Please join me for a return to experience AMI Montessori in Mexico City. The main purpose of my visit was again to serve as an oral examiner for the AMI Montessori A to I (Assistants to Infancy), birth to three, course. But as always in this Montessori world a guest is greeted with grace and courtesy and a desire to joyfully share culture, which includes food, as Mexico City is famous internationally for this element.
Above is a picture of the graduating class seated with us two examiners, the teacher trainers, their course assistants, and my translator. I was pleased to see that the medical doctor who graduated from this course in 2016 is now the guide/teacher in the infant community for children from one year to 2.5 or 3 years of age, returning to Puebla on weekends to take care of her medical patients.
Santana and Carrington
This year I had an overnight flight from San Francisco so in order to stay awake we went to the Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park), one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere, measuring 1,695 acres. Large pictures of Santana and other important Mexican historical figures grace the black iron fences that surround the garden, and museum signs heighten our excitement as we approach the Museo de Arte Modern (Modern Art Museum) to see the special exhibit of the works of British/Mexican artist Leonora Carrington.
More on Santana here: here: Santana
More on Leonora Carrington here: Carrington
My hostess was surprised that I had never heard of this artist so I explained that since I love the Impressionists and Post-impressionists has crowded out a lot of art history and I need to be educated about surrealism. And my eyes were opened; what an interesting person.
Saint Teresa in the Kitchen
This was one of my favorites of her painting. Carrington urged women, in both her writing and her graphic arts, to own their power. Saint Teresa, in the black and white tunic of the Carmelites, is seen as the patron saint of gastronomy. She was famous for her ecstasies and here she hovers over a boiling caldron in the center of the kitchen frying an egg in miraculous rapture. For Carrington the kitchen was an exclusive place for coming together and for experiments; the analogies between cooking, magic, and painting turned it into an alchemical laboratory.
Frida, Surrealist or Realist? Last time I was here the lines to get into the Casa Azul, or the “blue house”, the home of this famous Mexican artist, were around the block and there was no time to wait so it was a treat to relax and spend my second day exploring her home and art. If you do not know this artist the best introduction is the 2002 movie “Frida” staring Salma Hayek.
More on Frida Kahlo here: Frida
Chiles en Nogada
Again it is a treat to be here during the season of this famous dish. This year the AMI 3-6 trainer, who was in Mexico City for a month, brought each of us our on special blue and white plate from Puebla, and a Chile. We enjoyed them over lunch in the institute staff room.
Here is a little of the history of Chiles en Nogada. Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico from 1822 to 1823, signed the Treaty of Cordoba which granted Mexico its independence from Spain in 1821. The event took place in Veracruz and on his way back to Mexico City he stopped in Puebla. The townspeople of Puebla decided to honor the Emperor—and independence—by creating a special dish using local ingredients. The Augustinian nuns of Santa Monica convent came up with Chiles en Nogada, which means chile in walnut sauce. It is made of poblano chilies stuffed with a mixture of meat and dried fruit (a special vegetarian version for me) and decorated in the colors of the Mexican flag: pomegranate seeds (red), parsley (green), and a sauce made of fresh, carefully peeled walnuts (white). To this day the nuns earn money by the painstaking task of peeling the walnuts for local restaurants. It is considered very patriotic to order or serve this dish.
Grasshoppers, Fire Ant Eggs, and Tequila
We work very, very hard at Montessori exams. The trainers are not the ones who test the students so no one can be “prepared for the tests.” The exam questions are sent from the Association Montessori Internationale in Amsterdam, and the oral examiners are selected from around the world. This is one of the reasons why AMI Montessori teachers are so well prepared for their work. The pressure is on. But several times a week we manage to have our discussions over delicious meals.
A vegetarian eating insects you say? Well, I just tasted, considering it practice for the probably main source of protein in the future as Earth’s population grows and grows and grows; and no one argues with eliminating a few million of the eggs of the dreaded fire ants!
More on fire ants here: Fire Ants
And now for the tequila. I had tasted this drink before, but on this occasion it was served in the traditional manner. First one takes a bit of salt in one’s hand and licks it up. Then a little taste of fresh lime juice followed by a sip of tequila. Finally a sip of the famous sangrita. The combination was delicious.
The word sangrita means little blood and was probably invented in the 1920’s as a way to cleanse the palate between sips of tequila and it was thought to be made up of the leftover juices of fruit salad. So it could contain pomegranate, tangerine, orange, mango, papaya, and so forth. Again this way of serving represents the colors of the Mexican flag: lime juice (green) tequila (white), and sangrita (red). I felt very patriotic.
Squash Blossom Soup and Mole
After this delicious traditional Meal meal I came home looking for squash blossoms to make soup, and since it is late in the season could only find enough to decorate the top of soup, but next season I shall plant zucchini and do it properly.
Mole contains chocolate and many spices; it comes in several colors, and is famous in Mexican cooking, and again it is the nuns of Puebla who might have invented it. Our version, Enchiladas de Mole Negro with cheese at the restaurant Azul Condesa, was a special treat. And it was followed by even more chocolate for desert.
More Mole information here: mole
This is a delicious Mexican version of hot chocolate made with chocolate, flour, cinnamon and flavored sometimes with anise, vanilla, ground nuts, orange zest, and more, to make a variety of interesting drinks. The chocolate is packed into little individual tablets for storage that are melted, mixed with or milk, and then blended or whipped with a wooden whisk called a molinillo. The whisk is rolled between the palms of the hands, and then moved back and forth in the mixture until it is aerated and frothy. Then it is poured into a bowl made of cocoanut shell and drunk. There are many recipes on the internet ¡Buen provecho!
Two-Year-Olds Make Their Own Herb Tea
Things have changed in the Montessori 3-6 classes with the introduction of the Infant Communities for children from age 1, or walking, to age 2.5 or three. Pouring rice, lentils, or water, from small pitchers is common for other children who have not had much experience using their hands with challenging tasks. But in the Montessori A to I world children begin pouring their own water before they are a year old, yes, before they can walk. They water plants, fill basins with water to wash their hands, and want this work to be real, collaboration with the group, not mindless, repetitive activities.
I asked the Infant Community guide to show me how the tea-making was carried out by a 2-year old in her class. There are many steps, beginning with measuring and adding loose leaf tea to the pot, adding (previously prepared) hot water, waiting till the water reaches the correct color, setting the table with a place mat, napkin, cup and saucer and spoon, carrying the pot to the table, sitting down and enjoying the tea, putting the used tea leaves in the compost, the placemat and napkin in the laundry (to be washed and ironed by another child), and the tea-pot, spoon, and cup and saucer with the dirty dishes (to be washed by another child), all the time concentrating deeply and not being interrupted; and then going on to choose the next physically and mentally challenging and satisfying “work”. I have just described a series of skills included in the list of “executive functions” which are a more reliable predictor of academic success in later life than IQ, and the basis for real Montessori practice at any age “meaningful work and uninterrupted concentration” that produces happy people who then reach out naturally to care for others and the environment. Thank you Margarita.
Coyoacán (the “place of the cayotes”)
The last afternoon after graduation I was hosted by the brother of the head of the AMI affiliate organization in Colombia, South America who lives in Mexico City. We went to Coyoacán to see the cathedral, the crafts market, and to enjoy Middle Eastern food. We were joined by the head of the AMI affiliate society for Peru. Both of these women were students in this course.
I was pleased to see a statue of San Martin de Porres who, along with Santa Rosa of Lima, is patron saints of my old home (for a short time) Peru. Coyoacán is the second most visited site in Mexico city, but the real pleasure was in enjoying it with friends after the intense week of exams and the graduation.
More on Coyoacán here: Coyoacán
Peruvian and Colombian Montessorians
Here I am with these two women who will be first to take AMI Montessori Birth to Three information back to Peru and Colombia. They are passionate and inspired and I look forward to see what they, and all of the other students, do with this precious information. Yes, the picture on the left is more food, alfajores, my favorite cookie from Peru.
More on AMI Affiliated Societies here: AMI
Back Home in California
Now I am back home, catching up on writing a 6th book Montessori book, and preparing for work in Europe in the fall. I don’t usually enjoy shopping, but this beautiful hand-made blouse and amber earrings are gifts and memories of that fascinating local crafts market on the last lovely day in Mexico City.
Stay tuned . . .
More here: Susan’s Home Page