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Developing New Private Coastal Residential Communities

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We have been watching with fascination the construction of one of the new private residential communities in Huatulco. The fence that divides this new property from our Huatulco winter rental condo is only a few feet from one of the swimming pools where we exercise for a least an hour almost every day. And the newest triplex building being constructed is just a few feet away on the other side of the fence. For several years, we’ve experienced the clearing and pounding first carried out to prepare the land before building, then the constant drone of digging and cement mixing for foundations. And currently, hammering starting early in the morning and often continuing until sundown as walls rose up around the property. We watch with awe as workmen perch precariously on the partly constructed building, spend hours bending metal rebar by hand into infrastructure, line up and toss bricks man-to-man to positions readied for laying, and build wooden sections higher and higher from the ground. We’re always impressed with the appearance of the giant concrete extruder that looks and sounds like a mechanical Tyrannosaurus rex but is obviously tamed since workmen guide the mouth to the perfect place where the beast spits just the right amount of concrete to reinforce the structure.

How Does It All Get Done? Let’s Ask Greg Glassman

Although for several years we’ve experienced this ongoing construction, we realized we had little understanding of how this development and other new private residential properties come into being. So asked one of the primary people involved in developing the next-door property, Greg Glassman, who with his partner, Engineer Fernando Gonzales, founded their construction company, PROH (pronounced “Pro”) in 2016. PROH is responsible for the ongoing development of the new community named “Amanecer” (dawn/sunrise) designed by Architect Jorge Herrera. Our outreach to Greg was hardly a “cold call.” We’ve known Greg and his wife Courtney even before they moved here from California in 2005 to start their real estate company, Resort Real Estate (now in the capable hands of Valerie Verhalen and Arianna Rollo).

Greg, who was born in Los Angeles, raised in Agoura Hills, attended college in Boulder, Colorado, and earned a BA degree from the University of California, San Diego, first came to Huatulco in 1997. At that time his father was building his dream retirement home in Conejos – it was Greg’s first taste of coastal construction. When we first arrived in Huatulco in 2001, the Glassmans were already entrenched in the community and provided a warm welcome to us, as we were among the few Americans who had also discovered paradise.

In additional to Amanecer, Greg was also instrumental in building the private residential community Montecito (near La Bocana) and also a third development called the Cove at Reco that is in its beginning stages in Tangolunda. When we asked Greg for a basic tutorial on community development, he graciously agreed to answer our very fundamental questions, realizing that we and many The Eye readers had no knowledge of what is entailed.

Development Is Collaborative

Greg made very clear his involvement in Huatulco development has been through collaborative endeavors involving realtors, investors, architects, the construction company, and subcontractors including carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. The very idea of private residential communities in Huatulco arose from realtors whose clients asked about the availability of that type of living arrangement in Huatulco. Although there were a growing number of private gated condo associations and residential areas with private homes in publicly accessible areas, unlike in the U.S. there were no gated developments of private homes here, much less with ocean views.

The idea of developing such a community appealed to a developer with whom Greg had a relatively long association. Together, Greg, that developer, and architect Diego Villaseñor developed the conceptual design, which is basically an artistic concept rather than a specific design. As in the development of other conceptual designs, the team, using graphic “mood boards” discussed and identified the characteristics of potential residents, including income level, whether they are likely to be permanent or part-time residents, the life-style that would be most appealing to them and the impact on the larger community. The graphics of possible lay-outs for the proposed community used simple circles to demarcate homes and other buildings. The concept that emerged in this case was to develop a luxury community for affluent clients who desired a unique living experience by the sea. The concept ultimately was translated into Montecito (little mountain), the “private and exclusive” gated community of large villas above La Bocana. “Montecito” echoes the name of an exclusive community near Santa Barbara, California, currently home to Prince Harry and other notables.

Site Selection

Greg said that in general when developing private residential communities, his site selection criteria include an accessible location with good existing infrastructure such as electricity and water, a size sufficient for multiple homes, a site that faces east or south to provide ideal sunlight conditions, and an ocean view that provides an interesting perspective such as lights across a bay or other natural features, rather than just endless water. He also seeks topography that allows for creative design, and likely prevents any other structure being built that would block the view. FONATUR (Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo), the government agency that controls development in Huatulco, constrains site selection with its zoning and its schedule for when to release particular sites. After the collaborating team viewed a relatively large tract of land in the area of La Bocana that Fonatur was willing to sell, they agreed that the site met their criteria.

Design – Conceptual and Schematic

Although, according to Greg, it is usually best to have a conceptional design before selecting a site, sometimes an appealing tract of land becomes suddenly available, and a decision is made to purchase it before the conceptual design is finalized. The development of a conceptual design is more philosophical and artistic than nuts-and-bolts. The team develops overall concepts such as what the “pillars” and what the “soul” of the community will be. Informed by these concepts and of course considering the terrain of the site, the architect can begin formulating the layout of the community, indicating structures with circles rather than specific designs.

The next step is referred to as schematic design. The team, especially the architect, turn their attention to all the details of the homes, common areas, and circulation to be constructed. The process is not only art, but engineering as well. In Huatulco and other coastal areas developed by FONATUR, all designs must be reviewed by the agency to make sure that regulations established by FONATUR, including distance from the ocean and elevations, are in compliance. And all construction and engineering plans and documents must be reviewed by an independent agent who reports to the municipality. In addition, as north of the border, an environmental impact study (called MIA) must be submitted to and approved by SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, the oversight department in the Federal government) – a practice initially ignored in the early years of construction in coastal Oaxaca but now a regular procedure.

Construction

Once all government documents are signed, sealed and delivered, the actual construction process that neighbors can watch begins. The workmen whom we’ve watched with fascination preparing the land and building the triplex homes in Amanecer are a mix of construction teams either employed full time or subcontracted by PROH.

While some full-time construction workers live locally and go home at night, a substantial number are from relatively distant areas, including out-of-state residents, and live on the construction site. To serve their needs, PROH is responsible for providing shelter and dining facilities. And of course, the construction company is responsible for the purchase and delivery of all construction materials.The ongoing day by day supervision of the construction process is provided by one or more employees at the management level who are on site whenever work is being performed.

After construction is complete, the finishing touches of homes are left up to individual clients. However, because Huatulco has limited businesses providing furniture and other materials for creating a home from an empty house, PROH, in concert with an interior design team, provides furniture packages and other services, so that after taking possession of a unit in a new private residential community, the owner can simply walk into a fully-furnished and stocked home, relax and enjoy the view.

When asked when his job is done and he can walk away from one of the communities he’s involved in developing, Greg laughed and explained; “Building of the last Villas at Montecito is still in process, Amanecer just broke ground on 2 new buildings and the Cove at Reco has 17 new homes in the pipeline. The future of Huatulco is bright, I love what I do and don’t see myself walking away anytime soon.” We however will not be sorry to see the PROH workmen depart from constructing the building adjacent to our pool viewing area – knowing that they will be gainfully employed drilling, hammering, and tossing bricks at another developing private residential community.

Eye on the Writers of The Eye: Brooke O’Connor

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Brooke O’Connor began writing for The Eye in October 2022, and is the most recent member of the Eye staff. She stands out among the already-international Eye team as having lived in the most countries – Mexico is just her latest.

Brooke was born in Los Angeles County and was adopted when she was 4 months old. She was raised in Diamond Bar, California, near Anaheim, until she was a three-year-old. Her family moved to Salt Lake City and Brooke was educated there through high school. She spent a gap year working as a nanny in Syracuse, NY and Mountain Lakes, NJ, before matriculating in a special pre-med program at the University of Kansas, graduating with a BS degree. She decided to spend the summer before med school working in Alaska. There she met her soon-to-be husband, and her plans for further medical study were set aside in favor of marriage. Brooke and her husband lived in Squim, Washington, where they would later start their family with first child – a daughter. After several months of being a stay-at-home mother, Brooke discovered she had a talent for multi-level marketing, and marketing became her long-term career.

The young couple moved to Dublin, Ireland, when her husband’s employment required. Brooke realized that many grocery shops in Dublin were small family enterprises providing both housing and income, so she bought and ran such a shop for three years. In addition, she began coaching others in life choices and business decisions, the beginning of another long-term occupation. Her son was born during that period.

Once again following the employment of her husband, who had family ties in Italy, the family moved to a small town outside Milan. They lived in a rented wing of a castle and although the quarters were freezing during the winters, they lived there for three years until they bought a house in the area. When Brooke was divorced in 2012, she became a consultant for a Los Angeles-based company specializing in interior design and an architectural firm with clients in the Middle East. She spent nine months as their agent in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, promoting their projects.

Later she realized that she wanted her teen daughter to have opportunities that were available in the U.S. but not in Italy, so they moved to Alexandria, VA. Brooke bought and ran a limousine service there for three years. Then, to live closer to her brother, she moved to Denver where she was trained and practiced as a clinical hypnotherapist, specializing in working with people who had experienced trauma. It was in Denver that she met her current partner, Scott, and within a few weeks they decided to be a couple for life. They moved to Salt Lake City when Brooke’s mother needed assistance through an illness.

After her mother died, Brooke discussed quality-of-life challenges with Scott and began to explore places in the world where they could enjoy growing old together. After considering several places that appeared to support a lifestyle they hoped for, Huatulco rose to the top of the list … but they had never been here. After a one-month visit checking out the town, they returned to Salt Lake City, sold everything, and returned to Huatulco to a condo they bought in La Crucecita.

Today, Brooke and Scott are partners in a relatively new business called Better You Marketing. Brooke spends her free time snorkeling in our beautiful bays, writing for The Eye, and working on her memoir. She has always enjoyed baking and, like many of us, is finding baking in our environment a challenge. The culinary skill for which she’s best known is her creative breakfast skillets using leftover ingredients.

Brooke arrived shortly after our long-time Eye writer Brooke Gazer moved to Mérida in the Yucatán. We miss Brooke Gazer but are happy to have a new Brooke join us.

Thyme and Spice in Time and Space

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

One of the remarkably innovative activities that sets humans apart from our closest primate relatives is cooking our food and flavoring it with spices. According to some anthropologists, this behavior may have emerged while we were still nomadic hunters and gathers. To carry a kill to the next temporary home site, our ancestors probably wrapped the meat in leaves – and a distant relative with a fine palate realized that the meat wrapped in some leaves lasted longer and was tastier than meat wrapped in others. The former leaves became desirable and assigned a higher trading value than others. Similarly, specific flavorful roots, bulbs, berries, flowers and even pollen became prized first as enhancements for cooking and preserving and, after observation of beneficial effects, medicating.

Once humans settled down in farms, towns, and cities and developed writing and reading, one of the first uses of these newly emerged forms of communication was accounting in long-extinct languages for amounts of spices traded. Recipes using spices for preservation, including mummification, were shared; thyme was used as an ingredient over 5500 years ago in Egyptian unguents that were used to prepare bodies for the afterlife. As writing became a method of expressing religious beliefs and poetic expressions, literature produced millennia ago equated thyme and other spices with love, riches and the best of human life. The incredibly beautiful Song of Songs in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) mentions many spices including cinnamon and saffron.

The Song of Songs is said to have been written in the 9th century BCE, so we have evidence from that time period of the availability in the land of Israel of cinnamon native to Sri Lanka and India, and saffron from Crete, which must have made their way via the ships of ancient mariners to the Middle East. In fact, literature from China and other accounts from around Eurasia provide evidence that spices growing wild millennia ago in various parts of the known world were harvested and sold or bartered in distant lands. When given root in favorable climates far from their origin, they were cultivated and harvested for local use or became a currency of exchange.

There is also archeological evidence that in the Western hemisphere, including Mesoamerica, different species of plants from those in Eurasia were also harvested in the wild and began to be cultivated. Like the use of spices across the oceans, they were used to flavor foods, for preservation, including mummification, and for medicinal purposes. It is not surprising, then, that many millennia later, during the Age of Exploration and the Spanish invasion of Mexico and South America, one of the earliest cultural exchanges consisted of adopting Western spices in Europe and Eurasian spices in the New World.

The Spanish conquistadores were accustomed to a diet flavored with garlic, onions and, for the most wealthy, saffron. Imagine their surprise when neither garlic, large onions, nor crocus producing saffron were to be found to be growing in “New Spain,” and the small scallion-like onions were a far cry from the plump sweet vegetable growing in the Mediterranean. Instead, they found a plethora of other spices being used by indigenous civilizations. A wide variety of peppers unheard of in the Old World – ranging from sweet to extremely hot and spicy – were dried and ground and added to many dishes. Cacao, a new and addictive chocolate-tasting fruit, was used to flavor both food and drink. Tomatoes, which originated in the Andes in South America, had been brought north and were cultivated and formed the basis for many different salsas. Anise seeds added a depth to dishes and achiote seeds were “discovered” to impart a distinct flavor and an attractive deep red color to food. Herbs and flowers added while cooking included chipilin, epazote, mint, and pre-Columbian coriander (different from modern day cilantro), each contributing a delicious taste to a diet which, mainly prepared with corn, squash, and beans, could have been quite bland.

To the great delight of those living in Eurasia, tomato seeds were brought from the New World and cultivated in many parts of those continents. Today many Europeans would deny that tomatoes are not native to their countries and would claim they had always been part of their heritage. Similarly, European peppers were primarily sweet peppers, but, learning from their Mesoamerican hosts, Spanish cooks began drying and smoking a large sweet variety of red pepper and then grinding the peppers, producing what is today called Spanish paprika. And of course, chocolate produced from cacao became associated with countries far from the trees that bear the flavorful fruit (think of Switzerland).

In turn, 16th-century colonists began cultivating spices in the lands of the New World that had never grown there. Mexican thyme, which originated in Africa long before the Spanish invasion, was introduced. Cumin, originally cultivated in the Middle East, was introduced and became so ubiquitous that it almost seems synonymous with Mexican cooking – especially in US chain quasi-Mexican restaurants where it tends to be overused. Garlic and large white onions are staples in Mexican grocery stores and kitchens, although relatives of the original scallion-like onions are more flavorful and also still used.

While some of the exotic spices from distant lands could be grown in countries that took a liking to them, other plants have difficulty thriving outside their native land. Over a period of centuries, the spice trade became a highly lucrative enterprise and was dominated by large companies, such as the British East India Company, which was founded at the end of 1600 and continued to exercise a monopoly on some markets for 274 years. Around the time the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602, folded, two brothers named Schilling, who had immigrated from Germany to San Francisco formed their own spice company. Shortly thereafter, Willoughby McCormick founded his spice company in Baltimore. McCormick bought out the Schilling brothers’ company in 1946. Today, McCormick is still a dominant force in the field, employing 10,000 people and selling $3.5 billion of spices annually.

As with other markets in the 21st century, spice production is global. However, the country that dominates spice production is India, providing almost 11 million tons between 2021 and 2022. We took a walk down a road in the Southern State of Kerala that was lined with shops displaying heaps of ginger and burlap bags of other spices; it was such a heady experience that we will never forget being there. India is such a prolific producer that Mexico actually imports red peppers from that part of the world. Other countries specialize in individual herbs and spices; cinnamon, so ubiquitous in Mexican cooking and baking, is often a product of Sri Lanka. But Mexico has to a small degree turned the tables; nutmeg, originally from the Banda Islands in Indonesia, is now grown in Mexico and exported primarily to the U.S. And although thyme can be grown in most places in the world, China is the world’s leading producer.

As humans emerged from hunter-gatherer groups and small agricultural units to span the globe and conquer time and space, so did thyme and other herbs and spices we so love. Perhaps when humans colonize other planets, thyme and spices will be among the first possessions brought across time and space.

Rabbit Meat: A Mexican Delicacy?

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Over forty years ago, we read about and decided to visit a family-run, highly-rated Quintana Roo restaurant in the jungle off the road from Cancun to Playa Carmen. We pulled off the road at the designated kilometer post into an area cleared for parking, and wandered down a narrow path to find a charming cottage in a clearing on the bank of a lagoon. Near the cottage was a rabbit hutch with sweet roly-poly bunnies – we thought them to be pets of the family’s children.

When we were presented with the menu and saw the offering of conejo, we were sure it must be a misspelling of cangrejo (crab), but suddenly realized that the dish was indeed conejo (rabbit), and the sweet little bunnies were not pets. Although this was the first time we saw rabbit on a menu in Mexico, it should not have come as a surprise. In France, lapin (rabbit) is a relatively common feature on menus, along with frogs’ legs and snails. And in China, we visited live animal meat markets where cages of rabbits were placed near chickens, ducks, puppies and monkeys – yes, monkeys.

So after our initial encounter, we were prepared to find rabbit on more menus in Mexico. This turned out to be a misconception. Not that we were disappointed. One of us sticks pretty closely to Jewish laws spelled out in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) that forbid certain animals to be eaten including pig, camel … and rabbit. There are many traditional delicious Mexican dishes made with meat from permitted animals, but the experience did raise our curiosity about the place of rabbit in Mexican cuisine.

Although a vegetarian diet has for millennia been the main form of food consumed in Mexico, rabbit, as archeologists have found, was considered a delicacy in preHispanic cuisine. In excavations around present-day Mexico City, artifacts and animal bones from a butcher shop indicated that the business specialized in selling rabbit meat. As historians have made clear, there was no need to supplement the daily diet with rabbit since the food consumed by the indigenous residents was nutritionally complete – so the supposition would be that rabbit was eaten as a special delicacy.

The same is true in Mexico today. As compared to other Latin American countries, Mexico ranks highest in percent of the population that sticks to a vegetarian diet. Nonetheless meat, especially beef, chicken or pork, is the preferred meal of the vast majority of Mexicans. Not rabbit. According to a 2022 paper in Meat Science, “The annual per capita consumption of meat in Mexico is 72.8 kg, of which 34.9 kg correspond to chicken, 20.3 kg to pork, 14.8 kg to beef, 1.3 kg to turkey, 0.8 g to sheep and goat, 0.6 g to horse, and [a minuscule] 0.1 g to rabbit.”

Part of the reason for rabbit being an uncommonly eaten source of protein may be the lack of availability. Unlike beef cattle, chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, sheep or other sources of more commonly used meat, rabbits are not raised on large corporate farms or ranches that produce thousands of animals for food. Rabbit farms are most numerous in the central states in Mexico; but a study of the characteristics of cuniculture (rabbit-raising) in that area showed that the vast majority (87%) are either small-scale or medium-scale family farms. There are other rabbit farmers scattered around the country, especially in areas where there is a substantial foreign rabbit-eating populace, such as the Happy Rabbit Farm in Rancho Loco Chapala in the state of Jalisco. These small farms tend to produce a limited number of rabbits, sold directly for consumption; the availability of rabbit meat in butcher shops or food stores is limited.

Another barrier to a thriving market for rabbit meat may be the taste. Most people who have tried eating rabbit compare the taste to chicken – particularly chicken thighs – but comment on the gamey flavor. This may be why rabbit dishes are usually prepared with assertive spices. There are four primary ways of cooking rabbit meat in Mexico: adobo (marinated in spices including chilis), al ajillo (cooked with garlic), estofado (stewed), and fried in the same manner that chicken is fried. These dishes may be easily sampled in the small restaurants that line the highway that leads from Mexico City to Toluca. Within Mexico City in the Coyoacan area, the restaurant El Morral, specializing in “Mexican Heritage Food,” also served rabbit before the covid pandemic, but their reduced menu may no longer feature conejo.

In the interior of state of Oaxaca, a dish prepared with corn and rabbit in a mole sauce, segueza, is the preferred preparation. It is true that rabbit meat, as chicken, is nutritionally sound; low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein. Thus, the question remains: If rabbit tastes like chicken, and is prepared like chicken, why not simply use easily attainable and less expensive chicken?

But perhaps the most important factor that prevents people from hankering for rabbit stew and other dishes is the adoration developed in childhood for those cute roly-poly soft-fur bunnies that one can cuddle and stroke, along with the rabbits that are featured in children’s books. Just as children north of the border love to hear the Beatrice Potter stories of Peter Rabbit, children in Mexico hear tales of Pedrito, El Conejo Travieso (Little Pedro, the Naughty Rabbit – actually a translation of Beatrix Potter’s 1902 classic Peter Rabbit). More recently, Duncan Tonatiuh, a Mexican-American author of children’s books, has bolstered admiration of our furry friends with a new Mexican character, Pancho Rabbit.

So … although rabbits were served as a delicacy by ancient Aztecs, and a small number of Mexicans still find rabbit meat to their liking, we remain in the camp of most Mexicans who would rather pet them than eat them.

Update on the Monarch Butterfly

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

Mexico plays an important role in the life cycle of Mariposa monarca, or monarch butterfly, a species that is rapidly dwindling due to climate change. Every year monarchs migrate thousands of miles from northeastern US and Canada southward for the winter, and then northward for the summer. The southbound destination for about 70 percent of all these butterflies is in a forest between Michoacán and Estado de Mexico that has been set aside by Mexico as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. This 56,000-hectare (140,000-acre) reserve was established in 1980, at which time the number of butterflies migrating there was estimated in the hundreds of millions, approaching a billion. This was well before any significant level of concern about climate change.

Monarchs are known to have migrated to this area since pre-Hispanic times, centuries ago. Studies of the legends of pre-Columbian indigenous people in Michoacán found descriptions of swarms of butterflies flying high overhead in November. The legends depicted them as protectors of the souls of deceased relatives who were returning for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated around the same time.

As the Climate Warms, Monarchs Disappear

The population of migratory monarchs is estimated annually by measuring the area in Mexico’s Biosphere reserve that is covered with butterflies in mid-winter. Analogous measurements are made for the western monarch butterfly, which overwinters in California, including at a reserve near our US home. A few decades ago, there were so many butterflies that the sound of their wings in the trees was like a rippling stream or a rainstorm. Now visitors or scientists have to stand quietly still and stare carefully to observe any butterflies.

The decline in the number of butterflies overwintering in Mexico has been so precipitous (estimated at up to 99 percent in this century, and currently averaging 22 percent per year) that in July 2022 monarchs were placed on the threatened species list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning that they are in danger of worldwide extinction unless there is major intervention.

Climate change has impacted the migratory pattern of the monarchs, both in the US and Canada where they breed and in Mexico where they overwinter and become dormant. The temperatures where the butterflies become dormant need to stay cool enough so the butterflies’ metabolism is suppressed and they don’t need to eat nectar (which is nonexistent in the winter) to survive. As temperatures rise in the overwinter destinations, the butterflies become more active but do not have the food they need for survival.

The butterflies actually have developed an adaptation to address this problem. Researchers who take measurements annually observe that the monarchs adjust upward the elevation of resting places they choose in the forests of Mexico. However, the adaptation (around a meter upward a year) has not been adequate to counteract all effects of climate change. For example, climate change has also produced unpredictable fluctuations between too hot and too cold for the butterflies, or between too rainy and too dry.

As Habitat Disappears, So Do Monarchs

Another effect of climate change particularly important to monarchs is the gradual disappearance of milkweed in fields of the US and Canada. Milkweed plants are the only location where female monarchs lay their eggs, so their absence leads to an interruption of the reproductive purpose of the northward portion of migration. In addition to climate change’s detrimental effect on milkweed plants, grasslands containing milkweed and nectar-producing wildflowers in the areas on the butterflies’ migration routes are being converted to cornfields to produce cattle feed and to ranches where the herds can range. The more corn and cattle, the more methane produced by the cattle, the more climate change, the fewer wildflowers and milkweed plants, and thus fewer monarchs.

So what, aside from eschewing steak and hamburgers, should be done to help prevent extinction of the monarchs? The World Wildlife Foundation has a simple recommendation that can be carried out by individual families on the migratory routes. Their motto for this recommendation is “all it takes is one square foot.” By planting native local wildflowers in a garden or flower box, you can assist all kinds of pollinators – not only monarchs but bees and hummingbirds, which are also experiencing declining populations.

You may be rewarded by the sight of monarchs coming to sip nectar from your minigarden – not the erstwhile millions, but in sufficient numbers to know we haven’t entirely wiped these beautiful beings from the face of the earth.

Carmen Boullosa

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Carmen Boullosa is one of the most prolific and thought-provoking Mexican writers of our times. Her award-winning works include 19 novels, several collections of short stories and poems, four plays and a screen play. The many historical subjects on which she focuses range from Cleopatra to Montezuma to 17th-century pirates of the Caribbean to children in contemporary Mexico. Currently, she has two homes – one in the Coyoacán district in Mexico City and one in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to her prodigious output of books and scripts she also writes a regular column for El Universal, a major newspaper in Mexico.

Boullosa was born in Mexico City on September 4, 1954. She was educated in a Catholic girls’ school there, where she became inspired to later write about themes that were forbidden or at least suppressed by her teachers, such as sensuality and feminism. She went on to study for four years (1972-76) at the far more liberal Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). There was essentially no hiatus between her academic studies and her publications, beginning an impressive stream of literary works.

After her marriage to author Alejandro Aura, domestic life seemed to stimulate Boullosa’s artistic productivity rather than hamper it. Her second novel, Antes (Before), a coming-of-age story, was published in 1989; Antes was the novel for which Boullosa was awarded Mexico’s highly prestigious Xavier Villaurrutia Award. In an interview with one of her translators, Samantha Schnee, Boullosa described a rather idyllic life as a young mother writing novels: “My earlier novels all have young girls as the main characters; in the late eighties I once said in an interview that I could never even create a male character. Back then I had two small children, lived in a beautiful house with a garden that had trees growing figs, pomegranates, and bananas … I had lots of friends and no economic problems (we owned a successful theater-bar).”

She obviously inculcated a love for theater in her children Maria and Juan. Juan is a film producer perhaps best known for his production of Rent. Maria has had roles in over a dozen films, almost a dozen plays, and numerous TV productions. However, the idyll ended when her marriage to Aura, who had been married three times before he met Boullosa, also ended in divorce.

The divorce seems to have freed her to pursue an independent academic life as well as continuing her authorship of novels and other works. In 2001 she held the Andrés Bello Chair in Latin American Cultures and Civilizations at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at New York University. She has also been a visiting professor at Georgetown University and San Diego State University, writer in residence for the city of Berlin, and held the Alfonso Reyes Chair at the Sorbonne in fall 2001. She was a Visiting Professor at Columbia in 2003-04 and then a Distinguished Lecturer at City College, CUNY, until 2011. Between 2004 and 2005 she received awards for the best book of poems in Mexico and the best novel in Mexico. Boullosa has traveled widely as a sought-after university lecturer who challenges students to think beyond the ordinary and normative.

Although she is perhaps best known for her depiction of women in her fiction, Boullosa has not confined herself to that genre. In 2004, she married historian and author Michael Wallace, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his history of New York City. Together in 2015, they coauthored A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the “Mexican Drug War”, a controversial treatise on the roots of the drug wars in Mexico and the drug trade between Mexico and the U.S. Boullosa is also known for her art, which has been displayed in museums in New York City and Mexico City.

It is not surprising that this exceptional mundivagant woman should write about other exceptional women … both actual historical figures and fictional characters. But Boullosa’s imagination is so fertile that she can bend time and circumstance so that her women characters overcome situations that were barriers in their lives, real or fictional. Cleopatra and Anna Karenina are seen through different eyes and times. In her latest novel (El Libro de Eva, 2020, to be published in English in March 2023), she recreates the biblical book of Genesis, with its heavy overlay of masculinity, in ten chapters written from the perspective of Eve. Boullosa’s entire cast of novel characters is so engaging that from the opening lines of her books one willingly enters her worlds. Some readers are charmed, others incensed by Boullosa’s flamboyant feminism. But no one is bored.

In addition to her own work, she has fostered the work (and lives) of others. Along with Salman Rushdie, Boullasa founded the Mexico City refuge for persecuted writers. She is reportedly exploring the possibility of opening another facility for persecuted writers in New York City.

If you want to know more about Carmen Boullosa, check out the libraries at major universities for her writings in Spanish or English or the scores of essays and Ph.D. dissertations of which she is the subject. Experience the richness of this most notable Mexican author’s creativity.

Jewish Stories

Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Have you ever wondered why so many well-known writers, including Nobel Prize winners, are Jewish? From Isaac Asimov through Franz Kafka, Lillian Hellman, Emma Lazarus and J.D. Salinger to Elie Wiesel, to name a few, hundreds of Jewish authors have challenged our imaginations and shaped the course of literature. What is it about being Jewish that stimulates the creative impulse to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and pour out captivating tales? One answer may be that Jews are steeped in stories – stories that are thousands or at least hundreds of years old and passed on from generation to generation.

The primary source of these stories is the Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians generally refer to as “the old testament.” Jews refer to the first parts of these scriptures as the Torah, or the five books of Moses. The first book alone includes two creation stories, stories about the first humans, the flood that destroyed everyone except for Noah and his clan, the first generations of Hebrews headed by Abraham and Sarah, then Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and his wives (Leah and Rachel) and his concubines who gave birth to the twelve tribes of Israel. The second book is packed with stories about the Israelites becoming slaves in Egypt, their rescue with the leadership of Moses and his sister Miriam, and Mount Sinai where the ten commandments were received.

The whole collection of Hebrew scriptures is called the Tanakh. Included are the well-known stories of Jonah and the whale, the tragedy of Job, the lovely story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, the tale of the love between David and Jonathan, the story of brave Queen Esther who saved the Jews in Persia from being killed by the wicked Haman, and scores of other stories less well known among people who aren’t Jewish. Some of these stories are grim and grisly – stuff of which nightmares are made. Others are inspiring, some championing the rights of women. And there are others that are beautiful stories of erotic yearning.

Many Jews are raised on the stories from Tanakh, often from the beginning of their lives – the day they are born. Jewish children usually are given two names; one a popular name in the country in which they are born and the other a Hebrew name borne by a late relative – the latter is generally drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures. The first stories Jewish children generally hear, in addition to The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, are Bible stories about their biblical namesake, the person who bore their name in the Tanakh. The stories become deeply personified. Children named David know they are meant to be musicians and kings. Children named Rebecca love to hear how they were recognized for their kind acts. And little girls named Esther enjoy parading around with a crown acting brave.

Jewish children have been told stories from Tanakh for millennia and given beautifully illustrated books of these stories. The 20th century saw the addition of baby board books and easy reader books with brightly drawn short Bible stories. And stuffed toys such as a Noah’s ark and a little plush replica of a Torah introduce wee ones to stories as they hug them close. Traditionally, at age three Jewish children begin to learn how to read Torah themselves. A piece of honey is placed on the first word to learn; and when the child sucks on the honey while learning to read the letter, the sweet taste of honey becomes synonymous with the sweet taste of learning the stories in Torah.

Stories from Tanakh have for thousands of years stimulated other stories by being embellished. Spin-off stories written by rabbis and scholars have been collected in books called Midrash. Each major character in Tanakh has generated dozens of stories that help flesh out and provide insights into their personalities and motivations for their actions. Abraham is depicted as a child willfully destroying the idols in his home. Sarah is described as one of the most beautiful women in the world even in old age. And Moses as a shepherd, it is told, showed such great compassion for a little lost lamb that he was chosen as the leader to guide the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

Many Jewish children learn these elaborated stories along with the Biblical versions. And when they attend Sunday School or Hebrew School classes, they are encouraged to create their own interpretations of these stories. It is common to see preschoolers or those in the earliest grades of primary school proudly bringing home stories they have written about a character in a Torah story – their letters can be irregular, their words misspelled, and their sentences ungrammatical – but just as midrash written millennia ago is prized, so are these early efforts.

Older children and teens are often encouraged to write their own plays or music based on stories from tanakh and midrash. This creativity, continued into adulthood, has produced innumerable TV programs, movies, novels, poetry, and musical scores, not necessarily on Jewish or religious themes.

So, consider how much of current culture, including magazine articles, is founded on children learning stories.

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Deborah Van Hoewyk

Deborah joined The Eye writers in January 2012 and more recently took on the role of copy editor. Her articles often focus on fund-raising activities of local nonprofit organizations and Mexican culture. Deborah has been actively involved with small community activities since her childhood. Although she was born in Providence, Rhode Island, she was raised and educated in Cumberland, Maine, starting with a one-room schoolhouse. Her first high school years were spent at a local co-ed high school until her parents arranged for her transfer to an all-girls high school. After that, she attended Wellesley College, a prestigious women’s educational institution in Massachusetts, where she first majored in Latin and then English. Having met and married the requisite Harvard man, she left Wellesley after three years and followed her new husband to New York City.

The marriage lasted 10 years, during which Deborah completed a BS degree in English at Columbia University and launched her career in writing and editing, working for a number of organizations including the Foreign Policy Association, Columbia University, New York City agencies, and (Stanley) Kaplan, Inc. After leaving her husband to live on a barge moored in the Bronx, Deborah continued her writing career and earned an MA degree in English from Queens College of the City University of New York. She also met John, her second and current husband, at a cafeteria at CUNY.

After 20 years in New York and a brief hiatus back in Maine, Deborah moved to Detroit and a job writing materials for the auto companies to support their training and development programs. She then enrolled in the urban planning Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, first concentrating on socio-technology and then switching to the field of microenterprise. To support her studies, she taught technical communication in the UM College of Engineering for 18 years. John followed Deborah to Ann Arbor and found a long-term position as a statistician conducting social survey research at the university. They were married in 1986 and in 1987 bought a 40-acre farm on which they raised sheep, goats, pigs and poultry for over 20 years. They retired to Maine in 2010.

Deborah’s first trip to Mexico was in 1979 to visit a friend in Jalapa. After a number of later short visits to various parts of Mexico, in 2004 she and John visited Oaxaca City and decided to also see Huatulco, since it looked “so close” on the map. Even though the road trip was much longer than expected, once here they knew they would return. They bought a house in Huatulco in 2007 where they spent every vacation, renting it out between their stays. Once they retired, their Huatulco time increased until currently they are here about 5.5 months each year. Deborah’s busy life includes belonging to two book clubs but doesn’t allow much time to read other books. She devotes much of her time to writing grant proposals for nonprofit organizations, often gratis, and helping other worthy organizations raise funds. And of course, copy-editing and writing for The Eye is a substantial commitment. Her favorite contribution to the Eye is “The Wisdom of Maíz –Will It Lose Its Voice?” (September 2012).

Hints for Reheating Your Take-Out Meals

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We are definitely snobs in regard to restaurant dinners. We’ve always preferred long leisurely meals in places known for their excellent cuisine and gracious service. We’ve rarely thought about take-out meals; maybe once a year, pollo rostizado crossed our minds and our lips.

COVID changed all of our lives and our dining habits. During the 2020 lockdown, the retirement community where we live in the U.S. began delivering both lunch and dinner to our homes. And, during periodic surges of new COVID variants throughout 2021 and 2022, we’ve returned to receiving delivered dinners. Even when we are in residence in Huatulco during winter months, we now occasionally have picked up bagged dinners, especially from restaurants that have shifted primarily to take-out menus.

The dilemma faced with take-out lunches and dinners that were originally hot is whether or not to rewarm the food. If reheating, how do you do that without destroying the flavor and texture? Many people opt simply to use their microwave oven. But the executive chef in our retirement community, Chef Valeriy Borodin, received complaints about flavorless, mushy food. He then realized that the ubiquitous use of microwaves was ruining his carefully prepared creations. Chef Val held an online forum to provide instructions for reheating specific dishes. Here are some of his hints:

· Pasta in red sauce. This is one dish that can be microwaved, but first add more red sauce and just microwave for a very short time until warm.
· Pasta in white sauce. Request the sauce separate and heat it in a frying pan, stirring until hot; then add it to the pasta. The sauce will reheat the pasta.
· Pasta in oil-based sauce. Reheat the pasta in a frying pan and then add the sauce to the pan.
· Baked pasta such as mac and cheese or lasagna. Reheat it in oven.
· Meat chops/roasts. These are better if ordered when dining at a restaurant. But if they are to be taken home or delivered, order them less cooked than you usually enjoy eating them, and when they arrive, sear them on high heat in a frying pan for just a few seconds on each side. Never microwave meat.
· Fish/seafood in red sauce. This dish can be reheated in a microwave, but just until warm.
· Fish/seafood pieces other than in red sauce. Order them “undercooked” and rewarm them in a frying pan
· Roasted vegetables. Reheat them in an oven.
· Steamed vegetables. Microwave covered just until warm.
· Sauteed vegetables. Pan fry until warm.
· Broths. Reheat in microwave.
· Soups that are creamed or contain pasta. Reheat in a sauce pan.

There are some takeout dishes that Chef Val didn’t address – dishes that even the least experienced consumer would never rewarm in a microwave – such as pizza. Of course, our grandkids are happy to eat leftover pizza for breakfast right out of the refrigerator. But for those of us who yearn during lockdowns for freshly prepared dishes served piping hot right from the restaurant’s grill or kitchen, properly reheating take-out dishes is a passable substitute. ¡Buen provecho!

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Brooke Gazer
Brooke has also been contributing a diverse spectrum of articles to The Eye since the beginning of the publication. One of the few Mexican citizens on staff, Brooke brings her relatively long-term year-round residence to inform her writing about local organizations and people as well as Mexican history and government.

Brooke was born, raised and educated in Calgary, Alberta; she received a B.Ed. degree, majoring in Fine Arts and Drama, from the University of Calgary. In between high school and college she spent a year traveling and working in Europe, first as an au pair in Munich, Germany, and then selling clothing in a posh ladies’ store in London, England. She returned to Europe, studying art history in Italy as part of her major concentration. After university, she taught arts and drama in junior and senior high school in rural Alberta, managed an art gallery for three years, spent two years selling and creating advertisements for a lifestyle magazine, and then settled down for a relatively long career as a pharmaceutical company representative.

While she was managing the art gallery, she met her husband Rick at a fitness club where both were members and after dating for a number of years, they married. Both enjoyed traveling and visited Asia three times (Hong Kong, Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma). Over the years, they also made several trips to Mexico. But it was during their first trip, forty years ago, that Brooke began to think about running a B&B. She was sitting in a garden at a bed and breakfast, owned by an American couple in San Miguel Allende, and she thought, “What a great life this would be.” The idea seemed so farfetched that she never mentioned this to anyone, not even Rick.

When her job as a pharmaceutical rep seemed to pale, however, she raised the idea. They tried out the concept, renting out two rooms in their house in Calgary. Three years later, they packed up all their belonging, sold their house and drove to Mexico. For six months, they explored every beach community on the Pacific Coast, from San Carlos, Sonora, to Huatulco, Oaxaca. When they reached Huatulco, they knew they had found the perfect place. They bought property, designed and built their new B&B and successfully ran the business for 22 years. At the end of 2021, they sold the enterprise and moved to Merida along with their 12-year-old golden retriever, Tango.

Brooke will continue contributing to The Eye from Merida. Her favorite past contribution was the article she wrote on the Mexican Revolution, “Viva la Revolución” (November 2013); she enjoyed the research needed to understand and explain the complexity of this civil war.