Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mrs. Piecrust Goes to Nogales

Guest Post
by Mrs. Piecrust

During one of my weekly, three hour phone marathons with my good friend, CarolineNot, I mentioned my recent shopping spree in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. I couldn’t understand why she was laughing so hard or why she asked me to share this experience, but here goes!

My good friend, Lolita, came by the house a few days before Memorial Day weekend, and began discussing what we might do. Lolita and her husband had been to Nogales a few weeks before and had a delightful time. Since I had not been there since 1992, it seemed like a great idea. Besides, I had long wanted some flower pots that are made in Mexico. Hand-painted, also known as talavera pottery, they are extremely popular in the Southwest because of their beautiful, colorful designs.

So we were off bright and early Sunday morning. Mr. Piecrust had gone to the ATM and withdrawn $200. I suggested that might be a bit too much money to take, and he commented, (under his breath), that he would consider himself lucky if we got out of there for less than that. Shopping is not Mr. P.’s favorite thing in the world, but he was unwilling for us women to go to Mexico unaccompanied.

The 1-1/2 hour drive went quickly, as Lolita and I chattered constantly the whole way. We reached Nogales, Arizona, and parked at Ed’s Parking, which only cost $4. Lolita explained this was the easiest way, because we didn’t want to drive our car into Mexico. After parking, we entered the duty-free store, which is like a small department store. One can purchase items for a fraction of what they cost in the U.S; things like cosmetics, perfumes, and jewelry, not to mention cigarettes and liquor, which is the reason so many go there! To avoid a surcharge, you must purchase your items before you leave the store and enter Mexico. Lolita and I bought a few incidental things, and Mr. P. gallantly carried our packages, so our hands could be free to inspect our anticipated new treasures.

Even I could not think about shopping until I got something to eat. We found a restaurant that looked clean, and entered. We had just taken our seats when the mariachis entered. An elderly, weather-beaten man dressed like a bull fighter with a guitar approached our table and asked if we wanted a song. I enthusiastically told him we did, and he asked if we had any special requests. Not able to think of a Spanish song at the moment, he asked if Ay, yi, yi, yi, yi. . . was okay. I said yes; Lolita rolled her eyes and started to chuckle.

I am not particularly savvy in mariachi etiquette, and he and his partner were standing behind Lolita and I, facing Mr. P., who had a look of . . . ‘am I rude if I keep eating my chips and salsa rather than watching the performers?’ I didn’t know whether I was supposed to stop looking at the menu and give full attention to my serenade or what. So, I stopped looking at the menu and turned to listen to the singers.

went on for what seemed to be an eternity, and I wondered why a Mexican family sitting at the next table was giggling. When it was finally over, Mr. P. handed him $2. The singer appeared insulted and rather indignantly informed Mr. P. that it was a $4 song. Lolita commented that things must be going up in Mexico, too.

Soon, another mariachi came in, and having realized that I have a hard time saying no, I didn’t even look up. It seems that I have a sign stamped on my forehead that says compulsive shopper or easy target. (On a cruise to the Mexican Riviera with several friends a couple of years ago, I seemed to be a magnet for every street vendor within a ten mile radius. Even on the beach in Mazatlan, a man approached me, selling wooden bowls for only $20. “JUST SAY NO, MRS. PIECRUST,” my friends shouted! But I came home with a wooden bowl, a pitcher, a dress for my daughter’s best friend’s baby, colorful little ceramic jars for all my co-workers, and a huge bowl for Lolita. Oh yes, I forgot about the gold hoop earrings, too!)

We followed Lolita through narrow, crowded streets lined with small shops selling everything from blankets to sombreros to furniture to piñatas, all with vendors enticing the touristas to come in for the “best deals” in town. We determinedly resisted until we found ourselves in a store filled with all kinds of beautiful, (Mr. P. says, ‘gaudy’) dishware, pottery, and pots—a shopper’s paradise. Lolita stopped to ogle over a set of canisters, and I wandered to the back of the store, where I excitedly realized I had discovered a treasure trove of gorgeous Mexican pots! I immediately found two that were exactly what I wanted… except they were a bit smaller than what I had envisioned. Pablo, the store owner, followed me, and I asked how much they were.

“$250,” he replied, and upon seeing me gasp, he quickly said, “Just kidding. How much you give for these beautiful pots, they are cheaper by the dozen. How many you want? You know you love them. I’ll make you the best deal!”

“I was thinking two.”

“Okay, how about $150 each?”

Lolita wandered over to intervene in my negotiations and said emphatically, “No, that’s too much!”

She then started haggling with him. She offered $60 for each piece.

As Pablo stood with his hand on his chin thinking, I excitedly blurted out, “Okay, I’ll give you $75, not a penny more!!”

He immediately agreed and proceeded to take them to the front.

Lolita gently scolded me, telling me, “You’re supposed to wait and let the seller come back with a counter offer.”

I then noticed the cutest little glasses, well actually just one, but it was the cutest thing, and I collect glassware that has cobalt blue rims.

I asked Pablo if he had any more, that I needed to buy at least four. The next thing I knew, he was going to the stores up and down the streets, trying to find me three more. He was successful.
I asked him how much for each, and he started out at $6 but reduced them to $3.

After about an hour in the store, Lolita finally negotiated her deal for the canisters and a beautiful baking dish, perfect for making her to-die-for artichoke dip. I will include the recipe at the end of this story.

[CarolineNot here. Now, I don't want any of this lost on you, so allow me to regroup the shopping math: Two pots, which may have been purchased for $120, but Mrs. Piecrust has insisted upon $150; four glasses at $3 each. $150 + $12 = $162]

It is here that things got complicated. Lolita didn’t have enough cash to pay for her goods, and Pablo informed her that he would take a check, but not a credit card. Lolita explained she didn’t have her checkbook with her. At this point, I was thinking of my selections and the $180 cash I had in my purse and informed Pablo very firmly that $180 was all I had, and I wanted everything I’d picked out for that amount, and I was absolutely resolute about it. I was very pleased with myself for standing my ground. He took the $180, and I got my two pots, and the four adorable little glasses. Mr. P. was trying quietly to ask me something about the cost of the glasses, but I pooh pooh’d him and assured him I had it all under control.

When Pablo realized he wasn’t going to make Lolita’s sale, he suddenly remembered that his cousin at the “farmacia” would take a credit card if the purchase is under $100, but there is a small fee. So, Pablo and Lolita started out for the “farmacia,” and I tagged along, leaving Mr. P. sitting on a bench outside, guarding my pots and glasses. He was looking very haggard at this point.

Pablo and Lolita were scurrying along, and I somehow got separated from them about a block away. The “farmacia” was located at the back of a store—way in the back of a store. I called out, “Lolita, Lolita,” but she was of sight. I reminded myself that I was in a foreign country, where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know a soul. Strange things were known to happen here—one can just disappear, be sold into slavery, or arrested and thrown into jail forever. Just as I felt a panic attack coming on, I was quickly diverted. Because out of the corner of my eye, I saw it: The perfect pot. The one I’d always wanted. Bigger than the two I had just purchased with every dime Mr. P. had given me.
I just had to check it out. By this time, all thoughts of Lolita and Pablo had vanished and I found myself asking Juan, the storekeeper, how much?

“$450,” he told me and then, seeing my shocked look, he repeated just as Pablo had, “Just kidding”. . . . and then. . . .”You know you love it!”

I was beginning to see a pattern here. I heard Lolita calling out for me. She and Pablo had finished at the “farmacia”, and I remarked to Lolita how this was the pot I really wanted. Pablo joined Juan and they went into an animated, lengthy discussion in Spanish. Turned out they are cousins. But the stores were under different ownership, and I couldn’t exchange the other two pots for this one. My eyes darted from one to the other, wondering what in the earth they were babbling about, and wishing I had taken those Spanish lessons I always talked about.

Lolita negotiated and we came up with $160 for the pot, a remarkable price, considering they sell for about $350 in the U.S.

Problem was, I didn’t have any more cash.

No problema, Juan offered to take me to the bank!

The next thing I knew, I was following Juan to the bank, down winding narrow streets; my only consolation was that two other American women were going along. There we were, in frantic mission mode, following Juan like he was the Pied Piper of Nogales. All thoughts of potential danger fled from my mind as I scrambled merrily along, determined to have that beautiful pot. It should be mentioned here that using the word “pot” and “Mexico” in the same sentence could often mean trouble.

I asked one of the women what she was purchasing: it was a turtle—another popular ceramic adornment. After walking at least half a mile, we reached the bank. I put my ATM card in and thought I was asking for American Money. I got a peso. I thought, “Hmm… I got a $200 Mexican peso, it must be the same as two one hundred dollar bills. This should work.”

Juan and the two women chuckled as I handed him the peso. “No, no, no, the $200 peso is only worth $20. You need American money.”

Silly me! I went back into the bank and retrieved the American dollars. The other woman was unable to get cash with her credit card, because she did not have a pin number. She had tried to explain this to Juan, but he assured her she could. Now Juan suddenly remembered that his cousin in the “farmacia” would take the woman’s credit card for a purchase under $100 for a small fee. The turtle cost $65.

We headed back to Juan’s place, where Mr. P. was now on watch, and he began shaking his head in a familiar way. Pablo and Lolita were carrying on a conversation, and Lolita learned he is a father of two girls, and his cousin is in prison for drug dealing, and that he was unable to obtain a passport for some reason. . . ??? Lolita also found a 5 ft giraffe in beautiful colors that would be perfect in her yard. But she resisted, and Pablo gave us his business card, making us promise we’d come back to see him soon.

For some reason, we had attracted a lot of attention on this crowded street, and passers by seemed to be interested at the flurry of activity. Now, one of Juan and Pablo’s uncles, Uncle Pedro, appeared, and he was going to take our parcels on a dolly to our car. He looked to be about 65 or so. I saw one American man looking at Mr. P., nodding sympathetically as he was taking in this whole scene.

Pleased as punch at our finds, Lolita and I walked with Pedro as we enthusiastically marveled about them, and every now and then Pedro chuckled in amusement. We reached the customs area, and the line was long but appeared to be moving fairly quickly. It was at this time that Lolita and Mr. P. asked me to itemize in my head my purchases from Pablo. Well, I got the two pots for $150, and the glasses. . . . uh. . .. .let’s see, four glasses . . .uh, I gave him a total of $180 for the two pots and the four glasses. . . . so let’s see, that’s that’s-- oh no that can’t be right, that’s almost $8 a glass! Ay, yi yi yi yi!!

As I stood there lamenting my situation, a shocking thing happened in front of us. A man, Hispanic, probably late twenties, dropped to the floor, having convulsions. Since Mr. P. is an emergency room nurse, I hysterically directed him to help this poor man. “Mr. P. Do something, do something!”

I was trying to get the packages he was carrying from him, and it was just taking too long, and I repeated agitatedly, “Mr. P. Do something, do something. What’s taking you so long?”

Well, the plastic sacks had gotten wrapped around his finger, and he was trying to get them loose, and I was just pulling on them, making it worse, and becoming more hysterical by the second. Finally he was released from the packages, and he went over to help the young man on the floor. Pedro, Lolita, and I removed ourselves from the line and stepped aside to observe. We waited for about fifteen minutes, until the ambulance arrived. Lolita was explaining to all the people standing in line that Mr. P. was a nurse, to assure them he knew what he was doing. I don’t know that anyone understood what she was saying.

Pedro then led us to the front of the line, and nobody objected, because they realized we had lost our place when the man fell—of course, it may be possible they just wanted to get the “crazy gringos” out of there. Pedro helped us load our purchases into the car, and I remembered the $200 peso. Pedro seemed pleased when I gave it to him as a tip, and our shopping trip was over.

However, on our way back, we drove by a resort in a town called Tubac. Mr. P. and I had attended a wedding there a year ago, and it was just beautiful. I insisted that Mr. P. stop, so we could show Lolita where the wedding had taken place. We got out and walked around, and Lolita remarked that it was a beautiful place for a wedding. In fact, they were setting up for one as we wandered about. Unbeknownst to me at that time, it was a foreshadowing of events to follow. But you will have to wait for the next installment of the adventures of Mrs. Piecrust, to find out!

And now without further ado, Lolita’s wonderful artichoke dip recipe:

2 cans artichoke hearts, not marinated
12 oz parmesean cheese
2 c mayonnaise
1 small can chopped green chilies

Drain and chop the artichokes, and add rest of ingredients. Put in a baking dish and top with 1 small package of mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Serve warm with your favorite crackers or hard crusted French bread.

Until next time, adios, amigos! Stay tuned for Mrs. Piecrust goes to Washington, D.C.!

And she's not kidding. Her plane is taking off in about an hour. I hope I don't wind up having to ask directions for baking a saw blade into the midst of a chocolate cake.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. ~Psalm 91:11

1 comment:

Cousin Annie said...

OH MAN!!! I can hardly wait until the next chapter!!!!! Ü