When I told my landlady that I’d like to see a bomberos station, she pinpointed the only one she knew about on a city map. It would take me a long bus ride and a lot of walking to get there.
“Is that the nearest one?” I asked. “In U.S. cities there are fire stations everywhere.”
“That’s because you have a lot of buildings made of wood,” she said. “Most of our buildings are made of brick and stone, so we don’t have too many fires.”
When I finally arrived at the station and told one of the bomberos that I’d like to take some pictures for my grandson, he said, “Sure.”
Ramon told me that there are 12 bomberos stations in the city of Guadalajara, five big ones, and seven not-so-big ones. The bomberos fight fires everywhere, including those that threaten to consume houses, stores, and vehicles.
If the alarm sounds when the bomberos are upstairs in their sleeping quarters, they race down a steep set of tile stairs to jump into their boots and protective gear. They have to be sure-footed, because there is no handrail on the staircase.
A painting of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in the main part of the fire station seems to suggest that the bomberos rely on divine protection more than on their own skill and agility.
At any rate, Ramon said, they successfully combat about 300 fires per year.
five hundred blossoms—
even the last one to fall
bears a sweet fragrance
Every urban area needs at least a passing nod to nature, but Guadalajara nods in a big way with its Bosque de los Colomos, a woodland park covering over 225 acres.
The park is a perfect place for city dwellers to get away from concrete, glass and steel, and to enjoy a forest with its cooling shade.
Not too far from the park entrance, visitors can stroll through the Mexican Garden, featuring several varieties of indigenous cacti, some of which bloom profusely in July.
In another area of the park is the Japanese Garden, a popular spot for young women to come for their quinceañara photos. Several pools teem with koi, and if you don’t make sudden movements, you can watch heaps of turtles sunning themselves on stones.
Joggers pound up and down the wide footpaths, which are clearly marked for specific distances, and horses are available for hire for those who’d like to see nature from a higher elevation.
The pigeons and squirrels are fearless, and boldly approach human visitors, begging for handouts.
Bosque de los Colomos is open daily 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is no admission charge, and sparkling clean restrooms are freely available for your comfort.
eighth day of July—
a plum the size of the sun
ripens too slowly
Many expats in Guadalajara celebrated Independence Day on July 7th at the American Society of Jalisco, because it coincided with the society’s regular Thursday luncheon.
After a traditional holiday meal of hamburgers fresh from the charcoal grill, potato salad, and baked beans, followed by an (almost) hot fudge sundae for dessert, I settled back to listen to one of the expats tell her story.
“I’m proud to be an American,” S said earnestly, leaning across the table, “but with things the way they are now, I have no desire to go back.”
She was referring, of course, to the turmoil and uncertainty surrounding the current U. S. presidential race, which is being followed closely by Guadalajara’s expat community.
“Besides,” S continued, “I’ve been here 27 years, so this is my home.”
She told me that when her husband retired over two decades ago, he announced that he wanted to move to Mexico. S was horrified.
“Give it three months,” her husband told her, “and if you can’t stand it, we’ll go back.”
“I’ll give it a year,” S said, in an outburst of magnanimity.
At the end of the year, she was hooked on Mexico, and nothing could persuade her to leave, not even the death of her husband a few years ago.
She now lives with her cat in a gated community, where neighbors watch out for each other.
“The Mexican people are so warm and friendly,” she said. “My neighbors are the best ever. This is where I belong.”
so much joy from the raindrops
pummeling my face
Guadalajara taxis are supposed to have meters, but most of them don’t. So the first thing you do, before getting into the cab, is negotiate the fare with the driver.
It’s usually a crapshoot. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.
Recently I went to see a photo exhibition at Casa ITESO Clavigero. My Spanish-speaking neighbor had called the cab for me, and the driver wouldn’t accept less than 80 pesos.
When we arrived at the casa, all I had was a 100-peso bill. The driver took it gladly. When I asked for change (“¿Cambio?”), the driver gave it to me grudgingly.
For the trip back to my apartment, I hailed a cab on Avenida Chapultepec. I handed a piece of paper with my address written on it through the window.
The driver studied the address and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Cuarenta,” he finally replied.
Yes, the inbound journey cost me half what the outbound journey had.
spreading her father’s ashes
near the mango tree
For several decades, until his death in 1973, photographer Pablo Ibarra documented the ordinary people who lived in and around Arandas, about two hours east of Guadalajara.
An exhibition of 200 of Ibarra’s photographs, curated by his daughter Berta, can be seen until 3 August at Casa ITESO Clavigero, Calle José Guadalupe Zuno 2083.
In one family portrait, three children huddle close to their seated parents. Instead of a child, the father is cradling a portable radio in his lap.
In another photograph, a young couple stare into the camera. He wears a hat, and his eyes bore straight into the viewer. She, however, is wearing dark, thick motorcycle glasses, and her eyes are inscrutable.
A young boy perches on a wooden chair, holding a fighting cock in his lap. The legs of the bird appear to be nearly as long as those of the child. The two must be good friends, because the boy is merely supporting the bird, not clutching him with a death grip.
A little girl about three years old is proudly displaying her book, Rosita Juanita. Her mother probably reads the book aloud at bedtime, while the little girl devours the vivid illustrations.
A woman with three small children (two boys and a girl) looks longingly from another photograph. No man is with them. Is she a widow? Has she divorced her husband? Has her man slipped into the United States to work and send money back to his family?
A woman without a man, a mother with twins in her lap, is surrounded by five other children—two boys and three girls. Is her man ashamed to be seen with them? Has he run off with the neighbor woman?
A bread seller balances a basket full of fresh bread on his head. He wears only sandals to protect his feet from the rough cobblestones over which he must walk all day long.
Among the portraits of the living, there are also glimpses of the dead. Stillborn twins, dressed in baptismal finery, their tiny heads wreathed in daisies, appear to be sleeping.
A young father and mother keep watch over their dead baby daughter, whose hands are folded as if in prayer. While the father looks utterly bewildered by the tragedy that has overtaken him, his wife appears to have accepted her loss as “God’s will.” She seems to be serene and imperturbable.
Surprisingly, there also some landscape photographs on display, four to be exact. In one of them a mother and her young child approach the waters of a pond or lake on what is probably a sizzling summer day. They are close enough to the water’s edge to cast reflections, but their bodies are as soft as the cumulus clouds filling the sky. Eyes, noses, mouths—no facial features are discernible. The mother and child are only impressions of human beings. They are, I think, what Monet would have produced had he wielded a camera instead of a brush.
This exhibition deserves more than a passing glance, and because there is no admission fee, you can return as often as you like to savor Ibarra’s haunting images.
Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
rummaging in the attic
for hidden treasure
Classical music was never heard in my childhood home until the day Beethoven barged in on a vinyl LP.
As an eighth-grader I delivered newspapers, and had quite a bit of cash at my disposal. (At least, it seemed that way to me.)
One day, on a whim, I bought two vinyl LPs on sale for 99 cents apiece. One of them was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
As soon as I peeled away the protective cellophane wrapper, I slipped the LP from its sleeve, put it on the turntable, and gently laid the needle at the edge.
Beethoven and I bonded immediately. I spent the rest of the afternoon playing his soul-stirring symphony over and over again, until my mother insisted that I join the rest of the family for supper.
Since that initial encounter years ago, I’ve listened to the Fifth Symphony countless times, but never until today in a live performance.
The Filarmónica de Jalisco, under the direction of guest conductor Enrique Bátiz Campbell, seemed to make the Teatro Degollado tremble with an unseen presence as the symphony Beethoven wrote over 300 years ago filled the great hall.
It was as though the composer himself was walking among us, nodding his shaggy mane in approval.
The instant the last note died, the audience leapt to its feet in acclamation. It would have been no small pleasure for us to have sat through the entire performance again—and again.
my eldest daughter
practicing scales at midnight—
summer’s first new moon
About an hour away from Guadalajara by bus (one-way fare is 50 pesos, about $2.70), Chapala is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon, especially on the malecón.
There are limitless opportunities for people watching: children getting their feet wet in the fountain; lovers snuggling together on the ubiquitous park benches; teens taking selfies together at awkward angles; elderly couples strolling arm in arm on the shaded sidewalks; cupcake vendors offering their tempting treats from large silver trays; and even young boys playing a lively game of futbol (soccer) in the tiniest of spaces.
Tourists and locals alike vie for an opportunity to be photographed in front of the wildly popular CHAPALA sculpture. You can aim your own camera at someone who is posing for his or her friends without fear of upsetting the festive atmosphere.
Especially during the summer, it’s rather warm and humid at the lake, so don’t hesitate to cool yourself down with a fresca (fresh fruit drink) or helado (ice cream) from a vendor’s stand or rolling cart.
And if you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds, you can duck into the nearby Parroquia de San Francisco, for some quiet moments of reflection.
competing with one blackbird
for the bright blue sky