Me, in approximately 1953-54.

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN

 

Virginia Woolf in 1902 by George Charles Beresford. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Virginia Woolf in 1902 by George Charles Beresford. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Last weekend we attended the play “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941). It was a wonderful one-act performance that brought back so many memories for me as a woman and a feminist and the struggles I faced as a girl.

I wanted most of my life to have a room of my own–my own space–and my own money. When we were very little, my brothers, sister, and I shared a room with two sets of bunk beds. It was the early 50s and a lot of soldiers were figuring out what they were going to do with their lives, scraping out a living while supporting families. In our case, after failing as a music store owner, our father–at the encouragement of our mother–entered college and then law school. It was a six-year commitment. He worked at various jobs including carpenter and for Allstate Insurance Company while he was in school. Our mother worked at whatever menial jobs she could find while having four stair-step children. We were born in ’47, ’48, ‘49, and ‘50.

The Baker family at Offat's Bayou approximately 1953-54.

The Baker family at Offat’s Bayou approximately 1953-54.

After Dad finished school, we moved from Houston to Galveston where he worked as an assistant district attorney for $250 a month. I was about four. We rented a small, two-story house off Teichman Road on Offats Bayou, a bit in the country back then. My sister and I shared a small room with twin beds under a north-facing window with a view of the drive-in movie theater across the highway, which was then US 75. We used to lie in bed at night and watch the movies. Of course, we couldn’t hear anything, but we thought we were getting away with something that no one knew about. In addition to the four of us and our parents, at various times we had cousins live with us so the small spaces were even smaller.

Me, in approximately 1953-54.

Me, in approximately 1953-54.

After we moved from that house, we rented a larger one on Biovu, also on Offats Bayou. Our cousin Andra had come to live with us permanently so the three girls got the largest bedroom. Andra had a double bed to herself. My sister and I shared a double bed. There was a porch almost all the way around the house so at least we could get away from each other, find a private space to read or just be alone. (During that time, another cousin came to stay for a year or two plus our English grandmother).

We moved from there to a house my parents built, their four bedroom “dream house,” just off Teichman Road next door to the one we’d rented years earlier. Cousin Andra was married that summer. My sister and I shared a room again, but at least it had a bit of elbow room. A tornado spawned by Hurricane Carla took out that house three months after we moved there. Afterward, we rented a small house down the street, and my parents rebuilt, but there weren’t enough insurance proceeds for another “dream house.” The new one was a three-bedroom, high-raised house on the same site as the lost one. We shared a bedroom again and remained that way until she went off to college. Yay! I had a room of my own until she came home for weekends and holidays.

My cousin's wedding at the "dream house" that was destroyed by Hurricane Carla.

My cousin’s wedding at the “dream house” Hurricane Carla destroyed.

My sister and I were not exactly as different as two people could be, but we grew in different directions. For some reason, I became more of a feminist and a political activist. Listening to the actress in “A Room of One’s Own” speak Virginia Woolf’s words about not being able to walk on the grass or use the library at a university because she was a woman, brought thoughts and memories flooding back. I was once let go from a job because I was pregnant, told I should go home and put my feet up. Another time I wasn’t hired because I was female. I was groped by a male boss when I waited tables while attending college. And I witnessed sexual harassment on more than one job. I was the brunt of jokes when I’d speak up. And had to listen to sexist jokes told by men who were in positions of authority.

My "office" in a corner of our bedroom where I studied law for 3 years.

My “office” in a corner of our bedroom where I studied the law for 3 years.

In times gone by, women were often treated like children, to be seen and not heard. I was able to speak out and stand up, at least. I once rode a bus with other women (and one man) to Oklahoma and marched on the capital for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. I was the first female district judge elected in Galveston County, Texas. Heck, the first to run! And in 2004, I participated in the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., having ridden a bus from Kerrville with a group of women.

I really identified with Virginia Woolf, even though I’m sure I have had more rights and privileges than she and all the other women who came before me. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Like so many other women, I had no office in the home in which to write. And no real money of my own, either, that is, until later in life. When I married my second husband, we made an arrangement so we’d both have funds to spend as we saw fit. How wonderful is it to be able to buy a book or a song or go on a trip without having to ask permission? Pretty wonderful.

I had a small office in the last house we owned in Galveston. I was so happy. Room for my computers and printers and my sewing machine (see, I’m still feminine, I sew). And now I have a casita of my own, here in Mexico, complete with full kitchen-sala combination, bedroom-workout room combination, terrace, two fireplaces, desk, computers and printers, recliner. This is the best room I’ve ever had of my own. What women of Virginia Woolf’s generation wouldn’t have given to have what I have. Heck, most women don’t have it now, and I know it.

A casita of my own.

A casita of my own.

As we departed the theater, my husband made a remark about my having a casita of my own. My response? Yes, I appreciate what I have. I worked my whole life for this. All the time spent going to school, working at jobs I didn’t like, spending time doing for others, politicking–it was worth it for now, though I’m no Virginia Woolf, I have a wonderful room of my own to write fiction or anything else of my choosing. Thank you Virginia Woolf and so many others for speaking up for all women.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Woolf

Book Review-Nowhere but Home: A Novel

Nowhere but Home: A Novel by Liza Palmer

I’m from Texas and though I’m not from the country part of Texas, I recognize Texas in this book. Good job, Liza. I would call this at least a 3 hankie. It touched my heart and made me tearful in several places. I would recommend this novel to anyone.

The protagonist is a young woman who ran off from her small town roots, hoping for a better life, a happier life, a life without all the nasty history her mother made for the protagonist and her sister. After 10 years, she returns and faces her demons. And her angels. The story arc was well done. The ending, very satisfying.

I’m giving this a 5 star but probably a 4.5 star would have been accurate since it’s a Random House book and could have been just a bit better edited, although we all know that editors don’t edit like they used to anymore.

Anyone else read this book? What do you think?

 

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Cinnamon Rolls at The Buccaneer

Stephen F. Austin, Jr. High, now Austin Middle School

Stephen F. Austin, Jr. High, now Austin Middle School

When I was in middle school (what we called junior high school back in the dark ages), I attended Stephen F. Austin, Jr. High, which was (is) at 16th Street, about a block from the Seawall, in Galveston, TX. Because we lost our home in Hurricane Carla, Mom (who had been Dad’s legal secretary when he’d first started practicing law) had to go back to work to help pay the bills, because the insurance wouldn’t pay for our house. She worked for the Galveston Convention and Tourist Bureau whose offices were in the Moody Civic Center on the first floor. The Moody Center was on 21st and Seawall.

I was the 2nd middle child in our family of four children (except when cousins lived with us–raising the number to 5 or 6). My older brother was born in January 1947, my sister in January 1948, me in August 1949, and my younger brother in September 1950. I always felt lost in the middle, and in adulthood kidded my little brother about his being the little interloper, infringing on my time with Mom. After all, he came along just 13 months after I was born.

My mom looked something like this when she worked at the Moody Civic Center Convention and Tourist Bureau. She had red hair (until the day she died).

My mom looked something like this when she worked at the Moody Civic Center Convention and Tourist Bureau. She had red hair (until the day she died).

Our mother insisted we take Spanish in school. (Oh how I wish now that I’d listened to her and paid attention in class). So I was forced to take Spanish at Austin Jr. High. I was kind of an oppositional defiant child (Some people would say sarcastically–no, really?) and not only resisted learning Spanish, but frequently acted out in class. Acting out in class resulted in my having to stay after school.  Staying after school resulted in my missing the school bus (we lived off Teichman Road on the opposite side of town). When I would miss the bus, I would walk down the Seawall from Austin, Jr. High to the Moody Center so Mom could take me home when she got off work.

I quickly figured out that I could benefit from this in several ways:

  1. I got to have more time with Mom, even if she planted me at a table and ordered me to do my homework.
  2. I got to have a snack at the Buccaneer Hotel, which was just down the Seawall from the Moody Center.
  3. I got to ride home in a car instead of the bus.

This behavior was a win-win situation for me.

When I would complain that I was hungry, Mom would give me, I think it was, 25 cents, but it may have been 15 cents, and send me to The Buccaneer with the appropriate instructions on being careful, not getting lost, behaving while I was there, etc. So I’d waltz down Seawall Boulevard and into the coffee shop at The Buccaneer Hotel, a huge gothic-style (at least to me) place, and hoist myself up on a barstool. Laying my coins on the counter, I would order a cinnamon roll. I remember those cinnamon rolls so well that the memory overshadows any recollection of what I had to drink.

The Buccaneer Hotel, Galveston, Texas. (Torn down now.)

The Buccaneer Hotel, Galveston, Texas. (Torn down now.)

The lady behind the counter would pull the metal tray out of the toaster oven and place a roll in the center of it. She’d cut a thick pat of butter and put it in the middle of the top of the cinnamon roll and slide the tray into the oven. Leaning my elbows on the counter, I would watch as the oven heated up and melted the butter, which would seep into the roll, mixing with the white sugary icing, and run down the sides. The aroma would make my taste buds stand at attention and my saliva glands as active as a dog’s in anticipation of that ooey-gooey pastry in my mouth. As soon as the butter was melted and the edges of the cinnamon roll slightly browned, the counter lady would shift the roll from the metal tray onto a small plate and place it in front of me, still steaming, warning me that it was hot.

I know I was supposed to use the fork she put on the counter next to the plate, but I couldn’t wait to pinch off small pieces, savoring the cinnamon, sugar, and butter as it burned my tongue. I didn’t care. That cinnamon roll was the best thing I’d get to eat all week.

Funny, I can’t remember what happened to that routine, whether my mother caught on or the year ended or she quit working there. I can only remember that those afternoons spent doing my homework in my mother’s office, while she worked at her desk, and being rewarded by those tasty cinnamon rolls were some of the best days of my life (so far).

LOVING SAN MIGUEL

I’ve been out of touch lately. First, I went on a trip to New York City with my daughter who was turning forty and wanted to celebrate her birthday there. The following week, I spent Thanksgiving holidays in Galveston with family. The week after that, we took a weeklong cruise out of Galveston. We spent the month of December catching up and celebrating the holidays here in San Miguel de Allende, hence the previous post, and then on New Year’s Eve, my younger brother died. We immediately drove back to Galveston and returned here about 10 days later. I acknowledge that I am in mourning and will be for a long time. My brother was dear to me.

I’m not feeling very creative these days so I hunted around for some old writings of mine to share on this blog until I can get my creative side reactivated. Below is a short piece I wrote ten years ago, in May 2016.

View from our roof in San Miguel de Allende

Loving San Miguel

“Why does everyone wait until the day before they leave San Miguel to decide to buy something?” the realtor asked.

For me, it was not love at first sight. The first stay in San Miguel was up on Atascadero. I had read Tony Cohan’s book, but didn’t realize that the caretakers wouldn’t even light the water heater for us. For three days, we thought we couldn’t get hot water.

Additionally, the house across the road from us was in the process of being demolished—blow by blow for most of the month we were there. The one to our left was being remodeled—blow by blow. The workers started around seven each morning and generally worked nonstop. A layer of white dust blew in our windows and covered the tabletops and sofas. I had trouble breathing on the days when it didn’t rain at all. I learned to take my nap when they took their siesta. I was convinced the apartment owner was involved in a conspiracy with the workers to make our lives miserable.

My husband had to fly to Boston during our month so two girlfriends came to visit for a few days. When they got ready to leave, I said, “Take me with you.” But of course, I was stuck. We had paid for a month in advance as well as having nonrefundable, unchangeable airline tickets.

We took the ETA to Chapala to visit a friend overnight. I got Montezuma’s Revenge and spent the day on the sofa while my husband and my friend went out and about.

After our return to San Miguel, we hired a guide to take us on a tour of Quertero and Pozos. But again I was ill and miserable.

Near the end of our stay, the workers miraculously quit working regularly. Ah, the peace and quiet. The serenity. The view from the hill improved dramatically.

For some strange reason, we started looking at real estate ads in the Attencion. We attended a free seminar that answered questions about San Miguel. We looked at several possibilities with one realtor, but when nothing presented itself, he said go to another, so we did. And on our last day there, we found two places we really liked. The first one was out of our price range. The second was a condominium in the process of being built. We immediately snapped it up.

Over the course of the next three months, after we were tempted to go to the hospital and have our heads examined, we completed the purchase of our little place. We spent the Christmas holidays furnishing our place, my husband hanging pictures, me making draperies.

What is it about San Miguel that is so alluring? It’s a mystery to me. When I’m at home here in Texas, I don’t think of it that often, but when I’m in San Miguel, I never want to leave. I can’t explain it, but I love it. We’ll be there again for a month this summer. I hope I still feel the same.*

 

*Note–this was written in May of 2006. We now live full-time in San Miguel.

MISTER GRINCH

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

Sometime in the late ’50s to early 60s, when we were little and lived on Biovu (Galveston, TX) in a large house my parents rented on the bayou, my parents had people over constantly. Of course, being a child, I had no way of knowing how Mom and Dad knew most of them. Some, I knew were in Little Theater with my parents. And much later I learned that a lot of the people were involved in local politics. Or they were lawyers, like my father. But it didn’t matter, what mattered was the good-natured goings-on at our house.

In this holiday season, one of the people I particularly remember is a man who used to come over and tell us stories about Mister Grinch. In fact, we called him Mister Grinch. I can still see us sitting on the sofa while this tall, very thin man with a thick shock of hair acted out the stories. He would march, creep, and prance up and down in front of the sofa, his arms posed like he intended to grab us, (often he did grab us–frightened us into giggles and screams of fear and delight) his face forming many different expressions. His deep voice stayed with me for most of my life–it was as deep as any other voice that ever sang or told stories of Mister Grinch.

I had no idea who this man was. Over the years with my moving from and back to Galveston, I would forget about him until I’d heard the Mister Grinch song, and then memories would come flying back. One day, in the late ’80s or early 90s, when I arrived at the then-Galveston Novel and Short Stories’ Writer’s Group, I was introduced to a man who would be joining us. He looked vaguely familiar. He was very tall, very thin, and had a very thick shock of white hair. He grinned at me, his smile wrinkles stretching from his eyes to his chin. There was something about that expression . . .

When he spoke, when he said something about knowing the Bakers’ for a long time, I knew immediately who he was. Mister Grinch!

Claude Avery Allen, II, who died in 2000, was every bit a character as Mister Grinch, except a good guy. I learned later that he had owned a small theater in Galveston in the late ’50-’60s. I think he may also have been a legislative aide to one of our state legislators before that. He was active in politics from the time he was very young, especially when he was at UT.

Anyway, Claude joined our critique group and brought with him a book he was working on–that I’m sure was mostly autobiographical–with outrageous stories about activities his male protagonist engaged in. Our rule at the time was that someone else had to read the piece you’d selected to be critiqued, but we allowed Claude to break that rule. And so, every month or so, when it was his turn, Claude would read to us and that voice would fill the room, bringing back old memories from my childhood while making new ones as well.

During that time, Claude also worked as a caricaturist at the Galvez Hotel, his easel set up near the front door. I would sometimes go by and visit him, but, to my regret, I never had him draw me. In 1997, Claude put out a little book named Call Me Dylan (published by Old Dog Press–his own little publishing company). I have a copy of his little book and below is a self-portrait from within it.ClaudeAllen

Merry Christmas, Mister Grinch. I miss you, my friend.

 

The Other Side of Mexico

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When I was on my first international return trip through the Mexico City airport, I didn’t know my way around very well and was afraid I’d miss my connecting flight. I was returning from Cuba by myself. The international section reminded me very much of the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport with a very long walkway from where you get off the plane to where you pick up your luggage for customs and immigration. I didn’t realize how far it was. I thought I had missed where I was supposed to go and there was no turning back so I kept walking and walking.

By the time I came to the place where you pick up your luggage so they can inspect or not,  I really needed to use the restroom but I only had an hour and a half before my next flight left, and I was worried I wouldn’t make it. My Spanish is terrible, but I walked up to a man who was standing near an official-looking desk and asked him if he spoke English. He said no. Well, I couldn’t  wait any longer so I hurried into the restroom, took care of business, and when I came out, the man asked me to wait and went off, returning with another man who did speak English.

All I could think of was how a few months earlier, when I was in the international part of DFW Airport with what I thought was two hours to spare, I just made it to the gate as they were boarding the plane. I was afraid the same thing would happen, or worse, I’d miss my connection–the last flight to the regional airport I needed to go to in order to get a shuttle back home.

So, anyway, the second man listened to my concerns, that I had to pick up my bag, take it through customs, pass through immigration, go to a separate part of the airport for domestic flights, re-check my bag, go back through security, and make it to the gate before my flight departed. He looked at my flight schedule and said he understood my concern. He directed me to baggage claim.

A few minutes after I arrived at the baggage claim area for my flight from Cuba, a third man came over to me and explained that he’d been sent to help me so I would not miss my flight. He ran and got me a wheelchair and told me to sit. After more than a few minutes of standing (they had no way of knowing I have back problems and can’t stand for very long without my left leg going numb) I sat down.

We waited and waited for the luggage–everyone waited and waited for their luggage. The man continued to reassure me that I would make my flight–while peeking through the flaps over the hole where the luggage comes out on the conveyor belt. At one point, he actually stuck his head in to see what was going on. I could see then that there were a number of dogs and dog handlers walking up and down next to the luggage.

Finally, the first load of bags came out. Mine was not among them. Don’t worry, he said. The second load eventually came out, and mine was there. I pointed it out, and he grabbed it. He stacked my two carry-ons on the wheelchair platform between my feet and I held on to them. With one hand on the back of the wheelchair and the other on my suitcase handle, he pushed me and pulled my suitcase behind us as he ran to customs where I pushed the button and got a green light. A green light means they won’t search your bags. From there, he ran me to immigration where the man took the government form I’d filled out, looked at my visa, and passed us on.

Once we’d cleared those two hurdles, the young man ran and ran all the way to the domestic flight check in. I ended up with an hour in which to check my suitcase, clear security, and walk down to the gate. Of course I tipped him very generously. “Gracias. Adios. Hasta luego,” he said, grinning, and rolled the wheelchair back the way we’d come.

People disparage the Mexican people. Yes, there are problems here in Mexico, but there are problems all over the world. Domestic violence in Mexico is blown all out of proportion by the media–it’s on a par with many other countries, yes, including the U.S., but that’s not the whole story.

Mexican people, as a rule, are a welcoming and friendly bunch of folks. Those men in the Mexico City airport could have left me to fend for myself, but they didn’t. I didn’t ask to be assigned someone to help me. They sent him to help me. He didn’t ask to be paid. He didn’t know he’d be paid. It’s certainly the custom to tip here in Mexico, but he didn’t know if I did tip him how much he would receive. And yet, he did his utmost to make sure I made my flight and was constantly reassuring me the whole time that everything would be all right.

This is the other side of Mexico. The side the journalists–the media don’t tell you about.

I sure would like to hear about it if other have had similar experiences.

Cuban Statuary and Art

This was in Old Havana. The police officer-looking man jumped into my picture and afterwards held out his hand, wanting me to give him 5 CUCs which are about = to a dollar. Turned out he was an actor. I gave him one CUC since I didn't ask for him to mess up my picture of this statue.

This was in Old Havana. The police officer-looking man jumped into my picture and afterward held out his hand, wanting me to give him 5 CUCs which are about = to a dollar. Turned out he was an actor. I gave him one CUC since I didn’t ask for him to mess up my picture of this statue.

Really cool modern art in Old Havana.

Really cool modern art in Old Havana.

I promised to show pictures of Cuban statuary and art, so here goes. Pretty good for an iPhone 6.

The guy on the right is the statuary.

The one on the right is the statue.

 

 

Still in Old Havana.

Still in Old Havana.

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Outside a restaurant in Old Havana.

Outside a restaurant in Old Havana.

On the wall at one of the rooftop restaurants.

On the wall at one of the rooftop restaurants.

This mural depicts a scene from the 19th century. The building they are entering is actually across the street where I was standing. Very clever, I thought.

This mural depicts a scene from the 19th century. The building they are entering is actually the building across the street, where I was standing to take the photo.

Old Havana.

Old Havana.

A bust of Dulce Maria Loynaz, a famous writer and promotor of writers who owned a fabulous house that the revolutionaries actually let her keep and continue to live in. It's now a cultural center where writers and artists meet.

A bust of Dulce Maria Loynaz, a famous writer and promoter of writers who owned a fabulous house that the revolutionaries actually let her keep and continue to live in. It’s now a cultural center where writers and artists meet.

In Centro Cultural, the Dulce Maria house.

In Centro Cultural, the Dulce Maria house.

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The story of this eagle is that Dulce Maria wanted it and the seller didn't want to let it go. She told him no eagle, no sale.

The story of this eagle is that Dulce Maria wanted it and the seller didn’t want to let it go. She told him no eagle, no sale.

Window at the top of the landing in the Centro Cultural house.

Window at the top of the landing in the Centro Cultural house.

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Tapestry on a wall on the second floor of Centro Cultural.

Tapestry on a wall on the second floor of Centro Cultural.

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Guarding the private sanctuary.

Guarding the private sanctuary.

 

Trinidad

Pottery in Trinidad

Prof. Susana and statuary at restaurant in Trinidad.

Prof. Susana and statuary at restaurant in Trinidad.

Opps, no art, just me.

Opps, no art, just me, Judge Susana.

Che Gueverra

Che Guevera

At one of our hotels.

Outside one of our hotels.

At rest stop.

At rest stop.

At Hotel Nacional.

At Hotel Nacional.

At Hotel Nacional in Havana.

At Hotel Nacional in Havana.

 

 

 

 

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A Memory of a Soldier and his Baby

This morning when I looked on Facebook to see all the photographs of military members that families had put on there, I saw that my oldest daughter had put this picture of her father. Apparently the grandkids took a copy to school to honor him for his service.

Peter F. Olsen, U.S. Army, 1970-71

Peter Olsen, U.S. Army, 1970-71

As soon as I saw the picture, a memory popped into my mind. You see, my daughter Susan was born in March of 1971 while her father was serving in Viet Nam. I was living with my parents in their home just off Teichman Road in Galveston. On the wall of the room in which I stayed, I hung the above picture which was actually quite large, probably 16″ X 20″.

Every day he was gone, I would hold her up to the picture and tell her, “This is your daddy.” Sometimes more than once a day.

Our daughter, Susie, in 1971.

Our daughter, Susie, in 1971.

The day he returned from Viet Nam, my grandmother babysat Susie so I could drive up to Intercontinental Airport in North Houston to pick Pete up without having to worry about toting a 2 month old baby and all the necessary equipment around the airport.

When we returned to the house, I scooped her up into my arms and handed her to him. “This is your daughter,” I said to him. “This is your daddy,” I said to her. He looked into her face, and she broke out into the biggest smile you ever did see.

Do you have memories of the veterans in your family? If so, I would love to read about them. Please leave a reply.

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A Day of the Dead altar in Centro.

A Day in (Santiago de Querétaro) QUERETARO, MEXICO

Yesterday (Nov. 3, the day after Day of the Dead in Mexico) I traveled by bus with two friends to Queretaro, Mexico, a 1-2 million population city within an hour’s drive of San Miguel, unless you take the autobus that stops and picks up people along the way, in which case it’s more like 1 1/2 hours. We did the latter on the way over because we didn’t realize so many people would be traveling to Queretaro, and we didn’t have reservations. We took the ETN (1st class bus) on the way back, which is nonstop and way nicer usually, except for a couple of things yesterday: 1. You’re supposed to get a bottle of water gratis, and they only had Coke products. Puke. 2. The bus comes from Mexico City, and it was about 45 minutes late. Good thing we’re all retired, or mostly.

Parque.

Alter at a Parque in Centro.

The only time I’ve been to Queretaro in the past was in 2005 before the “mall” here. We purchased the furniture for our condo at Liverpool (a department store) in the (old) mall there. Also, occasions when we went to Costco there, before Costco came to Celaya, which is only half an hour from here. And when I fly out of the airport there. (Back in 2005, that wasn’t possible.)

One of many beautiful doors.

One of many beautiful doors.

We arrived in Queretaro before 11:00, and from the bus station, after standing in line to buy a taxi ticket (a procedure that insures a safe trip and honest driver), and standing in an even longer line to get a taxi (it’s like standing in line for a taxi at the airport in NYC), we proceeded to Centro.

Wonderful statuary everywhere.

Wonderful statuary everywhere.

Not sure whether this is tomorrow's lunch.

Not sure whether this is tomorrow’s comida.

Street entertainment.

Street entertainment.

There we walked around and looked in shops and restaurants and admired the sights. IMG_4651I bought some Amaretto loose tea (had a lovely aromatic cup or 3 this morning), my friends bought herbs and fabric).

A figure outside an art gallery where literally the Artist In Residence lets students come in and paint in his gallery. He gives advice and runs the gallery and paints, as well.

A figure outside an art gallery where literally the Artist In Residence lets students come in and paint in his gallery. He gives advice and runs the gallery and paints, as well.

We spent a good while in the fabric store, 2 of the 3 of us sew, the other one wanted fabric for a tablecloth. The fabric is about 100 times better than the cheap quality material here in SMA. I have plans to go back as soon as I get the patterns I ordered. (No where around here have I been able to find patterns. I guess Mexicans don’t need them, but I’m not that good a seamstress.)

We returned to the 1810 Restaurant, IMG_4642which we’d admired when we first circled the square, and had a wonderful lunch.

Greeters at the restaurant.

Greeters at the restaurant.

A loiterer outside the restaurant.

A loiterer outside the restaurant.

One of the waiters.

One of the waiters.

Another waiter.

This guy apparently failed to pay his tab.

I wonder whether it pays much to just stand outside the restaurant and hold the menu.

I wonder whether it pays much to just stand outside the restaurant and hold the menu.

My shrimp salad with tangerine sauce. I almost licked the platter clean.

My shrimp salad with tangerine sauce. I almost licked the platter clean.

Afterward, up one pedestrian walkway we found a really fun French-style coffee shop where the other Susan and I shared a decadent brownie and our other friend bought a cinnamon roll (with cardamom) to take home and savor later.

By then, we were about out of time. We walked a bit more down a street we hadn’t explored and caught a taxi which took us back to the bus station for a 4:05 bus ride home. 4:05 turned into about 5:00 p.m., and we arrived back at our homes around 6 after a taxi ride back to our neighborhood. Yes, we were delayed. Yes, our feet hurt. And yes, we had a great time. I can’t wait to go back and explore even more.

This is the publishing house symbol.

Last Full Day in Cuba

IMG_0946On our last full day in Cuba, we traveled to a town called Matanzas City.

Down on the town square, we visited Vigia Publishing House, a place where they make books–by that I mean, hand-made journals and bookmarks. Several people were sitting at a couple of tables and constructing colorful covers from fabric, buttons, string, and cutouts of other things.

Woman making journals and other small books.

Woman making journals and other small books.

Some of the books for sale.

Some of the books for sale

Again, the folks were lovely and welcoming and let us handle the merchandise. I bought a small journal with two lovers kissing on the cover and a bookmark that was hand-painted.

We also met with some UNEAC writers and exchanged ideas again. All the writers always seemed pleased to meet us.

Later we lunched at the very lovely Hotel Velasco. IMG_0937A small band played and some of the people danced.

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Barbara and Prof. Susana

Barbara and Prof. Susana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The food was most excellent. Anytime I can have fish, I’m happy.IMG_0919

That afternoon, we drove back to Havana and checked into the Nacional Hotel, a 5 star hotel that has been standing for about 90 years. It reminded me a lot of the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, Texas, where I’m from. The hotel was visited by movie stars and politicians until the revolution. Then, solders were billeted there and practiced drills in the back in view of the bay. Later, the hotel was returned to what it was designed for.

A miniature of the Nacional Hotel.

A miniature of the Nacional Hotel.

Nacional Hotel which faces the water.

Nacional Hotel which faces the water.

The view from the walkway at the back of the Nacional Hotel.

The view from the walkway at the back of the Nacional Hotel. In the distance, a fort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My room was lovely with classic 1930s decor,

My room at Nacional Hotel.

My room at Nacional Hotel.

double beds, double closets, dresser, large bathroom with tub, flat screen TV. And, of course, air-conditioning. I could have stayed there the whole trip, but then I suppose I wouldn’t have seen the real Cuba. When people say they’ve been to Cuba and just love it, I know some of them have been to “all-inclusive” resorts and never even visited Havana. I’m glad I had the experience of the real Cuba.

That night, we had our farewell dinner in a lovely dining room, not the one we were scheduled to be in, which was reputedly full.

Farewell dinner dining room.

Farewell dinner dining room.

Foreigners were everywhere–clearly some of them were very wealthy. The hotel had everything one could want, just as in any elegant hotel in a big city, including a jewelry store and a nightclub show as in “Copa Cabana.” We didn’t see the show, just a poster.

There was an office on a separate floor from the main floor where one could go to buy internet minutes and a scratch-off card with the access information. They also had computers there–an internet café. First time I’d had internet access for about 5 days.

The next morning, before I checked out, three of us went exploring. The grounds were gorgeous and included a pool and outside bar. Inside in the basement was a bar and a café where one could get takeaway, so I was able to obtain a sandwich for lunch on my Interjet flight back to Mexico City.

Bar in the basement.

Bar in the basement.

Me, next to an antique juke book. You can see the smile of the collages. The one to my left is the first one.

Me, next to an antique juke box. You can see the size of the collages. The one to my left is the first one. At the top it says 30s. Can you spot Errol Flynn?

The basement was like a museum with relics of days gone by including tall collages of photos of famous people who had visited each decade beginning in the 30s through recent times. Amazing to see recent photographs of Americans when we supposedly weren’t allowed to visit.

 

This is a trunk someone forgot when they checked out.

This is a trunk someone forgot when they checked out.

An old record player.

An old record player.

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And this?

See anyone here you recognize?

See anyone recently famous?

See anyone recently famous?

Lounge chairs on the back patio.

Lounge chairs on the back patio. The bar in the distant corner.

A taxi outside the hotel the last morning.

A taxi outside the hotel the last morning.

Finally, the tour organizer went with me to the airport because she knows the ropes. All went well except the computer went down just as I went in to change my Cuban CUCs back into Mexican pesos. I found that to be interesting, especially because Cuba supposedly only got the internet this year. Couldn’t they figure out how to exchange my money by calculating with paper and pencil? Of course that’s assuming they had the current exchange rate printed out and in front of them. There was nothing for me to do but leave my money with the tour organizer for her to change later and bring to me when she returns to San Miguel. Luckily I had enough pesos so that when I reached Mexico City I could at least buy water.

I’m glad I went to Cuba. I found it to be very interesting. But I sure was glad to get back to San Miguel–to mi esposo and our perra, Hannah.

I would recommend if you are going to Cuba, see the real Cuba, not the one designed for foreigners. It will open your eyes to what can happen after over 50 years of communism. I’m not saying our system of capitalism in the United States is perfect–far from it–but I do think it’s better than what I observed in Cuba.