The whole story broke when I was in Mexico, and since everyone else seems to have weighed in on Amy Chua’s childrearing practices, I’m thinking why not me?

My room in the Villa Condesa

As we all know by now I’m a terrible insomniac, so when I woke up at two or so in the morning in a room not unlike the one my character Lili in Palace of the Blue Butterfly would also wake up in, I grabbed my i pad and clicked on the New York Times. Well, not first thing. First, I lay there listening to the sounds of the city around me, feeling the winter cold in the high-ceilinged 19th century building. After I was pretty sure I’d gotten the setting right in my book, after I’d sort of experienced the veracity, shall we say, of my words, THEN I turned on my computer and checked the Times. There it was —all the brouhaha about Amy Chua.

Anyone in the United States not in a complete coma knows about this book, so you don’t need me to spill any more ink on the subject. Since— like everyone else it turned out—I was absolutely horrified by this story, I started to read the comments, wanting to make sure I was not alone. I wasn’t, and boy, were there comments! My personal favorite: “They don’t have Child Protective Services at Yale?”

There is a great review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Elizabeth Kolbert in this week’s New Yorker. I’m glad to see that a staff writer for the New Yorker is the same kind of Tiger Mother I was. Basically, the Tiger Cat kind of mother—you know the tabby variety with the stripes? And like such a creature, I was capable of withering looks when things were done I didn’t approve of, but that was about it. Okay, okay, so I strongly encouraged my daughter to go to Wesleyan instead of a theater conservatory, where, in spite of the fact that I had never threatened to burn her stuffed animals, had never locked her out of the house when she was barefoot and freezing (well, it doesn’t freeze in Berkeley, so that was never an option) she managed to get straight As.

But I learned a couple of cool things by following the comment threads on the Tiger Mother book.

One: There is an institute at the University of California at Berkeley—The Greater Good Science Center— that studies what makes people happy. Like scientifically studies. Seems that psychology has previously focused mostly on pathology—what was wrong and how to fix it. These folks at Berkeley now study what is right with some people and how to reproduce those results in others, especially in children.

Two: Guess what they’ve found out. Happiness doesn’t come from large amounts of money or great achievements. Happiness— and with it resilience, emotional intelligence, and optimism, all traits that may help you succeed—is fostered by gratitude, sense of community, and altruism.

The cool part is they’ve learned how to develop these qualities in people (like Amy Chua, I assume) in whom they are deficient.

Some things that work: Practicing gratitude, helping others, meditating.

Funny, that list sort of looks like my New Year’s Resolution list.

My Meditation Room

So how am I doing on that list anyway? Well . . . turns out I needed privacy, wasn’t Zen-like enough to meditate when I could hear Dave rattling around in the kitchen, so now I trot up the hill in the morning to the pool cabana. It has wonderful south facing doors that look out on a splendid vista. Plus, it’s warm in there from the sun.

The Greater Good Science Center has a blog called Half Full you might want to check out. Also, for all you mothers and grandmothers out there, I should mention a good childrearing book by Christine Carter, one of the research sociologists at the Greater Good Science Center. It’s called Raising Happiness, and it is a huge relief from the Tiger Mother, Helicopter Mother models we’re seeing. Shows you how you can develop all those good qualities like compassion, optimism, and resilience in your young ones. Sorry Amy. Kids don’t get medals for those things, so maybe you won’t be interested. For the rest of us—take a look.

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A Trip to the Big City (Part 1)

Posted by admin on Thursday Dec 9, 2010 Under Uncategorized

Whenever I get a hankering for a bit of glitz and glam, I head to the city . . . the really big city, the biggest city in the world . . . Mexico City.

I suppose everyone, and especially at my age, has a few threads left unwoven into the fabric of his or her life. Mine is Mexico City. It was a love affair that started on a road trip when I was seventeen and has pretty much continued. And while I love life up here on the ranch, I really did want to get out my fancy clothes, paint my nails, put on the Chanel red lipstick and be all urban and sophisticated and stuff. So . . . a week before Thanksgiving, Dave and I headed down Mexico way to visit friends, hang out in cafes, wander around galleries and museums and generally soak up comaraderie, culture, and haute cuisine Mexico City style for a week.

I wrote my beautiful friend Frances and said, “What I really want is an apartment in the Condesa where my friends can come over and hang out, where we can dine on rooftop restaurants and wander around parks, you know, where I can really feel like I live in the DF for a week.”

She told me about this delightful couple, Daysi and Homero Nava, who have just opened a lovely B&B—the Hotel Villa Condesa—on Calle Colima between Avenidas Guadalajara and Veracruz. The Navas are as fascinating as they are charming, and the place was was perfect— a beautifully restored Art Nouveau building, the kind I always dream I will live in when I come back in another life.

I love this neighborhood so much I wrote a whole novel about an expatriate who lives there just so I could be in the Condesa if only in my imagination!

Just look at some of these buildings!

Here’s a picture of the restaurant on top of the Condesa DF Hotel above Parque Espana. I heard somewhere that the writer Octavio Paz lived on this park, and I kind of hung over the edge of the railing hoping to catch a glimpse of his ghost deep in thought walking under the shadows of the tree. Ghosts… it IS Mexico, after all.


The first morning we were there, we headed to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for a look at the Saturnino Herran exhibit. Very cool. I snapped this picture of the skyline over Alameda Park from Bellas Artes while I was waiting for Frances.

Notice how clear the air is? That’s because of these . . .

The Ecco Bicis.

The idea is you borrow one from the bike stand and deposit it in the stand nearest your destination. How civilized is that?

After oohing and ahhing over the beautiful Art Deco interior of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we dined at El Cardenal— a restaurant right behind the Metropolitan Cathedral where I had an incredible Mole. Then it was onto the Museum at the Templo Mayor and the treasures of Moctezuma II.

We finished up the first evening with great margaritas in the Opera Bar. If you look up you’ll see the bullet hole Pancho Villa put into the ceiling when he rode in there on horseback. I’m smiling because I’m sitting in the seat Diego Luna sat in for a photo shoot on Mexico city. Be still my heart!

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Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link

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