Monday, March 23, 2015

So a funny thing happened on our first trip to this part of Mexico which has since become something of a not uncommon occurrence.

We were walking along a street in Guanajuato on our first trip to that city when suddenly as we came around a corner just a whole lot of people were standing on both sides of the street waiting, it seemed, for something about to happen.  A couple of nights before this a religious procession had walked by us, starting with priests with incense and a large flower-filled float carried like the Ark of the Covenant through the street, with a marching band and the Church bells going off like crazy, followed by hundreds of people walking and singing down the street.  You can see a video I took of it here.

We thought something similar might be about to happen, but instead it was a very different sort of parade that came around the corner and down the street.  It consisted mostly of kids, a couple of which held a banner for their school, but it was like no school parade I had ever witnessed.  There was one kid dressed as the devil and another as kind of a pirate/bandito/Guy Fawkes character, both of whom brandished whips that they kept cracking at other kids in the parade (and at the crowd, which kept a respectable distance).  A few other kids danced around, dressed variously as a black bull, another devil and assorted other adult-sized caricatures.  Later there was a marching band, people dancing in native dress with the feathers and the paint and whatnot, but it was these kids that I found the strangest part of the proceedings.  I just remember thinking, as I frequently do down here, that this is decidedly not Salt Lake City.

We've since had other experiences like this many times, where some cultural event starts happening unexpectedly around or near us, such as a parade, a procession or a marching band, sometimes in the middle of the night (like last night) or mysterious firework demonstrations at weird times (like this morning, beginning at 4 am and then becoming loud as hell and seemingly just outside my window from 6-7).  The overall feeling is "What exactly is going on here?"  Sometimes a Google search of Mexican Holidays will turn up a clue but other times one is left completely in the dark and totally baffled (turns out yesterday was Benito Juarez' Birthday, so Wake the Hell up, Everybody!)

Where I come from, parades are a very different kettle of fish, especially those featuring kids.  There was only one parade that happened in my neighborhood growing up, every year on July 4, and it went right down Evergreen Avenue, the street in front of my house.

I have very few memories of it growing up, but in 2001 my folks asked if my own kids, 6 and 8, would like to be in it.  It consisted mainly of children riding by on bikes wrapped in red, white and blue ribbons and a few homemade floats pulled along by dedicated parents, watched by the grandparents and other family members.

In other words, it was super lame.

Like school plays, piano recitals, merit badge and graduation ceremonies, parades in the U.S. are generally something you get roped into watching because your kid is in them and you love them enough to sit there and suck it up for the duration.  That's as true for the Pride Parade as it is for the 4th of July.

Hooray!  Green!
There have of course been many more parades since which fall into this category, such as the yearly St. Patrick's Day Parade, which apparently exists to celebrate the color green, Shriners in small cars, and Girl Scouts in full uniform, of which I have had two.

Best Buy Crossing the Plains
Around the turn of the century however, I began to be interested in going to Utah's biggest parade, which occurs on July 24th (Pioneer Day) and is WAY bigger than the July 4 celebration in Utah for reasons which are just too historically weird to go into.

These people brought their iguana
This parade, a barely-disguised celebration of Mormondom masquerading as a Founder's Day Parade, has become an event that people actually stake out their places for and camp there like nerds circling the Apple store the night before a new iPhone release.

Can you tell how much fun Grete is having?

And despite the LDS overtones, there is a huge variety of people of all stripes hanging out and watching the festivities: families with kids who planned for the event with humongous colorful umbrellas, drunken rednecks with kids dressed only in diapers (it's also known as Pie-and-Beer Day), hacky-sacking teens, a few punk rockers, the morbidly obese stretching the limits of physics in plastic lawn chairs, and just a lot of interesting people of all ethnicities and social classes, which is of course why I tried to convince my kids to come with me so I could snap clandestine pictures of people and slip them later into paintings.  My son John-David wised up after the first year but Grete humored me twice.

Here's one painting where I slipped in some parade folks, and another here.

Why didn't my kids want to go to this event?  Because my kids are smart and The Days of '47 Parade is, of course, super lame.

Who loves Mericuh?  Modern Display!
Saint McPatrick's Day
There will obviously be detractors from this point of view, as a lot of people go out to these things for some reason, but parades in the States, at least the part I'm from, have for the most part become these big corporate McFestivals that are just another vehicle for corporate advertisers and politicians (and in Utah, church leaders) to drape themselves in the flag or something with a shamrock on it or push the odd Mormon handcart.  As such these big crepe floats are incredibly surreal with their over-the-top patriotism displays and huge corporate logos.

Beauty queens, state troopers driving their motorcycles around and around in figure eights, marching bands and the glamorous honkies of the late night news team:  it is increasingly hard for me to connect any of this with my life, is what I am trying to say.  Plus I really despise bagpipe music as a rule, of which there are at least 2 different outfits that come marching by in each parade, kilts flying and scottish junk presumably a-waggling beneath.

We are the beautiful white people who bring you the News!
Me actually enjoying a parade in Mexico
The truth for me is that I actually want to like parades, filled with color and sunlight and spectacle as they supposedly are, but year after year I feel actually even more alienated by the parades of my own culture than I do when I am seeing a completely baffling one pass me by in Mexico and wondering what exactly it's all about, Alfie.

The thing about parades in Mexico, and many other places, is that they don't shy away from the darker side of the human psyche in the way that the antiseptic parades in the States have in the past who knows how many decades.  One would hate for there to be anything that's not nice in one of these slow moving sequin shindigs.

Don't be messin with St. Judith.
I feel this way about a large amount of the art I see produced around me and shown in my home state.  Put something weird or slightly disturbing in a painting and people assume you're a freak with some kind of psychological maladjustment, even as they cue up the latest Saw movie on Netflix.  Half the fun of art history are all the gnarly and funky bits that show up even in, perhaps especially in, the Churchy stuff.
Don't be afraid.  It's only a painting.

I love paintings that also try to take on the subject of the parade, especially when it's a really bizarre one.  Heironymus Bosch is always good for a parade route down Psilocybin Avenue, especially when one considers that they were paid for by and hung in churches in the Netherlands before America was discovered by Columbus.  That's not the kind of picture that was hanging in the foyer in the cinderblock chapel where I went to Sunday School growing up.  Maybe if it was I'd still pop in now and again for a look.

One of my favorite paintings of all time, James Ensor's Christ's Entry into Brussels, is a parade scene of the strangest sort imaginable:

And another favorite, Goya's Burial of the Sardine, is another parade scene which has that "What exactly is going on here?" feeling that I wish would occasionally happen back home but never does, at least not in a real parade.

I would love to paint a painting of a parade someday that captures some of the weirdness that these paintings do, but looking through all the photos I took of parades back in the States I just don't see the source material there.

The daughter I dragged on those ill-fated outings is now all grown up and heading off this fall to Tübingen, Germany on a Fulbright Fellowship.  Maybe you'll find the parades there more interesting, Grete!

I can't remember the last time I really enjoyed watching a parade in the States, though of course I've never been to the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island or Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  I suppose the addition of breasts would probably change the entire dynamic.

Do let's get back to Mexico, by all means.


So the next parade we witnessed in Mexico was the Good Friday Procession when we came back to San Miguel a few years ago, and it is an unapologetically religious, (specifically Monumentally Catholic) reconstruction of the Passion of Christ, complete with Roman Centurions and some extremely serious guys carrying heavy crosses in the heat of the day.

Following these hombres are (I suppose) the thieves who were crucified along with Jesus, being flogged by Romans (not really flogging them and nobody actually gets crucified, though I understand this really happens [yikes!] in the Philippines), and several other folks from the cast of characters from the Biblical story.  The people in this parade are decidedly not messing around, and clearly working very hard.  Several of the "floats" are really heavy affairs carried by 6-8 devotees dressed in black, which has to get super hot in the 84 degree weather of early April in San Miguel, and they are allowed to stop and rest every once in a while, the floats propped up on wooden supports while they catch their breath.  I would pay good money to watch the Ten O'Clock Eyewitness News Lineup from back home do this.

I'm not what anyone would call a Believer by any stretch of the imagination, and the whole mythology (which I was also raised within) now strikes me as extremely odious, but this procession is really something to see.

I imagine if one were counted among the Faithful it would all be very affirming and moving, but for me it was simply aesthetically beautiful, with the resonance of an event that taps into a symbology and tradition that goes back thousands of years.

I felt that way again when we came back for Christmas later that year and witnessed what seemed to be a spontaneous peasant procession for the Virgin that walked up the steps of the Parroquia just as Christmas Mass was ending on the morning of the 25th.  It was very beautiful despite the off-tune singing led by a woman with a megaphone and a small group of people with a life-size statue of the Virgin.  Then the people tucked fake flowers into various places on the Virgin as they set her down outside the church doors and sang another hymn.  

There were people crying tears of real devotion and it made me wonder what could possibly move a person who doesn't believe to this degree.  There was a tiny little bent-over woman with a cane who climbed slowly up the stairs to make her devotions.  Like I say, I'm not a believer but I do believe in showing respect for what other people hold dear, and I was glad Sofi could be there to see it even she really didn't understand what was going on.  Neither did I, to tell the truth.

However, despite myself, I thought of Steve Martin's Hymn for Atheists, and I mused that it's not too surprising there aren't any atheist cathedrals.

One bit of advice I would give to anyone who is staying in San Miguel during Semana Santa (which starts this Sunday, incidentally) and who is not 100% of the faith:  Make sure you are on the same side of the procession as your hotel and that you are close enough to a side street to beat a discreet retreat when you decide you've had enough Passion for one day, because this event takes an improbable amount of time to come to a close and sneaking through to the other side of the street is not something that is smiled upon by the people on either side of that strait and narrow divide.

Semana Santa is a whole scene here in Mexico, with different events and processions happening every day of the week, starting on Palm Sunday where people weave palm leaves into all sorts of interesting and clever shapes, and continuing through the week.  Unfortunately Sofi had an ear infection on our first day, so she looks a little miserable after looking all morning for a doctor who was open on a holiday weekend, holding her little palm crucifix complete with little palm Jesus on it that she had picked out, though she had no idea what it was.  

We certainly didn't go to all the events, as one procession goes a very long way IMHO.  And then, on our last morning in San Miguel, which turned out to be Easter Sunday, after a terrible night's sleep filled with people walking up and down the streets all night making altogether too much noise, I woke at 5 am to a marching band playing Mexican Polka music at the loudest possible volume as they marched down the streets of San Miguel, seemingly around and around the block our rental house was located on.

Then the fireworks started going off.  Not the quiet pretty kind that sparkle and shimmer and rain back down like squiggly little sperms swimming back to earth, but the big FLASH ones that just make a huge BOOM, echoing up and down the valley San Miguel is located in.  It was still pitch black, mind you, with a full moon high above the city.  Perhaps the thinking is that Jesus rose on Easter, and so should you.  Here's a link to a probably boring little video I took about an hour after they had started in, had figured out they weren't going to stop any time soon, and had dragged Tracy up to the roof of the house we were renting for the week.  What I am trying to say, is that when you come to this town, you might want to invest in some foam earplugs first.

[Side note:  I'm no biblical scholar, but I think there's no way Jesus was getting up at 5 am that first Easter Morn.  I bet they let him at least have a cup of java and read the morning paper before really firing things back up.  I mean, give a brother a union break already.]

Later that morning the entire town assembled for the event known as the Firing of the Judases.  It turns out this does not imply giving Judas a pink slip for inadequate job performance, violating the terms of his Nondisclosure Agreement, and improper touching and/or kissing.  No, turns out the firing is much more literal than this, and involves actual fire.

Half this penguin-dude's pants just burned off.
When we got to the Jardin, which is the town square in front of the Cathedral, we noticed 16-20 life-sized papier maché effigies hanging by ropes over the street, with a huge crowd anxiously awaiting the beginning of festivities.  Some of them were devils or demons as well as a few witches (the effigies, not the crowd, at least as far as I know), but most were just relatively ordinary looking Joes with Ross Perot ears and signs on them saying things like Candidato Corrupto, but also many more signs that said things like Hotel Virreyes and Dulceria Goreti.  In retrospect I think these were simply the local versions of Corporate Sponsorship for each Judas, but who knows?  Maybe somebody had a really bad night at Casa Canela.  Considering the night's sleep I had just had, this was a real possibility.

One by one the effigies were lowered, a fuse was lit, and the Judas was quickly raised back up while the fuse lighters ran like hell and the people pulling the ropes in the balconies above closed the doors.  The Judas would spin slowly as rockets began shooting off (sometimes into the crowd!) from circular bands around his/her waist, and then slowly pick up steam.  Some of them would catch on fire at this point, but most simply exploded with the force of an M80, which is almost certainly what they have inside.  We kept what we hoped was a safe distance away, which increased a bit as the show commenced.

There is simply no way I'm not going to show you a couple of videos of this.  

There's this one, which I'm fairly sure at least one of his unpardonable sins was wearing that pink leisure suit with the high fastening pants:

And then there's this one.

At least one of the Judases actually had candy inside, like a piñata with medium duty artillery, and when he blew up and rained dulces on the ground below some members of the crowd had to be encouraged to go back behind the ropes before the next Judas could be lit.  

This is emphatically not something you are going to see in Murray, UT, folks.

After the last Judas had been exploded, but before the street sweepers came in to clean up the carnage, there was a rush by members of the crowd on the parts and pieces left on the ground below.  Then there was an informal marketplace of sorts selling the best bits of exploded Judas chum for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver by what I am assuming were the event organizers, or perhaps crepe paper black marketeers.  

We didn't buy anything, but here's Straussy holding up a witches' head, and our friends who'd come to San Miguel with us ended up with an arm they snatched off the ground for free in their carryon.   Sweet spoils of victory!  Then we saw some kids walking a complete unexploded Judas (some of the effigies were traitorous duds), presumably still with the explosives inside, away from the battlefield.  Cuidado, Ninos!

While I understand (and Sofi has already pointed out to me today) that this last was technically not a parade per se, I hope you'll not be a Doubting Thomas wiggling your finger around in my blog about niggling details.  

I also want to insert a little clip here from one of my favorite shows of all time An Idiot Abroad, where Karl Pilkington, a very, very reluctant tourist, has a similar but much crazier Easter Sunday in Mexico City:

So, in closing, I would like to suggest that along with earplugs, you might wish to bring along safety glasses and perhaps some lidocaine when visiting Mexico during Holy Week.  And always remember:  Drop and roll, people.  Drop and roll.

I have more to say about parades in San Miguel, Little Flock, but this blog entry is too long already, so perhaps I'll write the rest in another epistle in a week or two after the Easter holiday.  Until then, try to be of good cheer already.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Okay.  So I got sick there for a while, sicker than I've ever been in fact, with bronchitis for over 6 weeks, which pretty much sapped any desire I had to paint or blog for a while.  It also kind of sapped all my enthusiasm for being anyplace in the world except home in my own bed in Salt Lake City where there isn't any Mexican Oompah music playing at full blast at 2 am, as there was regularly from neighbors on both sides in the place we were staying until December.  Then came the holidays, where we actually went to Cancun for a week before going back to Salt Lake for Christmas.

Tracy and I always pooh-poohed this kind of Mexican vacation that so many of our friends and family have taken over the years:  pulling into a resort and planting yourself on the beach while they bring you drinks with little umbrellas in it and at some point you get up and stumble over to the buffet of crappy all-inclusive resort food.

Or worse, you get sucked into a timeshare that is kind of exactly like joining a cult.  At some point you're sitting down in a room with wide-eyed people in suits, hopefully with friends you've dragged along, like some kind of multivitamin multilevel marketing scheme from Utah County.  I mean, I wasn't born yesterday; I've seen South Park.

Jive plastic places like Cancun do not even remotely resemble what Mexico is really like, we argued.  You might as well be in West Palm Beach.  Emphatically not our thing, we insisted, clinging to our Lonely Planet guidebook, feeling superior and planning our next trip to someplace with an improbable number of X's and the suffix uatl at the end of its name.

Then Tracy's folks went and totally bought a timeshare in Cancun, and invited us all to come down with them for a week during the Christmas break.  All right, we thought, but then we're going somewhere else afterward, somewhere inland, for another week and spend Christmas in some real Mexican town.  I mean, how bad could the Beach Resort Vacation really be?

Now I'm not going to say that we were completely wrong about it, and then try to get you to come to a half hour meeting with me, but I will say that there is definitely a reason why people like to do this particular kind of vacation.  Turns out lying on a beach with a good book and a cerveza with your family around you is pretty darn therapeutic, especially when you are just coming off six weeks of bronchitis.  True, it's nothing like Mexico, but bad it emphatically ain't.

Our first trip there I read Marcel Pagnol's My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle in their entirety to Sofi (except for the last two pages, where in typical French fashion he feels like he has to kill everybody off in as tragic a way as possible).  The title sounds like something out of the Mormon Fiction section, but is in fact Pagnol's memoir about growing up in the countryside in the South of France.  So even though our bodies were lounging on a manicured beach in Mexico, our minds were crawling around the hills of Provence catching cicadas and chasing thrushes out of the lavender.  I say two emphatic thumbs up, avec ou sans the last two pages.

Meanwhile, Sofi drew in her sketchbook the entire time, which is more than I can say about how productive I was artistically.  I have to admit it was a pretty awesome way to spend a week overall.  It was here that I finally perfected my approach to tanning, which is to slather on the sunscreen 45, lie mostly in the shade for the entire week and wait for that happy day when some clever geneticist invents a spray-on Stem Cell Mestizo #5 lotion.  This approach is not for the impatient, but it works for me.

When we weren't lying around dreaming about the French countryside, we were playing in the water, and it has been really awesome to watch Sofi go from being very apprehensive about the surf to becoming a sea otter in the last couple of years.

She also has her little cousin Ellie to play with while she's down there, and it has been great for her to be the big kid for a change, the opposite of her usual experience with her older sibs who are now both in college.

There's also an absurdly beautiful Infinity Pool and at least four different hot tubs at this sweet place that Straussy's parents bought into, and while I stick by my assessment of timeshares in general, I gotta say that this particular one is a super cherry setup.  I have said no to meeting invitations a total of twice in three years and so far nobody has come to my room with an E-Meter or some "literature".  Notice also I am not telling you the name, as I'm perfectly content for all of you not to "buy in".  Go find your own cult, people.

I'm glad it's not one of those All-Inclusive Resorts, however.  At the first of the week we just go buy groceries and cook for ourselves the entire time.  There are kitchenettes in each unit and several common BBQs to choose from.  And the Cancun Costco sells booze!  Swoosh!

This is about the extent of my experience of the Cancun Night Life

We Strauss/Slaughs are not big night owls, though there's a huge Cancun nightlife scene if that's your bag.  I dunno.  We're always there for the Winter Solstice and we're right on the far eastern edge of the Central Time Zone, so it's completely dark by 6 pm and the sun rises at like 5:45 am or something.  This means we're usually sawing logs by the time Señor Frog's is even opening for the night.  I love to sleep with the windows open and listen to the surf all night long, and sometimes, far away, there is the sound of bass thumping from a distant dance floor.

The sunrises are also almost embarrassingly pretty, and I'm of the opinion that as cliché as it sounds, enjoying long walks on the beach is not just something to put on your OK Cupid Profile.  It's hard for me to think of a better way to spend a morning.

It happened that the first time we went to Cancun was the week of the Winter Solstice in 2012, which you may recall was a time when many assorted religious, new age and numerology crackpots as well as the odd Hollywood movie producer thought might be when the world was going to end.  This was all supposedly based on the fact that the Mayan Calendar was set to come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012.  Lots of hay was made about the 12-21-12-ness of it all (though of course that's not how the freaking Mayan Calendar would have read, Der), with not a lot of rumination about earlier disappointing recent Apocalypses such as Y2K and 2011's May 21 Rapture, apparently called off due to bad weather.  Some folks just really can't wait for it all to end, I guess.

Anyway, there was just no way I was going to be anywhere else than on top of or at least in front of a Mayan temple on the solstice of the end of the Mayan Calendar, so I rallied the troops and we planned an excursion out to Chichen Itza, a place I've wanted to visit my whole life.  Unfortunately, due to various scheduling issues, we had to settle for going a couple of days before the Return of Kukulkan and perhaps a host of bloodthirsty Mayan and/or Aztec Overlords, on the 19th of December.
Abraham and the skeptic

I talked with our tour guide Abraham on the two hour drive out into the jungle, and he agreed that the popular understanding of the Mayan calendar prophesying the end of the world was mistaken, reassuring us that the world was not going to end in two days, but then he went on to say that there was merely going to be a planetary alignment with all nine planets (Pluto's not a planet, but I wasn't going to argue) with the galactic center, which would then result in 3 days of darkness.

Abraham layin down the facts.
I asked Abraham how exactly that was going to work with the total darkness thing, and he said that it was because Venus would be between us and the sun.  I pointed out that this had already happened back in June during the Transit of Venus, and that we'd all watched it with telescopes and special filters on Library Square in Salt Lake City, and that Venus had only been this tiny dot passing in front of the much larger solar disc.  He nodded politely, with the patronizing look of a man who still thought we totally should have sprung for the Travel Insurance.

Anyhoo, Abraham had lots of interesting other stuff to say about this crazy game the Mayans played with these heavy rubber balls that they had to bonk up through small stone hoops at the height of basketball nets with, like, their hips or something, while the king and all the aristocracy watched and cheered from on top of the walls.  And if I understood correctly the winners, not the losers, then got sacrificed to the gods right there on the fifty yard line instead of the post game interviews.  Finally, a sport for those of us who were always picked last in gym class.

Chichen Itza certainly felt more authentically Mexican than anything else we'd experienced that week, which isn't to say that it's not a major tourist trap filled with tchotchke shops and people hustling you constantly.  Some of the stuff is most definitely the same old mass-produced crapola you see everywhere in such places in Mexico, but there were also some real artisans making and selling handmade work that was really cool.

We bought a hand-carved wooden mask from these Mayan woodcarvers Abraham hooked us up with (who knew there were still Mayans?) that we've been really happy with, and he even has a little Chichen Itza pyramid on his head to remind us of the place when we're back home.

When you go to Chichen Itza, make sure to make a stop in this charming little town called Valladolid.  If you have time (we didn't) you can also go swimming in one of the cenotes, or sinkholes filled with water, which are like little grottos.  This had been our original plan but ultimately Chichen Itza proved to be a long, hot and humid day and we were all hungry and super grouchy by the end of it, with a two hour drive still ahead of us.  Also, when you go to Valladolid, do not space out and leave your debit card in the friggin ATM.  Luckily, I realized this just in time, and I ran back in a panic to see the next guy standing there looking at my card still poking out of the slot while the machine beeped like a McDonald's French Fry Machine.  ¡hijole!

Two days later on Dec 21st, Tracy, Sofi and I greeted the Solstice and the dawn of a new Mayan Era in the Temple of the Scorpion, which just happened to be right next door to our Timeshare.  I totally talked Kukulkan out of killing all of you and eating your hearts.  He was actually a great guy, and we've stayed in touch.

My son John-David, who does not have a
palm tree growing out of his head.
The next year our big Mayan outing was to another set of ruins called Tulum, which is much closer to Cancun, coastal and far less stiflingly hot and humid than Chichen Itza.  This time we were also joined by my son John-David, who was out for Winter Break.  Going to ancient places like this is crucial for getting a sense of where you are relative to the age of the world, I think, especially for those of us who live in the States and may not actually be surrounded by any structure older than 100 years old on any given day.  There are several members of Congress that I think this could greatly benefit from this.

You can't see him, but he's back there.

Along the way to Tulum we popped into a pretty cool little coastal town called Playa del Carmen where a guy actually asked John-David and me if we wanted to come into his place and "meet his sister."  We said No Gracias, though I'm sure she was a lovely person.  Later some kids asked us if we wanted to come see an alligator, which also sounded interesting, and indeed there was totally one living in this crappy trash-filled pond behind a little Virgin de Guadalupe Shrine that was in the rear of their shop.  Somebody ought to clean that mess up, I thought, but I suppose I wouldn't want to do it with that big lizard in there either.

Ultimately, the shrine and the kids were a lot more interesting than the reptile, which like every alligator I've ever seen just sat there like a freaking log, surrounded in this case by old cheetos packages, used tires and antifreeze bottles.

Well, I guess I need to wrap this sucker up.

So essentially we go back to Cancun again and again now.  It's a trip we look forward to and schedule for the same week in December every year, a place where a kid can make sand angels or a sandman and celebrate the holidays by swimming right up to the bar and ordering a virgin strawberry daiquiri for herself and her little cousin, because Happy Hour means two for the price of one!

Unlike the other places we've gone in Mexico, I can't imagine how I would ever make any art about this place.  It's too slick and geometrical and yes, too bourgeois for me to ever find my way around it as a subject, so we've always used it as a place to springboard to another part of Mexico that has something we can sink our visual teeth into.  Someplace where there is some culture that has emerged out of this country we've come to love over the years.

It's also just way too damn purdy.  Like many American artists, I think I'm kind of self-conscious about putting anything too picturesque into my work, as if we've all somehow become embarrassed by beauty, though I'm probably a little less shameless in this regard than some.  This may sound a bit weird but in Art School that shizzle is pretty much drummed right out of you and it is seen as super unsophisticated to paint something unapologetically beautiful just for the sake of enjoyment.

There are of course a lot of purdy pitchers painted by artists these days; just pick up a copy of Southwest Art and you're gonna see just a bunch of sunsets over Red Rocks (as well as a whole lot of seriously morose Native Americans), and to tell you the truth I have never in my life, before or after Art School, cared one bit about any of that stuff.  I simply can't imagine trying to paint anything like that with a straight face, and yet I find that I crave this kind of beauty around me on a regular basis, just not paintings of this kind of beauty.  A real sunset over real red rocks?  You bet, though not so much the morose Native Americans (though I totally get it, people).  Also, I never wonder whether a real sunset would match my couch.

What I have ultimately learned from Cancun however, is that someday when I cash it in, and it turns out that Reincarnation is the deelio, I am totally coming back as a pelican.  I don't know if there's a list you have to get on for that or not, or if you have to know somebody, but I am telling you those things are totally working a sweet angle.  Look for me in the surf, is what I am saying, people.

Bradathon Livingston Pelican.
I will never paint anything remotely similar to this.
This year was of course different from all other years, as we did not have plans for going anywhere amazing after Cancun, having just come from someplace amazing (though truthfully I wasn't really appreciating it much those last few weeks while I was coughing up my own weight in phlegm).

Instead, this time we went back home to Salt Lake for Christmas, where I could climb in my own bed, or a reasonable approximation of it anyway at my folks' house (ours is rented for the year) and indeed there was not the least hint of Mexican Oompah music there.  We spent some quality time with the fam and the older kids who were on break from College, and had a couple of meals with friends before hopping back on a plane for Leon and the rest of our stint down here in San Miguel.  Even though as a general rule I pretty much hate Christmas and the rest of winter in Salt Lake, I have to say it was a really nice break.

Though when we got off the plane and were finally on the road back to San Miguel on New Year's Eve, in teeshirts with the windows rolled down, and then made our way up our quiet little street strewn with holiday flags, I have to say it felt great to be back.