The Clean Team

IMG_7045At first I was incredibly excited when my dad told me that, finally, after nearly two years, he had convinced his brother and sister to join him and my stepmom on a trip south to visit us in San Carlos.  Then I got a teeny bit nervous.  I love my aunt and uncle dearly.  But.  They are two people who happen to be very particular about their surroundings.  

I am not judging them.  I admire their organization, and it is a pleasure to be a guest in their homes.  If I drop a chip on the floor, I know, without a doubt, it is safe to eat.  I am never going to find someone else’s hair on the soap in the shower.  And freshly ironed sheets are pretty amazing.  But my super obsessive compulsive clean gene was somehow switched out with a “meh, it looks fine” one.  

I am not a complete and total slob, and I follow a cleaning schedule.  But honestly, there is probably something sticky on one of my refrigerator shelves right now.  There most definitely would be a “five second rule” debate in my home.  I am also pretty good at ignoring toothpaste spit splatter on the mirrors until “clean the mirrors” day comes around.

Not only do I have genes working against me, but I also live in a desert that ends thumbnail
where a beach begins.  So I am constantly battling dust and sand on the floors.  We have never had a scorpion in our home, but what in the hell IF one showed up while our guests were here?!  I am pretty good at pretending that taking a shower with a two and a half inch cockroach is no big deal, but something like that could cause my aunt to never want to shower again.  Or worse, disown me!  It was very, very important to me that my aunt and uncle felt comfortable in our home

And certainly I wanted my parents to feel that way too.  It is just, well, they know all about my slacker ways and come and visit me anyway.

thumbnail-1So basically, I cleaned for a week straight before they arrived.  Thus proving to myself that I do have a super obsessive compulsive clean gene, and I am just really good at overcoming it most days.  I followed Steve around with a broom and a bottle of glass cleaner.  I washed all the sheets and towels twice. I crawled around on all fours looking under beds for dead cockroaches and live gekkos.  I used an eight foot plumero to wipe down all the fans, curtain rods, and ceilings.  I sat down inside as little as possible, not wanting to dent or dirty my fluffed and vacuumed sofa cushions.  It was pretty scary.

And then they all arrived!  I stashed my dust rag in Steve’s underwear drawer before opening the door to greet them with big hugs.  I am sure they all wondered what new scent I was wearing.  Had they asked, I would have told them- – Fabuloso.  After the family put away their suitcases (I had even cleaned the closets), we all hung out on the terrace- -as in outside.  And we basically stayed there anytime we were home! 

But we were not home much.  We visited the brand new San Carlos sign and the newly IMG_2721opened mirador.  We toured Guaymas and the pearl farm.  We kayaked and did a little shopping.  We even took a sunset cruise on the Sea of Cortez and were entertained by dolphins.  The delicious food of our area agreed with everyone.  (Thank heavens because my super obsessive compulsive clean gene would have drawn the line there.) IMG_2127

It was a wonderful visit full of many exciting adventures and new experiences.  Most special to me were our heartfelt conversations.  These things matter so much more than passing the white glove test any old day, and my family knew it.  I loved sharing our home with my parents, aunt, and uncle.  I am hoping they plan a return visit next year.  Mostly because I am sure my house will need a another good cleaning by then.

And thankfully, even the cockroaches cooperated in making this a great visit.  Steve spotted one scurrying across the kitchen the day after everyone left for home.  Whew.

San Miguel de Allende, Proof, Perhaps, That “Art Begins With Resistance”

IMG_5907All too soon, it seemed, we were loading our bags into the van and leaving Guadalajara.  Thanks to Rodrigo, I was at least leaving with my backpack, Kindle, and passport.  While there was still so much I had not seen, I was incredibly excited to be heading to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato.  This stop was the main reason I wanted to take this particular trip.  My anticipation made it almost impossible for me to relax on the five hour ride across the central highlands.  I could not wait to tramp up and down those hilly, cobblestone streets, stand in the middle of El Camino Real, and count and compare doors (to determine if there really were over 2,000 different ones).

 

San Miguel de Allende left me as breathless as I had anticipated, and it wasn’t because of IMG_E5779the climbs up and down steep streets.  The homes and business were painted warm shades of mustard yellow, terra cotta, and barn red. (Residents have seven colors they can choose from for their outside walls.)  Rooftop gardens bloomed.  Doors were made of heavy wood, some of them even original.  The cobblestone streets were in meticulous order, and I never saw so much as one cigarette butt or scrap of paper littering them.  Bus traffic was barred from some streets in the central district, as they were just too narrow.  Originally, of course, roadways were designed for carriages and donkeys.  The sidewalks were equally tiny, requiring pedestrians to step into the street on occasion to avoid bumping into one another.

The parish church, San Miguel Arcángel, is probably the most recognizable landmark in the city.  It dominates the central plaza and is as stunning at night as it is during the day.  Side note:  the central plaza is not referred to as a plaza.  It is called a jardín, or garden.  This caused some confusion, as San Miguel de Allende has created a beautiful green space just a few blocks away.  I thought this park was the jardín everyone was talking about!  I almost led our group astray during our pursuit of churros y chocolate by heading toward the wrong jardín.  And believe me, after two days of climbing hills to get from Point A to Point B, no one is even trying to get additional steps any more!

My abilities in differentiating between  churches, cathedrals, and chapels is seriously lacking.  Due to its size and grandeur, I incorrectly assumed the San Miguel Arcángel was a cathedral. (Fancy and huge = cathedral, right?)  But in the late 1600’s when the church was built, San Miguel de Allende was not a large enough city to be home to a cathedral.  It is only a regular, old parish church.

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The man who built the church had absolutely no training as an engineer or architect.  He worked as a mason.  His idea for the church came from a postcard of a cathedral in Cologne, Germany that he carried around with him.  I cannot even put together a child’s Lego set without studying the instructions for a couple of hours and then spending another couple just psyching myself up.

Its exterior is pink, thanks to a local sandstone used in its construction. (There are actually five unique colors of sandstone in this region:  purple, pink, green, chocolate, and gray.)  I loved waking up to the church bells ringing each morning (followed immediately by the rooster), and I never quite figured out their timing.  The inside of the church honors both indigenous, pagan beliefs and Catholicism.  Interestingly enough, however, Indians were excluded from celebrating mass in the central church.  They were required to attend smaller churches scattered throughout town that were literally small, dark, concrete walled rooms.

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Perhaps this is one of the reasons why San Miguel de Allende was so instrumental in the Mexican fight for independence.  It was the birthplace of General Ignacio Allende, whose home still sits just across the plaza from the building where secret resistance meetings were held.  General Allende fought alongside Miguel Hidalgo in the very early battles.  His name is shouted out every September 15 in the reenactment of the “Cry of Dolores” in celebration of Mexico’s independence.

The influence of the Canel family is still alive in San Miguel today as well.  They were a family of traders:  leather, grain, and animal fat.  In 1733, the patriarch began construction on the family’s second home.  It was not entirely finished until his grandson was of age, and the grandson and his family were the first to live there full time.  More servants lived in the home than family members!  The first floor of the home (mansion? palace?) was reserved for business meetings and guests.  The front doors were high and wide enough that a carriage could drive right through them into the central courtyard.  The stable was located just off the courtyard, near the servants’ quarters.  The family occupied the second floor.

One of the daughters of the family chose a life dedicated to God.  She used her inheritance, or at least 70,000 gold coins of it, to build the Convent of the Immaculate Conception.  The nunnery is active today, housing 14 cloistered nuns, women who have chosen to remain separate with the outside world in order to devote their lives to prayer and meditation.  They are even kept out of the sight of other parishioners during mass.  Today, Belles Artes, an art school, shares space with the remaining nuns.

And it may have been art that saved San Miguel, a city that suffered mightily during the IMG_5823Mexican War of Independence and a flu epidemic in the early 1900’s.  It was rediscovered by international artists.  Jackson Pollack got his start in San Miguel, where he attended a workshop led by David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of Mexico’s “Big Three” muralists.  Students came in droves, especially American veterans after World War II.  Artists and passionate amateurs continue to flock to the city today taking photography, drawing, painting, and cooking classes and workshops.  San Miguel de Allende was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, further cementing its appeal to retirees from the United States and Canada and increasing numbers of tourists.

How does the saying go?  Every cloud has a silver lining.  Perhaps the reverse is a bit true here.  The cloud is that many Mexicans born in San Miguel de Allende are now being priced out of homes in the central district, forcing them to live further from the city center and its main marketplace.  Beautiful mountain views are now obscured by condominiums, apartments, and large homes.  It is quite possible that water could be in short supply in the next 15 years due to the increasing population.  In addition, traditional work opportunities in agriculture and commerce are being lost as more services are needed to accommodate the influx of visitors and foreign residents.

Whoa.  I am kind of depressing myself.

I loved San Miguel de Allende and the people I met there.  I am inspired by history of the city and the effect it had on all of Mexico.  I admire the efforts the government and all citizens have made to preserve its colonial integrity.  Most of all I am grateful for the important lesson, intended or otherwise, in being a mindful, gracious visitor to another’s home.

 

 

 

When Your Emotions Are “Flying” All Over the Place

So a friend of ours had a great idea for Steve.  She suggested we skip the trips to Chapala, Ajijic, and Tlaquepaque and schedule a Tequila Tour instead.  Our guides were very flexible, and most likely this would not have been a problem except… I really wanted to visit these three places.  And I suppose, Steve feared I would join the shopping frenzy if he did not come along. With the promise of a visit to a tequila store later in the day, Steve boarded the van with the rest of us early in the morning.

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Chapala is about 30 minutes south of Guadalajara.  Playwright, Tennessee Williams, lived there while writing A Streetcar Named Desire.  Apparently, he found Chapala to be a quiet place with good swimming.  That is still true today, as Chapala is home to the largest freshwater lake in Mexico, Lake Chapala.  It is an ideal weekend getaway spot for the city dwellers.

We meandered up and down the malecón enjoying incredible views.  On our way back to the van, we noticed a Palo Volador along the lakeshore.  It was not long before the Voladores themselves appeared and prepared to perform their ancient prayer ritual, La Danza de los Voladores.  As I mentioned earlier, we were blessed with incredibly easy going guides.  They were more than happy to turn our group around and spend a little bit of extra time in Chapala so we would not miss the ceremony.

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I had come across La Danza de los Voladores while researching Mexico for my classes several years ago.  I was intrigued, mesmerized, filled with a longing to just go.  (I think this is what made my job so difficult for me at times.  I found the four walls confining, particularly when I was discovering so much that was new to me.)  I never incorporated La Danza into my lessons, most likely because parents would have frowned upon their children dangling from ropes attached to a 30 foot pole.  But I did not forget what I had seen on the YouTube video, and what I had read.  I was overcome with emotion that I would be in the front row to witness this special dance.

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Five Voladores participate in the ritual at a time.  One man plays the flute and drum simultaneously while the group dances in a circle around the pole.  One by one, the Voladores climb 30 feet in the air and attach themselves to ropes that have been tied and wound around the pole.  The flutist/drummer sits at the top of the pole continuing to play music and leads the group of men in prayer.  In a demonstration of strength and faith at the prayer’s end, four of the Voladares lean back, drop from their seats, and soar, upside down, around the pole- -tethered by the rope.  Words cannot describe what it was like to be a part of this that morning.  I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

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Okay, so afterwards, there was, of course, a little display of items for sale.  And one of the items was a two foot replica of the pole and the Voladores.  Without even thinking about how I would get it home without snapping it in two or what in the heck I would do with it once there, I bought one!  Steve was not at all surprised to see me get in line, pesos in hand.  He was surprised that I chose a green one.  Particularly because it was the same color of green I told him to please never wear again.

Sometimes I buy things I see like I still have a classroom to put them in.  Right now my Palo Volador is just sitting in my living room (making me smile whenever I look at it).  But I have been doing a lot of thinking on this purchase and have a fabulous idea for a dining room table centerpiece!  Which is going to require the purchase of a few more items that would look great in a classroom!

The Early Bird Gets… Well… A Really Long Day

Day One of our trip began at 3:30 am!  What kind of “vacation” was this going to be?!  We had an early flight out of Hermosillo and a ninety minute drive from Guaymas to the airport, so we were up before the roosters!   Steve and I waited for our pick up at the Pemex gas station.  I am sure we looked like runaways, standing behind the pumps with our two suitcases.  Fortunately, the Policía Municipal did not find our presence suspicious at all, and they did not even glance our way on their 4:45 cruise through town.  We were picked up right on schedule and enjoyed the most quiet van ride of our lives, aside from the snoring, of course.

We had no delays and traffic in Guadalajara was light.  We arrived at our hotel before they were ready for us, so we stowed our luggage and briefly explored the historic district before lunch.  I am extra lucky Steve was along.  He walked behind me and announced curbs, holes in the sidewalk, uneven pavement, and light changes.  I was too busy trying to take in as much as I could around me, and that did not include where I was walking.

I had my first “aha” moment thirty minutes into our walk.  I thought the gazebo in the center of Plaza del 13 de Julio in Guaymas was unique to that plaza only- -yes, as in the only plaza in Mexico with a gazebo.  So, I was a bit bewildered when I noticed Plaza de Armas had a gazebo too.  Mark, one of our very patient guides, explained that there is at least one gazebo in at least one plaza in every city.  Otherwise, where would the orchestra sit when they played for the crowds gathered on weekends?  And sure enough, later that evening, the orchestra played!

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After lunch and some hotel room organization time, we headed out for a double decker bus tour of the city.  I am not going to lie.  I was determined to have a seat on top for the best viewing possible.  Luckily, I did not have to push any children out of my way to achieve this!  Guadalajara is the second most populated metropolitan city after Mexico City.  It is huge!  The bus tour provided a great overview of a place I would need to spend a month or more to fully grasp.  Works of art, statues, and fountains decorated the many roundabouts that kept traffic moving smoothly.  There was an incredible mix of historic and contemporary architechure, a lot of green space, wide roads, and blooming flowers along our route.

The city was well prepared for the double decker buses too.  We noticed that trees were pruned so that we would not smack our heads on branches as we drove under them.  We delighted at the birds feasting on the seeds of the flowers right above our heads as we waited at red lights.  I realized, while looking up and laughing with my mouth wide open, that it might be in my best interest to shut it!  I did not want accidentally swallowing bird poop to be “my vacation story”.

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After our tour we spent the evening walking throughout the four plazas surrounding the Catedral de Guadalajara or Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima.  La Rotunda de los Jaliscienes Ilustres, features statues of important scientists, teachers, artists, and authors from Jalisco.  Preparations were underway for Carnaval in Plaza Guadalajara.  Buskers performed magic, acrobatics, and puppetry.  Children chased after rocket shaped balloons that when bounced on the ground, soared high in the air.

A mariachi band performed in front of Teatro Degollado, and a band playing instruments made of everyday household items performed behind.  We strolled the length of Plaza de la Liberation, the last plaza in the link.  There was a lighted fountain, almost as long as the plaza itself, and the Regional Museum provided the perfect backdrop.

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Government buildings surrounded the plazas, as Guadalajara is the state capital.  We had the opportunity to view Jose Clemente Orozco’s mural, depicting Padre Don Miguel Hidalgo igniting Mexico’s passion and fight for independence, in el Palacio de Gobierno.  Believe me, this made visiting a government office absolutely worth it!

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I should have been exhausted but could not help feeling exhilarated.  The energy of the people, the music, the sounds, and the lights kept me going.  Guadalajara was buzzing when we arrived late morning.  It seemed the frenzy would continue late into the night.  Reluctantly, we headed back to our hotel, knowing tomorrow was another jam packed day!

And just in case you are wondering, my major purchase for the day was an ice cream cone.

Pack Your (Shopping) Bags!

Steve and I had been reluctant to take a vacation.  I mean, rationalizing the expense was difficult.  We live in a place many come to vacation.  Our home sits across the street from the Sea of Cortez.  We are minutes from popular dolphin hangouts, sandy beaches, and challenging mountain hikes.  There are numerous dining and entertainment options.  And even though Steve works 10+ hour days, we feel like we kind of are on vacation every day.  As we hit the three quarter mark of his current contract, not knowing if it would be renewed or not, we realized we really did need to get out there and see more of the country we had come to love.

As an elementary teacher, I had used Mexico as a central theme in the creation of Spanish language and cultural lessons for my kindergarten students.  My research gave me a brief look into separate, specific aspects of the country,  but there was so much I was missing.  My limited knowledge was enough to convince five and six year olds that I knew what I was talking about, but the truth was a different story entirely.  If I am being honest, I can admit that I thought of Mexico one of two ways:  either as one big all inclusive resort or as a quaint, colonial village surrounding a central plaza.  (And yes, even though I knew that Mexico City has a population of over 20 million people.  Go figure.)

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Our first group photo in front of el Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara.  Photo Credit, Miguel

So I managed to persuade Steve into joining a tour that would take us to Guadalajara and its surrounding areas, San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato, all in the central highlands of the country.  We laughed as we answered questions like “Can you comfortably walk 10 blocks?” and “Are you able to carry your own luggage?” on the pre-trip paperwork.  Then we went to the informational meeting and immediately understood.  Steve and I were the youngest on the tour by between 25-30 years.

Our guides tried desperately to keep our meeting focused on the historical sites and artistic centers we would visit.  Yet, the conversation always seemed to come back to shopping.  “Will there be time for the glass factory in Tonalá?”  “The talavera pottery factory in Dolores Hidalgo?”  “Who remembers where that one clothing store was in Ajijic?”  “And shoes- -we just have to find this one special design- -it is the only one I am missing!”  As the only sucker, er, I mean husband in the group, things were beginning to look a little bleak for Steve.  He rifled through the itinerary, certain that he had somehow missed the Tequila Tour in the paperwork. There was no doubt that he would need multiple shots of tequila after daily dealings (and apparently lots of shopping) with five women.  I even think our fearless leaders, Mark and Miguel, were beginning to agree.

It was painfully obvious that we were the real amateurs of the group.  Steve and I listened closely as the women discussed what stores would ship packages to San Carlos and for how little. We received specific instructions detailing how to pack the most efficiently.  One fellow traveler even planned to rotate no more than three outfits to make the most of her space.

I asked a lot of questions and took a lot of notes.  Steve was relieved that they had nothing to do with shopping.   There was no secret who the nerd of the group was! (I may have even cried a little when I learned we would be visiting the site where Padre Don Miguel Hidalgo made his now famous “Cry of Dolores” speech.)

So really, it was no wonder Steve looked so betrayed, when on the way home from the meeting, I suggested we take advantage of the one suitcase per person rule, as opposed to sharing.

Sea and Sunshine in My Soul

thumbnailThere is nothing more special than an unexpected gift.  That is exactly what SeaSanCarlos offered 20 lucky recipients this past week.  As a thank you to the community for a successful touring season, we were invited to join a free morning cruise on the Sea of Cortez.  My friend and I arrived early and found seats at the very front of the boat; reached by a precarious walk/shuffle along a very narrow section of the craft.  We were rewarded for our efforts immediately with a stunning view of Tetakawi, our sacred mountain, peeking at us over the masts of boats docked in the marina.

After introducing us to his crew, our captain slowly made his way into the bahía.  He almost immediately idled his engine to point out a stoic osprey, perched on a branch, protruding from one of the high cliffs surrounding us.  What else had I been missing by only focusing in one direction?  Immune to our attention, the powerful bird continued scanning the bay for his breakfast.  thumbnail-1

The power of the sea was displayed in the cliffs that stretched out to meet her.  Hidden hollows, carved by years of relentless pounding, provided shelter for gulls and blue footed boobies.  I had believed I might only be able to see this famously funny bird by making a trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.  What a joy to know we were neighbors.  I delighted in the sight of their bright blue feet, which reminded me of a bold fashion accessory to an otherwise dull outfit.  Do I overlook the seemingly  “plain”, only to miss what is beyond the surface?

Moving into more open water, we experienced vistas of our sleepy little town from the outside.  I reflected on the importance of opening my eyes to different points of view, and the potential they offer.  I marveled at the bold colors of the homes lining the shore, and the way the buildings seemed to hold on to one other dearly.

thumbnail-2Our attention was suddenly drawn to a small pod of dolphins feeding.  As the boat moved slowly closer, my eyes filled with tears.  It is difficult to explain the emotions I felt upon seeing these incredible creatures in the wild.  Grateful, humbled, awed.  I clapped and hooted like an excited child.  What unbridled joy I felt.  This happiness penetrated me to my very core.  My soul actually felt lighter.  What other little surprises do I take for granted during my days, not quite appreciating them for the potential magic they hold?

Finally, we turned and headed back in the opposite direction.  Our captain tucked our boat into a small cove, where the waves had carved an opening in the rock, large enough for kayaks or  a fishing panga to find protection and solace from bad weather.  Cacti reached upward, taking root in the cracks in the cliff and holding on for dear life; the small overcoming the mighty.  Size is not a measure of significance.

SeaSanCarlos thought they were just gifting me a boat ride.  They gave me so much more.  thumbnail-6Each moment on this trip granted me the opportunity to reflect on the significance of everything I experienced and how it could be applied in my own life.  Look around.  Ordinary is extraordinary.  Be open to other viewpoints.  Notice the little things; be grateful for them.  Everything, big or small, has value in our world.  What happens on the boat, does not stay on the boat.  I am taking this with me.

Keep Calm and Buy More School Supplies

thumbnail-1You can take a teacher out of the classroom, but you cannot take the classroom out of a teacher.  Or so they say.  It has been more than a year since I resigned my position as an elementary teacher, and I still love visiting art/office/school supply stores.  When a friend mentioned she needed some new drawing pens and a sketchbook, I jumped at the chance to accompany her.   One of my husband’s co-workers pointed us in the right direction.  We stuck to her map until detoured by the opportunity to photograph goats grazing in an empty lot next door to the beer store and across from the Home Depot.  Cuteness quota met, we carried on.

We experienced a bit of confusion when we pulled up in front of a Super Farmacia.  Do not misunderstand.  I love a drugstore as much as the next guy.  This has less to do with being a teacher and more to do with the 3/$3 deals on boxed candy I remembered.  I just was not sure we were in the right place for what we needed.

Oh, I love when am I am wrong! (Shhhh.  We will just keep that between us.)  Thethumbnail-6 “Super” in the store’s name meant that this was much more than just a pharmacy.  It was also a papelería, or stationery store.  My eyes glazed over as I took in the bins of notebooks, the holiday decor, the wrapping paper and gift bags, the pens and pencils…  Within 15 minutes I had my hands full of things that I could have used in my Spanish classroom.  Then I remembered I did not have a Spanish classroom any more and put most of them back.

I did have a very loud internal debate with myself on whether or not I would be able to convince Steve to play “Pon Una y Toma Una”.  (Learn to play here.)  After discovering the game a few years ago, I modified several dice so that my kindergarteners could play.  The real deal was right in front of me!  Ultimately, I decided Steve would not be interested, even if I somehow managed to include tequila.  I consoled myself with the fact that I now knew where I could buy the special dice I needed.  The Día de los Muertos lotería game I ended up with made me feel a little better too.

Pens and pencils, markers, erasers, paints, glue, scissors, and pencil sharpeners are arranged on shelves behind glass.  Most of those items are sold individually, rather than in jumbo packs.  Great idea, considering I am still hauling around the box of 60 of pencils I bought for Caleb when he started junior high school 12 years ago.  In fact, you can buy individual sheets of construction paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, and pipe cleaners too.  This makes school supply shopping much more affordable for families.  There is a copy machine on site as well.  My friend found her art supplies and picked up a box of Dramamine for our upcoming boat ride at the same time!  Talk about convenient.

thumbnailI was excited to show Steve all the cool stuff I found.  Always a good sport, he was as enthusiastic as one can possibly be when looking at items purchased from a papelería.  That is until I pulled the Constitución Politica de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos   out of my bag.  He could not look up the word “nerd” in his Spanish Dictionary fast enough.   It is el/la nerd, by the way.  And I will own it.