Tag Archives: humour

A very New Mexican miracle or two

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 9.46.19 AMI wrote this bit of fiction/satire in 2009, shortly after I returned to Saskatoon, SK, where I was living at the time, following a trip to New Mexico. I keep losing it on my computer so I thought I’d post it here where I can find it if I need it again. And others can read it if they want to.

There has been a miracle. There have been TWO miracles, in fact. Ever since I was in Santa Fe last month (was it only last month? I have been searching western Canada for a decent (aka New Mexican) enchilada. There is nothing like a New Mexican enchilada – my mouth waters at the recollection of them. In NM, I ate them with green chile sauce and I ate them with red chile sauce and I ate them with both (Christmas).

Last night I finally found an ancient New Mexican who had started an enchilada restaurant here in Saskatoon but no one ever came to eat there, a) because he did no advertising and b) because no other Saskatoonies knew of the wonders of the New Mexican enchilada. It was a cab driver who told me about him, and the cab driver (a Pakistani-Canadian) dropped me at the door of the restaurant, just as the poor old New Mexican (Jose Chavez) was hanging up his Closed Forever sign.

He was so shocked to have someone who actually appreciated his enchiladas that he slaved for hours in the kitchen to get them exactly right. (He wouldn’t let me watch. It is a secret recipe that only New Mexicans know. All you can dream of in your life is to have a real New Mexican come to your house and cook you enchiladas. You will never want to eat anything else again.)

Jose put the plate on my table, poured me a glass of tequila (not knowing I don’t drink) and then stood back to await my response.

But then — here is the second miracle! I looked down at my plate and there, in the plate of enchiladas, clear as anything, was the figure of Billy the Kid!!! How could I eat that?? I had no need to explain my dilemma to Old Jose — everyone in NM knows Billy, who loved the Spanish. So now my enchiladas with the face and body of Billy (a Winchester–which I think might be a chile stem–loose in his hand, its butt against his boot), are in my fridge, and I have taken a picture and I am posting it on ebay, and when it sells for a million dollars Jose and I are running away to Guanajuato where we will live forever, me writing, him cooking me enchiladas.



(P.S. Check out the fine novel, Billy the Kid’s Last Ride by John Aragon, who is also co-author with me of  The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid.)

Watch. Listen. Learn. (India 14: Shopping)

The travel challenges of a Not-a-Shop-A-Holic

I am not a good shopper at the best of times. I dither and dither and then make impetuous decisions that I later regret. As a result, I often need to take back things I’ve bought.

I don’t like returning things, either – especially to smaller stores. Returning something requires me to summon all of my courage because I feel as though taking something back to a store is tantamount to criticizing one of the salesperson’s offspring, or at least impugning his or her tastes. I therefore usually end up buying something else I don’t want while I’m there, just to cheer up him or her. Logically I know that the salesperson is an employee of the store and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the fact that the handbag I’m returning turned out to be too small for my purposes, but for me, logic has nothing to do with the shopping experience.

In short, I am the Ultimate Non-Shopaholic – and that is true even in a country where the prices of things are clearly marked, where I have time to think about what I’m doing, and where the staff speak the same language I do and are generally nowhere to be found (which is just where I like them). It turns out that I am much worse at shopping in foreign countries where I need to bargain about prices with salesclerks who hover and hover and respond to the words “No, thank you,” by bringing out a dozen other things they are sure I’ll want to look at – salesclerks who implore customers who walk away empty-handed by saying, “You come back tomorrow, Lady?” and when you answer, “Yes, tomorrow,” respond, as though their hearts will break, “You promise?”

After my trip to India (and yes. It’s true: I do have the nerve to travel by myself half way around the world to see a country I’ve never been to, but not the courage to return a leaking mug to Starbucks. Go figure), I have decided that I am never again going to try to bring anything back from anywhere with me. I have learned my lessons. I think.

The Albatross

As those of you who have been reading earlier posts will know, my first shopping misadventure in India occurred in Jaipur, where I was not intending to buy anything at all. But the tuk-tuk driver who took me to the Amber Fort, which I ended up accidentally climbing past in favour of the Jaigarh Fort, thereby totally wearing myself out, was a very good guy. First he told me how to avoid being ripped off by other drivers and souvenir sellers. Then he waited for me even though I was gone for at least three hours, and he didn’t charge me any extra for the wait. In short, I was as grateful to him by the end of my adventure, which had been undertaken for the most part in hot sun, without water, and on an upward incline, as I would have been if he’d just donated his left kidney to me. And all the dear man asked in return was that I spend fifteen minutes looking at the goods his friend sold. How could I refuse?

He drove me to a textile shop, a really classy place, where the vendor served me chai masala and showed me how the textile makers put vegetable dye marks on fabric and how they wove rugs– and then showed me around his massive showroom.

I felt no pressure as the owner showed me bedspread after bedspread, starting with the cheapest one first, asking his assistant to fling open one after another of increasing quality and opulence atop its predecessor. I worried about how they could ever sell all the fabrics that they had on display there: walls and walls of shelves full of folded beautiful fabrics. I fell in love with everything he showed me, and—thinking of all the people who had had to work so hard for mere pennies a day to create these lovely pieces (true, although on reflection I doubt any of them was related to the owner)–I did not negotiate much.

I bought a beautiful bedspread with hundreds of tiny reflective spangles, each one sewn in separately, and a spectacular wall hanging pieced together by hand from stiff pieces of aged fabric to create the image of an elephant – in my favourite colours, deep red and green. It is true that these items would have cost much more in Canada, if they were available here—but they might have cost far less in any other store in India, and could have cost even less if I had offered less. In addition, I was on a budget and could not afford them, even at the prices I paid. So although I was delighted with my purchases as the vendor had them plastic-wrapped and taped and then sewn into a cotton sack for me so I could ship them home, by the time I got back to my hotel I was feeling guilty. That’s why I called the sack “The Albatross “– because of my guilt (which was, admittedly, slightly smaller than that endured by the Ancient Mariner, as were the repercussions) and embarrassment that I had not argued for a better price. With further echoes of Coleridge, since it was at least a week before I found a post office to mail the package from, I had to drag this 6.7 kg reminder of my shopping stupidity around with me everywhere I went.

Souvenir Shopping

When I finally did divest myself of The Albatross in Mumbai, I still faced other shopping obligations, which I’d need to do in Goa.

It wasn’t a long list. I wanted to get a few souvenirs for my kids and grandkids and a couple of small things for myself. But having avoided shops everywhere else I went in India, I’d left souvenir shopping to the last minute,  and that was a mistake.  By then I had perfected the skill of avoiding the pleading eyes and  the hawking calls of shop-owners who came out in the street to try to draw me in by telling me of the remarkable quality and range of wares they had on sale, and who were not easily discouraged by any word except “Tomorrow.” On the day when I was carrying The Albatross back from the post office to my hotel in Udaipur, after finding that the post office was closed on Sunday, even then retailer after retailer begged me to stop and shop with them as I struggled down the street. I indicated my arms and my burden – “How could I carry any more?” I asked them, but they just smiled and said, “Okay, then. You come back tomorrow. You promise.” (They were friendly. All of them were friendly. But they were hard to refuse.)

(I had also been taught my lesson about crafty sales pitches for a second time in Udaipur when a friendly man at the Jagdish Temple invited me to see his art school [he was small. I could have squashed him. Stop worrying, my sons] and I learned it was another store front—this time for expensive works of art. This time after looking at the wares in his classy little store, I just said “No, thanks,” and left.)

The upshot was that I knew I would actually have to look a vendor in the eye if I were going to get any shopping done, and I would need to actually enter a shop of my own free will. I chose my shop by skimming my eyes across the available alternatives along the main street of Calangute, as though I weren’t actually interested in any of them. Once I stepped inside, I knew I would be sunk.

And I was. I either picked the wrong shop or there were no right shops anywhere because once I got in there, there was nothing I wanted, and yet I bought and bought and bought. T-shirts. Handbags. Leggings. A dress or two. The kitchen sink. I knew the same things were available elsewhere, and I knew I should not pay more than half of what the shopkeeper was asking, and I even wondered if maybe some of the things I was looking at might not be for sale back in Toronto. But it was all so cheap that I filled my backpack and did not dicker very much because the woman had so much less than I do (another kind of guilt that comes into play when shopping in places like India), and then when I got back to my room I realized that most of the clothes I’d purchased for myself were never going to fit me because I’m twice the size of your average Indian woman, and so most of it was heading for the Goodwill. Also, by then I was hot and aggravated. I’d spent about $30 on about $5 worth of salvageable merchandise that would have cost me hundreds in Canada except that I’d never have bought it in Canada. I’d have honestly been happier (much happier) if I had been able to just give the $30 to the woman who sold me all these things, without having to actually take any of her products away with me.

So that was that.

Resolutions for Future Travels

Next time I go travelling, I am going to relieve the pressure on myself by purchasing only postcards.

At least that’s what I think now. Because the problem is that now it has arrived, I’m pretty happy with the bedspread and the wall hanging. And I find myself quite attached to a small carved wood Ganesh that I bought at a five-and-dime type place for about 25 rupees (50 cents). The kids seem to like the tea I gave them. And if I hadn’t gone into any stores at all, I wouldn’t have those things, either.

The funny thing is that I had promised my children I would bring them back each an elephant from India to put in their living rooms so they could have something not to talk about. The central image on my wall hanging, when I finally find a living room large enough to hang it in, is going to make me laugh.

This is what my wall hanging looks like, but the colours on mine are quite different (see below). I took this photo of a similar hanging after mine was already wrapped. Now all I need is the right wall.

Inner wrapping, Albatross

Unwrapping The Albatross


Detail: Wall hanging

A portion of my elephant wall hanging

The Rough Guide Has A Sense of Humour. Who Knew?

I’ve been diligently reading the opening section of the Rough Guide to India to get a clear idea of what I should expect, what I should take with me, what I should leave at home, what I should get jabbed with before I go, etc. I keep coming across statements in the travel guide that make me laugh out loud.

Since the tour company I am travelling with recommends bringing a sense of humour to India in order to survive the inevitable unexpected last-minute changes and confusions and unfamiliar practices and customs, I am beginning to think I’ve already packed one of the most important contributors to a positive experience (along with the Imodium and the pre-treated mosquito net), because I am certainly amused.

Here are a few examples from the Rough Guide that have made me laugh:

  • “Getting good maps of India, in India, can be difficult. The government – in an archaic suspicion of cartography, and in spite of full coverage of the country on Google – forbids the sale of detailed maps of border areas, which include the entire coastline.”
  • “Sending a parcel from India can be a performance. First take it to a tailor to have it wrapped in cheap cotton cloth, stitched and sealed with wax. Next, take it to the post office, fill in and attach the necessary customs forms, buy your stamps, see them franked and dispatch it. Surface mail is incredibly cheap and takes an average of six months to arrive – it may take half or two times that, however.” (I am very tempted to mail myself something, just to experience this.)
  • I want to try the laundry system, too: “In India, no one goes to the laundry: if they don’t do their own, they send it out to a dhobi . . . . The dhobi will take your dirty washing to a dhobi ghat, a public clothes-washing area (the bank of a river for example), where it is shown some old-fashioned discipline: separated, soaped and given a damn good thrashing to beat the dirt out of it. Then it is hung out to dry in the sun and, once dried, taken to the ironing sheds where every garment is endowed with razor-sharp creases and then matched to its rightful owner by hidden cryptic markings.”
  • Finally, following several pieces of advice to women travelling alone who may need to deal with unwanted overtures or harassments: “If you feel someone getting too close in a crowd or on a bus, brandishing your left shoe in his face can be very effective.”