Cooking with Home Schoolers (concluded)

Even though the market tour and cooking class we recently had in Yucatan were disappointing, that day still did significantly expand my experiences. I have learned that on a trip, interchanges with fellow travelers can expand my horizons. It is natural, at least for me, to have at least a few minutes’ conversation with the Australians, Canadians, Americans, Dutch, French, and Bulgarians I meet at historic sites or restaurants. And when traveling in a group, there are many and longer interchanges with fellow travelers in the breakfast rooms or on a bus or van. While traveling I have met an Italian professor specializing in Italian-American literature who introduced me to a novelist I later read; a heart transplant surgeon whose sense of humor coincided with mine; a retired fire captain who had a repertoire of Moth-quality stories; his friend who gushed as he showed me the pictures of the classic fire engines he had restored; a woman whose son was a number-crunching baseball analyst; a small town newspaperman with interesting insights on America; and many more.

Something similar happened on this trip, not because we were traveling in a group, but because of our accommodations. We stayed in a small condo complex that had apartments and freestanding villas. We walked through an unlocked metal gate to a courtyard with a swimming pool. Villas were on the sides and apartments facing the Caribbean at the far end. We were in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor with a view of the water from a sunken living room and an adjacent deck. The view was beautiful, although the removal of one palm tree in front of the deck would have made the view even better. The place had comfortable beds, chairs, and sofas. The kitchen was well equipped but had inadequate lighting. The showers, however, emitted a puny stream. Water pressure, we learned, was a problem in all of Yucatan, but ours was especially bad. The water comes from aquifers laden with showerhead-clogging limestone. After a few days of dancing under the drops from the showers in an almost futile attempt to rinse off soap, the spouse got the showerheads replaced. The shower was not what I would call luxurious, but it was better than before. The split AC system was efficient although we seldom ran it except in the bedroom at night. All in all, the place had the feel of Old Florida, which I found attractive.

The complex had a social center, the pool, where conversations were struck up in and out of the water. The spouse had found the place on an English-language website. Not surprisingly, it was a North American enclave. The owners and renters at the condo complex we met were from the United States or Canada. The most interesting person was a surgeon from Milwaukee. He was originally from Indiana but he spent many boyhood summers in Wisconsin, and we swapped stories about old and new Wisconsin. And later, he helped convince me that I needed to go to an emergency room, a visit that may have saved my life. (But that is another story.)

Alma’s cooking class was also a place for a social interchange. The other family we shopped, cooked, and ate with were from Topeka, Kansas. I asked why the two girls were not in school. I was told that they were. Danica and Delaney were home schooled, and the mother said that the trip was part of their education. The girls had completed reading projects on Yucatan and the Mayans before coming to the peninsula, and the trip was another step in their schooling.

The family took many trips. All were preceded by assigned readings. The family had a goal of visiting all fifty states before the girls completed their home schooling.

The mother volunteered that her daughters had been attending a “Christian school,” which had gone into remote learning at the beginning of the pandemic. That had not worked well for the girls. They quickly completed their assignments and got bored. The parents wanted the girls to be challenged more and decided that they could do that through home schooling. The parents were members of a home schooling association, and both of them were involved in the educational instruction.

The father, a financial planner, was the bread winner. His wife proudly told us that he managed a $50 million portfolio. Many of his clients were widows who had not taken part in their family finances. Desmond said that few had even bought a car and were relieved that he would participate in such a transaction. He said his clients always seemed to want to buy a Honda, and he had helped purchase more CR-Vs than he could remember. This pleased the NBP who loves Hondas.

Although the car purchases may have been in Topeka, he said that he could work from almost anywhere with an internet connection. Thus, the family could travel extensively.

I went to the cooking class to learn about food, but instead what I really learned, yet again, was to check my prejudices. I had not given it much thought, but I am sure that I had assumed that there was something off about home schoolers. I probably thought I would meet with evangelism at least for home schooling; diatribes about the loss of “values” in the schools; coerced into praying before a meal; and ill-informed political and health comments. There was none of that. Yes, the family and its members were a bit precious and self-involved. (They asked almost nothing about the three of us, even though each of us in our own way, I assure you, is fascinating. But this did not separate them out from many, many other American families.) Mostly, the four of them just seemed nice and loving.

Perhaps that is why I did not tell them what I had once heard. At one of the times when there was a scandal because a teacher was having an affair with her high school student, a man said that he thought this was not a big deal because such sex had not been harmful to him when he was a boy. He paused, looked reflective, and continued, “But, then again, I was home schooled.”

And I forgot to ask them what food they would get when they got back home to Topeka. I wonder if any would have responded, “Bierocks.”

“Tope,” She Exclaimed

I don’t like speed bumps. For most of my car-driving life this was not much of an issue because I encountered few. However, a decade ago, Brooklyn, my home, started putting in speed bumps on some streets I regularly drive. Mostly they signal a school that I am approaching. I understand the concern, but I was not aware that speeding cars had been wiping out schoolchildren in my neighborhood before the bumps were built. They did not seem necessary. However, now, on my way home, I have to slow to eight miles per hour or less and then go back to twenty-five and then back to eight three or four times on the last few blocks of my trip. I realize that this is a minor aggravation except when I am concentrating on a stroller or a bicyclist or the behind of a pedestrian, and don’t see the bump coming. I hit it too fast and fear my head is going to hit the car roof. However, I am restrained by the bruise-leaving, always-worn seat belt as I say various non-Christian oaths. On the other hand, I am grateful that many other blocks I drive do not have speed bumps, and on occasion I get home on a route that would otherwise be less convenient except for the absence of speed bumps.

I have become resigned to the Brooklyn bumps. I felt much yuckier about the Yucatan ones we encountered on a recent trip.

We had flown to Cancun, rented a car, and drove ninety minutes on a good road. We turned off the main highway onto a narrow, meandering street to get to the apartment we had rented on Akumal Bay. Our place was a little over a mile from the turn off, but it seemed much further because of speed bumps. There were many of them. I tried to count them but invariably lost track because of their number—more than two dozen but perhaps thirty or more. The bumps were not all the same. Some were nicely rounded and could be driven over at, say, five miles per hour without any danger of losing fillings. Some were plateaus with an incline, a flat space of several yards, and then an off ramp. Some, however, were not really bumps, but triangles with sharp tops that required extra care and speeds that matched a baby’s crawl.

Before some of the bumps, but not all, a sign was posted on the side of the road—TOPE—which we took to mean “speed bump” in Mexican. We figured that this was a two-syllable word, but the spouse like to pronounce it as if it were that brownish-gray color, that, to me, should have a hint of purple. Her exclamation of “Tope” was sort of cute the first time and even the second and perhaps the third, but we drove this road multiple times each day. Her shouting taupe the thirty-fifth time had lost all cuteness.

The road had a posted speed limit of twelve kilometers per hour, but if that speed was ever reached, the brakes had to be immediately pushed hard for the next speed bump. You could drive the road faster than walking, but only by a bit, and the usual trip the length of our little road took up to fifteen minutes.

This road was not an outlier. Every town where we drove in Yucatan had speed bumps. Even main roads were mined with them. We decided to visit the Mayan ruins at Coba, which we had not seen before. Google maps correctly indicated that it was about a ninety-minute drive, but the mileage (or should it be kilometerage or kilometreage) did not seem that far. Google maps apparently knew of the many, many, did I say many speed bumps we would have to traverse even though almost all of the drive was on main roads.

I wondered if some sort of bizarre corruption was at work. Had some well-connected speed bump construction company “convinced” local officials that this annoyance was necessary? I concluded that if all the speed bumps we encountered on the drive to Coba had been stacked on top of each other, it would make an edifice higher than Coba’s pyramid, a structure that we were told was even higher than the one at Chichen Itza.* If the speed bumps survive, I wonder what future anthropologists will make of them.

On the other hand, I don’t remember seeing any evidence of traffic accidents in our drives.



We toured Coba in a pedicab. The spouse and I sat up front in the vehicle in what was a spacious area for the young but a little tight for us. Rodrigo, who lived in the nearby town of 3,000 also named Coba, narrated as he peddled.

We learned some natural history. Rodrigo pointed out two trees growing together. He said that the bark or sap of one was poisonous and caused a rash, but the bark or the sap on the other one contained the antidote. The two trees always grew side by side. At another tree, Rodrigo pointed out a barely discernible hole with a swarm of small, flying insects. He said the creatures were a native, nonstinging bee. Its honey is harvested by boring into the tree and is a delicacy of the area. 

As can be expected, we heard many different languages and accents at Coba. French predominated, but at the pyramid we met a couple from Bulgaria, who seemed thrilled that we had been to their country, even though it had been for a matter of hours on a trip down the Danube. They took our picture with the pyramid in the background. I fell in love with her, but she has not called me, and my ardor has waned.

Of course, we were primarily there to see Mayan ruins. While Coba’s pyramid may be higher than Chichen Itza’s, it does not now seem as grand because it is in greater disrepair than the more famous site. The stairs have crumbled to pieces. However, I only remember one ball court at Chichen Itza while Coba has two smaller ones that seemed almost intimate.

The Coba feature we had not seen elsewhere was a portion of a raised road. Rodrigo told us that this road originally extended fifty or more miles through the jungle to other Mayan cities. I realize that I was only seeing a small portion of the road, but in spite of my close inspection I saw no speed bumps. On the other hand, the Mayans did not used wheeled vehicles.

However, on the more modern Coba paths used by our pedicab, Rodrigo did have to maneuver over…yep, speed bumps.


One car horn sounded, and then another and another. I wished that the horns had been tuned to make harmonies instead of cacophonies.

The program told me that musical piece had its “world premiere” in Oxford, England, last September. Is there a difference between the premiere and the world premiere?

The street preacher told me, “Thank God for Jesus!” He did not look then as if he wanted to discuss the finer points of theology, but I wondered what his views on the Trinity were. Did he think Jesus was part of the Godhead? Was he saying, “Thank Jesus for Jesus”?

I expect to tip when paying a restaurant bill in the United States. (In some countries, a percentage is added onto the bill and an additional tip is not necessary.) I have my standards for what I should tip at a restaurant. I infrequently have food delivered to my home, but when I do, I expect to tip the delivery person. I am never sure how, however. I think it should be less than in a restaurant where the server not only brings me the food but also clears the table during and after the meal. And, of course, people are washing the dishes and utensils I have used. I have, therefore, concluded that the delivery person should get a lesser percentage than the tip in a restaurant, but I am still not sure what it should be. Now I have another tipping dilemma. When I am making the kind of purchase for which in the not-too-distant past I did not leave any tip, the credit card machine asks me if I want to leave a tip and lists percentages. For example, I went into a store and filled up some canisters with coffee without the help of a store employee. When I went to pay, below the price of the coffee, I was asked if I wanted to leave a tip. Should I? Is this a new tipping convention? Tipping conventions do change (I am unlikely to leave a ten percent tip at a restaurant as was once common) and vary by locations. On a recent trip to Yucatan, we found that people other than those ringing up the purchases bagged our groceries in the supermarket. We learned that we should tip these baggers although the expected amount was only a couple of pesos or so, which amounted to a dime. I don’t like bagging groceries, and this seemed just fine to me. At a gas station, someone pumped the gas, which I don’t mind doing, and we were told to tip them some pesos also. That was no big deal, but a bigger deal was that the gas stations did not take credit cards, and we had to make sure to have sufficient cash to get enough gas. I am still wondering, however, whether I should leave a tip when I buy coffee from the specialty shop.

As I went to the first tee to start another bad round of golf (for I am a bad golfer), I asked the starter, “Got any tips?” “Yes,” he said. “Never bet on the Phillies.”

The spouse and I have talked about leaving Brooklyn for some place where old folks like us might live an easier life. A place we considered was Asheville, North Carolina. But then I learned that the closest Costco to Asheville was more than a ninety-minute drive. This might be a deal-breaker.

I was walking a block lined with many Indian restaurants. One distinguished itself by the clipping in its window of a glowing review by a famous food critic. I was not sure, however, if it told me anything about the quality of its food. It was from 1997.

Today is the Sixth of January

I had been thinking of various essays to commemorate today, January 6, often known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. Several topics came to mind.

First, I thought I might write about the bizarre time the spouse and I were ordered by a man to hide behind some columns in a dark crypt inside an Mayan pyramid in Yucatan, and then we think we were invited by this man (we think it only because we had such trouble understanding his English) to a neighborhood Three Kings party. P.S. We didn’t go.

            Then I thought I might write about how some traditions call the Magi Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar even though these names are not in the Bible. I would continue by noting that not all Christian faiths limit the Magi to three or agree that the wise men visited shortly after Jesus was born. Thus, s0me denominations have as many as twelve Magi and some have the adoration by them occurring up to two years after the birth. I might include that we refer to them as “kings” even though that designation does not appear in the Bible.

            And then I thought I might explore different gift-giving traditions observing that various cultures share presents on St. Nicholas Day, December 5, or 6,  some on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas Day, some on Boxing Day, and others on January 6.

            I have several times been in New Orleans on January 6 and have always been served Three Kings cake then.  I planned to write amusingly about that tiny plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake, which I think is tacky. The essay would have continued with a discussion of Mardi Gras.

            However, I have been distracted today from thinking about the religious, social, and cultural aspects of January 6. All such thoughts have recently been replaced by a new epiphany that January 6 is another important day in the selection of our president. For most of my life, I considered there to be only two crucial dates for our presidential picking: Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November) and Inauguration Day, some day in January when, according to the Constitution, a new presidential term starts at noon. I was aware that we had an Electoral College, but I never knew the date that it “met” because it never seemed crucial, and it never garnered more than a paragraph in the news. (Of course, the EC does not really meet – at least not in Washington. Instead, electors in each state separately convene and cast their votes.) If I had thought about it, I might have realized that there had to be some sort of state certification process of the vote after Election Day, but until this year I had not thought about that process. Moreover, I learned that the date of certification varies from state to state.

            And then there is the day that Congress counts the electoral vote — once again a date I have paid little attention to because for a century-and-a-half it has been an insignificant day of routine bookkeeping. I could not have told you that it fell on January 6, but now I know that it does. It is still expected to have no practical significance. The electoral count will be the same number that has been in effect since a few days after the election. However, this January 6 will garner more attention than any congressional elector count since 1876, a shameful time in our history. We can hope that today’s count will not reveal a shameful time in our current history.  

            The day will get attention because several members of Congress will object to the electoral count, and that will lead to “debate” in each House. Other than reaping attention for themselves, the naysayers are not expected to affect the election results. At least some of the constitutional subverters say their goal is not to keep Trump in office, but to address the distrust that has built in the public. F0r example, Ted (Look! I can grow a Covid beard) Cruz, a leader in attacking the election, said, “We’ve seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud. And that’s produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that.” (Hmmm. And what’s he going to do? Tell us that the fraud is real and the election results are invalid? Yeah, that’ll help.)

            So, while he is hardly the appropriate person to address this problem, he has a point. Even I have become distrustful of our “democratic” processes, not because I buy into the baseless claims of electoral fraud, but because so many of our political “leaders” are fanning the fraud flames and are advocating extraordinary, sometimes bizarre, and often illegal and unconstitutional measures that would sabotage the democratic process. While we can be cautiously optimistic that today will end as it should with Biden’s being declared President, the bombastic stupidity that will be on display is disheartening to say the least.

            The Trumpistas are winning. They have made me distrustful and fearful. May our country and our democracy and our republican form of government survive today intact.