If you’ve ever traveled to Mexico, you’re familiar with the FMM — the Forma Migratoria Múltiple that, for most of us, is acquired on a plane. You fill in the blanks while you’re still in the air and surrender half of the FMM when you pass through Mexican customs. Don’t lose the other half! Trying to return without your half of the FMM guarantees an eternal encounter with Mexican bureaucracy. You say you’ve never met anyone who has had that experience? I rest my case.
Still trying to tell one chili from another, I signed up for Dolores Brittingham’s famous top-secret, top-drawer, word-of-mouth-only cooking class, which promised hands-on experience and a generous and scrumptious menu, plus unlimited wine. Dolores, who is Filipino, Spanish, and Mexican, has been teaching cooking for thirty years. As many as sixteen students can crowd around in her gorgeous gold- and green-tiled kitchen. Before moving to Puerto Vallarta, she and her husband Rob worked for Boeing in Seattle, and now return to the Northwest only for September and October. These months are Hades in Puerto Vallarta.
The best Mexican tourist-fleecing operation is not the timeshare industry, it’s not the machine-carved wooden dolphins sold by beach vendors (“my family make them here!”), it’s small-scale tequila distilleries. And I say that with high praise.
I take a bottle of water from the refrigerator. It begins to drip before I get it to the patio, instantly sheathed in condensation as if it had been dipped in wax. It is eighty-eight degrees and the humidity is more than that. A storm is coming to Puerto Vallarta.
“They were out of white.” Louise had just returned from the makeup store bearing brushes, remover, and a large tube of silver makeup. “They said silver will look just as good.” Silver? Who’s ever heard of a silver skull? I was destined to look like a piece of jewelry, not the sugar skull I anticipated.
In Mexico the whole Halloween thing is overshadowed by a more ancient version of the holiday: a combination of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day called Dia de Muertos (“Day of [the] Dead” — which this year is today, November 2nd). On this day the Mexicans celebrate the lives of the people they’ve lost, with altars. The altars typically have a picture of the late dearly beloved, as well as bottles of whatever libations and vices the person preferred, favorite foods, and symbolic objects.