29 November 2008

La Corona de Adviento

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us we look forward to the Christmas season. In Mexico, “Navidad” begins with “El Adviento” (Advent) and the season runs all the way to February 2nd , “La Fiesta de Candelaria”. In English we call this day at various times, Candlemas Day, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The February 2nd date is also known in the U.S. as “Groundhog Day”. In any case, it is a long stretch from the beginning of December to the beginning of February when the “Navidad” decorations are finally taken down and the Christ child is removed from the manger, given new clothing, and put away until the next year. The Mexican people, like people everywhere, enjoy “Navidad” more than any other time of the year. My wife Gina has already prepared her “Corona de Adviento” or “Advent Wreath” and you can see it in the picture below. She and my sister Suzy definitely have one thing in common. They both go nuts over Christmas traditions.

The English word "advent", or in Spanish, "adviento", comes from the Latin word "adventus", which in itself is a translation of the Greek word "parousia", which is a reference to the Second Coming. Christians believe that the season of Advent serves a dual reminder of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting that Christians currently do in expectation of the Second Coming of Christ. For that reason and because of the ritual of lighting the advent candles there is something tugging at my heart that says perhaps we should also celebrate Hanukkah (Chanukah ), the Jewish festival of lights, in tandem with our Jewish brethren. The Jewish festival tradition incorporates a nine branched candelabra called a "menorah" and commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of the lamps burning for eight nights with very little oil. The Hanukkah festival lasts for eight nights and a new candle on the menorah is lit on each successive night. The ninth candle on the menorah, is called the “shamash” candle and it is used for the lighting of the other eight candles.

Now, before anyone from either side accuses me of blasphemy I can assure you that this is just a fanciful dream of mine and as we witness so many religious conflicts unfold around the world I realize more and more that it seems to be the purpose of organized religion to drive people apart and not bring them together. I just thought that it would be "cool" if Hanukkah would start on December 16th or 17th at the same time as the Mexican Posada season gets under way and both celebrations would conclude on December 24th. Okay, okay, I know that it could never happen and besides it would be too complicated. The Jewish festivals are based upon the lunar calendar and Hanukkah moves around quite a bit. The first night of Hanukkah won't fall on December 17th until the year 2014 and after that it will be quite a long spell before it repeats. This year Hanukkah doesn't begin until December 21st but that's okay too. After all, there is an old tradition that says Jesus was born during the Jewish festival of lights.

Technically Advent begins with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle which is November 30th and covers four Sundays, lasting until midnight on Christmas Eve. The first Sunday may be as early as November 27th, and in that case Advent has twenty-eight days. In some years the first Sunday may be as late as December 3rd giving the season only twenty-one days. This year, 2008, Advent begins on Sunday, November 30th. Gina's “Corona de Adviento” has the traditional five candles, three violet, one rose, and one white. The first two violet candles are lit in succession on the first and second Sunday and on the third Sunday they are joined by the rose candle and this Sunday is called “Gaudete Sunday” and marks more or less the halfway point of Advent. The word “Gaudete” comes from Latin and means to rejoice. On this Sunday the joy of expectation is emphasized. The nine days of the Mexican Posadas begin around this time. On the fourth Sunday the last violet candle is lit and the white candle in the center is lit on Christmas Eve after sundown. Ooops, by now some of you may have realized that the three candles on Gina's wreath that are supposed to be violet are red and not violet. That is because I couldn't find any violet candles at Walmart. I don't think using red Advent candles instead of violet ones will add to my time in Purgatory but I am not sure. Maybe I better write to the Vatican about that one just in case. However, if I made an error I will just do what I always do and just throw myself at the mercy of the God through His son, Jesus.

We invite you to join us in celebrating Advent. Here are the scripture versus that we will concentrate on for each of the four Sundays and Christmas Eve:

First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10
Luke: 1:26-38
Isaiah 7:10-14
Matthew 1:18-24

Second Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:2
Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11
Isaiah 2:1-5
Matthew 3:1-6

Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 9:6-7
John 1:19-34
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Philippians 2:1-11

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Malachi 3:1-5
Romans 8:18-25
Isaiah 52:7-10
Revelation 21:1-4

Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:1-6
Luke 2:1-20
John 1:1-18
Titus 2:11-14

You can find plenty of scripts and fancy prayers to go along with the scripture reading and the lighting of the candles but I suggest that you do what I do and just “wing it”. God will understand and anyway, I don't think He is impressed with our words. He is looking to see what we have in our hearts. Say Amen!

25 November 2008

Pop Culture 003 - Armando Fuentes Aguirre - Catón

I would be remiss in my task of introducing my readers to Mexican popular culture without mentioning my friend and mentor Armando Fuentes Aguirre who is otherwise known as Catón. He is a writer and journalist who was born on July 8, 1938 in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. However, he is more than just a Mexican writer and journalist. He is more like the conscience of the “La Republica Mexicana” which he knows and loves so much. Not only is he an expert in Spanish language and History but he is also very fluent in the English language, very knowledgeable in Latin, and is considered an expert in classical music as well. He writes several daily syndicated columns that appear in 156 national and international newspapers. The three principal syndicated pieces are “Mirador” (Observer), “De Política y Cosas Peores” (Of Politics and Worse Things) and “Manganitas” (literally “little shirt sleeves” but it is a fanciful play on words). He has written a number of books including an excellent book on Benito Juárez and Maximilian entitled “La Otra Historia de Mexico - Juarez y Maximiliano: La Roca y el Ensueno” (The Other History of Mexico – Juárez and Maximilian: The Rock and the Dream).

My introduction to Catón was very simple. I had arrived in Mexico in January 1999 to work on a project for a company located in a small town near Monterrey, Nuevo León. I had prepared myself by studying Spanish for about three months before I came but I soon found out that my Spanish was woefully inadequate and most of my daily communication was by grunting and pointing. I resolved to do something about my vocabulary and started to go through the local newspaper every day and pick out what words that I knew and look up others to add to my repertoire. For my fist year I did this a lot, up to several hours a day. In fact, I spent most of my Sunday afternoons with the Monterrey Sunday edition of “El Norte” which I needed to “special order” on Saturday night at the local “farmacia” (drug store). I will write more about this in another post. Not long after I began doing this word search I found my eye always going back to Catón's column “De Política y Cosas Peores” (Of Politics and Worse Things) in the editorial pages. It was very hard to decipher at first but it was also very rewarding because it included dialogs in the form of some very funny jokes. I went through this column every day and used it as the basis for building my vocabulary.

After about a year of study and as I gained more confidence I began to memorize the best of Catón's jokes and when I was with a group of people with whom I felt comfortable I would retell the jokes. I was very clumsy at first and people laughed at me more than they did the jokes but after awhile I got much better at it. This was a real confidence builder and it also helped me learn the patterns and timing of the language. After I had about three years of experience with the language I began giving weekly training sessions in Spanish and I always ended them with a joke which I called “La Historia de la Semana” or “The Story of the Week”. This became very popular with the people whom I was training and it helped me to develop a comfortable relationship with them. About this time I began talking on the telephone regularly in Spanish and that was a new challenge because talking on the telephone in a language that is not your own can be very intimidating. You cannot see the faces of the people that you are talking to and you cannot read their body language. However, the practice that I had with the jokes really helped me to speak with confidence and for all of this I thank my friend Armando Fuentes Aguirre. In fact, I got the chance to thank him in person a few years ago when he came to Irapuato and I must say that he is one of the nicest people that I have ever met. I will always be grateful to him.

If you live in Mexico you will probably find Catón in the editorial section of your local daily newspaper and if you live outside of Mexico you can get online subscriptions to a number of Mexican newspapers at a nominal cost. I suggest that“El Norte” of Monterrey or "Reforma" of Mexico City or "Mural" of Guadalajara, or "Palabra" of Saltillo would all be good choices.

Correction (February 15, 2010):

I was alerted by a kind reader who shares the name Armando with Catón that I made a mistake in this blog post regarding my translation of the word "manganitas". I said that it means "little shirt sleeves" but it turns out that this is incorrect, and now that I understand why I feel quite embarrassed. The "manga" in manganitas does not refer to a "manga" or sleeve. It refers to several events in the Mexican rodeo which is called a "charreada" and which is held in a place called a "lienzo charro". Two of the events that are part of the competitive rounds called "suertes" are the "Manganas a Pie" and "Manganas a Caballo". In both events a "charro" or "cowboy" tries to catch the front legs of a mare by using a lariat and cause it to tumble down. In one event he is on horseback and in the other event he is on foot. A "mangana" therefore is a lasso or lariat the verb "manganear" means to lasso something with a lariat. What Catón apparently means by using the word "manganitas" is a play on words meaning "a little something to trip you up". Let me say that I am sorry to both Armandos. I will try not to let it happen again :)

23 November 2008

Vegetables & Fruits 001 – Camotes (Sweet Potatoes)

Now that we are getting close to Thanksgiving a lot of people are blogging about traditional holiday food and some of those food items are yams and sweet potatoes. However, most of us have never really seen a yam and what we sometimes call yams are actually just a different form of sweet potato. In a recent article in “Weekend America” I learned that yams originally came from Africa where they were a diet staple. During the slave trade when thousands upon thousands of African natives were kidnapped and thrown into slavery on the shores of North America they did not find the yams that they were used to eating but they did find sweet potaotes. They adoped the sweet potatoes as a substitute and called them “yams” after the tuber from their native homeland. That is how the name “yam” entered the American marketplace and where it remains today even though real “yams” may be hard or impossible to find.

In Mexico we have a sweet potato that is long and purple. It is called a “camote” (kah-MOH-teh). The principal meaning of the Mexican Spanish word “camote” is “sweet potato” but it can have several other meanings depending upon the particular region where it is used and also upon the context in which it is used. When I first came to Mexico I heard a man say something like “Es un gran camote”. I asked him what “camote” meant and from what I could understand of his explanation it seemed that there was a “problema” or “problem” but looking back on it I think he was saying that there was some lie, or trick, or other foolishness that had occurred. In any case I moved to a different part of the country soon after and I was talking with a group of workers one day and thinking that it would be “cool” to use some slang I said “Tengo un gran camote” which is what I thought meant “I have a big problem”. They all stared at me in shock with their eyes wide open like they couldn't believe that I had actually said what I said. Later on I found out that in this region the word “camote” is often used as a euphemism for the male sexual organ. In my ignorance I had just casually announced to them that I had a great big penis. You can imagine my embarrassment. It is just another good example of how you should always make sure of the meaning of a newly acquired Spanish vocabulary word before you actually use it.

In addition to the word “camote” we have the word “camotero” (kah-moh-TEHR-oh). A “camotero” is a street vendor who pushes a cart with a wood fired oven. In this oven he roasts camotes and “platanos machos” (plantain). Both are sprinkled with sugar before roasting and a sweetened condensed milk called “lechera” is poured on before serving. The word “lechera” means “milkmaid” but it is also a brand of condensed milk sold by Nestle in Mexico since 1921. Every so often the camotero opens a valve which releases some water into a pipe running through the hot coals to create steam. It has a whistle on the end where the steam escapes. It sounds like the whistle from an old steam engine way off in the distance. When I first came to Irapuato there were several camoteros and they would appear at dusk. You could hear them coming down the street by the sound of the lonely wail made by their steam whistles. The camotero's cart looks like a little steam locomotive with a chimney that carries off the smoke. The people run out to buy a roasted sweet potato or a plantain for about ten pesos and then they return home to eat it accompanied by a glass of milk. Today Irapuato has only one camotero left and I hope he keeps going for a long, long time because I don't think I want to live in a world without camoteros.

21 November 2008

Pop Culture 002 – Chespirito, Chapulín Colorado, & Chavo del Ocho

In a recent post about entitled “Cri-Crí, El El Grillo Cantor” I wrote about a talented contributor to Mexican culture named Francisco Gobilando Soler. There is another very talented man whom I'd like to introduce to you named Roberto Gomez Bolaños. He is popularly known as “Chespirito” and he has also found a secure place in the hearts of the Mexican people. He was the star of two very popular children's shows, one called “El Chapulín Colorado” (The Red Grasshopper) and another called “El Chavo del Ocho” (The Kid of Number Eight). Both shows ran concurrently in Mexico as well as other Latin American countries (and Spain) from about 1970 until 1979. El Chavo del Ocho continued on intermittently in various forms until about 1992. It is in reruns all over the world and there is now an animated version. At one time it had approximately 350 million viewers.

Roberto Gómez Bolaños was born on February 21, 1929 in Mexico City and has had multiple careers as a writer, actor, director, comedian, humorist, and songwriter. Before beginning his writing and acting career he was an amateur boxer. He also studied Engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He wrote a number of plays, and contributed dialogs for the scripts of Mexican films and television shows, and also did some character acting work before he became really famous. His stage name of Chespirito was given to him by a producer during his first years as a writer and comes from the diminutive form of the Spanish pronunciation of the name of William Shakespeare or Shakespiercito, meaning "Little Shakespeare". He is quite an all around guy and as “Chespirito” he is very funny.

El Chapulín Colorado was a television series, both created and played by Chespirito, that was a parody of superhero shows like Superman and Batman. A typical episode would have some person get in some kind of trouble and then say out loud, "Oh! And who can help me now?" and the Chapulin Colorado would burst in through the nearest door or window. He would be dressed in red tights and yellow shorts and he had a big yellow heart on his chest with the letters “CH” in red which stood for “Chapulin” (or perhaps Chespirito?). He had two red and yellow antennae that beeped whenever something dangerous approached. He always carried a red plastic hammer as his weapon and could swallow some of his famous "pastillas de chiquitolina" (pills of smallness) which would shrink him down to the size of a mouse so he could squeeze through small openings. He also had a "chicharra paralizadora" (paralyzing buzzer) which was a bicycle horn that would would freeze a person in their tracks when he pointed it at them and honked.

The Chapulín Colorado was usually introduced with the words:

Más ágil que una tortuga, más fuerte que un ratón, más noble que una lechuga, su escudo es un corazón... ¡Es el Chapulín Colorado!
More agile than a tortoise, stronger than a mouse, nobler than a head of lettuce, and his shield (emblem) is a heart... It's the Red Grasshopper!

The Chapulín Colorado always bumbled along making one mistake after another but somehow, mostly by odd luck, he ended up saving the day. He had a lot of one line phrases that were injected into the dialog and you always knew when they were coming. He was a consummate Laurel and Hardy type bumbler and everyone loved him.

The other character that Chespirito created and in fact the one he is most famous for is “El Chavo del Ocho”. The character El Chavo del Ocho is an eight-year-old orphan. The word “chavo” means “kid” and generally Chavo is enthusiastic, creative, and good-natured but on the other hand he is also rather naive and very gullible. He is not particularly bright and is rather clumsy which sets the tone for many of the scripts. Chavo arrived at the neighborhood at the age of four and lives in apartment number eight with a mysterious elderly woman who is never seen. In any case, Chavo spends most of his time inside an abandoned barrel that he calls his "secret hideout" and he is constantly craving ham sandwiches. Some of his supporting cast members are:

Quico [Kiko] (Actor Carlos Villagrán) is a nine year old boy who wears a sailor top and a multicolored beanie. He is a friend of Chavo

Don Ramón (Actor Ramón Valdés) is an unemployed widower who never seems to pay his rent.

Doña Florinda (Actress Florinda Meza) is the widowed mother of Quico.

Profesor Jirafales (Actor Rubén Aguirre) is the school teacher.

Doña Cleotilde (Actress Angelines Fernández) is an ugly woman who despeartely seeks to be loved and lives in apartment 71. The kids think she is a witch, and refer to her as "The Witch of 71".

Señor Barriga (Actor Edgar Vivar) is the landlord. He does not get much respect.

La Chilindrina (Actress María Antonieta de las Nieves) is the street smart daughter of Don Ramón who is always playing tricks on the other kids.

The show "El Chavo del Ocho" follows El Chavo and the other inhabitants of the vecindad, as they go about in their everyday lives. The word "vecindad" means "neighborhood" in Spanish but in Mexico City a "vecindad" is often a big old estate house with a central courtyard that has been divided into smaller apartments of one or two rooms. El Chavo lives in this type of "vecindad" and spends most of his time in the courtyard. The show relies heavily upon physical comedy and running gags in order to amuse the audience. The dialog is a bit difficult for non native Spanish speakers to understand because it uses so many idiomatic expressions and words with double meanings. In addition, Roberto Gomez Bolaños created several words and phrases that nowadays are widely used as part of the Spanish language, at least in Mexico. For this reason less it would be well worth your while to obtain a video of this program and learn a little bit about it. Needless to say, if you really want to learn the language well you need to dig down and become familiar with this type of cultural material.

20 November 2008

Happy Birthday Mickey

The other day I heard one of the political pundits on television say that by 2016 the "Baby Boom" generation will start fading from the political scene and become more or less irrelevant. Hey wait a minute! I am a Baby Boomer and I am still a young man...sort of. How could I fade from the picture and become irrelevant so soon? Then I realized that by then I would be approaching my allotted relevancy period of "three score years and ten". I also read that Mickey Mouse just had his 80th birthday this past November 18th. Oh, no Mickey. Not you! Hey, if Mickey can still be going strong at 80 then there is hope for me and you too. I like that word "hope".

Here is Mickey in "Steam Boat Willie", his first animation with sound in 1928 and here is hoping for many happy returns for all of us...you, me, and Mickey.

18 November 2008

Stories 001 - Mamá Cuervo

Some time you may hear someone being referred to as a “mamá cuervo” or “mother crow”. A person might say for example:

Ayyy...allí viene Lucía. Ella es una mamá cuervo y sin duda ella está llevando fotos de sus hijos preciosos.
Oh, no...here comes Lucy. She is a mama crow and no doubt she is carrying photos of her precious children.

You may have already guessed what the phrase “mamá cuervo” means but perhaps don't know why. A “mamá cuervo” is someone who is always bragging about their children (or grandchildren) and since this includes most of us I thought it would be a good idea to explain where this phrase comes from. If you have ever seen a baby crow they are truly awkward and ugly things. They are so ugly, in fact, that only a mama crow could love them. However, to the mama crow they are very beautiful indeed because they are her offspring. The story of the mama crow is told in several Spanish speaking countries and there are a number of minor variations of the story. The following version is more or less the general theme of all of the mama crow stories with the exception that some of the characters may be presented differently in different regions. Anyway, this is my version of the story and I am sticking to it:

Once upon a time in a big forest there lived a mama crow in a nest with her baby crows. Every morning mama crow would go out looking for food for the little crows and she would return about mid-day. One day she arrived back at her nest at the usual time but did not hear the welcoming calls of her little ones and she did not find them in the nest. All that she could hear was silence. Needless to say she was very worried and she went out looking for them. She soon encountered a mama squirrel with her baby squirrels and said, “Pardon me Mrs. Squirrel but have you seen my children?”. The squirrel replied, “Tell me what your children look like, Mrs. Crow", because just a few moments ago she had seen some pitiful and scraggly looking little birds that appeared to be lost. The mama crow said, “Oh, my three precious children have very soft little feathers that are as smooth as cotton and their little voices are so sweet that the sound of them will tug at your soul”. “Oh, well”, said the squirrel, “then I certainly haven't seen your children. I am so sorry”.

The mama crow continued looking for her children and encountered a mama rabbit with her baby rabbits. She said, “Hello Mrs. Rabbit. Have you seen my children?”. The mama rabbit said, “I don't know Mrs. Crow. Could you please tell me what they look like?” The mama crow replied, “Oh, my children are so precious and good looking that they will bring tears to your eyes”. The mama rabbit thought for a minute and although she had seen some ugly little baby birds wandering around lost they certainly didn't match the description that mama crow had given her so without any more hesitation she said, “No, I'm sorry, but I haven't seen your children”. The mama crow kept on looking and she met various other animals of the forest during her search and her conversations with them went pretty much along the same lines as the conversations that she had previously with Mrs. Squirrel and Mrs. Rabbit.

Finally the mama crow became very distraught and sick with worry about her children. She came upon a mama fox and normally her fear would have made her fly away from the fox but the mama crow's love for her children was so strong that she confronted the fox and said, “Excuse me Mrs. Fox but I have lost my children. Have you seen them?”. Now, the fox seeing the worry on the face of the mama crow and being a mother herself understood the situation and she felt a shiver of tragedy and foreboding run up and down her spine and she said, “Oh, Mrs. Crow, what do your children look like?”. The mama crow then began to describe her children, “They are precious little things, with soft and smooth feathers and they make sounds so sweet and they are so innocent looking that they must certainly be the most beautiful baby birds in the forest.” The fox let out a deep sigh of relief and said, “No, then I haven't seen your children. I just finished eating three little lost birds but they didn't look anything like your children. In fact the little birds that I ate were horrible looking things with bulging eyes and rough feathers and they made a terrible squawking sound that they didn't stop making until I gobbled them down. The mama crow cried out “Oh, no, those were my children” and she flew off in a terrible state, crying and crying. To this very day when you are in the forest, at times you can still hear her the echo of her cry... “caw, caw, caw”.

Do you know a mamá cuervo (mama crow)? Do you think that you might be a mamá cuervo or “abuela” (grandma) cuervo”? It doesn't matter one bit. There is no doubt that all of our children are beautiful despite what other people might think. That is why we must have patience with every mamá cuervo...because they are us!

15 November 2008

Pop Culture 001 - La Familia Telerín

One of these days you may hear someone refer to the “Familia Telerín” (teh-leh-REEN) as in “Ahí viene la Familia Telerín” (Here comes the Telerín family). The name “Familia Telerín” is an affectionate term for any family with small children. It refers to a time in Mexico (and several other countries) when there was an animated cartoon notice broadcast on the television to remind small children that it was time to go to bed. In Mexico in particular it was broadcast by Televisa (channel two) every night at eight o'clock. This occurred in the 1970's and all the way up throgh the 80's. It started out in black and white and eventually it went to color. La Familia Telerín was an early animation created in Spain in 1964 by two brothers named Santiago and José Moro and it was such a great success that it eventually spread to other Spanish speaking countries.

There were six little children in La Familia Telerín. There names were Cleo, Teté, Maripí, Pelusín, Coletas y Cuquín. The leader was the little girl named “Cleo” which is short for “Cleotilde”. The next was the little boy named Teté whom I believe was named after a famous blind Spanish Jazz pianist named Tete Montoliu. His full name was Vicente Montoliu Massana. He was very popular about the time when the Moro brothers created their animation. The next in line was a little girl named “Maripí” (mah-ree-PEE) which is short for “María Pilar”. Next came the little boy “Pelusín” (pay-loo-SEEN). The name comes from a combination of the words “pelusa” (fluff), “peluca” (wig), and peluquín (toupee). In English we would probably call him “Mopsy” or "Topsy" or something similar. After Pelusín came the little girl, “Coletas” (koh-LAY-tahs). She is named “Coletas” because the word “coleta” means “pigtail” and she has two of them. Last but not least comes the baby “Cuquín” (koo-KEEN). The word “cuco” means “pretty” and the suffix “quín” makes it a diminutive and so in English we would probably say “Cutie Pie”.

When the animated notice would appear on the television screen at eight o'clock there would first be a little speech by Cleo who would say:

Un recado de parte de la tele. Ya va siendo hora de que los peques nos vayamos a la cama. A television reminder. Now it is getting to be the time that us little ones should go to bed.

Then Cleo would shout ¡Ale! (“Come on!”) and they would all march off to bed singing:

Vamos a la cama
We are going to bed
que hay que descansar
because we need to rest
para que mañana
so that in the morning
podamos madrugar
we can be earlybirds.

Here is a little experiment for you to try. Ask any of your Mexican freinds over the age of forty to tell you about the Family Telerín. I'll be that they start singing:

“Vamos a la cama que hay que descansar, para que mañana podamos madrugar.”

12 November 2008

Songs 001 Cri-Crí - El Grillo Cantor

It would be impossible to have a good working knowledge of Mexican Spanish without knowing something about the songs. In case you haven't noticed, Mexican people like music and especially singing. I would like to include music in these blog lessons in the form of old time favorite popular songs and I could think of no better way than to start out with the songs created by a wonderful man named Francisco Gabilondo Soler who is better known as Cri-Crí (cree-CREE). In 1934 while broadcasting his own radio show on Mexico's most popular station XEW he created a character named “Cri-Crí, El Grillo Cantor”. In English, “El Grillo Cantor” means “the singing cricket”. He was created by Francisco Gabilondo Soler when he was a child and Cri-Crí remained his lifelong imaginary companion. Eventually Cri-Crí became so famous that people began calling Señor Gabilondo himself “Cri-Crí” and in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's he became the most famous singer of childrens' songs in Español.

A nice man named Gabriel Orozco has created a very nice website where you can download and play the songs of Cri-Crí, El Grillo Cantor.

I have some particular suggestions for songs to start out with. You can sing right along because the words are provided and the songs are clear and simple and are a nice way to practice your Spanish.

The fist song is “Campanita-Juan Pestañas”. It is a song about the Mexican version of Mr. Sandman. The word “pestaña” means “eyelash”. The word “campanita” means “little bell”. I guarantee that you will like this song, especially the way that Francisco Gabilondo sings it.

The second song is “La Patita” which is about a mother duck and her ducklings. Very cute.

The third song is “Negrito Sandía” which is a bit saucy.

There are over a hundred songs with both words and MP3 music recordings so I'm sure that you will find something that you like. The main thing is that you are introduced to the songs of Cri-Crí so that when this name comes up in conversation you will not only know what the people are talking about but you will be able to show how smart you are and rattle off the names of your own favorite Cri-Crí songs.

And now, I will end this post in the same manner that Francisco Gabilondo Soler ended each program:

¿Quién es el que anduvo aquí?
Who is it that was just here?
¡Fue Cri-Crí! ¡Fue Cri-Crí!
It was Cri-Crí! It was Cri-Crí!
¿Y quién es ese señor?
And who is that gentleman?
¡El Grillo Cantor!
The Singing Cricket!

09 November 2008

Vocab Builder 002 - Carmelita's Mole Sauce

Recently, I received a question about mole sauce from Michele and Peter who live in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. Peter's grandparents were born near Irapuato and he is trying to find a mole recipe like the kind that his grandmother used to make. I turned to my Mexican food expert who just happens to be my wife's mother, “Carmelita”, and asked for her help. Carmelita is from nearby Silao and she learned how to make mole from her mother who learned from her mother and so on down the line. The first person to make mole, according to popular tradition, was Sister Andrea de la Asunción of the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla. She 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 (Guajalote) and the dish is popularly known as “Mole Poblano de Guajalote” (MOH- lay pohb-LAHN-oh day gwah-hah-LOH-tay). It is a very traditional Mexican dish and it is served on special occasions. I have received several other questions about mole after writing about the “Mole Festival of Guanajuato” and I thought it might be nice to include Carmelita's recipe here in case anyone would like to try it with their Thanksgiving turkey. First, however, we had to get it out of Carmelita's head and write it down. It came out of her head in Spanish of course and so I made a translation. I wrote down both the original Spanish and the colloquial English translation in order to make it into a little Spanish lesson related to cooking a recipe or “receta” (reh-SAY-tah) as a recipe is called here. Okay, so let's get right to it:

Receta: Mole Poblano

Se cuece un guajolote grande y tierno o bien un pollo grande, cortándolo en piezas con, ajo, sal, cebolla, una rama de apio, para obtener un buen consomé. Ya una vez cocido se saca el pollo en un recipiente se tapa y se reserva el consomé colado.


9 chiles anchos
3 chiles mulatos
3 chiles pasilla
20 gramos de semilla de calabaza peladas
2 jitomates grandes asados de preferencia jitomate bola
50 gramos de almendras
50 gramos de cacahuates
50 gramos de ajonjolí
1 tablilla (85 gramos) de chocolate (de marca Abuelita o Ibarra)
2 tortillas de maíz doradas en fuego directo sin aceite y cortado en pedazos
1 bolillo mediano
3 dientes de ajo
1 cebolla grande
½ cucharadita de clavos de especia
10 pimientas negras
1 raja de canela
Una pizca de jengibre
200 gramos de manteca de cerdo ó 1/4 litro de aceite

Manera de hacerse:

Se asan un poco, los chiles, se limpian, y se doran en manteca o aceite. También se asan, las semillas de calabaza, las almendras, los cacahuates, el bolillo (rebanado), y una cucharadita y media de ajonjolí. Se frien el ajo, y la cebolla grande rebanada. Todos estos ingredientes se muelen en la licuadora con los jitomates asados, las tortillas doradas, canela, pimiento, clavos, jengibre, y el consomé (tibio) y se forma una pasta. Se pone el resto de manteca o aceite en una cazuela y se vacía la pasta y se le agrega más consomé y se espera a que hierva y tome consistencia ligeramente líquida, poniéndole consomé hasta que termine de cocinarse por espacio de dos horas a fuego muy suave. Agregue el chocolate y añade sal al gusto si se requiere, no dejando de mover constantemente para evitar que se pegue y queme.

Se sirve en un platón las piezas de pavo o pollo y poner encima el Mole Poblano, y se espolvorea con ajonjolí tostado. Se acompaña con arroz rojo (un paltillo muy Mexicano) o con frijoles refritos y tortillas de maíz calientitas y chile jalapeño en vinagre. Una sugerencia infalible de Mamá Carmelita, cuando vayas de invitado a un lugar y te sirvan mole, pide que te sirvan un poco de cebolla blanca cruda en rodajas y lo pones encima de tu mole y si quieres comer la cebolla muy bien y si no la comes no hay problema. De esta manera el Mole poblano nunca de causara indigestión. Otra sugerencia, el mole puedes prepararlo un día antes de tu fiesta y será mucho más rico que el día que lo preparas. Cuando te sobre mole, lo puedes congelar y otro día prepara enmoladas de pollo o pavo servidas con chiles toreados (chile serrano y cebolla en ruedas ligeramente fritos con aceite y con salsa Jugo Maggi de Nestle). ¡Qué rico!

En México es muy tradicional preparar mole, para los cumpleaños, días de santos, el doce de Diciembre (Virgen de Guadalupe), y alguna fecha que conmemorar o especial o sencillamente cuando tu quieras.

¡Buen provecho....Mmmmmmmmm¡ ¡Se me hizo agua la boca!


Recipe: Mole Poblano

A big tender turkey or even a big chicken is cut into pieces and cooked with garlic, salt, onion, and a stick of celery to to obtain a good broth. Remove the chicken once it is cooked and strain the broth obtained.


9 ancho chilis
3 mulato chilis
3 pasilla chilis
20 grams (¾ oz) pumpkin or squash seeds with shells removed
2 Large round tomatoes
50 grams (1-3/4 oz) almonds (shelled)
50 grams (1-3/4 oz) Peanuts (shelled)
50 grams (1-3/4 oz) Sesame seeds
1 tablet (3 oz) of chocolate (Abuelita or Ibarra brands)
2 corn tortillas roasted directly over flame without oil and cut in pieces
1 medium size bread roll
3 cloves garlic
1 large onion
½ teaspoon cloves
10 black pepper corns
1 stick of cinnamon
1 pinch of ginger
200 grams (7 oz) lard or 1/4 liter (about one cup) of vegetable oil.

Method of preparation:

Roast the chilis a little and clean them out and fry them in lard or oil. Also toast the pumpkin seeds, the almonds, the peanuts, the bread roll (sliced), and one and a half teaspoons of the sesame seeds. Lightly fry the garlic, and large onion (sliced). Mix all of these ingredients together in a blender with the roasted tomatoes, roasted tortilla pieces, cinnamon, pepper corns, cloves, ginger, and enough chicken broth (lukewarm) to form a paste. Put the remaining lard or oil in a pot, add the paste, and add more chicken broth until it takes the consistency of a light sauce, cooking it slowly over a low heat for two hours and adding more broth as necessary. Add the chocolate and add salt to taste as required. Don't forget to stir constantly to avoid sticking and burning.

Serve the Mole Poblano on a platter over pieces of turkey or chicken and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Acompany with red rice (a very Mexican dish) or with refried beans, warm corn tortillas, and pickled jalapeño chilli peppers. Mama Carmelita has a tried and true suggestion regarding mole. When you are invited to a place where mole is served ask that they serve some sliced raw onion on top of the mole whether you end up eating the onion or not. In this way the mole will never cause indigestion. Another suggestion is that you prepare your mole one day before your party and it will be much tastier than on the day that you prepared it. When you have mole left over you can freeze it and another day you can prpare chicken or turkey with mole and serve it with chilis toreados (lightly rolled, crushed and fried fried chillis serranos and fried sliced onions with Nestle's Jugo Maggi sauce). Very tasty!

In Mexico it is very traditional to prepare mole for birthdays, saint's days, the 12th of December (Virgen de Guadalupe), or some other special day of commemoration or simply whenever you want to.

Bon apetít!...Mmmmmm! It makes my mouth water!

Additional notes:

Don't add hot broth to the blender. Let it cool down to room temperature or it will affect the mix.

It is better to use pure “manteca” or pig lard but vegetable oil will do.

The chocolate sold under the brand names Abuelita (Nestle) and Ibarra comes in three ounce discs that contain sugar and cinnamon. You can substitute dark chocolate but then you have to adjust by adding sugar and cinamon. Abuelita and /or Ibarra can be found in most supermarkets in North America.

Most traditional moles except for “Mole Verde” or “Green Mole” of Oaxaca use chocolate. However, there is another similar sauce called “Pipian” that doesn't use chocolate. Instead of chocolate it uses about a half pound of roasted pumpkin or squash seeds after you remove the shells. By the way, it takes a LOT of pumpkin seeds to make that many "pepitas" which is what the inner seeds are called without the shell. Good luck!

06 November 2008

Vocab Builder - 001 Dengue & Aedes Aegypti

On October 31st I published a post entitled “The Living and the Dead” in which I mentioned the general dearth of flowers in United States cemeteries and how in Mexico the flowers had not yet vanished. I think perhaps that I may have written that prematurely. On Sunday, November 2nd my wife Gina and I went to the local cemetery to clean her family’s graves and to place flowers. It just so happens that Irapuato has had several reported cases of Dengue Fever this year and is making a big effort to prevent the spread of Aedes Aegypti, which is the name of the vector mosquito that carries the disease. Dengue comes in four different forms and one of them, Dengue Haemorrhagic, is very serious and life threatening, especially to children. It’s symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, and bleeding.

When we arrived at the cemetery we learned that the water spigots in the cemetery had been turned off and that no one was being allowed to bring water into the cemetery. In addition, the city had already begun filling the traditional flower receptacles with sand so that they couldn’t be used by mosquitoes for breeding purposes. I took photos of two signs that explained it all in Spanish and I thought that they would make an interesting Spanish Lesson. Through my own learning experience I found that studying notices of this type are excellent ways to build your vocabulary. Sometimes the words that you see in a notice of this type do not match the definitions that you may find in your handy dandy Spanish/English dictionary. For that reason I have translated the Spanish into colloquial English and added some notes at the end with explanations of certain words.

First notice:

Por disposición del Comité Municipal de Salud a partir de esta fecha como medida para prevención del dengue, los floreros de este recinto se estarán rellenado con arena para evitar que se conviertan en criaderos del mosco transmisor de la enfermedad. Agradecemos su comprensión, Atentamente, Comité Municipal de Salud

By order of the municipal health committee from this day forward as a measure of prevention against dengue the flower receptacles in this area will be filled with sand to avoid them becoming converted into incubators of the disease transmitting mosquito. We thank you for your understanding, Sincerely, The Municipal Health Committee

Second notice:

The dengue disease is preventable by the strategy of a clean yard and care with stored water.

1.) Conserva tu patio y azotea limpios, sin hierba y ordenados.
Keep your yard and roof clean and orderly and free of weeds.

2.) Tapa los recipientes el los que almacenas el agua que usas y consumes en tu hogar.
Cover the vessels that store the water that you use in your home.

3.) Permite que la Brigada de Salud desinfecte los depósitos de agua, tales como tinacos, cisternas, tambos, y piletas.
Allow the Health Squad to disinfect the water vessels such as roof tanks, cisterns, drums, and basins.

4.) Lava y cepillar los depósitos y cambia el agua de cubetas, floreros y bebederos cada tercer día.
Wash and brush receptacles and change the water in buckets, flower holders, and water troughs every three days.

5.) Coloca bocabajo o tapa y coloca bajo techo los recipientes que utilizas como cubetas y embases; y perfora tus macetas para que el agua fluya.
Turn face down or place under cover the receptacles that you utilize like buckets and containers and put a hole in your flower pots so that the water drains.

6.) Elimina recipientes que no utilizas y que acumulan agua: llantas, cubetas, juguetes, trastes, bolsas de plástico, fichas o botellas, ya que facilitan la proliferación del mosquito Aedes Aegypti.
Eliminate vessels that you don’t use that accumulate water: tires, buckets, toys, dishes, plastic bags, and bottle caps or bottles since they help Aedes Aegypti mosquito proliferate.

7.) Instala mosquiteros en puertas y ventanas.
Install mosquito screens on doors and windows.

8.) Permite que la brigada de salud entre a tu casa y cumple sus recomendaciones.
Allow the health squad entry to your house and comply with their recommendations.

9.) Acude a la unidad de salud si presentas fiebre, dolor de cabeza y atrás de los ojos, dolor de cuerpo en general, articulaciones o coyunturas.
Go to a medical facility if you develop a fever, headache, pain venid the eyes, general body aches, or joint pain.

10.) No te automediques.
Don’t self medicate.

The yard around my house is my responsibility To keep clean and orderly so it doesn’t cause illness.

Additional notes:

In the first notice they used the word “mosco” to refer to a mosquito. You may not find “mosco” in your dictionary but you will find “mosca” which means “fly”. The word “mosco” is a slang term for a mosquito which is also often called a “zancudo” (zahn-COO-doh).

In line one of the second notice they used the word "azotea" for roof. In Mexico an "azotea" means a flat roof that you can usually walk on and can serve as a roof patio. The type of roof that is most common in the U.S. which we call a "gable roof" is called a "techo de dos aguas" or "a roof of two waters"in Mexico.

In line five of the second notice you will find the word "embases" (containers) but you wont't find it in your dictionary because it is spelled wrong. The letter "b" should be a "v" and this is a fairly common error.

In line six of the second notice you will find the word "fichas" which means "bottle cap". You probably won't find that definition in your dictionary. A "ficha" is usually a paper file or a file card but in Mexico the use of ficha for bottlecap is quite common. You may also hear the word "corcholata" in reference to a bottlecap and this word you may find in your dictionary.

In line seven of the second notice you will find the word mosquitero. This word is used for standard window screen while a mosquito is generally referred to as a "zancudo" or "mosco" as they did in the first notice.

In line nine of the second notice they use the words "articulaciones" and "coyunturas". They both mean the same thing, "joints", as in elbow joint or knee joint. Younger people will probably use"articulaciones" and old folks will more probably use "coyunturas". It is a sign that the language is evolving.

Under the photos of the signs below (click them to enlarge) you will see a photo of a "florero" that the city has already filled with sand.

When we got near the cemetery and Gina learned that she wouldn't have access to water to wash off the top of her grandmothers' tomb she bought a plastic bucket that had a lid and she had them fill it with water. When we got near the entrance of the cemetery where the police were checking everyone I told her to be careful because the weight of the bucket made her lean to one side and for sure they would know that she was carrying water. So, what does she do? Just before we go through the police check she turns and thrusts the bucket at me and then goes through the line with no problem leaving me standing there with the bucket of water. There was nothing I could do but walk forward acting very nonchalant. One of the policemen stopped me and asked what I had in the bucket and I tell him that it is food for El Día de los Muertos and that it is a family tradition. To my great relief he waved me through. Then when we got to the tomb and Gina started washing it with water several people came up to me and asked where I got the water. I told them that I just found it sitting there in that bucket. Then I thought "Wow, I just told two whopping lies and now I will probably have to do extra time in Purgatory". That really isn't fair. I think I am going to write to the Pope and explain to him that those two lies should accrue to Gina's account and not mine. I intend to use the same defense that men have been using going all the way back to the time of Adam and Eve..."The woman made me do it".

By the way, the last picture shows Gina sitting on the edge of a tomb. Her father's mother and his grandmother are buried there and when he dies he will be buried there too. He invited me to join him when my time comes. He said there will be plenty of room. They take the bones of the people who are already there and consolidate them into little boxes which they include in the coffins of the new arrivals. Sounds okay to me. I think I just might take him up on that. I'll have to remember to bring a deck of cards!

03 November 2008

The Transition - Halloween to Los Muertos

On November 1st we took down our Halloween display and put together our "ofrenda" (altar) for "El Día de los Muertos" (The Day of the Dead). I have been making an ofrenda every year for the past several years in honor of my parents, George and Armella, who have left me here for a little while longer and have gone on to a better place where I hope to join them someday. In the meantime, however, I like to keep their earthly memory alive and let them know of my profound respect for them and my deep gratitude for all that they have given me. I should mention that my mother's name is a bit unusual. She was named after "La bonne Armelle" a saintly French serving-maid held in high veneration among the people of her time although she was never officially canonized by the Catholic Church. My mother's name, "Armella" is also very unusual in Mexico because the word "armella", pronounced "ahr-MAE-yuh" means "screw eye" like the eye that the hook of your old wooden screen door used to latch into. My Mom always thought that was pretty funny. Even though my folks are no longer alive on Earth I still feel close to them. They are a part of me. Every time I put a dirty dish in the sink I hear my mother say, "Don't leave that dish in the sink. Wash it right away and put it in the rack to dry". Whenever I am driving I hear my father say, "Slow down and don't follow so close. Watch out for that guy on your right". I think that building an ofrenda just brings that closeness feeling home and it gives me a sense of peace. I am in no hurry for my earthly life to end because I have people here whom I love also. However, I do feel that when it is time to go I will be ready. I look forward to the day when I will see my Mom and Dad again and say...
"Hi Ma, hi Dad...I'm home!"

02 November 2008

Tradiciones y Costumbres – 002

As I mentioned in the post “Tradiciones y Costumbres – 001” my wife Gina thought it would be nice to write some short pieces about Mexican tradition and culture and I welcomed the idea. Not only would it allow her to participate with me in this blog but also provide some practice material for reading in Spanish. In addition, I will give the English translation. In this piece she writes some more about Halloween.

En el día de 30 de Octubre compramos todo lo que necesitamos para nuestra cena de Halloween como carne molida, refrescos, y el tequila. También, compré unas bolsitas muy simpáticas para los dulces de nuestros pequeños invitados y también para mi Papa, que es un niño grande que le gustan mucho los dulces. Recibí llamadas de mi sobrina Pau (Fátima Paulina) para saber de que me voy a disfrazar y no le di respuesta. Mi nieto Ian estuvo muy feliz por su fiesta. Él quizo disfrazarse de Hombre Arana. Le compramos una capa y se ve muy simpático. Hicimos una calabaza de mache, es grande y bonita, y la pintamos el día siguiente. También tenemos una linterna de calabaza hecho de barro que mi Mama nos regalo.

En "¡Felíz Noc
he de Brujas!", el 31 de Octubre, llegamos de nuestros trabajo y estuvimos corriendo para terminar de arreglar la casa. Quedo muy bonita en tonos de color naranja, espantapajaros, fantasmas,calabazas, dulces, etc, etc. Tenemos un gran equipo. Mi Mama, Carmelita, hizo unas flores de cempasúchil y le quedaron hermosas e hizo unos ramilletes de fantasmas. Fuimos a comprar cacahuates , botanas y los dulces para los niños que tocarán nuestra puerta. Rápidamente llenamos las bolsas con dulces y chocolates pusimos la mesa con premios para nuestros niños. Mi sobrina Luisa compró las salchichas y Bob preparo las salchichas y papas a la francesa y yo preparé espagueti a la boloñesa. Nuestros pequeños llegaronn llenos de alegría y la fiesta comienza. Fuimos a pedir Halloween. Después cantamos, cenamos, platicamos y hasta los adultos nos divertimos como niños. Mis niños tienen una gran cómplice. Yo la calabaza mayor, que soy dirigente explorador...que tenemos una misión ...disfrutar sencilla y simplemente la Vida...

Hasta la Próxima...(La historia continúa)

On the 30th of October we bought everything that we need for our Halloween supper like ground beef, soft drinks, and tequila. I also bought some cute little bags for the candy for our little ones. And also for my Papa who likes candy and is like a big kid. I received phone calls from my niece Pau (Fátima Paulina) to see what kind of costume I was wearing and I didn't answer her. My grandson was very happy for his party. He wanted to disguise himself as Spiderman. We bought him a very cute cape. We made a pumpkin from paper maché. It is big and pretty and we painted it the next day. We also have a jack-o-lantern made from clay that my mother gave us.

En “Happy Night of Witches”, the 31st of October we came home from work and we were running around trying to get the house ready. It turned out very nice in shades of orange, scarecrows, ghosts, pumpkins, and candy etc. We have a great team. My mother, Carmelita, made some cempasúchil flowers and they turned out beautiful and she made some ghost corsages. We went and bought peanuts, snacks, and candy for the children who knock on our door. We quickly filled the little bags with candy and chocolates and set the table with prizes for our little ones. My niece Luisa bought the hot dogs and Bob prepared the hot dogs and french fries and I made spaghetti with meat sauce. Our little ones arrived full of joy and the party began. We went trick or treating. Afterward we sang, we ate supper, and we talked and even us adults had fun like children. My kids have a great conspirator. It is I, the great pumpkin, who is the leading explorer...and we have a mission...to live life simply and happily.

Until the next time...(To be continued

01 November 2008

Te Amo Rux

The first Halloween that I spent in Mexico was in 1999 in a small town in the state of Nuevo León. However, at that time there was no sign whatsoever of Halloween, not even a pumpkin. Gradually, thanks to things like cheap plastic from China and aggressive marketing by Walmart, Halloween has become a big deal. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. The Catholic Church in Mexico certainly frowns on Halloween and many people point to the fact that Halloween is usurping some of their traditions but as long as children think Halloween is fun I don't think that much can be done about it. I have mixed feelings about “Trick or Treat” myself. I am hoping that trick or treat doesn't evolve into some kind of “devil night” like it was in the United States in the 1920's and 30's and up to recent times in certain places (like the city of Detroit). The practice we see today, with children dressed in costume going house to house saying "Trick or Treat", did not really come about until the mid 1940's. My father told me that after he had come back from serving in the army overseas during World War II he was surprised by some kid in a mask knocking on the door and saying “Trick or Treat!”. He said that he had never heard of that before and didn't know what to make of it. I don't know who was startled more, my father, or the poor kid when my father shouted, “Get the hell out of here!”

We had two kinds of trick or treater's last night. One kind consisted of little kids who were dressed up in cute little costumes and escorted by their mothers and fathers and timidly accepted their treat with a shyly mumbled “gracias”. Then there was another kind that consisted of unruly and aggressive adolescents without costumes who acted like jerks and jostled each other to grab for whatever they could and then left without a word of thanks. The last two Halloweens were very nice but this year it seemed like things like civility might be starting to slide. We will just have to wait and see. In the meantime we had a nice party for some of the kids in Gina's family after taking them around to friends, neighbors, and relatives to do their trick or treating. When I was a kid in the 50's Halloween was a glorious time. We started trick or treating right after school and stopped when it got dark. Then we would all gather at my great aunt Flavia's house for a party. Every Halloween I think about it and wish that I could go back. Perhaps when I go to Heaven (Si Dios quiere...if God wishes) I will go up to the pearly gates and when Saint Peter answers my knock I just might uncontrollably blurt out “Trick or Treat”.

Here in Mexico, the kids don't say “Trick or Treat”. They say “Queremos Halloween” or “We want Halloween”. Another thing about Halloween in Mexico...the ghosts don't say “Boo!”. They say “¡Buu!”. It's the same pronunciation, but the spelling is different. Speaking of spelling, I saw a little drawing that Gina's eleven year old niece Fatima Paulina (Pau) made for her mother. You can see it below. It says “Te Amo Rux” or "I love you Ma". The word “rux” is a slang word for “ruca”. The word “ruco”, or “ruca” (depending on the gender) means “old and worn out”. It is sometimes used by young people to refer to their parents just like in English some kids refer to their parents as “my old man” or “my old lady”. In this case the letter “x” on the end shows that it is meant to be a term of endearment. I didn't know that. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't learn something new...even on Halloween.

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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.