Living, Mexico

Good vs. Evil – this month’s editorial from The Eye

“The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

The biggest villain of our time used his political position to divide the world. He rose to power “through charm, violence and cunning negotiations. He was an excellent speaker and surrounded himself with people who, like him, were not afraid to use violence to fulfill their political objectives.” historyonthenet.com

Once elected, as head of the state, he convinced lawmakers to grant “him temporary “emergency” powers for four years, enabling him to act without the consent of parliament or the country’s constitution.” He then divided his nation by singling out minorities and effected “decrees and regulations on all aspects of their lives. The regulations gradually but systematically took away their rights and property, transforming them from citizens into outcasts.” encyclopedia.ushmm.org

This leader is so despised that I once met a man who confessed that he had his name changed to prevent any associations with the genocidal maniac. A leader who separated families and put children in prisons- their only crime being their birth. When I first heard of this monster at the age of ten, I remember asking my mother ‘why didn’t you do anything?’ She would have barely been out of diapers when he reigned but it made me realize how helpless we can be in the face of such evil. It makes itself known in small increments and we are like lobsters in a pot with the temperature rising. We are unaware of our eroding morality as the bar for what we will tolerate moves further and further away from decency.

We have very conveniently bisected the world into good and evil which allows us to step over to the good side and feel ok about the chaos around us. We rise above the fray in our self-righteousness and we point the finger at the drug dealers, the ring leaders of organized crime, the terrorists, we watch Narcos and we tell ourselves we would never be that bad.

It is the comfort that we are ‘good’ that makes it possible to read the news about children being put in cages or traveling on rafts across dangerous waters to escape violence. Geography is the only thing that separates us from them, yet we see their situation as outside of ourselves. We do our part by sharing a post on social media and then we go about our business, our conscience relatively unscathed.

But if we want to be really good, really humanitarian, don’t we need to step back take ownership of our cog in the wheel?

I recently toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. It was haunting to see the rooms where she spent WWII hiding for her life. I cried at the testimonials they showed at the end of the exhibition about what an icon Anne Frank has become and how brave she was. I didn’t cry for Anne. She was an ordinary girl facing horrible adversity- inhumane adversity! I cried for all the ordinary girls currently facing inhumane challenges today and I do nothing. We all do nothing.

We are the villains when we endure leaders who put power above human dignity.

Living, Mexico

Traveling alone, but not lonely

Is there anything more exciting than visiting a new country, navigating a new city or struggling through a new language to get directions to find the closest place to buy wine? It can be challenging to find the ideal travel partner. Someone who is a close friend at home doesn’t a perfect travel partner make.

Six years ago, after spending close to sixteen years focused on family, I decided that I wanted to go traveling. I craved the kind of freedom of not being the organizer, of having my days stretch out before me in a new place without the pressure of taking into account the needs of others.

I chose Thailand and it was fabulous! I stayed in luxurious boutique hotels that cost a fraction of the price they would have at home. I ate on my own schedule, I explored the bustle of Bangkok and the picturesque streets of Chiang Mai. I didn’t meet too many people until I took a tour that overlapped with some ‘real’ travelers. True backpackers who carry their world with them like a turtle carries its shell. They were younger than me but it didn’t stop them from inviting me to join them for dinner or riding scooters out to a waterfall. I had a blast and I was bitten by the travel bug and a wanderlust that would always have me wondering ‘where to next?’

I continued to travel, staying in medium priced hotels and Airbnb’s until I met a group of young women in the Sahara desert of Morocco. We were heading to Fez and at the last minute, my Airbnb fell through.

‘Come with us to our hostel. I’m sure they have room.’ I hesitated. Would they even let me in or am I too old? Me with my small compact wheeled suitcase and Kate Spade purse. I decided to go with them and then find a place from there. There had to be a decent hotel nearby.

Fez was not my favorite place. A chaotic maze of streets full of men (more about that for another blog post.) We stepped into an oasis of busy calm. The common area was full of people lounging and drinking tea, posting on Instagram and talking about where they had and been and where they were going. The hostel had a private room but it wasn’t available until the following day. We had passed a hotel on our way in and I decided to check it out before deciding. I was able to leave my bags by the activity board- lists of everything hostel had to offer- walking tours, food tours, dinner was served at 7 and breakfast from 7-10. The hotel a few doors down was quiet. The front desk man showed me a room that was fine but his manner seemed critical when I said I was alone. I decided to stay at the hostel and it was the best thing I could have done.

I have traveled a lot since then and stayed in many hostels. In Porto, I met a 60-year-old woman who had walked the Camino and in Paris an older woman who was studying French as well as many young people seeing the world before deciding how they want to live in it. I find I actually enjoy sharing a room and I am inspired by how many female solo travelers I meet. Women like me.

My favorite site for the best listings: http://www.hostelworld.com

Travel light, travel happy!

 

Living

How important is money?

Here is my editorial from this month’s issue of The Eye magazine.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” English proverb

The above is one of my least favorite idioms. As a kid when someone would say this to me I would think, “money is made of paper and paper comes from trees so actually money DOES grow on trees.” Nobody thought my logic was very funny.

As an adult, I understand the meaning behind the proverb and I still don’t like it. Money IS just paper, or these days usually plastic. Money’s only use is the value we place on it. Its power lies in how it is spent.

In fact, more than ever we exercise our power, our political choices and our values in how we decide to spend our money. We are living in the consumer age.

What is your relationship with money? Do you read the menu from right to left – allowing price to dictate your tastes? Do you feel resentful when paying your bills or are you filled with gratitude about the services and goods you received in exchange? How much money do you need to be satisfied? Do you dream of fancy cars and big houses or is it enough that you can treat friends to dinner or a concert without feeling affected financially?

We live in an age where getting a deal is a badge of honor and growing your money is a source of pride. But what if every purchase came with a different criterion than cost? What if we valued paying more knowing that the people who made our goods were earning more? Low priced goods, from clothing to electronics to food, come with costs beyond money. Low wages, poor working conditions, GMOs that produce environmental damage, are all things that we endure to get the lowest price we have come to value.

What if when you bought a sweater you didn’t just check the price and the washing instructions? What if you checked to see where it was made and by whom? What if before buying a new computer you researched the company’s ethical practices in relation to its workers and the environment, rather than just looking at consumer reports about the functionality of the product?

This brings me to one of my favorite proverbs… “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Someone is always paying. Our affluent and comfortable lifestyle has been built on the labor and exploitation of others.

So spend compassionately! Tip well! Pick up the check! Buy less crap and spend more on ethical well-made products! Invest in experiences! Follow your money beyond your purchase and see where it’s really going.

See you next month,

Jane

Check out more of issues of The Eye: www.theeyehuatulco.com

 

Living, Mexico

Women in Politics

The editorial from this month’s The Eye magazine.

“For me, a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect but to be elected.”—Michelle Bachelet, head of UN Women, former president and defense minister of Chile, in The New York Times

Most people are astounded at the giant leap humanity has taken with regard to technology in the past 100 years. Equally astounding are the small steps we have taken on the status of women. 

Yes, women now have the vote (since 1918 in Canada, 1920 in the US and 1953 in Mexico) and can own property, in North America at least. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US organization, 

When it comes to property ownership, women are not equal in the eyes of the law. According to the World Bank, close to 40 percent of the world’s economies have at least one legal constraint on women’s rights to property, limiting their ability to own, manage, and inherit land. Thirty-nine countries allow sons to inherit a larger proportion of assets than daughters and thirty-six economies do not have the same inheritance rights for widows as they do for widowers.” 

Even though we vote there is still a great disparity of representation of women in political spheres. It just doesn’t make sense. Women represent half the global population and in several studies it has been shown that women have a higher tendency to make decisions that benefit the community rather than just themselves. This is why organizations that give out small business loans favor women. Making decisions that benefit a community, organization and accountability are all qualities that make me think women are ideal politicians.

In 2019, women are still under-represented on the international political stage. We earn less than men and are at a higher risk for physical assaults and human trafficking. I don’t know how if we have come so far in the past 100 years; tv, cars, the internet, mobile phones, MRIs, ultrasound machines, cardiac defibrillation- with all these inventions to improve our quality of life, how have we lagged so far behind in our humanity? Why is it taking so long for women to be equally represented in politics?

It’s also not as simple as electing women. Why are fewer women running for office? Is it lack of opportunity, poor education, cultures that limit women to staying home and having babies? Is it the tolerance of misogyny from world leaders and super stars or the acceptance that our bodies are branding and marketing tools? I don’t know.

This progress is too slow.

Jane

Living

You’re pretty… now be interesting.

“We won the minute they started doing pole dancing for exercise.” Ryan Gosling as Jacob in Crazy, Stupid, Love on the battle of the sexes.

When I was in college, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth was the mainstream feminist text of the day. It posited that as women gained more power in the world, so did the pressure to adhere to unrealistic social standards of physical beauty and because of commercial influences on the mass media women were more objectified than ever. Personally, these ideas gave me pause to evaluate my own self-image and consider the role the media had played in shaping my standards of beauty.

Flash forward 25 years and not only are women’s bodies still being used to sell everything from deodorant to cars, we now have access to more images than ever before through social media. Each of us is curating a story about what we want the world to know about us; pics of our dogs, our lattes, selfies. There used to be great debate about the dangers of television but we have so evolved beyond that, that television seems benign compared to the image-based world we are living in today. It is impossible to avoid being constantly bombarded by images, day in and day out. No matter where you are, there is a television, an advertisement, a magazine, a logo, computer screen or phone in your hand to deliver ideas and standards of beauty.

Of course we all want to be pretty and admired. However, one scroll through my Instagram feed is enough to make me cringe. Smart women with feeds showcasing their bodies in hyper-sexualized ways that would be worthy of old-school Playboy. Then there is the argument that it is our choice. The idea that we have achieved such freedom and equality that women have the choice to do what they want with their bodies. I get it but I am baffled.

It seems to me that we have turned self-objectification into empowerment and it does not seem to be in an ironic way.  I recently had a frustrating conversation with a man who told me that he thought women wanted men to look at them with lust- he even went so far as to suggest that women who worked in the sex industry were seeking male attention. I tried to make an argument that our society has turned women’s sexuality into a commodity and that for many women it becomes the only currency they have, especially when they have not had access to education and opportunity.

However, what about the educated women? Women who are talking about their boob photos and perfect moist pouty lip selfie as empowerment? Maybe it is empowerment- if they believe it. Or maybe the brainwashing has gone so far that we are our own worst enemies.

Living, Mexico

What’s your Spiritual Journey?

My editor’s letter from the February 2019 edition of The Eye magazine.

http://www.theeyehuatulco.com

‘Silence is a source of great strength. ‘

Lao Tzu

I am a big fan of quiet. It is why I don’t mind long bus journeys or often prefer to stay home rather than go out and socialize. While I enjoy talking with people, I take great comfort at the end of the day in the quiet of the world. 

Last September I attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat held in Oaxaca City through Vipassana Mexico. I felt slightly daunted about the no talking, no eye contact days that would stretch ahead of me, but I was more worried about forgoing my evening wine and reading (yes, no reading or writing!) than embracing the quiet. The retreat was held in a convent in the center of the city and the sounds of the outside world gave some solace to our otherwise silent days that began at 4:30am with a couple of hours of meditation before our vegan breakfast. 

There were about 50 women attending and 20 men; however, the only non-gender-segregated space was the meditation hall, where women were on one side and men on the other. It was a beautiful experience to be in a woman-only space and not be distracted with small talk or worrying if people like you – I could just be.

There were a few difficult moments but as I felt my heart slow down, my mind followed, allowing me to truly embrace the present moment. During difficult times I would stroll through the gardens of the convent looking at flowers or slip my shoes off and luxuriate in the feeling of the ground underfoot. 

When the 10 days were up I felt completely rejuvenated. 

This month our readers explore spiritual journeys and you can see from the articles that what each of us defines as a spiritual journey is very individual. The word spirituality is connected with the Latin word “spiritus”, meaning breath. In French there is the word “esprit” referring to a person’s joy or vivaciousness. 

What moves you? Beyond the drudgery of the tasks of everyday living, what does your spirit yearn for? Maybe when you read this question the answer leapt into your mind without hesitation. Maybe your mind flitted and you are not sure what could possibly be the spiritual journey for you.

Sit in silence. Listen to your breath. The answer will reveal itself.

Food, Living, Mexico

About the Pig… Happy Chinese New Year!

Took a bit of a hiatus on reposting my editor’s letters from our magazine, The Eye, but hoping to catch up in 2019:) Every January we theme the issue based on the upcoming Chinese New Year. For more great articles check out http://www.theeyehuatulco.com

If you love Mexico then you will love our content!

Editor’s Letter January 2019:

“Always remember, a cat looks down on man, a dog looks up to man, but a pig will look man right in the eye and see his equal.”

― Winston S. Churchill

I am really enamored with the idea of raising a pig. I would feed it green apples and then I would make bacon. There was a couple from Texas in my cooking class a few years ago and they told me that it was a rite of passage for their daughters to raise and slaughter a pig. While I love the idea of this I know that when the time came, I would falter and end up with a pet pig rather than pork belly.

Salt, air, time and quality pigs are the secrets to producing mouth-watering jamon serrano. I had heard of a man near San Jose del Pacifico who was curing ham and could not wait to try it. As I made the four-hour drive from Huatulco, I swapped the heat and humidity for crisp air and pine trees, adding layers of clothing as the car climbed from sea level to 10,000 feet to San Mateo Rio Hondo. 

Emiliano, originally from Spain, is making some of the most sought-after cured products in Mexico and he counts several Michelin starred restaurants as his customers. 

The adobe house nestled on a hillside, at the end of a narrow muddy path, is a bit of a trek to find. In the main house is a kitchen with a long table set up with marinated local mushrooms, quality olive oil and thick crusty bread.  A fire burns low in a fireplace, helping to cure the dozen or so hams that hang from the ceiling. 

We started with a tasting of jamon serrano, blood sausages and sobresada. Sobresada is a sausage made of ground pork and paprika that requires certain weather conditions – high humidity and mild cold. The sobresada was served on toast with local honey – it was fantastic and I have thought of it many times since I took that first bite. We washed down these culinary delights with a Spanish vino tinto. 

Out back is a rustic setup of pig pens. There were a couple of pigs in each spacious pen and several different varieties. The pigs came out to say “hi” as they sniffed my fingers, I wondered if they knew I had just been gorging on their cousins. The pigs are slaughtered at about 14 months old after subsisting on a diet of pine cones. They are hung in front of the fireplace to cure for about 18 months. 

Happy Year of the Pig! Make it a good one! Eat, drink, be merry and follow the adventures!

Jane

Living

A Woman in the Oval- only on T.V.

I am a little embarrassed by how excited I was when I turned on my Netflix and saw that Season 6 of House of Cards is available. I had pretty much come to terms that it wasn’t going to have a sixth season after the whole Kevin Spacey scandal. I am only a couple of episodes in but I couldn’t be more impressed. Robin Wright, as Claire Underwood, as president, is a force and the writing is spot on with poignant lines like “Playing incompetent is so exhausting” and “The reign of the white middle-aged men is over.”

I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with Scandal’s final and seventh season which has Mellie Grant fighting to keep her presidency, while also lamenting on how wielding so much power has complicated her sex life. Her vagina monologue is a fine piece of writing and is delivered with humor and truth “I’m not just POTUS. I am a single female POTUS. Do you know what that means? It means I’m a human chastity belt, there is a famine in my lady bits! My vagina is beautiful, she is welcoming, but she is getting treated like a murder house. I can’t get anything in there!”

Is there any country in the world whose Presidency is portrayed in so many fictional accounts? As a Canadian, I am not sure I would tune in to a show based on the drama of Ottawa. As entertaining as it has been to watch Justin Trudeau, I don’t ever think of Canadian politics as glamorous. 

What does it mean when two prominent shows portray a woman running the Oval? Is it a Hollywood backlash against the misogynist who currently holds office? Whatever it is I am loving it and I hope it is a sign of things to come. 
Living, Mexico

Sad New World

 

future_handmaid_promo.jpg

I try not to read the news too often. Not because I don’t want to be informed, but because I don’t want it’s depravity to leak into my everyday life. I can do this. I am incredibly privileged. Today alone I was able to make a thousand small decisions about how to spend my time, what to put in my body, I was able to hug my daughter on her final day of high school, pay her tuition to a top university and pour myself a glass of wine at 5 o’clock.

I lay down on the couch, turned on the AC (it’s muggy in my tropical bubble) and I purchased with a few keystrokes season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale. While season 1 was a fabulous retelling of one of my favorite Margaret Atwood novels, season 2 seems to echo a sad commentary about contemporary life. When I had first read the novel in high school it had been billed as a science-fiction dystopia, much like Orwell’s 1984, and we all know how far ‘big brother’ has come.

This morning however, I had read the news.  I had read about Sarah Sanders’ use of the bible to defend the actions of the Trump administration and Jeff Sessions’ separation of children from their families at the US border. The bible? Is this for real? As long as US government officials quote the bible, family rights, the rights of women and the rights of children are in jeopardy. I respect everyone’s right to religion but when we mistake religion for law, we condemn ourselves to intolerance and a cultural of homogeneity.

MSNBC reported that 2000 children have been separated from their families and are being held in ‘detention’ centers at the border- according to news reports many of these children are under the age of 4. If you are a parent and you have ever held your four-year-old’s hand, I hope you are so mad right now at the thought of a government official taking your child away from you and then justifying it with bible verses.

While there are a few story lines of children being separated by their mothers in The Handmaid’s Tale, it was the idea of children being held in an old Walmart that really made me feel ill. Contrast this with dozens of handmaids in an abandoned Fenway Park about to be hanged and read scripture about obedience and you begin to realize that rather than a science-fiction dystopia, The Handmaid’s Tale is a commentary on the sad and pathetic state of a government which is based on a strong nationalism, an extreme level of authoritarianism, corporatism, militarization and hostility towards liberalism. Fascism anyone?

Living, Mexico

Visiting Veracruz!

There are so many places to explore in Mexico that for this year’s holiday I am doing several small trips within the country. First stop was Veracruz! From Huatulco it was a hassle-free seven-hour drive to Veracruz City one of Mexico’s oldest ports and also the first stop for Spanish conquistadors back in 1519. While Oaxaca is culturally rich in pre-colonial traditions, Veracruz is culturally-rich in Spanish influenced delicacies. Located on the Gulf of Mexico with a picturesque seawall for walking the city and a population of a million, Veracruz is a thriving metropolis.

My Top 3 Veracruzana experiences were:

33608622_10160402135615243_3688387583022202880_nThese French pastries (vol-au-vent) are everywhere! Their name means ‘windblown’ because they are so light. Growing up in Montreal my mother would use them to make her special ‘Chicken a la King’- covering the pastries with creamy chicken and veggies. In Veracruz there are street vendors selling volovanes from carts and every Veracruzano seems familiar with the call of the volovan vendor. I had an incredible crab volovan in the town of Tlacotalpan- the perfect marriage of pastry and seafood! I also had a chicken mole volovan at the Jarrito de Oro- my favorite café for breakfast! Side note: in 1838 there was a conflict between Mexico and France that has been dubbed ‘The Pastry War’. The urban legend is that some Mexican officers damaged the pastry shop of a Frenchman near Mexico City and the French government demanded restitution for these damages. In reality the war was fought because French citizens living in Mexico during a prolonged period of strife had their investments ruined and the Mexican government refused any sort of reparations, but it also had to do with long-standing Mexican debt. After a few months of blockades and naval bombardments of the port of Veracruz, the war ended when Mexico agreed to compensate France.

 

  1. Casas de Tablas.

Veracruz is a mish-mash of architectural styles and times. Old concrete houses are being abandoned for newer high rises and gated communities leaving some areas of the city less than aesthetically pleasing. However, one of my favorite areas was ‘La Huaca’ with its echoes of Havana. Specifically, I loved the colorful wooden ‘casas de tablas’. These flat board houses that were located outside the protection of the city walls in the 17th century, were said to be built by slaves who had been brought from Africa with the wood of old ships that washed ashore. To get inside one of these houses go have dinner at Fussion restaurant. An evening at Fussion is a complete delight! From the conscientious decor to the innovative dishes and excellent wine selection.  I started with the shrimp and mole picaditas and the fig salad- both full of flavor. I loved the presentation of the black bean and lobster soup with cilantro oil. The venison salpicon paired well with bits of mango and avocado. For dessert there was a cake made with the traditional bread ‘marquesita’- similar to a biscotti. It was a perfect last bite of the evening. I highly recommend a dinner here!

https://www.facebook.com/fussion.restaurante.taller/

 

  1. Aquarium

A1_444.jpgVeracruz has the largest and most important aquarium in Latin-American. While there are the cringe-worthy attractions such as shark-feeding and dolphin shows, there is also a selection 30 species of fish that many of the visitors to the aquarium would not have the chance to see anywhere else such the tambaquias, arowanas, pacus, red-tailed catfish, jackknife fish, African cichlids and many others in a tank holding an impressive 562,117 cubic liters of water.

While animal rights activists may protest, the facility promotes the preservation of the marine ecosystems and the care of the environment. In addition, the aquarium is government-owned and provides an important economy to the city of Veracruz.

To get to Veracruz from Huatulco you can fly with a stopover in CDMX although the easiest is to go via bus or car.  Happy travels and thanks for reading!