Thursday, December 24, 2009

¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo 2010!

Here's wishing you all a magical and colorful holiday season,
however you choose to celebrate!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dancing with the Mojigangas

The Mojigangas of San Miguel

So you may be wallowing in the blues because your lover just left you for another, or your cat just died, or you are just having a menopausal day and feeling fat and old and worthless, hanging your head in the Jardin in under the laurel trees feeling sorry for yourself. It happens to us all. But when the mojigangas come waltzing around the corner of the church with their giant heads bobbing, swinging their arms and flashing their brightly painted smiles, you can’t help but laugh out loud.

Bouncy music sputters from the loudspeakers as the giant puppets twirl into the plaza, braids of yarn and colorful ribbons flying around their bodies that tower above the children that come to greet them. They sway and spin as if to say alegre! alegre! and before you know it you are up and clapping your hands as a fifteen foot high lady puppet comes wagging her way towards you and pulls you into the circle to dance, practically scooping you up in her enormous paper mache bosom that swells out of her ruffled hot pink dress.

It is impossible to stay depressed in this town. It won’t let you mope around for long before fireworks punch your eardrums or church bells slap you awake or music shakes your bones as if to say Hey! come on out and play! The laughing painted eyes of the mojigangas tease and flirt with you as if to show you that life is a playground, a party, a fiesta after all, and there is precious little time to be sad or angry at the world. So you bump your hips from side to side, awkwardly at first, shy and self conscious before this enormous creature, then poco a poco you find a rhythm, feel a loosening in your spine, and you begin to dip and turn, stomping your feet on the worn stone streets.

The feet of the mojiganga wear a pair of old sneakers with holes in the toes. The frayed edges of blue jeans peek beneath her skirts, where a teenage boy watches you out of the folds of lace and fabric. He sees a white middle aged gringa, her silver bracelets jangling as she raises her arms over her head, and something like a crazed grin creeping across her face as she sways from one side to another, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. As if she has been dancing this way her whole life.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree!

Mexico City can now boast the largest artificial Christmas tree ever, thanks to Pepsi Cola. Measuring over 240 feet high it is an impressive changing light show- seen here in three of many versions. Can't wait to see what Coca Cola comes up with to compete.

Monday, November 23, 2009

¡Viva la Revoluciòn!

It is the 99th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, and hundreds of moustached, rifle toting bandoliered second graders march through the streets of San Miguel like miniature Pancho Villas.

I am watching the parade from the sidelines, crowded under the shade of the laurel trees with the rest of the onlookers cheering on group after group of children and adults, including one band of old ladies in colorful skirts, toting rifles and marching left to right, left to right. Ten year old kids wielding machetes clashing them together over their heads in unison, enormous flags bearing portraits of Villa waving over dark heads shouting Viva! Que viva!

The other night from the comfort of our king sized hotel bed we had watched Antonio Banderas’ personification of Pancho and his bloody revolution and subsequent rise to power and eternal legend in a somewhat askew version of Mexican history.

But isn’t all history a romanticized retelling of monotonous and flawed facts of human blunder?

What makes Pancho Villa particularly juicy is his larger than life persona, his rise from rebel peasant to power and corruption, a story that seems to repeat itself over and over throughout the world. The eternal promise of change continues...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Open Studios!

I know, I's been way too long since I've written anything here.
BUT, bear with me, there will be more soon.
Meanwhile, it's Open Studios time here in Santa Cruz and I am busy getting ready.
Then it's back to Mexico for the winter where I plan to slow down again and WRITE!
I promise...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bird Paintings


Well now, another cool gizmo to show your pics. 
Here is a collection of my bird paintings.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Savor the Little Things

A page from my art journal

The swallows are nesting in the wall above my bed. They come in through the vent holes outside next to the garage and swoop in and out of the tiny holes in the eaves, quick and silent, slicing through the air. Last night we heard a tiny sound and stood on the bed with our ears to the wall, where we heard the peeping of baby birds. I remember last year on the day that the fledglings were ready to fly, the house was suddenly surrounded by swallows, as if they were coming to celebrate this big moment. They came as a community, ready to protect the vulnerable chicks as they leapt from the safety of the nest into their first flight into the outside world. They flew to the branch of a nearby tree and sat there for a while, astounded by their new reality. What impresses me most is how the whole flock of adult birds circled and swooped and brought them food, supporting them until they had the courage to take the next step.


Because it is Spring

because I have noticed the birds gathering grasses and twigs

the sweet lip of dawn revealing new blooms

trees sprouting leaves like a swarm of wings

because I feel the restless tug of my heart

familiar and insistant, with only a touch of grief

a quiet repressed joy unfurls, a spiraling tendril finding its way

because I have been sleeping for so long

because I have forgotten so much

the sigh of the shore

the soft wide curve of hip and belly

this mind is a fish, a star, a seed, a wild horse

because I remember the sheer joy of movement

the absolute pleasure of stillness

and the precious moment between the two.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Art Journal Pages

I have been teaching a class in Art Journaling.
Today we worked on found imagery and text
through the medium of collage.
It seems that the more layers we added
the more layers to ourselves we uncovered....

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Life with a Home Brewer

From a page in my art journal. ©Susan Dorf 2009

"There is more to life than making beer. There is drinking beer and blogging about beer."

When I first came home to what looked to be someone's dirty underwear soaking in my best cooking pot, I have to admit I was a little unsettled. Even after he explained to me that they were just used hop bags, they still looked disgusting. And what was all that sticky stuff all over the stove? Yeast starter? What the hell is that? Ugh. It had been several weeks since my husband had taken the one day Introduction to Brewing class at the local home brewing supply store and come home with a glazed look on his face and a starter kit to make his first batch of home brewed beer. Now he was moving from malt extract to all grain brewing and had acquired a mill and a few other bits of paraphernalia to make it possible. As long as it all fits under the sink, I said.

But really, I was glad to see that Mark had found a passion. After all, it’s good for a man to have a hobby, right? And this one made a lot less noise than the wood shop idea, and was much less risky and stressful than the commodity-trading phase. At least he wasn’t racing motorcycles or raising strange animals.
Still, I wondered how long it would last.

After the equipment started taking over the kitchen cupboards and then the kitchen itself, we bought a plastic shed for the back deck for him to store the accumulating burners, pots, kegs, CO2 tanks, grains, etc. And when the beer glasses collected from the various breweries and pubs and beer festivals began to shove the other drinking glasses and dishes into unapproachable corners of the cupboards, I agreed that he could use a shelf in the laundry cupboard for the overflow. Soon there were two shelves of glasses, a bin of hop pellets that looked like rabbit food, along with various other devices and several books on home brewing. Laundry and cleaning supplies were stacked on top of the dryer and our storage space was reduced to a few square feet. Then one day the freezer arrived on the back of a friend's truck and with some pushing and shoving was wedged in next to the washing machine. A few adjustments and attachments later, and it was goodbye storage, hello kegerator.

He kept meticulous notes on every aspect of his brewing process. And while his dirty clothes may have been sprawled across the bedroom floor and his bathroom took on the appearance of a war zone, the beer area was always spotless and orderly. He became manic about sanitation and cleanliness, and though my kitchen knives would disappear into fermenting kegs to become weights for dry hop bags, or my pots and measuring cups would mysteriously relocate themselves to the beer shed, I was told that I must never, ever borrow a beer utensil for anything else.
Some mornings he trots out to visit his fermenter the minute he wakes up, then comes back with a glass full of some cloudy yellow liquid as I’m trying to wake up, sitting down to a cup of coffee. ‘Taste this’, he says. ‘Tell me if it’s any good.’ He is a man possessed.

Little by little, the world of beer began to infiltrate into our lives. Weekend outings gave way to brewing Sundays. Our vacations and road trips were punctuated by tours of micro-breweries, (which I found I could use as leverage to my advantage, countering with museum and gallery visits.) My usual healthy eating habits became compromised with countless brewpub menus while participating in numerous taste evaluations of beer samplers. I learned about hops and how they are used as a bittering agent, used to balance out the sweetness of the beer to give it a fuller and more complex flavor. Gee, I found myself thinking, it sounds just like a relationship.

He explains to me about the yeast. How it changed the course of history by turning nomadic wanderers into agrarian people because they needed to cultivate grain to make enough beer to keep them satisfied.
One night I woke up to a strange rhythmic bubbling sound coming from the bedroom closet. When I opened the door I saw that his shoes had been shoved to one side to make room for the glass carboys wrapped in electric blankets like precious bundles. I pulled one of the blankets aside and stared at the foamy mixture inside. All of that yeast in there multiplying away in a feeding frenzy. Living organisms that through some strange intelligence knew just how much they needed to reproduce to consume the sugar provided by the malted grain. I knelt down to get a closer look at them. "What have you done to my husband?" I asked.
And that’s when I knew. This wasn’t just a hobby anymore. This was his calling.

He joined a homebrewing group where he and other brewers would gather together like mad scientists and taste each other's concoctions and talk endlessly about gravity and hop ratios and IBU’s and clone recipes along with the latest must-have brewing gizmos. He was a man communing with his tribe.
He would come home from beer festivals with a wild satisfied grin on his face, like a kid coming home from Disneyland. He would look like a walking advertisement for micro-breweries, laden with tee shirts and keychain bottle openers, bumper stickers, hats, glasses.
Here was a man who wouldn’t buy himself a pair of socks, who balked at the price of food and haircuts, and yet when it came to beer or beer related doodads, the money flowed from his wallet. There was no holding back.
After the arrival of the beer sculpture, the ominous skeletal multi-tiered monstrosity that appeared one day after he had befriended a welder, I knew that our lives had turned a corner. It was time to move. We needed a garage.

One night I asked him the question a wife should never ask her homebrewer husband.
"If you had to choose between beer making and me, what would it be?"
I could see the wires crossing in his head, the almost visible sparks as he struggled to find the right answer. Finally, "What the hell kind of question is that?" he said, and went out to the garage to check his fermenter.
I’m okay with it. Really I am. Because in my heart of hearts I know that when your true purpose and passion calls to you and makes you feel happy and whole, what choice do you have, really?

See Mark's blog at

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Migratory Life

“No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla,
no tengo edad, ni porvenir
y ser feliz es mi color de indentidad”
-Facundo Cabral

(I’m not from here, nor from there
I have no age or future
To be happy is the color of my identity.)

There is a Mexican folk tale about a donkey that was extremely hungry. At the same time he was also very, very thirsty. To the right of where he was standing was a fresh pile of hay, and to the left a cool river of clear water. He turned toward the right to eat, then realized how really dry and parched he was and so turned to the left, only to feel the ache of hunger in his stomach crying out for food.
Thirsty. Hungry. Food. Water. Left. Right. What do do?

And so they found him, both dehydrated and starved to death at the same time, unable to make up his mind….
Grim, I know. And yet whenever I think of this story I have to admit that I feel an odd kinship towards the donkey.
It scares me sometimes.


Well, we have been back in the US for 2 weeks now and I spent the first one wandering lazily about the house in a semi stupor, as if waiting for my soul to catch up with my body. Maybe it’s because I am getting older. Maybe it’s because I am feeling more displaced these days wondering where my true home is. Or maybe, like everything else lately, it’s just another menopause thing.
At any rate, it seems to be taking a lot longer to adjust to the change of environment.
Everything about being here is so different from where we just left.

At 6,000 feet in the high desert of Mexico the air is crisp and sharp and dry.
The senses are constantly assalted by smells both delicious and repugnant, the daily inescapable sounds of barking dogs and crowing roosters to church bells, fireworks, music. It drips with rich earthy colors: ochres and reds, a sharp blue of sky, deep purple shadows.

Mexico is a culture that nurtures creativity and spontaneity and human contact
It is intense in every way. It can overwhelm you and enchant you. It can charm you and exhaust you. It’s sheer and constant aliveness both seduces you and drive you crazy at once, like a wild love affair.

Here, on the other hand, my skin gratefully soaks up the moisture on the grey cloudy shores of Aptos, among the gentle soft blues and greens and beiges and greys. In my house I can hear the sound of the ticking clock and occasional passing car, smell the occasional whiff of the vague sea air and spring blooms.
On one of my return trips from Mexico I found myself lying in bed irritated by what sounded like the bass notes of a not too distant boom box that went on and on. After awhile I realized to my astonishment that it was actually the beating of my own heart in the immense unbelievable silence of the night.
It feels peaceful and predictable here. Refreshingly dull and insulated. The perfect place to rest and regroup.

So what to do? North. South. California. Mexico. Why not both?
I do love the migrating lifestyle, being of two worlds. Each complements the other, each fills me up in a different way. It is a definitely a lifestyle that is challenging to maintain logistically, mentally, and physically, however, and one must adapt to a sense of flexibility in life as well as a defined structure to make it work. One must embrace a sense of home in a different way, as a citizen of the world, where traveling and daily life are the same. I’m working on it.


Why is it, when I am in Rome,
I'd give an eye to be at home,
But when on native earth I be,
My soul is sick for Italy?

Dorothy Parker
(from On Being A Woman)


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Just a Position

"Toro, Toro"
Erongaricuaro, Michoacan, where Andre Breton once lived.

"The Virgin and the Chachke"
Outside the church of the Virgin of Salud (Health) in Patzcuaro, Michoacan.

I once read that the surrealist Andre Breton came to Mexico in 1938 to give a talk at a conference on surrealism. After getting lost in Mexico City he stated:
"I don't know why I came here. Mexico is the most surrealist country in the world".
What could he say to these people that they didn't already know?


Sunday, February 1, 2009

¡Orale Güey! Year of the Ox

Patience and hard work are the attributes of the Ox.
Not my birth sign, that's for sure...
This one in San Miguel Viejo seems to be enjoying the fruits of his labor.

One of the most common slang words heard in Mexico is the word Güey (pronounced wey).
It is usually used by guys, and is thrown around in the same way that people in the US use the word Dude.
When I looked up the meaning and origin of the word I get the following info:
Some sources say that it comes from the Aztec Nahuatl word Huey, which is a word for respect.
But most sources agree that most likely it comes from the word Buey, which means Ox.
Rough translations include:
¡Orale, Güey! Yo, dude!
¡No mames, Güey! Don’t kid me, dude (literally don't suck)
¡No te hagas Güey! Don’t be such an idiot!
¡Ay ,Güey! Oh shit!
It began as a derogatory term, but like most Mexican slang words, the meaning has become complex.
It is now commonly used among enemies as well as friends and strangers.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Invasion of San Miguel

Last year around this time, Starbucks opened on the corner of the central plaza in San Miguel. A small contingent of gringos stood across the street on opening day holding protest signs.
This year a Walmart appeared on the edge of town.
Secretly we are all hoping for a Trader Joe's, so that there will be no reason left to go back to the US....

And the guys with the guns? Just a part of the military parade celebrating Allende day.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's angel

Watching the presidential inauguration at Juan's Cafe Etc. in San Miguel,
accompanied by a portrait of his son, Juanito, as an angel.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Waiting for Obama

Getting ready to join the expats in front of the TV at the local cafe for the Big Day.

(image made at

Friday, January 16, 2009


I have been having fun making these little illustrations inspired by the Agave, or Maguey.
Above are Fridagave, Catrinagave, Diego Riveragave, and of course, La Virgen de Agavelupe.
I don't know what's gotten into me...

(for other posts on the Agave see "Into the Heart of the Desert" - January, 2008)
..."Now the Agave begins to appear in my paintings in silvery greens and dark blues. The overlapping patterns of spines and thorns slowly unfolding to reveal a protected heart that is ready to blossom at any moment."


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Frankincense, Myrrh, and Barbies

"Get your Super Heroes! Cheap superheroes here! Muy barato! Three for ten pesos!” A woman holds up a plastic Superman, Spiderman and Batman in one hand, waving them at the crowd that squeezes by her towards row after row of booths selling toys: Pink baby dolls, Tonka trucks and tricycles, scooters and teddy bears. Games, puzzles, soccer balls. A virtual orgy of plastic and color. Things that beep and whir and spin and flash. Dolls in every shape and size, each with it’s own wardrobe.

“Hey, this doll only has one shoe!” one woman cries, holding it up to the weary seller. “What will my kid think, that those pinche reyes brought me a doll with a missing shoe?” Everyone around her laughs. It's late, and the mood is joyful and fun here at the all night toy market on the eve of the day of The Three Kings. For in Mexico it is they, not Santa Claus, who deliver the goods to children all over the country.

In the plaza the three kings themselves arrive on mounted horses sporting turbans and cardboard crowns, trailing their gold lame capes behind them, surrounded by costumed dancers in clown masks. Helium balloons are handed out to all of the children tie pieces of paper with their wishes on them to send up to the sky, asking Los Reyes Magos for what they want the most. Then it is off to the all night toy market with their families, where the dizzying array of offerings await. Vendors sell tamales and atole and steamed corn to the hungry shoppers. Kids squeal and point and plead after shiny new bicycles and dolls that wiggle and roll their eyes.

Off to the side a woman in a shawl sits on the pavement, holding out her hand to the passersby. Her young daughter lies asleep in her lap. When I stoop down to offer her some coins I see that someone has placed a brand new pink Barbie doll wrapped in cellophane on the girl’s chest. It is a surreal sight, touching and sad, yet I can't help but smile. It is still a gift given with humble generosity. And as in the giving of any gift, ultimately it’s the thought that counts.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Post Holiday Blues


Well, the Christmas lights are half burnt out, the pinatas are torn and faded, and the nacimientos are getting dusty. Fireworks are blessedly absent, and children are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the three kings to bring them their gifts. The rest of us are all at loose ends, waiting for life to get back to normal, whatever that means...


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year from San Miguel

New Year's eve in San Miguel de Allende
Sparklers, fireworks, salsa music and dancing.
All in all, a wonderful party and great beginning to the new year.
Photos by Jan Baross