Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Coffee Table Caper

I’ve already mentioned that Travels with Charley is one of my favorite books, but more than that, it contains a passage that has greatly impacted my life. Steinbeck wrote:

“In Spanish there is a word for which I can't find a counterword in English. It is the verb vacilar, present participle vacilando. It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico City but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”
I’m not sure why this resonated with me so much, but ever since I first read it some 30 years ago, it’s not only informed every trip I’ve ever made, but perhaps even my entire life. And since I moved to San Miguel, I’ve become increasingly aware of why the word vacilar works so well in Mexico! And maybe it’s yet another reason I feel so at home here.
Yesterday, Eleanor and Margarita and I eramos vacilando. We set out in my car to look for a coffee table of a certain size and design for my casita. We headed along the highway to Dolores Hildago, just outside of which Eleanor’s friend, Enrique, owns an antiques shop.  We hadn’t gone far when we spotted a long string of what can only be called purveyors of fine junk along the side of the road. We made a screeching U-turn and pulled up in a spray of gravel. I’m not sure how long we stayed there, wandering from vendor to vendor among the rusted ironwork, fading painted and carved doors, and assorted ephemera. It was long enough for Margarita to almost buy a copper birdcage; for Eleanor to almost buy a batch of old photographs; and for me to almost buy a pink-painted cabinet. In the end, though, we left empty handed because we were really on a quest for a coffee table.
There were other tempting places to stop along the way, but we finally made it to Enrique’s magnificent establishment and discovered pretty quickly that he didn’t have any coffee tables of the kind we were looking for either. That didn’t stop us from spending another hour or so exploring. I’m always drawn to books and magazines, especially when they concern my passion for vintage clothes, and I ended up buying three copies of La Moda Elegante magazine from 1912.  
What the fashionable senorita was wearing in April 1912

As we were leaving, almost in chorus we all said, “I’m starving.”
In that area there was really one way to go: Carnitas Don Vicente. A young woman at the antiques store told us where it was and we found it a few kilometers away after a fork in the road: no mean feat given how colorfully Mexicans give directions and my impaired sense of right and left.
Oh, mama! At the door of the unpretentious little café that was blaring ranchero music, was a three-foot-across copper vat containing an entire cut up pig stewing in its own fat and Coca Cola. (Eat your heart out Anthony Bourdain.)

Yummy yummy pig parts
We ordered a half kilo of carnitas, and Eleanor who knows about these things, told them to make it todos suave. If you don’t order “all smooth,” you get the gristly, snouty, trottery bits mixed in. The mound of succulent shredded pork came with steaming corn tortillas wrapped in a towel and all the usual fixings: chopped white onions and cilantro, pico de gallo; limes, and those green chilies and carrots that blister the roof of your mouth. We ate ourselves into a stupor and still had enough carnitas to take home. When the bill came, including three soft drinks and the tip, we each owed the grand sum of 55 pesos (roughly four dollars and change).
Since we were already so close to Dolores Hidalgo, we decided to drive on into town. Dolores is basically famous for three things: Father Hidalgo, who instigated the Mexican insurgency against the Spanish there; Talavera pottery outlets; and ice cream.  I’d pretty much had my fill of Fr. Hidalgo during the bicentennial celebrations of the insurgency in September. His bald-headed image was everywhere you looked so I wasn’t much concerned with going to his museum. The colorful pottery is lovely but once you’ve seen one outlet, you’ve pretty much seen it all. So, of course, it became all about the ice cream.

Going potty on the Doloros highway

The little town square in Dolores is surrounded by vendors with carts of every kind of ice cream you can imagine. They are all vying with one another and will give you a taste of any of their exotic flavors. 

One of many ice cream vendors

Now, I’m going to do you a great favor. If you’re ever there and tempted to try the octopus ice cream: don’t. I’ve done it for you (you’re welcome). This is a taste that lodges in your limbic system, which rules both your sense of taste and your memory: not a good thing in this case.  Settle for a gentle taste of rose petal or angel’s kiss. If you’re really adventurous try the tequila or the avocado or one of my favorites, the elote (corn).  Just don’t sample the octopus. Seriously. I eventually settled for a double scoop of cappuccino and the vanilla special: a kind of butter pecan but with prunes  replacing the pecans. That set me back another $2.50.
We rolled on home into the sunset after taking just one accidental scenic detour. We stopped at the first junk shop we’d visited because Margarita decided she really did want that birdcage. But they were closed: only the dogs and chickens were still scratching around behind the locked gate. So the day netted a lot of fun, a pork-and-ice cream feast, and some vintage magazines -- but no coffee table.
Martha Stewart was in San Miguel de Allende last week and I bet she didn’t eat nearly as well as we did yesterday. And she probably just orders up her coffee tables from a guy who delivers them to her door. Poor us; we'll just have to keep on looking.

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