Jewish American Princess

A Romp Through Andares

Last week it was time for Arnold to go have his new stent checked out at Dr. B’s office – and I also was due for a checkup and a stress test (just to be sure I would survive at least as long as Arnold will now with all his new hardware).  This required us going in to his main office, in the gleaming new Puerta de Hierro medical center in Guadalajara. Both of us got poked and prodded and tied to various machines and after two hours of this, Dr. B. said we were both fine, he’d see us in three months. Then Dr. B’s topic turned to where we were going to have lunch at the splendid Andares mall right next door. Have you tried this place, have you tried that place, this one has fantastic steaks, this one has a very fine wine list – and so it went for fifteen minutes before Dr. B. sent us on our merry way – after offering us cappuccinos to strengthen us for the arduous shopping ahead — and he had to see his next patient. How many cardiologists have espresso machines in their offices? We are getting very spoiled.

I spent most of my childhood in the San Fernando Valley, where many of the first of the “outdoor” malls cropped up. Instead of being under a roof you walked across landscaped courtyards with splashing fountains from store to store. The first one that I recall was Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks. It was always fun for my sister and me to go there with our mother to pick out clothes for school, home décor items, whatever we needed. Andares shopping center is located in a new community of tall glass office and condo towers, taking shape in one of the nicer parts of Guadalajara. It is similar in concept to Fashion Square because like Los Angeles, Guadalajara’s temperate climate allows for the mall’s restaurants and stores to be clustered around open gardens, green all year round. So of course the Valley Girl feels right at home there. We lucked out too, because there was lots on sale, it being August. It made for very good prowling through the men’s department for Arnold (who didn’t buy anything but enjoyed looking).

Anyone who still thinks of Mexico as being a land of mustachioed campesinos sleeping in white cotton pajamas and huaraches beneath a cactus needs to pay this place a visit. It’s anchored at either end, as malls tend to be, by Palacio de Hierro and Liverpool, arguably the two fanciest department stores in Mexico. You can wander in to the gleaming marble atrium of Palacio de Hierro and find pretty much anything your acquisitive little heart requires – after you pass through the sizable cosmetics section, which has counters for just about every international brand you can name from Chanel to Lancome to Bobbi Brown to Clinique, Yves St. Laurent, and many more.  Then for insane luxury purchases, there’s a Tiffany, a Louis Vuitton, a Cartier, Gucci, a Ferragamo, an English gentlemen’s club kind of store for men, – well, you name it, it’s pretty much there. The dozens of  stores in the mall itself are loaded with the latest fashions and crowded with shoppers. Mexico has more and more high-end merchandise for sale, so if you wake up one morning and decide you must purchase your Rolex watch that very day, you no longer need to get on a plane to hunt it down; there are plenty of places – not only Andares – in Guadalajara where you can find the watch of your dreams.

How times have changed. One of my favorite high-end Mexican shops (which has boutiques located in the main Mexican airports, fortunately or unfortunately) is Pineda Covalin, where exquisite items in silk and other fine fabrics are adapted brilliantly into prints from traditional Mexican folk textile designs. Their designers are endlessly creative and find the most wonderful embroidery and other images to transform into silk scarves, shawls and accessories you could wear with perfect elegance into any opera house in the world.

But what has made my Jewish American Princess heart sing of late is that there is now (yippee!!) a Sephora cosmetics store at Andares mall. I know, how superficial, how ridiculous, overpriced makeup when you could buy the same thing at the drugstore. Well, here, you CAN’T buy the same thing at the drugstore; in that respect it is still different from the States. Back in the Ancestral Homeland the scruffiest CVS or Duane Reade has a boatload of modestly priced and fun makeup and beauty accessories (hey, I’m 65, I need all the help I can get), but here, the farmacia pretty much sells medications and a few household items like diapers and toilet paper, and that’s it. Farmacia Guadalajara, the big chain around here, has hardly any cosmetics at all.

Thus I was looking for a few things I missed picking up in New York; I knew that Sephora would likely have them. So I went in with great anticipation as they have just recently opened their first stores in Mexico. To my great delight I found most of what I needed but a few things were not to be found, and the very nice young man who seemed to be the manager said “Yes, I’m so sorry we don’t have that in yet, Señora, but we will. Every week they are shipping us more things and soon we will pretty much have what Sephoras elsewhere in the world have. You must come back soon.”

We had a lovely lunch, along with dozens of stylish, professional Mexicans, executives having business meetings, elegant women having ladies’ lunches, young families with kids turned out in all the latest gear, at a terrific sleek, gray and steel Italian restaurant. We wandered around afterwards and bought a few more things, having had a much-needed (after all the medical stress of the last few weeks) dose of retail therapy. Just knowing it’s all there, an hour away, somehow makes more bearable the infuriating lapses of electricity, the home repair people who say they’re coming and then don’t; the petty thievery of the glass from the lamps outside our gates, the garbage strewn around the calle carelessly after every weekend’s fiestas and other stark reminders of the class differences in our village. A romp through Andares, with all its superficiality and contemporary temptations, sometimes is just what the doctor ordered, especially after an in-office cappuccino. From my Encino-bred punto de vista (point of view), every once in awhile one needs a break from the undeniable fact of Mexico being indeed the “land of contrasts” with a return – however brief – to the familiarity of the good ol’ global monoculture.

Apparently they are coming out with a new Andares app for your cell phone that will tell you everything that’s going on in the mall and gives you contact information and such for all the stores. – sales, special events and such. ¡Muy padre! (very cool). I can’t wait to take my sister there when she comes down to visit next month, so we can both wear something pretty for lunch, and channel our inner Valley Girl heritage, at least for a day.  Meanwhile if you want to see what an upscale Mexican mall looks like, here is a link to Andares’ 360 degree photo panorama. And of course, it’s like this all year. No snow in Guadalajara!

http://www.andares.com/andaresv2/recursos/vista/CentroComercialAndares.html

A domestic detour…

The last several days have been occupied with domestic matters, the most inconvenient of which was the sudden, unexpected demise of our water pump. For no good reason that we could ascertain; it wasn’t even that old. To explain why this was a catastrophe, here, the municipality gives you water whenever it has some, and it gets delivered to a big underground storage tank inside your property called an aljibe, which is usually somewhere fairly near the street. Many larger houses also have purification systems to rid the municipal water of impurities ranging from plain old mud and sand to nasty intestinal parasites, so you can actually drink it from the tap. The luckier ones among us also have a second, large rooftop storage tank, called a tinaco, which holds enough water for a backup day or two for times of drought, when the water authority only distributes every couple of days, or when there’s a power outage. The tinaco dribbles its water supply down to one’s faucets and toilets – in a teensy little stream, but there is indeed a very welcome trickle so you aren’t completely out of luck to wash your hands or whatever. It is gravity fed, being on the roof, so even if the power is out it’ll still work.

So all was not lost, we did have the water out of the tinaco, but once it’s empty, you’re sort of a goner. Thus to conserve that supply, showers, laundry, anything requiring a certain volume of water, was not in the cards for several days. The “Jewish American Princess in Mexico” irony of carrying buckets of water from the pool to flush the johns was not lost on me. My mother would have had a hissy-fit. Actually I didn’t even THINK of using the pool water; Arnold did. Which shows you what a totally urban creature I am; obviously there is a ton of THAT water out there.

Clearly getting the pump fixed was top priority.  The plumber first thought that all we had to do was replace the computerized controller which had apparently burned its motherboard out. This happens all the time here where there is tremendous variation in the current. The motherboard got promptly carted off to Guadalajara for repair, of course involving expenditure of a boatload of pesos. Then it was looking like we also had to replace a faulty valve on top of the pump itself (another bunch of pesos). Only problem with that being that our pump was a fancy model that had come from the States, and the parts were nowhere to be found in town, not even in Guadalajara. They would have to be ordered from the States via Monterrey – a couple of weeks? Naw, we thought, let’s try something else, what they call a “Mexicanada” where they just improvise something from what they have and hope to god it works, which it actually often does. I still have one toilet in my house that flushes perfectly well with a Mexicanada wire thingy my gardener made for it five years ago. Mexicanadas are what keeps all those Volkswagens running here – wire, chicle, rubber bands, string – they really do work, most of the time.

But alas, the Mexicanada approach failed with our fancy U.S. made high pressure pump. Various threaded bolts –for gas connectors, toilets, god knows what – were scrounged up or purchased and tried that were mas-o-menos the right size, but when the water in the tank got pressurized, they all leaked or flew out or just listed to starboard and didn’t seal anything, spewing water all over the place. Not only that, further examination revealed a small crack in the pump itself (weird, the whole thing is stainless steel, but oh well…) and it was obvious at that point that aside from not wanting to be without water for several weeks while waited for this dumb little valve from Monterrey, the whole unit was then going to need to be replaced entirely.

The house remained without water till we could resolve the situation, and I am domestic enough a creature so that I went crazy trying to figure out what to try next. Making things more difficult (bienvenidos a México) was that our plumber, who is usually very reliable, was nowhere to found after the repeated failure of his various Mexicanada attempts at repair. He “fixed” it, it worked for a while, he went away, then an hour after his departure, the pump went haywire again and shut down. So we needed him to come back and try something else, urgently. But his cell phone wasn’t receiving any more calls due to his mailbox being full, “out of the area de servicio“, or otherwise unreachable. We just couldn’t find him anywhere for a couple of days, while we went showerless and the dishes piled up in the sink. It just brings out the worst “What is wrong with people in this country?” xenophobic tendencies any frustrated expat might have, especially some of the people I know around here. Most of us worked pretty much like dogs our entire professional lives, promptly showing up as required and even more promptly returning phone calls from clients on phones that worked, for decades, in order to save the money for their Retirement in Paradise one day. I know intellectually that you just cannot expect Mexicans to be like Americans, you just can’t. And actually I don’t even want them to. Except when I have a plumbing emergency .

Probably it wasn’t such a great idea for me to vent to Rosa, the maid, and Carlos, the gardener, about just how furious I was that the plumber wasn’t accessible by cell phone after three days, and how Americans always return their calls (I realized the second I said this that of course it was nonsense, but it was too late). They then eagerly launched into “save the Señora’s sanity” mode and came back with a zillion suggestions as to how I should proceed, ranging from “fire him at once” to “give him a good lecture but then let him have another chance, pobrecito” with everything in between. They also brought me the cards of a bunch of other people in town they know who they assure me will be much, much more reliable, cheaper, “de confianza” (you can have confidence). The “fire him at once” option would work fine except for the fact that as in so many houses, he has done all the work around here for the past several years and knows where every single wire, cable, plug, connection, fuse, etc. etc. on our property is. Do I really want to start all over again with someone new?  For as Arnold points out, a new person will immediately come in and tell us we have to replumb and rewire the entire place – more pesos down the drain, pun intended – because everything that has been done was wrong and we are going to be electrocuted/drowned straight away. And then there was the other unfortunate fact that at that moment we were still utterly without water and I wasn’t in a mood to, as they say, shilly-shally around with someone new. But the “give him another chance, pobrecito” approach is also fraught with problems – I truly do think he’s been drinking more; something does seem to be going on with him because the quality of his work just isn’t what it used to be. Much to ponder.

But thankfully, the cavalry showed up yesterday afternoon. Finally I was able to reach him on his cell phone – he apologized and said he had had the flu; he’d be right over. Which he was, but he looked just fine to me when he got here, maybe a bit hung over, to tell you the truth. But he did show up and we were once again reviewing all the options for the poor dead pump, when Arnold saved the day by saying “just give him (yet more pesos out the door) some dough, send him to the hardware store and tell him to buy a nice, basic, Hecho En Mexico pump, nothing fancy, with parts that will be readily available at the aforementioned hardware store, and he can install it tomorrow and then maybe I can take a shower!?” We did exactly that, and this morning bright and early (both Carlos and Rosa had told him he had better straighten up and fly right because the Señora was pretty fed up with days of not knowing where he was) he was at our gate with a nice big box with a new pump in it from Amutio Hardware, the expensive place in the village that is actually pretty reliable.

Rosa did laundry all day and caught up, I took a nice long shower and washed my hair (¡finalmente!),  Floors were washed, beds were changed, we put water in the flowerpots outside, all is now well in our little world. The four kitties and Reina even have fresh water in their dish.

Onward and upward.