Chapter 5

April 5, 2000

Lois really enjoys her repujado (repousse) class, both because she has been able to make some beautiful things and because she has another friend there: the teacher, Eva Ortega. Eva creates a nice camaraderie among the class, and she knows how to help everyone do the best they can with the artwork. Her attention to detail is prodigious. Last week Eva visited us for coffee on Wednesday evening, and this week (March 22) she and her husband took us out for dinner after visiting her house for a drink. We took along the computer-slide-show to show them some of the many pictures of places we've been around Cuernavaca. Also showed them pictures of our house and garden, and even a little Realvideo clip of Lois's drum group, playing at the Albany Barnes and Noble last year.

Imelda Hernandez teaches a course in production design in the department of communications. The students learn how to produce publications, using tools like PageMaker, Photoshop, Corel Draw, etc. She invited me to teach some things about digital photography in one session (90 minutes) of this class. I think a few other communications students came to this session as well, since there were about 15 students present but there are only 10 in the class. I had prepared slides in Dreamweaver and demonstrated both the Olympus 2020Z and several Photoshop and ThumbsPlus features. We connected my laptop to a large monitor, which allowed me to show the slides, but the quality wasn't great. There were lots of questions, and no one fell asleep as far as I could tell. This was my second full presentation in Spanish. I was sufficiently exhausted afterward that I had a cold by nightfall.

We had a brush with another frightening insect-carried tropical disease. Our neighbor Carmen, who is now a good friend of Lois's, was panicked about her 7-year-old daughter Laura, who was apparently bitten by a chinche hocicon, which is known to carry Chagas Disease. The bacteria live mostly in armadillos and other mammals, and then are picked up by the bugs, which suck blood like mosquitoes do. When they bite humans, the bacteria can be transmitted. The disease causes damage to various organs, and if it is not successfully treated during the acute phase, it goes into a chronic phase which has no treatment and which often causes heart damage. Statistically, victims of Chagas Disease live 8 to 10 years less than they would have without it. We tried to help Carmen by gathering information on the internet and giving her printed copies. The blood test takes 4 weeks to complete, so we're all still waiting anxiously to see if Laura's bite carried the bacteria. Chagas disease is widespread from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, and a couple of cases have been seen in New Mexico, USA.

Our friend Marisa Cabrera invited us to go with her family on Saturday (March 25) to climb from Tepoztlan to the Templo Tepozteco, a famous prehispanic site perched on top of a mountain overlooking the Tepoztlan valley. Her two daughters, Melisa and Marisa, have been campaigning to make the climb. It is famous in these parts as a challenging climb, but one that the whole family can make together if they are determined. It turned out to be a great success for all the women: Lois and Marisa and the girls went, conquered the mountain quite rapidly, and greatly enjoyed the experience. I spent the day in bed nursing my cold and reading. Marisa's husband had recently broken an arm playing basketball, so he stayed home as well. Lois got some very nice pictures, which are on the website.

The next day I was feeling much better. We had snapped up tickets offered a couple of weeks ago by the campus cultural affairs department for The Phantom of the Opera, which is running at the Teatro Alameda in Mexico City. The package was very attractive -- reduced price tickets and they threw in a bus ride from the campus here in Cuernavaca into the city, directly to the theater. The tickets sold out in one day. As usual with luxury buses in Mexico, there was a movie going and another one returning. We never seem to remember to take our earplugs, so the movies -- always in English, always "Action" films full of violence and suspense -- are so obtrusive that it is almost impossible to ignore them. In this instance we suffered through "Ransom" with Mel Gibson and "The Game" with Michael Douglas. It was all worth it, though, because El Fantasma de la Opera was fabulous. The broad strokes of opera (I consider Webber's "musicals" operas) are well suited to appreciation in a foreign language. No problematic subtle repartee to muddle our enjoyment. Good (not great) music, terrific singers and actors, and of course absolutely spectacular staging. We were captivated by the underworld scenes where a lake magically appears on the stage for the Phantom to cross in a boat.

Dr. Ricardo Fernández del Busto and I discussed some ideas for a possible joint article, comparing and contrasting educational innovations at RPI and the TEC. I attended another one of Marisa Cabrera's classes in Introduction to Computing, and completed the elaborate "Observation" form provided by the TEC Rediseño procedures. I reviewed the design and use of the Learning Space implementation of this course, as part of the "Observation" process (59 questions!!). I gave Marisa both verbal and written reports on my observations. Meanwhile, Marisa heard of an opportunity for a "young researcher" award to travel to the USA for study and research. We talked over the request for proposals from the Mexican Academy of Science. I contacted Brad Lister of RPI and recommended Marisa, to which he responded instantly with a very gracious invitation for her to visit this summer to work on projects in the Center for Innovation in Undergraduate Education.

Bill Jennings and Kim Scalzo, my friends in the RPI Professional and Distance Education group, had been encouraging me to visit one of the General Motors Technical Education sites in Mexico to see an RPI distance education class from the other end of the tunnel. (See how the world is now upside down? Tunnels now go through the sky via satellites.) The only site that is reasonably close by is Mexico City. I began a complicated process of communicating with the GM people, and plans are now in place (sort of) for me to visit this Friday, April 7. The process was confused by: (a) the GM site is moving from one building to another right now -- with accompanying changes in phone numbers, (b) misunderstandings about telephone numbers -- I'll never again take for granted the simple convenience of logical consistent protocols (3 digit area code + 7 digit phone number), (c) intermittent internet outages, (d) slight variations in email addresses, and (e) the general vague Mexican sense that nothing is urgent and most things will eventually happen somehow sooner or later and if they don't it wasn't that important anyway.

Our friend Maria Gonzalez showed me a proposal she and several colleagues here had submitted to Telmex for a grant to produce an online interactive calculus text, tailored in Spanish for students like those here at the TEC. On Friday, March 31, she got the exciting news that the proposal was accepted. This will be great for her and the team -- they will get some release time from the heavy course load to work on this engaging project. Telmex is amazingly good for something. Not for telephone service, though. Our telephone mysteriously suspended itself again.

Lois has enjoyed considerable success working intensively with Crisanto Castillo on his English. He has signed up for a month-long Collaborative Learning course at the University of British Columbia for this summer. In order to be allowed to attend, he must receive a satisfactory score on the TOEFL exam. Lois has studied the materials and has been astounded at the difficulty of the exam. Some of the questions ask you to find the error in a sentence that any native speaker other than a high school English teacher would consider perfectly correct. Example: "Juan is faster than anyone in the school right now." Which is the error: (a) faster, (b) anyone, (c) in the (d) right now ? Well, Lois and Crisanto are becoming grammatical experts.

On Saturday night (April 1), Maria and Pablo took us (along with Rocio and her husband) to one of the many Cuernavaca nightclubs for dancing. We had talked for some weeks about going dancing, and finally we did it. The two live bands started playing at 10pm, alternating sets with interspersed recorded music. The bands were pretty awful - the first one played nothing but one song over and over (well, they probably thought they were each different, but the differences were too subtle to notice) and the second one might possibly have been using some recorded music with lip-syncing. We got the advice to get right out there and start dancing the instant the music started (at 10pm), so we danced a few numbers with enough space available to dance for real. After 20 minutes or so, the floor was so full that it was impossible to do anything but wiggle in time with the music. It stayed that way until we left at about midnight.

On Sunday we advanced our clocks and got on a bus to Oaxtepec. We walked the 2 km to the Rivera's house in Cocoyoc (the plan was for the bus to let us off right there, but we were on the express rather than the local so we walked). We had a nice visit and a very pleasant day with the Riveras. Visited Cuautla, and then went shopping in Tlayacapan where we bought a pottery sun -- with the sun eating a watermelon moon. Had paella, nopales with chiles pobalanos, beans and carrots, and corn with chiles. Mango ice cream. Major feast. Preceded by a delicious melon drink with vodka. Listened to several CDs, including "Piruli" (Victor Iturbe), Count Basie, Pancho Sanchez, and (!!) Keith Jarrett's newest, "The Melody At Night, With You". Fabulous "Shenandoah": tears in my mango ice cream. I ate so much that I had to sleep a half hour before I could move. Then we walked around the golf course, and the Riveras brought us home.