Bridging Cultures—Those Within Me

P1030588Readers of this blog may know that I spent quite a few formative years in Japan, living there most of the time from seventeen to 32 years of age. It is one of three countries I consider “home:” USA, Japan, and Mexico. Wherever I am, I miss the other two dearly.

So what’s a global nomad to do? Share, of course. With those I love.

I am blessed here, after eight years full-time, with a couple of groups of incredibly talented, intelligent, loving and fun-loving girlfriends. I thank God for them every day; they are truly amazing. It took me a long while to find them, these soul sisters. They are artists, cooks, business women, housewives, teachers.

I wanted to cook them some authentic Japanese food, share with them a taste of my other self. It’s really hard to find some of the ingredients here in Mazatlán, so when Greg and I went to Tucson over MotoWeek I bought some of the ingredients I’d need—dried seaweed, dried bonito flakes, renkon or lotus root, dried shiitake.

I invited my beloved girlfriends to come on Monday, the day between US Mother’s Day and Mexican Mother’s Day. I would celebrate them. We were all excited. I cooked most of the day on Sunday, enjoying myself immensely. I also cooked all afternoon Monday. I made:

  • Ebi-shinjo, or shrimp balls.
  • Two kinds of stock: shrimp and tuna, the latter flavored with shiitake as well.
  • Nimono, stewed veggies, using the tuna stock. I cut the carrots into flower shapes, I soaked and peeled the celery, I soaked and trimmed the shiitake, I got creative and used palmitos as I didn’t have take-no-ko or baby bamboo. Japanese food is nothing if not putzy.
  • Chawan-mushi, steamed egg custard, using the shrimp stock, and adding root veggies (goboh, renkon), fish, shrimp and shiitake. It’s one of my favorite dishes. Making and steaming 13 little cups took a lot of time on my little stove!
  • Ohitashi, boiled spinach, squeezed and trimmed, then covered with sesame seeds.
  • Nasubi-yaki, grilling the cutest little baby eggplants that I’d bought at the Farmers’ Market, then covering them with bonito flakes or katsuo-bushi.
  • Sake no miso-yaki, or salmon grilled in miso sauce. This was the easiest to cook, and is something I make often, though usually not using salmon. It’s a family favorite.
  • Kani, kyuuri to wakame no sunomono, or pickled crab, cucumber and seaweed salad. This is what my Japanese mother always makes for me when I come home. Just the thought of it warms my heart, say nothing of the taste!

Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

My, did I have fun! However, on Sunday evening, towards the tail-end of my first round of cooking, I suddenly realized, “My friends are going to hate this food!” I love it; it’s near and dear to my heart. It’s part of me. But they like food that pops in your mouth, full of flavor. Japanese traditional home cooking is subtle, the flavors are comforting, perhaps indistinguishable to a Mazatlecan palate. And this sort of Japanese cooking is not so colorful: it has lots of dark browns (shiitake) and greys (root veggies), with a splash of orange carrot or bright green spinach here and there. Oh dear.

Cooking Japanese is a lot of work. I didn’t cook gourmet; I made home cooking. But, with the difficulty getting the ingredients here in Mazatlán, and the hours it takes to make the stocks, trim the veggies, fish and seafood just so, and put together six small dishes for each of 13 guests… Well, I realized I was cooking this for ME, not for THEM! This was my Mother’s Day gift to myself: showing my girlfriends a very important part of who I am, how I came to be. Of course they wouldn’t have the decades of emotion behind the food I was offering them; they’d just be tasting what I put in front of them. But they love me, and they know I love it, so, they’ll enjoy it even if it’s not their favorite.

When the big night came, my girlfriends arrived bearing gifts of all sorts: two kinds of incredible pies, a pot of delicious cocido, wine, rolls, cookies, ice cream… Normally when we get together, everyone brings something to share; that makes it easier for everyone and we can just focus on enjoying ourselves, catching up, laughing, and not fussing. Normally, I love it. But tonight would be different.

Greg poured the wine as they came in, and I had set out some dried pickled plums—umeboshi. I figured they wouldn’t like them. Oh was I wrong! They were a hit! We ate sour plums and drank our wine as we watched the sun set.


Photo by Patty Pazos

Afterwards, we were ready to eat. I recruited several girlfriends to help me serve, as we would have to load all those different dishes in individual plates and bowls, one for each of us. The girls seemed to enjoy this part.

Once everything was served, I explained to them how Japanese put their chopsticks horizontally, and Chinese put them vertically. I shared with them a bit about Japanese cooking: that you tend to have something raw, something boiled/stewed, something grilled, something sour or pickled, something steamed. Two of my girlfriends have been to Japan; they know all about this. I explained that they could pick up the dishes, hold them up to their mouths—that such was polite, the custom in Japan. They listened carefully, and thanked me profusely for all the effort I’d put in.

And that was that. The Japanese meal and customs were interesting, but the main course was our enjoying one another’s company. Love trumps knowledge. We ate, laughed, told stories, moaned, commiserated, learned and taught. And, we drank. We discussed our kids, who we want to be, and our summer plans. The night was warm and fresh, the stars were plentiful, the moon was a deep orange. We watched the various fishermen in the bay, bobbing up and down with their lights. We were happy.


Didn’t turn out so bad for a handheld shot…

So, did they like the meal? First off, most everyone asked for forks. No need for those chopsticks. They absolutely loved the salmon, asking me for the recipe. Most of them tasted the chawan-mushi, and left it sitting there. It was a huge bust. 😦 They ate the pickled cucumbers, but not the seaweed. Pieces of the nimono were eaten, but most was left untouched. I’m sure the problem was the color. And the texture. I very much enjoyed eating the rest of it over the next few days, so it didn’t go to waste.

Everyone said it was just too much food. And it was. But, also, it wasn’t to their liking. Oh well. I had fun making it. And the night was great. We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, and the ocean breeze kept us cool while we laughed, talked, and later ate our dessert.

I’m glad I did it. Probably won’t do it again. The experience reminded me that the purpose of getting together is to enjoy one another’s company. One or two Japanese dishes would have been plenty.

Girlfriends, thank you for your friendship. Thank you for smiling and giving it your best shot. I love you. And for you, dear readers, here’s the miso fish recipe:

Baked Miso Fish

The Crying Screens

IMG_2984I remember the first time it happened. I walked up to the screen door, and saw the water droplets. I thought maybe Greg had watered the plants outside and splashed the door. Nope. Maybe someone in another apartment had done so, and the water flew on the ocean breeze and caught us? Lord knows it hadn’t rained.

I cleaned the screens, and several hours later there was more water. I looked up to the ceiling. Maybe the water was coming from a leak upstairs? No; the ceiling was clean and dry. Could it be that the ocean breeze coming through the door is to blame?!

Indeed. In Mazatlán we have all sorts of seasons that I never knew when I lived up north or in Japan. And one of them is the “season of the crying screen.” It’s now, that time of year when the heat has begun but the rains haven’t.

Living directly on the ocean, we are blessed with many things, including the fact that in our house we haven’t yet really felt the heat that everyone has started complaining about. If we keep the windows open, the ocean breeze keeps our place pleasantly—at least for another few weeks or more. Of course, it also corrodes every metal object in its path, but that’s another story.

With the windows open, however, and the change of temperature from hot in the daytime to cool at night, the salt air condenses on our screens and forms sticky drops of salt water. They are kind of pretty. They don’t run; they are thick and gel-like. I suppose they are formed by the same type of phenomenon that generates the rain that will soon visit our port.


La Sobada


Margarita is 78 years old. I don’t think she looks it…

“Comadre, you need a sobada.”

“What’s a sobada?”

I am, gratefully, a pretty healthy 55 year old. I’m overweight—I love good food and chocolate. I drink alcohol, I sit at the computer too much, working and reviewing photography. But I climb the lighthouse at least a couple of times a week, I’ve done yoga regularly since my late teens, I absolutely love zumba, dancing, walking, bike riding… I exercise and eat healthy.

Thus my dismay and frustration that, after injuring my right shoulder LAST JULY (while doing yoga), I still, nine months later, couldn’t lift my arm much past my shoulder, couldn’t put my hair up without pain, couldn’t even open my armpit enough to get a stick of deodorant in there. I should have been overjoyed that nothing was broken or torn, but somehow that fact just added to my dismay and impatience—why wouldn’t this injury heal? Why did I still need to ask Greg for help dressing and undressing myself every day? I most certainly did not like being physically handicapped or having chronic pain!

I’ve gone for regular massages since I injured myself. Portland, Chicago, Tokyo, Kyoto, DC, Las Vegas, Mazatlán, Dimas—everywhere I went, massage was a constant (thank you, Mary!). It helped with the discomfort, but it sure wasn’t curing anything. I worked with two different chiropractors—one horrible and one a savior (bless your artistry, Terry!). I went to my acupuncturist; she also helped. I participated in 2-1/2 months of three times/week physical therapy, with handsome and charming young men. But nothing alleviated the pain.

Despite treatments over the same number of months required to gestate a new human being, I still had extremely limited range of motion in my shoulder. Between the pain, the multiple therapist visits, the ice packs and the hot showers, I had very little ability or time to actually work. My injury had nearly taken over my life. I am blessed with the world’s most loving and caring husband, but even he was sick of my whining. And I had to get ready for a big work trip. Something had to be done!

What is a Sobada?
My comadre Silvia said I needed to get a sobada. A sobada? Never once in nine years living here, 37 years of travel to Mexico, and six summers in Mexico City as a child, do I recall hearing the word “sobada.” Then my comadre’s Mom told me the story of when she went to a sobadora (woman who performs sobadas) and how it had cured her. “She lives near my house. You should go.” I didn’t commit, but I was intrigued.

Throughout that next week I heard the word “sobada” about eight times, unsolicited. It was one of those coincidences, I felt, indicating that something was meant to be; one of those times when the universe sends me a loud message, so I’d better listen up.

But what in the heck was a sobada? I didn’t want to get myself into something I would regret. Not another bad chiropractor story. I couldn’t find a clear meaning of “sobada” in the dictionary. Searching the web, “sobada” is everything from a recipe for cooking tripe to prenatal and postpartum massage, supposedly dating back to the Mayans in Yucatán.

So I asked a few of my local girlfriends if they would please explain to me what a sobada is. One of them said, “it’s just that—a sobada.” Meaning, “it’s a kneading.” “So how is una sobada different from a massage?” Every single one of the girlfriends I asked, all seven of them, then referred me to their favorite massage therapist. None of them criticized sobadas, but they obviously didn’t want me going to a sobadora, either.

Matters were taken out of my decision volition when Silvia called to tell me she was picking me up at 5:30. She was going to take me for a sobada. I felt a mix of hope and dread. I certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into. But, if you know me, you also know I was open and curious. I theorized that a sobada was a unique Mexican-style massage, in the same way shiatsu is Japanese massage, and reflexology and tuina are native Chinese methods of massage. I was eager to learn about this new folk remedy of my adopted home. And, I was afraid; I didn’t want some inept folk remedy practitioner wreaking havoc on the little progress I’d made thus far.

Meeting La Sobadora
Silvia picked me up promptly. We drove to her mother’s house, and she hopped into the car as well. Then we drove another four blocks, and stopped in front of a house in Colonia Francisco Solís. I love the neighborhood; it’s very basic, but you always see people sitting outside, visiting with one another, kids playing in the street. It’s a friendly, family-oriented place.

The sobadora’s home is one of those open to the street: the kitchen, dining and living room open to a wall of windows facing the car port, with an iron gate on the street. When I arrived,  workers were doing construction across the way. There was no bell, and no door to knock on, so my comadre’s mother called out, “Margarita! I’ve brought the señora!”

Once in the door I saw a basic cement home, sparsely furnished. A special needs girl—a granddaughter, fidgeted in her wheelchair at a dining table. A woman—Margarita’s daughter, also sat at the table. There were photos of family throughout the room, a statue of the Virgin (the healing virgin, I was told) at a small altar, a photo of the Pope, a rosary, some other religious icons, and Jesus was etched into the glass of the entryway. Margarita was obviously one holy, and very Catholic, woman.

Margarita's Virgin of Healing

Margarita’s Virgin of Healing

She began telling stories as soon as we entered her home, and her mouth never stopped moving during the hour or so we spent with her. Margarita is 78, short, broad, bright-eyed, vivacious, and dressed in colorful polyester. She’s matter-of-fact, and speaks in our local dialect. I learned she has ten children remaining of 14 she birthed, and lost track of how many grandkids and great-grandkids she told me she has. She was kidnapped and raped at 13, and she and that man went on to have all those children. When he died, she remarried, at 35, to a wonderful man willing to take on 14 kids. I only understood about 40% of what she was saying, as she was speaking to the six of us in the room at a million kilometers a minute.

She pulled over a high-backed chair with a straight back, the beautiful carved kind from Concordia. She instructed me to sit on it. “Take off your blouse,” she instructed. Really? In front of all those construction workers and all five of you, all of whom are staring at me, I thought to myself. Reading my unexpressed thought, she kindly walked over and closed the door. Fortunately, much of the glass facing the street was covered with newsprint, to filter out prying eyes. Now I only had five women staring at me.

Getting off my blouse is not an easy feat given my disability, but I did it. I sat back down. Then she unbuckled my bra. Ok, I can handle nudity. But I could sense my comadre’s discomfort with it. When Margarita asked me to tie my hair back, I was in a bit of a predicament. One, the range of motion in my arm doesn’t permit me to get my hair up into a ponytail. Two, to even try, I needed to drop the unhooked bra that I was holding in front of my chest. I did my best, while Silvia nervously let me know, “Comadre, your bra fell.”

I sat back down on the chair, again holding my bra over my chest in some silly sign of demureness. Margarita left the room, and came back with a bottle and a jar. She instructed me to sit sideways on the chair, and lathered me with a eucalyptus or menthol oil. As she oiled me, Margarita performed the sign of the cross on my body several times, and implored God and the Virgin to guide her hands and make me healthy. Then, she commenced to massage my throat, neck, shoulders, arms and back.

Unlike the chiropractor, she didn’t seem to adjust bones. Unlike the orthopedic, she didn’t ask for x-rays or MRIs, or even any physical history. Heck, she didn’t even ask how I’d injured myself. Unlike the massage therapist, she didn’t work my muscles or try to break up my scarred fascia. She stroked my throat and neck first, finding a gnarl of what she called “nerves” on the right side of my neck. I am surprised that none of the massage therapists had found it. It was painful, but she didn’t push too hard; she pressed in long strokes over my neck and throat, smoothing the knot. It jumped around and would not be soothed, but her stroking it was comforting and loving. Unlike the chiro and the massage therapists, Margarita didn’t complain about how tight I am; she did say that my injury wouldn’t resolve itself today; it would take three visits.

I interrupted one of Margarita’s stories to ask her how she came to be a sobadora. Is this something you study to do? She told me, “No, I don’t read or write. I have the don (the gift).” She told me she learned she had the don / the gift of sobar (to knead) when she was nine. A boy in her neighborhood fell into a well, and she cured him. The neighbor asked her mother where she learned to do that, and when her mother replied that she’d never been taught, she just did it naturally, they all decided it was a gift from God. Nowadays, she has learned to read—she had a Bible open on her dining room table.

Margarita finds another knot of nerves in my wrist, and a third in my hand. She also finds some between my shoulder blades. When she rubs them it hurts, but not too bad; no Lamaze breathing is needed, like it often is with the chiropractor. She basically runs her hands over what I guess are ligaments in my body, finding spots of concentrated energy, lumps, bumps, knots, and pain. Then, she smooths them, with the camphor oil or whatever it is. It smells like the Chinese stuff I use—the green oil. Margarita tells me to notice that she rubs up from the elbow to the shoulder, and down from the elbow to the wrist. This is key in healing my body, she tells me. She also advises me to move my hands each morning and massage them a bit. I am not to take a bath or get my hands wet for the rest of the day after the sobada. Hmm…

During my treatment, Margarita tells the stories of other people she has healed, always with sobada, and also with herbs, teas, and poultices. I learn that wrapping a swollen ankle in newspaper will reduce the swelling. She shares several recipes for healing potions and teas. She is obviously very well versed in folk medicine. She finishes rather abruptly, and tells me to get dressed. I’m covered with oil. I don’t want to put my blouse back on. But what choice do I have? Hopefully hot water will remove the oil from it later, and I’ll definitely bring a towel to my second session!

Margarita wants to finish my treatment with a communal prayer to the Virgin. But Silvia says we don’t have time. She has to take our compadre, her husband, to the dentist. It’s her day of helping others get healthy. I thank her, her Mom, and Margarita, and arrange to get my second sobada. Silvia asks how much we owe, and I pay Margarita 100 pesos.

I found a video on YouTube about a Mexican sobador:

Here’s another one, in English, of a sobador in Perú:

Folk Medicine and Sobadas
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), traditional or folk medicine is defined as “the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.” To me, it is a worldwide treasure, and I am confident that folk medicine contains much wisdom and many answers to issues facing our world today.

As an interculturalist, I know that Native American healing traditions date back at least 12,000 and perhaps as many as 40,000 years ago, and that healing energy is believed to come from a spiritual source. Most practitioners are identified as children and considered natural healers, though many are also actively trained or educated by an elder.

Greg and I enjoyed three days with a traditional curandero or healer/holy man in the Peruvian Amazon on our honeymoon. Similar to many of you, no doubt, I love temazcales, or Mexican sweat lodges. I’ve used ayurvedic medicine, received Thai watpo, and I’m curious about Australian Aboriginal ngangkari massage. Just this week a girlfriend of mine who teaches at Columbia University joked with me that we owe it to the world to conduct an international experiential study of healing waters and massage treatments. So, I most definitely was observant as Margarita worked on me.

I came home happy last night. Pain-free. I’ve awoken this morning two hours before my alarm is set to ring. Pain-free. My range of motion isn’t great, but it’s a bit improved. Most importantly? It’s pain-free. Oh, I mentioned that. 😉 I pray it lasts! I have a chiropractic appointment this morning. And, before I go to the ballet tonight, I have my second sobada scheduled. I have a month of work travel coming up, and I need to be able to do it. Last summer, three months of work travel are what caused this nonsense in the first place.

Wish me luck! I do pray that Margarita’s sacred healing hands will work their miracles with my injury and restore my health!


Body Painting at Baupres


Fatima models Adrian’s art

First, let me tell you that my photos (Thru Di’s Eyes) are now on exhibit at both Baupres Gallery and Galería Libertad #312. Prints of digital photographs are available on acrylic, trovisel, paper mounted on foam core and matted, or in postcard format. I trust you’ll check them out. I am so very excited! Below are a few photos of the opening during ArtWalk last night. Click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.

You may remember that I’ve studied photography with Salvador Herrera (1, 2). He’s a consummate professional and a terrific instructor. He teaches and exhibits at the gorgeously renovated historic building that houses Baupres Gallery, owned by the incredibly talented artist, Dory Perdomo.

Last night for ArtWalk, two of Salvador’s friends from Mexico City, Alexander ojodelince (ranked third nationally) and Adrián Art (national champion), who are in Mazatlán for a national body painting competition that takes place today and tomorrow at the Hotel Playa, demonstrated their art for us as part of Art Walk.

Have you ever watched body painters at work? It’s amazing! These two gentleman are true artists in every sense of the term! They have to paint on a three-dimensional, moving surface, attend to the human moods and needs of the “canvas,” and paint so the finished product looks good in both normal and black light.

Last night at Baupres, those attending ArtWalk were able to watch the artists and their models in action. The artists had actually started painting at 11 am, but when we got there about 4:30 they still had a couple hours to go. One of the models, Fatima, is a dancer, and the other, Kiana, is a model. Once they were finished, the models demonstrated the finished product to us, and the artists fielded questions. I so admired the models’ patience! I could never sit for eight hours while someone painted on me, and then another hour or more while other people photographed the result! Fatima, the one I talked to the most, seemed thrilled with the whole process. She is such a delight. She joked about not washing it off and walking around Mazatlán like that to see how people reacted. I wish she would!

After the presentation, the two models proceeded upstairs, where by now it was dark, and we could light up the gorgeous body painting with black lights and take photographs. Salvador placed all the lights, so those of us with cameras were incredibly blessed. Even with a cell phone, the models and artistry were so well lit that the photos turned out incredibly well! Thank you, Salvador! What do you think of the results?

This is the second time Baupres has hosted body painting. They’ve also conducted classes in both body painting and photographic lighting. Be sure to get on their mailing list (via their Facebook page) so you don’t miss future such events. And most definitely visit the upstairs photo gallery there and at 312 Libertad! Thanks!


Block This Thursday Evening!

©5.DSC_0116One of my favorite artists here in Mazatlán, Rafael Avila Tirado, is opening a show at the Art Museum downtown with a reception at 7:00 pm on Thursday, December 3. Sadly, I’m going to be out of town, but I urge you not to miss it! Rafael has an incredible talent and a deep soul. You will not regret meeting him and seeing his work!

Avila art showSponsored by the Sinaloa Institute of Culture, the show is called Un Murmullo Agrio, Dulce y Nostálgico, or “A Murmur Sour, Sweet and Nostalgic.” In the video below, Rafael tells us about how these adjectives capture Mexico today, and also life in general—the sour: the violence and sadness; the sweet: working the fields, enjoying family; and the nostalgic: cows in the field and other scenes of life on the rancho in Robles where he grew up.

The artist opened his taller to give Greg and I a sneak preview of the eleven prints and nine paintings that will be on display through February, 2016. They are gorgeous, and all will be for sale! Below is just a sampling of his work; click on any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.


Rafael began his career as an architect, entering the art world twelve years ago. He started making prints and graduated to painting. The artist has quite a few students, most of whom come on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He also does commissioned work.

Rafa’s studio is on the First Friday ArtWalk, right on the corner of Canizales and Aquiles Serdán, just down from the cathedral, in an airy second floor walkup above Deportenis. You can call him on his cell at 6699-16-66-56, email him, or, best, show up ready to toast him and his work on Thursday evening! And, please, give him my best, won’t you?