Tapatio Hospitality Revisited

Tapatios, the people of Guadalajara, Mexico, are known for their warmth and hospitality. I first encountered their friendliness during a summer semester abroad program in college. Arriving with my guitar and blond and Black roommates made it especially easy to meet people, since our crew stood out.

Las Calandrias

American students at Las Calandrias in Guadalajara

My first week in town my classmates helped celebrate my 21st birthday at La Copa de Leche, a 2nd floor restaurant with balcony seating overlooking the street. After dinner, we went upstairs to Las Calandrias lounge, named for the horse-drawn carriages that tour the city. Musicians Fernando and Chavo were performing popular Mexican and Latin American ballads on guitar and piano. When they took a break, the two young men were drawn like magnets to our obviously foreign group.

Fernando y Chavo

Fernando and Chavo perform at Las Calandrias

Chavo set his guitar down next to me. I started fingering a few chords. Before you know it, I was a regular part of the late night set at Las Calandrias, singing Spanish and American pop and folk songs for drinks.

Tapalpa

Fernando exploring the boulders of Tapalpa

The blond found another handsome distraction, but the dynamic duo of Fernando and Chavo became part of our crowd, taking us swimming at a local pool, or for picnics in the country with appropriate musical accompaniment. They introduced us to many places we probably wouldn’t have discovered on our own. I was sorry to have to leave when the eight weeks was up.

Las Calandrias Crew

The Las Calandrias crew, Kayte, Chavo, Carol, Fernando and Karen

With such special memories, I had some trepidation returning to Guadalajara years later. How could the Guadalajara of today compete with such great memories? I was traveling with a camera instead of a guitar, and I was on my own, sans blond beacon. On my own, I blend in pretty well.

I arrived at the Quinta Real Hotel, a colonial-feel luxury complex near the Minerva Fountain on Calle de las Americas. I knew I was coming in at the end of the Fiestas Octubre arts celebration. I was too late for the grand processions of the morning, but I was hoping to catch some photogenic folklorico dancers or other activities happening that evening.

Quinta Real Hotel, Guadalajara, Mexico

Quinta Real Hotel, Guadalajara, Mexico

As a working travel photographer and writer, I don’t worry about traveling incognito. Loaded with my heavy camera gear, I approached the young man at the concierge desk to see if he had a festival schedule.

Quinta Real

The Lobby of the Quinta Real Hotel, Guadalajara, Mexico

The concierge was a dapper 20-something young man in suit and tie with slicked back hair. His name tag identified him as Adalberto. Despite his impeccable English, I chose to revive my rusty Spanish in asking for guidance. At my request, he pulled out the day’s newspaper and checked the program for the festival. I was in luck; there were folk dancers and mariachis scheduled to perform downtown in the Plazas that evening.

Just then the sales manager, Arturo, came by to talk to Adalberto. When he heard that I was heading downtown to the Fiestas, he volunteered to give me a ride. He was new to Guadalajara himself and hadn’t seen any of the festivities. Adalberto decided he didn’t have anything better to do either and he was about to get off work, so he came along as well.

I don’t know if it was the big camera having a similar magnetic effect to a guitar, or simply Tapatio hospitality at work, but I set off with my two companions for the Centro.

Guadalajara, Mexico

Adalberto and Arturo at the Plaza de Armas in Guadalajara, Mexico

We found the Mariachi Internacional de Guadalajara playing in the gazebo or kiosko at Plaza de las Armas. They were just getting started as twilight was darkening to night. The lights of the gazebo framed the mariachis with a backdrop of the cathedral lit up against a sky that went deep cobalt for a few moments before settling into black. The sound of trumpets, guitarrons and voices filled the air. A perfect Guadalajara moment.

It lingered until the last notes of Jalisco no te Rajes extolled the virtues of Guadalajara as “the rarest pearl” of the state of Jalisco, whipping the crowd into a rousing final chorus an hour later.

Mariachi Internacional de Guadalajara

Mariachi Internacional de Guadalajara performing for Fiestas Octubre in the kiosko at Plaza de Armas, Guadalajara, Mexico

Colonial Guadalajara is laid out with four plazas forming a cross around the Cathedral along Avenida Hidalgo and Avenida Alcalde. The Plaza Guadalajara is in front of the church to the west, the Rotonda on the north side to the left and Plaza de Armas to the right. Behind the cathedral, the two-block Plaza Liberacion makes up the long branch of the cross with Teatro Degollado at its base.  Beyond the theatre to the east, Paseo Degallado is a 3-block pedestrian shopping zone built up over the last couple decades, adding kitschy tourist attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not to the traditional colonial offerings before ending at Plaza Tapatia.

After listening to the mariachi concert, we decided to walk around the Cathedral to Plaza Liberacion, where we found stone carvers competing in the National Stonework Competition. Some of them had taken off for the night, but others were still hard at work chiseling massive rocks into abstract shapes, bears, lions, Madonnas and other religious figures.

Stone Carving Competition

National Stone Carving Competition for Fiestas Octubre in Guadalajara, Mexico

We continued past the Teatro Degollado with its European-style allegory above the front colonnade, and in the next block found a temporary outdoor stage had been set up at the beginning of the Paseo Degollado. For the next hour we enjoyed a spectacle of folklorico dancers. Raven-haired beauties in jewel-toned blouses swirled their flowered skirts; charros in cowboy hats kicked up their boots; masked viejitos in serapes shuffled in circles; and nimble dancers wielded machetes for our nail-biting entertainment.

Folk dancers at the Fiestas

Folk dancers at the Fiestas Octubre in Guadalajara, Mexico

My two escorts were reveling in their spontaneous immersion into their own culture, away from the day to day of hotel business. The music followed us back to the Quinta Real, where, in no hurry to end the evening, we went to the restaurant and enjoyed a late dinner with a background of original compositions by local pianist José Luis Altamirano.

José Luis Altamirano

José Luis Altamirano plays dinnertime piano at Quinta Real in Guadalajara, Mexico

Over dinner, I shared tales of my time as a lounge singer at Las Calandrias, only to be told that the restaurant and bar were long gone, replaced by a new university building. That chapter in my history firmly closed, to be revisited no more.

In the morning, Arturo introduced me to his boss, Carlos, the hotel’s general manager. “Carlos loves to sing,” Arturo told me. “I told him you know how to sing Spanish songs.”

“You should come with us tonight,” Carlos invited, “Some of the managers are having an informal meeting at a great Cuban Bar.”

So after a day of exploring Guadalajara on my own, I joined the Quinta Real crew at La Bodeguita del Media, a two-level Cuban restaurant and nightclub advertising 2 for 1 mojitos on a yellow banner out front. In addition to the lethal rum beverages, the draw of the Bodeguita was the music.

Two different roaming bands of musicians moved from table to table taking requests, one upstairs, one downstairs. Then they’d switch.  When the musicians came our way, Carlos was ready with his first request – a song I didn’t recognize – which he sang along with gusto. Since the band played predominantly Cuban music, I didn’t recognize much besides the rhythm.

Bodeguita del Medio

Bodeguita del Medio Cuban Bar and Restaurant in Guadalajara, Mexico

Others at our table joined in for a few songs, but I could only sing along on a few choruses, so Carlos insisted that I make a list of songs that I know in Spanish to see if the musicians knew any of them. Since I know mostly Mexican mariachi, folk songs and ballads, they didn’t, but Carlos did, so we traded a few choruses across the table after the musicians had moved on. This was how I remembered Guadalajara – warm welcoming people making music together. I felt right at home.

Bodeguita del Medio

Singing along at Bodeguita del Medio Cuban Bar and Restaurant in Guadalajara, Mexico

The next night I found out that Carlos had an ulterior motive when asking for the list of songs I knew. After most of the patrons had cleared out of the hotel restaurant and bar, Carlos approached me.  Nodding toward the smiling guitarist who had been entertaining us for the last couple hours, he said, “He knows how to play Como and El Quelite,” – two songs from my list. As it turned out he also knew some Beatles, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel and a lot of other songs Carlos and I could join in, so we kept our little jam session going into the wee hours of the morning.

Sing along at Quinta Real

Late night sing along at Quinta Real hotel in Guadalajara, Mexico

As I headed reluctantly to the airport the next day, already feeling nostalgic and grateful for the wonderful memories that I would have from this trip, the last verse of El Quelite kept running through my head, defining my relationship with this beautiful city and its people.

Yo no canto porque se, ni porque mi voz sea buena. Canto porque tengo gusto en mi tierra y en la ajena.

Mañana, me voy mañana. Mañana me voy de aquí.  El Consuelo que me queda, que se han de acordar de mi.

 

I don’t sing because I know how, nor because my voice may be good. I sing because I enjoy my country and others too.

Tomorrow, I go tomorrow. Tomorrow I go from here. My only consolation is that they’ll remember me.

After all, how many gringas show up knowing all the verses to El Quelite?

Read more about Things to Do on a Rainy Day in Guadalajara.

CERN: The Source of the Matter

CERN

Story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons opens in Geneva, Switzerland with a murdered CERN scientist and a missing canister of antimatter. Standing on top of the 27 km (16.8 miles) Large Hadron Collider (LHC), outside the glass-walled control room of the ATLAS particle detector, where scientists are intent on their banks of computer screens, it’s not that great a stretch to imagine that this benevolent academic setting could mask a hotbed of intrigue. World-changing things are happening here.

Scientist at work in the ATLAS Control Room at CERN

Scienists working in the ATLAS Control Room at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

It doesn’t really matter to me that I can’t SEE the particle accelerator under the earth. There’s something fascinating about being at this place where scientists are analyzing the most profound scientific discovery in decades – a potential clue to the source of existence.

I can’t say that I traveled to Geneva specifically to visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, but as soon as I knew I was going to be in the neighborhood, I made it my top priority to get on a tour.

I’m more of a social scientist than a physical scientist. I actually dropped physics in high school, because I just didn’t get it. But I’ve take an observer’s interest in this particular pursuit of the source of our existence.

The CERN Visitors Center is just a few steps from the tram stop that brings you from downtown Geneva to the outskirts of town. English tours are scheduled mornings at 10:30, and French tours are afternoons at 3. Guides are volunteers from among the scientists, so your experience will depend on how well your particular guide can explain what’s going on for a lay audience.

Visitors Center at CERN

An inlaid sculpture lights up on the floor at the Visitors Center at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

I was on the afternoon tour in French with my friends JB, a scientist, and Corinne, a marketing professional. The rest of the group seemed to be made up of fellow science fans from high school students to adults. The tone of the orientation film and our guide’s multimedia presentation assumed a moderate understanding of physics in the audience, and I was happy that JB could simplify some of the jargon for my benefit.

Scientist Tour Guide at CERN

A physicist explains how a particle acceleration works on a tour of CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

In basic terms, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a giant, miles-long underground tube, frozen to unbelievably cold temperatures, designed to create a particle environment equivalent to conditions before the Big Bang in order to see whether the theory of physical mass being created from energy particles can be proved.

They send protons racing through these tubes at nearly the speed of light, crashing into each other 30 million times per second to see whether they can catch a picture of the hypothesized Higgs boson, sometimes referred to as the “God particle,” which is the bit of physical stuff that must exist to prove the theory. Something that is presumed to be everywhere, and yet hard to perceive.

A representation of the inside of a particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A representation of the inside of a particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

Thirty million collisions per second produce an almost inconceivable amount of data that it takes years and massive amounts of cloud computing memory across the globe to analyze (on a side note, the World Wide Web and the first web browser were originally created at CERN in 1989 as a way for scientists to share research data).

Simulations of particle collisions can be observe in the Universe of Particles exhibit inside the dome, where the guided tour ends. It is an immersive experience where you enter a dark world with lit particle orbs. Some of these orbs have interactive multimedia tabletops. Others are pods that you sit inside to listen to audio presentations.

The "Universe of Particles" exhibit at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

The “Universe of Particles” exhibit at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

The Microcosm, located at the Visitors Center, is another exhibit you can explore on your own that presents more concrete and hands-on displays of the science behind the particle accelerator with models, segments of retired accelerators and photos. It features each of the experiments currently active at CERN. It also includes an exhibit on the history and development of the technology that led to the internet and the World Wide Web.

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

From experiments begun in 2008, researchers reported the first signs of particles with the attributes of Higgs boson on July 4, 2012. Scientists were quick to point out that although they have found a particle that seems to fit the criteria for Higgs boson, and champagne corks certainly flew, they still don’t know what exactly they’ve found or whether it will prove or disprove the Standard Model of particle physics, so the analysis continues.

Unlike your local science museum, which has exhibits to help young minds grasp basic scientific concepts, the CERN visitor experience assumes you have an interest and some basic familiarity with the subject matter.

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

There is no charge for the guided tours, but an advance reservation, available through their website, is required. You can also visit the Microcosm and Universe of Particles exhibits for free without a reservation, and there is a physics-themed sculpture garden behind the Visitors Center. Children under 8 years old are not allowed on the guided tours, but can enter the public exhibits.

For more information, to explore the current state of CERN research or to schedule a visit, go to http://home.web.cern.ch/

Dreaming of Raspberry Pie

The Best Raspberry Pie Ever

The Best Raspberry Pie Ever at the Town House Bookstore and Cafe in St. Charles, IL

Story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Raspberry pie. An exquisite rarity, but even more elusive, the perfect buttery, flaky crust. Once tasted, it evokes spontaneous cravings at the oddest of times, transporting me back to relive the experience in my mind, salivating taste buds and all. Oh, for another piece of that raspberry pie!

Town House Bookstore and Cafe

Town House Bookstore and Cafe in St. Charles, IL

I came upon this culinary wonder at the Town House Bookstore and Cafe in St. Charles, Illinois, about an hour east of Chicago, where I was visiting my friend Cindy. It’s a charming, historic town on the Fox River, among a cluster of Victorian middle-American towns including Batavia and Geneva.

It’s worth a drive out of Chicago just to cruise the lanes of historic homes and mansions and take a stroll along the river. In summer all manner of water activities from riverboat cruises to canoes add just that perfect pastoral Sunday in the Park feel to any day.

The Fox River in St. Charles, IL

A view of Pottawatomie Park under the railroad bridge from the Fox River Trail in St. Charles, IL

There are things to DO in St. Charles, like take in a show at the Arcada or Steel Beam Theatre, shop for antiques or drive out to the Fine Line Creative Arts Center, located in a converted barn. But the best thing to do in St. Charles is nothing in particular.

Fine Line Creative Art Center

Fine Line Creative Art Center in St. Charles, IL

A walk along the river, an amble down Main Street, a coffee here, an ice cream there, a beer on the patio of the Filling Station Pub or Alley 64, a family dinner at Francesca’s by the River or fine dining at Rox City Grill in the historic Baker Hotel. Just hanging out is a pleasure.

Main Street, St. Charles, IL

Main Street, St. Charles, IL

And if you’re fortunate enough to arrive at just the right time, on just the right day, in just the right season – you might find a memorable slice of raspberry pie in the Town House Cafe. If not, the blueberry cobbler is pretty yummy too.

Blueberry Cobbler at the Town House Bookstore Cafe

Blueberry Cobbler at the Town House Bookstore and Cafe in St. Charles, IL