Thursday, August 20, 2009

Random rambles 'round Ajijic: Part 2 - Fiestas, kids & food

Ajijic plaza, dressed for a party. In my experience, three of the things Mexicans love most are fiestas, children, and food, but not necessarily in that order. In Part two of my rambles 'round Ajijic, we will take a look at typical scenes which express these three loves. Above, the golden late afternoon sun bathes the steeple of the Ajijic Parrochia (parrish church), and warmly colors the banners traditionally strung for fiestas. Mexicans don't need much of an excuse for a fiesta, and I often find the remains of one in the plaza during an early morning walk. Just as often, I have only the vaguest idea of the cause of the festivities, unless it was related to one of the many holidays such as Independencia, coming up in September.

Patriotism is taught early to Mexican children. These kids are dressed in their school uniforms as they stand at attention with the Mexican national flag during an Independencia parade through town. Mexicans I have met love their country, in spite if its many problems. Although many wars have ravaged the country in its history, Mexico (to the best of my knowledge) has never been an aggressor, and has never invaded a neighboring country. It has been repeatedly invaded by others, including Spain in the 16th Century and France in the 19th Century. The United States intervened militarily numerous times in the 19th and early 20th Centuries including the infamous war of 1846 in which the US seized nearly 1/2 of Mexico's territory. As Mexican President Porfirio Diaz once commented, "Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States".

Fiestas, kids, and eating go together like a hand in a glove. Above, Mexican families eat, play with their kids, socialize, and generally have a "get down" party around the kiosco in the center of the Ajijic Plaza. Strolling mariachis entertain the crowd, and later the kiosco will act as a stage for various bands whose music often makes up in volume what it may lack in quality.

Steaming sopes await hungry fiesta customers. Sopes are small disks of dough with toppings of meat, onions, parsley, cilantro or other herbs and vegetables. I call them miniature Mexican pizzas. The sopes are cooked in the hot oil of the special pan shown above, and when done are drained on the shelf that runs around the inside. Sopes are one of many types of Mexican "street food". Since they are cooked, they are probably safe to eat, and they are certainly popular. At a recent fiesta, I waited patiently in line to buy a couple of sopes, but when I finally got near the pan, they were all gone. Street food stalls like this one line the perimeter of the Plaza during fiestas, and can be found on street corners or in front of neighborhood homes at any other time.

Small fan of a big revolutionary. I found this tike playing on the steps of the kiosco during the Revolution Day fiesta last November. Parents love to dress their kids up in costumes resembling those worn by the wild revolutionaries who followed Pancho Villa and Emilanio Zapata. At the time of the Revolution of 1910-1917, the US considered Villa and Zapata to be dangerous subversives and even terrorists, but Mexicans revere them as heroes of the common people.

Vibrantly colored costumes adorn dolls of various sizes. These dolls wear the costumes of folklorico dancers who perform at many fiestas. I found these dolls in the Plaza during one of those fiestas. The dolls are made out of cornhusks and sticks before they are given their beautiful dresses. When folklorico dancers move around their stage, they swirl and swoosh their skirts in kaleidoscopic patterns, just as the dolls are doing above.

And speaking of dolls... I took this beautiful little girl's photo at a different kind of fiesta, a birthday party for Veronica, the Mexican novia (girlfriend) of my photographer friend Jay Koppelman. Valerie was the young girl's name, and she was Veronica's niece. Her posture, impish smile, and the streak of afternoon sunlight across her face made this picture a favorite of mine. Carole and I were delighted to attend this, our first, private Mexican party. We were warmly welcomed in spite of the language difference. I discovered that a camera is an instant ice breaker. Everyone wanted to pose and they laughed and clapped as I showed them the digital results. The mothers were particularly delighted to have their children photographed. People are, after all, just people, wherever they are.

Bullfighter in training. Kevin, one of Veronica's nephews, tries his hand as a matador confronted by a fierce and dangerous opponent. The puppy took its role quite seriously and repeatedly charged the young matador's cape. Fortunately, there were no casualties on either side.

More street food, otherwise known as "death by cholesterol". This carnicero (butcher) operated his small carniceria across the street from our former house on Calle Hidalgo. Every morning, he would set up this large cauldron on the sidewalk. It was heated by a gas line strung from inside the shop. He first heats up the oil to nearly boiling, then adds pieces of pork and pork fat to create chicharrones. The odor is wonderful, wafting down the street, and quickly draws a crowd of neighborhood women who line up with their pans for the treat. Given the fat content, I would probably double my cholesterol count in a single sitting, so I took a pass.

Neighborhood rosticeria is one of our favorites. A rosticeria serves roast chicken on a spit, along with roasted small potatoes, roasted chiles and other tasty delights. This mother-daughter pair operates the rosticeria above, which doubles as a tienda selling everything from thimbles to coat hangers. I practiced my Spanish on them, which they gently corrected. In turn, they practiced English on me. The daughter was actually quite fluent. The father is a retired Jalisco State Policeman who now operates his own taxi and guide service. Like many Mexican families, everyone works hard at multiple jobs to keep things afloat.

Ice cream girls roam the streets, calling out for business. It would be hard to miss this pair in their eye catching outfits. They pull around a hand cart selling various frozen treats. Their cries in the neighborhood on hot afternoons are part of the village music, which includes roosters crowing, horses clop-clopping by, and the bottled gas truck with its recorded voice intoning gaaaaaaaaaaaas?

Would-be Charro patrols the lake shore on a cool, cloudy day. This little fellow was entirely alone, seated on a horse many times his size. His legs needed another couple of feet in length to reach the stirrups. The horse clearly knew who was boss, however, and responded promptly to his movements and commands. To see a child this age alone in such a situation would give the average north-of-the-border parent heart failure. Mexicans in the country take it in stride and expect their children to grow up knowing how to handle horses.

This completes Part 2 of my three-part series. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed experiencing it. If you would like to comment, please do so in the place indicated below or email me directly. Please feel free to forward a link to this blog to friends and family. The more the merrier.

Hasta luego! Jim


  1. Really great blog i enjoyed a lot by reading your all articles. Thanks for sharing us your views.

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  2. Jim--Love your posts. My mom lives in Ajijic. Email me at


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