Monday, April 10, 2017

XCIX. Domingo de Ramos

Palm Sunday

This foot-high remembrance was sold to us by
a young girl, perhaps 7 years old. Later in the
evening the price was lowered from 20 pesos
to five.
There’s a full moon rising over the Mexican village where we live. Darkness has fallen on a warm Palm Sunday. We’ve just returned from several hours on the plaza where we were surrounded by an amiable, all-ages mix of town folk visiting, eating and drinking among friends and family. A dozen small children were flitting there around cafe tables, wrought-iron benches and more established vendors, selling images of Christ on a cross made of palm, straw and multi-colored metallic sprinkles. Twenty pesos. Earlier, a procession of faithful parishioners had passed at sundown on the verbena-strewn street just behind us at the end of their journey to the church. And not long before that a coffin, accompanied by a mariachi band, was carried from that same parroquia on it way to the panteón for burial. Semana Santa has begun…Ahhh, México.

Monday, April 3, 2017

XCVIII. Un Aguacero y un Estrépito

A Downpour and a Crash

Sala with tragaluz above. You can't see the tiles
because of the overexposure, but they fell just a
few feet away from the red pillow where I was
sitting.
It was hot the previous Sunday morning, surprisingly so for early in the day. And then it grew humid and clouds gathered. Mid-afternoon thunder began rumbling and not long after that a spatter of rain. Later—surprisingly—was a short deluge, with plinkets of hail thrown in for effect. But the already sun-heated flagstones soon caused most of the patio's puddles to evaporate. In the evening it became cooler, and stars began coming out all over the darkening sky.

Just over a week has passed now and that was our last rainfall. Not long after we awake the past four or five days, over coffee, we look at the already hot sun and say in unison, "Looks like it's gonna be another scorch-uh". I've moved many of the potted plants to more shady places; their leaves were being seared by el sol

It must be fifteen feet from the floor in our cupola-ceilinged sala to the top of the skylight (or tragaluz; literally, "bring light"). Late afternoon a couple of days ago when the sun's heat was at its daily peak and falling ferociously onto the tiles surrounding the skylight's hexagonal opening, I was lying in beer-induced muzziness on our couch, giving my ailing back a break. 

tremendous crash and clatter only several feet from where I was relaxing quickly brought me from my stupor. I threw my arms up and shouted in surprise. Dust and ceramic shards covered half the spacious terracota floor, even on to the beloved Oaxacan rug. Looking for an explanation I realized that a dozen tiles had sloughed off below the tragaluz. It's a good thing I wasn't directly underneath. The four-inch-square tiles are unexpectedly heavy and have sharp corners; it's not hard to imagine the blood and brain damage that might be caused by one of them falling nearly ten feet to land a pointed edge on your cabeza.

Our theory about the plunging azulejos is that water might have seeped in under them during the previous week's deluge, and when they expanded in the sun's afternoon heat they were loosened from their adhesive and fell. Or something like that. We're currently having work done in the cochera—garage—to make it useable as a workshop. I better ask Javier to also take a look at the remaining tiles under each of our three tragaluces, especially the one over the chandelier above our dining table—now there's a disaster waiting to happen

Until then our sala is a hard hat zone.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

XCVII. ¡Carnaval!

Carnival!

Here in Ajijic, Carnaval seems mostly about the Sayacas. At least they, together with their consort Sayacos, are the engine that drove last week’s parade down at the end of the block, along Constitución, on its way to Seis Esquinas neighborhood. Sayacas are reputed to be inspired by, and descended from, in one way or another, a pre-Hispanic village matriarch. Nowadays they are represented by outlandish actors in garish masks and wigs, balloon bosoms and skirts, who—along with their ancient and bewhiskered partners—throw flour and confetti at anyone who catches their attention among the numerous crowd along the desfile route. They were interspersed among a sometimes motley group of floats, marching brass and drum bands, and finally the horseback riding charros. Lent is supposed to be a period of self-denial, charitable works, and pious reflection, but if past five days have been any guide, it’s also a time for cohetes—fireworks—and neighborhood fiestas.

These masked sayucas (females) and sayucos (males) are a popular feature at Carnaval time. They might grab you for a dance, or--more likely--throw confetti or flour all over you. The fellow on the left looks to have a traditional horse hair bead flowing from his mask. From what I've read, people playing these clownish parts enjoy the freedom of having virtually no one know who they really are.
These happy people are throwing flower at us spectators, and it looks like there's been some blowback, too...Uh-oh. The barded fellow, center picture, is looking right at me. I bet he's reaching in his bag for more flour to toss in my direction!
Always lots of brass in these street bands. The designated water carrier is taking a break.
La Reina--the Queen--of Ajijic's Carnaval.
You can always tell where groups of Sayucos are gathered by the clouds of harina, or flour, in the air.
Salsa dancers from a local studio provide a respite from getting clobbered with harina.
You ride the "bull" and get doused with flour. The fellow, center right, with the broad brimmed sombrero and white t-shirt wheels and bucks the contraption. The sayuco, left, with his right hand in the harina pouch might be aiming to throw some at the girl taking his picture. 
Lots of beautiful young girls--always a hit!
This is horse country! No parade is complete without the charros, who blessedly ride their steeds at the end of the desfile.
Another happy, warm and sunny day here in the heart of Mexico...but here comes 40 days of Lent, full of self-denial.

Monday, January 30, 2017

XCVI. De las Semillas a la Piel

From Seeds to Skin

Seed packet
The past couple of weeks some tree around here—possibly what is commonly known as a Flame Tree—has unleashed its seed packets onto our patio and even into the house. They are each about half the size of a postage stamp. The seed itself looks like a small oat flake; it’s enclosed in clear “cellophane” so thin the dang thing can blow in the wind for more than a block.

Exhausted from a recent morning’s exercises on the mirador, I lay on my back and watched one of these little gems appear around a palm tree, twinkling the reflected sun, blown by a light breeze to land near my mat. A minute later I was doing the pushup part of a burpee and as I’m going down I see a small centipede in front of my nose. Without my glasses I can just make out five of the fifty tiny legs, evenly spaced along each side of its body, moving in unison with the leg on the other side—like the oars of a boat. After a short stroke the legs in front of those five pairs move, and so on, in a wave-like motion that makes the bug appear to undulate as it moves forward.

And then—still in pushup position—I look down at what I’d been thinking was a remarkably fit belly, and see skin sagging like twin turkey wattles—another natural wonder.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

XCV. Día de San Sebastián

Saint Sebastian's Day

I danced with a man dressed as a woman yesterday. In the plaza, to a waltz from a live marching band. He was wearing a cheap wig and cartoonish papier maché mask. Big balloon bosoms. He treated me kindly. After a long minute I bowed out more-or-less gracefully and he picked another partner from the appreciative crowd. Then came the Aztec dancers. And then more oompah music. We were celebrating San Sebastian's Day here in our village. Four men would carry his effigy into the little capilla on the square, followed by two others walking with a plank connecting them, balanced on their shoulders with bowls of food on top. This is one of those nine-day--carrying the little saint around the village--holidays. Our friends emailed to say they had fun at the party's continuation later last night.

Three thousand miles away there was a tense inauguration of the USA's new president. Here, all was smiles and good fun. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

XCIV. Nuestro Viaje a México, Sexto y Último Día

Our Trip to Mexico City, Sixth and Final Day


Day 6 - It’s been another tough night for mi querida esposa y su enferma, but at least no worse than the one before, and tonight we’ll sleep in our own bed. We dawdle after awakening, shower and go downstairs to Starbucks for a familiar breakfast. Back upstairs we pack and tidy, then Salvador stores our bags so we can pick them up after visiting two nearby museums that will prove to be among our favorites from the whole viaje.

Diego Rivera's huge mural, "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central", shows a melange of mostly historical characters. There are so many details that one can examine the painting for an hour or more, as we did. 
A detail from the center of the picture showing from left to right: in blue, the
daughter of longtime Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, next to her stepmother
in red; José Martí doffing his hat--Cuban poet, writer and intellectual, his
socialist writings inspired Mexicans; Diego Rivera as a young boy, appearing
a little too brainy and way immature, which I think of as his self image;
behind him with her hand protectively on his shoulder is a sensual Frida
Kahlo holding a yin/yang symbol; holding little Diego's hand is La Calavera
Catrina (calavera means "skull", Catrina was slang for a Mexican upper class
woman putting on European airs) who is being eyed by that daughter in blue;
finally, arm in arm with Catrina is her creator, José Guadalupe Posada, a social
commentator and political cartoonist.
Museo Mural Diego Rivera primarily contains one monumental piece of work by the master—a fifty foot long by fifteen foot high mural entitled, in English, “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central”. Alameda is a Spanish word for tree-lined walkway referring to the park next to where we’ve been staying, and adjacent to the museum itself. It’s also a place where Diego Rivera used to play as a child, and where all of the mostly notable individuals pictured in the mural might have strolled or strode themselves at some time over the 400 years before it was completed in 1947. 

As his title suggests, Rivera’s work invites comparison to Seuret’s iconic pointillist painting. The setting is similar, but the former piece is much less mannered and vastly more populated.
Another detail from the mural, showing a
variety of historical (and other) figures
including conquistador Hernán Cortés, with
blood on his hands; Mariana Violante de
Carbajal, a Jew who was burned at the
stake for heresy on the ground of what is
now the Alameda Park; and Benito Juarez, a
popular and liberal early president of the
Republic.
The mural is worthy of long contemplation. Even though it is immense and crowded, it is pleasing to the eye from a distance. The soft colors and sinuous branches of the park’s foliage in most of the top half of the painting contrast, yet balance, with the crush of humanity at the bottom. But more than anything, the detail and particularity of each individual portrait, as well as the interaction among them, invite close inspection and discovery.

“Dream of a Sunday Afternoon…” was originally a commission to hang in the restaurant of the elegant Hotel Prado but that building was damaged so heavily in the 1985 earthquake it had to eventually be demolished. The 70-ton mural with its plaster base and steel girding was rescued—pulled out a second story opening using casters and cranes, and trucked across the street to the museum that had been purpose-built to display it after restoration. What a sight that would have been!

As we leave the museum, and the Alameda Park itself, we recross the street and pass by the site of the old Hotel Prado where a modern Hilton now stands. In retrospect I’m amazed anew at how much history of consequence has passed on these grounds. At the time, though, we were just trying to keep it together until we got on the plane for home.

Next stop is the last stop: Museo de Arte Popular. Whereas the previous art works we have visited were completed by masters whose names are well-known—Kahlo, Siqueiros, Rivera, Orozco—the pieces we see now are created by virtually anonymous craftspeople, but no less accomplished for that. They are most often much smaller than the grand works mentioned previously, thus requiring less expense in materials and hired help, but their imagination and execution do not take a back seat.

Detail below.

Greeting visitors to the Museum of Popular Art is this VW Bug completely covered in beadwork, both inside and out. The patterns recall Huichol Indian designs that are popular handcraft items.
A variety of indigenous traditional dress, or ropa típica, from throughout the country. Many are still worn today.
Wooden and ceramic pieces featuring El Diablo, either getting his way or being undone, are popular items. I regret I did not get the names of these artists.
Colored paper and foil, yarn, and bric-a-brac are the mediums in this piece. Detail, below.
Detail of above piece
These fantastical papier maché creatures from the State of Mexico are called alebrijes. Both the idea and name for weird beings such as these came in a dream to a Mexico City artisan, Pedro Linares. Craftspeople in Oaxaca adapted the style to their copal wood carvings. 
Large alebrijes left over from the museum-sponsored La Noche de los Alebrijes, a yearly parade and celebration held the end of October just before Días de los Muertos. In addition to the parade with its accompanying bands, there are Alebrije Puppet and Alebrije Short Story contests. Sounds like a whole lot of fun! 
This final visit is a suitably surrealistic ending to our adventure in Mexico City. The flight home is thankfully short and Paolo, one of the Miramontes sons, greets us at the airport. The next day our dear, but bossy, housekeeper drives my ailing wife to our doctor who confirms her pneumonia. Now, nearly three weeks later, she is doing fine.

Along the jagged shoreline of Lago de Chapala, near where it
meets the horizon, is our little village, and somewhere in its
midst is our casa preparing to welcome us home.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

XCIII. Nuestro Viaje a México, Quinto Día

Our Trip to Mexico City, Fifth Day

Organ grinders work the downtown streets about one two-man
team to a block. One guy puts his hat out for money among the
people crowding by, while the other turns the crank. They're
always dressed in this quasi-military uniform 
Day 5 - It’s a hellish night during which my spouse and I share the same fear without speaking of it—that she has pneumonia. At least we’re able to get a little bit of much needed sleep, and she feels well enough in the late morning to reject the idea of finding a doctor; tomorrow we’re coming home to Ajijic and she’ll see her physician then. We make a plan for her to rest today in our room for a couple of hours while I explore the Centro Histórico.

Two or more of these teams are on
each Centro Histórico block.
I don’t really see much new on this adventure but am able today to investigate this area in more depth. For example, in the block-wide, mile-long strip between our hotel and the zócalo I count five Starbucks shops but only two of the elusive WCs. No shortage, though, of lethal equipment-laden policia with their protective, hard plastic shields, nor of those ubiquitous organ grinders whose music is part of the downtown soundtrack. Later, quizzing one of our taxi drivers, I am disabused of my notion that they are strictly a seasonal addition to the scene.

My new dicho, or saying, "Un sanitorio publico is como oro".
The zócalo's giant Christmas tree is in the background, upper
left. This scene gives an idea how crowded downtown is.
I discover some leafy side streets reserved for pedestrians that are out of the punishing flow of foot traffic moving to and from the zócalo. That huge plaza itself is only slightly less crowded than on the past Navidad weekend; the rink and toboggan slide are still doing a booming business, and towering over all, in place of the mammoth Mexican flag that’s easily visible from outer space is a hundred foot tall fake Christmas tree decorated with balls as big as weather balloons. 

I pass several museums but all are closed, as is usual on Mondays. Before we left home a friend told us there are 500 museos in the city. I doubt there are that many, but it does seem like there are several on about every block, at least in the centro. There are some unexpected themes: Museo del Perfume, de Caricatura, del Tequila y el Mezcal. The latter two are even open today and not too far away, but I want to get back to mi esposa.

This andador, or pedestrian street, runs parallel and two blocks from the one
in the previous photo. It's not on a direct route to the zócalo.
We had originally planned dinners at a few highly recommended restaurants that prepare interesting dishes we might not find elsewhere, but that’s more than we can handle with this illness. We’re not really foodies so this is a loss we can easily shrug off. Instead we make the short trek to Chinatown, confine our daring to trying the eatery next door to the one we ate at two nights ago and opt for chicken stir fry again. That's a mistake; I still gag at the memory of those gristly, unidentifiable chunks.

It’s a slow slow walk back to our hotel. We celebrate our arrival with a big scoop of nutty pistachio (cone—me, cup—her) at the boutique ice cream shop in the lobby, elevator straight to our room and get in bed. We’re both glad we go home tomorrow, and that we can sleep in. There are two more art museums we’ve been looking forward to visiting—each only a block away—before we catch our short, late afternoon flight.