Death By Almond Flakes An almond croissant from El Pan de la Chola

I will have it in my clutches. Maybe not in the next hour, maybe not in the next two hours, but sometime within the next three hours I’ll have an almond croissant from El Pan de la Chola, Lima’s most pituco cafe, in my grime-covered hands.

Though at first I won’t even hold it in my hands. I’ll just let it sit on the plate — which isn’t even a plate but a rustic wooden baker’s tray since plates would be lame — and observe it much like you might observe a baby bird being born. Hatching. You watch as it first nudges its way through the shell and think, Wow, I’ve never seen a baby bird being born. And then, This is exactly like Jurassic Park, and for a moment you wonder if it is exactly like Jurassic Park and if in the next year this baby bird will grow into a velociraptor and devour you and your family.

But it’s not a velociraptor. It’s a pastry.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.

After observing the almond croissant I’ll take a fork and knife and cut into its succulent skin. I’ll carve off the perfect, chewy chunk and let it linger on my fork before putting it into my mouth. I’ll savor the moment. It will be over all too soon, of course. And while I’m chewing the first bite I’ll be trying to focus on the texture, the taste, the glory, but what I’ll really be doing is thinking about the next bite. Because you see I’m never satisfied. And even though I’m actively chewing a piece of the the best almond croissant in Lima, Peru — the best almond croissant in South America — I’ll be thinking more about the next bite than the bite that’s in my mouth. And this isn’t very Zen. But when you’re eating an almond croissant, it’s hard to be zen.

After the the first bite it will all be over. My heart rate will dip into the 30’s and if this was an Olympic sport I’d be accused of doping. I’ll have the heart rate of a blue whale. My eyelids will flutter closed and I’ll sit writhing on my chair, groaning, as if Lucifer himself had taken up residence in my sternum. One bites, two bites, three bites, four. My hands ferry pastry back and forth between the tray and my mouth. And then, inexplicably, it’s gone. My eyes open wide now, my pupils dilate. Where once was a croissant are now ashes, almond flecks and powdered sugar. The almond croissant will be gone, and I won’t know what to do. Get another one? Weep? I’ll look over at the waitress and flash a look as if to say, “See what I just did to that croissant? Now imagine how good I am at bowling.” And she’ll smile back as if to say, “I bet you pick up spares all the time.” And then I’ll exit the bakery into the chaos of the non-almond flaked world outside.

 

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Lazy Lima Days

As of today I’ve been in Lima for five days. I got here on Tuesday, April 10th, 2018. I plan to stay at least until next Saturday, at which point I might go north to Trujillo to surf the legendary left-point Chicama, or head to the sierra, or head south to Chile.

Magdalena del Mar, Lima, Peru.

The thing I’ve liked about Lima so far is there’s almost always been someone to hang out with, whether it be Clara, the Airbnb hostess, her cousin Gabriela, or Cristina, one of the other guests. This is something I didn’t have in Mexico. In Mexico I spent most of my time by myself, watching videos on YouTube or walking around between various cafes, consuming, consuming, consuming. Not that I don’t consume here. Right now, for example, I’m consuming an instant coffee. I like instant coffee. I like being able to appreciate ultra-premium, fresh-roasted, 0.5 origin coffee, but I also like being able to appreciate coffee crystals that come from a jar you mix with hot water and a little bit of sugar. You have to mix instant coffee with sugar. Otherwise it tastes like battery acid.

lima corridor apartments

Lima has lots of buildings like that where to get to the individual apartments you have to walk down a long corridor. A bit like a motel.

Yesterday Cristina and I made arepas, by which I mean she made arepas, and I mostly watched. We didn’t have the right flour. To make arepas you need a kind of flour called harina pan, and we bought regular cornflour, which meant the arepas were considerably harder and denser than they should’ve been. It was a bit like biting into a two by six, albeit smothered with butter and cheese. In other words, not that bad.

la putna, lima, peru

Swimming at La Punta. Lima, Peru.

Yesterday I tried a new cafe called Puka Puka, located in the San Isidro neighborhood. I didn’t like it at first. It was hot and stuffy inside. I took my americano outside, began to bake in the sun, and then when I went inside they’d turned the air conditioning on. It was mildly life-changing. I grabbed an edition of The New Yorker they had hanging from the magazine rack. I nourished my brain. And I thought, I could stay here for several days. But then eventually I got bored and left.

A medium-rise apartment building in San Isidro, Lima, Peru, South America.

One thing I like about Lima, specifically about the San Isidro and Miraflores neighborhoods, are the parks. The parks are definitely neighborhood parks, in that the apartment buildings go up to the very edge of the park, and the parks are gated and only open during the day. They’re little oases in the midst of residential and urban(e) sprawl. Though Miraflores and San Isidro is tranquil urban sprawl. They’re gorgeous neighborhoods, but I don’t know if I prefer them to Magdalena del Mar, where I’m staying. Magdelena del Mar at least feels like Peru. San Isidro feels like Walnut Creek, California, which in some ways is wonderful, and in some ways boring.

It always feels like summer in La Punta. Lima, Peru.

I’ve decided to stop thinking of Sundays as “Sundays,” or as a day of rest. Why should they be any different? In the past I’ve used Sundays as a way to shirk responsibilities, and as a way to justify doing whatever I please. I’ve used them to justify sloth, gluttony. But there’s no reason Sundays should be any different. There’s no reason I shouldn’t write on Sundays. In fact, I should write even more. Sunup to sundown. With breaks only for instant coffee.

And now I should probably leave the house. I need to do my pull-ups. I’m almost up to five. I was looking at pictures of me in Costa Rica from 2012 and almost didn’t recognize myself. I had muscles. And now I’ve withered away, almost to nothing. Which means I must go out and do pull-ups. And seize the beautiful Lima afternoon.

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“I’ve always considered latte art ephemeral” Another morning at Cafe Blé in Guadalajara

ble guadalajara

I come to Blé again today because even though I don’t want to come here everyday because it would be expensive, it is more or less the perfect way to start a morning. A matcha latte. A thick piece of toast slathered with butter and raspberry jam whose seeds you can taste. My seat in the corner where I’m able to observe the rest of the cafe, observe Ulises, the owner, as he goes about his business, and look out upon the street.

Ulises asks, “Can I prepare you anything?” and I say, “Lo de siempre, el latte matcha…” and then trail off. I take my seat in the corner and pull my laptop from its case, which is actually just a tattered merino wool shirt. I plug the charger into the wall and then insert the little magnetic piece that connects to the computer. I turn it on and see that the battery’s at 19%. This is probably because I was playing chess last night before I went to bed. I’ve been playing chess against the computer more lately, because I do it on an easier setting, and thus win more, and thus it’s more satisfying. Even when the computer has one second to think between moves it destroys me. And this is one of the lowest settings. But when it’s only allowed to think three moves ahead I can usually beat it.

My latcha matte comes and I comment on the design and Ulises talks about how latte art is “ephemeral” and how some people notice it and some people don’t. We talk about for-here cups and to-go cups, and how a latte having a design and being served in a ceramic cup can influence its taste, or at least our perception of its taste. I make a comment Ulises doesn’t understand and rather than I explain myself I let it linger. My Spanish feels poor this morning. I’m unable to express even the most basic things. I probably need mate, and I probably need to play chess. I’ve been playing chess and watching chess lately to the point where I see the pieces moving sometimes as I lie in bed, waiting for sleep. Supposedly, chess is becoming more popular. But isn’t that what people’ve always said? Isn’t that what people have always said about American soccer? Though that might actually be true. It is true, even if soccer’s popularity still blanches in comparison that of basketball or football. It’s hard to be an accurate judge of the popularity of something you’re involved in.

The toast Ulises serves me is almost two inches thick. I take the spoon and hack a wedge of butter onto it, and it’s real butter, not margarine. Margarine is huge in Mexico, because people think it’s healthier than butter. This, of course, is a travesty. Margarine is a disgusting mix of chemicals and oils. It tastes like refuse. It looks like refuse. It has a disgusting sheen to it, and I actually thought the butter at Blé was margarine until Ulises corrected me. Now that I know it’s real butter, it looks and tastes like real butter. I don’t know how I ever thought otherwise.

Within a few minutes the toast is gone, and the matcha latte is quick to follow. I sit back in my chair and look at the blue door across the street. I listen to the reggae or jazz or ska or whatever it is coming from the speakers. I listen to Ulises talking to a customer. They talk about expensive coffee, and I think back to the time in Buenos Aires with A where I tried the most expensive coffee I’d ever had. It was also the best. It was a Geisha bean from Panama, and it tasted sweet and caramelly.

My time in this cafe has almost run its course, and I wish I could relive it. I wish I could walk in again and order a matcha latte and slice of toast, and greedily dig into the toast as soon as it came. I could, of course, repeat this experience, but it would be disappointing. I’ll have to wait till tomorrow, or the next day. The plate that once held the toast now only holds crumbs, and the cup that once held the matcha latte now has a green stain where the steamed milk once reached. The latte art is long gone, as if it never existed. And it’s ephemeral, or we call it ephemeral, because it existed for three minutes, or less, and then was gone forever. But I wonder if everything isn’t ephemeral.

 

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“When you like what you do, it’s really easy” A morning at Cafe Blé in Guadalajara, Mexico

ble cafeteria y panaderia guadalajara mexico

Photo credit: Blé’s Facebook page

I wake up at 7:11am, 19 minutes before my alarm’s set to go off. My alarm never wakes me up. I’m terrified of the sound, so I always wake up before it goes off. I lie in bed for a few moments, feeling confused. I get up to go to the bathroom, but there’s already someone there, and so I go back to my bedroom and brood. It’s a good morning for brooding. I didn’t sleep that well, I think because of all the caffeine yesterday. Yesterday I drank mate, which I had been drinking from time to time in my favorite cafe, El Rincon del Mate, but now I have a bag of the stuff, I can make it whenever I want, and so yesterday my intake was increased.

While lying in bed someone comes into the kitchen and starts making breakfast. I immediately want to strike them. How dare they make such noise. I think it’s Rodolfo. His phone beeps from time to time from (probably) messages, and I want to get up and scream at him to turn it off. But instead I lie in bed rating Instagram ads for Appen, the job I still haven’t been fired from. I rate six ads in 21 minutes, deliberately taking a long time to do so. If I rate the ads too fast I won’t work the full hour, and won’t get paid the full hour. So I take my time. I minimize my usage of my phone’s speech to text capabilities, since that generally makes things go way faster. While I’m rating I continue seething at what’s going on in the kitchen, the beeping of Rodolfo’s phone, the sound of whatever he’s frying, probably heated-up chilaquiles from the day before. And then when I’m done I get up and get dressed so fast I almost pull a leg muscle, and then storm out of the house in a huff.

And all is well.

It’s cold outside. Daylight savings just kicked in, which means what’s 7:30am used to be 6:30am, which means when I wake up it’s much colder, and in the evening it’s hotter longer. The temperature change came quick. In February it rained and I wore my hat everyday and sometimes even my wool jacket, and now every night while going to bed I lie on top of the sheet with no shirt on, covered by nothing, listening to whatever TV program my neighbors are watching. My neighbors are an older couple often visited by their wayward son who has a dog that might be a boxer or a pitbull. They  mean well, but I don’t know how conscious they are of how close I sleep to the entrance to their house. I essentially live in their living room. I can hear almost everything they say and do. I can hear when they yell at each other. I can hear the dog eating its dog food outside, and I can hear the woman filling up her bucket with water every night, though why she does this I still have no idea. I’m separated from them by a single plate of glass, and in the middle of the window there’s not even glass; it’s just a sheet of plastic. To say the neighbors and I live in close quarters would be a statement.

I get to Ble, the cafe I’ve been coming to lately, and say hi to Ulises, the owner. There’s no one there. I’ve only ever seen one customer there besides myself. We make two seconds of small talk and I order the matcha latte and slice of toast with butter and jam I get every time I come here. There’s good, hipster music playing on the speakers, which he quickly changes to something softer. I wonder if this is for my benefit.

The first thing I do when I sit down is deactivate Facebook, and then I start looking for flights. I think about where I’d like to go in 2018. I decide the following places are must-go’s: Svalbard, Norway, and Bergen, Norway. Svalbard I must visit because it’s the furthest north place in the world that has commercial flights. And Bergen because my favorite author, Karl Ove Knausgaard, lived in Bergen ( for 14 years?)  and wrote Book 5 of his series My Struggle about it. Those are the only two places I must go. There are other places I’d like to go. I’d like to go to Siberia. I’d like to get lost in a small, Russian town. I’d like to go to Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. I’d like to go to Vladivostok. I’d like to go to South Korea. I’d like to go to North Korea. I’d like to go to Bhutan. I’d like to go to Japan. I’d like to go to Little Diomede Island, and Big Diomede Island, and Quebec City, and Chicoutimi, and Ushuaia. But Bergen and Svalbard are the only places I must go.

I sit in the cafe staring out at the street, listening to the music, wondering what I’m going to do until I teach online at 2pm. I’m getting sick of teaching online. I’ve stopped planning the classes, and the quality has suffered because of it. I don’t care. These classes will run their natural course. My teaching career will run its natural course. I think I’ll always be a teacher in some capacity, from time to time, sporadically, but I think what I teach will vary, and that will allow me to keep my sanity. I think about how I have exactly a week until I leave for Lima, where I’ll stay for at least a week. I think about the chess video I’m going to watch when I get back to my apartment after Ble, the mate I’m probably going to drink, and the Instagram ads I’m going to rate. I wonder if something extraordinary will happen today. I decide it probably won’t, and the thought briefly makes me sad.

And then I get up to pay and leave.

 

A special thanks to EAW and RR for their contributions to this blog.

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Can I Get a For-Here Cup? Flying too close to the sun at Cafe Lapso in Ciudad Guzman, Mexico.

Ciudad Guzman, located an hour and a half south of Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is supposedly fresa. Fresa is the Mexican word for posh or snobby. It’s usually possible to tell if someone is fresa by the way they talk. This is especially true in Mexico City, where the fresa accent is generally very nasal and makes you want to stick an ice pick in your ears.

One place that’s undoubtedly fresa in Ciudad Guzman is a cafe/bookstore called Lapso. It’s fresaness is reflected in the prices and the fact that 70% of the clientele order frappuccinos. It’s fresaness is reflected in the hipster music coming from the speakers, and the beautiful courtyard in the back, complete with plants, fountain, and a winged statue of Icarus.

There’s something extra special about courtyards in Mexico, because usually they’re somewhat unexpected, and a welcome respite from the chaos of the street. Lapso’s courtyard is one of the most peaceful I’ve ever visited. One could be forgiven for coming here, ordering a cappuccino, and spending six or seven hours listening to the birds and basking in the greenness of the plants.

Getting this for-here cup was a battle.

My only gripe with Cafe Lapso is that it lacks identity. The cafe area inside makes you feel one way, the bookstore another, and the courtyard in the back yet another. For example: When sitting in the courtyard I feel as if all is right in the world, and a little bit like I’ve just entered the Garden of Eden and will soon be ashamed of my nakedness after biting into a pomegranate and talking to a snake. But in the cafe area inside I feel like I’m in a cafe that’s trying to be cool and mostly failing. And in the bookstore area I feel angry, because there aren’t any Roberto Bolaño books.

Upon ordering I asked if I could have my cappuccino in a for-here cup, so as not to waste paper. I was dismayed to learn they didn’t have any, but then the employee informed me I could use one of the employee cups.

“OK,” I said.

“But just so you know,” she said, “If you come in the afternoon my co-workers probably won’t do it. Because if someone overhears you they might want a for-here cup, too.”

“OK,” I said.

While she was making the coffee I looked for the Bolaño books and, upon not seeing any, began muttering mild profanities under my breath. But then the cappuccino was ready and I made my way to the courtyard and all was peaceful. The sun had just retreated behind the building. From my corner I could see the statue of Icarus, standing in the middle of the courtyard and thus fully-exposed to the sun’s rays. The cappuccino started to kick in and my brain started to accelerate. I started having grandiose thoughts, thinking about traveling to exotic locations around the world. Even though my body remained below, mentally I started to leave the courtyard and soar overhead. Suddenly, I was a bird. Anything was possible .The world below was just a distant memory. I flew higher and higher, screaming with delight. But then I noticed something was keeping me from flying higher, and that’s also when I noticed the blazing sun, and felt the wax dripping down my back.

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A Cafe Dedicated to Cats

el gato cafe guadalajara

Imagine a restaurant dedicated to cats. It might be difficult, since you might wonder why anyone in their right mind (or any frame of mind) would dedicate a restaurant to cats. But that’s indeed what’s happened at El Gato Cafe, a half block from the famed neo-gothic cathedral El Expiatorio, in Gaudalajara, Mexico.

Now imagine spending time at this cafe, eating there, perusing the menu. This was the situation I found myself in the other day. I’d seen El Gato Cafe on Google Maps, where  it has an extremely high 4.8/5 rating, and since I spend 98% of my waking hours in cafes I figured I should check it out.

I went at 3:30pm, certainly not the most happening time of day, and besides the waiter standing there looking expectant, and Elton John music drifting from the speakers, there wasn’t much going on. I sat down and began paging through the menu, which brought to mind an unabridged volume of War and Peace or other such Slavic tome. I’d never seen so many coffee drinks, and all of them seemingly similar. There was the Iced Cafe Mocha on one page, and then halfway down the same page the Iced Coffee Mocha. On the same page there was also a Cappuccino with Chocolate, a Coffee with Mexican Chocolate, and something like an Iced Mocha with Mexican Chocolate (I don’t remember exactly, since I have the memory of a turtle). I opted for the Hot Chocolate with Shot of Coffee, and as the waiter was walking away I said, “Actually, can I have it cold?” He didn’t bat an eye.

I immediately noticed a curious thing about the tables at El Gato Cafe. They’re all equipped with buttons so you can page the waiter. He said, “Press it for three seconds and I’ll come right over,” which seemed a bit excessive since there was no one there and I’m pretty sure even from across the room he could hear the sound of me breathing. I noticed there was also a button labeled “Surprise,” which seemed mysterious to say the least. Letting my curiosity get the better of me, I started reaching for the surprise button, and as I reached for it I noticed the waiter eyeing me while he reached for what looked liked a clown mask and a meat clever. I put my my hand down, and he went back to making my drink.

My beverage came, which was, strangely, exactly what I’d asked for. It was a hot chocolate, with a shot of espresso, and at the last second it’d been made cold, as if an afterthought, much how I’d ordered it. I sat back and listened to the music, which had changed from Elton John to something worse. I kept on looking at the menu, since there’s not much else to do when you’re at a cat-themed cafe by yourself. I noticed many of the drinks and food items had cat-themed names, none of which I can remember now. One of them had the word “Miauuu” in it.

I finished the drink in about four seconds, since I have the self control of a Labrador retriever. Then I paid for the drink, which was prohibitively expensive, and exited out to the street and back to El Expiatorio, where they sell tamales for 17 pesos, or, less than a dollar. It was nice to be out of a cat-themed place and into a place that was cathedral-themed, or street-themed, or tamale-themed, or normal-themed, or anything else-themed, a considerable improvement from El Gato Cafe.

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Turning Left

el terrible juan guadalajara

“The only way round is through.” – Robert Frizzle 

This morning I woke up and did something I’d never done before when leaving the house: I turned left. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, turning left, but since I’ve been living in the house where I’m currently living, every single morning, when I’ve left the house to walk to work, or to walk to Starbucks, or to walk to similar cafe where I digitally scribble in this blog, I’ve turned right.

Of course, my reasons for turning right are manyfold. I love walking down Calle Libertad. It’s leafy, it’s airy, and if the time of day is just right you feel like you’re soaring rather than walking, such is the air of tranquility the street creates, the foliage. I also turn right because the places I usually go to, El Rincon del Mate, el Expiatorio, are most expeditiously reached by turning right. To turn left leaving my house would not only take me into a shabbier neighborhood, it would also add at least five minutes to my walk. To turn left would take me onto the busy Avenida de La Paz (I hate walking on busy streets), and it would also take my by an Oxxo, Mexico’s most ubiquitous gas station.

But of course the main reason I always turn right has to do with habit. It feels comfortable. It’s what I know. And thus any other scenario, turning left, for example, going straight and running into the building across the street, taking off my shirt and standing in the middle of the road screaming, would feel uncomfortable. We’re creatures of comfort — this is one thing I’ve figured out in my 34 years — and change scares even the most intrepid explorers.

After turning left and walking a few blocks I was immediately confronted with an arresting sight. As some of you know may know, I’m currently in the market for new lodging, a new apartment, a new abode, a new dwelling, new “digs,” as it were, and it just so happened that staring me in the face was a big banner that said, “For Rent. Shitloads of space. Roof terrace.”

Actually, it didn’t say shitloads of space, but the amount of square meters listed on the banner deserves no other moniker. The most intriguing part, though, was the terrace. Ever since a few days ago walking by a beautiful house with a veritable forest on top I’ve decided that the ultimate thing you could do in Guadalajara would be to have a terrace. I’m talking about terrace with a view and shade and most importantly, obscene amounts of plants. I’m talking about a jungle. I’m talking about a place where you step out onto the terrace and a Virginia Creeper wraps its tendrils around your neck and asks for the password. I’m talking about a place where you get lost and when you finally make it back to society you realize you’re in Belize. In short, I’m talking about the ideal roof terrace.

So of course I took a photo of the phone number for the apartment and plan to contact them sometime later today to see how many gross tons of bio-matter they think the roof terrace could support, and thus figure out if this might be the place for me.

After seeing this apartment I walked down Calle Montenegro, taking in the sights. There was a place called El Comedor that looked peaceful and elegant, with delicious food. There was a hotel called Hotel Isabel that looked suitable for visiting family members or friends, should that ever happen. And finally there was a restaurant called La Menuderia which specialized in menudo, a soup people have told me I must try but that in my obstinacy I still haven’t. And then I got to El Terrible Juan, my second favorite cafe in Guadalajara, and realized I’d been on a veritable odyssey, that my morning had been completely transformed, indeed my mentality had been transformed, and all because I’d turned left.

And so tomorrow, and later today, and for the rest of this week, I might not always turn left when I leave the house, but I will strive to do one thing each day in a similar vein. I’ve been complaining about my life getting stagnant in Guadalajara after just two months, but it actually might not be so difficult to remedy. It might just involve continuing to step outside my comfort zone, continuing to explore, continuing to meet new people, and of course, ideally, a roof terrace with a shitload of plants.

A Day at Andares, Guadalajara’s Swankiest Shopping Mall

plaza andares guadalajara

How much does living the dream cost? It turns out 82 pesos, or exactly $4.40. The dream involves sitting in a cafe in Andares, Guadalajara’s swankiest shopping mall sipping a “Green Black Tea.” The dream involves watching a Liverpool Champions League game while you sip said beverage. The dream involves shade. The dream involves disposable income. The dream might involve type 2 diabetes.

Eighty pesos is a lot to pay for a coffee in Mexico. I concede this fact. A fact I refuse to concede, however, is that this Black Green Tea, one of the sweetest substances I’ve ever put in my body and probably causing all kinds of physiological mayhem, is not 100% necessary.

I came to Andares today with the idea of buying another dress shirt, since my current dress shirt count is holding steady at one. I went to H&M, where I had a small crisis due to the fabric makeup of some of their shirts. Sixty five percent polyester? Isn’t polyester for used car salesmen? This crisis caused small amounts of sweating on my part, and also some taking of selfies in the dressing room. If you’ve never taken a picture of yourself in front of a mirror (i.e. are over the edge of 50), I don’t recommend it. It’s never flattering. You always look about 16 times worse than you thought you looked. And sending these selfies to friends so they can tell you which shirt they liked is not a good way to continue the process.  In fact, the more prudent option would be to throw your phone in the garbage can.

One thing I realized immediately upon arriving here is that I really like nice places. I consider myself an adaptable person. I’m currently living a room that costs less than $200 a month in a part of Guadalajara that would never be termed “nice.” My room is next to the entryway to the neighbor’s house, separated by a thin, single pane window. Yesterday, when they left the house, they left their rabid dog in the entryway, who proceeded to bark at any sound he perceived as a threat, which is to say, any sound. At one point I leaned close to the window to shush him, which only resulted in increased growling, albeit in my direction, the kinds of growls that said, “It would give me great pleasure to sink my teeth into your thigh.”

No one would ever call my home luxurious, but I find it completely acceptable, if not ideal. That said, I also love luxury. When I stepped onto the grounds of Andares I said to myself, “Ahhhhhhh, I’m home. This is what life is supposed to be like. Is that a fountain over there? Interesting, that grass looks perfectly manicured. Is that the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen? Is that a Gucci store?”

When I travel, I’m the same way. I’ve stayed in places people would call slum-like. I’ve hitch-hiked many hours on end. Slept in airports. Slept at bus stops. And the thing I like about roughing it sometimes is not only that it builds character and usually you meet way more people the less money you spend and have much richer experiences, but it also makes you appreciate luxury. Even when this blog becomes wildly successfully, I still won’t fly business class (all the time.) I won’t stay in nice hotels (exclusively). Because when it comes to traveling, I can’t think of a single time staying in a luxurious place directly produced a memorable travel experience, but I can think of many examples where roughing it did. The less money you spend, the more you rely on your fellow humans. The more money you spend, the more you shut yourself off from the world.

The problem with living the dream when your dream is a beverage with whip cream on top is that it’s short-lived. I’ve finished my Black Green Tea, whose name I still find mysterious, and will now head back to H&M and purchase the darker of the two shirts, since that’s what my fashion consultants (friends) have advised. And then I’ll get out of here, because if there’s one thing to be taken from this post it’s that luxury should be enjoyed in sparing doses; it only remains luxurious when the rest of your life is not. It will be hard to rip myself away from this place, though. It’s so comfortable. So swanky. If Guadalajara is my frappe, Plaza Andares is the whipped cream.

The 5 Best Cafes in Guadalajara (so far)

el rincon del mate guadalajara miguel blanco

These are my five favorite cafes in Guadalajara so far. I say “so far” because I’ve only lived here for two months. Still, when you go to cafes everyday, two months is a decent amount of time. The criteria I’ve used are atmosphere, price, quality, and staff, though not necessarily in that order (though definitely in that order). 

5. El Monosílabo

mono silabo guadalajara

Atmosphere: 4
Price: 4
Quality: 3
Staff: 4

Located in the exact neighborhood where I want to live, near El Rincon del Mate (see lower on list) and the famed Expiatorio, Guadalajara’s most magnificent neo-gothic cathedral. Like many old houses in GDL, this one contains a wonderful inner courtyard patio where the sounds of the street drift in and are filtered by the murmur of happy clients and cheap, fairly delicious frappes.

What to order: chilaquiles with a coffee frappe. 

4. Palreal: La Pura Crema

palreal cafe guadalajara mercado mexico

Atmosphere: 3
Price: 2
Quality: 5
Staff: N/A

Full disclosure: I’ve only been here once, and that one time was yesterday, but even getting an iced americano was enough to know their product is second to none (and third to none, for that matter). The good thing about Palreal is it’s got beautiful wooden, richly-finished picnic tables which are perfectly positioned for the breeze. The bad thing is it’s in Mercado Mexico, which is essentially a mall.

What to order: An iced americano. 

3. La Teteria

la teteria guadalajara

Atmosphere: 4
Price: 3
Quality: 4
Staff: 5

I dedicated a previous post to this place’s matcha frappes. They’re sweet, they’re cold, and drinking one is a little bit what I imagine injecting heroin might be like. Which makes me wonder if I might somehow be able to inject a matcha frappe. Does anyone know how to do an IV?

The staff here are wonderful, especially Gustavo, an Argentinian expat I often have extended conversations with, about Argentina, about Guadalajara, about mate, and about working online. Come for a matcha frappe, stay for an afternoon.

What to order: Duh.

2. El Terrible Juan

el terrible juan guadalajara

Atmosphere: 5
Price: 4
Quality: 5
Staff: 3

It’s a sad realization when a place is cooler than you. You walk in, you sit down, and you think, Damn, everyone here is so cool. Then you look down at your undershirt which is stained from the hydrogen peroxide you used to treat your ear last week at the beach. You look at your laptop bag, which is actually an old grocery bag. And you think, Wait a minute, can I actually be here? Am I going to be out-cooled to the point where I have to just leave? But you stay anyway, and talk to the cute waitress, and order a Chemex and write a blog post.

And that’s basically my experience every time I go to El Terrible Juan cafe.

What to order: Any of the specialty preparations with any of the beans. Also, try the lonche de cochinita

1. El Rincón del Mate

el rincon del mate guadalajara

Atmosphere: 5
Price: 4
Quality: 4
Staff: 5

Prepare to check your worries and preoccupations at the door, and spend a magical hour (or two, or three), sipping on South American tea and listening to the gurgle of a fountain. El Rincon del Mate is located just up the street from El Monosilabo, also in the Expiatorio neighborhood. I come here almost everyday. If they rented rooms, I’d live here. If they rented showers, I’d bathe here. Maybe one day they’ll hire me, and all will be right in the world.

What to order: A mate clasico with a tarta (quiche) de portobello. If you’re in the mood for something sweet or unique try the terere or the mate mocha.

If you know of any other cafes in Guadalajara that are amazing please leave a 500-3000 word comment in the comments section. Any comment of lesser word count will be categorically rejected.

A special thanks to all of these cafes for providing inspiration and thus supporting this “blugh.”

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El Mono Silabo

mono silabo guadalajara

I’m at el Mono Silabo, a cafe in the Americana neighborhood in Guadalajara. I’d never come to this cafe before because it’s two doors down from El Rincon del Mate, the one mate cafe in Guadalajara and possibly in all of Mexico, and where I go at least several times a week. But today El Rincon del Mate doesn’t open till 2:30pm, so I thought I’d give this place a shot.

I’m glad I did. When I walked in there was Cuban music playing, and the courtyard was awash with light and people talking. Guadalajara is full of buildings like this; they don’t look like much from the outside, but inside there’s always an open air courtyard filled with plants, and the sounds of the street become a memory. Sometimes there’s a fountain, and always the din of soft music and conversation. El Mono Silabo has a big room off to the side that’s filled with floor to ceiling windows that let in the breeze, and also shelves of books. I love being surrounded by books. It feeds my soul, much like the jugo verde, or green juice I just ordered, that feeds my body.

I just finished giving my last English conversation class on Saturdays. This was the first job I ever had here when I arrived a month and a half ago. I’ll tell you what it paid now, because it’s over and I’m less embarrassed. Fifty pesos an hour. I’ll let you do the math. When you do you’ll see why I referred to it as my “volunteer job,” but when I accepted this job it was because I knew it was the right thing to do. The pay was secondary. It was a way to hit the ground running (see: jogging [see: slowly]), to meet people, to have meaningful interactions. And it’s also opened doors. I’m now one of two Spanish teachers at the American Consulate here, which is another job I accepted at the same company because I figured it might open doors. I’m still not quite sure what doors these might be. So far it’s just another underpaid job. But it’s also cool to meet people from the consulate, to see that world, and if I hadn’t accepted that job that never would’ve happened.

The reason I quit the English conversation job is because I now have a lot more online work, and this work pays over three times as much as what the Saturday conversation class was paying. This is not to say it pays a lot, because it doesn’t, but it pays a respectable wage for Mexico. I’m still not in the financial position to get my own place. I spent all of my savings in Sayulita, so I’ll have to wait till mid March, unless I somehow sell an article to the New York Times or other such massive publication, which might be hard since I’m not submitting articles to such publications. But I have this strange feeling that I’m going to come into a decent amount of money soon. Have you ever had that feeling? It’s a good feeling. It reminds me of the J.D. Salinger quote:  “I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.”

That’s kind of how I feel right now.

I’m debating whether or not to order a coffee, or a frappe, but really just enjoying the music that’s drifting in from the adjacent courtyard. My nostrils are being intermittently assaulted by some kind of sewage smell from the street, and I’m not sure where it’s coming from. I’m supposed to work on my novel today, at least 1,000 words, and I can’t be bothered. All I want to do is take a nap. Which is fine. Because it’s Saturday, and Saturday’s in Mexico are for cafes and naps.

Crucial information: 
El Mono Silabo
Calle Miguel Blanco 1405, Guadalajara
See photos

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My Other Favorite Cafe in Guadalajara

You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together. – Anthony Bourdain

I already wrote about my favorite cafe in Guadalajara, a place called El Terrible Juan that has cute waitresses and serves coffee that isn’t horrible. In fact, yesterday I tried their aeropress for the first time and would describe how I felt afterward as, “Not massively disappointed.” It still wasn’t great, and the fact of the matter is coffee in Latin America generally sucks, but it was palatable, well-prepared, and tasted at least semi-recently roasted. It also made me feel like a mad genius for the next couple of hours, which is the mark of good coffee. Bad coffee makes me feel anxious and like the world is crumbling around me; good coffee makes me feel like the world is crumbling but that I’ll emerge from the rubble unscathed.

But on to Rendezvous, my other favorite cafe. Rendezvous lies on the corner of Calle Colonias and Calle Libertad, and was the first cafe/restaurant I ever went to in Guadalajara. It’s one of those places you walk by, especially at night, and the lighting is chic and romantic and cozy, like the only people who go there are bohemian artist types who somehow don’t smell bad, and you think, “Damn, I want to be there.” And so you go there, and you realize the product isn’t expensive and that it’s good, the pizza for example only costs 50 pesos ($2.68), a glass of wine 40 pesos ($2.14), and the music good and often live and people are having a good time and are generally bohemian artist types (aka the modern version aka graphic designers), though whether they smell good or not I haven’t confirmed.

Rendezvous is supposed to be a French cafe/restaurant. There is nothing French about this place except the name. Sure, some of the drinks have names of famous French people. Yesterday I ordered a “Monet,” which was some kind of fruity tea with lemon and honey. I don’t exactly see what’s French about that. And the menu includes things like pizza and nachos, which again don’t strike me as particularly French. The service is the only thing that might be vaguely French, in that many of the servers seem slightly arrogant and are wont to forget about you for hours (see: minutes) on end. It’s the kind of place where you order one thing, they bring you another, and the general feeling is, “Look, I know what you ordered. But I also know what you need.”

Rendezvous is only open in the evenings and lies in the prestigious Chapultepec neighborhood of Guadalajara, a block from the American Consulate and across from the fresa Mercado Mexico, a place where people go to spend too much on yoga and Asian food prepared by Mexicans who have no idea how to prepare Asian food (Note: Latin Americans generally have no idea how to prepare Asian food. I went to an upscale “Thai” restaurant in Bogota one time and they served Phad Thai with linguine noodles).

If you go to Rendezvous, be prepared for wonderful ambience, live music (on the weekends), decent food, great prices, and waiters who might not be incredibly attentive but will make you love them anyway. I’m falling more in love with Guadalajara everyday, and this cafe/restaurant is one of many reasons why.

Details:

Rendezvous-Cafe

Libertad 1903, Americana, 44170 Guadalajara, Jal.

rendezvousgdl.wixsite.com

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Sunday Night Thoughts #4

rooftops guadalajara

I’m sitting in my living room in GDL listening to this song:

And I recommend you do the same while you read this post, because then it will be like we shared something, like we were together, even if it was just for a moment.

Sundays are my boring day. I know what they say: There’s no such thing as boredom, only boring people. Or at least I’m pretty sure they say this. I don’t know who “they” are. I think “they” drive Subarus and do a lot of rock climbing. Because actually the sticker I’ve seen on some Subaru Outbacks (and it’s always Subaru Outbacks) is: If you’re bored, you’re boring.

Well, I can’t help it. I’m boring.

Today I did the following: Went to Starbucks, worked my Instagram job, and also tried to do another job for the same company. But this time it was a speech recording task that required two native speakers of English. And since I don’t know any English speakers here, I tried to do both people myself. If you’ve never tried to have a conversation with yourself in which you pretend to be two completely different people, talking in completely different accents, I highly recommend it. It’s a one-way ticket to the loony bin. At first I was “Ed, from Birmingham,” but my English accent started sounding a bit Kiwi, and besides I have no idea what people from Birmingham sound like. I then pivoted and became me and also “Ed, from just outside Nashville, systems engineer.” The problem is I don’t know what people from Nashville sound like, so I think my accent was Texan. Also, I have no idea what systems engineers do. Not a clue. So I asked “Ed,” (aka myself) “What do systems engineers do anyway?” and “Ed” tried to explain but for the life of him couldn’t.  In the end I gave up on this endeavor. I’ll have to solicit the help of one of my co-workers at the English school where I work, which means I’ll have to split the money. Unless one of you can explain to me what a systems engineer does.

In the afternoon I went to La Teteria and drank a glass of Lapsang Souchong, ate a chocolate brownie and worked on my novel. I asked the waiter where he was from, because I was pretty sure he was French, and he said, “Argentina.” Talk about a curve ball. Talk about a knuckleball. Talk about a split finger fastball. Talk about a spitball. Talk about a Jamie Moyer changeup. We talked for a few minutes and I told him some of the places I’d been in Argentina, what I was doing in GDL, and he told me why he was in GDL. I liked talking to this young Argentinian man, though I’m still not fully convinced he’s Argentinian. I’m now convinced he’s a young Frenchman masquerading as an Argentinian/Mexican.

I’ve moved on from that first song. I’m now listening to this song and suggest you do the same:

Are you listening? Don’t lie to me. Put headphones in if you have to. I’ll give you a second.

OK.

Where was I?

Ah, yes, food. I have to go to Soriana now, the local grocery store, and buy my staple dinner: Cup o’ Noodles, a red delicious apple from Washington State that makes me a bit nostalgic every time I buy one, and an empanada.

I hope you have wonderful Sunday night, and a wonderful week.