Amatista Tostadas Coyoacán

The brightly painted door is open, though the placard reads “cerrado”. A lone waitress wipes the last of six white tables pressed against either blue tile wall.
“Please come back in five minutes.”
We buy tomatoes a few corners away and return. “Closed” still hangs in the window, but she waves us towards a table. The painted front window signs reflect the name and the menu right-way round again in the eye-level mirrors reaching back along both walls.
“The lunch menu, it comes with two tostadas?”
“Only one.”
“That’s fine.”
The waitress reminds us of old friends, strong and tattooed and perhaps as comfortable on the frontier as on this street rumbling with buses. A sweet creamy dressing tempts from the table in anticipation of the salad. Two enameled bowls, layers and spokes of crunch and fruit, greens and citrus, black and white. We find new tastes in each uncovering. Neatly drilled mason jars of playfully inventive agua fresca up through colorful straws. Each table is neatly set with four chairs, a pitcher of dried flowers loosely matched. We are the only diners, the owner comes to greet us, we lie and say we are from Chicago as a pact against blank stares for Atlanta.
“Thank you for opening early for us.”
“Oh we opened on time, but thank you for noticing the sign.”
As she flips it over while sliding the door closed to keep out the summer chill. She returns to the table nearest the open kitchen. A woman enters, leaves, returns; a pair of animated women sit across. The soup is simple and filling, a nod to experimentation hidden in a wave of cumin. Salsa, smoke and vinegar, the heat to follow. The owner asks if we enjoyed the salad, too late I remember,
“I do not have the words.”
Lingering memories of flavor as our tostadas pile higher in preparation, elegantly delicate presentation of basic simple food. A shot of broth and beans accompany the sqaure tortillas to echo the midpoint between soup and sandwich we have mmm’ed halfway through, trading first bites, exchanging plates for the last. All the tables full and humming now. Dessert is sufficiently small and light. As we finish I ask the owner,
“Lemon and what else?”
“Chia, it is a seed.”
“Ah, yes, a small black seed.”

Connie and Leonora

Connie joined us for our first week in Mexico City, flying down in the afternoon the day after our own arrival. A bright “I made it!” grin on her face and that of her taxi driver, a common side effect of successfully navigating a new destination without a common language other than smiling and waving.

In the months before our trip, she had become fascinated by the life and art of Leonora Carrington, a surrealist artist who called Mexico City home for most of her adult life. Connie shared with us how much she loved the story of a strong woman artist, the sacrifices she’d made to remain independent and creative, and the range of powerful mythological and indigenous imagery present in Leonora’s work. This excitement infected us too in anticipation of our visit to this magical metropolis, and we quickly made plans to share our time and lodgings in order to experience Leonora’s city with Connie.

A great bronze sculpture by Leonora sits prominently along the Paseo de la Reforma in the center of Mexico City. Originally installed in a fountain of Chapultepec park, it now sits in the pedestrian boulevard at Havre. Apparently Lewis Caroll’s whimsy was a recurring source of inspiration for Leonora, this piece is often referred to as “Cocodrilo” but the full title is “How Doth The Little Crocodile…”. We walked up from the metro stop Insurgentes, sunshine warming the pedestrian mall of Zona Rosa and dappling the Paseo’s wide walkway. As we neared the statue, the roadway was closed and filled with a long line of riot cops stretching to the ongoing protests for the now-nine-months-missing Ayotzinapa 43, beneath a banner declaring “Government and Education should not Assassinate.”. The crocodiles of the statue are frozen above our heads rowing away from this memorial and back towards the Angel and forest of Chapultepec.

Leonora’s former home in Mexico City is a reasonable twenty minute walk from the Paseo, south of the Insurgentes station on the small side street Chihuahua. Nearby a delicious-smelling bakery’s delivery fleet of bicycles were just heading out with baskets. Much of the neighborhood is rebuilt following the ’85 earthquake, but it is possible to imagine Leonora living behind the remaining simple facade here until her death in 2011. After a further walk among the figs and hibiscus flowers of Avenida Amsterdam’s garden-like path, we enjoyed a favorite lunch of tacos al pastor at El Califa and returned home to discuss Leonora’s surrealist influences from alchemy to mythology.

Bakery bicycle delivery
El Califa classic

One of our favorite educational stops here is the National Anthropology Museum, an overwhelmingly massive building featuring indigenous pre-conquest and modern-day artifacts from all regions of Mexico. In 1963 Leonora was commissioned to paint a mural for the Mayan exhibit, and she traveled to the state of Chiapas for inspiration and folklore research, resulting in “The Magical World of the Mayans”. Luck was on our side in finding this complexly surreal mural in the museum as it recently left Mexico for the first time to be exhibited at London’s Tate Liverpool, but it was waiting unmistakably for us on the second floor. The detail and energy of the piece absorbed us for thirty minutes at the end of our anthropological tour, so many strange faces, animals, and mystery blended in her interpretation of heaven, earth, and the underworld.

At the National Anthropology Museum
The Magical World of the Mayans

Two other museum experiences anchored Connie’s visit to the time and place of Leonora’s Mexico City. The Museum of Modern Art, though it did not have any of Leonora’s work on display, presented two fitting exhibits: A large collection of Giséle Freund’s documentary photography featuring Mexican artists, studio spaces, and exhibitions; and an assortment of films about artists featured Remedios Varos and David Alfaro Siqueiros alongside several of their works.

On Connie’s last day with us, we returned to Frida Kahlo’s home and museum (La Casa Azul), a short walk from our apartment. Every time I’ve been inside is so peaceful despite its popularity, it must have been a marvelous place to live and create through the pain; a wonderful light-filled studio and kitchen, and a garden courtyard filled with greenery, running water, and the omnipresent dark volcanic stone of Mexico City.

In Frida Kahlo's Blue Courtyard

Films for Latin American History Courses

Each year, I teach several Latin American History Courses. These include Colonial Latin America, Modern Latin America, Modern Mexico, US-Latin American Relations, Health and Society in Latin America, and Latin American Revolutions.

In each of these classes, my students respond really well to the films and documentaries we watch. I enjoy helping them connect the historical events we discuss in class with real and fictionalized accounts of everyday life in Latin America, and also to see (usually for the first time) the many environments that make up the cities and villages of the region.

Guided by my constant search for new films to use, and a desire to develop a future course on Latin American History through Film, I’ve decided to start my own Latin American Film Club to make my way through a collection of new-to-me cinema. I compiled my list based on recommendations from colleagues, and welcome any additional suggestions you might have.

I won’t post a review of each one here, but I will give my (brief) thoughts on my twitter account as I go along. Follow me at @steph_opp

For consideration:

A Place Called Chiapas


Amores Perros

And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself

Black Orpheus

Blame it on Fidel

Bolivar Soy Yo

Bus 174


Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business


City of God


Cooking Up Dreams

El Infierno

El Silencio de Neto

Entre Nos

Eva Peron

Fidel: A Conversation

Fidel: The Untold Story

Four Days in September

Gringo in Mananaland

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman

La Ciénaga

Let’s Go with Pancho Villa

Looking for Fidel


Memories of Underdevelopment

Men with Guns


Our Lady of the Assassins

Pictures from a Revolution

Presumed Guilty

Que Viva Mexico

Rosario Tijeras

Saludos Amigos/Three Caballeros

Strawberry and Chocolate

The Blonds

The Devil’s Miner

The Last Supper

The Official Story

The Other Conquest

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The Student

The Take

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

Vidas Secas

Walt and El Grupo


Currently use:

Aguirre, Wrath of God


El Compadre Mendoza

Even the Rain


Herod’s Law

Innocent Voices

Journey to Bananaland

Like Water for Chocolate


Sin Nombre

South of the Border

The Hugo Chavez Show (Frontline)

The Motorcycle Diaries

The Sixth Sun

The Storm that Swept Mexico


An autumn walk

Along the creek

The rain came early this morning, leaving space for a mild dry partly cloudy afternoon. After spending much of the day reading, we headed out for a walk. Our trees have left about half their leaves in our yard so far – or rather, half the trees have lost most of their leaves, and the other half are saving them for sometime less convenient in the winter. Neighbors have waist-high leaf piles bordering the road, or are holding out for one big rake.

Creek trail fall colors

Our house is between two brushy creeks on the west side of town, and a handful of powerline easements criss-cross on their way to the power substation to the east. As we walked along the unexplored loops and cul-de-sacs near but new to us, I eyed what I’d hoped to find: an access path towards one of the creeks without a house or private property no trespassing sign.

Quiet, only the most occasional glimpse of a roof or a sewer pipe crossing the creek, and wonderful woods smells and fall colors. A surprising splash of wild hidden within town, and a crisp but comfortable day for discovering it.

We eased back through a field along a powerline and back to the road, continuing our walk into dusk until our looping traipsing returned us home.

Creek trail fall colors

Getaway to Savannah

For our anniversary this year, Luke and I drove the easy 2.5 hours east to the Georgia coast. After lovely stays in Charleston and New Orleans, we were excited to explore Savannah…the third point in the triangle of southern colonial cities. I booked a room at the Catherine Ward House Inn based on the recommendation of The Southerly, a beautiful photo blog that serves as a permanent source of inspiration. We were not disappointed.

Catherine Ward House Inn

Catherine Ward House Inn

The Inn is adjacent to Forsyth Park, making it the perfect central location for exploring the city on foot. The weather was sunny and warm, and it was lovely to take our time meandering up and down the grids and small squares that connect the area.

Forsyth Park Savannah

Forsyth Park, Savannah

Juliette Low

Juliette Low and Stephanie in appropriate Girl Scout green

We were surprised and delighted to learn that the Savannah Jazz Festival was taking place over the weekend, offering free Jazz music in the park from midday to midnight. After sampling a few beers at The Distillery, we made our way to Parker’s Market for gourmet picnic items and headed to the park in time to hear Alon Yavnai with the University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble followed by The Greg Lewis Trio.

UNF Jazz Ensemble at Savannah Jazz Festival

Before the night ended, we decided to check out Perch, the rooftop bar of Local 11ten. Fancy cocktails in the treetops and fantastic people-watching, it was the perfect way to celebrate a great day in Savannah.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast and pleasant conversations with the other guests at the Inn, we drove over to Bonaventure Cemetery to walk through the trees and tombstones in the vein of John Muir.

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery

We also drove over to Tybee Island to stick our feet in the ocean and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

Tybee Island beach

Tybee Island beach

At Tybee Island

At Tybee Island

We sat outside of a local bar and enjoyed margaritas with chips and salsa while daydreaming about kayaking through the nearby marshes. On the way back into town, we stopped at Back in the Day Bakery for what I can honestly say is the best cupcake I’ve ever had. And, like every other great place we visited in town, they had the most beautiful antique chandeliers lighting up the place.

Back in the Day Bakery

Back in the Day Bakery

That night, we took a Savannah Hopper down to the river and enjoyed a celebratory meal at the Olde Pink House. Our driver shared ghost stories with us along the ride and encouraged us to check out the basement bar of the restaurant to experience stepping back in time. Dinner was lovely, crab stuffed grouper for me and halibut with pearl onions and green beans for Luke, and the bar downstairs quaint but crowded. We opted instead to walk the streets of the city and window shop.

Dressed up


We tried to find a place for a nightcap that matched our quiet, romantic mood, but instead ended up in a loud, expensive “jazz” bar filled with bachelorette parties and octogenarians performing covers of all the slow jams by the Eagles. We left after one overpriced drink and made it back to Forsyth Park to enjoy the last act of the Festival, Tom Scott with The Savannah Jazz Orchestra. The Inn was close enough that, even after leaving the park, we could still listen to the music while sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch before climbing into bed.

The weekend was full of great food and drink, fresh air, beautiful surroundings, and heartfelt talks. All the things we love.

*All photo credits: Luke

Grape Island, Boston Harbor

On the return drive from Maine we camped on an island in the Boston Harbor.

The view to Boston

Grape Island is one of the smaller islands accessible by ferry in the Boston Harbor Islands park. At one time a hay farm, the island is low and covered mostly in sumac and fruit trees, with plenty of wildlife, a surprising number of moonflowers along the shoreline, and yes a few grape-covered arbors. The grass-covered paths cut through the 40 acres of the island’s interior reminded us almost of an English garden, so quiet, neat, and full of life.

You must carry in and out everything you need on the island, our one night stay only needed some water and the makings for a cheese and sausage platter dinner. We took the ferry from Hingham, a 10 minute ride and the first stop among the islands from this direction. There are 10 campsites on the island, only 4 were occupied for our stay, and for the most part we seemed to have the island to ourselves. The majority of our time between setup and dark was spent exploring the entire perimeter of the island, enjoying the fine gravel beach and the full transition from low to high tide.

Looking for rocks
Boulders revealed by low tide
The isthmus nearly gone
Sunset is coming

In the evening a thunderstorm rolled by, a refreshing shower on the rocks for a few minutes and beautiful lightning in the distance. After a few minutes it had passed and the sun returned. A rare perfect moment in life.

Rain on a tidepool
Embracing the rain

Deer Isle, Maine

At the start of August, before leaving Philadelphia, we took one more trip to see New England. Our planned destination: Acadia NP, and a nearby sustainable homestead hostel on Deer Isle.


I first discovered this project in a writeup a year ago about the timber-framed colonial-era construction of the hostel building, and then followed Anneli’s blog for their perspective on running an off-grid hospitality venture. Dennis would later in the weekend show us his axe collection: his father was a champion lumberjack and passed on a deep caring for tools that shape wood. Each axe had a story, a purpose, and a very sharp edge.


We spent two nights with the hostelers, the experience was superb in part for the foggy wooded island setting, in part for the ways it reflected the best of hosteling and encountering unexpectedly like-minded fellow travelers, and mostly for the surprising ways Dennis and Anneli have made a rustic experience reflect the grace of their caring attention. The hostel is well-run, well-crafted, and well-thought-out.

Our first night there we hiked off towards the coast a ¼-mile through the woods by a trail into the next-door Edgar M. Tennis Preserve.


Dinner each night at the hostel is a collective effort with the hosts asking for specific non-staple/non-garden needs, which they then prepare and share with everyone at the common table in the downstairs of the hostel building, and ask that guests share the dishes duty afterwards. An advantage of the small size of the hostel – max guests at this time is ~14: everyone can reasonably sit at dinner and join in the conversation. That first night we were joined by a Seattle yoga instructor staying the week, and a family (parents and early-20s kids) returning to Maine for a family vacation after several years away at school and first jobs. The second night we shared stories with a couple of librarians down from New Brunswick and an older single woman from Massachusetts – the hostel was closer to full that night, but several guests either chose to spend the evening in Stonington or arrived quite late.

There is a pump on property but no running water or electricity in the hostel building – solar-charged lamps provide evening lighting, a gas stove heats water hauled up in five-gallon containers, and a composting toilet with ample sawdust and a sink and mirror is situated out the back door. There is an ingenious open-roofed showering room off in the woods, with a spigot run through a coil in the midst of a compost pile – hot water a short lift away. In each case, these potentially off-putting off-grid inconveniences were introduced by our hosts in happy tones and showed a detailed craft and accomodation that made them welcoming and inspiring. (Of course, not as foreign or off-putting for me as for an imagined average guest?)



On our second day we drove up and around to Acadia National Park, including a quick hike in the foggy rain to the top of Flying Mountain and fresh crab at a roadside stand. The drive along the sounds and inlets was idyllic, the hike vertical with great views south to the mouth of Somes Sound, and the crab a perfect taste of the sea. We returned to the hostel refreshed and with plenty of time for relaxing, reading, and a sun-filled shower.


As we left at 8am the next morning, Stephanie wished for coffee and muffins. And suddenly there it was, a muffin shop in the backroom of an old couple’s home, the blueberry and rhubarb muffins steaming out of the centrally placed ceramic oven and the coffee just being brewed as we waited chatting with the owners. “Oh, we’ve heard good things about that hostel up there, glad you had a good time on Deer Isle.” Thank you, we had a lovely weekend in Maine.


Driving South

An assortment of moments captured as we made our way from Philadelphia to Milledgeville:

Wednesday 9:02am: The movers arrived in Philadelphia to help us load our U-Pack pod. We’ve narrowed down our belongings significantly, and with Luke’s predetermined layout, were able to (just) fit everything into the crate.

Luke loads the last of our belongings into the pod

Luke loads up the pod

There goes our little pod - see you in Georgia!

There goes our little pod – see you in Georgia!

Wednesday 6:25pm: Our last night in Philly, we headed back to Monk’s Cafe for Belgian beers and food. Delicious!

Monk's Cafe

Monk’s Cafe

Thursday 12:26am: Road construction continued for the second night this week. We’d sold our a/c units, so keeping the windows open was a necessity. Sadly, the city chose this week to strip and repave our street. Doubly painful, they worked at night when there were fewer cars on the road. Jackhammers, the beeping of machines backing up, and the yells and whistles of the construction crew woke us up throughout the night.

Thursday 12:37pm: On the road! Irritated by the constant construction of Philadelphia, we made a pact to state things we’re thankful for during our year-long adventure here. For me, it was a year to discover what I want to do for a career, to set personal goals, and to continue developing the confidence I need to achieve them. For Luke, it was a year to explore the east coast, take advantage of our proximity to the Italian Market, and have meaningful conversations about our future.

Thursday 7:30pm: Dinner at Evening Star in Alexandria, VA. Good conversation with great friends and yummy food. Nights like this remind us how important it is to make time for the folks we care about, and to make a solid effort to be social in our new town.

Friday 11:02am: Stuck in traffic outside Richmond, VA. Laughed together at the lyrics to “How Many Drinks” by Miguel.

Friday 5:30pm: After a long day of driving, we set up camp at Badin Lake in North Carolina. Luke made a fire, and we played Gin while waiting for the thunder to turn to rain.

Badin Lake campground

Badin Lake campground

Friday 9:02pm: Fell asleep to the sound of rain plopping off our tent.

Saturday 5:30am: We’re the first site to wake up at the campground. We had the showers to ourselves, followed by breakfast and coffee around the fire. Ready for the drive to my parents house in South Carolina!

Saturday 6:45pm: A full homemade Southern dinner at Mom and Dad’s, including baked ham, potato salad, fried green tomatoes, crowder peas covered in hot chow-chow, cornbread, and peach blueberry crumble.

Sunday 9:15am: A full homemade Southern breakfast at Mom and Dad’s, including biscuits, gravy, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs with cheese and green onions, fresh tomato slices, and cantaloupe. With full bellies, we made the final (and easiest) leg of the trip down to Milledgeville.

Saturday 4:32pm: After unloading the car in our rental cottage on the lake, we drove into the downtown area for exploring. A trip to the grocery store on the way home, followed by settling in back at the cottage.

Relaxing at the lake house

Relaxing at the lake house

We’re happy to be in Georgia, and look forward to sharing more of our adventures here with you soon!

Delaware, At Last

One of the perks to moving around a lot as a child is the number of new states you get to explore. As my parents and I moved from location to location, we happily pulled out the map to see which new states we’d get to add to our growing list. Coupled with a love of national parks and road trip vacations (both as a kid and as an adult), I have happily come close to visiting all 50 states.

To help make this dream a reality, Luke planned an amazing adventure to Delaware. It’s so close to us — we’ve been through on the train many times — but we’ve never made a concerted effort to explore the state and really sink our teeth into it (the criteria for making it onto The List).

We started our day’s journey at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The area consists of preserved tidal salt marshes where thousands of migrating shorebirds return north to Canada from the Gulf of Mexico every spring. Egrets, heron, and ducks abound! So do mosquitoes, which is why I am donning head-to-toe coverage in July.

Egrets, Bombay Hook NWR





Fun in the sunshine

Fun in the sunshine

Happy day!

Happy day!

Next, we drove into Wilmington for a bite to eat. I’d read this review of Juliana’s Kitchen when we first moved to the area, and wanted to be sure to check it out before we moved away. We were not disappointed. After a delicious Ceviche de Pescado, I enjoyed the Bistec Apanado con Tacu-Tacu (amazing breaded steak with rice and beans) and a Pisco Sour. Luke had Pescado a lo Macho (fish fillet with a delicious, spicy sauce). This was easily one of the best meals we’ve had this year.

We ended the night by attending the Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s performance of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at Rockwood Park. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue with open seating on the grass, so we grabbed our camping chairs and set up along one of the aisles connecting the center stage to the main house.


The staging of the play was really lovely – set on the grounds of the Rockwood Mansion, the backdrop and costumes gave the performance a “Great Gatsby” feel while maintaining the original language of the play. The bridges and walkways of the park become part of the set, and surrounded by stringed lights and colorful umbrellas, you really do feel like you are at a magnificent lawn party.

Rockwood Park mansion

Rockwood Park mansion at sunset

A few Klondike bars kept us cool throughout the event.

It was amazing to have such a great afternoon and still be able to drive home in 25 minutes. Delaware, I’m so glad we finally met.

Look out, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho. One more great road trip (and family visit!) and my map will be completely colored in.

Moving to Milledgeville

About a month ago, just before setting off on our vacation, Stephanie received great news: a fantastic job offer to continue pursuing her college teaching career. As Georgia College and State University‘s new Assistant Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History, she’ll be teaching in her field at a small liberal arts school, with a supportive faculty and lots of freedom to design her classes and inspire students towards further study and excitement about Latin America.

Georgia College and State University

Her new professorship is a tenure-track position, up for review in 3 years. This means we know where we’ll be living and working for the next several years, little Milledgeville, Georgia (population 17,715; state capitol up through the Civil War). Smack in the middle of the state, it’s a reasonable drive to the coast (Savannah), and to most of Stephanie’s family (Atlanta is two hours away, South Carolina a three-hour drive). School starts August 19th, so the move is coming up in just over a month.

In addition to the great opportunity for Stephanie, I’m excited for the move for many reasons centered on the ruralness of the area. Surrounded by the Baldwin State Forest, and a short drive to the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, we’ll have no shortage of nearby woods to explore. There are numerous small lakes in the area in addition to the large reservoir Lake Sinclair. Kayaks are likely in our future.

Compared to our tiny Philadelphia one bedroom apartment, we’ll be moving to a house with a yard. (We’ll also have room for visitors to stay with us comfortably again.) We’re optimistic our landlord will let us grow a garden, and in the long growing season of the south (USDA Zone 8!) I’m looking forward to quite the garden, and will try to even get in some greens this fall.

We don’t actually know where we’re going to live yet, whether we’ll find a nice place in town or a few miles out – perhaps towards the lake, or a lot buried in the woods – because we’re waiting until we can drive around and get used to the area before renting for the year. To make this feasible, we’re moving with a container service who will store our belongings for a month, and we’ve rented a short-term place for the three weeks of August by negotiating a cheap rate from a furnished vacation rental on the lake. But watching the rental listings, it looks like there will be some good possibilities for September (though I may have to settle for an electric stove).

Another new start to undertake, we’re thrilled to be heading south this year with a great future ahead of us.