Whew, that was a fast month! Hence my late update.
So if eating grasshoppers had been on my bucket list (it wasn’t), I could now cross it off, courtesy of a brief trip to Mexico City in early October. I’m glad that we didn’t cancel it after the earthquake, although the effects were still very evident. In some ways, the damage seemed less extensive than I expected, but that’s mostly just because the city is so big, it swallows up the appearance of the impact of the destruction of hundreds of buildings.
Of course, it was still very much on everyone’s mind. People shared their earthquake stories, finding a gradual catharsis in the telling and retelling of the event. Many old cathedrals and monuments were closed after having sustained damage, and no one knew yet when or if they would reopen. Outdoor shrines bear tributes to those lost at the sites of the worst devastation.
We spent two days in Cuernavaca, “the city of eternal spring,” where our hostess Natalia’s family has a getaway home. On the way there, we stopped in the delightful village of Tepoztlán, nestled at the foot of mountains. In the marketplace, Natalia paused at a stall and asked, “So who wants to try some grasshoppers?” Maybe just for fun, maybe a way of gauging what kind of travelers we were. Well, we were up for it, so she bought a generous scoop of chapulines, a delicacy of grasshoppers toasted with salt and lime and spices, and strolled through the market crunching on them.
Not bad, by the way! And a good thing to do as it set the tone for the rest of our stay. There’s a big movement to revive ancient indigenous grains in Mexico. We came across a vendor selling patties of amaranth and squash blossom and other grains, bought a selection and cooked them for breakfast the next morning, topped with a fried egg. At a restaurant that evening, we had a dish made with huauzontle, another native plant which Natalia described as “a branch,” as well as chiles en nogada, a seasonal dish of stuffed poblano peppers in an unusual, rather sweet, walnut cream sauce. The dish is supposed to be topped with pomegranate seeds and thus evoke the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag (much to Natalia’s disappointment, our restaurant hadn’t gotten its delivery that day).
In Mexico City, we spent the better part of a day visiting both Diego Rivera’s studio and the Frida Kahlo Museum. It’s funny, my first encounter with Frida Kahlo’s work was a literary one. In the late 1980s, I read a novel (I can’t for the life of me remember what it was) in which a painting of hers called “The Wounded Deer” was described so vividly and evocatively that I wondered if it actually existed. Not long afterward, I was looking at an exhibition catalog from the college gallery where I worked and discovered that not only was the painting real, it had been in a show there. Mind blown! It’s hard to imagine now that Frida is considered one of the most famous female artists (and yes, unfortunately, I think the gender qualifier is needed) in history. In her native Mexico, she’s so popular that there’s a term for it: Fridamania.
Some of our plans were thwarted. The day we’d allocated for exploring the historic downtown area conflicted with a huge concert for earthquake relief, and many landmarks were barricaded. We lost time in the mornings dawdling too long over coffee, and lost time getting lost on the Metrobus. But sometimes the adventures that go a little bit awry are the ones that end up being the most memorable. I’ve seen a lot of cathedrals in my day, but I’ve never before been startled and delighted by the sight of a storefront filled with colorful quinceañera dresses, bursting like frilly flowers, at a bus stop.