January 2010 rozinlapaz

Remember, the tree is older than you are,
and you might find stories in its branches.
Recuerda, el árbol es mayor que tú
y tal vez encuentres cuentos entre sus ramas.

These are the closing lines of the poem Árbol de Limón, by Mexican-born writer Jennifer Clement. The poem embodies the theme of this anthology, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwhich the editor describes as “a bilingual gathering” of poems, stories and pictures from Mexico. The Tree is Older Than You Are is one of a treasure trove of books available in La Paz.

Further down the page is a list of resources for book lovers in La Paz. But first, more about this Spanish-English book. It’s written for children aged 8 and older, but it also will appeal to adults — those who want to learn more about Mexico’s writers and artists, those who want to practise their Spanish, and those who want to explore a sumptuous collection of poetry, folk tales and pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe editor of The Tree is Older Than You Are, published in 1995, is Naomi Shihab Nye, an author from San Antonio, Texas. Nye has been traveling back and forth to Mexico all her life. Among the 61 contributors she has chosen are some emerging writers whose names you may not know; others are powerhouses of Latin American literature, including the seminal writer and Nobel-prizewinner, Octavio Paz. Stories and poems in this collection range in tone from pensive to whimsical:

Nieve/ Snow Cone
Mi madre/ My mother
Me compró/ Bought me
Una luna/ A moon.
La pedí/ I asked
de limón./ For lemon.
Alberto Forcada translated by Judith Infante

This anthology cracks open a doorway to the world of Mexican literature. That’s because a thumbnail biography of each contributor will help enable readers to track down other published work.

de Refranes/ from Proverbs
No hay pájaro que viva triste
(no bird alive can be sad)
Si tiene corazón, canción y alpiste
(If it has a heart, a song, and seed).
Margarita Robleda Moguel translated by Mary Guerrero Milligan

Here are more suggestions of where to find books (and fellow bookworms) in La Paz:

Allende Books

The city’s English-language bookstore is close to Jardin Velasco and the Cathedral, at Independencia #518, between Serdan and G. Prieto (next-door to Ángel Azul B&B). This shop has a little something for everyone. You will find a good selection of books on the Baja and mainland Mexico, as well as current fiction and non-fiction imported from the United States. The store features the Moon and Lonely Planet travel guides, maps, materials for boaters and fishermen (Sea of Cortez Cruiser’s Guide, most recent fishing maps of the waters in the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Coast), Spanish language study materials and dictionaries. There’s an assortment of children’s books, many bi-lingual (that’s where I bought my copy of The Tree is Older Than You Are). There are books featuring Mexico style interior decoration, desert gardening and cookbooks. You will also find many hand-selected gift items from the peninsula, mainland Mexico and Central America. Most books are in English, but there are also some in Spanish. Open Monday through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Phone number: (612)125 9114. Allende Books has a website: Allendebooks.com

Book club: Palabra por Palabra

Allende Books is also a good place to find out more about the La Paz book club, “Palabra por Palabra” – to learn where, when and what book will be discussed at the monthly gathering. The location of club meetings shifts among members’ homes.There’s a discussion each month, usually the first Tuesday of the month at 2 p.m. Go to my Links page for more information.

Club Cruceros’ free book-exchange

This book exchange in the Club Cruceros’ clubhouse is a great place to find beach reads, but you will also encounter the occasional Pulitzer-prize winner and classic. The clubhouse has magazines of a certain vintage and a DVD rental library. While you’re there, consider taking out a membership for $10 (or 100 pesos) per year. Club Cruceros de La Paz is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping less fortunate children of La Paz and to exchanging cruising information. In addition, club members organize a large variety of social activities. Members are mainly ocean cruisers, but landlubbers are welcome, too. Check out their website at . http://www.clubcruceros.org/ or visit the clubhouse at Marina de La Paz.

Librería Educal Libros y Arte

Most reading material is in Spanish. This government-supported bookstore is a Mexican cultural gem when it comes to gift-buying and browsing. The store is at the Centro Cultural La Paz, the Antigua Presidencia Municipal de la Ciudad de la Paz (Avenida 16 de Septiembre at the corner of Belisario Domínguez, (612) 128 94 21). That’s next door to the tourism office. You will find CDs, children’s toys, beautiful T-shirts and art objects, as well as books here. For more information (in Spanish), go to the website at lapaz@educal.com.mx


This large variety store bordering Jardin Velasco (Calle 5 de Mayo 204 (612)1227692) carries everything from chocolates to furniture. The books section is mainly in Spanish, but you will also find some Baja books in English and a shelf or two of English magazines and mass market paperbacks. Their well-stocked shelves of Spanish-language books include dictionaries in Spanish/German, Spanish/French, Spanish/Italian, Spanish/Portuguese.

(originally posted January 2010)


November 2009 rozinlapaz

Ay que bonito es volar
(Oh, how lovely it is to fly)
A las dos de la mañana
(At two o’clock in the morning)
A las dos de la mañana
(At two o’clock in the morning)
Ay que bonito es volar, ay mama
(Oh, how lovely it is to fly! Oh, Mama)

The start of November is when Mexicans celebrate El Día de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Step outside after midnight and you just may hear, in the darkness, a “whoooshing” sound overhead. It’s an apt time to encounter La Bruja (The Witch) – a hauntingly beautiful melody with lyrics that mix humor, terror and glee.

La Bruja is a traditional Mexican song that reflects a uniquely Mexican attitude towards death. It is also a dance. The country’s Nobel laureate Octavio Paz talks about the Mexico’s attitude, so different from the somber kid-gloved treatment death receives at the hands of many other cultures: “The Mexican is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his toys and his most steadfast love.”

On Nov. 1 and 2, families visit the graves of loved ones, offer the departed favorite foods and drinks, and build temporary altars. This is a festival for the senses: marigolds and velvety purple coxcombs, candied skulls and fragrant sweet bread with “bones” of dough.

The lyrics of La Bruja are rife with double meanings about a witch who may also be a seductress. The composer is unknown. Salma Hayek sang the song in “Frida,” a film about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. But my favorite version is a duet by Mexican singers Lila Downs (pictured below in red) and Eugenia León (in purple). You can listen to their wonderful duet on YouTube. Go to:

And here are the lyrics of the first few verses:

Ay que bonito es volar
(Oh, how lovely it is to fly)
A las dos de la mañana
(At two o’clock in the morning)
A las dos de la mañana
(At two o’clock in the morning)
Ay que bonito es volar, ay mama
(Oh, how lovely it is to fly! Oh, Mama)


Subir y dejarse caer

(To rise and let oneself fall)
En los brazos de una dama
(In the arms of a woman)
En los brazos de una dama
(In the arms of a woman)
Y hasta quisiera llorar, ay mama
(I almost feel like weeping, Oh, Mama)


Me agarra la bruja
(The witch grabs me)
Me lleva a su casa
(She takes me to her house)
Me vuelve maceta
(She turns me into a flower pot)
Y una calabaza
(And into a pumpkin)


Me agarra la bruja
(The witch grabs me)
Me lleva al cerrito
(She takes me to the hills)
Me vuelve maceta
(She turns me into a flower pot)
Y una calabazito
(And into a little pumpkin)
Ay dígame, ay dígame, ay dígame usted!
(Oh, tell me, Oh tell me, Oh tell me, please!)
¿Cuantas criaturitas se ha chupado usted?
(How many children have you sucked dry)

Ninguna, ninguna, ninguna ¿no ve?
(None, none, none. Don’t you see?)
Que ando en pretensiones de chuparme a usted!
(It is you I intend to suck dry!)

La Bruja is often performed by dancers who float slowly across the stage, each with a lit candle on the head. you can see versions of this dance on YouTube. Here’s one:

Meanwhile, from a Web forum on Mexican folklore, here are a few spooky stories about the possible origin of the dance:

Theory #1: There was a young couple very much in love. The man gets sent away on a ship and the girl is left very sad and despondent. She can’t bear the emptiness in her heart and so she gets into a small rowboat and, with a candle as her only source of light, heads out to the sea to find him. She’s never heard from again. (From Irene Hernandez, director of Grupo Folklorico Sabor de Mexico).

Theory #2: In Mexican tradition, the presence of witches is related to the appearance of fire balls floating in the air, and thus the women dance with a lit candle on their heads. The slowness of the dance (allowing the dresses to be still) makes them look like they are floating on air.

Theory #3: The song makes reference to the drumming sounds coming in from the ocean. During the time of the slave trades some Africans would beat on the walls of the ships, as drums, for their religious purposes. These beats were carried over the ocean and the peoples on the shore thought it was some witchcraft or a bad sign coming in from the ocean.

Part of the fun of Web research is getting sidetracked. Looking for information on La Bruja led me down a few Internet side alleys. For those who want to do some exploring, here are interesting links I stumbled across:

The real Frida Kahlo Video: It’s a fragment of a documentary from The History Channel Español that uses footage from her life. The accompanying music is the lovely song, Esa Noche (This Night), by the group Café Tacuba:

Salma Hayek singing in the movie Frida: Here you’ll find video of Hayek practising La Bruja in the studio and of her performing in the film:

Singers Eugenia León and Lila Downs: If you enjoyed their performance of La Bruja, you can learn more about these Mexican divas from the Web. YouTube is a rich source of other performances by both singers. And you will find songs and biographical information by googling their names.

(originally posted November 2009)


September 2009 rozinalapz

When you bite into a Chile en Nogada, you get a taste of Mexican history and legend. This is the dish that bewitched the wedding guests in Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate.

The chiles not only looked good, they were indeed delicious — never before had Tita done such a marvelous job with them.

In the novel, the first wedding guest to react to the chiles in walnut sauce “immediately  recognized the heat in her limbs, the tickling sensation in the center of her body, the naughty thoughts, and she decided to leave with her husband before things went too far. When she left, the party started to break up.” All the other chile-eating guests quickly made their excuses , throwing heated looks at each other, and left. Everyone was in a hurry to make mad, passionate love.

The platters of chiles proudly wear the colors of the Mexican flag: the green of the chiles, the white of the nut sauce, the red of the pomegranates.

FEAchilesAccording to some historians, the dish that Esquival cast as an aphrodisiac was, in fact, invented in the 1800s by nuns in the town of Puebla. It was August 1821 and pomegranates were in season. The military commander Augustin de Iturbide had just signed the Treaty of Cordoba, granting Mexico its independence from Spain. He was travelling from Veracruz to Mexico City, and planned to stop in Puebla, where there would be a feast in his honour. The Augustinian nuns of Santa Monica Convent created a special dish in the colours of the Mexican flag: green chiles, white walnut sauce and red pomegranates.

Nowadays, Chiles en Nogada are served in September, the month Mexicans celebrate Independence Day. It’s not an easy dish to prepare,  but if you’re determined to try, google “chiles en nogada”  and “recipes.” Take your pick from the dozens of variations listed.

Or look for this dish on the menu at restaurants around town this month. One likely location is El Zarape, which specializes in traditional dishes. It’s at 3450 México street (between Oaxaca and Nayarit).

The last word goes to the magic storytelling of Laura Esquivel:

“The chiles disappeared in the blink of an eye. How long ago it seemed that Tita had felt like a chile in nut sauce left sitting on the platter out of etiquette, for not wanting to look greedy. Tita wondered whether the fact that there was not a single chile left on the platters was a sign that good manners had been forgotten or that the chiles were indeed splendid.”

(originally posted September 2009)