29 November 2009

Adviento del Año 2009

Now that Thanksgiving and November, "el mes de ánimas" (the month of remembering the faithful departed), are behind us we look forward to celebrating the the birth of the Messiah and the Christmas season. In Mexico, “La Navidad” begins with “El Adviento” (Advent) and the season runs all the way to February 2nd , “La Fiesta de Candelaria”. In English we call February 2nd by various names; Candlemas Day, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The February 2nd date is also known secularly in the U.S. as “Groundhog Day”. In any case, it is a long stretch from the beginning of December to the beginning of February when the Christmas decorations are finally taken down and the Christ child is removed from the manger, given new clothing, and put away until the next year. The Mexican people, like many people everywhere, enjoy Christmas more than any other time of the year.

The English word "advent", or in Spanish, "adviento", comes from the Latin word "adventus", which in itself is a translation of the Greek word "parousia", which is a reference to the Second Coming. Christians believe that the season of Advent serves a dual reminder of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting that Christians currently do in expectation of the Second Coming of Christ. For that reason and because of the ritual of lighting the advent candles there is something tugging at my heart that says perhaps we should also celebrate Hanukkah (Chanukah ), the Jewish festival of lights, in tandem with our Jewish brethren. After all, we share the same Old Testament. The Jewish festival tradition incorporates a nine branched candelabra called a "menorah" and commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of the lamps burning for eight nights with very little oil. The Hanukkah festival lasts for eight nights and a new candle on the menorah is lit on each successive night. The ninth candle on the menorah, is called the “shamash” candle and it is used for the lighting of the other eight candles. I thought that it might be "apropos" if Hanukkah would start on December 16th or 17th at the same time as the Mexican Posada season gets under way and both celebrations would conclude on December 24th. However, The Jewish festivals are based upon the lunar calendar and Hanukkah moves around quite a bit. The first night of Hanukkah won't fall on December 17th until the year 2014 and after that it will be quite a long spell before it repeats.

Now...before anyone from either side accuses me of blasphemy I can assure you that this is just a fanciful dream of mine and as we witness so many religious conflicts unfold around the world I realize more and more that it seems to be the tendency of organized religion to drive people apart and not bring them together. The first day of Hanukkah in 2009 is on Saturday December 12, meaning the first candle is lit on Friday night December 11. The Hanukkah holiday runs 8 days through December 19, 2009. This year the first day of Hanukka falls on the feast day of La Virgen de Guadalupe, a major holiday in Mexico for Mexicans whether they are Catholics, or Christians, or Jews or Atheists or "whatever". La Virgen de Guadalupe is a national symbol that unites all Mexicans. She is the heart and soul of Mexico.

Technically, the Christian Advent begins with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle which is November 30th and covers four Sundays, lasting until midnight on Christmas Eve. The first Sunday may be as early as November 27th, and in that case Advent has twenty-eight days. In some years the first Sunday may be as late as December 3rd giving the season only twenty-one days. This year, 2009, Advent begins on Sunday, November 29th and Advent has twenty-six days. My wife Gina made her her “Corona de Adviento” or “Advent Wreath” this evening and you can see it in the picture below. Gina's “Corona de Adviento” has the traditional five candles, three violet, one rose, and one white. The first two violet candles are lit in succession on the first and second Sunday and on the third Sunday they are joined by the rose candle and this Sunday is called “Gaudete Sunday” and marks more or less the halfway point of Advent. The word “Gaudete” comes from Latin and means to rejoice. On this Sunday the joy of expectation is emphasized. The nine days of the Mexican Posadas generally begin around this time also. On the fourth Sunday, the last violet candle is lit and the white candle in the center is lit on Christmas Eve after sundown. Oh-oh, by now some of you may have realized that the three candles on Gina's wreath that are supposed to be violet are red and not violet. That is because just like last year, at the last minute we couldn't find any violet candles. However, I don't think using red Advent candles instead of violet ones will add much to our time in Purgatory. Next year I must remember to plan ahead.

I know that since Advent starts today I should have reminded you about it about a week ago but I forgot. That's okay... it's not too late. If you don't start your Advent prayers on the first day the sun won't fall from the sky. Even if you are a day or two late I am sure that the Lord will be happy to hear from you. We invite you to join us in celebrating Advent. Just like we do every year, here are the same scripture verses that we will concentrate on for each of the four Sundays and Christmas Eve:

First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10
Luke: 1:26-38
Isaiah 7:10-14
Matthew 1:18-24

Second Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:2
Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11
Isaiah 2:1-5
Matthew 3:1-6

Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 9:6-7
John 1:19-34
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Philippians 2:1-11

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Malachi 3:1-5
Romans 8:18-25
Isaiah 52:7-10
Revelation 21:1-4

Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:1-6
Luke 2:1-20
John 1:1-18
Titus 2:11-14

You can find plenty of scripts and fancy prayers to go along with the scripture reading and the lighting of the candles on the Internet but I suggest that you do what we do and just “wing it”. God will understand, and anyway, I don't think He is impressed with our words. He is looking to see what we have in our hearts.

Everybody say Amen!

Las Tres Crudas

The number three is a very illustrious number. A set of three is called a "ternion", "triad", trio, or "ternary", In ancient times the the lower division of the seven liberal arts was comprised of grammar, rhetoric, and logic and it was called a "trivium". A ruling group of three leaders is called a "triumvirate. A set of three horses driven abreast is called a "troika". A set of three animals such as dogs or cats is called a "leash". The Holy Trinity, of course, is the most prominent threesome and the most iconic set of three is no doubt the three crosses on Calvary. There were three Magi who visited the Christ Child...Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar (Gaspar, Melchor, Baltasar en Español) and they brought three gifts, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (Oro, Incienso, y Mirra). Then you have the three ships of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón), la Niña, La Pinta, y La Santa María. Next come Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, the Three Musketeers. After that we have Chico, Harpo, and Groucho, the main Marx brothers, and then the Gabor sisters, Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva, and then come Manny, Moe, and Jack, the three "Pep Boys", and before I really get carried away I'll just stop and let you think of some more.

In Mexico there is a special set of three called "Las Tres Crudas" and it is very important that you avoid them at all costs, especially during the coming holiday season. The Spanish word "cruda" (ending in the letter "a") in Mexico means "hangover" in English. If you are a male and you want to say "I have a hangover" in Spanish you would say, "Tengo crudo" (ending in "o") but if you are a woman you would say "Tengo cruda". An alcoholic hangover is not the only type of cruda, however. There are two more types of "hangover" and along with the alcoholic hangover they form "las tres crudas". The second cruda is the "cruda de realidad" or the "reality hangover". For example, a person can be very troubled about a number of problems including money problems and to get away from the problems they go on vacation to a resort and pretend that everything is okay and spend a lot of money on credit cards when they really can't afford it. They have a good time but when they come back from vacation they wake up to the fact that the their troubles haven't gone away and now they are even deeper in debt. The cruda de realidad is a hard one to shake.

The third cruda is the "cruda moral" or "hangover of conscience". This is where one person has been very hard on another person or has lied to them, or has cheated someone, or physically hurt someone, or has damaged the reputation of another, and after the fact is being tormented by regret, and suffering the consequences. The first cruda that I mentioned, the alcoholic cruda, is the easiest to cure. You can cure that by taking aspirin, drinking lots of water, and sleeping it off. The other two are more serious though and can take a lot of time to deal with. If you happen to have all three crudas at the same time you are in really bad shape and only Heaven can help you. That's when the best cure is to get down on your knees and ask for Our Lord's help and forgiveness. I hope and pray that none of you who read this have trouble with crudas of any kind. Enjoy the holiday season but be careful...even at Christmas time it's a jungle out there!

It's a jungle out there,
Disorder and confusion everywhere.
No one seems to care,
Well I do.
Hey, who's in charge here?
It's a jungle out there,
Poison in the very air we breathe.
Do you know what's in the water that you drink?
Well I do, and it's amazing.
People think I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time,
If you paid attention, you'd be worried too.
You better pay attention,
Or this world we love so much,
Might...just... kill...you.
I could be wrong now, but I don't think so!
'Cause there's a jungle out there.
It's a jungle out there.
(song by Randy Newman)

27 November 2009

Beer dancing...

Mexico is truly beer country as anyone who has ever been here knows. There are two main brewing companies. One is Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma and the other is Grupo Modelo. The Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma makes Carta Blanca, Sol, Indio, Bohemia, Superior, Dos Equis, Tecate, and also Noche Buena which we only see at Christmas time. Grupo Modelo makes Corona Extra, Corona Light, Victoria, Pacífico, Pacifico Light, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial, Modelo Light, Estrella, León, Montejo, Barrilito, and Tropical Light. That ought to be enough of a selection for anybody. I hardly ever drink beer anymore although I must confess that when I was younger, my Air Force buddies and I probably drank enough beer to fill an Olympic size swimming pool. My wife Gina and her mother Carmelita like to drink a beer or two now and then, especially when there is a fiesta. Gina is such a small gal that two beers in succession is enough to make her quite quite happy and inclined to want to dance. This is where the "beer dancing" comes in.

There is a phrase in Mexican Spanish that goes "bailando de carton de cerveza" or "dancing like a case of beer". You might think that this has something to do with dancing while inebriated but it doesn't (at least not exactly). You need to picture in your mind a guy who is carrying a case of beer. His arms are held parallel straight down in front of him and his elbows are locked. His head is inclined forward and his chin is down. His hands are turned inward at a sharp angle so that the palms and fingers support the carton which rests across his thighs. Now picture this same guy without the case of beer. There is some slow, romantic music playing and the lights are low. It is late in the evening and everyone is feeling quite "happy". His wife or his girlfriend has slipped her arms around his neck and drawn his head down close to hers and whispers in his ear, "Pápi, vamos a bailar de carton de cerveza" (Daddy let's dance really close and sexy). So then he puts his arms around her and slides both of his hands down past her hips and with his hands he grabs her "pompis" (buttocks) just like he was carrying a case of beer and off they go swaying to the music. THAT is what it means to "bailar de cartón de cerveza" or "bailar de cartoncito". Most often it is something that the young people do and when an older couple dances that way it can either be quite funny or quite scandalous.

There is one thing for sure though. If you are ever at a party and some guy starts dancing like that with a woman who is someone else's wife or girlfriend then you should grab your date and start for the door because the party will soon break up and when the music stops the fight will begin. There is a government sponsored campaign whose slogan is "Bebe con moderación" (Drink with moderation). Perhaps they ought to add, "y baile con moderación también" (And dance with moderation also).

25 November 2009

Don't get snoody!

I am finding it a bit hard to get into the Thanksgiving Holiday mood. Tomorrow is just another work day for me and since my wife Gina has English classes after work on Tuesday and Thursday evenings , I will be coming home to an empty house. I will probably end up having turkey hot dogs with all the trimmings like mustard, ketchup, pickle relish, and chopped onion. Mmmmm...good! I am still very thankful though. Our Lord has been very kind to me and my family and my hope and prayer is that others less fortunate than we are can receive the same blessings that we have received. Besides, my hot dogs will probably be much better than the cold rations that some our servicemen and women will be eating and if I could, I would trade places with them so that they could have Thanksgiving dinner with their families.

Speaking of turkeys, I was thinking about them today and about how ugly they really look. Have you ever studied one up close? They sure taste a lot better than they look. The head is the ugliest part. On the top of the head is a rough red cap called a "caruncle" (not carbuncle). Under the turkey's beak there is a lot of loose red skin called a "wattle". The weirdest part, however, is the long worm-like appendage that hangs down over the turkey's beak from the forehead. It is called a "snood" in English. A snood is also a hairnet that women who worked in the factories in World War II liked to wear on the back of their heads to protect their hair from getting tangled in machinery. I think the look is even coming back in style these days. If you think about it, a turkey snood and a hairnet snood have a similar shape. The difference is that the snood of a turkey hangs down in front and the hairnet snood that women wear hangs down in back. You can compare the two in the pictures below.

In Mexico, the snood of a turkey is called a "moco". The word "moco" is also used to describe "mucous" or "snot". If you study it closely the turkey snood does look a bit like snot hanging down. Phlegm is called "moco mojado" and a booger is called "moco seco". If your friend says to you ""Límpiate el moco" it means to wipe the snot away from your nose. The doctor might ask you, "¿Tienes tos seca o con moco?" or in other words "Do you have a dry cough or with phlegm?". To pick one's nose (in case you wanted to know) is "sacarse un moco". The phrase "llorando a moco tendido" means "to cry one's eyes out" as in "Me puse a llorar a moco tendido" (I began to cry uncontrollably). I think you get the idea.

I have coined my own phrase involving the word "moco". When I first came to Mexico to help companies obtain their railroad industry quality assurance certifications, I was stressing the need for objective evidence to insure that the work was being done properly. I wanted to see the original work orders and inspection reports that were filled in by the workers and signed off by the inspectors and I wanted the "moco papers" to be included in the office files. I wouldn't approve of any work that was done until I could see the "moco papers". What is a moco paper? It is a work order or inspection report that goes out to the job site to document the work and stays with the job as long as it takes. In the meantime it is handled by many people and receives coffee stains, finger prints, cigarette burns, blood smears, sweat stains, wrinkles, ink smudges from rain drops, moco (yuck!), and enough other wear and tear that you can be certain that it is objective evidence of the work being done. It is a lot more credible than a file cabinet full of lily white forms filled out identically in girlie cursive by the secretary and smelling of her favorite perfume. You can't fake a moco paper no matter how you try. It is the genuine article. It always tells the truth. It is were the wheels meet the rails. I just love moco papers!

Well, that's enough moco for now. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and please remember me in your prayers. I will do the same for all of you.

19 November 2009

An unexpected delight...

This morning when I got to work the gatekeeper asked me for a favor. His name is Alejandro and he lives in the nearby rancho named San Antonio El Chico which we affectionately call San Antonito. He said that his daughter was involved in a school project and asked me if I wouldn't mind being interviewed by her for her English class. He said that it would only take a few minutes and she could come by late in the afternoon. I waved my hand and said "Sure Ali, let her come. I don't mind at all". I then promptly forgot about it until about 3:pm when he called me from the guard shack and told me that his daughter had arrived. I said, "Okay, send her on up to my office". He said, "No, Señor Bob, you better come out here". When I got outside I realized right away why he didn't send her in. She was there with seven of her giggling friends all in their nice neat school uniforms with a patch identifying the school as CBTIS-65. The letters CBTIS stand for "Centro de Bachillerato Tecnologico Industrial y de Servicios". There are about 800 of these high schools in Mexico where they are trying to upgrade the normal high school curriculum to prepare students for semi-professional and technical jobs. These girls are studying English and they had an assignment to interview a native English speaker.

At first I was afraid that I had gotten myself into more problems than I wanted to deal with but the girls were very nice and very serious. They were well prepared with their questions written out in English and they wanted to interview me in two teams. They were all about 14 or 15 years old. I agreed and led them over to an area where I hold my regular employee training sessions and we began. I stood with three girls at a time while the others filmed the sessions with their cheap little digital cameras that had limited video capability. They took turns filming and later on they would piece all of their videos together to create the complete interview. It was very touching to see them try to do this and they were really in earnest about it. The girls all introduced themselves to the camera and then introduced me and then started asking questions. They were simple questions mostly like where did I come from, and how long have I lived in Mexico, and what are the duties of my job, etc. They even asked me if there is any favorite food that I miss. I told them "Yes there is. I really miss Polish style Kosher dill pickles" and they all had a good laugh. I guess they thought I was joking. Actually they did the interviews very well and I am very proud of all of them.

Afterward one of the girls asked me if I had any personal advice for them and I said yes and I told them the story about the pig in the python. I told them that after World War II there were four million United States soldiers who came home from the armed forces and got married and had children...lot's of children. Then more soldiers came back from the Korean War and did the same thing. All of these children entered the American population as a group and as they grew up through the years they swelled the system wherever they passed through it it just like a pig swells the body of a big python snake as it travels from the snake's head to its stomach. I told them that there were seventy-six million of these children born between 1946 and 1964 and they are starting to reach retirement age. As they retire and age further they are going to stretch the need for nursing and medical technical services to the breaking point. I said that there would be some very good opportunities for young women who go into nursing or medical technical fields who also had the ability to speak excellent English. They would find opportunities in Mexico as well as the United States if they become well qualified people. I told them that for a young woman in Mexico who would like to be free and independent this is the perfect time to be a young student and if they apply themselves diligently now, then in only a few short years they could be on their own and making a nice living.

Needless to say they hung on every word and became very excited about this. They all pointed to one girl who had already made this her goal and I could see that the rest of them were already making mental calculations. I hope that in some small way I may have motivated some of them to dig in and fight for a better life. In the meantime I told them that I would be happy to help them in whatever way that I can and if their teacher would like me to go to their school to help the students with English now and then I would be happy to do so. The whole thing ended on a very high note and they presented me with a nice box of chocolates which I tried not to accept but they insisted. To tell you the truth I really had a good time. Perhaps someday when you are sitting in a nursing home nodding off to Oprah Winfrey reruns, one of my girls will come by and say, "Okay Doña Anciana or Don Anciano, it's time to take your medicine". Just remember to ask them if they had ever heard of Señor Bob.

18 November 2009

Heaven only knows...

I am sure that most of us native English speakers who live in Mexico have asked someone a question at one time or another and have received a vague look, a shrug of the shoulders, and an answer, "¿Quién sabe?" (Who knows?). Other times you might ask the same question and receive the answer "Solo Dios Sabe" or Solo Dios lo sabe" (God only knows). Some people actually consider this reply as an example of needlesly using God's name in vain so it is probably better to translate this as "Heaven only knows" to stay on the safe side and be politically correct. There is also another way to say "Heaven only knows" in Spanish and it is "Sabrá Dios" which is in the future tense and literally translates as "God will know". For example, someone might ask a parent where their teenage son is and they will shrug their shoulders, look up at the sky and say "Sabrá Dios". Sometimes the phrase "sabrá Dios" is used in conjunction the relative pronoun "que" as in "que sabrá Dios" (that God will know). An example might be:

Mi hijo regresó de vacaciones cantando una canción que Dios sabrá donde la aprendió.
My son returned from vacation singing a song that Heaven only knows where he learned it.

This brings us to the question of why the verb "saber" (to know) is used in the future tense as in "Sabrá Dios" and not in the present as in "Dios sabe". Well I have a theory about that. Long before the Spanish Inquisition (1478–1834) there was an inquisition called the Medieval Inquisition (1184–1230s). There was a major heresy in the Catholic Church at the time that was centered in the South of France and it was called called the Cathar Heresy. To rid itself of this heresy the Catholic Church initiated a 20-year military campaign called the Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade and it lasted from 1209 until 1229. During the first season the Crusaders captured the city of Béziers in Southwest France in the heart of Cathar territory but they had trouble rooting out the heretical Cathars from the general population. It was like the present day coalition troops trying to root out the Taliban from the general population of Afghanistan. Finally, in frustration, they took the problem to the Papal Legate, Arnaud-Amaury, who is reported to have said "Kill them all, God will know his own". In Spanish it would be "Matar a todos, Dios sabrá cuales son los suyos". In Latin it is "Cædite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius" and in French "Tuez-les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra les siens".

Unfortunately this phrase "Kill them all, God will know his own" became a popular military slogan whenever an army was confronted with a problematic insurgency. The Spanish version, "Matar a todos, Dios sabrá cuales son los suyos", was no doubt used in the quest to rid the Moors from Spain, and also during the various escapades of the Conquistadors in the Americas. It has come down to us to this day in the form "Kill them all and let God sort them out" which became popular during the Vietnam War and among various mercenary groups in the 1970's and 80's. I think this subject would be a good one for a doctoral thesis but "Dios sabrá" if that will ever happen in my case because I haven't been to college yet and I'm getting a little long in the tooth. So...if anyone else wants to tackle this one please be my guest.

17 November 2009

I got carried away...

The other day at breakfast I commented to my wife Gina:

Híjole, el café está demasiado dulce.
Wow, the coffee is way too sweet.

She replied:

Lo siento cariño, se me pasó la mano con el azúcar.
I'm sorry dear, I got carried away with the sugar.

The verb "pasar" is one of the most common and useful verbs in Spanish and it would be impractical to cover all of the uses in one blog post but I thought it might be nice to share this phrase "Se me pasó la mano" with my friends who are studying Spanish because it is a good one to have handy in casual conversation. The phrase "Se me pasó la mano" means to go overboard, to go too far, to overdo it, to get carried away, to cross the line, or to do too much of anything in general. You can use it in a number of different ways. For example:

Se me pasó la mano en lo que dije a mi vecino.

I went too far with what I said to my neighbor.

Qué no se te pase la mano, regañando a tu hijo.

Don't get carried away with scolding your son.
(Note the use of the subjunctive "pase" because it is a command.)

Se nos pasó la mano con los gastos de nuestro viaje.

We went overboard with the expenses for our trip.

Se les pasó la mano, tomando el tequila en la fiesta.
They went overboard drinking tequila at the party.

Se te pasó la mano con la sal.
You went overboard with the salt.

If you want to tone it down a degree or two and make it a suggestion and not a condemnation you can add words like "poco" or "poquito":

Creo que se te pasó la mano un poco.

I think you crossed the line a bit.

Jefe, creo que se te pasó la mano un poquito con el trabajador nuevo.
Boss, I think you were a little hard on the new worker.

You can even use it to excuse yourself after making a boo-boo by saying:

¡Upps! Creo que quizás se me pasó la mano.
Oops! I think I may have crossed the line.

You can also elevate the emotion to show frustration or anger:

¡Esta vez se te pasó mucho la mano de lo que hiciste!
This time you really crossed the line with what you did!

¡Con este, se te pasó la mano!
With this you went too far!

You can even turn it into a question:

¿Por qué se te pasó la mano?
Why did you get carried away?

¿Cómo que se te pasó la mano?
How is it that you crossed the line?

Note that although the majority of the time that you will hear this phrase it will be used to convey a negative sense it can also be taken in a positive sense meaning to outdo oneself depending upon the situation. For example, if you were congratulating somebody you might say something like the following which, when taken in context, is meant to be a compliment:

Se te pasó la mano con el libro.
You outdid yourself with the book.

Señora, se te pasó la mano con la cena.
Ma'am, you really outdid yourself with the supper.

I suggest that you practice the above phrases and write them down on some index cards. Go over them frequently until you have the pattern committed to memory. In that way when you want to use "Se me pasó la mano" in a conversation you will have the correct pattern and word order and you won't stumble around just when you're trying to sound "cool".

15 November 2009


Have you ever heard of a "yam bean"? Of the three cultivated species of yam bean, the first to be scientifically recorded was the Mexican species Pachyrhizus erosus. That is the species commonly known as jícama (HEE-kah-mah) in Spanish, and the one you've most likely tasted at one time or other. The jícama is obviously a root crop so why is it called a yam bean in English? First of all, the word "yam" is the common name for some species in the genus Dioscorea (family Dioscoreaceae). These are perennial herbaceous vines which originated in Africa and they are cultivated for the consumption of their starchy tubers (The sweet potato, "Ipomoea batatas", has traditionally been referred to as a yam but it is not part of the Dioscoreaceae family). The yam bean of Mexico, however, takes a form very similar to that of the African yam even though they are of a different family, genus, and species. They both have an underground taproot or tuberous root that resembles a tuber and a long vine that grows above ground. The "bean" part of "yam bean" stems from the fact that the yam bean seeds are produced in a pod that looks something like a bean pod but the seeds are not edible and they are purported to be rather poisonous. The vines are very long and sometimes extend twenty feet or more in length. The "tubers" can weigh up to fifty pounds or more but they are usually cultivated to reach an average market size similar to that of a small grapefruit. It is a prolific plant and somewhere around thirty-five hundred pounds or more of jícama tubers can be harvested from a single acre.

The people who live in the Mexican "Bajío" region of Guanajuato that covers much of the territory around Irapuato where I live are lucky in that the best jícama comes from the the town of San Juan de la Vega which is a small town on the Río Laja near San Miguel de Allende between the town Comonfort and the city of Celaya. Jícama is also grown in several other areas of Mexico at different elevations to ensure a year around supply for the market. At this time of year you can often see roadside jícama stands on the highway from San Miguel to Celaya just north of Comonfort. You can buy a sack that is almost too heavy to carry for about thirty pesos and it is the best jícama that you will ever have tried.

By now you can surmise that I like jícama. You are correct. I LOVE JÍCAMA! It is the best diet food that I have ever come across. Being rather rotund (to say the least), I am on a perpetual diet (or I'm supposed to be). Jícama is something that tastes good, satisfies my hunger for quite awhile, and is good for me. I have it for lunch at least two or three times per week. I like to eat it in the traditional Mexican way with lime juice and chili powder as you can see in the photo below. I can eat about two cups for lunch and not be hungry again until way into the evening. Jicama has a texture similar to water chestnuts and has a mildly sweet, nutty flavor. The sweetness comes from a combination long chain sugars called oligofructose-inulin (also called fructo-oligosaccharide). Inulin and oligofructose are not digested in the upper gastrointestinal tract; therefore, they have a reduced caloric value. They stimulate the growth of intestinal bifidobacteria (the good bacteria). They do not lead to a rise in serum glucose or stimulate insulin secretion (note that "inulin" and "insulin" are two completely different things). One cup of jícama has only fifty calories, twelve grams of carbohydrate in the form of dietary fiber, no fat, no cholesterol, and forty percent of the daily recommended dose of Vitamin C.

To eat it, I peel off the light brown skin, slice it up, cut it into smaller pieces, dowse it with lime juice, and sprinkle it liberally with a chili powder called Tajín which can be bought in any Mexican supermarket. Tajín comes in several styles but I like the classic style that contains nothing more than a combination of dried ground "chiles" (chilies) with a touch of "limón" (lime). There are no preservatives or artificial coloring added. The cool crunchiness and sweetness of the jícama, along with the bite of the lime juice and the heat of the chile gives this dish an eye opening and palate awakening flavor that I find very satisfying and not at all overbearing. There are also a lot of other things you can do with jícama. It can be steamed, baked, boiled, mashed, fried, sautéed with carrots or green beans, stir fried it with chicken or shrimp, simmered in a savory stew, eaten with guacamole or seasoned dips, or just plain cut up into squares and used in fresh fruit salads. If you haven't ever done much with jícama I suggest that you give it another look. Oh, yes, one more thing. I also like to sprinkle chile Tajín on my ice cream cones of the water based "nieve de limón y nieve de piña". Wow!

¡ Buen Provecho !

12 November 2009

¿Ok maguey?

When my brother Dan and I visited the Corralejo Tequila factory near Pénjamo we went on a weekday when they were in the middle of a production run. We were cordially received and given a nice tour of the plant. When we got to the point where they were taking the "piñas" of the agave plant out of the steam cookers we were offered a bit of the pulp to chew on. It was a bit "woody" and very sweet and it tasted like tequila although at that point the juice did not have any alcoholic content. It was surprisingly very good and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. As you probable already know, Tequila is made from a species of the plant kingdom in the order Asparagales, family Agavaceae, and genus Agave named "Agave tequilana Weber var. azul" which is also called the "blue agave". The blue agave was first classified by German botanist F. Weber in 1905. Technically, this is the only species that can be used to make 100% Tequila under the Mexican NOM , Norma Oficial Mexicana, the system for Mexican government standards in agreement with the European AOC (Appellation de Origin Controllee).

There are about three hundred species of Agave and you can make alcohol out of just about all of them. They all fall under the collective Spanish name "Maguey" which in English we often call the "Century Plant". There is another popular alcoholic beverage in Mexico called "mezcal". The difference between tequila and mezcal is that mezcal is made from one of the other 299 varieties of agave and not the Weber blue agave. In addition, the tequila piñas are most often cooked in a large steam pressure cooker and tequila is produced in larger volumes than mezcal. The production of mezcal utilizes wood burning ovens to bake the piñas and so mexcal has a smoky flavor that is distinct from tequila. No matter what type of agave is used it takes anywhere from seven to twelve years or more for the agave plant to mature. As it begins to mature it sends up a tall central stalk called a "quiote" (key-OH-teh) which is a flower which sometimes rises twenty feet into the air and on this tall flower the plant and produces seeds and then it dies. If just when the quiote stalk starts to grow it is removed, the plant becomes saturated with the sugars that it was saving to send up the flower stalk. This is when it is harvested.

The other day my wife Gina and I were at a market and we found a man selling pieces of the mezcal agave piña after it had been baked. He cut off the outer shell and then cut the piña into various shapes and sizes. He told me that the pieces were called "quiote" just like the flower stalk and that they were good to eat. I bought a couple of pie shaped pieces and we tried them. They were even better that the tequila pulp that my brother and I had tried when we visited the tequila factory. In fact, these mezcal pieces were soft and easy to chew and and swallow. They had a taste and consistency something like candied sweet potato but with a definite smoky mezcal flavor. You can see how they look in the photos below. If you ever see something like this go ahead and try it. It is a unique experience. At first glance it looked like the guy was selling rocks but even though they look like rocks they are about as soft as a chocolate brownie.

¿Ok maguey? (oh-KAY muh-GAY). You might hear this phrase being used now and then. It just means "Okay?" in English as in "Alright?". It is a play on words because the "Ok" rhymes with "guey" (not "güey" which is something else). Go ahead and try it on your friends or neighbors. Just say something like "Nos vemos esta tarde. ¿OK maguey?". I guarantee that you will make them smile.

10 November 2009

When will we ever learn?

There is an old cliche about "history repeating itself". I think it first came from the poet and philosopher George Santayana who is reported to have said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". You never know though, someone might have said that long before him. The Bible puts it this way in Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 (New International Version):

9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say,

"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;

it was here before our time.

11 There is no remembrance of men of old,

and even those who are yet to come

will not be remembered
by those who follow.

I was doing some reading the other day and I came across something that almost made me fall out of my chair and I would like to tell you about it. I was reading about a man named Vasco de Quiroga who was sent to New Spain by the Spanish King about 1550 to investigate reports that the Indians were being maltreated. Because so many things were dominated by the church back then, he was ordained a priest and then consecrated as a bishop so that he would have both temporal and spiritual authority. While he was in this transition he came upon a copy of Saint Thomas Moore's book "Utopia" and decided that it had been divinely inspired and he took it upon himself to follow it as a guideline. He founded many communities for Indians and created hospitals for them in what is now the Mexican State of Michoacán and the surrounding area including the area where I live.

This man Quiroga is a hero of mine and also of a lot of other people and to this very day the locals fondly call him "Tata Vasco" (Papa Vasco). He was a contemporary of Ignatius Loyola who had recently founded the Jesuit order and he asked Loyola to send Jesuits to New Spain which Loyola eventually did but sadly it wasn't until after Tata Vasco died. Things were very complicated in those days...probably as politically and morally complicated as they are today. In fact, the period of the early 16th Century and the early 21st Century have some things very profoundly deep in common even though the people are separated by almost five centuries. In doing a little research into the life of Tata Vasco I came up with some interesting stuff.

In 1550 and 1551 there was a famous dispute between a bishop named Bartolome de Las Casas (another champion of Indian rights) and a man named Juan Gines de Sepulveda. This dispute was of immense historical importance because it was one of the only times in history when the powers that be paused to consider their actions and the consequences thereof. Sepulveda held that force could be justly used to overcome the many difficulties in converting people to the Spanish way of thinking. Las Casas held that force must be opposed as much as possible because it subverted free will. Thus, the problem was how could the most powerful nation in the world go about making over the whole world in its own image? There was no question about "if" but only about "how". To their way of thinking the world would only be a good place when it was made over like the Spanish decreed. The debate was whether military or peaceful means were the best way of achieving a uniform international community based upon the Spanish way of thinking and of worshiping their Creator.

Sound familiar? The Sepulveda crowd said that the Indians were ungrateful, shameless barbarians, who did not recognize the greatness of the Spanish teachings. They only understood war and so the Spanish should give them war. The Las Casas crowd said that the Indians are rebelling BECAUSE the Spanish were repressing them. "Let us show them peace, and give them justice, food, and health, and then they will embrace our teachings". Only a few people were willing to say "Leave them alone and let them have their own teaching as long as they remain peaceful and part of the world community". Now, fast forward 450 years to the debates of the U.S. president and congress. The more things change, the more they look the same. However, the decisions made back then led to 450 years of war. I hope we don't make the same mistake again. That old saying about history repeating itself is scary isn't it? I just thought you might be interested in this little slice of history as it relates to Mexico.

"Hey, wait a minute", I hear you say, "So how did the debate turn out?". Well, it turned out like these things always do. Politically it was sort of a tie. At the end of the debate the Spanish King, Charles V, adopted neither Sepúlveda's or De las Casas' arguments and instead he adopted the recommendations of a man named Francisco de Vitoria who is now regarded the father of international law and who is best remembered for his defense of the rights of the Indians of the New World against Spanish colonists and for his ideas of the limitations of justifiable warfare. He formulated what he calls the“right of natural partnership and communication” along with corollary rights to migration and to commerce and free dealings with all peoples. It is essentially the same thing that children are taught in kindergarten to this very day..."Everybody be nice!". Sadly, his advice fell on deaf ears and the rich Spaniards went on trying to take advantage of the natives and the natives did their best not to cooperate. In the end a few people lived lives of incredible wealth, another group lived quite comfortably, and the majority lived like slaves for over three hundred years. That is how the unofficial motto of the land came to be..."Chinga o te chingan." (Screw'em or they screw you).

Obviously there is a lot more to it than I mentioned above but my short synopsis is certainly an eye opener and food for thought. I wonder what will happen next...here in Mexico and in other parts of the world. Your guess is as good as mine but I am wondering...will we ever break the cycle?

04 November 2009

Helado Pirulí

The Spanish word "pirulí" (pee-roo-LEE) is used for what we might call a "lollipop" in English but not exactly. The word "pirulí" comes from the verb "piruetear" which means "to pirouet" as in ballet. A pirulí is generally a candy made of caramelized sugar in the form of a six inch twisted cone and it usually contains several colors and has a stick in one end that serves as a handle. Sometimes the same thing goes by the name "chupirul", "pico dulce", or "pirulín". Be careful with the name "pirulín", however, as that names is sometimes used for the "pee-pee" on a little boy. There is also another form of pirulí called a "helado pirulí" which is a long thin ice cream cone but without the wafer cone for a handle. Instead the end of the ice cream pirulí is wrapped with a bit of paper.

On Sunday my wife Gina and I took her father Don Antonio for a little walk around the "Centro Historico" part of Irapuato because it was a beautiful day and being very elderly he doesn't get out much. We had a wonderful time and when we sat down on a bench to rest and chat (which he and I do a lot) Gina went off to find us some ice cream. She came back shortly with three helado pirulís which you can see in the photo below. There was one each, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. You can see that the strawberry pirulí actually had bits of strawberry in it. They were fantastic and I went off looking to the pirulí man to buy a second round.

I quickly found the man that I was looking for. He was waiting outside of a church called El Sanctuario de Guadalupe. When the people come out from 12 o'clock mass they are bound to want some ice cream. Good thinking, eh? I have bought pirulís from this man once before. His name is Benjamín Contreras Ramírez and he has been selling pirulís for forty-six years. His father before him did the same thing. This form of selling ice cream is something out of the past. It dates back at least until the time of the Mexican Revolution. To make pirulís is a fairly simple process. He fills metal tubes with cream and whatever flavoring or fruit he desires and then caps and freezes them. To keep them cold while he waits to sell them he keeps the tubes in an insulated tub filled with ice and covered with some heavy cloth. When you hand him a ten peso coin he selects a tube of the flavor you requested and places it in a bucket of water to warm the tube for a few seconds and then deftly removes the cap, gives it a little tap to expose the end, wraps the end of the pirulí in paper, and then holding it by the paper handle he pulls it out of the tube, completes the paper wrapping, and hands it to you. It is like magic. In the old days the tubes were made with "hoja de lata" (OH-ha day LAH-tah) or tin can sheet metal. Modern versions are made from stainless steel tubing.

The only other place that I had seen these is in Tlaquepaque near Guadalajara. I have heard that there may be a pirulí man in Salamanca but I have never run into him. If you do happen to see something like what is shown in the photos below be sure and try it. You won't be disappointed. It will bring out the little kid in you. Oh, yes, and I almost forgot...I'll bet you can't eat just one!

¡Buen Provecho !

02 November 2009

Life in the Cemetery

Today I went to the cemetery with my wife Gina like we do every year to clean the family graves and leave some flowers. Like countless others before me I have observed that on "El Dia de los Muertos", the Day of the Dead, the cemetery is full of life. Irapuato, like many cities of considerable size, does not celebrate El Dia de los Muertos with all night vigils as in some of the rural communities in various places throughout Mexico. Nevertheless there is a strong connection here between the living and the faithful departed. Yesterday and today were both beautiful days and the cemetery thronged with people. There is a street several blocks long that leads to the cemetery and it is closed to traffic for these two days. It turns into a street fair with people selling flowers, plastic buckets, food, refreshments and all kinds of odds and ends that you see being sold whenever there are large crowds of people wandering around. Once inside the cemetery grounds we found many people cleaning their family graves, chatting with acquaintances, listening to the Mariachi and Norteño bands that people hire to serenade their departed loved ones, and just plain enjoying the holiday. Here and there you could see people sitting quietly in reflection and prayer over the grave of a loved one but for the most part people were happy, polite, and respectful.

I started thinking about the controversy over whether of not Halloween is ruining the Day of the Dead celebrations. My take on the matter is that although certain aspects of the Day of the Dead festivities might be changing, the celebration of El Dia de los Muertos isn't going to go away anytime soon...especially among the common people. I don't think that Halloween is going to go away either. The way I see it is that both celebrations complement each other and will coexist quite nicely. On Friday morning, October 30th, on my way to work I was stopped in traffic by a "Halloween Parade" consisting of about seventy vehicles, mostly pickup trucks, filled with happy school children in costumes. The vehicles were all decked out in black and orange streamers and balloons and the drivers were tooting their horns. The children were laughing and waving and calling out to passers by and everyone seemed to be wearing a big smile, including the drivers of the cars that were stopped by the traffic police in order to let the parade pass by. On Friday evening my wife Gina and I gave a Halloween party for a bunch of kids and we had a rollicking good time. On Saturday evening we had about one hundred and fifty trick or treaters stop by and we went through several enormous bags of candy. Everyone was well mannered and most of the children were escorted by adults. This is the largest trick or treat volume that I have experienced since I have been in Mexico. It started out at "zero" my first year and has grown by a handful each year until now it reminds me of the 1950's in my hometown of Chicago. It may not be like that everywhere, of course, but times are definitely changing.

The reverse of Halloween spreading to Mexico is the Dia de los Muertos celebrations that are popping up in homes, and churches, and community centers all over the United States. Actually, there is something very comforting about making and altar or "ofrenda" for the Day of the Dead. It brings back a lot of memories of the people who have passed on before us and surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly) the memories are quite pleasant. For the last six years I have been making an altar, at first for my father and then for both of my parents after my mother died. There is something very soothing about it and on the night of November 2nd I really feel their presence. I am also confident that they know where to find me. A ten peso Mexican coin was buried with each of them..."for carfare" as they used to say.

Gina's daughter-in-law Jasmín (Jazz) and Gina's twelve year old niece Fátima Paulina (Pau).

The municipal presidencia of Irapuato.

The Irapuato municipal "ofrenda".

The man pictured in the photo is José Pérez Chowell who was an author of 24 books, newspaper man, social critic, and beloved citizen of Irapuato.

Gina praying and talking with her grandmother.

01 November 2009

El Mes de Ánimas

My friend Billie Mercer of Billieblog sent me a photograph that she took in the church of "Nuestra Señora de la Salud" (Our Lady of Good Health) in San Miguel de Allende and she said that she has seen the the same thing in a number of other churches but didn't understand the meaning behind it. She asked me if I could explain it since I am a Catholic. You can see in the first photo below that it is a carved diorama of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ Child and below them are figures of people among flames. Billie said that it is all enclosed in a case with glass on the front and the whole thing probably isn't more than 16" x 20" x 12" in size. What the diorama depicts is called "Las Ánimas del Purgatorio" or "The Poor Souls in Purgatory". The Blessed Virgin is pictured in her aspect of "Nuestra Señora del Carmen" who is the "Santa Patrona" or "Patron Saint" of the Carmelite order. The poor souls in Purgatory are asking her to intercede for them and shorten their stay among the flames. That is the short explanation. However, this is a very interesting subject and I thank Billie for bringing it up. If you can stick with me a bit longer I would like to fill in some more details.

We all know that on November 1st (All Saints Day) and November 2nd (All Souls Day) here in Mexico we celebrate "El Dia de los Muertos or "The Day of the Dead". In the old days "El Dia de los Muertos" was known as "El Dia de las Ánimas", or "The Day of the Poor Souls". All Saints Day was celebrated in the spring for several centuries until Pope Gregory IV moved it to November 1st in A.D. 835 . The commemoration of the dead on November 2nd, All Souls Day, was formally established by the Church in the fourteenth century because November is supposedly the saddest month of the year when nature ends its cycle with autumn and winter, and invites recollection and reflection before the celebration of Christmas and the coming New Year. While November 1st and 2nd are the focus of the liturgical celebrations, the entire month of November is associated in the Roman Catholic tradition with prayer for the departed. The phrase for it in Latin is "Commemoratio Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum" which means "Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed".

Before I go any further I think I should explain the concept of Purgatory a bit. In the Roman Catholic doctrine, Purgatory is a place or condition of temporary punishment meant to cleanse those destined for heaven but not quite ready for it. According to this doctrine, faith in Christ and acceptance of his saving grace gains one forgiveness for their sins and eternal salvation, but not release from the punishment due for sinning. It is a place or a state of being believed to exist after death, in which the souls of persons are purified by making amends for such offenses committed in life that do not merit eternal damnation. After this purge of the impurities of sin, the souls are ready to be received into Heaven. Through the centuries the actual description of Purgatory and the activities through which souls are purified have only been limited by the imaginations of the living. Fire has often been the way in which people have imagined the purification process and thoughts about the actual existence of Purgatory go all the way back to the Old Testament. In the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible, the Catholic version, it tells us in 2nd Maccabees Chapter 12:

41: Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden.

42: And so be
taking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, for as much as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain.

43: And making a gathering, he
sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.

44: (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it w
ould have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead),

45: And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. With godline
ss... Judas hoped that these men who died fighting for the cause of God and religion, might find mercy: either because they might be excused from mortal sin by ignorance; or might have repented of their sin, at least at their death.

46: It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

The Maccabees scripture established the rationale for Purgatory and it was Dante Aligueri in1308 who, using his vivid imagination, sketched out some of the whimsical details. He wrote the Divine Comedy which describes Dante's journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). Most people are only familiar with the name "Dante's Inferno" but there is also a "Dante's Purgatory" and a "Dante's Paradise". His fictional descriptions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven fueled the imaginations of countless other writers and painters who followed him including Michelangelo who depicted all three over the altar on the wall of the Sistine Chapel at Saint Peter's Cathedral in Rome in 1535. In Dante's story, one must climb Mount Purgatory before one gets to Heaven. The description of the place is the antithesis of Dante's Hell. The Purgatory of Dante is a steep mountain composed of concentric circles and successive cornices of serrated edges where souls are purified. When the Archangel Lucifer originally fell from Heaven he formed a great depression in the Earth which is "supposed" to be under the City of Jerusalem and is formed of concentric circles leading downward. At the bottom of this depression, according to Dante, Lucifer awaits us. The action caused by the terrible force of Lucifer's fall and the formation of the Hell pit caused a mountain to be formed on the opposite side of the world leading up to Heaven and this mountain is Mount Purgatory. According to Dante it is surmounted on its peak with a platform that is the Garden of Paradise from which the souls ascend to Heaven. The souls are transported to Purgatory after death by a boat that is propelled by an Angel. One can see that after Dante's colorful description, the speculation about Purgatory was pretty much up for grabs.

This brings us back to Billie's photograph. Since the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century Purgatory as been portrayed by painters and sculptures in a similar fashion. There are souls among the flames and above them there is either a cross or the risen Christ and the souls have arms outstretched in supplication and longing for Heaven. There are often souls with the markings of a bishop or priest or king to show that all sinners are treated alike. Sometimes they are portrayed in a group and sometimes they appear singly either as a male or female engulfed in flames from the chest down. In the aspect of a single soul they are known as "Ánima Sola" or "Lonely Soul". They represent souls who have no living friends or relatives to pray for them or leave an ofrenda at their tomb. For this reason we are encouraged to pray for the "lost" souls and leave a little offering for unknown souls on our family "ofrenda" or altar. The "Ánima Sola" is more often portrayed as a woman than a man and there is a legend about a woman named "Celestine" who chose not to give water to Christ while he was carrying the cross to Calvary. A cult that has arisen over the years concerning this legend but it is considered a myth by the Church and there is no credence given to it.

About the middle of the seventeenth century there was a change in the way "Las Ánimas del Purgatorio" were portrayed and this has to do with something called "The Sabbatine Privilege" of "Nuestra Señora del Carmen". Back in the year 1251 Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock of the Carmelite Order. St. Simon Stock was an English hermit. He received the name "stock" because he lived in the hollowed trunk or "stock" of a tree. She purportedly gave St. Simon a cloth scapular for the Carmelites with the following promise, saying: "Receive, My beloved son, this habit of thy order: this shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire .... It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace." Then in 1322, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Pope John XXII and told him that she would rescue from Purgatory those that wore the scapular and followed a specific discipline of abstinence and prayer called the called the Sabbatine Privilege. For the next several centuries this was a controversial issue that was addressed by several popes and finally the Holy Roman General Inquisition under Paul V issued a decree on 20 January, 1613, following effect:

It is permitted to the Carmelite Fathers to preach that the Christian people may piously believe in the help which the souls of brothers and members, who have departed this life in charity, have worn in life the scapular, have ever observed chastity, have recited the Little Hours [Prayers specified by the Blessed Virgin], or, if they cannot read, have observed the fast days of the Church, and have abstained from flesh meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays (except when Christmas falls on such days), may derive after death — especially on Saturdays, the day consecrated by the Church to the Blessed Virgin — through the unceasing intercession of Mary, her pious petitions, her merits, and her special protection.

Several other Popes along the way added their affirmation although the subject remained controversial among theologians. In 1726 the promise of the scapular was extended to the entire Latin American Church by Pope Benedict XIII. In 1767 Pope Benedict XIV concurred and even strongly encouraged the use of the scapular and it has also been encouraged by several Popes since that time up to and including Pope Pius XII who was Pope when I was in grammar school. The impact of Nuestra Señora del Carmen and the Sabbatine privilege really became evident in Mexico and was very strong from about 1800 onwards until the 1920's. Most of the "Ánimas del Purgatorio" that one sees in the old churches that depict Nuestra Señora del Carmen date from that period. One can tell more or less the age by the style of crown that she and the Christ Child wear since it is very tall and stylized. More modern versions of the Virgin show a much simpler crown.

When I was a little boy the nuns encouraged us to wear the scapular which consisted of two pieces of brown cloth connected by two cords that represents the tunic of the Carmelites. One wears the scapular by placing the cords over one's shoulders letting each little square of cloth hang down, one on the chest and the other on the back. Do I wear a scapular today? Well, not exactly. My wife Gina wears a tiny version of the scapular tucked down inside her bra where she lost a breast to cancer and I carry one in my wallet. According to the promise of Our Lady if you should die wearing the scapular she will free you from Purgatory on the Saturday following your death if you have faithfully followed her rules. Well, I don't exactly follow all of the rules but what's the harm? If she lets me cool my heels in Purgatory for an extra week or two I probably deserve it.

(Click image to enlarge)

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.