30 July 2011

Fanny Fruit

Here in the earthly paradise of Irapuato in Guanajuato, Mexico it is the season for fruit lovers. The figs in particular are ripe. I love to eat fresh figs which are called “higos” (HEE-gohs) in Spanish. When I was a boy growing up in Chicago the only fig that I was aware of was the brown paste-like substance that could be found inside of a Nabisco Fig Newton. You’re darn-tootin’ there is just no comparison between the taste of a fresh fig and a Fig Newton. A sweet fresh fig will win every time. In fact, the fig is one of the first fruits mentioned in the Bible (after the “forbidden fruit", of course) and the fig tree it is the third tree mentioned in Genesis, the first being the “Tree of Life” and the second being the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. The downside is that fresh figs are relatively expensive, even in Mexico, and when they are in-season and very ripe they spoil quickly and require delicate handling. Nevertheless, I would walk a mile for a fresh, ripe fig.

Another great fruit that is a lot cheaper than figs is the mango. The word “mango” is spelled the same in English and Spanish but in Spanish it is pronounced “MAHNG-oh” and not “MAYNG-oh” like we more or less pronounce it in English. The mango tree comes from India and there are many varieties. However, in the Midwestern United States, where I come from, some people still refer to bell peppers as “mangos”, especially in rural downstate Illinois and Indiana. That goes way back to the time when the only way that they could ship mangos, bell peppers, and other fruits and vegetables by rail was to first pickle them in vinegar. In the 19th century the phrase “to mango” something meant to pickle it.

In spite of there being many different varieties, or “ cultivars” of mangos, there are basically two shapes and the people here generally refer to mangos by either of two names, “manila” (mahn-EE-lah) and “petacón” (peht-ah-COHN). The mango manila originally came to Mexico from the Philippine Islands via the Spanish Pacific Galleon trade around the year 1565. It is a a small, flat, oval, medium size, green-to-yellow mango with a point called a beak. The mango petacón is a a large, sweet, round, somewhat oblong, and reddish-orange version of the fruit that is about twice the size of a mango manila and is often multi-colored to some extent in yellow, green, and red depending upon how ripe it is. Sometimes it is also called a mango "criollo" (cree-OH-yoh). In the supermarket the mango petacón often goes by yet some other name like mango "paraíso" (pahr-EYE-soh) meaning "paradise" or mango "florida" (flohr-EE-dah) because that particular cultivar was developed in the U.S. state of Florida. Nevertheless the word "petacón" encompasses all the mangos of the same relative shape, size, and color.

For me, the word "petacón" by itself is a very interesting word. To begin with, the root word, "petaca" can mean various things. Generally it means a container for something else. The word "petaca" comes from the native Náhuatl word "petlacalli", which means "caja de petate" in Spanish or "box made from petate". A "petate" is a mat made from dry leaves, or reeds, or grass. In the old days a mat of petate was carried by an "arriero" who was a person who transports goods using pack animals. At night he would unroll his petate and throw it down on the ground to sleep on while covering himself with his serape. If he died while on the trail they would roll him up in his petate and it became his coffin. The word "petaca" took on the meaning of a "covering" and it could refer to a petaca de pipa (tobacco pouch), petaca de purros (cigar case), petaca de cigarros (cigarette case), or a petaca de alcohol (hip flask or small bottle of booze). A petaca could also refer to a "cesto de mimbre" (wicker basket), a "baúl de cuero", (leather bound chest), or a "maleta de cuero" (leather briefcase or small leather bound suitcase).

In Mexico, if you use the plural form of petaca which is "petacas" (peh-TAH-kahs) it means "buttocks" or "rump" or in other words your "fanny". If you use "petaca" with the ending ón which indicates bigness as in "petacón" it has the meaning of big "rump" or "fanny". That is exactly what a pair of mangos petacones look like when placed side by side and viewed from an angle...fanny fruit!


26 July 2011

Do you Roma?

In June of 2009 I wrote a piece entitled "Do you Zote?" about a very versatile bar soap that is just about everyone's favorite here in the Bajío region of Mexico where I live. I decided to write a companion piece about a popular laundry detergent that is made by the same company who makes Zote. The name of the detergent is "Roma" and it comes in plastic bags in quantities of half-kilo, one kilo, 4 kilos, and 10 kilos. The detergent is in granular form and it is mostly white in color with specks of blue. It is a basic laundry detergent and is less expensive than many other brands. We currently pay 22 pesos for a one kilo bag which is about $1.89 U.S. or in other words about 87 cents a pound. My wife Gina and her mother Carmelita swear by it and won't use anything else for washing both clothes and dishes except that they use Zote bar soap for the more delicate items like me, for instance. I shower with a bar of Zote every morning.

Many ladies here are in the habit of throwing a handful of Roma into a corner of the kitchen sink and they use it to wash dishes by just touching the dish rag to the detergent so that a little bit sticks to the rag. It makes great suds and a little bit of this detergent goes a long way. Roma isn't very hard on their skin either and it is also biodegradable and phosphate free. The listed ingredients are:

Cleaning Agent - Lineal Anionic Surfactant
Water Softener - Aluminosilicates and silicate
Soil Suspending Agent - C.M.C
Optical Brightener

The company that makes Roma detergent and Zote bar soap is called "Fábrica de Jabón La Corona". It was founded in Mexico City in 1920 by a man named Esteban González. He named the company for a nearby public bath house called "La Corona". The company grew and grew and expanded into several plants and now employs over four thousand people people. Besides soaps, La Corona makes cooking oils, liquid cleaners, toothpastes, and fabric softeners. The company markets its products all over North America, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The most amazing thing about both Roma and Zote and the other products made by La Corona is that there is no advertising. All of their sales are made through word of mouth and customer demand. In Mexico their market share is much higher than any of their closest competitors. They must be doing something right, eh? You just gotta go with a winner.


23 July 2011

The Blessing of the Rain

There is a Mexican book author, poet, historian, and newspaper columnist named Armando Fuentes Aguirre (a.k.a. Catón) whom I consider my my friend and mentor although we only met once in person. True to my expectations he was one of the nicest, kindest, and interesting people whom I have ever had the pleasure to meet and I heartily shook hands with him to make sure that our worldlines were well connected. I have learned a lot of Spanish over the years just from reading his columns. I have also written about him at length on a previous post that you can access by clicking here.

Today his column "Mirador" contains a beautiful example of his prose and in the interest of introducing him to my fellow students of Spanish I have reproduced it here hoping that he won't mind. After the Spanish you will find my English translation. I had to use a little imagination and poetic license with the translation because if you just translate the "letter" of the Spanish and not the "spirit" the result in English is quite stilted and cannot even approach the beauty of the Spanish. No doubt that English is a very practical language but I am convinced that for shear beauty of expression Spanish is far superior.

Armando Fuentes Aguirre

Diosito decidió de pronto volver a portarse bien, y se hizo lluvia en el Potrero.

La casa quedó llena con el aroma de la tierra mojada, más grato para nosotros que cualquier perfume. Hasta las piedras del camino parecían alegrarse, y bajo el agua fulguraban con brillos de piedras preciosas.

Abrí la ventana para que entrara el paisaje. En mi cuarto está ahora la nube, y están la montaña y el pino. Los muebles tatarabuelos parecen oír el gargarear de la gárgola, y el panzudo cofre que guarda antiguas escrituras y amarillentos papelorios se pone orondo como un rotundo caballero que ha comido y bebido a su placer.

De tierra y agua estamos hechos los humanos. La lluvia en el campo junta en nosotros esas dos materias, y las vuelve espíritu. Recibimos con gratitud la bendición. Afuera huele a tierra húmeda, y hay en los aposentos de la casa olor a alma mojada.

The Dear Lord decided to do a good turn and make it rain in El Potrero.

The house was filled with the smell of wet earth, more pleasing to us than any perfume. Even the rocks in the road seemed joyful and under the wetness they gleamed like precious stones.

I opened the window to let the outdoors in. In my room there is now a cloud and a mountain, and a pine tree. The great, great grandfather furniture seemed to hear the gurgling of the downspout, and the big fat chest that keeps the old writings and yellowed documents became self satisfied like a plump gentleman who has eaten and drank to his pleasure.

We humans are made of earth and water. The rain in the fields unites in us both of those elements and revives the spirit. We receive with gratitude the blessing. Outside it smells like moist earth and in the rooms of the house it smells like moist soul.

Web Page for Armando Fuentes Aguirre (Catón) http://www.caton.com.mx/


17 July 2011

Cyber Socialism

I received a note from a contact in Pensacola, Florida this morning (hello tocayo) and he said something that has stuck with me all day. He said, "I'm not much of cyber socialist". Come to think of it, perhaps I may be a bit of a socialist in the political sense, but in the fraternal sense a cyber socialist I am not. I signed up for Facebook and Linkedin, and Twitter just to see what the fuss was all about but to be honest with you, beyond the novelty of trying something new and different I really don't understand the urge behind what is making people flock to social networking in greater and greater numbers. The problem with social networking is that it doesn't connect worldlines.

I have written about worldlines before. Albert Einstein had an interest in them in regard to his study of physics. A world line is the sequential path of a human through time and space that marks the history of a person, starting at the time and place of one's birth until their death. When we are born, our world line branches off from our mother's world line. When we die, the world lines of the atoms that make up our body disperse and move on. If you could actually see a world line it would look like a twisting meandering path with both tiny ringlets and big sweeping curves and with various zigzags and ups and downs in between. Imagine a child being born and the beginning of his or her world line. The path that the nurse takes as she carries the child from the delivery room to the nursery begins the world line but the earth is also rotating at the same time and so both of these movements are recorded. While the earth is rotating it is also moving around the sun and the sun is moving around the center of the Milky Way galaxy which is also moving through time and space and all of these movements become part of the child’s world line. No two world lines are alike except, perhaps, for Siamese twins. Everyone (and every thing) else has its own unique world line.

Whenever we touch somebody our world lines intersect. Take for example two people shaking hands. In the three seconds it takes for a one pump handshake the Earth rotates about six or seven miles on its axis and moves almost sixty miles in its orbit around the sun which moves about four hundred and fifty miles in its orbit around the Milky Way Galaxy while the galaxy itself moves over five hundred miles towards an area in space known as "The Great Attractor"...which I like to think of as God Himself. While the two people are holding hands during this long, yet rapid journey through time and space the handshaking event is marked by the intersection of their world lines. In this day and age of computers and gigabytes and nanoseconds you could transmit a great deal of information in those three seconds. This thought led to my realization that if you had a computer big enough, and fast enough, and a cosmic positioning system like out modern Global Positioning System (GPS), you could keep track of everything in the Universe. It seems to me that perhaps this is how God keeps track of everything and since we were created in His image and likeness we will probably all become very computer savvy someday.

There is just no substitute for personal contact or for being in the same place at the same time whether you are having dinner with someone or sharing the atmosphere with an entire crowd of people. Somehow you need to be within eyesight or earshot to register a worldline connection. I have an idea though. I remember reading "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley many years ago. In this book he described the movie theaters of the future which he named "The Feelies". The seats in the Feelies will supposedly recline way back and the movie will be projected onto the ceiling. On each side of the seat there will be a brass knob and you will place your hands on these brass knobs and when the hero kisses the heroine you will be able to feel the kiss on your own lips. Now there is an interesting thought. Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg could incorporate that idea to make Facebook more socially interactive. It might actually cure one real problem with worldlines. When I was in high school at a Catholic high school for boys, the Vincentian Fathers always reminded us that the the human mouth is connected to the anus via a long tube consisting of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, and bowels, and that every time we kissed a girl we were in reality sucking on a thirty foot tube half filled with fecal matter. So, you see? It just follows that cyber kisses would be much more sanitary.

Happy Socializing!


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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.