I visited Mexico for the first time in 1989. I went to visit my friend CJ who had moved there a few years before. During my not-nearly-long-enough stay, she arranged for me to spend a day with a colleague of hers. CJ thought we would like each other because she liked us both so well and because we were both creatives and because we were both tall. CJ was right. This incredible woman has become one of my dearest friends, one of my best-beloveds. Because I don’t like using people’s real names here, I’m going to call her Milagros.
Milagros and I liked each other immediately. I can’t speak to what she saw in me, but I will say that anyone meeting Milagros for the first time would be captivated by her. She walks with the sun, is so full of light and energy and curiosity. For me, her magic lies in the fact that she is like my Aunt Mildred, she is a shining example of fully embracing yourself and living as exactly who you are. ( And I am happy knowing that, when my mother and aunt traveled to Mexico years ago, they were able to spend some time with Milagros. If ever two people were meant to meet, it was Mildred and Milagros!)
We hung out for a day, and that day cemented the friendship we’ve shared for the 32 years since.
One of the things we did on that day was visit a museum. I don’t know the name of the museum. I do remember that it felt very much in the middle of nowhere. It was some kind of popular culture museum, and the main exhibit during my visit was chilies. In the more-than-a-block-long main gallery, there were more chilies than I would have imagined existed. At each end of the gallery, there was a beautifully-lettered floor to ceiling scroll with two columns of names of chilies. The lists weren’t copies of one another. They were two completely different lists. Because there are more chilies in Mexico than seems possible.
I just came across this article: What dried chilies do fresh ones become? This is a question it would never have occurred to me to ask because I had no idea chilies change their names when they are dried! The fact of this fascinates and pleases me. I’m going to go ahead and assume that this isn’t news to maybe anyone else, but it was definitely news to me.
And it made me think. Should this be a thing people do, too? As we age, should we change our names? We’re going through some dramatic changes, so why not? The ways we contribute change, just as the way a dried chili is used in a dish differs from the way a fresh chili is used. I mean, I have grown to love my name, but is it time to think about life as Esmeralda, as Zelda, as Persephone?
Another pepper story with Milagros happened on my second or third visit to Mexico. She drove me to a market to try the squash blossom quesadillas sold from a stall there (they were delicious!). As we walked through the market, I saw ahead of me a stall that seemed to sell sausages. It had long ropes of links hanging out to entice shoppers. But the sausages didn’t make sense in my brain, as they were all a bright, brilliant green. I asked Milagros about them, and she nodded and confirmed that yes, they are green because they are made with chilies and tomatillos. And, although there was meat in those casings, I certainly couldn’t tell from looking. I mean, come on. Green chorizo. A whole other, far more vibrant and engaging world is obviously mostly hidden from me.
I have other chili stories, at least one of which is with Milagros. She is also responsible for some excellent and delicious fruit discoveries. And each of those moments is interesting and delightful, but I’m circling back to that museum exhibit of chilies and the enormous scrolls at either end of the gallery. Now that I’ve read this Gourmet de Mexico article, which barely scratches the surface of Chili World, I’m wishing I could magic myself back to that day in 1989. I am wondering if the scroll at one end of the room listed the names of fresh chilies and the scroll at the other listed the names of those chilies when dried. Or maybe one column was for fresh and the other for dried.
It’s no different, of course, than grapes and raisins, plums and prunes. Of course. I guess what I’m discovering is that I am a narrower thinker than I’d have liked to believe. It would never have occurred to me that the raising/grape situation existed with other foods than the ones I already knew about, as if I already knew everything. Sigh.
It’s a good reminder to keep my eyes and mind open. Just as I need to be thinking about my crone name, I need to be thinking about being on the lookout for new things to learn, being on the lookout for newness in familiar things.