Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Spirits of Mexico

Tequila? Si! Cervesa? Si! Wine? Uh, not so much...

 As wine and beer lovers, Nancy and I like to sample local offerings when we travel. We have visited vineyards and wineries, breweries and beer pubs in many states and countries. In the twenty years of coming to Mexico, we have judged the local wines barely passable and, at times, undrinkable. Until now. But more on that later.
Cortez, planter of first vineyard in the Americas
 [image from Wikipedia]

 First, some history. After Cortez conquered the Aztec empire in 1521, his celebratory party quickly finished off the Spanish wine that had sailed with them. On his next voyage, Cortez brought vines from Spain and planted the first vineyard in the Americas in 1597. The first winery, still in existence in the mountainous state of Queretaro north of Mexico City, today is called Casa Madero.

 Eventually the New World wineries began producing so much wine that the colonists no longer needed imports from Spain. That made for some unhappy merchants across the Atlantic. Finally the King of Spain forbade the retail production of wine in Mexico. Churches could produce enough for their needs, but could not sell any. The clergy, though, having enjoyed their nice little income stream, were not about to kow-tow to the distant king.

Father Hidalgo [image from Wikipedia]

 The first battle of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810 was fought over Father Hidalgo's vineyard, which he had refused to pull up. Hidalgo, the great hero of the revolution, is as revered as George Washington is in the U.S.

 Today, ninety percent of Mexican wine comes from the Baja region, and that is where the highest quality of wine is produced. The Guadalupe Valley hopes to rival the Napa Valley some day.

 Nancy and I visited La Europea wine shop in Cancun, and on the advice of staff, bought an Orlandi label merlot/cabernet blend from La Redonda Winery in Queretaro. It's a winner and bodes well for the Baja wines we haven't tried.

Nancy with spent bottles of Orlandi
Although Mexican wine is coming of age, it accounts for only a fraction of the sales of liquor in Mexico. It is highly taxed and expensive compared to beer and tequila. While once only tourists and the social elite in Mexico City indulgmoreed, wine drinking is expanding. Just the other night when we were having dinner at Mineno's, a local hole-in-the-sand restaurant on Isla Mujeres, we noticed a Mexican couple enjoying a chilled white.

 The times are changing. And that goes for beer, too. Isla Mujeres will soon have its very own micro-brewery. For information about that joyful development, check out Isla Brewing.

 Finally, we can buy more local products. Now that's something to say "Cheers!" about!

Egg-streme Massage

Bette Davis's quip "Old age isn't for sissies" applies to undergoing a Mayan massage with native Islanian Martha. It takes fortitude. This middle-aged woman has the strength of a linebacker.

 Nancy's and my favorite massage therapist on Isla Mujeres, Maria Luisa Harmel (see blog post Mystic Massage), has been back in the U.S. for awhile, so we needed an alternate. We asked around, and Martha [pronounced Marta] was recommended.

 Martha's husband acts as the massage table sherpa, hauling it up to our 3rd floor condo. After he leaves, Martha sets up the table and covers it with our beach towels. She doesn't cover us with anything. It's simple and easy, and we don't have to leave home.

Nancy gets the egg treatment from Martha

 With an uncooked egg in hand, Martha raps various parts of the body. The egg responds to energy blockages and tells her where to work. These are not all gentle taps. They can be hard knocks, especially on the skull. If an egg breaks, it means the egg couldn't contain all the negative energy, and Martha digs in. Nancy has been having bronchial challenges, and two eggs broke, one on her back and one on a meridian that Martha says corresponds to her lungs. Without Nancy having told her, Martha zeroed in on the points that support lung health. Martha can go as deep and hard as we let her. I felt pain, but let her work on my blockages.

After two massages that felt extreme, the third time I asked for a gentle massage and she lightened up and give me the fluff and buff treatment, very relaxing. We like Martha and are pleased that she can adjust the intensity of her massage. We also like the Mayan customs of requiring no covering towel, massaging the belly, and, now, employing an egg as a diagnostic tool.

 After the massage, no one is to touch the egg. It contains energy that should not be released into the world. Martha puts the egg directly into the garbage.

 Martha comes from one of the original families on the island--born in 1966--when it was a sleepy fishing community, and what is now Cancun just a coconut plantation. When she was young, huge lobsters could be plucked a few steps from the beach. Now, fishermen have to travel miles off shore to find big lobsters. [For a wonderful history of the island see the blog in Isla Mujeres Magazine.]

Nancy and Becky at pool at Nautibeach on North Beach
 Still there is the fabulous north beach, voted one of the top ten of beaches in the world on Trip Advisor, and Isla Mujeres itself, voted the 6th best island in the world. There is plenty to love on Isla. Now we can add Martha to the list.

The Ruins of Cancun

Entryway to the museum

When we think of Mayan ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun does not spring to mind. But Cancun's Hotel Zone boasts a small, but impressive archaelological site called San Miguelito, which now includes a beautiful new 4400 square-foot museum. The well-lit exhibitions halls are three-stories above ground level to prevent damage from storms and flooding.

Nancy by the steps of The Palace

The  Cancun Maya Museum displays artifacts from the immediate area, as well as from larger sites in the Yucatan, such as Chichen Itza and Tulum. It contains a wide ranging sample of Mayan art, architecture, and jewelry. Nancy and I were particularly impressed with the beautiful ceramics.

 The skeleton of "The Woman of the Palms," dated from 10,000 years ago, is on display. Her remains along with tools were discovered in a cenote (underground cave with water) in 2002. A holographic representation of the ancient woman shows her curing an animal skin while her mate makes a spear.

 Nearby are the ruins of El Rey that are larger and a worth a visit, too. Nancy and I explored them a couple of years ago. The Cancun Maya Museum, though, is a must see for anyone interested in the history and culture of an amazing civilization.

Nancy and Becky outside the museum

Monday, February 10, 2014

Books, Talks, and Tennis

Charlene Elderkin, standing, and 4 Twin Cities
contributors to her book Where the Tree Falls,
 a Forest Rises,
at the Minnesota book launch
In this last of my random ravings about 2013, I want to mention a publishing highlight you may not know about.  Becky and I each had a chapter in Where the Tree Falls, a Forest Rises: Stories of Death and Renewal, an inspirational anthology of true stories of personal renewal following the death of a loved one. The June Minnesota book launch at our home featured six Twin Cities contributors and the editor from Viroqua, WI, Charlene Elderkin.

Three other books have deeply touched me this year. In the tiny library at Present Moment yoga retreat in Mexico, I happened upon 29 Gifts, Cami Walker's 2009 memoir about the power of giving away a gift for 29 days in a row. This spiritual practice transformed my life for a month. I wish I were still doing it, but despite the rewards, it's surprisingly difficult to persevere. When I do remember, the results can be astonishing and miraculous .

Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping has had a deeper effect. Tipping presents such a different approach to forgiveness that I can't describe it here. I recommend both the book and the CD, read by the author, for any of you who, like me, have a tendency to blame or resent.

A third transformative book is Philip Shepherd's New Self, New World. You may have read about the "brain in the belly" a few month ago in the popular press. The book is so much more profound than that catch-phrase suggests. I'm savoring it slowly, but even after just 96 pages, I am more often staying "sensationally present" to what is.

You also may not know about presentations we did in 2013. Becky and I spoke about our lives at a monthly meeting of the Northern Iowa chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Mason City, Iowa. After what we thought was an interesting gracefully choreographed talk, we didn't sell a single copy of our 5 books, reminding us how fortunate we are that our income doesn't depend on our speaking or writing. A more enjoyable aspect of Mason City was discovering that Meridith Wilson's home town boasts a Music Man Museum, celebrating one of our all-time favorite musicals.

Two Harbors Public Library program on
Home Funerals and Green Burials
I did 3 presentations with Carolyn Laine on home funerals and green burials. The first, initiated by my brother Jim at the Two Harbors Public Library, resulted in an excellent article in the local newspaper and an overflow crowd at the library, the biggest turnout they have had for any topic, the librarian said.

The highlight of our  presentation at the Women and Spirituality Conference at Minnesota State University in Mankato was that my sister Pat Anderson showed up. She understands better now why Becky and I are committed to helping families know that when a loved one dies, they don't have to call a funeral director. The spectrum of ecological, economical, and spiritually satisfying alternatives to a conventional commercial funeral can make a big difference, personally and environmentally. It's great to have the support of all my Minnesota siblings for this work of the heart.

My third presentation with Carolyn Laine was at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community. Even though the temperatures were below zero and Minneapolis streets were clogged with snow, 40 people attended. One was a Madelia High School classmate, a man I hadn't seen since we graduated. Carolyn and other members of the Minnesota Threshold Network have done many other presentations around the state, with more scheduled for 2014.

Tennis injury -- imprint of the metal
racket frame visible on my nose
A final 2013 highlight is that Becky learned to play tennis, a sport I have loved, but not played enough, for almost 6 decades. We have been taking lessons through the Senior Tennis Players Club and, as a natural athlete, Becky is already competition for me. IT IS SO MUCH FUN to play beside or against her, as well as good physical and mental exercise.

Of course, tennis is not without its risks. For example, a person can take a racket blow to the face when her partner lunges for a lob because he doesn't realize she is already there, waiting to make the shot. Luckily, nothing was broken, and the colorful eyes and swollen nose healed quickly, thanks to ice and homeopathic remedies.

So. There are some personal highlights of 2013. Whether or not anyone ever reads these blog posts, I have loved writing them, being repeatedly flooded with gratitude for the abundant blessings of an amazingly rich, full, and happy year. Namaste.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

With 1,000 Women on a Caribbean Beach

Club Med, Dominican Republic
Yes, a few of those women are topless
Another 2013 highlight took place in the Dominican Republic with San Francisco-based Olivia, a lesbian travel company. Founded 40 years ago by 3 visionaries to produce music by Chris Williamson, Meg Christian, Holly Near and other pioneers of the women's music movement, Olivia now     offers dozens of yearly resort vacations and cruises, from
Alsaka and Africa to Turkey and Tierra del Fuego.

My ex, Barbara Evans, and her partner Patricia -- for their picture, see "Friendly
Connections" below -- told us about their plan to go on the Olivia 40-year anniversary cruise in March. Becky and I were still in Mexico then, but we signed up for the anniversary resort week in May. Olivia generously offered me a mid-afternoon workshop slot and announced a publication party for the newly revised Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence.

Passing the microphone at Lesbian Nuns event
But who would tear themselves away from a Caribbean beach or a poolside mojito to attend a workshop? I told the organizers to remove half of the 40 chairs they'd circled under a large palapa roof. It would be embarrassing and difficult to facilitate a conversation with 5 or 6 participants sprinkled over so many seats.

But I was wrong. Within minutes of the starting time, all the removed chairs were back in the circle. Latecomers sat on a stone wall or leaned against pillars.

Empty chair next to me belongs to Becky, who took this picture
I asked people about their connection to the book. Poignant stories emerged from lesbian ex-nuns or their partners, who had read LNBS when it was published in 1985. Others had simply heard the title and were intrigued. A few women were struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their religion. A Minneapolis couple we had met the day before simply came to support us.

We felt safe to express affection all week
As I answered questions and showed the differences between the 1985 Naiad Press edition and the new Bella Books edition, I was grateful that what began as a journey of personal healing has ended up touching so many lives. For that story, see my blogpost New Lesbian Nuns below.

The workshop was one of many highlights of a remarkable week. As Becky and I relaxed into the safety and freedom of a women's community, we felt more expansive, more loving. By mid-week, it seemed that most of the 1,000 Olivia women were experiencing something similar, as if a current of trusting, open-hearted energy embraced and connected us all. My only other experience of this phenomenon was at the week-long Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

White night dance, for Olivia's 40th anniversary
Actually, this was a week-long music festival. The daytime dance classes and evening dancing had Becky and me out on the floor for 2 to 3 hours a day. The nightly concerts with comedians and musicians exploded with energy. A powerful documentary about Chris Williamson's ground-breaking 1975 album Changer and the Changed made us weep. Chris herself, now white-haired and with a voice that still moves us deeply, performed a whole concert of her funny, tender, mystical music.

NanBec with Chris Williamson the day after her Olivia concert
The next day, Chris sold and signed copies of the twenty-some albums she has released since Changer and the Changed and took a few moments to chat with Becky and me.

The all-inclusive resort, a first for us, was expensive. But Olvia does things other travel companies don't. Olivia reserves an entire resort or cruise ship, whether 500 or 1000 women sign up. Prominent feminists like Edie Windsor, Maya Angelou, Lily Tomlin, Melissa Etheridge, and Martina Navratilova offer workshops. Olivia bring their own staff, who facilitate excursions and other activities as well as handle any challenges that arise. Resort and ship employees are given sensitivity training. Guests can relax, knowing that for at least a week, they won't have to deal with homophobic attitudes and behaviors. For some, it's the first time they have ever held hands or kissed in public.

Olivia is a change-agent, confronting anti-gay attitudes in ports from Turkey to the Bahamas and giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to community organizations. Olivia's dynamic founder and president, Judy Dlugacz, has even organized three round-table discussions with Michelle Obama, who apparently enjoys having breakfast with a group of politically astute lesbians.

Becky and I hope to join the "LADIES OF OLIVIA" again someday.

A pina colada on a Caribbean beach with Becky and
a thousand other lesbians. Life doesn't get much better.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Friendly Connections

Carolyn Laine, Nancy, Becky, and Kitty Johnson at a Minnesota
State Park, camping in comfort in Kitty's little Navion RV
Another highlight of 2013 was time with friends. I wrote about the weddings of our closest couple friends, Ruth/Sandra Jo, and Amy/Terry (see "Love is the Law!" below).

But Becky and I were blessed with many sweet experiences with other friends as well. A sampling, in no particular order:

Costa Rican friend Joanna Marsh and Beverly McFarland,
of Albuquerque, on the Isla Mujeres ferry
Carolyn Laine's daughter Anniki Laine and Tom McDougall,
from Washington, D.C., on our Nautibeach balcony
We'll officiate at their Virginia wedding in October 2014
Patricia and my former partner Barbara
during a stay at their home in California
My oldest Napa Valley friend, Ruth Baetz, now of Seattle,
giving Becky and me a docent tour of the Japanese Garden

Myra Williams,
My old Living in Process friend
from Oakland, CA

Old friend Ann Risch, from U of Minnesota activist days and
 newer ally-friend Linda Bergh from Minn. Threshold Network

My 67th birthday with Elsa Greene, my
graduate school friend (Illinois State University) 1970-72

With Sandy Pollock and Ana Zamora, buddies from Costa Rica,
on a sunset cruise near Isla Mujeres

Hiking in Napa with my godson Oscar Vega and his little brother Diego,
children of Caitlin Vega, grandsons of dear friend Lauren Coodley

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Family Ties

Tim and Kate Manahan after snorkeling

Other big highlights of 2013 involved our families. My brother Bill and his son's family spent a week with us on Isla Mujeres, a first for them. Becky and I delighted in watching Tim, Kate, Jansen, and Owen discover the joys of our favorite place on earth.

Jansen and Owen Manahan, Isla Mujeres

We attended the Idaho wedding of Becky's nephew Scott and spent ten days in California with two of Bill's other sons, our sisters, and my godson's family, as well as many friends. 

Sarah and Becky's nephew Scott Havens arriving for their wedding
Ponderosa State Park, McCall, Idaho
Salad and grilled chicken with Ric Havens' and Vicki Bohan at their home in Lincoln, CA

Vicki Bohan and Becky Bohan near Vicki and Ric's cabin in Arnold, CA
Our first visit to Disney World, Orlando
We visited Universal Studios and Disney World with my sister Pat Anderson's family, screaming our way through stomach-dropping attractions and meandering through Disney exhibitions with an educational veneer. Harry Potter World was our favorite area, from Hogwarts to Butter Beer. Now Becky is reading all the Harry Potter books, following the example of Pat's grandchildren.

After five exhilarating days in Orlando, we drove across the Florida Panhandle with Pat and two of her grandchildren, Norah and Emmet, to St. Georges Island for our annual 5-7-day reunion. This year only 36 Manahan descendants showed up at this beautiful but very hot and humid beach location, not for the faint of heart.

Another highlight was the annual Work/Fun Day at Pat and Steve's farm in Madelia. Three generations of Andersons and Manahans pruned trees, stacked firewood, cleaned barns, and did other major and minor chores to keep the family homestead in good repair.

Manahan/Anderson annual family reunion, August 2014, St. Georges Island, Florida
Nancy's nephew Mark, with Norah and Emmet Anderson, Wakulla State Park, Florida, riverboat cruise
Bridge with niece Chuchang Chiu and grand-nephew Jimmy Manahan
Becky and I played a lot of bidge with those three generations at the family reunion and back in Minnesota with my siblings, a surprisingly deep pleasure full of intense competition, side-splitting laughter, and sips of Xtabentun, our favorite liqueur from the Yucatan, or Brady's Irish Cream-- better than Bailey's, we've discovered.

Becky and me getting ready to bid a grand slam--dream on--with my brother Bill and my sister Pat 
The four bridge-playing Manahan siblings, Madelia

And finally, 2013 marked the tenth year that Bill has been living with us at Rustic Lodge, a rich, playful, productive, joyful blessing in our lives.

Bill Manahan at Nautibeach Condos on Playa Norte with a fresh-pineapple home-made pina colada.

 Yes, the sand really is that fine and white, one of the miracles of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, just voted number 6 in Trip Advisor's list of the 10 best islands in the world