Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rest Cure

Resort/sanatorium... fine line
Peter and I have occasionally commented to one another that we’d like to take a rest cure – that 19th century confinement usually reserved for hysterical ladies of means. They were sent off to a sanatorium to lounge about listlessly, taking fresh air and other restorative remedies possibly/probably (I haven’t actually done that much research) involving caster oil, colonics, a minimum of exertion, simple foods, and deep breathing. Some ladies were sent off to “rest” against their will, probably so husbands didn’t have to listen to them whine about how awful it was to be a lady of the 19th century (corsets, boredom, lack of voting rights, etc.).  Then there was the heroine of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, which I read in college, who probably wasn’t too bad off when she began her rest cure, but during the course of it and due to the fact that no one would goddamn listen to her, she did in fact go quite mad and kill her doctor. I’m almost certain a rest cure wouldn’t have that effect on me.
Digression: If Peter and I went off (voluntarily, of course) together, he would probably get antsy after the first day of resting and pop off to see any historical or cultural sites in the area of the sanatorium while I stayed back to “rest” (but would end up watching cable TV channels I don’t get at home –A&E for example, which I had in my room in PV; I watched an episode of Hoarders in which one of the hoarders had 13 dead cats in her house [and over 30 live ones]. I’m assuming any sanatorium I found myself at would have premium cable). So I would rest and watch TV and Peter would learn all sort of interesting local historical and cultural facts and tell me of his adventures; he would good-naturedly tell me what I missed, like when I’m too squeamish to see certain movies and too lazy to read certain books which he reads/sees and then tells me what I missed. Now that I think of it though (and I realize this diversion is getting out of hand), Peter would probably love to watch Hoarders with me after returning from any more worthy excursions. He did after all get hooked on Big Brother when we were in London, and he doesn’t even have basic cable at home so Hoarders might be a real treat.

So the four and a half days in PV were as close as I might get to my ideal sanatorium-restorative-vacation. Some might get bored lying around reading all day, dipping in and out of infinity pools, and staring at the Pacific, but I didn’t. I had a great book to read, my every other day excursions into town for tacos, and S_ to chat with now and again. I hardly spoke to anyone else, brief hellos to the other guests and staff and my Espanol taco-ordering comprised most of my verbal interactions. The TV gave me tennis, a few sitcoms, and Hoarders, and the internet connection (pool-side wifi is a wonderful thing) gave me anyone I wanted to say hi to. But the main restorative cure involved the absolutely beautiful weather and the lovely setting. Simply sitting outside in 80-degree weather is a panacea in itself. Sunshine, warm breezes, watching and hearing the waves crashing on the sand… I’m not saying it would make up for having to wear a corset and not being able to vote, but for a 21st century lady, it’s a pretty great way to spend a few days.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Night out with S_

I think I was in jr. high the first time I encountered a story with no names, just T_ and another initial, possibly M_. I vaguely remember it as a short story by Woody Allen, and I had no idea what was going on.Why didn't he just write out the name? Was this just an absurd level of literary laziness? Could he simply not decide on a name? The story I was reading was comic fiction so there was no need to protect anyone, so it was quite confusing at the time. Jump to, the era of everyone's entire lives on-line, and a definite need to protect the innocent.

So I went out with S_ tonight who works at the hotel. We had made a plan to go out, were going to take the bus together from the hotel to town, her usual M.O., run up to her place so she could change, and get some food. Not long after this plan was formulated, she called my room to say she could get in trouble for socializing with a guest (this had occurred to me) and that we shouldn't leave together, but instead, meet up in town. As it happened, she ended up on the shuttle to town that I was taking from the hotel (this was an unusual turn of events, she usually takes the bus home), and we got off together with the other hotel guests. It looked pretty coincidental, but this is the reason for the "S_" and the reason I deleted the name of the hotel from earlier posts.

So S_ has only been in PV a few weeks. She has a boyfriend who is from here and lives with him and his parents. She has degrees in political science and Spanish literature, no real job prospects in Illinois, where she's from, and a boyfriend in PV. So she came here, scored the job at the hotel and plans to stay. We had a nice night out. We first went to her house so she could change out of her hotel clothes, then walked along the waterfront for a while. S_ mentioned a few taco stands that she frequents, but we ended up at a fairly touristy restaurant in a fairly touristy part of town. No matter though, we had margaritas and chips and guac, and a very funny conversation about - oh, you know, life in general.

After the restaurant, we went to the nightclub where her boyfriend is a bartender. Since it was only about 9pm, there was literally no one in the joint but us and the other staff; we had another drink and hung out for a while. He is very handsome and congenial, she is absolutely adorable, and I hope they have a lot of fun together.

So I managed to fulfill the "people to meet" spirit of the blog tonight. Doesn't happen often.

Dos Mas, Por Favor

Look, it's not exactly the Rosetta Stone over here, but I'm trying. 

This morning I got completely sucked into the Australian Open semi-final between Murray and Djokovic on TV and got a late start out of the room. 

....Hang on, I have to move to another lounge chair, my legs are getting a little toasted.... typing pool-side again. 

So after watching Andy Murray lose/choke for the zillionth time (I used to root for him because he's British and I fancy myself a bit of an Anglophile, but enough is enough with that guy), I went to get the hotel shuttle into town for more tacos. Before I left, I had a nice chat with S_ who is one of the concierges here. I had talked to her Wednesday too, she's American, just graduated from college in Chicago, and came to Puerta Vallarta to work in a hotel because, in her words, "why not?" S_ and I had already had some lengthy discussions about where to get the best street tacos and today she asked if I wanted to meet her when she finished work and she'd help me find some primo street food; this couldn't have been a more brilliant idea as far as I was concerned so we made a plan to meet that evening. On my afternoon jaunt into town, I found a different taco cart than I'd bought from before and was able to get out "dos carnitas tacos, por favor" thinking that would be a sufficient amount since I had dinner plans. My big problem of the day was that I really so much prefer flour tortillas to corn, but corn torillas are way more prevalent in general, and flour ones are non-existent at the taco carts. So after I got my dos tacos, I went in search of flour tortillas. I only had about 15 minutes before I needed to get the shuttle back to the hotel, and even though S_ had tried to tell me how to get the local bus back to the hotel if I needed to, I just didn't trust my sense of direction (the bus victory in Iceland had worn off). 

The first thing I had done when I got off the shuttle was to take a photo of the tortilla factory on the corner. I had noticed this place on Wednesday but hadn't taken a photo. I was mesmerized by the machinery and the tortillas flipping off the belt, and also by the steady stream of customers buying their fresh tortillas for the day. There was a sign on the wall that said "100% maize" which I knew meant corn (the picture of an ear of corn next to to the sign didn't hurt, but I like to think I would have figured it out regardless) so I didn't think they made flour tortillas. However, when I stopped at another taco cart to ask "?tortillas de harina" (S_ had coached me before I left the hotel) on the off chance that she might have some, the lady said no, and then followed up with something I didn't understand and pointed  around the corner. The only thing I caught was "tortillaria" which I took to mean, "that place where they make all the tortillas," and when I questioned, "?maize" she insisted "harina." So this was an excellent bit of language exchange and I trotted back to the tortillaria and got in line. Eight pesos (62 cents) for a package of flour tortillas. I was psyched. That accomplished, I realized I needed a few more tacos because even though I'm going out with S_ for dinner tonight, I might as well get something for Saturday (I really like this hotel, and I haven't eaten enough at the restaurants to criticize, but I didn't want to risk another C- meal like I had the first night) so I ran back to the first taco cart and said in my best Spanish, "dos mas, por favor." I know those dudes were totally impressed with my command of their language. Twenty pesos later I had two more carnitas tacos to go and met the shuttle driver to head back to the hotel and the pool, which is where I am now. 
today's shot of the pool

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Room with a View (and a hammock)

My biggest problem today was having to move between two lounge chairs by the pool. One was in the sun and one was in the shade and I was going back and forth between being a little too warm and occasionally, just a wee bit cold (“cold” being a relative term here, I’d guess it was in the mid 70s today). Given that the chairs were side by side, this was not a huge problem.

I started the day by having coffee and my fruit-and-yogurt breakfast on my patio and then I painted my toenails. This bit of business taken care of, I skipped the gym and went to the pool where I caught up with some friends on email, took a dip, read a couple chapters of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (Middlesex; I don’t know what took me so long, it’s wonderful), ate lunch, drank a margarita, took another dip, and then went back to my room to shower before my 4pm massage.

BD lunch
The massage was nice and the spa was really pretty. The post-massage relaxation area was a large outdoor deck with lounge chairs and a Jacuzzi. The spa is on the top (7th) floor of the hotel and the view and the breeze were lovely. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

From Ski to Sea

How much stuff do nine people need for a ski trip?
So we packed up last Saturday morning and headed to Solitude for one last half day of skiing before heading home. Having taken the previous day off, I was actually ready to take a few more runs. It was another gorgeous day and since it had dumped the night before, there was a ton of fresh snow (fresh and groomed for Jenine and me; fresh and powdery for the guys) and we had another great morning swishing our way down. I knocked off first so I could change for the trip home and eventually the others all ended up at the trucks, changing clothes and having a last beer in the parking lot before calling the trip "done" and heading to the airport. We got there in time to catch the end of the Patriot's game in an airport bar which made Josh happy. After saying good-bye to Jason who was heading home to So-Cal the rest of us had an uneventful flight back to SeaTac. The snow had melted in Seattle by then and Jeremy, who it turns out lives a few blocks from me, and I made it back to Queen Anne pretty easily, but were pretty tired and a little grimy. It was a fantastic trip and hopefully I'll do it again next year.

Here's a video compilation Chris made of the trip -

That was last Sunday, I spent Monday running some errands, re-packing, having dinner with Cheryl, Margie and Sam, and then left on Tuesday for Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, which is where I am now. Wasn't able to blog from Utah (technical difficulties) and I was too tired on Monday, so today, after arriving last night and mostly sitting by the pool today, I was able to catch up. Back to back trips are not a bad idea. Utah was a trip, an adventure -- it involved getting up every day around 6:30 am., Mexico is a vacation. I have no agenda and no aspirations for sight-seeing, exploring, or doing much of anything - I just want to rest. So far so good.

infinity pool
I got in around 5pm yesterday and had dinner at the bar by the pool. I found, as Cheryl and I have on previous trips to Mexican resorts, that the food was really quite awful - only because I guess they are catering to what the masses think of as Mexican food. Breakfast this morning was pretty good, but I didn't want to spend another $20 for poached eggs and fruit, so today I took the hotel shuttle into town for some provisions. This resort (name deleted... this being the age of people getting in trouble for naming names) is about 15 minutes from the town of PV so it's a bit isolated, but quiet and beautiful. I found a grocery store and stocked up on fruit, yogurt, bread, and cheese, and then came back and got into the pool. The water temp reminded me of when I'm taking a bath at home and the water cools off a bit - luxurious. I hung out in the pool for a while enjoying the view and then sat in a lounge chair typing up the posts about last week's adventure in Utah (pool-side wifi). I didn't want a repeat of last night's truly uninspired shrimp fajitas, so I went back into town and found a taco cart where I got 4 carnitas tacos (two for tonight, two for tomorrow) and some roasted chicken from a road-side chicken roaster.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, my almost complete and total lack of any ability to speak Spanish is pretty pathetic, but in the grocery store and at the food stands, a smile and a "I'm really, really so sorry" look goes a long way. The grocery store was easy but at the taco stand, I started with a smile and a look of deep appreciation for the idea of tacos. I pointed and asked carnitas? and he said si. I managed dos por favor and  then made a motion with my arms of taking them away as he started to put them on a plate "to go?" he said, and I smiled and said si as he wrapped them up. It was then that I realized I should get a few more since I have a mini-fridge in my room. How to say that escaped me but through my extremely expressive hand gestures (oddly, I hate playing charades) he figured out that I needed dos mas? which is what he asked, and I rolled my eyes and repeated him as if, duh, any fool could and should know how to say "dos mas." Similar experience at the chicken stand. I saw a sign that had a small combo plate and repeated the word on the sign to the guy at the counter. He smiled at me and said something which I didn't understand. I smiled, looked embarrassed and shrugged. He pointed to his arm and then to his leg - ah, did I want a wing or a leg. I pointed to my leg and we both laughed.

So dinner tonight in my room, the maid just came in and turned down my bed and left a tequila-filled chocolate on my pillow. The Australian Open is on TV and I have nothing to do tomorrow except kill time at the pool until my massage at 4. This is definitely a vacation.

Utah, days 3 and 4

the fabulous slopes at Canyons Resort
On Friday we skied Canyons in Park City. It's a HUGE fancy resort and I had my best day ever on my snowboard (with the brief exception of another tow-rope incident; those things continue to be my nemesis). Jenine and I did our usual routine - enjoying a cup of coffee and morning snack while the others raced off to be first in line for some lift or the other. Whatevs. We chilled for a little while and examined the map, eventually finding our way to the Orange Bubble Express lift before switching to the Sun Peaks chair. We blue squared it up all day and then met all the boys in the beer hut (coincidence: it was yurt-shaped) for a few drinks before heading toward downtown (such as it is) Park City to see if we could catch a glimpse of any celebs at the Sundance Film Festival which happened to be going on at the time. No luck on the celebs and by the time we made it down the main street with no hope of parking/walking, we decided to turn around and head home. We stopped at a brew pub on the way back to the house, had a nice dinner, and headed back to the house.

Jenine, Huey, Josh, Scott

Jeremy, Jason, Adam, Chris
I had a terrible time sleeping that night - skipped taking the Ambien (mistake) and could not handle a day on the slopes on no sleep. So the others left in the morning and I went back to bed. I eventually got up around 11 and turned the TV on. I spent the day on the couch watching "Team America" and "Walk Hard." They were both ridiculous and a great way to pass the day. It started dumping snow by early afternoon and the others had a hell of a time getting back through the snowstorm - Chris and Jason reported taking one hour to travel 10 miles, but they all eventually made it. Apparently feeling lucky to be alive, Chris celebrated by pouring himself a tumbler of tequila and having a grand old time in the hot tub; Jason eventually got in for a soak as well while I kept my distance but freshened their drinks when they asked nicely. The others came home a few minutes later (they had been in two groups at two different resorts; the skiers went to Deer Valley which doesn't allow snowboarders, Chris and Jason had gone to Solitude). Scott and Huey piled in the tub while the rest of us decided to go for pizza. It was a rather loud and jolly group at the pizza place (the well-soaked boys arrived shortly after we did) and we left a hefty/deserved tip at the end of the night. No one remained in the restaurant by then and as nice as the staff had been, they looked pretty delighted to see us leave.

Winter Wonderland - Ski-Tropolis, Utah

We barely got out of Seattle last Wednesday - making it past the six inches of snow that had fallen the night before, weathering the flight delays, and eventually arriving in two groups in Salt Lake City. Scott, Chris, Jeremy, Jason, and I headed to a brew pub for dinner while the others stayed in Park City where they had planted themselves upon their earlier arrival. One of Jeremy's friend who lives in SLC met up with us at the pub and at one point looked at me quizically and asked if I was the only girl on the trip. I thanked him for his [legitimate] concern, and assured him that there was a parallel group at a pub in Park City with whom we'd be merging later, and that group also included a girl. He seemed relieved.
This time the collective we was Josh, Jenine, Scott, Huey, Chris, Chris's friend who lives in Long Beach, CA, Jason, Adam, Jeremy, and me. I had never met Jeremy before and no one besides Chris knew Jason, but it was a great group and everyone seemed to have a great time. Perhaps a little too much fun was had by Chris, but this blog is not here to tattle on people who may or may not have had too much tequila and then rolled in the snow before getting back into the hot tub. But I digress.

Day 2: Snowbird. Jenine and I stuck to the blue runs while the others headed to the top to defy death as they usually do. Jenine and I had a great day swishing our way down the beginner runs, she on her skis, me on my snowboard. The scenery was beautiful, we found runs that were just our speed, and it was super-fun.

At the end of the day, we left the boys to more skiing and headed back to the house to change for dinner. Jenine and I had reservations for the Yurt Dinner at the Solitude Ski Resort. We were to meet at the rental shop, put on snowshoes, and tromp through the trees to our destination which was a yurt in the middle of the woods. It was a magical walk with eight others and our guide/hostess, Sarafina to a fabulous dinner.
The yurt has no electricity and was lit by lanterns; the food was cooked on a giant propane stove. Our chef for the evening was Jaseth who hailed from Mexico and had planted himself and his snowboard in the middle of Utah to shred by day and cook by night. Our five course dinner started with a delicious potato, leek, and celery root soup. It was divine - Jaseth told us he started with a mirapoix, added lots of white wine, roasted the root vegetables separately before adding them to the pot with vegetable stock. The whole thing was blended before being finished with heavy cream. It was a spectacular soup.
Course two was a little plate of grilled shrimp with a thin tomato reduction on a bed of polenta. I'm not a huge fan of polenta or tomato based sauces (except with the obvious exceptions of in a great lasagna or with spaghetti bolognese) but this dish was wonderful. The shrimp were grilled just right, and the tangy sauce and creamy polenta base made for an interesting and tasty presentation.This was followed by a baby arugala salad with grapefruit and a white cheddar cheese from a local cheesery which was flavored with espresso and lavender; it was both terrific and unusual.

And then came the main event: wagyu beef with herbed mashed potatoes and braised cabbage. This really might have been one of the best plates of food ever put in front of me. The beef was just incredibly... beefy, I think Jaseth had roasted in the oven on a sheet tray. One small caveat about the beef... my understanding of Kobe/wagyu beef is that it is very, very tender and this actually wasn't, I'm not sure why, but it took a little sawing through; however, each bite was really fantastically delicious; the outside crust of the steak was perfectly roasty, almost charred and intensely flavorful while the inside was soft and perfectly cooked to medium, which is just how I like it; it was topped with a wild mushroom sauce. Not much to say about herbed mashers, you just can't go wrong and these were great - buttery and smooth, but the cabbage was the real surprise. I like cooked cabbage okay, it's not my favorite veggie but I've certainly enjoyed it at times, but this  cabbage was sublime. I think Jaseth had cooked it with the beef because it was a chocolately dark brown and just dripping with beefy flavor, yet had that smooth but slightly crunchy texture of perfectly cooked cabbage. 

And last there was the chocolate mousse. It was light, whipped, and a nice last touch. A dish of meat, potatoes, and a vegetable is one of my favorite meals, and this one, with all the fantastic courses that proceeded it, ranks right up there with the meals I had at the Cookhouse farm dinners on Vashon with Cheryl. Those were some of my favorite meals, along with those two dinners in Blois, France (same restaurant both nights) with Peter, and lunch at the George V in Paris on that same trip; those meals also included lovely settings (in both the restaurants themselves as well as the greater locale), charming service, and best friends.

Dinner in the yurt lasted a good long time and Jenine and I had fun chatting with the folks sitting next to us while eavesdropping on the quirky couple sitting at the end of the table - they seemed to be on a first date and Jenine caught some chatter about "pleasure centers" being stilmulated by the food. Eeew. It was a nice group of people, mostly it seemed, people who were having their own ski vacations at the Solitude Resort. Diane was a very friendly lady from Texas who was sitting next to me, and I talked to her a bit about  my recent Icelandic adventure. Jenine and I also chatted with another nice couple on our way out who were from Virginia and who were also really interested in my trip to Iceland. We talked about traveling in general and taking trips vs. having stuff (taking trips won). I got the impression that they hadn't traveled much, kids to raise and all that, but were starting to explore. I have a feeling they're going to find themselves in Reykjavik one of these days.