Thursday, April 4, 2013

Women of Zihuatanejo

Women of Zihuatanejo

 We just spent a couple of weeks performing at the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival which is held in a town on the southern Pacific coast of Mexico that if anyone's every heard of, it's usually in reference to the  "Shawshank Redemption." 

It's a great place; many retirees and vacationers and old hippies.  There has been a lot of new-age talk among the ex-pat gals about how Zihuatanejo was Cihuatlán or "Place of Women" referring to the western paradise of the Aztec Universe, the home of the “goddess women.” I think this may be more wishful thinking on the part of the invading gringas than reality.

No one knows anything for sure, but Jacqui, a friend I made who was actually born there, has an in with the local archeologist and the historian who provided a more likely explanation. When the Aztecs came to conquer the fishing village, all the men were conveniently out at sea.  So they called it “Place of Women.”

Jacqui reminds me what mofos the Aztecs were.  The conquered were used for human sacrifices and those parties could go on for days.   
But she also reflects on the Roman Catholic practice of mass as a symbolic form of human sacrifice.  Well, yes, I never thought of it like that.  Here’s the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  I guess we’re all pretty bloodthirsty at the end of the day. 

Jacqui told me the story of her grandmother that sounded like something out a García Márquez novel.

Jacqui’s grandmother, Mariana, and her grandfather, Ignacio, lived in a remote village in the brown scrubby hills high above Zihuatanejo called Vallecitos.  This woman bore him six children; however, they never exactly tied the knot.  This was not because of lack of wanting to marry; it was simply because the bishop, the Obispo, only came through the village once every six years, and when he finally came through and saw she had delivered children outside the sanctity of marriage, he refused to marry them.
Ignacio was a tradesman and purveyor of goods throughout the region.  Among his customers was a powerful hacienda owner who lived far away in the lovely town Guayameo, more than 250 miles from Vallecitos.  On one of those trips, Ignacio happened upon a beautiful woman with long black hair, the daughter of the wealthy patrón.   
He was love-struck and to his surprise, it appeared that his feelings were reciprocated; they fell in love.  He never mentioned his family in the village, however, when he asked the father for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
As news of the grand wedding spread throughout the dry hills like a high wind, Mariana got word of Ignacio's infidelity.  She had resolved upon a course of action, and procuring seven burros, one for each child and one for herself laden with a few carefully chosen provisions, set out upon the arduous trip on the rocky dust-choked road to Guayameo.
She and her children appeared before the patrón of the hacienda.  She explained to him, “I do not want to fight, I do not want money, I just want to know how I am going to feed these children if those two are to marry.”  In short order, the wedding was called off, and Mariana went home with her brood of children and burros trailing behind her.

When Ignacio eventually showed up outside his house in Vallecitos that evening, tying his horse to a tree, a bullet whizzed by his ear.  He stopped in his tracks,  then called to her, “I don’t want violence, I don’t want to fight.  I want to marry you,” to which she replied, “And why the hell would I ever want to marry a man like you?”  And that as they say was the end of that. 
Jacqui is points to her arms; it is that woman’s blood that runs through my veins, she proudly exclaims. Maybe there is something to be said about the women of Zihuatanejo after all.

She made me these cookies from this grandmother’s recipe.  Square, large and flat, like a saltillo tile, mottled like dry earth baked by the heat.  Not too fancy and not too sweet.  Just like I imagine Jacqui’s grandmother.

Tortillas de harina dulces de Mariana (see translation below)

2 tazas de harina
½ taza de manteca
1/2 cucharadita de polvo de hornear
4 cucharadas de azúcar
1/2 cucharada de sal
1/2 taza de leche

Se cierne la harina con el polvo de hornear y la sal y se le agrega el azúcar.
Se revuelve todo muy bien, se hace una montañita y en el centro se abre un hueco donde se pone la manteca derretida y se le agrega la leche necesaria para formar una masa manejable que se pueda extender con el rodillo.
Se divide en porciones que se extienden con el rodillo formando las tortillas, que se ponen a cocer en el comal.
No se voltean hasta que no tienen color, para que después puedan esponjar bien.

Mariana's Sweet Flour Tortillas
2 cups flour
½ cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt and add the sugar.
Stir everything well, and make a mound in the center, a make a well in the flour where you put the melted shortening. Add enough milk to form a dough that can is stiff enough to roll.
It is divided into portions and roll out with rolling pin and place on a griddle  to cook.
Turn when they begin to color , so that they can be puff up nicely. (I think this is what it means...J.)