Chapter 4

Monday, April 3, 2000

On Sunday March 5 we finally made it to a "Mariachi Mass" at the Cuernavaca Cathedral. The place was filled with people. The Mariachi music wasn't much. But the pomp and ceremony was pretty impressive. The service was led by Bishop don Luis Reynoso Cervantes, who was celebrating 50 years in the priesthood. He did not seem very robust. He has a reputation for extreme conservatism -- opposing those priests, for example, who allow indigenous elements in the liturgy. Liberation Theology and Bartolome de las Casas were all wrong, according to him. However the sermon we heard him give sounded more flexible than his reputation: the topic was "honor the Sabbath" but the whole point was the lesson that the Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath. Modern Pharisee sticking it to the Pharisees of old, I guess.

In the afternoon, we went with Maria and Pablo to Tepoztlan to participate in Carnaval. This is an old tradition for the weekend before Ash Wednesday (like Mardi Gras or Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, except that the Tepoztlanos start on Sunday in order to party for 3 days). The star attractions are the Chinelo dancers, who organize in societies so they can dance and play in pseudo-competition. But everyone gets in the act. Led by Maria, we forged our way through the mob to arrive in the Zocalo, where we joined the parade. Maria has been doing this since she was a child here in Morelos. With all the "tianguis" (stalls) selling food (including a special "nut" bread), trinkets, crafts, drinks, clothing, etc., the few tourists around probably thought this was all a non-authentic tourist trap event. But Maria assures us that it has been this way for 50 years, and it has nothing to do with tourists. However we were glad that we were there on Sunday afternoon, rather than that night or Monday or Tuesday, when everyone is too drunk to dance. I got some good video of the dancing. Actually it is called "brincando", "jumping", rather than dancing for good reason. I lost a lens hood, and counted myself unbelievably lucky not to lose my wallet or a camera or a lens.

The Math Department seminar that Crisanto and I proposed got rolling on Tuesday, March 7. I had in mind to give some demos and principles from some RPI courses, specifically Joe Ecker's Studio Calculus to start with. I asked Joe in an email message for pointers to materials available on the web. Instead he FedEx'd me a copy of his textbook -- Joe is never lacking in style. However the vagaries of Mexican procedure slow even the speediest FedEx delivery, so I didn't get the book until Tuesday. So on Tuesday I showed Bill Siegmann's Differential Equations course, to very positive reviews. We were able to actually view pieces of his video mini-lectures streamed via the web to my laptop computer in the seminar room. ˇOle! Thinking about further topics for this seminar, and hearing from the TEC folks that evaluation is a major concern, I was delighted to see a post from Harry Roy concerning his adaptation of some ideas from the physics folks, including use of the "Hake gain" measure, which seems more objective than course evaluation surveys. Harry pointed me to his online article, and then suggested that I get a copy of a Karen Cummings article. I wrote to Karen and was thoroughly ignored. So I asked the TEC library to get a copy of the 10-page article. They succeeded, but very slowly -- we had already discussed the paper in the seminar when the copy finally arrived. Meanwhile my skin was saved by Sharon Roy and Adrienne Birchler, at RPI, who dug up a pre-press copy and faxed it to me. With all the help from RPI (Joe, Sharon, Adrienne, and Bill Siegmann) the seminar perked along very successfully for several weeks.

We had a very nice dinner at the house of Marilu and Hector Casas, joined by Ricardo and Tita Fernandez del Busto. Hector and Marilu were students at RPI during the 80s. We gave them some of the RPI memorabilia we had brought along for such opportunities. It was a very jolly group, and we had a great time talking about movies, and Troy, New York, and hurricanes in St. Thomas, and other such adventures.

The Riveras (Pa and Myrthala) took us to Mexico City for the weekend. They had been trying for several weeks to arrange such a visit, and to take us to a theater or musical event. On Saturday evening, we went to the early (6pm) show at the Salon Los Angeles, an enormous and extremely popular (and very down-home) nightclub. There was a dance floor and a band, and the audience was seated at tiny tables so they could buy silly expensive snacks and drinks, but almost no one from the audience ventured to the dance floor. The reason for the crowds (we stood in line for an hour to get seats, although the Riveras had already bought tickets in advance) was the music/dance/drama/floor show entertainment, called "la Aventurera". That's like "Lady of the Night". The 9pm show was long since sold out. The cast featured 8 or 10 stars, playing key roles in the drama singing, and (some of them) dancing. Then there was a chorus of another 20 or so singers and dancers. The action occupied the dance floor, plus fragments of stages located here and there in the cavernous hall, perched in front of or behind clusters of audience. The drama began at 6:10 and ran until 9:00, without even a hint of a break at any point. They crammed an entire telenovela (soap opera) into 3 continuous hours, tossing in songs and production dance numbers just for overkill. We were exhausted when it was over. We were delighted to see Luis Felipe Tovar play a sinister gangster role (and die at the end). Lois recognized him instantly as the sidesplitting police Comandante Eleuterio "Elvis" Quijano from the movie "Todo el Poder". The principal star was Carmen Salinas, a short chubby matronly singer/comedian, who was also in "Todo el Poder" (and many other movies). She did a 20-minute monolog (well, with assistance from a "straight man" who was a marvelous transvestite) which was one joke after another. Each dirtier than the last. Lots of them political. The only ones we understood had to do with Clinton and sex. But the overall telenovela plot was easy to understand, as was the title character (abandoned by parents, seduced by gangster, whorehouse ingénue, graduating eventually to power-wielding Medusa), played by a famous and very sexy Cuban singer/dancer (whose name I never got).

On Sunday we finally got to visit Xochimilco (the famous "Floating Gardens") which is among the 3 or 4 "must see" tourist attractions of Mexico City. Pa had not been there for 30 years or so. He had a better time than he expected. Part of the fun was watching the boatmen, gondolier style, poling the "trajineras" full of parties around the lagoons. All very colorful and festive. At least 95% of the people in the boats were Mexicans, having parties. Including some weddings. Pa also had some fun calling me Cecil B DeMille (video at 11). We enjoyed the visit with Pa and Myrthala and our old friend Bertha Alicia, whom we hadn't seen for several years.

The TEC had pulled off a real coup by getting us a telephone line installed only 3 weeks after we got here. But then it took another month to get it turned on. We enjoyed it for 2 weeks, and then it got "suspended". Telmex claims they sent a bill, which hadn't been paid. After another month, during which a second bill arrived, and during which we put down a deposit with the TEC bursar against future telephone bills, the line finally started working again. Actually, we could receive calls during the suspension, but couldn't make them.

March 21st is the birthday of Benito Juarez. Since it fell on Tuesday this year, Monday and Tuesday were holidays. This created a four-day weekend, which in TEC parlance is a "Puente" (bridge). Pablo had a conference in New Orleans, and Maria joined him for the 4 day "bridge". So she lent us her car while she was away. That enabled us to drive to the ex-Hacienda Cortez (a fancy hotel) for a drink Friday night, and then to drive to the Xochicalco ruins and museum on Monday. We had already scheduled a trip for Saturday and Sunday, so the car got a rest. On Tuesday the plan was to visit Las Estacas, a water resort where you float down a "crystal clear" river in inner tubes or whatever. But Lois was suffering a nasty revenge of Moctezuma Tuesday so we rested along with the car.

On Saturday during the "Puente" the Riveras picked us up at 8:00am and we drove to Tlaxcala, passing right under the noses of the Sleeping Lady and Don Gregorio (Ixxtacihuatl and Popocatepetl, the spectacular volcanoes that loom over the valley of Mexico). They had originally said they didn't know anything about Tlaxcala and Puebla, when we expressed interest in visiting these unique cities. But then it turned out that an old friend of theirs from Cocoyoc, Joaquin Cisneros, issued an invitation. Pa had thought to call him just to ask for guidance about what to see. Instead, Joaquin invited us all to stay in his house in Tlaxcala. And he loaned us his majordomo, Rigoberto, to be our guide for the weekend. As it turns out, Joaquin has occupied many significant posts, including mayor of Tlaxcala. Having lost his race for Governor of Tlaxcala a couple of years ago, he is now running for a federal Senate seat from Tlaxcala. His father was Governor of Tlaxcala in the 50s, after which he was Chief of Staff for President Lopez Portillo. Aside from his occupation as lawyer, politician, and scion of the local PRI dynasty, Joaquin is also: an amateur architect (we have now seen 4 houses he designed), a painter, a toreador (well, not recently), and (according to the Riveras) a fabulous chef. Rigoberto got us off and running with a noontime stop at the Tlaxcala market, where we sat right down at the picnic tables with the rest of the locals and had a fabulous lunch of barbecue, fresh fruit, and beer and coke. Then we were off on the Cisneros house tour: 1) Los Molinos, the home of Joaquin's father, 2) a new house, under construction, on top of a hill with a fabulous view, 3) Joaquin's office in downtown Tlaxcala, 4) the Tlaxcala government house (with murals by Desiderio Xochitiotzin Hernandez), 5) the hotel San Francisco (created at Joaquin's initiative when he was minister of tourism for the state of Tlaxcala), 6) the cathedral and plaza de toros (where Joaquin practiced another art). The amazing proximity of the church and the plaza de toros produces the obvious claim that it's the only church with its own bullring (and vice versa). Tlaxcala is a delightful easy-going small town. To finish off the day, Rigoberto took us to Joaquin's present home (competed in 1994) on the outskirts of town. We had a visit later in the evening by Joaquin himself, along with his friend the architect Nico. Lois and I slept in Joaquin's bed, the Riveras in a guest room. Joaquin stayed downtown at his mother's house.

On Sunday, Rigoberto came by for us at 8:30 and drove us around all day, in the Rivera's car. First we went to Santa Ana, hoping to visit textile shops (sweaters, blankets, serapes). But all were closed that early on Sunday. Next to Cacaxtla, some nicely restored ruins from the classic period (~800 AD). Notable for polychrome murals still nicely visible. Next, on to Puebla, the city of the angels. Fourth largest city in Mexico. Circled the Zocalo many times trying to park. Finally we parked a few blocks away and strolled past some artisan markets. We visited the Cathedral where we were somewhat slowed down by Sunday mass in full swing. Then to the shopping street 5 de Mayo (closed to vehicles), and the impressive Capilla de San Rosario. And finally to Fonda Santa Clara for dinner. Then Rigo drove us to the autopista, where he launched us on our way home and he got out at the tollbooth to catch a bus back to Tlaxcala. Long drive home, with a detour near Chalco because we missed a turn twice.

On Monday, Lois and I set out at 8:00 for Xochicalco, in Maria's Ford Topaz. Took the old Acapulco highway and arrived with no problems at 9:20. Were told the museum and ruins open at 10am. Sat in shade and waited -- complained that we were trying to beat the sun. Paid our 25 pesos each plus 30 for the videocamera. Spent 10:15 to 11:30 on the pyramids and ruins. Fabulous. Spent 11:30 to 12:45 in the museum, which was also fabulous. Drove back towards town, stopping at Restaurant Los Limones for a very interesting holiday comida. We got there at 1:15, and had our pick of tables. By 3:00 when we left, there were no empty tables. Lots of families, including some with 15 or 20 people. Marimba players. No menu because you get lots of courses, effectively you get everything on the menu. I had 1 beer and 1 soda. Lois had 2 orange drinks. I had the (pork) taco course, and Lois didn't. Except for that, we ate the same thing -- pumpkin seeds, tortilla soup, seafood cocktail, fried trout, fruit. Then they brought meatballs and tortillas and we said "no, just the check". We went back into Cuernavaca, bought groceries at the Comercial Mexicana, and went home to rest. That night Lois got very sick. We don't know if it was the Los Limones food, or a delayed reaction from the Tlaxcala market. The fact that Pa and Myrthala were both sick Monday and Tuesday suggests Tlaxcala. I don't know how I escaped.