of our local culture. We are not lucky enough to get them every year, but this May they are running! And big time!! Deliciousness AND a bonus income for the fishermen and resellers—who cannot love this? They’ve arrived with absolutely great timing, as well—just as UNESCO staff are in town to discuss Mazatlán becoming a Creative Gastronomic City.

During the very short season Playa Norte and the embarcadero for Stone Island turn into a madhouse of activity after dark, with hundreds of people showing up to comparison-shop this warm-water delicacy that’s also popular in Japan and Hawaii. People arrive with every kind of container imaginable: wash basins, buckets, bags, Tupperware… and the fishermen are more than happy to fill them up! People purchase bucket-loads of the savory little creatures to prepare for family and friends or to clean and resell. They are usually served pan fried with beans. You can buy some and take them to any palapa, or some restaurants, and they’ll fry them up for you and provide the fixings. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Like most anything in Mazatlán, this is a family affair: grandparents, kids… Smiles and  joking abound; everyone is happy. Entire extended families camp out on the malecón and the beach, watching the activity and enjoying the scene. It reminds me of festival season in Japan, and I love it! It’s a wee bit dangerous getting a nice camera and flash setup in amongst the boats, what with the tide coming in fast at our feet, causing the pangas to move every which way, the huge crowds of people pushing for the best catch and the fishermen grabbing at the bills flying their way.

Pajaritos are ballyhoos, also called flying halfbeaks or spipefish (heporhamphus in the hemiramphidae family), closely related to the needlefish. In Mazatlecan dialect they are called pajaritos because they “fly” at up to 37 mph/60 kph, gliding over the surface of the water for quite a distance! As nearby as Teacapán they are called differently: guaris. They skim the surface of the water, jumping up and out frequently in shallower surf. They have large scales that end up completely covering the fishermen: hair, face, appendages, clothing. Their eyes and nostrils are at the top of the head and their upper jaw is mobile—well adapted to surface dwelling. Sadly, loads of their eggs seem to be scooped up as they are caught, as you can see in the photos.

Pajaritos lay their eggs all over the waters around Cerro de Chivos and other islands in our bay: that pungent smell really carries! They have an elongated, narrow jaw filled with sharp teeth. When young the pajaritos feed on plankton and algae, and as they grow eat smaller fish. They are a migratory fish that run along the Pacific coast from Santa Ana, California to Costa Rica.

The season usually lasts a few days or, if we’re lucky, weeks, so be sure not to miss out. Between 2012 and 2016 there were no pajaritos, attributed to over-fishing and contamination. This year, fortunately, there seems to be a bumper harvest, with between 500 kg and two tons sold each evening here in town! They are caught near the islands in our bay as well as near the coastline—in calm waters, primarily at night. Pajaritos are attracted by light, so it’s easy for us landlubbers to spot the pajarito fishermen out in our bay with their bright lights and hand nets. Some nights I’ve seen as many as 50 pangas surrounding the islands! During the day I’ve seen the fish out in the bay; their jumping makes it look like the ocean is boiling. It’s great work for our local fishermen, as they can fill their boats in just a couple of hours, and last night, as most nights, their haul sells out in a matter of minutes.


Monday night the fish were selling for 40 pesos per kilogram (60-80 fish), though that varies according to the number of boats at the dock with fish and the number of buyers (basic supply and demand). The fishermen charged 200-250 pesos per cubeta, depending on the size of the bucket. Cleaned pajaritos were being sold on the malecón, ready to fry up, for 100 pesos/kg (weight is prior to cleaning), though that also varies depending on the night and the vendor.

This valued local tradition will hopefully continue for many more decades. It will require, however, fishing limits to preserve the species, as well as adequate water treatment. Let’s all work towards that and, in the meantime, be sure to enjoy the spectacle and a great meal!

Paris, Milan, New York… Mazatlán

DSC_4470©
Thursday evening, 16 May, Olas Altas was transformed into a unique urban art scene, with laser lights, hip-hop dancers, flame jugglers and hula hoopers gyrating to the pulsating rhythms of techno music. The main event was an open-air fashion show with a runway that ran the entire length of Olas Altas from Puerto Viejo to the Shrimp Bucket! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.


The “Street Art Fashion Show” was a sight unlike anything Mazatlán has ever seen! Our traditional, iconic Hotel Belmar and La Fonda de Chalio glowed hip and happening as clients rejoiced at their free view of the 450 peso fundraising event. The aim of the evening was to raise money for DIF Mazatlán’s “Corazón Eterno,” an assistance home for elderly adults who have been abandoned by their families. Fashion designer Edgar Ponce originated the idea and brought it to fruition with the help of the municipality, local celebrities, fashionistas, chefs and altruists.


The event opened with a two-hour cocktail during sunset, with ceviches and other canapés provided by Agatha and Vittore restaurants. Golden hour glowed as waiters served both drinks and eats to those attending, who were seated on couches, easy chairs, bar-style tables and picnic-style tables along the malecón. The paparazzi had a field day following Mayor Luis Guillermo Benítez Torres; the President of DIF Mazatlán, Gabriela Peña Chico; Roberto Rodríguez Lizárraga, director general of DIF Mazatlán; and Marsol Quiñonez, new director of Cultura Mazatlán.


Promptly at 9:00 pm access was opened to the chair-lined runway area in the street—nearly everyone was able to have a front row seat! María Daniela and her Laser Sound—electronic dance music by DJ Emilio Acevedo and singer María Daniela Azpiazu—made a special appearance. Daniela appeared high up on the stage in front of Puerto Viejo, while Emilio worked his magic just beneath her. The models entered the runway from street level beneath both of them. Each model seemed to take to the runway several times, modeling at least two different outfits and showing them to us a couple of times each.


Over seventy of Ponce’s designs were showcased; runway models included Perla Beltrán—Nuestra Belleza México and Miss Mundo Top Model, and Aranza Molina, Reina Hispanoamericana 2018. The Queens of Carnaval and the Floral Games 2019, Karla Rivas y Yamileth Zataráin, were also present. The models first came out wearing sunglasses and huge smiles in bright red lipstick. As they changed the hip-hop dancers performed on the runway, before a second round of clothing was modeled.

Highlights of the show were a joyous young lady in a wheelchair and a beautiful young woman with Downs’ Syndrome, girlfriend of the young man sitting next to me. Amidst the evening’s thin and fair-skinned models, the public was overjoyed to welcome a bit of reality to the catwalk. While I don’t know Edgar, my guess is this may be his first major fashion event, though I was told he’s designed Carnaval gowns. We enjoyed his designs, and it was a terrific event; this guy has a future!


The Street Fashion Show generated 200,000 pesos for the aged care facility, and concluded with a fireworks show after Edgar walked the runway. I would estimate that about 500 people attended the event. There was room for many, many more; nearly a third of the seats remained empty, as the event sadly seemed quite poorly publicized.

 

Life Cycles and the Wizard of Oz

DSC_3234©Life is all about cycles: birth and death; first day of school and graduation; entering a new career and retiring. An entry entitled “You’re Not in Kansas Anymore” was our first article on VidaMaz.com—on June 14, 2008. That reference to “The Wizard of Oz” meant we were leaving our home in Kansas for Mazatlán, heading out to begin life in a new land full of Technicolor dreams. The photo on that first post showed my husband, Greg, and our son, Danny, posing with cutouts of the stars of the movie based on Frank Baum’s novel.

During the eleven years that we have lived here full time, I have had the joy of double-dipping Mother’s Days. Mexicans celebrate the holiday on May 10th, and US Americans celebrate it on the second Sunday of the month. Greg asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, and I asked to go to the Mazatlán Municipal Center of the Arts’ children’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

DSC_3411©Directed by Maestro Giovanny Armenta, the 50 performers today at noon in the Angela Peralta included members of both the Children’s Theater Workshop and the Children’s Chorus.

We watched as Dorothy—Dorita, was swept up in an unexpected journey with her dog, Toto, which brought her three dear new friends: el Espantapájaros (Scarecrow), el Hombre Hojalata (Tin Man), and, finally, el León Cobarde (Cowardly Lion). Together, just as our family did, the group follows the Yellow Brick Road to the land Oz, in hopes that the wizard will grant them their wishes. In the process, Dorothy learns to value family and home, and everyone learns to trust themselves.

The simple performance was an utter delight. The children’s chorus has a few standouts—I just know that hefty boy in blue is the next banda star, following in Chuy Lizárraga’s footsteps, and the little girl in pink with the incredible facial expressions most definitely knows how to command an audience. Runaway stars of the show, however, were the incredible Wicked Witch of the West, whose evil laugh was absolutely sinister; and Toto, played with joy and gusto by a young child who looked to be no more than three or four. Toto cuddled with Dorothy, wagged his tail, jumped on his hind legs, smelled the Cowardly Lion’s feet, cowered from the evil witch, unveiled the hidden man pretending to be the wizard, and even lifted his leg at one point during the show. Both performers were unbelievably charming, and the cast as a whole was very solid. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Today’s performance made a perfect Mother’s Day, bringing our move full circle. What cycles has our family, like Dorothy and her friends, passed through? What transitions have we made? We have become blessed with many new friends to add to the beloved family and friends we had before our move. We’ve transitioned from being confused, worried and frustrated to by and large understanding our new language and culture, though of course we continue learning every day. Rather than seeking advice several times a day we are now frequently asked to give it. We have transitioned to being empty nesters who look forward to segueing from working full time to retired at some point in the not-too-distant future. We’ve definitely had our share of metaphorical tornadoes, wicked witches and flying monkeys—we came here to experience life as a minority, and we’ve learned to watch what we ask for! Thankfully, we have all grown, changed and love it here in “Oz,” and living here has in many ways brought us closer to family and friends in our birth home, too.