Sunday, December 12, 2010

SNOW FOR THE SNOWLESS – Sharing the Wonder

For my friends in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and other parts of the world not blessed with the wonder of snow, here are a few images of our beautiful, white landscape after our first big winter snow storm.
Para mis amigos mexicanos, panameños, costarricenses y ustedes de otras partes del mundo en que no cuentan usteds con el asombro de la nieve, aquí tenemos unas imágenes de nuestro hermoso paisaje de blanco después de nuestra primera tempestad invernal.

When we northerners visit your countries' landscapes, warm year-round with greens, browns and all the floral colors, with those plants and animals we've never seen before, it seems so fascinating, so exotic. For you, though, it's what you see every day; you might take it for granted. But if you could come here on a winter day like this, I know you'd be struck by that same kind of enchantment.
Cuando nosotros norteños visitan los paisajes de sus países calentados por colores de verde, de marrón y de flor, con todas las plantas y animales que nunca hemos visto, nos parece muy fascinantes, muy exóticos. Sin embargo, para ustedes, eso es lo que ven cada día; tal vez se lo den por sentado. Pero, si ustedes pueden venir acá durante un día invernal como este, es cierto que se quede encantados.

Our sidewalks have walls.

Some people's cars get snowed or plowed in.

These bikes won't roll today.

Sure beats shoveling!

Friends and neighbors pitch in.

Tree limbs are etched in black and white.

The frozen Mississippi River, just a block from home.


The equivalent of one inch (2.5 centimeters) of liquid precipitation—not uncommon for a summer storm—can result in as much as 20 inches (50 cm) of snow. That's how much we got from the winter storm that passed through here yesterday. For the whole winter here in east central Minnesota, we usually get about 48 inches (1.2 m), but it rarely gets that deep because some of it melts now and then.

When it settles on the ground, snow can be wet or dry, as light as feathers or as heavy as sand. Generally, the flakes are those exquisite, iconic, hexagonal ice crystals, but they can also take shape as plates, shards (needles) or little round pellets we call corn snow. It all depends on the air temperature, how and where the crystals form and several other conditions.

When it's the light, dry kind, snow is fairly easy to walk or drive through; you can shuffle through it like piles of dry autumn leaves, except the sound is softer, like the slightest whisper. But when the snow's heavy and wet, it's harder to navigate, and it can get pretty messy.

Often, after a big snow storm, a mass of brutally cold arctic air will sweep down from the northwest as it has today. This air is very dry, and changes the consistency of the snow so it crunches and squeaks like Styrofoam when you walk on it.

After a few cars or trucks have driven over snow, it compacts into ice. It can be extremely slippery. Those of us who have lived here all our lives have learned how to drive in snow fairly safely. Young drivers, people who are impatient and recent immigrants from snowless climes have a much harder time getting around.

After yesterday's big storm, the city's big snow plows came through the streets, moving the snow to piles along the sides. For the first day, people can't park their cars along the street. If the do, they either get towed away or nearly buried by the plows.

The plowing angers people who have just shoveled out their sidewalks and driveways, since the new piles cover up the areas they've just shoveled. Plows mix up the snow, squeezing much of the air out of it and making it dense and very heavy.

A big winter storm changes the way people here think about life (not unlike, I suppose, when you experience a flood or a hurricane in your country). The whole community comes outside to see what's happened, and they all pitch in and help each other. It's a nice feeling, one I wish we could share all the time.

But snow's more than just a challenge for us; it's also a delight. One of our favorite Christmas songs is called I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas. And this is just what we do. We hope for snow, so we can enjoy its beauty, so we can play in it, and so the runners of Santa Claus's sleigh will have something slippery to slide on when it lands on each child's rooftop.

We learn, when we're children, to associate snow with play. We roll around in it and throw it; we make "snow angels" by lying in the snow and then sweeping our arms and legs; we dig tunnels into the huge piles left by shoveling and plowing; we build forts and igloos; we sculpt it into statues, we slide and ski on it.

If it's the right consistency, you can pick up a handful of snow and shape it into a ball. We love having "snowball fights," throwing them at each other. Usually they break apart when they hit you, and sometimes the pieces go down your neck inside your jacket. That's almost a funny as it is cold!

If you've never experienced snow, you can't imagine how beautiful it is. It's amazing seeing everything covered in white. Lawns, streets, sidewalks, parking lots, the roofs of buildings—all pure white. Even the trees wear cloaks of white. Those that have shed their leaves for winter have the tops of each dark brown or gray branch crisply etched in white.

The evergreens hold more snow, though often their branches droop under its weight. And—even more stunning than the whiteness,—when the snow is fresh, the sun catches the reflective surfaces of each tiny water crystal, making all of it sparkle like a blanket of diamonds.

I wish you all could see this. Would you like to experience a northern winter? I sincerely hope you get the chance to do so one day!

Friday, December 3, 2010

BOQUETE PANAMA - Parting Images

Most Boqueteños seem prosperous; I love this home, a block from school.

Others live in little more than lean-tos.
False façade against misty mountains

A spectacular fungus – Chorcha, Chiriquí

Butterfly – Chorcha, Chiriquí (anyone recognize the variety?)

Rescued howler monkey, Alouatta Lodge

Habla Ya school director, Lorena, chats with staffer, Ismenia.

An excursion to David; playing Password in Spanish

Woman dressed in traditional pollera – David

My new friend and fellow student, Lucy, from England

My wonderful host, Guillermo, bids me buen viaje.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Miracles come in strange and wonderful ways.

This morning, due to a schedule change, instead of my usual one AM hour of one-on-one Spanish, I had two. After a surprisingly rigorous week and a half and a pretty discouraging day yesterday, I was dreading another four hours in the classroom this afternoon. Dear Lord, I was thinking, how I'd love to get outdoors and enjoy some of this gorgeous, lush countryside! After all, I've been here nearly two weeks and haven't been more than a mile or so from downtown; besides, my mind is starting to feel pretty fried. I didn't hurry back to school after lunch—bad sign.

Dutifully, I dragged myself upstairs to meet my profesora, Janeth, and buckle down to work. "I've been thinking, Jeff." she said, "What would you think if we got in my car and went for a drive this afternoon?" I just about kissed her.

We drove north of town, up into the hills, to an area called Alto (Upper) Boquete where we stopped at a sort of tourist information center with a mirador, or observation deck, overlooking the valley and the village of Bajo (Lower) Boquete. The place also houses a modest museum of historical exhibits about the town's and the region's (Chiriquí's) origins and development. Janeth recalled how this place had fascinated her when she was a girl. She was transported by the beauty of the panoramas, but her most vivid memory is of a caged lion once kept here, and her subsequent dreams of encountering lions in the dense forests covering much of the area at that time. (Looking over the photos of the town's founding fathers and mothers, we found the one of Guillermo Bell Miranda, the very same Abuelo Guillermo who, at 95, is the patriarch of the home in which I'm staying.)

We swung by a little duro stand Janeth likes to see if they had her favorite flavor, coconut. (Duros are home-made frozen fruit ice "pops" made in simple plastic cups and often for sale at roadside stands or out of people's homes.) Alas, they were out of coconut, but she settled for a yogurt flavor, and I had one made from fresh strawberries. It was delicious!

We then drove to the other end of town, and up into an area called Los Naranjos, where we wound up and up into the hills, through coffee fincas, and destitute little settlements of indigenous Ngöbe-Bugle workers hired to work the fields and harvest the coffee granosIt seems impossible that families could function out of such hovels, many of the units no bigger than the smallest motel room you've ever seen, others made of just sticks and scavenged sheets of plastic or sheet metal. Nearly every one of the drab dwellings, though, wore a cheery garland of brightly colored clothes, hung out to dry.

We stopped to enjoy a beautiful waterfall and an amazing rock formation called los ladrillos (the bricks), for its resemblance to such building blocks. The igneous rock has somehow flowed and cracked into what appear to be distinct strands, which reach horizontally across the face of the cliff and then sweep elegantly outward so the viewer's looking at the ends of the strands.

In other places, towering cliffs and graceful waterfalls soared far above us, a breathtaking backdrop to patches of pine forest that reminded me of home in Minnesota.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I'd intended to include a link to Alouatta Lodge, in case you want to learn more or contact Michelle and Steven. Here it is: Alouatta Lodge

Also, I mentioned to Steven that my cousin Everett Janssen is doing similar work in Costa Rica. Working with Kids Saving the Rainforest, and other environmental and animal rescue groups, Everett is working to build a substantial new monkey rescue and rehabilitation center near Quepos.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Spanish School has been far harder than I'd imagined. So I was really glad to get away today (Sunday) for a little excursion. Ostensibly, these outings (and there's no shortage of them here in Boquete, a sort of hotspot of hiking, rafting, zip-lining and eco-you-name-it adventure) are integrated into the Spanish program as opportunities to practice the language in settings more relaxed and spontaneous than the classroom. But, with my heavy class schedule—not to mention producing content for two blogs—there just hasn't been any free time.

So, along with fellow students, Deborah and Glenda, our Habla Ya staff guide, Nodir, and our driver, we headed happily south toward the picturesque Chiriquí Gulf region of the country, specifically to an area called Chorcha. Our destination, Alouatta Lodge and Release Center.

Our first 30 or so kilometers in the small 4x4 were a piece of cake. It was the last two I'll remember. Once we turned off the paved road, we wound our way up something that looked like it might, at one time, have been a road. Today, though, it was a series of hub-deep mud holes and hub-high rocks. Our driver handled it with skill and patience.

Steven Walker with furry sidekick.
The owner of Alouatta Lodge, Steven Walker, a hale Australian in well-used work clothes and rubber boots, met us at the gate. Another few hundred yards and we stopped at the foot of a long, sloping lawn leading up to the main lodge building. As we hopped  out, his wife and co-owner, Michelle, was ambling down the grassy slope from the main building, carrying several oddly-shaped dark objects. And they were moving!
Michelle Walker, with an armful of monkeys.
Turns out the Walkers, with son Robert and daughter Becky, had left the rat race behind and bought their 15-hectare tract of high forest here just three years ago.

Becky Walker

Apparently, they'd intended to refashion the place into a botanical garden and forest preserve, offering guests lodging and a chance to explore a network of trails winding through the preserve.

That was before they were adopted by the howler monkeys. Soon after they'd arrived, a neighbor gave them one they'd rescued, and the Walkers soon picked up another they found wandering, abandoned or lost, along the road. (They learned there were no fewer than ten howler troops residing in and around their land.)

Yahoo, one of the Walkers' resident mantled howler monkeys.
Like everyone and everything does in the tropical jungle, they went with the flow. Steven still carried out his trail clearing and landscaping. (He's a horticulturalist with design experience all over the world and Michelle's an accomplished gardener in her own right.) But he and the rest of the family also committed themselves to preserving and caring for these most spectacular of Panama's monkeys. Steven told me they are the first people in the world to have cared for these mantled howler monkeys and then successfully released them back into the wild.

As Steven power-washed the deck and Michelle and Becky worked on lunch, the rest of us took the "easy" Green Trail into the woods. It's still the rainy season here, and, though not especially hot, the air was like an over-saturated sponge, sopping us to the skin. We found many interesting
A serpentine vine slithers through the saturated air.
and exotic plants, several enchanting varieties of mushroom and fungus, some positively evil-looking, spiky caterpillars, a number of beautiful butterflies and a couple of busy hummingbirds. While we spotted only one monkey, the unearthly, guttural roar of the big male howlers echoed all around us. I suppose they knew we were there.

Back at the lodge, as the four or five tame, resident monkeys clambered to share our food and drinks with us, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch on the deck. Chicken breast, rice, and two salads—one of lettuce; the other of hearts of palm and cilantro. And even wine.

The Blue Morpho loped across the picnic tab
Suddenly, an arresting flash of neon blue. A Blue Morpho butterfly loped across the picnic table, circled us a few times and headed back into the undergrowth. (I think the Morpho has a unique way of flying; its floppy flight makes it appear even lighter and more ephemeral than other butterflies.)

Steven shows off one of his rarest halicones.
As we sat in the reluctant sun, a couple of the monkeys took a shine to Glenda and Deborah. For much of the next hour, both walked around wearing live-monkey stoles as Steven took us around the grounds and showed us the incredible array of plants and trees he'd established in what had been no more than a motley stand of palm trees.

Deborah and new friend

Gingers, bromeliads, heliconia, vanilla, torch plant, even lantana—a plant I've always associated with Australia, but which Steven says grows naturally here in Panama.

Glenda, about to lose a knuckle
Michelle introduced us to their resident tamarins, living in a substantial cage Steven says was donated to them by the BBC.

After three years of toil, the fond abduction of their hearts and surrender to a simpler, more sane lifestyle, the Walker family now faces a heartbreaking reality. Between a scattering of guests and a few partnerships with other local attractions, they simply can't make the enterprise pay for itself. Just today, they told us, they'd forked over $500 to the vet to treat a couple of sick monkeys. Nonetheless, they've designed a more spectacular, sprawling lodge, hoping, at least, to find a buyer who'd build it some day and commit to preserving both their monkey rescue-and-release efforts and their sustainable footprint on this wonderful place.
Alouatta Lodge overlooks the islands of the Chiriquí Gulf.

Friday, November 12, 2010


I'm not yet fluent in Spanish. You'll notice I said "yet."  That says a lot about my first four days of Spanish school here in Boquete. I always try not to have many expectations of trips like this. Even so, I'm surprised at how hard and what long hours I've been working. First off, I'd expected "classes" to entail at least a balance of classroom work with field trips and other real-world, "fun" experience. In other words, less time tightening my grammatical grasp on the language, and more on gaining confidence and applying the skills I already have. Not to mention being more active, socializing with some of my fellow students and getting to see some of this gorgeous countryside.

Still, even with all this work—five hours of that intensive one-on-one classroom instruction, plus about another five doing homework and keeping up with my writing—I don't think the experience could be much more rewarding.

I'm really looking forward to my first extra-curricular activity with other students tomorrow evening. Some of us are heading to a restaurant for what I hope will be just a time to relax and have fun with our Spanish. I'm also excited about the chance to imbibe just a bit, since, but for one or two beers all week, I've had to forego my accustomed before dinner cocktail(s).

The Bell Miranda family continue to humble me with their generosity and concern for my happiness. Yesterday I returned home from school to find my room completely re-arranged, the two single beds now stacked and, in the additional space, a small table and chair for my laptop. All my clothes had been nicely arranged and all my toiletries and other small stuff neatly stashed in a closet. They're even getting WiFi installed next week, so I won't have to work so hard at school each morning before classes begin.

This weekend, Guillermo has promised to show me around the area by car, including a visit to his finca, or coffee farm, up behind the house. I can't wait for the chance to see everything and take some better photos than the shots I've been able to get walking to and from el centro every day.

Tonight I wrapped all the small gifts I'd brought for the family, and made the presentations at the dining room table. Stuff from Minnesota—a ceramic moose figurine, an ice-skating black bear Christmas tree ornament, a Twins cap, a picture frame for the family portrait I promised to take, some nice soaps for the ladies, and a few Pearson's Nut Goodies and Salted Nut Rolls. I think they were all a big hit.

That's it for now. Here are a few photos:

View from the second floor window of the school
My incredible maestra, Minerva
The school occupies part of this handsome complex.
A view of Boquete's main street
The Bell Miranda family home

Habla Ya's academic office and student "cafeteria"
My morning maestra, Monica
Guillermo in the kitchen

My bedroom, before the makeover
Guillermo and family with their regalitos from Minnesota.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010



It looked like a long ways on the map, but all the hours in transit have really made the point. Seven in airplanes, seven on a bus, another two in taxis and by car. But here I am, at last, in Boquete, Panama, a sweet little town of about 15,000 in the misty mountains of western Panama. Exhausted, I arrived at the home of my host family last night.

My wonderful hosts, Nivia and Guillermo Bell Miranda
Señor Guillermo Bell Miranda is a coffee farmer. Every day, he works his land on top of the steep cerro just behind the house. His wife, Nivia, is a secretary in the local high school. Guillermo's parents live with them, 83-year-old Abuela Tomasa spending much of her time caring for her husband Guillermo senior, 95, who's no longer able to get out of bed. Guillermo and Nivia's two handsome sons, Tomás, 23, and Antonio, 17, (he only uses that name to help stem the confusion of being the third Guillermo in the household) also live with them, as does their very sweet daughter Stephanie, 21.

Nivia with son Antonio and daughter Stephanie
Tomás and Stephanie attend university in David, about an hour down the road. He's studying marketing, with an emphasis on graphic design, and she wants to become a teacher. Antonio is still in high school and loves motorsports. Stephanie comes home at night, but we don't see much of Tomás. Rounding out the household are four dogs, one of which bites and is expecting puppies, and two of which I haven't yet seen. The fourth, Fergie, is a sweet little dirty-white poodle who has the run of the house and has taken a liking to me—since my well-known dog whispering is now bilingual.

I'm sure the kids speak some English, as at least the basics are now mandatory in Panama's public schools. But everyone's going along with the program, which is to help me with my Spanish. The parents and grandparents speak almost no English.

The Bell Miranda house is spacious and comfortable compared with many I've stayed in in Latin America. I'd say they're considered fairly well off by local standards, though there are still obvious differences between their lifestyle and that we enjoy back home. Internet, yes, but still the sluggish dial-up kind (though they're getting WiFi soon); TV—in fact, two—but no big flat screens or hi-defs; no dishwasher; nice furnishings; and, of course, the apparent emblem of all Latin American middle-class homes: the single bare light bulb dimly illuminating each room.

Everyone's been very nice to me. They've included me in many of their normal family activities which, at least so far, have consisted of sitting around and chatting with relatives and friends who occasionally show up, watching TV and eating. Tomorrow's Monday, so I suppose the daily routine will be quite different. This morning, Guillermo and I drove downtown to pick up some groceries. I tried to buy a cheap ($21) cell phone and calling card, but the store proprietor couldn't make the thing work, so I passed for now. I'd still like to have one, since my regular cell phone won't work with Panama's cellular infrastructure.

Tomorrow morning I'll walk into town—about a mile and a half away—to my first classes at Habla Ya Spanish School. There I'll meet my teachers and compañeros, my classmates of the same level of skill. I don't expect there to be more than two or three at the most. Each weekday, I'll have four hours of group classes and one hour of individual instruction. The website promises the instruction won't be confined to the classroom; there are supposed to be many outings to mix with the locals and learn about the area. That sounds good to me, and I'm excited to get started!

I'll have to spend a couple of hours each afternoon tending to my two blogs—this one and my other, more philosophical one, Even though the Bell Mirandas have Internet, it won't work for my laptop without my first installing a huge software program. Since I can't risk that, I'll have to get my connection at school, at least for now.

From Boquete, ¡buenas noches!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Meeting Fernando Garrido

It was August, 2003. I was on my first of several Spanish immersion trips to central Mexico with my Spanish teacher and friend Silverio. Along with two more of Silverio’s students, his wife, Kate, and three-year-old daughter, Callahan, we were on one of our daylong field trips, this time from our base in Tequisquiapan to Querétaro, the capital city of the state of the same name. After a nearly unintelligible tram tour of the city, we explored more successfully on our own, including a visit to the Museo de Artes.

The museum occupies a grand former church building, though, as museums go, it’s quite small. Of the four main galleries surrounding a beautiful courtyard, two featured old, religious paintings in which I have little interest. A third gallery, with much more interesting modern works we could see through a window, was inexplicably closed. The last gallery featured a temporary exhibit of about ten paintings by an artist named Fernando Garrido, whom I assumed to be a Mexican. I was immediately taken in by the dreamlike, odd-but-not-quite-surreal subject matter (men in togas and fantastic headdresses, some of which emitted soap bubbles, posed with great tension and athleticism against eerily vacant landscapes). Some of the characters balanced or juggled various objects like balls, metal hoops and rods of iron rebar. Their quizzical expressions and the rusted, weathered textures of these objects were rendered realistically with a meticulous, yet energetic, technique comparable, I thought, with the best of the Renaissance. (I later characterized Garrido's work as Caravaggio meets Time Bandits – the latter a reference to the 1981 Terry Gilliam film.)

I knew I had to get posters of this guy’s work to show Sally and my brother, Dan, so I stopped at the small museum gift shop on our way out. To my great surprise and disappointment, the clerk told me they didn't have any posters of Garrido works. Well then, where are the postcards? No postcards. Book? No. Brochure? No. Well, okay, this is Mexico, I rationalized, and resigned myself to leaving with nothing but a mental picture of what I’d seen.

As I waited outside for my compañeros, Kate came out and handed me a slip of scrap paper with some numbers on it. Turns out she'd mentioned my disappointment to the ticket taker, who'd disappeared into a back room and emerged with the note. It was the local phone number of Fernando Garrido!

I didn't really know what to do with this information, but intrigue was definitely began to simmer deep in my gut. We walked back to the zocalo, the city’s main plaza and had lunch in a beautiful, airy, skylit hotel atrium amid lush, tropical greenery.

When I'd finished my lunch, Silverio noticed that I still had the slip of paper in my hand. He handed me his cell phone and said, “Why don't you call him?” I felt as if I were someone else watching me as I took the phone and dialed. By this time, everyone else at the table had stopped talking and was watching me. I was terrified.

A woman answered: “Bueno” / “¿Favor de permitirme hablar con el señor Garrido?” / “Un momento...” And then he answered. In deliberate but, I hoped, passable Spanish, I introduced myself, explained we were in Mexico immersed in Spanish, recounted our experience at the museum, told him how much I liked his work...and asked him where he lived. (He was very patient with my slow Spanish. He tried a little English, but caught himself after a few words, saying he guessed he'd better stick to Spanish. “Lo apreciaría mucho” (“I'd appreciate that.”), I replied, looking up at the rapt expressions of my fellow immersion students. I don’t know where it came from, but I asked him if we could come to meet him and see his studio. He hemmed and hawed a bit, explaining that he was going out for lunch and wouldn't be back 'til five. I asided to Silverio about how flexible our schedule was for the rest of the afternoon, and he whispered to go for it. “Bueno, a las cinco.” (Five it is.)

When the time came, we grabbed two taxis and headed for Jurequilla, a suburb about 10 miles north of el centro. We pulled up outside a substantial, white, two-story-plus, modern home in a small neighborhood of walled-off houses. I rang the bell next to the gate, the gate opened and there I was, suddenly trying to dredge up my meager repertoire of social introductions in Spanish.

Garrido, an unremarkable-looking, ruddy-complexioned man I guessed to be in his early to mid 40s, welcomed us into his home. He was very warm and gracious, treating us all from the start as if we were his long-lost friends. Freely flashing a gapped smile, he insisting we all join him in a glass of whiskey. He introduced his wife, Jacqueline (also a painter, whose work punctuates Fernando's throughout the house) and his very cute 10-year-old son, Alexis.

Fernando led us into his studio, a surprisingly small but lofty circular atrium with a vaulted brick ceiling, taking up the full height of the house—the space reminded me of the inside of a silo. There were a couple of his very small, dark paintings, unframed, on the wall and a number of larger, brighter ones stacked in a corner. Shelves full of brushes, varnishes and other art materials in beautiful, unique tequila bottles surrounded the studio. And there was a large work in progress on the easel. He apologized profusely for not having more work there to show us, since most of it had been shipped to buyers or was in the museum exhibit.

We all had lots of questions for Fernando. He went on at great length about his symbolism, how long each painting takes, how he comes up with titles (nearly always after the works are completed), and his chief influences: Caravaggio (“the greatest painter who ever lived”), DaVinci, Dali and Hals. He explained that the soap bubbles in most of his paintings represent the temporal nature of life, admonishing us to make the most of what life has to offer rather than waiting to “get it right.”
I'd decided, on the way over, to ask if there was some small item—maybe a sketch—I could buy from the artist. But, by the time our visit was drawing to a close, I was thinking this might be crass. Maybe, I reasoned, offering him the 1500-or-so pesos (then about $150) I had in my wallet would be taken as an insult. (He did, however, hand each of us a very nicely designed and printed brochure featuring a sampling of his work—I guess no one ever thought of getting any of these to the museum!) So at least I had this, the memories and the photo Anne took of Fernando and me in front of the painting he was currently working on. After we said our thank-yous and good-byes, and resolved to stay in touch, the whole family walked us to the gate. Fernando gave us directions to a nearby hotel complex where we could catch cabs back to the city, and we started walking.

We were a bit rushed to find cabs and get back to town in time for our 7:00 rendezvous with our van driver, Tonio. But as we hurried through the hotel courtyard, we passed a nice gallery, and I was drawn by the obvious quality of the work inside. Thinking I might find another souvenir of Juriquilla, I ducked in as the others went on. Alas, everything was either too big for carry-on or too expensive. Just as I was leaving, I turned for one last scan of the place and there, right in the middle of all the other stuff I'd just looked at, was a small, bright piece with...what's this?... bubbles! I rushed back in and picked it up. It was a Garrido!

Making what I will not soon live down as the single worst haggling maneuver of my—or anyone else’s— life, I exclaimed to the gallery owner, “My God, I just had a drink with this guy!!” As I was asking “¿Quanto cuesta?” (How much is it?), I could almost hear the wheels turning in the woman's head: “Double it...triple it." When I heard her price, I told her it was several times too much for my budget, but she knew she had me. Nonetheless, to make me feel better, she said she’d forego her commission. Once we’d agreed on the price, she picked up the phone to call Fernando. I'm sure she wanted to let him know the top dollar she'd just gotten from some bozo for his tiny painting, though she told me he needed my address so he could send me a certificate of his authorship.

When the woman had wrapped up my painting, I grabbed it and took off jogging for the cab stand, worried the others might have forgotten about me and left. Silverio had sent the first cabfull ahead to make sure they’d catch Tonio. With Silverio, Kate and Callahan, we finally caught up with them and Tonio at Querétaro for the rainy van ride back to Tequisquiapan.

I spent the whole ride reflecting on the amazing experience we’d just had—and clutching my new treasure.

(Fernando and I have remained in touch, and Silverio and have visited him on two more occasions. He’s exhibited throughout Latin America, as well in Scandinavia, where he’s attracted quite a following. His larger paintings now sell for upwards of $10,000. I continue trying to make contacts for him in the Twin Cities art community in hopes that, one day, he might consider exhibiting here.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

La Barra Mural Update

Since the school kids of La Barra de Potosí began painting the blown-up renditions of their butterfly art on the library wall last week, Doña Laura has been keeping us posted on their progress with almost daily reports and photos. She reports that the students are so excited and proud that they can't wait for the next time they can work on their mural, and that there's a real sense of community-wide interest.

The photos, and even a brief U-Tube video, have been shared on the very busy ZihuaRob's Message Board, the cyber-community of people who live in, visit or just love the Zihuatanejo/ La Barra/ Troncones area.