Sunday Afternoon, 28 January 2001
Part 1 - Holiday Abroad
"Darling, you look pensive!" said Carina who had until that moment had her head buried in a mystery novel thick enough to be a telephone directory. Leon often wandered off into a world of his own where he became completely absorbed by what ever was on his mind at that moment. Carina took a sip of her tequila sunrise then feigned a pouting, worried face to tease Leon into a smile. Having been married for over two decades in some ways Carina knew Leon better than he knew himself and could cheer him up under almost any circumstance.
"Sorry Honey, I suppose I've been enjoying the last four weeks so much I'm just a little gloomy that its drawing to a close."
"All things come to end. It's been a great month and we've got many exciting memories and photos to bore everyone to death with when we get home. I think it would be fitting to stop being melancholy immediately and finish up this holiday with a bang."
"Sounds fine to me. In which case what would you like to do tonight to celebrate?" asked Leon.
"I don't have anything specific in mind perhaps an expensive restaurant followed by a night club would be fun. In any case I think you should make the arrangements, as you can see I'm far too busy." she kidded as she raised her tequila sunrise in a toast.
"My only requirement is that tonight we shall be extravagant, decadent and the food must be absolutely delicious and laden with cream and chocolate. Tonight Darling, nothing is forbidden."
"Leave it with me and I'll begin some investigations while you enjoy your book. Would you like me to order you another cocktail before I leave?"
"No thanks Leon. If I have another I may not be able to read at all, but remember, do chose well Darling."
While Leon was diligently carrying out an investigation in search of the ideal restaurant for their last night, Carina's mind wandered from the gargantuan novel to the fascinating adventure they had shared over the past four weeks.
It began in a mood of exhilaration and expectation as they left Sydney at midday on the second of January. They arrived in Los Angeles for breakfast the same day; a strange consequence of travelling East across the international date line. They spent as little time as possible in Los Angeles, not even leaving the airport, before connecting with an American Airlines flight to Mexico City via San Francisco. The total travel time between Sydney's Mascot International and Mexico City's Benito Juarez International was a long but happy twenty-five hours.
While in Mexico, the agreed strategy was to spend the first three weeks visiting a number of small villages to develop a fuller understanding of the traditional Mexican culture including language, cooking, clothing, craft, music and folklore. They'd carried out considerable research to ensure their experience would be a success. They also decided that the last week was to be enjoyed in complete relaxation under the sun at the luxurious Hotel Copacabana Acapulco.
Their decision to visit Mexico was based on their mutual interest in the Spanish language having studied it for several years in preparation for extensive travel in Spain and South America. Also, they both adored Mexican culture especially the food with its liberal use of spices and chillies. This represented the first step in a systematic exploration of Hispanic countries.
Leon and Carina both believed very strongly in the merit of working hard to make their relationship and their time together very meaningful. It seemed so easy to the casual observer because they always had so much fun together and obviously loved each other very deeply but it didn't stop them striving to ensure that neither took their relationship for granted. They consistently undertook adventures and projects together to ensure a shared experience; conversely, they conscientiously undertook a range of activities separately to bring new, individual experiences and interests to the relationship.
After two days in Mexico City they continued the journey by taking a one hour flight on AeroMexico to Oaxaca, a large Southern city of eight hundred thousand people. Oaxaca was not renowned for its beauty as a city but it did provide a perfect stepping stone for Leon and Carina to extend the adventure to some of the more traditional villages. The two days spent in Oaxaca proved to be worthwhile from the perspective of the archaeological treasures that they were able to observe during their stay not to mention the charm of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains which bounded the city. They were also privileged to witness the celebration of "Dia de los Santos Reyes" on the sixth of January which is a celebration to mark the meeting of The Three Kings and the infant Jesus. The day is celebrated by the exchanging of gifts and the sharing of King's Day Bread which is a sweet bread ring filled with crystallised fruit and covered in icing.
They left Oaxaca in a rented Jeep, early on the seventh of January, in search of a small village in the Oaxaca Valley known as Tiacolulu Village. According to their research, Tiacolulu Village was a very traditional, rural community well known for its Sunday market, a traditional gathering place for Indians who sold their creative handiwork. Carina in particular, was keen to arrive at Tiacolulu Village in time for the Sunday market, she had expectations of collecting some hand-painted pottery vases to add to her extensive collection. Leon's priority was to photograph an operating, primitive mescal still; but that had to wait.
When they arrived at Tiacolulu Village they were surprised at just how small the village was. Finding the old sixteenth century church in such a small village was relatively easy. The Sunday market was held on the strip of land in front of the church. Immediately on parking the car, Carina excitedly dragged Leon to the rows of stalls. The first thing they noticed were the strings of dried chillies of every variety, then a stall with a sign saying "Churros". Leon's hunger was easily identified by the owner of the stall who, in Spanish, expressively encouraged Leon to make a purchase.
Churros are of Spanish origin and are long, thin fritters made of flour.
"Would you like to try one Carina?" she recalled Leon asking.
"Sure, I'm starved and I'd love a cup of the hot chocolate as well." which was traditionally served with the churros.
Leon relayed the order for two churros as well as a hot chocolate for Carina to a sweet old lady with a round face and an enormous toothless grin.
"Buenos Dias Señora. Dos churros y uno chocolate cálido, por favor!" said Leon, his accent making it clear he was not of the region as if his appearance were not sufficiently convincing.
"Doscientos pesos por favor!" grinned the old lady.
While they enjoyed the taste and the filling sensation of the churros, they continued to scour the stalls for cultural artifacts and artistic handicraft. Eventually, just as they were about to admit defeat, they happened on a suite of handmade pottery items being displayed on the back of a wooden carretilla with its original wooden spoked wheel.
"These vases are superb Darling. Look at the detail in the artwork and the preservation of the colour. The glazing was carried out by an accomplished artisan to be sure. The shape is delicate but the structure is solid. Leon, I must buy this piece and possible one of these."
Carina enquired of the prices and was astonished at how reasonable they were. Of course there was quite a mark up as was normally the case when the locals were dealing with tourists but Carina was so happy with the quality and the price she didn't bother haggling.
"I'll take them both." Carina said in precise Spanish, to the Indian señora.
"I wonder if she takes American Express." chipped in Leon.
"You are joking, right?"
"Of course I'm joking, you know I only have a Visa card."
Carina gave Leon one of those unmistakable looks as she did from time to time, which was an unspoken way of saying, 'Darling, this is not the right time for your jokes!'. Leon immediately took the hint and took twenty thousand pesos from his bulging wallet.
Carina recalled how the next day Leon woke up extremely energized about their trip to the mescal still. He was dressed and ready for breakfast atseven o'clock at the small inn, cum guesthouse, at which they spent the first three nights. It was more like being a guest in the home of a friend than Leon and Carina were used to back home. They put it down to the typical friendly nature of the Mexicans especially those away from the larger cities. They travelled from Tiacolulu Village towards Wagul for a short time where Leon questioned a leathery-skinned farmer as to the whereabouts of a mescal still. The farmer was most helpful and provided Leon with a detailed set of directions. After driving for a further twenty minutes along a cattle track not fit to be called a road, they happened across the still. Mescal is the name for a type of spirit of which tequila is one variety. The foundation ingredient is the heart of the Maguey plant, the above ground portion looks akin to a pineapple plant. The hearts are cooked in a large pit for several days then ground to a pulp by rock wheels powered by mules. The pulp is fermented in large wooden barrels then distilled. A second distillation yields tequila.
Leon was highly excited and was as comfortable with his Pentax MZ-S SLR as if it were an extension of his own body. Using the two hundred millimetre zoom lens he began to create what would later be pictorial essay of the operation of the mill and the entire mescal production procedure.
Part 2 - Last Night In Paradise
"Honey, you'll love it." announced Leon as he sat down on the vacant sun lounge beside Carina.
"It will provide the perfect environment for my last night in paradise with the perfect woman."
"Thank you Darling." said Carina in response to Leon's compliment.
"How long have you been gone?"
"About forty-five minutes maybe a little more. Why do you ask?"
"Nothing really. I must have dozed off. I was reliving some of the moments in Oaxaca and the small village where we stayed at the inn of Cecilia and Jaime Gomez. I was recalling just how very unique and enlightening those moments were. The next thing I know, you were back. You'd better give me some details about the wonderful restaurant you have found."
"Well let me see, how do I describe it? Lets say it possesses warmth rather than glitter, it exudes quality and it comes with the personal recommendation of Gregorio Alvarez. You remember Gregorio Honey, he's the executive chef at the Copacabana."
"Yes I recall Gregorio and I'm sure he would not recommend another restaurant lightly. It simply must be excellent."
"What else can I tell you? It's a very short walk, perhaps only five minutes from the hotel. The entrance is at the bottom of a short flight of sand stone steps where immediately inside heavy, carved oak doors, it opens out into two areas with distinctive vistas. One side of the restaurant provides a view of Acapulco Bay which we already know is breathtaking at night while the other side looks over a beautiful hanging garden with a waterfall. There is magic in the air Carina."
"It sounds perfect though I think I prefer the sound of the waterfall side."
"That's what I thought you'd say so I've already booked for eight o'clock, una mesa para dos, mi Querida."
The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing about the pool, strolling along the beach and doing nothing in particular. At about five o'clock Carina indicated she was going up to the room to begin the meticulous preparations for the big evening.
While Carina busied herself in the bathroom, Leon arranged for room service to deliver a vase of black roses, a box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne which he placed in the small refrigerator in the mini-bar. He was hoping their time at the night club would be rather short lived. Carina generously allowed Leon a few minutes in the bathroom to shower and shave, evicting him as soon as reasonably possible. At no sooner than ten minutes to eight, Carina alighted from the bathroom and the masterpiece was complete.
"Leon, those flowers are very beautiful, thank you so much."
"Darling, you are beautiful, they are just flowers. Carina, you are truly stunning, it makes my heart race to look at you. Every year you get more lovely, your maturity brings radiance and self assurance that glows from within you. Thank you for being my wife, you do me a great honour."
Carina was a young mid forty year old. She had always been fastidious about her health and appearance and now, more than ever, it was paying off. Her classically beautiful face had the softness of a teenager, her complexion fair and unblemished. Her olive eyes sparkled with a love of life and were highlighted by thick, dark lashes and well moulded eye brows. The corners of her eyes showed the slightest trace of wrinkling which was almost hidden by the generous fringe that washed over the outer edge of both eyes. Her nose was perfectly shaped and her lips giving. Her lips, which were a naturally beautiful deep-pink, shone even more alluringly when augmented with the smallest covering of lip gloss. The lips were a most expressive and impressive feature of this lovely face. The colour indicated beyond doubt this lady was a true and natural beauty. The rounded, full, smiling bottom lip defined her warmth and passion and the complimentary, slightly narrower top lip defined her strength and determination. Her hair was auburn but in certain light could appear copper and its length cascaded over her shoulders and down her back like a veil. Parted in the centre, it fringed across her temples covering all but the lobes of her ears which were always adorned by unpredictable yet tasteful earrings.
The calf length black silk skirt with diagonal ruffles overlapping each other in true Mexican fashion, accentuated her slender lower body as it sat on her waist like a halo. A peach blouse with a plunging, lace-trimmed vee-neck, front and back, clung to her firm torso and the additional lace trim around the middle highlighted her voluptuous breasts. She wore a gold chain around her neck which carried a pendant set with a large emerald which was augmented by matching emerald earrings. The black, high heeled shoes with black sequin lined, delicately-thin straps, lifted Carina onto a cushion of air that provided a most elegant gait. The finishing touch was a matching small black purse with black sequins lining its upper edge. As she walked into the living room Leon couldn't help but gape at the vision of exquisiteness that was his wife.
"Stop Darling! You're making me blush." said Carina.
"Seriously though I appreciate your flattering comments. My self assurance has a great deal to do with the respect and love you've shown me since we first met and the maturity I'm afraid is beyond my control. Besides you are a fine person yourself and I'm honoured to be your wife and to have you as my husband."
"You know, it's a funny thought to rush in to my head at this moment but I'm thinking the one thing I hope for is that the children all find the same depth of love, trust and companionship that we enjoy."
"Have faith Leon, I'm sure they will."
"Its just as you described it Darling. It's very quaint." beamed Carina as she glided ahead of Leon to the table as directed by the Maitre de.
"The waterfall and the use of coloured spotlights is divine and the water lilies are stunning. Leon, you've chosen extremely well, this is going to be a perfect evening. And as you said, there really is magic in the air."
"I'm thrilled you like it." said Leon as he signalled the waiter.
As requested the waiter arranged a tequila sunrise for Carina and a margarita for himself. The following half hour was spent enjoying their cocktails, discussing the extensive menu and deciding what they would have for dinner.
After a great deal of deliberation Carina decided on Mole Poblano de Pollo a delicious and complex dish in which chicken is cooked in a paste made by crushing dried chillies, cinnamon and cloves with sesame seeds, ground nuts, onion, garlic and tomatillos while Leon selected Chiles en Nogada which consists of large, dark-green poblanos chillies stuffed with a pork-meat picadillo and covered with a walnut sauce. They chose as an accompaniment, a bottle of French Pinot Noir Confuron-Cotetidot Echezeaux - grand cru 1999.
"Leon is there something on your mind?"
" Nothing really! I'm just enjoying looking at you, especially when you're eating chicken that is so very hot. Too many poblanos perhaps?" he teased.
"Its certainly hot but its absolutely delicious. I would never have the patience to prepare this at home so I'm making the most of it. Anyway, that was a nice try Darling but you should know by now, I'm not so easily thrown off the scent, I can sense there is something worrying you. Do you want to talk about it?"
"Am I so transparent?"
"Not transparent at all but I know you well enough to sense when you're worried."
"Tonight is meant to be a night to relax and have fun not be serious and solemn." side-stepped Leon.
"Are you still gloomy because the holiday is almost over." Carina knew Leon wanted to talk and she also knew she'd need to coax him a little to begin.
"No, unfortunately its not that simple, I got over that this afternoon. The difficulty is Carina, I don't really understand myself what the problem is. I feel a stirring inside but I can't identify or understand what is causing it. That makes it difficult to discuss it in any meaningful way."
"There is a possibility Leon that you are going through a period of evaluation that sometimes is referred to as 'mid-life crisis'. This phase of life seems to usually occur at about the stage of career and family development in which you now find yourself."
"I'm not old enough for a mid-life crisis Honey although in some ways I think you may be right. We started taking our adults responsibilities at a very young age, we had children early and we focussed on my career too much for too long. Its possible that the onset of a mid-life crisis is more a function of goals achieved and not of chronological age."
"That's exactly what I was saying. Perhaps when we get home you need to carry out the personal evaluation I mentioned before. Try to determine what the path will be for the next ten years. You have more options now Leon than you've had at any other time in your adult life."
"If I were to do so, I know that I couldn't do it by myself. Our lives are so connected that it wouldn't be fair or constructive for me to plan the next ten years based on my wants in isolation of yourself. We must approach this together to achieve a successful outcome."
The waiter approached the table to refill the glasses with the Pinot Noir and the pair went silent for a moment and each reflected on their discussion.
Leon and Carina married and started their family in their early twenties. It was a conscious decision based on the two factors. Firstly the desire to minimise the generation gap that would, by definition, exist between them. Their logical was that this would give a close relationship between parents and children for the longest possible time. And secondly to ensure that they were free to travel extensively while still young enough to fully enjoy the experiences it would bring.
During the six years over which the children were being born Leon updated his qualifications. By the time he was twenty-eight he had capitalised on this by winning a number of significant heavy-construction projects with which he established a solid reputation within the industry as a committed and successful project manager. While Leon loved the challenge of the work and that it provided well for his family he resented the long hours it kept him away from them.
Carina over this period selflessly decided to place her career on hold to spend as much time as possible with the children.
After the waiter had completed the refill and provided the dessert menus, they furthered their earlier conversation for the rest of the meal. After dessert, coffee and chocolate mints they decided to skip the night club and make their way back to the hotel for a flute of chilled champagne.
"I'm glad we came home Darling, the champagne is delicious, the view is spectacular and the company is ideal."
"Thank you Carina! I was just thinking quite the same thing. I didn't feel much like crowds and loud music tonight, certainly not when the alternative is sitting here with you on my knee."
Leon had positioned two armchairs in front of the large window affording their hotel room the panoramic view of Acapulco Bay and the associated brilliant spectacle of shimmering lights the were reflected in perfect symmetry off the mirror smooth body of water. They'd kicked off their shoes and sat in the arm chairs with the feet on the window sill, sipping Joseph Perrier Curvee Royale Brut 1995 and basking in the beauty of the seascape while holding hands like love struck teenagers.
"I'm not on your knee. Have you had too much to drink Darling?"
"You aren't yet but I think it would be a good idea, don't you?"
"Its fine by me if you think you can stand the weight."
"Carina, you're as light as a feather, now come here and let me hold you."
Carina placed her champagne on the window sill and moved onto Leons lap, placed her arms around him and snuggled her face into his neck. Leon stroked her long hair gently and slowly while they held each other firmly, each feeling the glow of the love they shared. After several minutes, Leon lifted Carina's face from his neck and tenderly kissed her soft lips.
"Carina, I think we've seen enough of Acapulco Bay. I'm feeling an uncontrollable desire to make love with you now my lover."
"It seems I share your thoughts yet again Leon. Lets make love until the sun rises in the morning. "
Part 3 - The Trip Home
"Well this is it Honey, one final hop across the Pacific Ocean and we'll be home again." said Leon neutrally.
"You make it sound so inconsequential when you say it fast but don't forget its the best part of sixteen hours. Have you considered yet how you will use the time."
"I think I'll watch the first movie, it sounds interesting, then I plan to read the book on the Mexican cooking I bought in Mexico City.
"I think I'll join you with the movie, it does sound like it could be entertaining."
The movie they decided to watch was called 'Subconscious' which included a scene in which the husband, having been away from home for eleven consecutive months succumbs to an affair with an attractive co-worker. This scene sparked a impassioned debate between Leon and Carina who held different perspectives on the moral implications of that part of the storyline.
"No I'm not condoning his behaviour Honey, he was a jerk, there is no two ways about it but what I'm saying is that the circumstances were extenuating."
"There are no circumstances that justify a husband committing adultery Leon. I don't care if he was away for eleven months or eleven years and I don't care if he fed grapes to one hundred beauties in a harem, he should have kept his physical and emotional self to himself. There are simply no excuses."
"Give the guy a break Carina, he thought he was going to die. In any case it wasn't his idea it was the girl's idea. They wanted to give each other comfort and strength to face what they thought was their last day in this world."
"I'm really surprised Leon, I find out after all these years that you could be so accommodating. I thought your standards were irreproachable. Does that mean in such circumstances you would behave in the same way?"
"No! Not at all! And I know you wouldn't either but if you did, I'd forgive you. All I'm saying is that I think she should have forgiven him. He was wrong, very wrong but he showed great remorse and the situation was extreme and unlikely to recur. I think his wife should have forgiven him, at least after a long period of the silent treatment."
"Leon, I think we will have to agree to disagree. As far as I'm concerned, fidelity is fidelity and there is no room for mistakes, no matter what."
"I agree with everything you say Carina. I don't think our views on the immorality of the affair are really far apart, its just the issue of forgiveness. Anyway My Sweet, I would never leave you for eleven months, I'd have to be certifiable. Lets change the subject."
"What a good idea."