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Follow the Cheese

Herald columnist Jim DeFede's odyssey across the United States as he delivers the Virgin Mary cheese sandwich to Las Vegas.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Once Upon A Time In Mexico 

We're lost somewhere in Juarez.

That's right, the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich entered Mexico Thursday afternoon.

We're not supposed to be here. The fine people who rented me this new Cadillac certainly wouldn't approve of this jaunt across the Rio Grande. My editors don't know I'm here. And as for the folks at who actually own the VMGCS, well, they haven't a clue either. I haven't heard from them in days. Not since I left one of their executives in the parking lot of the Yellow Rose in Austin.

Mexico just seemed like a good idea. I crossed the border in El Paso without so much as a care in the world. My plan was a quick side trip into Juarez so that I could take the VMGCS to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission.

In 1531, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared on a hilltop in what is now known as Guadalupe, Mexico just outside of Mexico City. She spoke to man named Juan Diego. And she arranged a bundle of roses in his cape to carry to the local bishop. When Diego presented the cape to the bishop and opened it, the roses fell to the ground and in their place was a vivid portrait of the Virgin Mary.

This apparition is one of the best known and most closely examined in the history of the Catholic Church and is one of the few that has been accepted as valid by the Vatican.

The mission in Juarez is an extension of the church built on that hilltop.

Now if only I could find it.

I'm in trouble almost from the outset. No sooner had I crossed the bridge into Mexico than I was nearly sideswiped by a bus, which forced off one of the main avenues and onto a side street. No problem, I think to myself, I'll just loop back around. But my sense of direction has never been very good and before long I am completely lost. For reasons which are still unclear to me, I end up in the hills above Juarez, miles from where the mission is located.

In fact, the road that I am on, is no longer a road but a dirt path with a series of crater size pot holes that threaten to swallow the Caddy whole. On the street, people are looking at me like I'm insane. It is right about now, that I start regretting missing so many of my Spanish classes this year at the Herald.

As I drive, the only Spanish I can recall, involves beer (cerveza), the bathroom (el bano) and how to note that a magazine (la revista) is on the table (insema del mesa). Oh, yeah, and cheese (queso). However, as you will soon see, I don't know how to say grilled cheese.

Now before I take this story further, let me just say that dogs in Juarez have no fear of cars. I'm not sure if it is because they are suicidal or whether they just don't care, but an inordinate number of them kept walking in front of my car. Let's be clear, though, I did not hit any of the dogs. I merely nudged one slightly and he seemed fine.

After about 30 minutes, I found a very nice woman who spoke more English than I do Spanish, and she patched together some basic directions to get back into Juarez and find the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission.

Before leaving, I attempt to explain what I am doing and I show her the VMGCS.

Pointing to the VMGCS, I try to think of a way to say grilled cheese, but all I have is the word "queso." So I start to make the sound of something being grilled -- "Sssssssssss" -- and then adding "queso."

So here was my conversation with this woman:

Me, pointing to the VMGCS: "La Madonna, Ssssssssssss Queso."

Her: "Que?"

Me: "La Madonna, Sssssssss Queso."

I try saying it more slowly, as if that will help.

Me, again: "La Madonna, Sssssssssssssssssssss Queso."

The look on her face makes it clear she has no idea what i am talking about.

Frustrated, I add a bit of charades. When I say, "La Madonna" I motion to the face in the sandwich. When I make the "Ssssssss" sound, I touch my finger to the VMGCS as if it were very, very hot. And for "queso" I throw my hands into the air, as if to say, "viola!"

"La Madonna, Ssssssssssss Queso."

The woman shook her head. "Okay," she said, and walked away.

Perhaps Mexico wasn't such a good idea after all.

posted by Jim DeFede at 4:02 PM

Jim DeFede and Cheese

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