30 September 2008

Fútbol Champions

On Sunday afternoon my wife Gina and I went to the Irapuato Unidad Deportiva Norte (City of Irapuato North Municipal Sports Complex) to “echar porras” for our favorite fútbol (soccer) team. The phrase “echar porras” means to cheer your team. The word “echar” literaly means “to throw” and if you look up the word “porras” in your Spanish/English dictionary you will find it has several meanings but here where I live in Mexico when it is combined with the verb “echar” it means “to throw cheers”. The team is comprised of employees of the company that I work for which is called “Talleres de Equipo Rodante del Bajío, S.A.” and which we call TERBSA for short (for obvious reasons). Therefore, our team is also called “TERBSA”. Here is a typical cheer:

A la bia, a la bao, a la bin-bon-ba
(ah lah BEE-ah, a lah BAOW, ah lah BEAN-BOHN-BAH)
TERBSA, TERBSA, ra, ra ra.
(TEHRB-suh, TEHRB-suh, rah, rah, rah.)

On the 13th of April our team played the first game of the season on a dirt field in a little rancho community on the outskirts of town called “Rancho San Antonio El Chico”. We won that game 2 to 1. We also won this last game which was for the division cup championship (Torneo de Copa Campeon) but it was a cliffhanger. It ended in a tie score 2-2 but we won in penalty kicks by blocking the last free kick of our opponent. Our goalie saved the day and the guys carried him off the field on their shoulders. Our head coach, Marco Solis Iturriaga is also our company accountant and he was a nervous wreck before it was all over. After the game it took nearly a half dozen cold beers to calm him down. Our team plays in the “Liga Irapuatense De Futbol Amateur, A.C. (L.I.F.A.), 2nd Fuerza “D”. There are many levels of amatuer fútbol because in Mexico fútbol is more than a game...it is a way of life. Little kids start playing fútbol right after they take their first steps (but not before they take their first swing at a piñata).

My wife Gina is a big fútbol fan but I must confess that I am not a big aficionado. For all the time I have spent here I still don't really understand the game. To me a game of fútbol looks like a series of completely random acts. I bought a book called “Soccer for Dummies” or something like that to see if it would help but all it did was to confuse me all the more. I just go to the games to have a good time and “echar porras” and yell GOALLLLLLL like a maniac whenever my team scores. In the pictures below you can see how bedraggled our team looked at the beginning of the season and how much better they look now after becoming champions. You can also see by the picture of the “gradas” that there weren't many people in the stands. The word “gradas” means “big steps” or “terraces” and that is the word that the people use for what we would call “the stands” or “the bleachers” in English. Since it was a warm day most of the fans preferred to sit in the shade under the trees that ringed the field.

As long as I am talking about fútbol and Spanish vocabulary I think I ought to clue you in on a phrase that you might hear if you go to a big Mexican fútbol stadium. In a post that I wrote entitled “Supermarket Parking Lot” I wrote about using the word “aguas” (waters) to mean danger. There is another way to use “agua” (water) in the singular form to mean a certain kind of danger but it is not very pretty. Sometimes in a big fútbol stadium and especially when there is a big rivalry between the teams the atmosphere can get very heated and the fans quite inebriated. If someone is standing up to cheer all the time and the people behind them can't see the field they will shout “¡Ahí viene el agua!” Which means “Here comes the water”. That means that if you don't sit down they will urinate into their empty beer cups and throw it down on you. The moral of the story is that if you ever hear someone yell “¡Ahí viene el agua!” you better look around to make sure that they aren't yelling at you, and if they are...for goodness sake sit down!

28 September 2008

Mole Festival of Guanajuato

On Saturday afternoon my wife Gina and I took in the mole festival at the Plaza San Fernando in the beautiful city of Guanajuato which is only about twenty five miles from where we live in Irapuato. Mole (pronounced MOH- lay) is probably the most popular but least understood of Mexico's regional sauces. There are several kinds of mole sauces and they even come in different colors. The most famous mole is “Mole Poblano” from the city of Puebla. There is a widely accepted story that Sister Andrea de la Asunción of the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla created it for the first time in honor of a visit by the archbishop sometime during the late sixteen hundreds. She served it over turkey and the dish is popularly known as “Mole Poblano de Guajalote” (MOH- lay pohb-LAHN-oh day gwah-hah-LOH-tay). By the way, the archbishop was pleased and rewarded her with a brand new white tiled kitchen and you can still see this kitchen if you visit the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla. It is a fabulous kitchen and any good cook would feel right at home in it to this very day.

I must confess that I am not a big fan of mole. Perhaps it is because I have eaten so much of it and a lot of it was...well, let's just say that it wasn't all that good. It seems like every affair that I go to serves chicken with mole sauce, rice, and refried beans. This takes into account weddings, birthday bashes, baptism parties, etcetera. During periods when there are a lot of celebrations it seems like I have mole sauce running in my veins. It is very difficult to make good mole from scratch. You need up to forty ingredients to make an authentic mole and most people just don't have the time, the expertise, and access to the proper ingredients. Instead, they buy mole paste in the market and reconstitute it with chicken stock. Finding the good mole paste is the trick. If you don't start out with a good paste you will end up with a dark brown gravy that tastes like burnt chocolate and chiles. In Guanajuato there is a lady who makes wonderful mole paste. Her name is María Isabel L. De Bonilla and she has been making mole the traditional way by grinding the ingredients on a stone called a “matate” (mah-TAH-tay) for about fifty years. Many of the best restaurants in the area use mole made by Doña María Isabel. She was honored at this festival for making the best mole in the state of Guanajuato.

My wife Gina is an excellent cook and she was very interested in this festival because it gave her a chance to sample mole dishes from many different restaurants in our area. I had a good time also but for a different reason. We paid two hundred pesos to get in and that gave us access to all the food that we could eat and all the beer and wine that we could drink. How can you beat a deal like that? We were there for just a little while when to our surprise the Estudiantina Guanajuato entered the big tent to entertain us. They are an ensemble of students and faculty from the University of Guanajuato and they dress in old Spanish period attire and play various stringed instruments ranging from guitar and mandolin to base violin. They put on a great show and many of the people (including yours truly) sang right along with them. There was a tour group there from the Principality of Asturias which is an autonomous community within the kingdom of Spain. They were having a wonderful time but unfortunately, in the middle of the performance, their tour bus driver came and said that it was time for them to go. They all broke into a serenade about saying goodbye and as they filed out while singing a beautiful farewell they waved goodbye to us and we did the same to them. It brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat and I guess you might call it one of those wonderful international moments of Zen. All in all it was a fantastic way to pass a Saturday afternoon. Life in Mexico doesn't get much better than this.

24 September 2008

Dialog - Moctezuma’s Revenge

In today's dialog we have a couple of guys who are co-workers at a local manufacturing plant and they are setting out together to visit another plant in a distant city but one of them has a little problem. Let's listen in and see what it is:

¡Bip! ¡Bip! ¡Biiiiiip! (Ruido de un claxon)

¡Beep! ¡Beep! ¡Beeeeeep! (Sound of a car horn)

¡Ya vengo!
I´m coming already!

¡Biiiiiip! (Ruido de un claxon de nuevo)
¡BEEEEEP! (Sound of a car horn again)


(Ruido de una puerta de un carrro abriendo y cerrando)
(Sound of a car door opening and closing)

Buenos días amigo. ¿Ya listo?
Good morning my friend. Are you all set to go?

Más o menos.
(More or less)

¿Cómo amaneciste?
How are you this morning?

No muy bien.
Not very well.

¿Por qué? ¿Qué pasó?
Why? What happened?

Tengo chorrillo.
I've got the runs.

¡No me digas! ¿Fue la comida de anoche?
No, don't tell me! Was it the food last night?

Pienso que no. Fue la quesadilla que comí en la calle ayer. Ahora estoy pagando doble.
I don't think so. I´ll bet it was the quesadilla that I ate in the street yesterday. Now I am paying double.

Pobrecito. Entonces, no vamos a almorzar hasta que tu te sientas mejor. ¿Okay?
Poor thing. Then let's not eat breakfast until you feel better, okay?

¡Oye! Hay una gasolinera a la derecha. Párate porfa.
Hey! There is a gas station there on the right. Stop please.

¿Para qué? Ya tenemos gasolina.
Why? We already have gasoline.

No me preguntas eso. Ya tu sabes. ¡Párate! ¡PÁRATE!
Don't ask me why. You already know why. Stop! STOP!

Note: I have some additional comments:

¡Bip! ¡Bip! - The letter "i" in the Spanish "Bip" takes the place of the double letter "e" in the English "Beep". There is also a restaurant chain here in Mexico that is owned by Walmart called V.I.P.'s. The first time someone said "Let's go to V.I.P.'s I thought they said "Let's go to Beep's". It wasn't until we arrived at the restaurant that I understood what happened. The Spanish letters "b" and "v" are very similar in pronunciation. Some people will even tell you that they are pronounced exactly the same way but that just isn't so. The letter "b" is more aspirated (bigger puff of air) in both languages and the tongue doesn't touch the teeth. With the English "v" the upper front teeth touch the curled inward bottom lip and with the Spanish "v" the teeth don't touch the lip nor is it aspirated much. Even so, when spelling out things you will sometimes hear a Spanish speaker differentiate between "b" and "v" by calling the former "b grande" and the latter "v corta" or "uv" (oo-vey) meaning the letter that looks like the letter "u".

¿Cómo amaneciste? - I translated this as "How are you this morning?" but it literally means "How did you dawn your day?". I like to answer this by saying "vivito y coleando" or "alive and tail wagging". Other people might answer by saying "acostado y en ayunas" which means "lying down and fasting" because the minute they opened their eyes they were still lying down and hadn't yet had their breakfast.

Tengo chorrillo - This is the "good old boy" way of saying the more polite "Tengo Diarrea", or "I have diarrhea". The word "chorrillo" suggests a slow trickle or drip of something.
The opposite is "Estoy estreñido" which means "I am constipated". Be careful. If for constipated, you say "Estoy constipado" you will be saying "I have a stuffed up nose". Wrong end, my friend!

Fue la quesadilla que comí en la calle ayer - To "comer en la calle" means literally "to eat in the street" but it really means to buy some food from a street vendor or from a temporary food stand.

Entonces, no vamos a almorzar hasta que tu te sientas mejor - To "desayunar" means to have a light breakfast like coffee and a sweet roll. To "almorzar" means to have a heavy breakfast of bacon and eggs, etcetera.

22 September 2008

Dialog - Shopping for Clothing

On Sunday Morning my wife Gina and I had the following conversation about how we were going to spend the day:

¿Hoy qué vamaos a hacer?
What are we going to do today?

Vamos a Uriangato/Moreleón para comprar ropa.
Let's go to Uriangato/Moreleón to buy clothing.

Bueno. Ya vámonos.
Okay. Then let's get going.

Note that “vamos” literally means “We go” and “vámonos”, which is actually an idiomatic expression, means “Let's go” and has a sense of urgency to it as in “Let's go right now”.

The place that she wanted to go is actually two places. They are the towns of Uriangato and Moreleón which are twin cities located in the southernmost part of the State of Guanajuato about an hour's ride from Irapuato. We usually just go to Uriangato and we have an established routine that we like to follow. Uriangato is one of the leading manufacturing cities in the textile industry in Mexico. For that reason it is a good place to buy clothing at a discount. There are several kilometers of outlet stores that handle all types of clothing and it there is a “tianguis” (tee-AHNG-eez) or outdoor market flavor to it. We can buy currently fashionable clothing for Gina at about half the normal retail price. Unfortunately there isn't much in the way of clothing that is suitable for me. For that we generally have to visit Omar the tentmaker in Guadalajara. We like to arrive in Uriangato fairly early because it takes quite a bit of time to cover all of the territory on foot and so we like to arrive about ten o'clock before it gets crowded and before the day gets too warm. There was no danger of that this time, however, because the day was cool and overcast from the remnants of all the hurricanes and tropical storms even though we are well inland. After we arrived and parked our car in a convenient lot we started walking down the street and Gina quickly spotted something that interested her. She was looking for pants that are called “pescadores” or “fishermen” in Mexico but in the United States they are called “pedal pushers”. She wanted them to be of a stretch material which they call “licra” (LEE-kruh) here. Apparently people just adopted the sound of the DuPont trademark name for spandex and use it for any type of stretch material. We went to investigate what she saw and I recorded the following conversation which is quite typical:

Mira los pantalones tipo pescador ahí en esa tienda.
Look at those pedal pushers in that tienda over there.

Si, vamos a ver.
Yes, let's go have a look.

Buenas tardes, señora.
Good afternoon, ma'am.

Buenas tardes. ¿Me muestras un pantalón de pescador, talla mediana, color rosa, por favor?
Good afternoon. Can you please show me some rose color pedal pusher stretch pants in medium size?

Es unitalla y aquí esta.
The size is “one-size-fits-all” and here it is.

Cuanto cuesta?
How much?

Solo ochenta pesos.
Only eighty pesos.

Bueno. ¿Qué otras colores tiene?
Okay. What other colors do you have?

Hay azul marino, verde olivo, negro, café y gris.
There is aqua marine, green olive, black, tan, and grey.

Deme un negro y un gris también.
Give me a black and a grey also.

Aquí tiene. ¿Quiere qué le muestre algo más?
Here you are. Would you like me to show you something else?

Sí, una blusa de color azul cielo, como la de aparador, talla treinta y dos.
Yes, a sky blue colored blouse like the one in the display, size thirty-two

Aquí tiene. También tengo colores fuscia, beige, y marrón. Son muy bonitas y de muy buena calidad.
Here you are. I also have it in fuschia, beige, and brown. They are very pretty and they are very good quality.

¡Ay qué bonitas! ¿Cuánto cuesta?
My how pretty! How much?

Ciento veinticinco cada una.
One hundred twenty-five each.

Bueno. Deme la azul y también la marrón.
Okay. Give me a blue one and also a brown one.

¿Algo más?
Something else?

No, por el momento es todo. Gracias. ¿Cuánto le debo?
No, that will do for now. Thank you. How much do I owe you?

Son doscientos cuarenta de los pantalones y doscientos cincuenta de las blusas. Entonces son quinientos noventa pesos.
That will be two hundred forty for the pants and two hundred fifty for the blouses. That comes to a total of four hundred and ninety pesos.

Aquí esta seiscientos.
Here is six hundred.

Su cambio es diez pesos. Espere un momento y los pongo en una bolsa de plástico.
Your change is ten pesos. Just a momnet and I will put them in a plastic bag.

Aquí tiene señora. Gracias por su compra. Hasta la vista.
Here you are ma'am. Thanks for your purchase. We'll be seeing you.

Gracias. Adíos.
Thank you. Goodbye

Note: If you go:

If you haven't been to Uriangato you definitely ought to go. It is only about an hour's drive from Irapuato and if you get on the new autopista to Morelia and Ixtapa is is a very safe and pleasant drive with lot's of beautiful scenery. Be sure to get off at the “Morelia Libre” exit and then just follow the signs to Uriangato. As you enter the town you will be on a street with a divider. You will see vendors along this street but I suggest that you keep going until the divider ends and the street narrows down between buildings on either side. Continue on for about a block and you will come to two very good parking lots. The one on the left at #89 Obregon (which I prefer) is called is called “Estacionamiento Obregon) and the entrance is beside the Hotel Diamante and Restaurant Colibri. They charge twenty pesos for all day and the lot is secure and has clean bathrooms. There is another good lot on the right called “Estacionamiento La Cuadrilla” which also has plenty of room and clean restrooms. We usually follow Calle Obregon until it splits and then we bear to the right for a couple more blocks and turn left on Calle San Miguel and go one block to the town square. There we plop down at the Café Costeño for a nice capucchino and recharge our batteries. Sometimes I just like to sit in the square for awhile and just watch the little kids chase pigeons and take in the sights and sounds. Then we grab a twenty-five peso cab ride back to our starting point and retrieve our car for the trip home. The whole ordeal can take four or five hours (if you go with a woman) so be sure and wear comfortable shoes. Oh yes, and if you sport one of those St. Francis bald spots you better wear a hat. Oh, yes, I almost forgot...if you do go with a woman you better take plenty of pesos and some big woven plastic shopping bags to carry all the stuff.

20 September 2008

Dialog - The Neighbor

In our last dialog entitled “The Neighbor's Dog” we left our favorite couple settling down to watch television because their neighbor's dog had kept them awake with his barking. Now it is the following morning and they spot the neighbor coming to see them. Let's listen in and see what happens:

Mira. Ahí viene el vecino.
Look. Here comes the neighbor.

Vas a quejar de su perro ladrando toda la noche?
Are you going to complain about his dog barking all night?

No. Dile que ahora no estoy.
No. Tell him that I'm not here right now.

¿Por qué?

Porque yo no quiero nada que ver con él.
Because I want nothing to do with him.

Pero ¿por qué?
But why?

Porque él siempre me pide un préstamo.
Because he is always asking me for a loan.

Mira, cariño. No es para tanto. Es nuestro vecino y en todas maneras necesitamos ser sociables.
Look dear. It's not that bad. He is our neighbor and no matter what we need to be polite.

(Sonó el timbre de la puerta y el hombre abrió.)
(The doorbell rings and the man opens the door.)

¡Que milagro! Mira mi amor. Es nuestro vecino. Pásale vecino.
What a miracle! Look my love. It's our neighbor. Come in, neighbor.

Buenos días, amigo. Disculpe las molestias.
Good morning friend. Excuse the bother.

¡Noooombre! No hay nigún problema. ¿Que hay de nuevo?
What are you talking about! There is no bother. What's up?

Nada. Solo vine a saludarte y pedir un pequeño favor.
Nothing. I just came to say hello and ask a little favor.

A poco no, vecino. ¿En qúe te puedo servir?
Of course, neighbor. How can I be of service.

Espérame cariño. ¿No vas a ofrecer algo a nuestro huésped?
Just a minute dear. Aren't you going to offer something to our guest?

Tienes razón mi amor. Siéntese vecino y vamos tomar un cafecito.
You're right my love. Sit down, neighbor and let's have a little coffee.

No gracias. Ya almorzé hace un rato.
No thanks. I just ate a little while ago.

Bueno, ¿entonces en qúe te puedo ayudar?
Okay. Then how can I help you?

Quiero construir una casita para mi perrito porque mi esposa no le permite dormir en la casa y el se siente incómodo dormir afuera. Tengo la madera pero me falta una sierra eléctrica. ¿Me puedes prestar la de tuya?
I want to build a little dog house for my little dog because my wife won't let him sleep in the house and he feels uncomfortable outside. I have the wood but I lack an electric saw. Can you lend me yours?

Si, mi amigo pero ¿sabes qúe? Te presté mi sierra eléctrica hace tres o cuatro semanas y todavía no me la devuelves. Si mal no recuerdo está en la repisa en lado izquierdo de tu cochera. ¿Recuerdas?
Yes my friend but you know what? I lent you my electric saw three or four weeks ago and you haven't returned it yet. If my memory serves me it is on the shelf on the left side of your garage. Remember?

Ay, vecino. Tienes mucha razón. ¡Qúe vergüenza!Tengo mucha pena contigo. Perdóneme por favor. Me retiro y voy a devolverlo tan pronto como termino mi proyecto. Nos vemos entonces. Muchísimas gracias.
Ooops, neighbor. You're are right. How embarrassing! I feel very sheepish. Please forgive me. I'll go now and I will return it as soon as I finish my project. I'll see you later. Thanks a lot.

No hay de que, vecino. Cuida tus dedos, eh.
You're welcome neighbor. Be careful of your fingers, eh?

(El vecino salió y el hombre cerró la puerta.)
The neighbor left and the man closed the door.

¡Hijole! ¡Qúe idiota!
Wow! What an idiot!

Shhhh, ¿que pasa si el vecino te oye?
Shhhh, what happens if he hears you?

A mi no me importa.
I don't give a damn.

Note: I have a few comments:

Ahí viene el vecino – The literal translation for this is “There come the neighbor”. Obviously we don't talk like this in English so I translated it as “Here comes the neighbor”. This is just another example of how we must learn “chunks” of a language and their meanings and not just translate word for word. The only way to be able to do this on the fly is to memorize them.

no quiero nada que ver con él – The literal translation is “I want nothing to see with him” but in English we say “I want nothing to do with him”. This particular chunk, “nada que ver con” is very useful. You can also preface it with the verb “tener” as in “No tengo nada que ver con él” or “I have nothing to do with him”.

¡Noooombre! No hay nigún problema. - The word “nombre” means “name” but when pronounced long and drawn out it takes on the meaning of “What's the matter with you!” or “Why do you need to ask?” or “Don't even mention it!” or as I translated it “What are you talking about!”. It is quite common. I don't know the origin. Perhaps it is a contraction of “No hombre”.

No es para tanto – A very useful phrase. It means “It's not so bad.” or “It's not so bad as all that”.

Ya almorzé hace un rato. The verb “almorzar” means to eat a heavy breakfast or “brunch”. The verb “desayunar” means “ to break the fast” and it means to eat a light breakfast like a donut and coffee.

Si mal no recuerdo - “If bad I don't remember”. We would more typically say in English “If my memory serves me” or “If I remember correctly”.

Tengo mucha pena contigo. - Very common phrase. It literally means “I have much shame with you”. We might say in English “Shame on me”. I used “I feel very sheepish” because it seemed to fit.

A mi no me importa – I translated it as “I don't give a damn” as that is roughly the meaning that it tries to convey. This phrase seems harmless but be careful with it.

Additional Note:

¡Que milagro! - You will knote that I gave this phrase the literal translation of "What a miracle! In the comment section below my friend Eddie Willers pointed out that instead of "What a miracle" it suggests a meaning like "long time no see". I should have mentioned that. Thanks, Eddie. I think you could also say it means something like "Well, look who's here!"

18 September 2008

Dialog - The Neighbor’s Dog

In the episode Dialog 006 - The Mosquito, we left our happy couple snuggling down to go to sleep after a serious bout of eradicating some pesky mosquitoes. They were just drifting off to dreamland when they were again awoken by another pest. Let's listen in now and see what the problem is:

¡Ay de mí!
¡Aw nuts!

Qué te pasa, cariño? ¿Qué tienes?
What´s happening dear? What's the matter with you?

No puedo dormir.
I can't sleep.

Yo tampoco.
Me neither.

El pinche perro del vecino ladra mucho.
The #@*&%$ neighbor's dog is barking so much.

¿Por qué ladra tanto el perro?
Why does the dog bark so much?

No se. Quizás tiene hambre.
I don't know. Maybe he is hungry.

Yo tengo hambre también. ¡Oye! ¿Quieres un pedacito de pastel?
I'm hungry too. Hey, do you want a piece of cake?

Sí, mi amor, y un vaso de leche por favor.
Yes my love, and a glass of milk please.
Bueno. Lo traigo. Prende la tele y vamos a ver que hay.
Okay, I'll bring it. Turn on the TV and let's see what's on.

¡Oh mira! Hay una película de Jorge Negrete.
Oh, look! There's a Jorge Negrete movie.

Si, es mi favorita. Vamos a verla. Que padre que mañana es Domingo y no necesitamos levantar temprano.
Yes, it is my favorite. Let's watch it. It's a good thing that tomorrow is Sunday and we don't have to get up early.

¡Tienes razón mi amor! Ahora shhh...ya comienza la película.
You got THAT right! Now shhh...the movie is already starting.

Note: I have some additional comments:

This lesson features the contrast between “tampoco” and “también” which are words that I feel are important to learn in the beginning so as not to get them mixed up.

¡Ay de mí!- I translated tyhis as “¡Aw nuts!” but it could be translated into any number of suitable mild expletives that signify frustration.
El pinche perro del vecino ladra mucho. The word “pinche” (PEEN-chay) is pretty strong. Use it carefully and sparingly. A good rule to follow is: If in doubt, leave it out.

¿Quieres un pedacito de pastel? - In actuality means "Do you want a "little" piece of cake. If he is anything like me he probably wants a big peice so I didn't include little in the translatiosn. Words like "pedecito" and "cafecito" are meant to be endearing and "homey" but are not always taken literally.

Hay una pelicula de Jorge Negrete. Singer and actors Jorge Negrete is one of the most popular Mexican performers of all time. His recording of the song "México Lindo y Querido" (Mexico Pretty and Dear) is the best known recording of this song which is loved by Mexicans like Americans love “America the Beautiful”.

Que padre que mañana es Domingo – In Mexico, exclamations with the word “padre” in them mean “great” or “good” and exclamations with the word “madre” in them generally mean bad. Go figure...

16 September 2008

Dialog - Birria de Cabrito

On Sunday September 14th my wife Gina and I visited the nearby town of Pueblo Nuevo (or Pueblonuevo as it is sometimes written with no space in between the "pueblo" and the "nuevo"). The town is located in the municipality of Pueblo Nuevo which is the smallest of the 46 municipalities in the Mexican State of Guanajuato and has a population of about 9000 people. Note that a municipality in Mexico is like a “county” in the United States and within the municipality there can be any number of small communities but the municipal government is headquartered in the main town or city which corresponds more or less to the U.S. "county seat". We went to Pueblo Nuevo to buy some cheese called "queso oreado" that my friend Alfredo told me about and I wanted to try some so I could tell Rachel Laudan about it. She lives in the City of Guanajuato and is my food historian guru. She and my friend Cristina from Morelia know an awful lot about food and that is a great thing for people like me who really like to eat. Although the day was overcast we couldn't have gone at a better time because the little town was all decked out in red, white, and green in anticipation of Independence Day celebrations. Pueblo Nuevo is a very old community that sits on the bank of the Rio Lerma near where it is joined by the Rio Guanajuato. The local people call the town “El Pueblito” which is closer to its original name. The town was founded by none other that Don Vasco de Quiroga in the year 1540. and "Tata Vasco" as he is lovingly known is one of my favorite Mexican heroes.

One of the things that we did while we were in Pueblo Nuevo is to stop for lunch at the "birrería" (bee-rehr-REE-uh) of Don Martín Bernal. The word "birrería" means "an establishment where they sell "birria" (BEE-rree-uh) or more formally “birria de cabrito” (kah-BREE-toh) which is the meat from a young goat that is steamed rather than rendered or broiled. They take a young goat and after killing and butchering it they put it in a big pot that has two or three gallons of water in the bottom. They don't put the meat in the water however. They put the meat on a grill that is suspended over the water so that the steam cooks the meat and the juices from the meat fall into the water to make a soup that is called “consomé de birria” (kohn-soh-MAY deh BEE-rree-uh). People go to a birrería as much to get the consomé as they do to get the birria. The consomé is a light clear yellowish and very tasty soup that it can vary somewhat in consistency and taste depending upon where it is made. Everyone seems to have a secret recipe. Sometimes they put cleaned goats feet in the water to thicken the consomé and sometimes they add chile or various herbs and spices. I can't really tell the difference very well because it is always good but my wife Gina can tell the difference and she has her favorite places.

As you will see in the dialog below there are various cuts of meat that you can request. There is “pierna” (or piernita) which is from the back legs. There is “costilla” (coh-STEE-yuh) which is from the ribs. There is “mano” (MAH-noh) which is from the front legs but the word “mano” actually means “hand”. Then there is “aldilla” (ahl-DEE-yuh) which is from the belly and lower sides and “pecho” (PAY-choh) which is from the chest. Finally we come to one of my favorites called “montalayo”(mohn-tah-LAY-oh). To make montalayo they remove the “panza” (PAHN-zah) which is the stomach and they scrub it very hard until it is perfectly clean and white. Then the chop up the heart, kidneys, liver, and other internal organs and put the chopped parts in the panza and tie it closed with a string. Then the stuffed panza goes in the pot with the other meat. They put the lid on the pot and they put it on the fire to steam for about four hours. When you tell the man what you want he takes it out of the pot and cuts it up on a wooden chopping block with a little meat cleaver and measures it out on a scale there you have it.

So, we sat down at a table in the plaza in front of Don Martín's establishment and he comes right over to take our order:

Buenas tardes. ¿Qué le sirvo?
Good afternoon. How may I serve you?

Buenas tardes. Un cuarto de birria y dos consomés por favor.
Good afternoon. A quarter kilo of birria and two consomés please.


No, deme solo piernita y montalayo.
No, give me only pierna and montalayo.

Bueno. ¿Gustan algo de tomar?
Okay, Do you want something to drink?

Si, dos refrescos, una Coca-Cola y una Esprite.
Yes, two sodas, a Coca-Cola and a Sprite.

Bueno. Ahorita se lo sirvo.
Okay. I'll be right back with your order. (In a little while I'll serve you.)

Aquí está su orden con tortillas, salsa Mexicana, y chiles jalapeño. Tambíen hay cebolla picada y limones para el consomé. ¿Algo más les haga falta?
Here is your order with tortillas, Mexican style salsa, and jalapeño chiles. There is also chopped onion and limes for the consomé. Is there anything else that is lacking?

No, gracias. Todo está bien.
No, thank you. Everything is fine.

(Después un poco rato)
(After a little while)

¡Oye Don Martín! ¿Me trae otro cuarto por favor y más servilletas?
Hey Don Martín! (dohn mahr-TEEN) Could you please bring me another quarter kilo and some more napkins?

Claro que si. Con mucho gusto. Aquí está.
Of course. With much pleasure. Here you are.

(Después un otro poco rato más)
(After another little while)

Don Martín, ¿me trae la cuenta por favor?
Don Martín, could you bring me the check please.

Si, permíteme. Son ciento veinticinco pesos.
Yes, just a minute. That will be one hundred twenty pesos please.

Aquí tiene ciento cuarenta. Quédese con el cambio.
Here is one hundred forty. Keep the change.

Muy agradecido Señor. Que le vaya bien.
Much appreciated, Sir. May you go well.
Note: I have some additional comments.

In the last photo below you will see my new friend Juan Carlos Ramírez carrying several “vaporeras” on the front of his three wheeled bicycle. A “vaporera” (vah-poh-REHR-uh) is a pot used for steaming.You can see a “necked down” portion at the bottom of the pot. Above this section sits the grill upon which the meat is placed and the area below is what holds the water and makes the consomé.

The tortillas are served hot in a little container with a lid. Even so, they soon start to cool off after a bit and eventually the tortilla on top will be cool. Instead of taking the tortilla off the top people will often grab part of the stack and turn it over which puts the top tortilla back down in the middle of the stack to warm it up again. The guys I work with jokingly call this cold tortilla on top the “tortilla de la suegra” or “mother-in-law's tortilla” because this is the tortilla that you offer to your mother-in-law”.

una Coca-Cola y una Esprite. - Note that I spelled Sprite with an “E” in front. This is because many words that we use in English that start with the letter “S” are similar in Spanish with the exception that they start with an “E” in front of the “S”. The Mexican people tend to pronounce English words that begin with an “S” as if they actually begin with an “E” and so “Sprite” gets pronounced “ehs-PRAIT”.

Si, permíteme. - Notice that I translated this phrase as “Yes, just a minute.”. It really says “Yes, allow me” but in English we would say, “Yeah, just a minute”, or “Yeah, be right with you”. That is why it is important to understand the meaning as a whole phrase and not just word for word. Sometimes when I call my wife she says to me, “Mande Usted” which is a very normal off hand response but it sounds very formal if you translate it directly as “Command me sir”. Ha, ha, ha. I wish!

When in Rome do as the Romans do so if you are served birria, for goodness sake don't wrinkle your nose at the monatalaya until you have tried it, and don't forget to add the chopped onion and a squirt of lime to your consomé like everyone else does. ¡Buen provecho!

13 September 2008

El Grito de Dolores

Before I came to Mexico in January of 1999 I really didn't know much about the country. At that time I came down to do a job and never dreamed that I would end up staying. To me, the history of Mexico was a jumble of Aztec and Mayan ruins, Hernán Cortes and his Conquistadores, Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries like Padre Kino and Junipero Sera, old churches, General Santa Ana (from the old Disney movie about the Alamo), various other generals of all types and sizes, Emperor Maximilian and Carlota, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, Ritchie Valens and La Bamba, Speedy Gonzalez, the Frito Bandito, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. After a few years I was able to put this jumble in some sort of order but I finally realized that 489 years of “modern” Mexican history is too much to absorb in one lifetime not to mention the pre-Columbian history that came before. The best that one can do is try to get a handle on it. Why? Because if you are living in Mexico and studying Mexican Spanish you soon realize that a large portion of the language is entwined with history and culture of this great country.

Having said all that I think that if you take six expat Gringos and Canucks in Mexico and ask them about Mexican history they will no doubt give you six different versions depending upon their depth of study, the places that they have visited, and the books that they may have read. It reminds me of John Godfrey Saxe´s poem about the blind men and the elephant. Every time that I think I may be getting closer to true enlightenment I find myself groping around like a blind man and I hit a wall. I feel like Charlie Brown getting very close to kicking the football only to have Lucy snatch it away at the last moment and just like Charlie Brown I find myself flat on my “arse”.

One thing that I have learned is that the history of Mexico is actually part of a bigger history involving Europe, the Catholic Church, the Spanish monarchs and the divine right of kings, the Protestant Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition, The Masonic movement, the Indigenous peoples of Mexico, the Arab peoples, the Jewish people, the birth of modern democracy and the evolution of technology. Each one of these topics is like a gear that is part of a big complicated tapestry weaving machine. If you don't understand how the gears fit together you can't really understand how the machine weaves. The best that you can do is to tug on little threads on the edge of the resulting tapestry and let them lead you into the weave like a little bug.

As a result of my foray into the jungle of the Mexican past I have identified a number of heroic figures who, whether they are true heroes or not, have nevertheless cast their spell upon me. One of these figures is Miguel Hidalgo, the father of Mexican Independence. Fortunately I live in the “Cuna de Independencia Mexicana”, the “Cradle of Mexican Independence”. I live not far from Corralejo Hidalgo near Pénjamo, at the base of San Grigorio, where Miguel Hidalgo was born on May 8th, 1753 and I have visited that location several times. I have also visited “La Francia Chiquita”, his house in San Felipe Torres Mochas where he read and discussed literature that sprung from the French Revolution. I have been to his house in Dolores Hidalgo where he gave the shout called “El Grito de Dolores” on the night of September 15th, 1810 and set off to lead the fight for Mexican independence. I have been to Atontonilco where he adopted the flag of Our Lady of Guadalupe as his standard and finally I have stood at the corner of the Alhondiga in Guanajuato and stared at the actual hook where his head hung in a cage for 13 years after he was captured by Spanish troops and executed by firing squad.

If one were to begin studying Mexican history I suggest that the fight for Mexican Independence is as good a place as any to start. I suppose that if you have some kind of compulsive disorder and insist on starting at the beginning I will understand but it is almost impossible to know where the beginning is. I guess you could start at about AD1000 (1000 CE) and work your way up from there but that is pretty boring stuff unless you are an anthropologist and like reading things like the “begats” of the Old Testament. You could also start with Hernán Cortes in 1519 and I guarantee that it is a fascinating story but since this is the “Mes de Patria” (Month of the Fatherland) when we celebrate the heroes of the fight for Mexican Independence it would be as good a time as any to begin learning about some of the events that shaped the Mexico that we know today.

It is very interesting to note that at the time of the “El Grito de Dolores”, the people of Dolores referred to themselves as Americans to differentiate themselves from the Spaniards because at that time the the name of the country was “Nueva España” or “New Spain” and word “Mexico” had not yet come into vogue. The exact details of the actual shout have long been debated by historians but a popular consensus is that it went something like this:

¡Viva la Independencia!

Long live Independence!

¡Viva America!

Long live America!

¡Muera el mal gobierno!

Death to bad government!

Of course nowadays they shout “¡Viva México!” Instead of “¡Viva America!” but how ironic it is that the third line of the shout is “Death to bad government!”. It seems like this cry is just as apropos today all over the world the same as it was in Mexico almost two hundred years ago.

12 September 2008

Dialog - The Mosquito

The planet Earth is generally a good place for human beings and so I always wonder why on earth God created the mosquito. I guess the answer to that is “God only knows” and we must accept the mosquito as part of God's eternal plan. Mexico certainly has its share of God given mosquitoes and they are just as pesky here as they are anywhere else. They are also called a “mosquito” in Spanish just like in English but most people refer to a mosquito here as a “zancudo” (zahn-KOO-doh). You will also sometimes hear a mosquito referred to as a “moscu” (MOHS-koo) which is short for mosquito. However, you musn't get a “moscu” confused with a “mosca” (MOHS-kah) which is what they call a common housefly and the big bluebottle type fly is called a “moscón” (mohs-KOHN. I sure hope you are getting all this so I won't have to repeat it.

Not long after I first came to Mexico I was invited to a large outdoor Catholic mass on a special occasion. It was a very cloudy day and the man who came to pick me up told me “Mejor trae una paraguas por si las moscas” which I literally translated as “Better bring an umbrella in case of flies”. I couldn't understand how an umbrella would help against flies butI didn't want to appear stupid or “show myself” as the Mexican people say so I grabbed an umbrella and off we went. After the mass I commented to my friend that there were no flies so we didn't need the umbrella after all. He looked at me kind of strange for a few seconds and then he started laughing and he laughed so hard that I thought he was going to choke. When I asked him what was so funny he told me that the umbrella was for rain and not “flies” and then he explained to me that the phrase “por si las moscas” means “just in case” and has nothing to do with “flies”.

So here we are in a bedroom with a couple who just laid down to sleep when they hear the “zumbito” (hum) of a zancudo.

ZZZzzzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzttt ¡PLAF! (sound of a mosquito and a slap)
¡Hijole! ¿Qué pasó?
Wow! What happened?

Fue un zancudo en la recamara y estuvo haciéndome loca. ZZzzzzZZZzztt ¡PLAF! Fue un otro. ¡Prende la luz por favor!
There was a mosquito in the bedroom and it was driving me crazy. ZzzzzzZZZzztt SPLAT! That was another one. Please turn on the light!

A ver. Oh, creo que yo se que está pasando. ¡Mira! Hay un desgarrón en el mosquitero de la ventana. Déjame cubrirlo con un pedazo de cinta y mañana voy a repararlo mejor.
Let's see. Oh, I believe I know what is happening. There is a hole in the window screen. Let me cover it with a piece of tape and tomorrow I will repair it better.

Sí, la cinta puede impedir otro zancudos de entrar pero ¿qué vamos hacer con ellos que ya están adentro?
Yes, the tape will prevent other mosquitoes from entering but what are we going to do with the mosquitoes that are already inside?

No problema mi alma, voy a matarlos con flit.
No problem my love, I will kill them with flit.

¡No viejo! No me gusta Flit. Huele horrible. Mejor matarlos con esta matamosca.
No dear! I don't like flit. It smells horrible. It is better to kill them with this flyswatter.

Okay, hay uno en la pared. ¡PLAF!
Okay, there's one on the wall. SPLAT!

Hay otro en el tocador. ¡PLAF!
There is one on the dresser. SPLAT!

También en el buró. ¡PLAF!
Also on the night stand. SPLAT!

Hay otro en el borde del espejo pero cuídate. No rompes el espejo, eh. ¡PLAF!
There is another on the mirror frame but be careful. Don't break the mirror, eh. SPLAT!

Oh, oh, hay otra ahí en la puerta del ropero. ¡PLAF!
Oh-oh, there is one over there on the closet door. SPLAT!

¡Ya! Es todo. Apaga la luz y regresamos a la cama.
There! That's all of them! Turn of the light and let's go back to bed.

Buenas noches mi amor.
Good night my love.

Buenas noches cariño.
Good night sweetheart.


¡OYE! ¡Párate hombre! No soy un zancudo.
HEY! Stop that mister! I'm not a mosquito.

Perdón, mi amor. (Ji ji, ja ja ja)
Sorry my love. (Hee hee, ha ha ha)

Note: I have a few more comments:

voy a matarlos con flit. - The word “flit”is the generic word for bug killer. It is pronounced “fleet”. FLIT is actually a brand name for an insecticide that was introduced by Standard Oil in 1928.

No problema mi alma.
Buenas noches mi amor.
¡No viejo!
Buenas noches cariño. In Mexican Spanish there are many, many pet names that married couples use for each other. Even a young woman will call her husband “viejo” (old man) and it is meant to be a term of endearment and not at all derogatory. A man may call his wife “mi alma” (my soul), “mi corazón” (my heart), “mis ojos” (my eyes), “mi vida” (my life), etcetera. It doesn't always translate well into English because we aren't used to calling each other using the names of so many body parts so I translated these into the standard “sweetheart” "my love" and “dear”.

Hay otro en el tocador. - A “tocador” in Mexico is generally a dresser with a mirror. A dresser without a mirror would be a “cómoda”. A “buró” is some kind of bedside table. A footstool is called a “taburete”. In some other Spanish speaking countries or even different regions of Mexico these names may be different.

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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.