Tag Archives: Luis Cotto-Vasallo

Guadalajara: Carnival

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A Ferris wheel and other carnival rides occupy one end of Plaza México.


The rides arrived by truck caravan several days ago. Workers began immediately to transform one end of the parking lot at Plaza México into a carnival.
Tonight, the carnival opens. As darkness descends on the second-largest city in Mexico, workers will flip some switches, and the Ferris wheel, and a dozen other rides, will come to life, arrayed with thousands of dazzling lights.
In one of his poems, Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo speaks of being “Instantly transplanted/ to the amazement of us all.”
That’s what carnivals do. They transplant us—to our amazement—out of the everyday world of bills and bitterness, longing and loss, into a world of wonder and delight, if only for an hour or two.
Even though my apartment is several blocks away from Plaza México, I won’t be surprised to hear children shrieking for joy, and adults laughing with abandon, as the carnival works its magic.

Little brown sparrow,
even crows stop their squabbling
when you start to sing.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved


Guadalajara: Parking

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A sign threatens illegally parked vehicles with towing.


When I leave Guadalajara in a few days, I’ll be heading for San Francisco, where parking is a major headache. The last time I drove to see my sister and her husband, I couldn’t park in front of their house. I felt lucky to find a spot three or four blocks away.
Recently a parking space in Hong Kong sold for $664,000—an indication of what a nightmare it must be to find a place to park a car in that city.
Guadalajara isn’t as bad as San Francisco or Hong Kong, but it’s bad enough. Homeowners protect themselves against drivers who would block their driveways by posting signs such as the one in the photograph.
“What simple bliss this mortal craves,” Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo writes in one of his poems, “not exactly asking for a piece of heaven….”
Every driver in Guadalajara, especially in the narrow streets of the Centro, craves the simple bliss of finding that often elusive piece of heaven called a parking spot.

Little brown sparrow,
do not forget your nestlings
in the lemon tree.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: Abanico

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A litte shop in Guadalajara Centro displays colorful abanicos for sale.


“Years ago,” Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo writes in one of his poems, “a debate stirred up Mt Olympus.”
I’m not interested in debates. The only thing I want to stir up is the air around my face on this hot summer day, so I set out to search for an abanico, a hand-held fan.
Near one of the bus stops, I see a religious goods store. Surely, they will have an abanico, perhaps emblazoned with the visage of the Virgin, or maybe depicting the Good Shepherd, leading his flock to green pastures.
I step up to the counter.
Buenos días,” I say apologetically, “pero hablo solo poquito español. Abanico?
The woman shakes her head sorrowfully, and says she had no fans in her store. But, she says with a smile, I can find a fan in another little store one block to the right, and two blocks to the left.
I follow her directions, and find the little shop. Unmistakable. The window is plastered with abanicos.
Once more, I apologize for my limited Spanish as I ask for an abanico. The woman behind the counter smiles and points to a box full of abanicos (probably made in China) in a variety of colors.
Que precio?” I ask. What price?
Quince,” she replies. Fifteen pesos.
I rummage through the box until I find a fan in my favorite color, blue, and hand the shopkeeper a twenty-peso note. She drops my change, five pesos, into my outstretched hand.
Gracias!” I say.
No stirring up debates this afternoon. Just stirring up the stifling air in the bus on the long ride back to my apartment.

Little brown sparrow,
although you have no road map,
still you find your way.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: Rain

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The view through my apartment window as the first raindrops fell


Tapatíos (people from Guadalajara), look forward to the beginning of the rainy season in June, when evening showers provide relief from the sizzling daytime temperatures.
The rainy season officially began last night.
Even though the forecast had called for only a twenty percent chance of rain, by 6 p.m. a few scattered clouds began to release their precious moisture. Then the cloud cover thickened and rain began to fall faster and faster, punctuated by thunder and lightning.
After several hours, the rain tapered off, leaving puddles in its wake, and little rivers coursing down the gutters.
“Either the rain or Vivaldi, which shall I pick?” Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo asks in his poem “Betwixt Worlds.”
For the tapatío sweating through a seemingly endless summer day, there is only one answer.
And it’s not Vivaldi!

Little brown sparrow,
the old men still remember
the last song you sang.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: Sanctuaries

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One of thousands of courtyards in Guadalajara


Every city dweller needs a sanctuary, a place to refresh his or her soul. Some take refuge in the hundreds of little neighborhood parks scattered throughout Guadalajara, while others find themselves refreshed by simply opening their own backdoor to a courtyard.
Fortunate are those who have a house with a courtyard, for here among flowering plants and singing birds the householder may say, along with the Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo: “All of Nature/ speaks to me as I witness each/ moment inhaling quietly.”
Humans have long known—and sought—the restorative power of birdsong and the fragrance of flowers, and a courtyard is often the perfect place to find both.
Not all courtyards are completely hidden from public view. Some can be glimpsed through ornate iron fences, and fortunate are the passersby who pause in their peregrinations to fill their eyes and ears and noses with the sights and sounds and scents emanating from these little sanctuaries, for they will go on their way refreshed and rejoicing.

Little brown sparrow,
the cricket in the courtyard
tries to sing your song.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: Names

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Miguel (alias “Sin Nombre”) displays his name tag.


My three-week volunteer assignment?
Teaching as much English as I can to a group of sixth-graders at the Salvation Army’s Hogar de Niños in Guadalajara.
How much English is that? Not much, I’m afraid. There’s only so much you can accomplish in an hour a day.
But we do what we can, and because each day’s lesson is punctuated with singing, we have fun doing it.
Monday was the first day of class. I came prepared with name tags, even though I already knew some of the students from last summer.
They grabbed the multi-colored Sharpies® and got right to work. What a relief to be able to call everyone by name!
For three days, I began the class by handing out name tags for the students to decorate and wear. Then Thursday, I didn’t.
Mournful faces! You would have thought I had snatched candy out of their hands just as they were ready to eat it!
“Tomorrow,” I promised. “I’ll bring the name tags tomorrow.”
I did, and they were happy.
And why shouldn’t they be?
A name is the most wonderful sound in the world to the one who bears it. It sounds pretty wonderful to those who love them too.
“Whisper her name at the stars/ and they will shout back, mercy,” Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo writes in his poem “She.”
A name tag is not a star, and it won’t make you a star, but it is a way to hear your name on the lips of someone else.
Your name. The most beautiful sound in the world.

Little brown sparrow,
my phone is now on silent—
will you come to me?


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: Poets, Buskers, and Beggars

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A passenger boards a Guadalajara city bus.


Almost daily as I ride the bus between the Hogar de Niños, where I’m teaching English, and my apartment, I encounter at least one interesting character.
One day it might be a disheveled old man who climbs aboard, recites poetry for a few blocks, and then puts out his hand for donations before getting off the bus.
Another day, it might be a busker with a slightly-out-of-tune guitar, who warbles one or two familiar songs, then heads for the rear exit, collecting donations along the way.
Or it might simply be someone down on his luck, who wagers that the bus passengers will probably open their hearts—and their coin purses—to him.
Invariably, these characters are polite, they pay the fare without complaint, and they don’t wear out their welcome by staying too long on the bus.
“The secret of joy,” writes the Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo, “is not to try and predict events but to act on the moment, making every unique second count.”
Bus rides are unpredictable. You never know if you’re going to be early or late to your destination. But if you keep your eyes—and your heart—open, something or someone on that ride will give you joy.

On a crowded street
an old man smoking a pipe
turns my thoughts toward home.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved