Living, Mexico

Sad New World

 

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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!

Food, Living

My Chicago Top 3!

Just spent a chilly four days in the Windy City enjoying it’s diverse food options, walking along the river and strolling through world-class museums housing everything from miniature rooms that have inspired director Wes Anderson to George Seurat’s well-known A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Sadly, both the Garage Vintage Sale and the Cubs/Cardinals game I had gotten tickets for were postponed due to bad weather. I love heights and there is no shortage of ‘Bird’s Eye Views’ in Chicago- from riding the ferris wheel at Navy Pier to having a cocktail on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building. My Chicago Top 3 however are the experiences that most surprised me- things I didn’t know I would enjoy so much from reading a guide book and the experiences I would travel back to do again!

1. The Lincoln Hotel30962508_10160268303765243_1999029709_o

When I am planning a trip I often put off booking the hotel until the last minute as I seem to have a hard time committing to accommodations- even if it is just for one night. What if I am missing out on somewhere better?

I waffled a bit before settling on The Lincoln as the pictures showed a retro-style hotel that I was worried it would be just old. Plus, did I want to be in Lincoln Park? Despite my initial ambivalence I was thrilled with this hotel! The furnishings were retro-style but not old- just super fashionable. My room was more like a small apartment with a sitting room, two full bathrooms and three windows. One with a fabulous view of Lake Michigan and the others facing attractive city scenes. I luxuriated in the Citrus and Sandalwood Jonathon Adler toiletries in my spacious bubble bath.

The hotel also boosts many options for snacking. Elaine’s Coffee Call for your morning fix and The Kennison, an elegant restaurant where I had flavorful risotto made with carolina gold rice, preserved citrus artichoke and pecorino. If that wasn’t enough to make me love this place I decided to check out the rooftop bar, J.Parker (named after Lincoln’s bodyguard) where I was greeted by a crowd of fashionably dressed people enjoying elegant late-night cocktails. The Lincoln Hotel was much cooler than me- but it welcomed me with open arms and wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Chicago!

2. Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College30772012_10160268303870243_1652799066_o

This free museum was one of the highlights of my trip. Amazing photography beautiful curated to provoke thought and get your creative juices flowing. The exhibition I saw was In Their Own Form which illuminated the myriad ways blackness might hope to exist without the imposition of oppression, racism and stereotypes ever-present in Western cultures, mediated through Afro-futurist themes including time-travel and escapism.  Stunning!

3. Dinner at Everest30771494_10160268304115243_1736026688_o

OMG this meal made my top five meals of all time! It combined my love of heights and art- 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange-  and an original bronze statue by Ivo Soldini adorns each table instead of flowers. The service was anything but stuffy! From the hostess to the waiters, I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends when the meal was over. Some of the staff I had the pleasure of talking to have worked there for 15-20 years and, as a restaurant-owner myself, I know that this speaks volumes for the quality of the work ambiance.

Then the food… Pommery Brut champagne- crisp with hints of green apple, Maine lobster in butter and ginger, pasture milk-fed veal tenderloin, dessert was a plate with four different chocolate concoctions. The details were just as delicious- asparagus amuse-bouche, the bread was fabulous and some after dinner truffles to round out the meal were so good I thought I would cry.

Now to decide on where to go next!

Happy Travels and Adventurous Eating!

XO Jane

 

Living, Mexico

International Women’s Day 2018

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood

March 8th we will celebrate another International Women’s Day. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and has been observed since the early 1900s. So just how much have we accomplished in the past 100 years?

In 1920, women were granted the right to vote in the United States. In Canada, most provinces had granted the right to vote by 1922, with the exception of Québec, where women were denied the vote until 1940. First Nations women did not earn the right to vote until the 1960s. Today, despite the ‘right’ to vote, many women globally do not have a voice in the politics that affect their lives.

While we have seen more women in politics, corporate positions and earning potential- although women still earn less than men for the same work. There are still armies of women around the globe who are single mothers, carrying the emotional and financial burden for their families. Lack of access to education, birth control and healthcare often make it impossible for low-income women to change their situation.

While in the public sphere there has been a lot of legislation put in place globally to protect women, most women still live with the awareness of physical risk of being a woman. In Canada on average, every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner. Internationally, “the primary victims of human trafficking are women and girls, the majority of whom are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Traffickers primarily target women because they are disproportionately affected by poverty and discrimination, factors that impede their access to employment, educational opportunities and other resources” http://www.stopvaw.org.

But employment and wealth won’t necessarily protect women from the violent culture we have created, as evidenced by this year’s #metoo campaign.

So, while we are celebrating the past strides we have made, both men and women, to create a better and just world, let’s acknowledge how much still needs to be done and the rough road ahead.

See you next month,

Jane

Living, Mexico

Why I chose paradise!

I’m really quite simple. I plant flowers and watch them grow… I stay at home and watch the river flow.

George Harrison

JaneMost days I need to pinch myself. When I moved to Mexico over 20 years ago I didn’t have a well-defined plan, I just knew that the options facing me in Canada were not what I was looking for. I wanted things simpler and purer than working for a large company and counting down the days until I could retire.

When I arrived on the coast of Oaxaca it was like stepping back in time. At first, I lived in a small rural village with no telephone, intermittent electricity, and a million-dollar view of the Pacific Ocean. I spent my days learning Spanish by talking with village children and helping out in the kitchen of every woman I met—asking questions about the way they cooked and learning about the ingredients.

Eventually, I moved an hour down the coast to the tranquil resort area of Huatulco. Huatulco is an eco-minded and vibrant community with pristine ocean water, 36 beaches, lush public gardens, private schools (I have a 17-year-old daughter), medical services, and a wonderful mix of locals and foreigners that all get involved in community outreach—from organizing spay and neuter clinics for stray animals to building elementary schools in rural villages.

In 2008, I opened my restaurant, Café Juanita. I used my experience and knowledge of local ingredients and cuisine to put together a menu that I hoped would appeal to both locals and tourists. I hired a wonderful staff and trained them in the type of service I wanted to offer: casual, friendly, and welcoming. Almost 10 years later, I still have the same staff, and I believe our focus on teamwork is the secret to our success. Having my own business has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I love exploring different marketing ideas, meeting my customers, working with vendors, and continually learning about Oaxacan foods and traditions.

Doing business in Mexico is not without its difficulties, but I have found that the infrastructure in terms of permits and regulations very much supports and encourages small business owners.

Every morning I am excited to go to work. The village lifestyle from my early days in Mexico taught me so much about quality of life: time spent with family, slowing down, and acting as part of a community. Mexican culture is very welcoming and the people of Oaxaca are generous with their time and knowledge. When you walk down the street in Huatulco, strangers will smile and say, “Good morning,” and someone is always ready to lend a helping hand. Through the success of my businesses, I have had the opportunity to start a scholarship program which encourages teenage girls to continue their education. It is this ability to give back that makes coming to work even more meaningful.

I stand in my restaurant, glass of wine in hand, looking out at the Pacific Ocean and marvel at the vibrant pinks and oranges of the sky as the sun begins to set. I pinch myself to see if all this is real. It is.

Living

Countdown- 10 things to make you happier in 2018

#10 Introduce yourself to your neighbor
When a political speech by some hopeful candidate is televised I have this secret fantasy that one of the candidates will tell everyone to step away from their TVs and go introduce themselves to their neighbor. Technology promised us connection, but the truth is the majority of us are living more isolated than ever. Get up from your computer, phone whatever and go introduce yourself to your neighbor. It’s easy. It’s even easier if you have a holiday gift- maybe a jar of jam from the local farmer’s market or some freshly baked cookies. Let them know that you are available if they ever need anything and exchange phone numbers for emergencies.

#9 Stop buying shit you don’t need

This may seem like a ridiculous thing to suggest just days before the biggest gift-giving day of the year. However, who do you really need to buy for and do they really need more shit from China? Re-gift. Give away something you already own like a book you finished reading and a note about why you think the receiver will like it. Paint a picture, write a poem, sing a song or make a donation in their name.

#8 Stop eating corporate

Sanjayan, a global conservation scientist, said in an interview with Tim Feriss that people are always asking him the one thing they can do to change the world. He said ‘change what you eat.’ Stop eating crappy fast food! If you don’t cook and need some quick energy, familiarize yourself with local coffee shops and restaurants. Call ahead for your ‘to go’ orders. Corporate food is mass-produced and highly processed.

#7 Don’t renew your gym membership

Going to the gym is a largely modern phenomenon. In the past people didn’t live such sedentary lives so they didn’t have all this extra energy leftover at the end of the day. Unless you are a body builder or in training for a specific goal, going to a gym is the ultimate waste of time. There are other ways to break a sweat and get your heartrate up. What if you walked to the grocery store or biked to the library? Running is free. Join a team. Take the money you save from not renewing your gym membership and invite your neighbor to a local restaurant.

#6 Put down your phone

Don’t check your messages the first hour of your day. Turn off social media notifications- you don’t really need to know when some guy from high school likes one of your photos.

#5 Get rid of 5 things everyday

This will feel great! Go through your closet, your cupboards, and your bookshelves. If you don’t love it, if you aren’t using it, get rid of it. Give it away, repurpose it or throw it away! Embrace minimalism. Less baggage opens up space for new stuff and new thoughts.

#4 Read a book instead of the news

We are living in a time when being informed is highly praised, however it is not urgent that you know about every horrible thing happening around the globe.

#3 Unfriend people who aren’t really your friends

Facebook friends aren’t really your friends. I would suggest getting off Facebook entirely but I know many of you, like me, use the Face for your business. However, your personal page should be personal. My top 3 criteria for this elimination is the following:

1. Do I actually know you? If not, unfriend.

2. Do I like you? If not, unfriend.

3. If I saw you on the street would I say hi? If not, unfriend.

#2 Walk or take public transportation

You will save a lot of money if you do this. Plus, you will get more exercise- probably lose weight. Public transportation is awesome! You can read on the bus, listen to podcasts and make your own lists like this one.

#1 Talk to strangers

Greet shopkeepers, bus drivers and baristas with a genuine ‘good morning.’ You will ooze good vibes. My personal cure for a bad mood is to take a walk and smile at every person I pass. Happiness is contagious, joy is contagious- if you want it, you need to spread it!

Living

Tits Up

A few days ago I posted a collection of photos on my personal Facebook page titled ‘Houston Food and Art – a perfect weekend getaway!’ A few hours later I received a notification that one of the photos ‘violated the Facebook Community Standards’ which has rules on nudity, sexual and violent content.

The photo is of a sculpture by Australian artist, Ron Mueck, that is on exhibition at the Houston Fine Arts Museum. ‘Mother and Child’ depicts a newborn on its mother’s belly- and yes, there is a breast!

Facebook led me through a series of hoops, chastising me for posting the photo and essentially making me agree to be more careful before allowing me to access the rest of my account. At the end of the process I was asked to rate my experience and I expressed my distaste for this censorship – sadly I have not received a response, nor has the photo been restored.

Since then, I have heard about Facebook removing several photos of women breastfeeding. It’s 2017- breasts are EVERYWHERE and usually portrayed in an unrealistic and sexualized way. How is it we have created a culture in which posed sexualized photos are deemed ok, but photos of real women are considered offensive? I typed ‘boobs’ into my Facebook search and got a plethora of highly-sexualized images of topless women. There are even several pages devoted to the subject and all the photos privacy settings are public.

It is tempting to go into a rant regarding FBs guidelines however the real issue here is that if Facebook is a platform which is based on user content and these images are being removed- what does that say about the values and morality of the users? Plus, Facebook has the feature that if someone is offended by something I post they can opt not to see my stuff in the future- so if you are the person who ‘reported’ this photo, please feel free to unfollow me.

From an art perspective, one could even use Magritte’s argument and say that ‘Ceci n’est pas un sein’ (This is not a breast)- it is the representation of a breast made out of acrylic, fiberglass and silicone.  And while the museum offered a warning of nudity and graphic images at the entrance to the exhibition, I saw several children there with their parents.  I think good art should make you feel  and do you know what I felt as I saw the detailed and raw depictions of the human bodies in this exhibition? I felt inspired and good about my own human body. The sculptures are a far healthier portrayal than the images that come at us everyday from the culture we usually digest; advertising,  porn, movies and television. Personally, I am exhausted by the false-perfection we have been dishing up as a culture.

imageThe Ron Mueck sculpture ‘mother and child’ depicts the most basic of human experiences; the moment of birth. If you’re reading this- you’ve been there! How can something depicting this universal and authentic experience be censored? It’s been over 25 years since Demi Moore bravely graced the cover of Vanity Fair magazine when she was seven months pregnant.  It was a bold move for a Hollywood star considering they weren’t even allowed to use the word ‘pregnant’ in ‘I Love Lucy’ in the 1950s.

How far have we really evolved?