28 June 2009

Dialog - Going and Coming

There is a famous movie in Mexico starring Pedro Infante and Luis Aguilar called "A.T.M.- A Toda Máquina" ("At full speed" or "Running flat out"). It came out in 1951 and it is one of the most beloved Mexican movies of all time along with its sequel "Que Te Ha Dado Es Mujer?" with Pedro Infante, Luis Aguilar, and Rosita Arenas. There is a line from "A Toda Máquina" that has entered the language as pop culture that you probably won't find in any textbook and so that's why it helps to watch old movies. You can rent them or you can buy them from Amazon. In this movie the two heroes live in a "vecindario" which is a big old house with a courtyard that is divided into smaller living quarters. It is like a little neighborhood within a neighborhood. This vecindario has a "portera" or doorkeeper (in this case a woman) who controls the comings and goings. The husband of the portera is a "milusos" or "jack-of-all-trades" and he has about seven jobs. He is always coming and going to change his clothes (or uniform) in between jobs. There is a famous exchange between the man and his wife that is repeated every time that he arrives and leaves and it goes like this:

Ya me voy vieja.
I'm going now old woman.
Adios viejo
Goodbye old man.
Ya vine vieja
I've returned old woman.
Qué bueno viejo.
That's good old man.

This exchange of phrases became a cultural icon and has been used ever since in one form or another especially by older generations.

Now let's join our favorite couple and see what today's "voy y vengo" is all about:

Voy y vengo, viejo.
I'm going and coming old man.

¿Adonde vas mi amor?
Where are you going my love?

Voy de pisa y corre a la tienda.
I'm just going to pop over to the store.

¿Para qué?
What for?

Voy a comprar un litro leche nada más. Necesito hacer gelatina para la fiesta mañana. No me tardo. Ahorita vengo.
I'm just going to buy a liter milk. I need to make jello for the party tomorrow. I won't be long. I'll be right back.

Bueno. Entonces cuídate mucho mi amor.
Okay, then be very careful my love.

OK Papi. No te preocupes. Bai-bai.
Okay sweetie, don't worry. Bye-bye.

(Una hora después)
(One hour later)

¡Ya vine viejo! ¡Ya me voy viejo!
I've returned old man! Now I'm going old man!

Oye, espérame tantito. ¿Que pasó? Me dijiste que tu no te ibas a tardar y estuviste más de una hora afuera de la casa. ¿Donde fuiste?
Hey, wait a minute. What happened? You told me that you weren't going to be long and you've been away from the house more than an hour. Where did you go?

Fui a la tienda como te dije pero ¿qué creas? Me encontré con mi amiga Mirna y ella habla por los codos de la política y cuando ella empieza a hablar, no hay quien la pare!
I went to the store like I told you but guess what. I ran into my friend Mirna and she talked and talked about the political situation and when she starts to talk no one can stop her.

¡Ay qué Mirna! ¿Ahora a donde vas?
Oh that Mirna! Now where are you going?

Voy un ratito a la casa de mis padres para recoger un molde para la gelatina. No me tardo.
I'm going for a little bit to my parent's house to pick up a mold for the jello. I won't be long.

Haz me un favor mi amor. No me importa si tardes o no pero quiero que regreses en buen tiempo para preparar mi comida, por favor.
Do me a favor, my love. I don't care if you are gone long or not but I want you to please return in time to make my dinner.

No te apures viejo. Todo estará bien.
Don't fret about it old man. Everything will be fine.


Voy y vengo - This is pronounced something like "Boy y BEHNG-oh" only it is pronouunced without aspirating the "b". Many English speakers are taught that the letter b" and the letter "v" are pronounced the same in Mexican Spanish. However, that is not true. When pronouncing the letter "b" in both Spanish and English the lips are closed and a little bit of air pressure is built up behing the lips and when the lips are opened there is a puff of air that accompanies the sound of the "b". With the English letter "v" the top of the bottom lip is curled back to touch the top teeth and a vibrating sound is made with the lips open. When pronouncing the Mexican Spansih "v" the same process is used as with the letter "b" except that the lips remain slightly open and there is no build up and subsequent release of air or in other words there is no big "puff" of air. In reality this is a very subtle difference but it is noticeable. Even so, when spelling things out, Mexican speakers will often differentiate between the "b" and the "v" by saying "beh grande" or "beh larga" for the letter "b" and by saying "u-veh" (oo-veh) or "veh corta" for the letter "v". Try practicing the English and Spanish b and v and take note of where your lips are in relation to each other and to your teeth.

Voy de pisa y corre - The phrase "de pisa y corre" mean the equivalent of the English "pop over to" or "just run over to" or "just duck into". It comes from the verb "pisar" to tread or to trample, and the verb "correr" to run. "Pisa y corre" is also used as a baseball term meaning "to tag up" or to run after a fly ball is caught".

Voy a comprar - The phrase "Voy a" + an infinitive is a very good construction for beginners to learn. It means "going to" as in "going to do something. If you use "voy a" without an infinitive it means that you are going somewhere as in "Voy a la tienda". If you are traveling to another place you use the reflexive form as in "Me voy a Morelia".

Ahorita vengo. - This phrase means "I'll be right back" but in Mexico it doesn't mean "I'll be right back for sure". Many times it is just used as a place holder and the actual time that elapses between going and coming back can vary quite a bit. In fact, in some cases it means that the person probably won't return. For example, if you are sitting next to someone at a party or a wedding and the conversation gets dull they may say, "Con permiso, ahorita vengo". They are begging your pardon to absent themselves for a moment as if they need to go to the bathroom or they saw a freind that they want to say hello to. In reality, they just want to leave you and don't want to say something awkward. Both parties understand what is happening and it is no big deal. It is just being polite. If someone really means that they will be right back for sure they will often say, "Ahoritita vengo". That means that they positiveley will return.

OK Papi. - The word "Papi (PAH-pee) is a form of Papá (father). It is a term of endearment used by both wives and children.

habla por los codos - When someone "habla por los codos" or "talks by the elbows" it means that they talk and talk non-stop.

23 June 2009

My friend Rodney

For those of you who are interested in learning Spanish or studying Spanish further to improve your speaking and comprehension abilities I would like to introduce you to my friend Rodney Prince. Rodney is a fellow Spanish student and he is also a good teacher. He has a blog called "My Spanish Notes" which I highly recommend. You can find it at: http://myspanishnotes.blogspot.com/

I would also like to re-introduce you to my friend Jeremy who has a blog called "Señor Jordan's Spanish Video Blog". Jeremy is not only a student of Spanish but he is also a professional Spanish teacher at the High School level. This guy really knows his stuff! You can find his blog at: http://srjordan.wordpress.com/

Another site that I would like to recommend is "Spanish Experts" at: http://spanishexperts.blogspot.com/

There is one more site that I recently came across that I think would be helpful called "Spanish Phrasal Verbs" that you can find at:

I really appreciate these people because I am always looking for ways to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and I always seem to pick up a thing or two from these blogs. Even if you are fairly fluent you will find that these blogs are a good review and food for thought.

Ahora, ¡Ponte a estudiar! (Now, get to studying!)

21 June 2009

Uriangato revisited...

Last September I posted a Spanish Dialog called "Shopping for Clothing" that was inspired by one of our semi-annual visits to the factory outlet clothing stores in the twin cities of Moreleón-Uriangato. Yesterday we went back to Uriangato to buy some clothing for my wife Gina for her birthday which happens to be June 24th, the feast day of San Juan Bautista. We had a wonderful time just like we always do on one of these trips. This time we took the new autopista which is a very scenic drive and it got us there quickly and safely and returned us home the same way. I brought my camera along because you never know what you might run into in Uriangato and this time was no exception.

The first thing that I noticed was a sign over a rack of children's socks that said, "Seven $5". You can see it in the pictures below. Here are some of the possibilities that I thought it meant:

1.) Perhaps it was a corrupted short form of "Se vende" which means "for sale", 5 pesos.

2.) Perhaps it was written in English and meant "Seven pair for five dollars" but that would be very rare indeed in Uriangato.

3.) Perhaps the people who wrote the sign thought that "5" is written "Seven" in English.

Then I saw another sign that said: Seven (Años) Pares - $ 1 - 5 10 - 4.8 100 - 4. I didn't know what to make of thas sign until I started examining the socks and discovered that the brand name for the socks was "SEVEN". The socks were grouped in a variety of sizes and then I figured out that the size was generally determined by the age of the child and so "años" or "years" determined what size sock would probably be required to fit the child. The numbers indicated the discount rate for volume of socks of the same "años". In other words, if you bought one pair the price was 5 pesos each but if you bought five pair of the same "años" the socks were only 4 pesos, 80 centavos each. "Ohhhh", I said to myself, "Now I get it". I think that one of the things that made it a little confusing was that the proprietors of the shop are Korean and speak "Spanglish". It was my odd Spanish lesson for the day.

After we walked a couple kilometers and Gina had bought what she wanted we arrived at the town center and I plopped myself down at a convenient coffee shop and ordered a "café americano bien cargado" (a strong cup of American style coffee) to recharge my batteries and Gina ordered a cappuccino. While we were sitting there I noticed some new sculptures in the "jardín" and so after we finished resting up we went over to check them out and take some photos. Then we noticed that there were some exhibit booths set up from the state of Michoacán and we went over to take a look. We encountered a delightful gentleman named Felipe de Jesús Horta Tera who is a well known regional mask carver from Tocuaro, Michoacán, near Pátzcuaro. We had a very nice chat with him and we also got to know his wife Elia who served us some wonderful sopa tarasca, corundas, and a beef soup/stew like dish called Churipo. The food was out of this world. We also met Raúl Díaz and his wife from Pátzcuaro and sampled some of his sweet delicacies. Check out the photos below. Click on pictures to enlarge.

17 June 2009

Dialog - The Rainstorm

I haven't posted a Spanish dialog in quite some time and so I decided that because the rainy season is almost upon us I would do a dialog about rain. Traditionally in Mexico the summer rains start about now and every year people worry that they won't come. The feast day of San Isidro Labrador (Saint Isadore the Farm Worker) is on May 15th and the farmers have finished preparing their land and sowing their crops and they look to San Isidro for help to kick off the rainy season. June 24th is the feast day for San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist) and in the old days in Mexico many people bathed completely only on that day of the year. Often times this was a ritual bathing because San Juan is the patron saint of water. If the rains don't come by The feast day of San Juan it is considered a bad omen indeed because St. John shares the distinction with Jesus and Mary of being the only three individuals whose birthday the Catholic Church celebrates in the liturgical calendar. The feast days of the other saints are the day of their death which is when we celebrate their entry into Heaven. Saint John's birthday also marks the exact halfway point in the year until Christmas. Therefore, if San Juan Bautista, with all those impressive credentials can't make a little rain, then we are all in a heap of trouble.

Now let's join our favorite couple and see what they have to say about rain:

Hola mi amor.
Hello my love.

Hola cariño. ¿Cómo fue tu día en la chamba?
Hello dear. How did your day go at work?

Poquito pesado pero ya pasó y aquí estoy.
A little hectic but now it's over with and here I am.

Que bueno, mi amor. ¿Parece que va a llover? Nuestro jardín está muy seco, le hace falta la lluvia y hace mucho calor. ¿Cuál es el pronóstico del tiempo?
That's great my love. Do you think it's going to rain? Our garden is very dry and lacks rain and it is very hot. What is the weather forecast?

No sé si va a llover o no, pero me siento muy incomodo. Hay bastante humedad y este calor abochorna como el infierno. No me gusta cómo se está poniendo el clima. Supongo que se debe al calentamiento global.
I don't know if it is going to rain or not but I very very uncomfortable. It is really humid and this heat is stifling like hell. I don't like what is happening to the climate. I suppose it is on account of global warming.

A mi tampoco me gusta tanto calor. Ojalá venga la lluvia antes el día de San Juan Bautista.
I don't like this hot either. I sure hope the rain gets here before the day of St. John the Baptist.

¿Por qué? Quieres bañarte? Ja Ja Ja
Why? Do you want to take a bath? Ha Ha Ha

¡Váya hombre! Oye, en este momento sentí una racha fresca.
Get out of here man! Hey, I just felt a cool gust of wind.

Déjame ver. ¡Mira! Hay unos nubarrones a la vista. Parece como que viene la llorona.
Let me see. Look! There are dark clouds on the horizon. It looks like the weeping one is coming.

Quizás va a ser un chubasco. Mejor vamos a mover el mueble del patio dentro de la cochera y cerrar las ventanas en la recamara.
Maybe there is going to be a rain storm. We better move the patio furniture inside the garage and close the bedroom windows.

Bueno. Voy para recoger el mueble y tu cierras las ventanas.
Okay. I will go fetch the furniture and you close the windows.

¡Ay! Relámpago...¡Ay Dios mio! Trueno. Me asustó. Tengo miedo.
Oh! Lightening..Oh my God! Thunder. It scared me. I am afraid.

No te apures mi amor. Córrale y cierra las ventanas. Es un aguacero.
Don't be concerned my love. Run and shut the windows. It's a thunderstorm.

Ya están cerradas las ventanas y que bueno por que ahora está lloviendo a cántaros.
The windows are all closed and it's a good thing because now it is raining pitchers.

Es más, está cayendo granizo.
Not only that but it is hailing.

¿Cuanto tiempo va a llover?
How long is it going to rain?

No mucho. Ya está en punto de pasar.
Not long. Already it is starting to let up.

(Pasan unos minutos)
(A few minutes pass)

¿Todavía está lloviendo?
Is it still raining?

Sí, pero nada más chipi chipi.
Yeah, but it's just drizzling.

Oh, espera, ahora puedo ver el sol.
Oh, wait, now I can see the sun.

¡Mira! Un arco iris.
Look! A rainbow.

¿Cuántos colores tiene el arco iris?
How many colors are there in a rainbow?

Creo que siete.
I believe there are seven.

¿Qué colores son?
What are the colors?

A ver. Son rojo, naranja, amarillo, verde, azul, añil, y violeta.
Let's see. They are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.


¿Correcto? Entonces dame un abrazo
Right? Then give me a hug.


La Llorona - The weeping one is an old legend that goes back hundreds of years in Latin America. There are many versions. The one common thread is that she is the spirit is of a doomed mother who drowned her children and now spends eternity searching for them in rivers and lakes. Sometimes when people see dark rain clouds on the horizon they will say, "Viene la llorona"...the weeping one is coming.

Está lloviendo a cántaros - It's raining pitchers. In English we ususally say "It's raining cats and dogs" but if you say in Spanish "Esta lloviendo gatos y perros" you will get some funny looks.

¿Todavía está lloviendo? - Is it still raining? - Sí, pero nada más chipi chipi. - Yeah, but it's just drizzling. - The prhase "chipi chipi" is an alternate form of "chispeando" or "sparking". People will also sometimes say things like "Los angelitos están regando" which means "The little angels are peeing".

Hey! Just as I was finishing up this dialog some dark clouds formed on the horizon and a storm unfolded exactly like in my dialog and I went to collect the patio furniture and my wife Gina ran to close the bedroom windows. Gee...do you think that I might have the power?

14 June 2009

Visions of Mexico

I enjoy blogging and I especially enjoy reading the blogs of other Americans and also Canadians who have come to Mexico to live. On one end of the spectrum there are the optimists and the"Pollyanna" types who generally tend to describe their experiences and the things that they see in wonderful and glowing terms. On the other end of the spectrum there are the pessimists and the grumblers who seem to take delight in knocking the very country and people who took them in and welcomed them to stay. In the middle are the people who are on some days zippity-doo-dah but on other days are itchy bitchy scratchy in their attitudes. The truth is that we really see only a shadow of Mexico as in Plato's belief that the material world as it seems to us is not the real world, but only a shadow of the real world. Everyone has an idea of what Mexico should be like and when reality doesn't quite meet our expectations it irritates us. The longer we stay and the more that we learn about the language and the culture the easier it gets to maintain an even keel but yet there is always something that we don't understand completely and we say, "Something should be done about it!".

Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately for everyone else, I am not much of a poet. If I were I would like to write a poem similar to that "The Blindmen and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe. In my poem the blind men would not go to see the elephant but rather they would go to Mexico and try to describe it. In a way the blogging community may have already collectively written this poem. The only problem is that ours doesn't rhyme.

The Blindmen and the Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe

It was six men of Hindustan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind)
That each by observation
Might satisfy the mind.

The first approached the Elephant
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl:
"Bless me, it seems the Elephant
Is very like a wall".

The second, feeling of his tusk,
Cried, "Ho! What have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear".

The third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Then boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake."

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong.

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

07 June 2009

Memories of OLG

June 9th on the liturgical calendar is the feast of "Nuestra Señora de Gracia" or "Our lady of Grace". This has particular significance for me because "Our Lady of Grace" is the name of the parish in the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up and attended grammar school from kindergarten through the eighth grade. In those days we usually called it "O.L.G." for short. When someone would ask us where we went to school we would just say "O.L.G.". Then when they asked us what "O.L.G." stands for we would very naughtily and irreverently say something like "Old Ladies Graveyard" or "Oranges, lemons, and Grapefruit". I just hope that God has a sense of humor and that these little attempts at frivolity didn't leave any indelible marks on our young and adventurous souls. The thing that makes this year's feast day memorable is that the parish is getting ready for the parish centennial in 2010. For me this is a time for reflection because I was in the eighth grade at O.L.G. during the fifty year Jubilee. I find it very hard to believe that fifty years have passed since that event. Somehow, a half century has gone by and I can't help but ask myself, "And what have I done with it?", or even better yet, "What haven't I done with it?".

The origin of the Blessed Virgin in the aspect of Our Lady of Grace is very interesting. It goes back to the early 13th century and two gentlemen named Dominic de Guzman and Giovanni Francesco Bernardone. We know them better today as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic. St Francis was born in 1182 and died in 1226. St. Dominic was born in 1171 and died in 1221. They were contemporaries and they actually knew each other. They met in Rome in 1215 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran which is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. They were there for the Fourth Lateran Council. They were both reformers at a time when the Catholic Church was in serious trouble and under attack by heresy and corruption from both within and without. It is said that they liked each other immediately even though they had very different styles. St Dominic was called to convert people by speaking to their will through their intelligence. It is clear that part of the Dominican mission is an intellectual work – the study and teaching of philosophy, theology, and apologetics. On the contrary, the role of Saint Francis was to move the will through a manifestation of zeal. The great conversions of the Franciscans came about through the consideration of the passion, poverty, and spirit of sacrifice of Our Lord. Their two different approaches complimented one another. A Catholic instructed in the philosophical and theological arguments of the Dominicans should also be touched by the energy and fervor of the Franciscans. In honor of the friendship between Dominic and Francis, a noble tradition has developed among their disciples. Dominicans and Franciscans celebrate the feasts of their founders together. Franciscans join Dominicans on August 8, and Dominicans join Franciscans on October 4. At the Mass of St. Dominic, a Franciscan preaches, and at the Mass of St. Francis a Dominican delivers the homily.

Both Saint Francis and St. Dominic believed in the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary both as a disciple of her son Jesus and as someone who was directly infused with God's grace. St Dominic in particular was a champion of the Blessed Virgin and in a vision that he had she told him to preach the "Psalter of Mary" which evolved into what we call today, the Holy Rosary. While non-Catholics see the Rosary as a mindless chant, what they don't understand is that the Rosary is a meditation on the lives of Jesus and Mary. It began as a recitation by early monks of 150 psalms that were divided into three groups of 50 psalms each. It evolved into a recitation of the prayer we call the "Hail Mary" 150 times broken into three groups of 50. Each ten "Hail Marys" in the circular part of the five decade Rosary beads represents a single mystery in the the story of the Gospel and each set of ten beads are interspersed with a single bead that marks the recitation of the prayer we call the "Our Father". The Rosary that you may have heard recited as prayers for a sick or dying person or at a funeral is generally only one third of a complete Rosary of 15 decades of beads.

Fast forward to 1830. On the night of July 18, 1830. Sister Catherine Labouré, a novice in the community of the Daughters of Charity in Paris received a vision of the Virgin Mary. The Blessed Virgin instructed her to have a medallion struck of Her image (see picture below). On the front of the medallion Mary is standing upon a globe, crushing the head of a serpent beneath her foot. Streaming from Mary's fingers were many rays of light. Mary explained that the rays symbolize the graces she obtains for those who ask for them. On the back of the medallion the twelve stars can refer to the Apostles, who represent the entire Church as it surrounds Mary. They also recall the vision of Saint John, writer of the Book of Revelation (12:1), in which “a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars.” The cross can symbolize Christ and our redemption, with the bar under the cross a sign of the earth. The “M” stands for Mary, and the interleaving of her initial and the cross shows Mary’s close involvement with Jesus and our world. In this we see Mary’s part in our salvation and her role as mother of the Church. The two hearts represent the love of Jesus and Mary for us. The Blessed Virgin told Catherine that blessings would be bestowed upon people who wore the medal in good faith There is no superstition, nothing of magic, connected with the Miraculous Medal. The Miraculous Medal is not a “good-luck charm”. Rather, it is a great testimony to faith and the power of trusting in prayer. If you recall the The "Marian Cross" on the Casket of Pope John Paul II and on his coat-of-arms you will recognize the markings on the medallion.

I have discovered that there are quite a few "Our Lady of Grace" parishes in the United States and many of them go back to around 1900 when there was a great influx of immigrants from Europe who would have been familiar with the Miraculous Medal and who wore one themselves. Many of these churches also had Dominican Nuns who taught in the parish schools just like the Our Lady of Grace School that I went to. It was a wonderful time for me and so I will always be thankful to the Dominican Sisters and their heavenly Mother and mine, Our Lady of Grace. Every year in May at the end of the school year we had a May Crowning when we crowned a statue of Our Lady with a crown of flowers. I can still hear the childrens' voices singing our favorite song which was "Bring Flowers of the Rarest" composed by Mary E. Walsh in 1871.

"Bring flow'rs of the fairest,
Bring flow'rs of
the rarest,
From garden and woodland

And hillside and vale;

Our full hearts are sw
Our glad voices telling

The praise of the loveliest

Rose of the vale.


O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen
of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,

Queen of the Angel
s, Queen of the May.

Our voices ascending,
In harmony blending,

Oh! Thus may our hearts turn

r Mother, to thee;
Oh! Thus shall we prove thee
How truly we love thee,
How dark without Mary

Life's journey would be." (Chorus)

04 June 2009

Do you Zote?

You have seen those lists before...the ones that are titled "You know when you have been in Mexico a long time if"... and then they go on to list a bunch of silly stuff. Well, I would like to add an item that really isn't so silly. When I got married a little over a year ago I first noticed that my wife Gina uses a pink bar of soap for washing her clothes as well as for bathing. She smells so good after bathing that one day I grabbed a bar of that soap and showered with it and I have been hooked ever since. It is called "Zote" (ZOE-teh) and it has been manufactured and sold in Mexico for about forty years. This is the soap that you see Mexican ladies use when they wash their clothes on a corrugated washboard or "tallador" (tabla de lavandera). It generally comes in a big bar of 400 grams and it comes in several colors, pink, blue, and white but the colors are just dyes and all three colors supposedly work the same. Here in Irapuato all we have is pink and white. I have never seen a blue bar so they must use that in some other regions of the country. The name "Zote" comes from the size of the bar. If you add the suffix "zote" to the word "jabón" (ha-BOHN) which means "soap", you get "jabonzote" or "big bar of soap" just like "favorzote" means "big favor".

There is method to this madness. Although Zote is a little stronger than generic bath soap it is still mild enough to be used by most people. It is made from from beef tallow and coconut oil that are neutralized with caustic soda during the soap making process. It also contains salt (sodium chloride), glycerin, oil of citronella, optical brightener and dye. It contains no abrasives. It is the oil of citronella that makes it smell a bit lemony but not overpowering. It is said that the oil of citronella also acts as a bug repellent but I am not so sure about that. I haven't repelled any bugs with it yet. For washing clothes, especially things like sweaters, delicate garments, and underwear, this stuff can't be beat. It works very well on tough to clean spots like shirt collars and cuffs and it can also be used as a spot remover. You dissolve half a bar in two quarts of water and boil it down into a paste. You then put the paste over the stubborn spot or stain and put it out in the sun to harden. Then you just lift off the paste and the stain will come with it. Save what you didn't use for the next time or use it in your washer.

This soap has other uses as well. It seems to be the "WD-40" and "duct tape" of the soap world. Some people also use it to wash dishes. They even say that the pink Zote makes excellent catfish bait. I don't intend to try fishing with it but I do intend to keep bathing with it at least until something falls off. Anyway, if you've never tried it you ought to give it shot. It comes in two sizes, 400 grams and 250 grams but most people just buy the 400 gram bar and cut it in half if they need to. When the bar becomes too small to grasp comfortably you save it and when you have a bunch of pieces like this you can dissolve them in water to make liquid soap. You can also use Zote in your washing machine by grating it. Clothes washed with Zote seem to stay fresh longer. You can really brighten dingy clothes by soaping them up and then putting them in the sun for awhile before rinsing them. Maybe we should have a contest to see how many things we can do with Zote. In any case I'll bet that the winner will come out squeaky clean.

02 June 2009

Church on the Hill

A few weeks ago I wrote an essay entitled "Kiosco Morisco" about a photograph taken by George P. Thresher in Mexico City around the year 1900. The photo is part of the Malcolm Lubliner collection. Mr. Lubliner is a prominent California photographer who has been very gracious to me. I try to reciprocate by researching George Thresher's photographs one at a time and describe what I believe they represent. I invite you to take a look and see the complete collection of Thresher's Mexico Photos and find out how Malcolm Lubliner acquired them. Mr. Lubliner will also be happy to oblige you if you would like to obtain large format prints of the photos for your own collection. If you are in San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico you can see some of the photos at Galeria Atotonilco. The photo that I am writing about today is entitled "Church on the Hill".

The setting for story of the photo "Church on the Hill" is the site of the famous Mexican shrine of "Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe" (Our Lady of Guadalupe), also called "La Virgen de Guadalupe". This shrine is a symbol of significant importance to Catholics, especially Mexican Catholics. The Virgin Mary as she appeared there has been given the title "Patroness of the Americas", and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world. The Blessed Virgin appeared on a hilltop called Tepeyac on the outskirts of Mexico City to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, a poor Indian, on December 9th, 10th and 12th, of the year 1531. She left a miraculous image of her appearance on his cactus fiber cloak, or "tilma", which still exists today for all to see in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is near the church that Thresher shows in his photo. As a matter of fact it looks like Mr. Thresher took his photograph from the roof of the Old Basilica. The church in the photograph is commonly called "La Capilla del Cerrito" in Spanish which means "The Chapel on the Little Hill". The tall item to the right of the church that looks like the mast and sails of a ship is exactly that only the sails are made of stone. It is known as "Las Velas del Marino" (The Sails of the Seafarer) and is sometimes just referred to as Las Velas de Piedra (The Stone Sails).

At the time the photo was taken there were seven main elements to the Guadalupe Shrine. The Capilla del Cerrito and Velas del Marino I have already mentioned. In addition there were the Basilica Antigua (Old Basilica), Convento de Capuchinas (Convent of Franciscan Nuns), Antigua Parroquia de Indios (Old Church of the Indians), Capilla del Pocito, and the Panteón (Cemetery). I won't go into detail about all of these items except to note that they are all part of the Virgen de Guadalupe pilgrimage experience. The Capilla del Cerrito was built on the spot where Juan Diego first saw the Virgin Mary. It was originally built in 1666 by a Mexico City baker named Cristóbal de Aguirre and his wife Teresa Pelegrina. It was just a small chapel and was rebuilt much larger in 1749. In the front and to the sides leading below you can see the path called "Súbida de Tepeyac" or "The going up to Tepeyac". Over the centuries millions of people have gone up this path on their knees. The façade of the second building was not finished until 1950 so there are some differences between the Chapel façade in Thresher's photo and the Chapel façade of today. You can see this in a comparison photo that I made below.

The thing that I find most fascinating about the Thresher photo is the Stone Sails. They were constructed at about the same time that the Capilla del Pocito (Chapel of the Little Well) was constructed in 1791. This structure covers the well where the Virgin caused water to spring forth. It will be the subject of my next Thresher photograph. The story surrounding the Stone Sails usually involves a lost mariner or mariners who prayed to the Virgin for safety on the storm tossed ocean and made a vow to carry their mast and foresail to Tepeyac as a votive to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Various travelers over the years have written about it and I have included here some of what they wrote.

The following excerpt is from a book written by Colonel Albert S. Evans published in 1873 by the Columbian Book Company and entitled "OUR SISTER REPUBLIC: A Gala Trip Through Tropical Mexico in 1869-70".

"From the church a winding pathway leads up the steep face of the rocky hill to the chapel on the summit where the Virgin first appeared to Juan Diego. Halfway up the hill is a curious structure of stone, plastered and whitewashed, which represents the sails, mast, and yard of a ship. In fact, the mast of a ship is said to really be built into the masonry. This was erected many years ago by a pious old Spanish rover, who in the hour of mortal peril on the Spanish Main vowed to the Virgin, that if she would enable him to tack, and prevent his galleon going on the rocks, he would do this in her honor; she did it; and he kept his word like a man and a Christian."

From "Travels in Mexico and Life Among the Mexicans" by Frederick A Ober published in 1884 by J. Dewing & Company:

"On the side of the hill, half-way to the chapel, is a monument in stone and mortar to one man's devotion, in the shape of the mast and sails of a ship. Caught at sea in a storm, a sailor vowed he would build a stone ship to the glory of the Virgin, if allowed to escape to land. Once safe ashore, either his funds or his piety failed him, since he got no farther than the foremast. And there it stands today, the only stone effigy in existence perhaps, of a ship, or part of one, of so large a size."

From "Mexico as I saw it" by Mrs. Alec Tweedie, published in London by Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1911:

"At the back of the principal church is a strange stairway, leading to the Chapel on the Hill (Capilla del Cerrito). This ascent is composed of very wide stone steps, of which there are some hundreds, that conduct from the Chapel of the Well containing the sacred water, at the bottom of the hill, to the small church on the top. It is up these steps that devout pilgrims crawl on their hands and knees. There are several little shrines in the walls; but the most curious object of all is the monument known as the Stone Sails. That sails should be composed of stone is indeed a paradox; but such is the case. They stand about 30 or 40 feet high, and are really three sails - one on top of the other - carved in solid stone. They are not particularly picturesque, but the position in which they are placed is so prominent that they can be seen for miles around. The story of these sails, which were a votive offering, is as follows:-
Some sailors, who were overtaken by a terrible storm, and on the verge of shipwreck, offered up a prayer to the Lady of Guadalupe for preservation. They vowed that if this miracle was vouchsafed, they would take the mast of their ship and set it up as a votive offering on the hill which is sacred to her memory. The ship and her crew were saved, and the men carried out their promise; but so miraculous was their escape that money was subscribed to erect something of a more lasting nature than a wooden mast, and accordingly these strange looking Stone Sails were put up in token of gratitude, and as evidence of the wonderful power of the Sacred Lady."

I have searched and searched for a record of who this sailor or sailors might be and then I found a book written by an Italian Franciscan Friar who journeyed to Mexico in 1761. The manuscript for this book was sitting in some obscure library until it was brought to light only recently and translated into English. It is entitled "Daily Life in Colonial Mexico - The Journey of Friar Ilarione da Bergamo 1761-1768 (University of Oklahoma Press). Here is an excerpt from Friar Bergamo's tale:

"The following day was set aside for fulfilling the vow we made during the tremendous storm. So all those from our ship who had gone ashore, including myself, readied themselves at the pier. From those remaining on board came the chaplain with the captain, pilot, and others carrying the foremast sail with them. We set out barefoot in a procession to the Church of the Divine Shepherdess, where mass was sung by the aforementioned chaplain. After the foresail was deposited, everyone went about their business."

The date would have been about right but the problem is that Friar Bergamo said nothing about carrying the foremast sail all the way to Tepeyac in the capital of New Spain. The Stone Sails became quite famous over the years and a model of them was included in the Mexican exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Here is an excerpt from "The Book of the Fair":

"Entering the Mexican section near the United States exhibit of vehicles, we are confronted with the typical horseman of our sister republic, with wide sombrero and mounted on a profusely caparisoned steed. Near by are specimens of saddlery and wagon work, both of skillful execution. In one of the corners is a replica of the so-called stone sails near the summit of the hill of Guadalupe, in the neighborhood of which stands the temple of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whither, as the legend runs, a party of shipwrecked sailors, in fulfillment of a vow, bore the foremast of their ship, planting the transformed emblem of their devotion where now it stands. Of this curiosity there is an exact reproduction by the Mexican National railroad, except that it is some twenty feet lower than the original."

I have my own theory about the Stone Sails. I believe it is a monument to “Stella Maris”, the “Star of the Sea”. This is an ancient title for the Blessed Virgin, used by seafarers and others associated with the sea. Just as seafarers have traditionally depended on the stars for navigation, so they trust in the protection and guidance of the Blessed Virgin. Pope John Paul II acknowledged the special needs of sailors and immigrants and wrote a "motu proprio" about Stella Maris. A motu proprio (Latin "on his own impulse") is an Apostolic letter issued by the Pope on his own initiative and personally signed by him. Here is an excerpt from that motu propio:

"'Star of the Sea' has long been the favorite title by which seafaring people have called on her in whose protection they have always trusted: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus Christ, her Son, accompanied his disciples in their boat, helped them in their labors and calmed the storms. Thus the Church also accompanies seamen, taking care of the specific spiritual needs of those who for various reasons live and work in the maritime world."

My theory is that many sailors brought votives in the form of sails and pieces of their ship to the Virgen de Guadalupe to give thanks for safe passage. They came from both Veracruz in the East and from Acapulco in the West where the Manila Galleons from the orient trade landed. There was a "land bridge from Acapulco to Veracruz and all of the gold and spices and other trade goods that crossed Mexico back and forth between both places would have passed right by Tepeyac starting about 1565. I think that the Stone Sails were erected by architect Francisco Antonio Guerrero y Torres and his volunteer masons at the same time the Chapel of the Well was built in 1791 in order to consolidate the various votives of the sailors into one great monument to Stella Maris. I am going to maintain that opinion until I encounter reliably documented information to the contrary.

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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.