I saw Rani kissing Santa Claus
We stayed with Maleh's family in a six bedroom, 2 bath house, made almost entirely from concrete. The house was not heated and everyone wore coats and sweaters in the chilly mornings. Mexicans are like us East Indians – if we have a holiday, there is lots of cooking and eating. Every morning, Maleh’s mum or sister Aida would put on a pot of “ponche”, a melange of fruits (guavas, oranges, dried apricots, raisins, and some I cannot remember) , dried flowers of hibiscus, cinnamon and sugar steeped in water. Breakfast was usually flour tortillas served with beans, fish or meat, cheese and avocado with a fruit salad of papaya and whatever else was available.
The big meal of the day in Mexico is comida, generally served between 2 and 4pm. On New Year’s Eve, I offered to cook an Indian meal for comida. Because we were out touring the town until 3, by the time I finished cooking it was 5.30pm, so that must have been very hard on people who had not eaten since breakfast!
I was under the impression that all Mexicans like their food spicy hot and was surprised when Rebecca, Maleh's mum, started fanning her face with a hand while eating my lentil curry. I gave her some rice to soak up the heat of the curry spices. When I found out later that she is taking medication for acid, it made me feel really bad. Maleh's sister Angelica and brother-in-law Manuel came over with baby Samantha just as we were finishing the meal, and I was intrigued to find out that Manuel, who is Portugese, had spent time in India working with a missionary church. I enjoyed listening to him as he reminisced about his experiences and the South Indian dishes he missed.
Usually, there is a light supper eaten later at night. However, since it was New Year's Eve, the family had planned a traditional roast turkey dinner for 11pm. As soon as we had finished comida, Rebacca headed into the kitchen to put the turkey in the oven. I was feeling so full that I could not even imagine putting another crumb of food in my mouth, however late. Most families attend some church service or other on this auspicious day, so everyone except Aida, who stayed to attend to the roast, left shortly for the hour and half service at their Methodist church. Chris and I decided to go for a walk around the city to soak up the atmosphere and popped into the cathedral where mass was in progress. People did not appear to be dressed in their Sunday best as we had expected. There were vendors set up outside the cathedral selling local sweets, guava rolls and muesli rounds, juices and candles.
We walked up a steep cobbled boulevard with coloured streamers fluttering above us strung from the grand old trees framing this wide ancient street. We stopped at the first permanent church in New Spain, the Franciscan monastery Ex-convento de la Asuncion, built from the stones of a pyramid to the rain god Tlaloc. The sacristy holds the font where the four lords of Tlaxcala were baptised before Cortes. Standing in the doorway, we watched a bishop conducting the service for hundreds of tightly packed worshippers and I prayed for the health and happiness of my family, friends and people in general.
We ate the last dinner of 2009 at 11.30pm with Manuel saying grace in English and Spanish. I can't say much about the turkey as I am still vegetarian, but my tortilla with fried prickly pear cactus, green beans and cheese was yummy. We toasted in the New Year with the slightly tart fruit ponche.
New Year's Day 2010
We walked into downtown Tlaxcala with Maleh. Hundreds of people had gathered for services in a tent outside the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Ocotlan, the site of several miraculous appearances of the Virgin Mary. The baroque church’s ornate portal and twin towers are carved in white plaster and the stunning interior took an indigenous artist more than 20 years to complete.
A large group of brightly clad native performers were gathered ouitside the church. When we returned a few hours later, we saw them emerge from the church, dancing and singing. In the square outside, we watched them perform elaborate ceremonies in which a shaman blessed musical instruments and musicians.
Little girls coming
More dancers - note the ankle bracelets with seed pod 'eye of the deer' rattles.
In the evening, comida prepared by Rebecca included baked salmon, beans, tortillas, tostados and cheese. Later on, we celebrated Angelica's birthday with two types of cake and hot fruit punch. Is it any surprise that I have gained a few pounds during this holiday? I should mention that hibiscus tea is very popular in Mexico because it is supposed to reduce weight and is also a good source of Vitamin C. However, it is a diuretic so I would not recommend it to everyone.
On the evening before our departure, the family Hernandez celebrated Maleh's Ph.D. graduation from University of Victoria, B.C. All morning, Maleh's mum was in the kitchen, marinating lamb in a red hot sauce, putting individual portions in little packages tied up with string, to be steamed slowly in a giant saucepan. This is apparently a great delicacy, served with rice and vegetables on the side. It looked like a bloody mess to me when I saw the packets cut open on the plates.
A mariachi band of 2 trumpets, 2 guitars, one violin, a bass, and a female singer arrived around 3pm. They entertained us for several hours, with the family singing along to popular songs. I told them that Chris used to play the trumpet too and they immediately invited him to join them for a song. He did pretty well considering he had not played for years and even performed a solo, The Girl From Ipanema. No-one danced but everyone had a great time.
The next day, Aida dropped us at the bus station and we headed back to Mexico City and a flight home to Ladybug. Back on the boat that night, we both missed the warm friendship of our adopted family in Tlaxcala.
Special thanks to Penny and Maleh for some of the pictures.