Soy tu Duena is a Telenovela (in which) Fernando . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Jun 30, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 15

. . . Colunga plays a very cute cowboy!

And this is important because . . . ?

Three reasons.

First of all, let’s hear it for the Mexican cowboys in general. If it weren’t for the charros, we would never have had the words lasso, or rodeo, or corral or even known about chili over a campfire. You know, let’s just consider for a moment where many of our Western equestrian skills come from. Not John Wayne, I assure you.

Secondly, let’s hear it for specific Mexican cowboys like my neighbor Felipe who taught Dave how to spray the cows for flies yesterday. No, we did not spritz them with little bottles of OFF. The whole deal required a backpack sprayer and a huge hose. Plus we, had to lure them into the corral and then into another smaller pen all the while making sure to mantener la calma , because you sure as hell don’t want to piss off a 1500 pound steer who is about to get his “private parts” (as Felipe so delicately put it for my benefit) hosed down with RAID or whatever it was.

And finally, let’s hear it for Fernando Colunga who plays a poor but honest rancher in the telenovela SoytuDuena. It is with his help I am going to get through the hottest part of the summer.

Up here we get a few 100 degree days–hot as a furnace. I plan for them the way people in Minnesota must plan for blizzards. I stockpile things to drink, easy things to cook and yes, Mexican telenovelas (You can order Soy tu Duena from Amazon). I call it “practicing my Spanish.” Right. Okay. Whatever.

There was a theory floating around when I was teaching that claimed you had to activate the limbic section of your students’ brains if you wanted them to retain the lesson, and ladies, if Fernando Colunga does not activate your brain, you need to call 911 immediately. Something is seriously wrong!

A brief plot summary of Soy tu Duena, which, in this setting, means “I’m Your Boss-Lady”:

Valentina, a rich girl from Mexico City has been jilted at the altar, so she retreats to her family’s fabulous hacienda in the state of Hidalgo. She’s used to ordering people around and getting what she wants. Here’s Valentina making that point very clear to Jose Miguel.

Girls, you don’t even NEED to SPEAK Spanish to get the whole story, but let’s continue.

Needless to say, getting all attitudinal with Jose Miguel doesn’t go over too well. He takes an instant dislike to the rich chilanga. But, when Valentina is bitten by a rattlesnake, who comes to the rescue? Jose Miguel. He carries her to his little ranchito, rips off his shirt to make a tourniquet, and then sucks the venom out of her foot.

What a gentleman. Que caballero! See what I mean about Mexican cowboys?

Never mind that her foot would have already turned blue and would have swollen to about the size of Rhode Island. The Spanish translation of “willing suspension of disbelief” is Fernando Colunga.

Poor Dave is going to have to put up with this for I don’t know how many episodes. But hey, it’s payback time. How long did the NBA season last? And before that, football season? When my whole TV room turned into man land?

Maybe you actually live in Minnesota. My advice? Save this telenovela— Soy tu Duena—, or other telenovelas you can get on Netflix, for the depths of winter. You’ll instantly be transported to the tierra del sol. Trust me. These soap operas ARE NOT your mother’s “As the World Turns”.

I don’t know how you picture Alejandro from Palace of the Blue Butterfly. Maybe something like the picture on the right? Not bad, huh? Maybe a little greyer, a little older, but still a brooding version of . . . Fernando Colunga.

Something to keep in mind when you listen to the next episode.


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Rick Bayless’s Recipe Agua de Jamaica

Posted by admin on Thursday Jun 23, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 14

Mercado FlorIf you live in California, you’re bound to have some little grocery store that looks like the one on the left. This is my top mercadito for all the special things I need for Mexican cooking— tamarindo, nopales, all kinds of dried chiles and those lovely little dried hibiscus flowers called flores de jamaica in Spanish.

After a cold rainy spring, summer is finally here in the Sierras, and I’m going to give you a great recipe for a drink called agua de jamaica, the perfect tart/sweet refreshment for sipping on hot, dry days with a book in your hand and the fan turning back and forth as you read.

The first time I had agua de jamaica was in Oaxaca. We’d been roaming the markets in the sweltering spring heat. I was looking for an all white huipil and falda from Mitla—the one that Lili wears at the birthday party she throws. The picture on the right even LOOKS hot, doesn’t it?

Dave had been a really good sport, lugging my purchases around, but I could tell he was done.

When he suggested a drink in the cool of the sheltered patio at the ex-convento de Santa Catalina, now the Camino Real Hotel, I said sure.

Well, Dave ordered a beer, but that would have put me to sleep for the rest of the day. I didn’t want the ubiquitous Coca-cola they always offer, so one of the waiters suggested agua de jamaica.

It arrived at my table—an amazing garnet red color— in one of those hand-blown glasses that are the color of sea water. On top they’d placed a beautiful peach colored hibiscus flower. If you live in the south where those things grow, you could add that little touch.

Anyway, here’s Rick Bayless’s version of this delicious beverage.

Rick Bayless’s Agua de Jamaica


2 cups dried jamaica flowers
1 1/4 cups sugar


In a medium non-reactive saucepan, bring 1 1/2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the “Flowers” and sugar. Stir for a minute or so, while the liquid returns to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Cover and let steep for an hour, but no more than two.

Pour the mixture through a strainer into a large pyrex bowl, pressing on the “flowers” to extract as much
liquid as possible. Stir in three cups of water and chill in a glass pitcher, one that won’t stain!

Enjoy your summer!


Jamaica     [wpaudio url=”″ text=”Episode 14 – click and listen” dl=”0″]

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Camping in the Sierras, Late Spring

Posted by admin on Thursday Jun 16, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 13

I don’t know where you’ll be when you read this, but I’m going hiking, and, if we can finish all the chores around here, we’re planning to car camp. Yes, by a river. I just want to be sitting on a rock, reading a book, listening to the rush of a waterfall as it tumbles over granite into a blue-green pool.

Raymond Chandler Book CoverWhat am I reading? Well, it’s almost summer, and since the book group just hefted Anna Karenina, mentally and physically (Best. Novel. Ever.), we’re reading something lighter, or maybe darker — Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. But hey — look at what the critics say about it.

“Raymond Chandler was one of the finest prose writers of the 20th century. He wrote like an angel.” Literary Times

“Nobody can write like Chandler on his home turf, not even Faulkner.” The Boston Book Review

“Raymond Chandler invented a new way of talking about America, and America has never been the same since.” Paul Auster

Anyway, it’ll be a great read on a rock in the sun or by the campsite at night with the light of the kerosene lamp. Can’t wait. And for this expedition, I’m making a great vegetarian chili.

Here’s the recipe.



6 cups of Rick Bayless’s homemade pinto beans (recipe follows)
3 TBS. vegetable oil
3 onions chopped
1 diced carrot (must be diced small. You want the sweetness and a little crunch, but not hunks of carrot)
2 diced SWEET red peppers( not hot!)
4 cloves garlic minced
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 chopped chipotle chili in adobo
2 tsps. dried cumin
1/2 Gebhardt’s chili powder
1 cup diced green chilis
salt to taste
dash of sherry or cider vinegar
cayenne to taste
sour cream, cilantro, chopped onion, cheese, flour tortillas


Saute onion in vegetable oil until translucent. Add carrot, followed by red pepper and saute until tender but not mushy. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, but do not let it brown. Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT vinegar and cayenne. Simmer for fifteen minutes. Add the cooked beans and simmer another ten minutes or so.

Taste for salt and heat. Add the cayenne, a small amount at a time, until you reach the level of heat you want. Follow with a splash of vinegar. Sometimes I skip this and serve the chili with a wedge of lime because it’s pretty.

Add chopped raw onion, grated cheddar cheese, cilantro, sour cream to the bowls as you like. Serve chili with warm flour tortillas and cold beer.

So I’ll pack the cooler with the above, plus blue corn pancake mix for breakfast. All that’s needed is the red checked tablecloth, a mason jar for some wildflowers and a couple of oil lamps. Plus a table with a view of the King’s River.

Just me and my guy. Heaven.



Rick Bayless’s Frijoles de Olla

1 lb. pinto beans
vegetable oil
1 large onion
1 clove garlic

Soak beans overnight in 7 cups of water. Discard water.
Saute onions in large dutch oven for ten minutes. Let them get a little brown.
Add garlic and saute until fragrant.
Add beans and 6 cups of water.
Cook until tender.
Add salt to taste only after the beans are done.


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Kathryn Blair: In the Shadow of the Angel

Posted by admin on Thursday Jun 9, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 12

Remember when I said that I loved crumbling old villas? Must have been early imprinting. On drives around the south, my mother would always find these abandoned, old plantations in places like Georgetown, South Carolina and the like, would stop the car, and I’d find myself stomping through the kudzu, peering through broken windows into destroyed relics of the past. Anyway, take a look at this incredible building, smack dab in the middle of Mexico City.

Don’t you wonder who lived there and what their lives were like? Well if you do, I have a treat in store for you!

Meet Antonieta Rivas Mercado. This falling down mansion was her childhood home.



Sombra del Angel book coverA few weeks ago, my friend Frances in Mexico wrote me about her friend Kathryn Blair who has just published an English version of her very popular novel In the Shadow of the Angel. It sold 200,000 copies in Mexico and is being made into a telenovela with Televisa—kind of a Mexican mini-series. The novel is a fictional account of Antonieta’s life, really beautifully written. I want to hand a copy to any and everyone and say, “You’ve got to read this!” (Get it on Amazon now!)

Antonieta Rivas Mercardo, the daughter of the architect who designed and built the iconic Angel of Independence, was a fascinating woman, a rebel and patron of the arts during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Really, she shaped modern Mexican culture. Here are a few of her accomplishments: She founded Mexico’s first contemporary theater—the Teatro de Ulises— as well as the Orquestra Sinfonica Nacional. She supported the publication of literary reviews and books by the rising stars of the Modernist movement. And, she accomplished all this when women had few rights and could not even vote!



How she did all this during the tumultuous period of the revolution makes In the Shadow of the Angel compelling reading. Add to that a disastrous marriage and a passionate love affair with presidential candidate Jose Vasconcelos, and you can see why Televisa wants to make a telenovela out of this book!

After Vasconcelos lost the election, Antonieta fled Mexico for Paris. There she found herself up against the cruel realities that women who flaunted society’s conventions faced at that time. Here’s a link to a little Youtube interview with the author Kathryn Blair who just happens to be married to Antonieta’s son Donald Blair.The interview takes place in the house you see in the beginning of this post.

And now when you imagine Lili walking down the Avenida Reforma, think about the winged sculpture, the winged spirit (perhaps) of Antonieta hovering over her.


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Leonora Carrington: 1917-2011

Posted by admin on Thursday Jun 2, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 11

“I am as mysterious to myself as I am mysterious to others.” Leonora Carrington

The great surrealist artist Leonora Carrington died on May 25, 2011 in Mexico City. She was 94. It was weird because my friend Frances in Mexico and I had just been e-mailing each other about Leonora, and Frances was telling me about the time she met her a couple of years ago. I’d mentioned to Frances that I was going to write a bit about Andre Breton and the group of European exiles who, fleeing persecution from the Nazis, came to Mexico in the early forties. They were a remarkable crowd. As Frida Kahlo said, “I didn’t know I was a surrealist until Andre Breton told me I was.” And Breton famously said, “The art of Frida Kahlo is a ribbon around a bomb.”

But there were other amazing women artists in Mexico at that time like Carrington. Her painting below is one of my favorites. In fact, I want to use the cover and the title on (one of) the novels I’m working on now, which is set in Berkeley and San Francisco and involves a group of Jungian analysts. Well, that’s for later. Anyway, this painting is called Theater of Mysteries.

Why was I writing this to Frances? Well, I’m lucky. She’s an incredible photographer like her father George Miller, and she also has an eye for the wonderful images one sees everyday in Mexico, the surreal images one sees everyday in Mexico. She’s generously offered to send me some photographs of some of the places you’re going to visit in my book.

As it turns out, one of those places involves go-ing into the home of an artist who came over from Europe with Breton, and Carring-ton and Re-medios Varo, who is the woman at the easel on the left.

Carrington and Varo shared an intense, lifelong friendship. It was in Remedios that Leonora said she “encountered an intensity of imaginative power that she had found in no one else.”

I found a wonderful little movie about Leonora Carrington that I’m going to embed here on this post.It takes about 15 minutes to watch, but it really gives you the feeling for Leonora Carrington, for the kind of spirit we just lost, and for the artistic — I don’t know what to call it — stew, I suppose, that is life in Mexico:

LEONORA CARRINGTON by Pamela Robertson-Pearce from Neil Astley on Vimeo.

And it will give you a feeling for the next step on Lili’s path.

After that, grab a tequila and follow Lili as she enters this world.


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Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link