Saturday, March 7, 2009

Of Things Past and Present

This morning I spent wandering around the historic central city of Queretaro. It's a gorgeous, European-style city. Not surprising, since it was founded by the Spanish. Strolling down one side street, I came upon a handsome colonial building. Its 16-foot carved wooden doors stood open, exposing a sunlit inner courtyard with balconies. "What's this?," I wondered. The tile sign on the exterior told the story: in this house, the peace treaty with the United States was signed in 1848 ending the Mexican-American war (editor's note: and giving the U.S. about half of Mexico's former territory). Now that's stumbling on a big chunk of history!

This afternoon, I went to the oddly named Museum of the Restoration of the Republic. "What's this?," I wondered. Well, the building started out as a Carmelite convent. And, during the French Intervention, it was where--after the defeat of the Imperialist forces--Mexican Emperor Maximilian was held prisoner before being taken out to the Hill of Bells, just outside town, and executed. With the French ousted and Maximilian dead, the Mexican Republic was restored (under Benito Juarez). Interesting old documents and images of the major players of the day--Napoleon III, Empress Carlottta, Queen Victoria, the principal generals on both the Republican and Imperialist sides. But the place gave me the creeps. Those stone walls surely saw their share of tragedy. Some curator with a warped sense of humor strategically placed a mannequin dressed in a somber black nun's habit in a dark, unlit nook, just as you round the corner to go upstairs to the second level. You hear little startled cries from each visitor. Creepy.

As I'm writing this in the lobby of my hotel, I hear the drums and bugles of a marching band. Looking out the front door, throngs of people are lining the sidewalk on both sides of the town square. It's a parade! This one is students from a local school. Everyone (especially Mexicans) loves a parade.

Feeding my belly in addition to my mind, I found my favorite restaurant, "Los Candiles"on Benito Juarez Street. It's a family restaurant. The lady owner waited on me. In front, a cook hand makes tortillas TO ORDER. Wow! What a world of difference from store-bought! They're warm right off the grill and you can taste the corn. The cook takes a handful of dough (masa) in one hand, selects the perfect amount, rolls it into a ball, and places it on a tortilla press between two sheets of waxed paper. With a level, she squashes it into a perfectly round tortilla, a bit thicker than we're used to. Yesterday's lunch began with the best lentel soup I've ever tasted. Today's entree was a stewed lamb in green tomatillo sauce. And dessert, surprisingly, is always plain lime jello (no shredded carrots or pineapple chunks). But that's fine with me. I like lime jello. I grew up in the Midwest. We know jello.panish