Cuernavaca – la ciudad eternal primavera: The Eternal Spring

Since the 80’s, I have had a serious love affair with Mexico. From Acapulco (let’s forget about the tequila incident though) to Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Loreto, La Paz, Guadalajara, Isla de Mujeres, Zihuatenejo, Ixtapa, Oaxaca to Mexico City.  My last sojourn and adventure was to Cuernavaca, Mexico, a place I can count on for culture with artists like Frida Kahlo, yummy food, kindness from strangers, caring and big hearts.

Beautiful boy in Cuernavaca

Without incident, I have traveled to each and every place.  A dear friend whom I’ve known for nearly three decades offered me their family home pre-covid in Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos state.  Amongst the reports of danger that the U.S. consistently feeds us a steady diet, I told my friend that I can’t and don’t live in fear and it was perfectly safe to travel there.

The kindness in her eyes brings a smile to my face.

A mere 3 hour and 10 minute flight from Los Angeles, and voila, there I was in Mexico City Airport. Always looking for signs from the universe so finding a 50 peso bill on the exit from the airport seemed like a good omen to me. The Pullman Morelos direct bus to Cuernavaca couldn’t have been simpler to find and my window view included the passing of tall pine trees, various green bushes, green mountains, fields of lush greens, corn fields, Disponible (available) signs, towns with small restaurants one after another, rocks that seem as if they were artfully placed in piles and less than 2 hours later, I was in the Casino de la Selva bus station of Cuernavaca.  A ten minute taxi ride and I was brought to an open floor plan home complete with 2 cats including Paquito, who was instantly welcoming and slept in each and every corner of the house as if the entire house was made for him, to Mabel, the second cat, who was convinced I was going to bring her harm and ran from me at every turn. And, Juana, a gentle soul with an open heart who kept the house clean.

Self portrait with Rolleiflex in my bedroom. Cuernavaca, Mexico
Self portrait with Rolleiflex in bedroom. Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Breakfast in Cuernavaca made with Rolleiflex.
Paquito and I became friends.

John Wayne, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton & actress Brigitte Bardot all had love affairs with balmy Cuernavaca. Walking the undulating hills to the colonial city center to see where Cortez made his home was straight out of a fairy tale of ancient lands.

Here is Paquito at home. Rolleiflex 2.8F

Backyard view made with Rolleiflex 2.8F
Cuernavaca, Mexico
Juana, the best part of Cuernavaca, Mexico.
I want to go back for no other reason than to see Juana again.

From its colonial charm with 16th-century architecture and narrow, cobblestone streets to street merchants selling corn on the cob smeared with fiery spices, to the periodic rain storms, I was smitten with Cuernavaca.

Woman at Catedral de Cuernavaca.
Band in Cuernavaca. Made with Rolleiflex 2.8F

In the nineteenth century Alexander von Humboldt nicknamed Cuernavaca “la ciudad eternal primavera” “City of Eternal Spring” because of its warm, stable climate. It’s basically constant in the 70’s. Foreign princes, archdukes, and other nobles have been attracted to this place because of its flowers, sun, fruits, fresh-water springs and waterfalls.  Even Bauhaus designer Michael van Beuren had a home here while fleeing the rise of Nazi Germany where he studied and practiced his profession and a colony of Bauhaus designers grew in the city during World War II. Many Mexican residents maintain homes in Cuernavaca and many students go to study the Spanish language.  Interestingly, another place that I fell in love with decades ago, Guatemala is also nicknamed “The Eternal Spring.”

Woman selling flowers in Cuernavaca
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Entrance to Catedral de Cuernavaca

Another interesting part of history is Timothy Leary tried psilocybin mushrooms in Cuernavaca for the first time in the summer of 1960 and returned regularly to repeat them. Erich Fromm founded the Sociedad Mexicana de Psicoanálisis from his home in Cuernavaca and helped promote new ideas in psychiatry, even incorporating Zen Buddhism.  This attracted many artists and counterculture types.

Woman selling nuts Cuernavaca
Family in Cuernavaca Center

Each city has a main square or zócolo.  After settling into my room, I made my way out to restaurant Casa Hidalgo.  With multiple levels to choose from, I went straight up to the top balcony and was given a view of the Palacio de Cortés and the zócolo. I ordered chili relleno, which arrived with arroz, frijoles, con queso a tortillas. (rice, beans with cheese and tortillas.) Part of what I love about Mexico is the attention to details and the ambiance everywhere.

Casa Higalgo in Cuernavaca, Mexico
History of Casa Hidalgo

Cuernavaca is mas tranquilo, mas agradable y major ambiente de DF (more tranquil, nicer, better atmosphere) than Mexico City. The primavera pajaros (Spring birds) make such a happy, chirpy sound when they’re singing.  Juana asked me why no one in the family had visited their home and she said “No pasa nada de estar aqui, todo es tranquilo, fresco, muy agradable.” “Nothing will happen here, everything is tranquil, cool and very nice.”

I’ve learned not to hit the ground running after a full day of airline/bus travel so I spent the next day exploring the four bedroom home and enjoying my breakfast of mango and Mexican coffee with milk and toast with butter. That evening I made my way to La India Bonita, the oldest restaurant in Cuernavaca with full Mexican décor whose name came from Emperor Maximilian’s lover.  From the smile I was greeted with by the hostess to the lush courtyard, I was smiling. I ordered chile en nogada –poblano pepper in walnut sauce.

After feeling rested from a good night’s sleep, I hired an Uber to bring me on a 45 minute drive to Xochicalco. Any UNESCO World Heritage Site is always on my list of first destinations wherever I travel. Even though the initial bus ride was a breeze, I wasn’t quite ready yet to tackle another one quite yet.

Xochicalco

The name Xochicalco means “the place of the house of flowers” in Nahuatl, but it’s more like the empire of the flowers. This was a vast walled city-state, a mighty urban metropolis from A.D. 700-900.  Its rise to power occurred right after the fall of Teotihuacán.  Historians aren’t completely sure why Xochicalco fell but the prevailing theory is that it was destroyed from within.

Xochicalco with Rolleiflex 2.8F

My first stop is always a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What made this such a quieting  experience is it’s large enough to make the drive worthwhile from Cuernavaca but not so big that it is overrun with tourists like the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City.

Xochicalco pyramid

As I walked around the site, I tried to imagine what this must have looked like during its zenith. As fascinating as it is today, it must have been formidable in its time. And, only about 15 percent of the ruins have been excavated.  What was even better is after visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacán outside Mexico City, which is swarming with tourists, the pyramids of Xochicalco are a quieting experience, not overrun with tourists. I’m glad I saw the pyramids of Teotihuacán first.

Xochicalco pyramid

Diego Rivera lived in a home around the corner from where I am staying so a 15 minute walk down Calle Ruffino Tamayo and there I smiled seeing the plaque ‘Diego Rivera lived here from 1951-1957’.  An Italian restaurant that was recommended to me, Sapori, is also on the same street. My Bolognese pasta was excellent and tasted as if I was back in Bologna, Italy, where it’s nearly impossible to get a bad meal.

Diego Rivera house – Cuernavaca, Mexico

Mercado Adolfo Lopez Mateos –  Adolfo Lopez Mateos Market

It was time to buy groceries for my extended stay, so off Juana and I headed to the bus station to make our way to experience Mercado Adolfo Lopez Mateos. Everything imaginable is for sale here from exotic fruits like lychee, dragon fruit, star fruit to various meats, a large bunch of Astro Melia flowers for 25 MXN and smoked chilies. It’s sprawling and if not for Juana, I would surely have been lost inside the maze as my sense of direction is no bueno.  Here is a bowl of fruit I bought for 200 MXN, about $10 US.

Bowl of fruit we bought at local market in Cuernavaca central

Catedral de Cuernavaca, the fortress-cathedral built at Cortes’s request.  It was easy to spend 4 hours strolling through this wonder with its fortress-like style that served a purpose to impress, intimidate and defend against the natives.

Catedral de Cuernavaca, Mexico

Jardin Borda – quiet, leafy sanctuary built in 1700’s inspired by Versailles.  There are paths, steps and fountains laid out in a series of terraces.  I love the typical colonial style where the buildings are arranged around courtyards.

Museo Casa Robert Brady – 16th century Franciscan convent.  He spent his life traveling around the world collecting art he loved and lived in Cuernavaca for twenty-four years.

Museo Robert Brady – Cuernavaca, Mexico

Parque Ecológico  Chapultepec –  Definitely worth a visit to see people, waterfalls, a butterfly sanctuary,  ducks, a running stream throughout fed by waterfalls and lined with a lush jungle, large trees, a pair of crocodiles basking in the sun, peafowl and a way to experience lush Cuernavaca.

Woman at Parque Ecológico

Tepoztlán

There is a tourist initiative called Pueblos Mágicos, or Magical Towns. These are designations given to small towns around the country that provide tourists with an otherwordly experience either through culture, environment or history.  In other words, an authentic traditional environment.

This family was waiting in the bus station in Cuernavaca as I was leaving for Tepoztlán.
Young girl on the street in Tepoztlán, Mexico.
Woman selling pottery in Tepoztlán, Mexico.
Blue tortillas in the market of Tepoztlán.
Corn in the market at Tepoztlán
Selling vegetables in the market at Tepoztlán, Mexico.

Tepoztlán is the only pueblo mágico in Morelos. There is an ancient temple set high atop a cliff, a 16th-century former convent. Amongst gorgeous mountain scenery, and winding cobblestone streets nestled in a green valley, it has a mystical quality and a charm.  I found the zócola filled with people selling clothing, and a natural products store where I bought shampoo made with rosemary, eucalyptus, aloe vera, basil, avocado bone, nopal, jojoba, verbana, royal jelly, mint and not one chemical in it. En route to Tepoztlán, I commented to a girl sitting next to me how pretty the bread was in the basket of mixed types and styles. She offered to open it for me, to which I politely declined not just because I wasn’t hungry but I didn’t want her to break open her lovely bread basket for me.

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Basket of bread on the bus to Tepoztlán

Woman at market in Tepoztlán, Mexico.
Young woman in Tepoztlán, Mexico.
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Woman selling limes in the market at Tepoztlán.
Ex-Convento de La Natividad, another World Heritage Site. Tepoztlán, Mexico

Taxco

Taxco- Another bus ride, this time from Terminal Estrella Blanco.  I was speaking to a girl on the bus and asked her about how to get to the Zócalo. Google Maps had me going in circles more than once and I knew Taxco would probably confuse Google Maps and me endlessly. She walked me all the way to the center. The kindness I found at every turn in Cuernavaca was the norm, it was consistent.

Meat vendor with two woman. Taxco, Mexico
On the street in Taxco, Mexico.
Woman selling coconuts in Taxco, Mexico.
I love her face, so strong and proud.
Her eyes were filled with kindness.
Woman selling apricots. Taxco, Mexico.
Woman selling jewelery. Taxco, Mexico.
Woman with child, Taxco, Mexico.
Taxco, Mexico view from the restaurant
Woman selling flowers Taxco, Mexico.

As I sat on the bus from Cuernava back to Mexico City, the bus driver waved at every bus coming the other way. Waved and smiled. “Que la vaya bien”  “May you be well” said the girl to me in the bus station central in CD as we both tried to figure out where to meet our respective Uber drivers.  I heard “para sirvele” “I’m here to serve you” over and over throughout my stay in Mexico.

Between the ruins of UNESCO World Heritage sites, walks into the city center, colors of red, orange and blues and smells of tortillas unique to Mexico, churches, gardens and museums I visited, Cuernavaca was a soul enriching experience. More than any aspect of my stay in Cuernavaca, was the care I was given by Juana. It wasn’t just that she made each and every meal so pretty to look at with hand made doilies that she had created and beautiful ceramics to eat out of, it was the actual care and affection from a complete stranger, from someone who wanted absolutely nothing from me and gave from her heart. There were heart-centered angels throughout my journey to Cuernavaca.  “Agradezco”  “I appreciate it”, Juana said when she opened the card I left for her, thanking her for her care and leaving her a gift.  More than just courteous, I find the people of Mexico angeles centrado en el corazón, “heart centered angels.”  Even as I leave Cuernavaca, I am dreaming of when I shall be able to return.

I’ve been wandering early and late.
Self Portrait en route to Taxco with Rolleiflex.
Self Portrait in front of map. Made with Rolleiflex. 
Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Los Angeles, A City Filled With Hope on November 3, 2020

There was no possibility that I was going to watch the news or doom scroll on Twitter on election night. As I grabbed a back up battery, I rushed out the front door. I always carry an extra SanDisk card in case I forget my card in my camera which last night I did as I was anxious to get into the city and in my car I went. Beginning on Sunset Blvd, I headed east from Laurel Canyon. That’s when I began to see my city with boarded up stores as far as Western Avenue. I stopped by Objets d’Art & Spirit, to see the owner who has worked for decades to build her dream in Los Angeles. This store was on LaCienega for nearly three decades and is now on Sunset Blvd. My heart hurt to see her store being boarded up with plywood.

Motion Picture Editors Guild on Sunset Blvd.

Objets’ d’art and Spirit.

Self Portrait on Sunset Blvd. 

 

This sign gave me hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I parked my car so I could walk my city. Yes, my city. I grew up in Los Angeles specifically in the San Fernando Valley. Back in the 70’s, there was less crime. The worst thing that happened here was a hub cap was stolen off a car. The abuse went on behind closed doors. Now, as I walked around with my camera near Western and Sunset, I saw the taco truck where people gathered to place their orders. One man was hanging lights as the others were cooking meat and vegetables and onions over a hot grill. I saw people on their cell phones and others waiting for the bus. Mothers holding their children’s hands, a couple taking off on their skateboards after a quick chat with me. I was filled with so much hope for my city, my country, our world. 

As I drove south towards Melrose, I still had no idea how close the polls were. I thought of my father, who came to this country from Poland as an immigrant after working with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for five years, to get the proper permissions to enter America. His hopes were to start a new life, a life after the Holocaust and America was his chosen dream. My father taught me that with hard work, I could create my own dream and I did but it required dedication, commitment and a never ending drive and persistance to become a stunt woman in Hollywood.

As I drove west on Melrose and saw more store fronts all covered with wood to protect the stores from the inevitable damage, I stopped at another taco bar on the street. There were 4 people working there from the women chopping the onions to the one creating the warm tortillas to the men again cooking the various meats. I thought of my father, who worked at least 4 different jobs to put food on the table for his five children. I passed movie studios were I have worked over the three decades in Hollywood not only as a stunt woman but in locations. My dreams came true in this city. I know this city like no other from where to park without getting a ticket to where to get the best street taco.  Still, I remained hopeful for the outcome of this election. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I drove south on Highland and headed to Wilshire Blvd and onto Beverly Hills, I had heard that Rodeo Blvd was boarded up but I had no idea what was in store for me. Not only boarded up stores but all access to Rodeo Blvd was blocked with barriers, police and security guards. Here, I spoke to a young man and asked if he knew where we were in the polls. He said it was close. I asked him who he voted for as I could feel his answer in my bones. “Trump” he replied “And now I regret it.” I had no words so I stayed silent. This was the first time I checked my phone all evening to see the poll numbers. 

 

 

 

Photographing Beverly Hills and all our city with boards up and down the streets hurt my heart. What has happened to our country and can we save it? When I awoke this morning, November 4, my dear friend Ruth, who has been building homes in Los Angeles for years, posted the poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith on Instagram and wrote “America! I believe you have good bones.” Maggie Smith writes out of experience of motherhood, inspired by her children. And, Ruth, who has worked so hard to raise her two children in Los Angeles, gave me hope this morning.

I thought of my father, who would buy the crummiest homes because he said “It had good bones” and how he bought homes and built homes all over the San Fernando Valley to support his children and give them a better life than he had in Poland. I awoke with hope, again. 

 

 

 

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

 

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.