Magical Mexico

(Photo by: Jami Buck-Vance)

ATTN: A full-length book collection of travel writing by Han Vance is to be published in 2018.

Magical Mexico – originally for

A day removed from a pit of Mexican fire in my stomach, which burned bright with tequila and salt, I comfortably reflect on Zona Polanco in the Federal District of Mexico, DF, for short. Think of our DC, meets NYC.

Polanco, in effect the Beverly Hills of Mexico, from Burberry to Gucci to my favorite, the eclectic Common People where we bought beautiful soaps and bath salts and a brightly-colored magnet of the Lady of Guadalupe, radiant against a red background. That’s Mexico for you these days: radiant and resiliently shining always, yet against a red background of worsening drug violence. We didn’t see many other Americans during the trip but generally felt fairly safe.

Mexico City boasts more density than New York City while it is vaster than North American land giant Los Angeles, with a total population roughly equal to both of those biggest of United States cities combined. Thirty million people hived around us seeing about their day, while the affluence of Zona Polanco was perhaps most striking. The pedigreed pooches in sweaters and bows, with well-coiffed and attired owners in tow, themselves with expensive sweaters tied around their necks, so Euro. The rolling tree-canopied park and the finest shopping, the restaurants where I found so many friendly tables.

Past the biggest flag I’ve ever seen, one Zona over is the giant park, with the public lake where families and couples cruise on peddled boats, the museums and street food vendors. On a Sunday afternoon, we strolled amongst thousands, one street vendor saying, “Wow,” at the significant beauty of my lady, as the sugar of the churros stuck to our hands.

We stopped in for a tangy margarita at a swank spot playing NFL games and then were given a free ride back to our hotel in their comfy courtesy van…the big city night still awaiting us.

Fitting that I’d just bought a souvenir folk art miniature Mexican cantina in Cuernavaca, I thought later, as we explored the nightlife in Mexico City, with somewhat mixed results. Our credit card stopped working and required a phone call to rev back up at what could have been an inopportune moment, and the tequila eventually hit me too hard.

Before all this was the mansion once owned by the lovely Hollywood actress Brigitte Bardot in Cuernavaca, Land of Eternal Spring, where we stayed in the guest quarters. Cuernavaca is a city of around one million, an escape from Mexico City, a city behind gated walls, which opened to reveal large homes with majestic gardens and outdoor spaces.

The place we stayed was cobalt and white and flowing and as majestic in taste and decoration as any I’ve seen below the border, a shrine to all that is good about Mexico, and there really is so much.

The smell of steaming tamales removed from foil and banana leaves, for breakfast. The memories flood through me, of Texas relatives whom loved the culture. The feel of being seated outside under a temperate sky and consuming cold Mexican beer with limes sliced sideways, with the woman I truly love. The thronging Zocalo and the reverence and spectacle of Mexico’s churches, the taste of piquant salsa verde and wholesome handmade tortillas. The art and color – yellow, cobalt blue, galaxy blue, Aztec blue, pink, hot pink, red, orange all popping against the expected browns and tans. My single favorite art piece I saw was the Diego Rivera mural depicting the history of the state of Morelos, which filled the largest walls in the main public building in Cuernavaca’s downtown.

To-and-fro Cuernavaca, we traveled by luxury bus, from the airport in DF, where we shared our first Mexican meal, a delicious bistec torta (steak sandwich). The city is mammoth from the air and feels enormous while navigated by auto. Housing packed on top of shallow stores and restaurants selling food and goods to the multitudinous masses. Soccer facilities and parks along the graffiti-splashed Metro train line, as we bounced in the bus through the crush of traffic.

Followed by the rurality of mountains and fields of hay that is most of the land in the nation of Mexico. Coming into Cuernavaca, we felt the energy rise again. And life did pulse there, with the same Mexican fire that we felt of the biggest city in the world, 100 years after the revolution, 200 years after declaring independence from Spain.

Students flock to Cuernavaca to study Spanish; while Capitalinos (as residents of DF are known) retreat the short distance to Cuernavaca for cleaner air and relative calm. Mariachi players wait near the Zocalo in full uniform ready to be rented to play. And a raucous mid-day celebration once swept us up, a tipsy local painted as an Indian for the festivities putting his arm around me as he introduced himself and his less than pleased date, while we charged down the cobblestone street with them. He told me I should have been out there at 10 a.m.

The silver town of Taxco that we visited on a day trip was brimming with humanity – flooding narrow city streets, full of pedestrians and vehicles and thousands of shops, every structure white with only black-lettered signage. There, I prayed in the most ornate church I’ve ever seen and then had a drink at the rooftop bar across the plaza. Next, dinner included chicken enchiladas and a hilltop view of the entire village from a large restaurant/hotel.

Our last night in Cuernavaca, fireworks bombastically filled the sky from the club next door, as we finished with fine dining in a gorgeous open-air restaurant. The Mexican night air felt so perfect to us, under the candle and lamplight. And we anticipated the frenetic energy of the megalopolis of DF, which was again on our agenda.

Back inside the mansion that night, we settled in to fall asleep and then were at one point suddenly awakened to noises on the tiled ceiling. We moved to the kitchen, and two curious creatures called coatis glanced at us through a window from atop the property’s wall, before one bounded over the other as they exited our view, the magic of Mexico plainly evident to us.

We are champions, my friends

I have one ring. Well, not really a ring but one team championship. And I won it as quarterback of the Cowboys.

When I moved from the great Empire of Texas to the Southeast, Dad initially settled us into another state with great pride, South Carolina. South Carolinians, like Louisianans and Nebraskans, place value of state above most else.

Scary to think that I could’ve been a USC Cock and never a UGA DAWG. But we stayed in Carolina only one year, netting me my first little brother and Dad a YMCA basketball championship as head coach. I was around that team throughout the season and remember the oversized maroon jersey I wore to their games, and the pride I felt when the title was secured in a close final contest.

Both of my personal sports titles came the next year when we moved to a sleepy suburban Atlanta town called Marietta, GA. I hung around the Boys Club there all the time and won a basketball shooting tournament for my age group. I am and will forever be the 1976 Shooting Champion, and I still have the trophy to prove it – although the ball is no longer attached to the hand.

Before that, I played for the Cowboys. I’m a third-generation, diehard Dallas Cowboys fan, and I planned to play for them up through 8th grade, when I started exploring a few back-up options and stopped practicing twice a day year round. Wide receiver has always been my natural position, but in 1st grade the ball is not thrown much if at all, so Dad suggested I play quarterback that year in football. I did, and we ran the option and won the league. When the season started, Dad must have lobbied to get me on the Cowboys, but he never admitted it and only twinkle-eyed as he – I reckoned – lied in denial.

My best friend in the whole world and sandlot football buddy was an outrageous kid named Duke Lee Sharp Jr.; he went by Boomer. I saw him on weekends, when he visited his (practically our) Granny, in my neighborhood.

During the week, I went to Fair Oaks Elementary where I had two best school friends. A triangle of friends that were by far the top athletes in our grade. Lester Maddox was a descendant of the infamous anti-segregationist politician by the same name. Champ was the nephew of Larry Holmes, then the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world. And I was the offspring of wealthy hippies whom had only recently spent all the money my father inherited from my grandfather.

Dad asked me about my buddies at school. He knew those names and guffawed, then he sang to me: “The times, they are a changin’.” I’d never in a cognizant way heard of the champion of freedom named Bob Dylan, because my parents only listened to the Beatles and classical music. I liked that and much later became a poet myself.

(Photo by: Han Vance)

The 4 types of elopement

(Photo by: Han Vance, Hotel Oceana)

We each came to understand that we wanted to be together forever, well before we dared to utter. Then we did, eventually, and it was just letting the truth out more than it was any sort of a revelation. And considering I was still in rewrite and final edit of my Cali travel adventure memoir at the time, we – I – postponed. It was untoward to move forward while clinging back like I was. And a memoir is nothing if not a cling back, especially when one of the strong themes of said memoir is divorce.

Speaking of divorce, she’d been through it, too. More recently, so her wounds were fresher. Mine were deeper, as I’d made grave mistakes last time around and though we all fall – I’d really fallen and failed. And I have two children; she has none.

Of note: we were married in the same facility in Atlanta, just not to the final spouse. This is final. This is real. This is forever. Forever – ever…

Her mom’s in poor health and shouldn’t travel. We’ve both done the whole big wedding thing before. We both know everybody and would have to offend or invite everybody. So, elopement was an obvious choice.

We traveled to Augusta and being a Southern gentleman I asked her dad, the Colonel’s permission, and he gave consent.

Dreaming of getting married in a beautiful out of country location like on a beach in Mexico or in the rainforest in Vancouver. Means legally nothing in the United States of America. You have to do it again, and we are trying not to do too much. So, USA.

The Texas hill country spawned me and is one of the least known-for-its-beauty, breathtakingly beautiful spots in America. It’s far enough – Charleston is not, Rosemary Beach is not – but Austin is not a beach. Hawaii is something we did last year to great expense and exhausted elation; we want a relaxation vacation. Since I’ve traveled Cali extensively, Jami said pick a place that’s not LA yet in Cali, maybe. So, Santa Barbara, the American Riviera.

And the Spanish-tiled Santa Barbara County Courthouse is noted as the prettiest government building in America. So, there.

This is a planned elopement. Dinner at Bouchon. Hotel on the beach. The dress. The rings. Thoughtful this and that. And here I’d like to mention my guys at JFL Corp. in Atlanta’s Apparel Mart. I’ve bought suits from Jerry and his dad for over 15 years now, and I recommend you fellas do the same. Selection, prompt onsite tailoring, and the unrivaled eye of Jerry Junior are reason enough to go. There prices are unbeatable, too. By appointment only: (404) 523-2498 or 1 (800) 767-2498, My new suit is midnight blue and totally crushin’ it. My tie and shirt are a gorgeous, regal lavender, and Jerry picked that out too.

Anyway, I came to realize there are four types of elopement:

1. Planned Elopement – as detailed above

2. Secret Elopement – hiding out from family, friends, ex-spouses, maybe the IRS

3. Emergency Elopement – bump of a bun in the oven and her dad has a big shotgun

4. Spontaneous Elopement – VEGAS, baby, VEGAS

20 great things about The South:

1.Southern Girls (and other friendly folks)

2.ATL’s ROCKET SHIP Architecture

3.College Football, y’all

4.N’awlins’ Food

5.Charleston Flavor

6.”30 A” Beaches of the Florida Panhandle – especially Rosemary Beach

7.The Smoky Mountains in autumn

8.Sweet Tea, Grits, Biscuits, BBQ

9.America’s Teams: (the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Braves)

10.Southern Literary Tradition: William Faulkner, Tom Wolfe, Gone with the Wind, the Decatur Book Festival, Grisham, urban ATL poetry scene, me

11.ELVIS (Memphis, Tupelo)

12.The BeltLine (Atlanta)

13.ATL and Athens Music Scenes – from Outkast to Mastodon to Rhianna to REM to SVA to Of Montreal to the B-52s, from the Tabernacle to Chastain to the 40watt club to TI to Music Hates You, from Pylon to Black Lips to “Superman those hos.”

14.Twilight Criterium (Athens)

15.Lowtide at Tybee Island (GA)

16.The Live Music Capital of the World  (Keep Austin Weird)


18.Vulcan (Birmingham)

19.Deepdene Park -of the Olmstead Linear Parks (Atlanta)

20.Taco Stand (Athens)

Few things in the ‘hood

They closed down the disco, but don’t panic because it will re-open in a few months … or so. San Francisco Coffee in the Poncey-Highland hood of The ATL is easily one of my favorite hangouts, because they have good brew, show cool art, and the hilariously sardonic Christian of the super-heavy band “Whores” is amongst the quality baristas that work there. But they shut her down to move to a bigger location next store, so I’m frequenting Aurora in the Virginia-Highlands for now. I like to bust that way sometimes anyway (on my long board of course), because Bill Hallman’s shop along the way is my favorite for window shopping and stopping in to see my friend Will at Striver’s Row is always an enlightening cultural experience. Great people, great clothes, great weather for sidewalk surfing, and great coffee. (Please tip your baristas as you would a good bartender -They do notice and really love it.)

Anyway, they have some funny, cool baristas at Aurora (Krystal, James, etc). And they play a wild mix of music that today included the Flight of the Conchords’ better stuff and some smooth alt-rock I’d never heard before. I once had an office across the street and ate a scone dunked in a cap daily back then, so my nostalgia is palpable. Plus, the sun shines in, and they display and sell local independent art.

I bought a groovy owl magnet there recently, which gives a hoot on my fridge amongst the Cali, NYC, Mexico and Vancouver travel magnets and my collection of DAWGS and Texas Native magnets. I also have a 1996 Atlanta Centennial Olympics magnet proudly displayed; a brand new Elvis Hawaii magnet which excites me on several levels; and fun art magnets by my oldest son, my oldest nephew and several more-acclaimed artists

The artist Jeffree Lerner created my owl magnet, and he has other magnets and small paintings displayed at Aurora, all for sale at very reasonable prices (well under $100, some around $10). I would describe his style as modern primitive tribal, with an emphasis on animal iconography and positive messages. Great stuff.

My positive message to y’all this Good Friday is just that: In every way possible: Live Love and Be Good!

Painting by Jeffree Lerner:

(Photo by: Han Vance)