Sunday, November 25, 2018

Market Connections


This trip feels like one continuous meal with short breaks for sleep, study and sightseeing. Instead of exercise it’s been planning where to eat, when to eat and getting to and from the restaurant in question. I’d like to understand the malaise that has kept me from writing, photographing and running. It’s almost too late this trip to make things right on the whole-body front. But if I can reclaim the balance that I enjoy at home in Taos over the next few days I’ll consider it a victory.

There was an article in the New York Times a couple of days ago that reported on the discovery that septuagenarians who had exercised throughout their lives had muscles that are virtually indistinguishable from 25-year-olds. That was me until we came to Mexico. I’m not blaming my dissipation on the Mexico exactly.  I’ll take some of the credit.

The cold snap didn’t help. When night temperatures dipped to the low thirties for a few nights the house responded with highs below fifty. That is not a typo. My memories of the gulag had faded but living in a refrigerator brought them back with chilling clarity. Our rental house doesn’t have central heating, a condition not uncommon in these mild climes. So, the job of heating this barn was left to two incapable wall heaters one of which didn’t work. Responding to my desperate pleas for warmth, our alleged house manager sent a plumber with a new gas wall heater which, according to form, didn’t function.

Then there are the cobbles which make every step an adventure. To run on those bastards is to move slower than walking. Today I went for a 50 minute jog and tripped three times, one almost resulted in a face plant.

When you do nothing but eat and all of the eating is done in restaurants you run up a tab for starters. Do it enough and you’re bound to score a good meal from time to time though we’ve haven’t had any world beaters and I’ve had no food epiphanies. The single most memorable dish was carnitas in a plastic and Naugahyde emporium on the main drag of Dolores Hidalgo 35 miles north of San Miguel. Carnitas are best described as fall off the bone roasted pork. I love carnitas at Guadalajara Grill in Taos. They’re mighty fine, but Vicente Fernandez’s carnitas at Restaurante Carnitas Vicente take the art of carnitas to new heights. Beg your server to bring you Vicente’s pork rib carnitas and you will be transported. Those fatty flavor bombs are out of this world. Real carnitas, by the way, entail roasting the pork in lard till the lard melts and the spices are added. A direct shot to the artery would be quicker but not as much fun.

When you travel you learn as much about yourself as you do your new environs. I learned that simply being an observer doesn’t cut it. I found that I need a purpose and that, though the location may be new, I still want to do things I want to do. To write, photograph, run and lift just like at home. The theme of travel and how to do it has been the subject of many a dining room table discussion since we’ve had our capacious dwelling in Atascadero to ourselves. As I touched on last time, being a small part of the actual community is key. Engaging your waiter or taxi driver in their language is part of it. Putting yourself in places where that can happen is key. Moving out of your comfort zone is part of the deal.




I went to the enormous “Tuesday Market” this week. I wanted to do street photography, street portraits specifically, and can’t think of a better place to do it. The Tianguis Mercado sprawls for city blocks and is a trove of tchotchkes, new and used clothing (new clothes are ropa nuevo and used clothes that are new to you and are nueva ropa), housewares and food stalls. Even before I got there after a 15-minute walk from our house I was focused on carnitas. There were half a dozen stalls offering them but one stuck in my mind. Can’t tell you why. It was at the far reaches of the mercado and, even though I was still walking off breakfast, I made my way to Carnitas Guero at noon o’clock. That’s early for lunch in Mexico but what they hell. Restaurants at El Jardin don’t switch from breakfast to lunch until one o’clock.


There were three young men operating the establishment, one roasting the pork, one chopping the carnitas and preparing the plates and the other serving. I ordered two carnitas tacos and the server gave me an are you lost look. I was a stranger from a distant planet. He wrapped the tacos with packets of pico de gallo and salsa in a plastic bag when I told him, “Quiero comer aqui.” I want to eat here. His eyes brightened and he scootched the tacos onto a plastic plate. He seemed to appreciate that a lost old gringo would be ordering carnitas much less eating them at his rustic stall. His eyes kept shifting back to me as he worked. I was quite the novelty. What’s your story his eyes seemed to say. When I was half way through my first juicy taco, he pulled an orange Fanta out of the ice and raised it my direction with a lift of his head that said, “Want one?” I smiled and said, “Sí, por favor.” It was my third sugary drink with no food value on the trip. So far. I wouldn’t have had the thing if he hadn’t asked and I’m pleased that he did. Sugary drinks with carnitas rock. He was saying that you are welcome here and we’re surprised that you are. When I finished, the apparent boss who was manning the stove, came up to me as asked if it was good. I said, “Maravillosa. Donde esta la basura?” Wonderful. Where is the trash? He smiled and took my plate from me. I said, “Hasta luego.”

I have the feeling that if I visit Carnitas Guero a year from now I’ll be recognized. It’s like my favorite bar in Antigua, Guatemala where I guarantee the owner Carolina would give me a hug and pour me a dark Gallo beer before I had a chance to order.

That’s what hospitality is about.

3 comments:

Daryl Black said...

Travel certainly does suit you, Esteban! Hospitality even more, as it runs in your veins. I have no doubt that the cooks in every single carnita stall in San Miguel will recognize you, whether you make another trip this year, next year, or the next. Your descriptions about the people or the food leave a delicious yearning to somehow be transported immediately and experience just a few of the things you did. Having lived in an abode with no central heating and the temperatures outside at -30 for a week, we feel your gulag pain. But all you needed to do was walk the streets and find carnitas. Your photographs were a perfect fit. The fourth image is as stunning as your words. Bien hecho!

Anonymous said...

Perfect encapsulation of our time in SMA. Yup...agreed about the best Carnitas being the ones at the joint in Delores Hidalgo and your take on what hospitality is all about. Really enjoyed reading this!

Unknown said...


افضل شركة تنظيف منازل بالمدينة المنورة
افضل شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالمدينة المنورة
ارخص شركة نقل اثاث بالمدينة المنورة
افضل شركة مكافحة حشرات بالمدينة المنورة