Wednesday, December 21, 2016


The Posada

Our block, nuestra cuadra--Calle Encarnación Rosas between Guadalupe Victoria and Constitución. We live about mid-block, left side, just past that blue car.
Yesterday evening my sociable wife and I met some of our new neighbors at a block party that featured my first ever posada. Literally meaning “inn”, the word also refers to a fiesta that includes reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s quest for shelter that evening long ago in Bethlehem. This is how that went down last night: a group of about fifteen vecinos trooped inside a casa just up the street from where we live, the one outside of which there’s always a Wednesday table with used clothing for sale. These were the “innkeepers”. An equal-sized party gathered in front of the "inn", on the cobbles in the street. They represented Joseph and Mary, or the “pilgrims”. A rhythmic six-part call-and-response ensued—the “Canción de Navidad”. 

This carol, in español, began with the pilgrims beseeching, “In the name of the heavens/I request lodging from you/ Because she cannot walk/My beloved wife.” The innkeepers responded, “This is not an inn/Go on ahead/I can’t open up for you/In case you’re a crook.” After several entreaties and rejections, all ended happily with everyone sing/chanting, “Happy is the house/That shelters today/The pure virgin/The beautiful Mary/Enter holy pilgrims…” Other posadas held around the village this week, to add an authentic touch, sometimes featured a burro which I’ve heard can be rented for the occasion.

For the rest of the event, along one side of the street tables were set up in a row for fifty feet or so, interspersed with several food stations. During the course of the evening we ate some incredibly tender strips of barbecued meat with handmade tacos, frijoles and salsa, drank tequila and guayaba fruit ponche.

When we had first arrived we were warmly greeted by Jose and Monica, who both work in social welfare, and Jesus, Jose’s brother and former delegado from the village. They introduced us to other neighbors including Carlos, a medical doctor, philosopher and raconteur, who regaled us with stories of Mexico City where we’re headed tomorrow for a short vacation. Catalina shared our table. She is Vicente’s granddaughter and an architect who presented her sisters and had a long bilingual conversation with mi esposa. Among the other acquaintances I made was Roderigo, a stone carver who invited me to visit his workshop next to Vicente’s zapateria. One tiny older woman, smiling widely, clasped our hands and told us how good it was that we were here.

It was a very friendly evening, during which we met a few gringos living on the block in addition to many Mexicano neighbors. A household here is usually represented by at least three generations, with that family’s history on the block typically going back as far as anyone can remember, and many families, of course, are related by marriage. Carlos is a relative newcomer to our cuadra, having “only” lived here for forty years. 

It was nearing midnight with no sign of the party winding down when we said our final mucho gustos and hasta luegos and buenas noches, and strolled home, which was nearly next door to where we'd spent the evening. Youngsters were still cavorting in the street as we left, burning off eager energy as they waited for time to break the traditional piñata.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

LXXXVII. Una Propina Para la Basura

A Tip For the Trash

I’ve felt an affinity for garbagemen ever since I was a three-year-old and my heart was lifted every time I saw a happy gang of sociable guys hoisting big cans into a loud truck as they drove through Veterans’ Village at Oklahoma A&M where my dad was in grad school after WWII. The garbagemen here, in our small Mexican town, are similarly friendly and energetic hombres. I like them too. Every day except Sunday they pick up whatever trash we leave outside our door, sorting through the mess to make money from some of the recyclables. When we lived on Calle Constitución, Lupita would shout down to them from our balcony as they passed by, "Hola chicos, la basura!" And then with laughter all around she'd toss that day's trash into the bed of their camion. Yesterday, at our new home on Calle Encarnación Rosas, I slipped a 200 peso note in an envelope Truck 6 had left on our doorstep. When a jangling bell announced they were on our street, I passed it on to a hearty “Gracias, Señor”. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

LXXXVI. Reyna de Mexico

Queen of Mexico

Señor Jimenez came over this morning to check the reason for our exorbitant electricity bills. He figured our place for about 700 pesos every two months, instead we’ve been paying over $1200. No one was tapping into our meter (good news) and we didn’t have any fugas to speak of. But the lights alone are using half our amperage. It's going to be a hassle and expense, but I should replace them all with LEDs. I went walking along the carretera looking for an LED store. Couldn’t find one. Coming back through Seis Esquina barrio I ran into sidewalk altars for the Virgin of Guadalupe, and then the band at the back of a religious parade. There were savage dancers, men in colorful satin pantalones turning circles. Several variations of "Maria - Reina de Mexico” were leading the procession in pickup floats. After dark now, cohetes are raining down on us.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

LXXXV. Fiestas Patronal - Una Crónica

Festival for Our Patron Saint - A Chronicle

This boy in the opening day parade is atop a float sponsored
by his barrio.
21 Noviembre—Today, the day after Mexico’s nationwide Revolution Day, is the kickoff for the nine-day annual salute to our village's patron saint, San Andrés. We’re a fun-loving place and to live here happily you have to be prepared for a lot of noise during these fun-loving days and nights…or else do as many gringos do—leave town. This afternoon's opening parade goes from the church out to Seis Esquinas neighborhood, and back again. Tonight is alive with brass and drum bands playing around town and the explosion of random cohetes, or fireworks.

All the rides are set up and ready for nighttime fun.

22 Noviembre—Seven o’clock and night has settled. I was just up on our rooftop mirador watching the sparkling trails of cohetes arcing above the parroquia’s steeple. They explode like a sharp rifle pop that echoes against the montañas with a ripping sound. The kiddie rides are probably running by now, taking up all of Calle Colón just north of the plaza with lots of youthful squeals, plus food and drink vendors. Amplified noise, soon. This afternoon, pick-up trucks brought piles of goods, large vans blocked narrow streets, and trabajadores set up awnings and portable kitchens. 

Wide-eyed merriment in front of a wistful outsider...hope he gets his turn.

23 Noviembre—In the early morning, to honor Sta. Cecilia—patron of musicians—brass and drum bands wandered through the village, playing rousing tunes, amply punctuated by those cohetes.

25 Noviembre—Today is the fourth day of our village's nine-day fiesta patronal for San Andrés. Each day's activities are sponsored by a different community group. The carpenters and construction workers are especially well-organized and funded, so the fireworks and music they provide are known to be louder and longer than those underwritten by others. Most of that noisy action takes place between 7PM and midnight. During the day virtually all the rides and food stands are closed.

Dozens of stands selling everything from lottery cards to
machetes tempt revelers.
27 Noviembre—The sixth day of our village's fiesta patronal began with a hundred or more pre-dawn cohetes, their noise meant to awaken parishioners for 6AM mass. That was followed by a rollicking brass and drum band that passed by our casa about an hour later--"Get your lazy butts out of bed!" Except for more or less hourly rounds of cohetes, Sunday was pretty quiet until night settled and villagers began strolling to the plaza to play those timeless carnival games, ride bumper cars, etc., shop, eat, drink, platicar and listen to music until the 10PM castillos--hand-made firework constructions in front of the parish church, or parroquia

The lowest level of the castillo in the church courtyard has just been lit. The
propulsion of the fireworks sends the display spinning, sometimes in both
directions. Each display lasts only a minute or so, and then a daredevil
handler climbs the infrastructure to light the next, more complicated level.
1 Diciembre—Last night was the final and most festive (if that's possible) of the novenario for San Andrés, our village's patron saint. We have a lot of happy goings-on here, but this is the one we really put our hearts into—a big personal Thank You to our patron for keeping and protecting us.  Until the wee wee hours of the AM, our plaza was packed with joyful and increasingly bleary-eyed celebrants, various kinds of music but always loud, jam-packed dancers, an incredible array of food and unimaginable variety of household goods, plentiful and happily shared drinks, rockets bursting in the clear and cool night air, and the memory of the wild, spinning fireworks display, as always sponsored this last night by the ausentes—those absent ones who have left home and family to better provide for them with money sent back from work in the Estados Unidos. Our older daughter arrived on the Red Eye to Guadalajara this morning, in time to enjoy the evening festividades with her papa.

The castillo finally spent, it's nearly 11PM and time to see what's going on in the plaza, buy a slice of pizza or something more exotic, and a cerveza

Friday, December 9, 2016

LXXXIV. Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead

The town cemetery, or panteón, the morning after families had
visited and left offerings at the graves of loved ones.
"Day of the Dead"there are several close variations of this name, but all refer to a Mexican religious holiday celebrated on the first and second of every November. This is the time to feel close to loved ones who have died. The memorial usually takes place on the second evening, often at the loved one's gravesite which is newly tended and decorated with flowers and objects of remembrance. Ofrendas, memorial altars similarly arrayed with offerings, are at many houses, both inside and out, as well as in public places, such as plazas and along andadores, public walkways.              

Posada's original "Catrina"
One of the icons of this yearly celebration is calavera, a representation of the human skull, originally of a character named "Catrina", the 100-year old creation of Mexican illustrator, José Guadalupe Posada.

Ofrendas to memorialize some beloved local citizens who had
died during the year.
The event, with its memorial candles, marigolds, papeles picadoras--cut out paper banners with calavera imagessugar skulls and bread de los muertos, captured my imagination over thirty years ago. I liked its irreverent take on death, the acknowledgement that we are all but very similar bones wrapped in a wide variety of skin, muscle and hair. The clothes and mannerisms with which we differentiate ourselves are mocked by the way death levels us. In addition, this uniquely Mexican take on death, which goes back to way before pre-conquest days, makes a comfortable place for it alongside the living--something I don't see up north.

A "Catrina"--one among many made by
local schoolchildren--next to the gazebo
in the center of our village's plaza.
Nowadays, every year at this time Catrinas, whether real people dressed up in make-up and costume, or simply models constructed of papier mâché and paint, are everywhere displaying their useless and amusing vanity. 

In our canon of celebrations
—after the novena for our little Virgin of the RosaryDía de los Muertos comes next in a season of fiestas and events that continues in mid-November with Mexican Revolution Day honoring heroes of the early twentieth century struggle to unseat a dictator and provide greater rights to common people. That butts right up into the Fiesta Patronal—a nine-day (and night) celebration at the end of the month in honor of our village's patron saint. Close on its heels is another nine-day event to honor the patron saint of the nation, our Virgen de Guadalupe. Pentultimately, La Navidad seems like an afterthought or palate cleanser before the festive debauchery of New Years Eve.

Then there's a fairly fallow season until Easter...Oops, but that's forgetting Mardi Gras. We celebrate it, but I haven't yet seen the day referred to as Martes Gordo.

¡Viva México!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

LXXXIII. Los Tapetes Grandes de Antonieta

Antonieta's Big Rugs

Antonieta, at ex-hacienda La Calera last month.
I first met Antonieta a month and a half ago when Doug, from my Spanish class, invited her to be our model at a photography club field trip to ex-hacienda La Calera.

I got to know 'Tonieta on the ride to the old hacienda. Doug had already told me some of her story. She sells rugstapetes—in the plaza of our little town. The rugs are made by her family. But her family lives 500 miles south of here in a little Zapotec Indian village in the state of Oaxaca.

So, for most of the year Tonieta lives here alone, away from husband, sons, and daughter, in order to be near the gringos to whom she hopes to sell her faraway family's rugs.

A couple of 4'X6' rugs
The tapetes are wool, hand-dyed and-woven rugs and hangings of many sizes—some barely more than a foot square. Tonieta can display these smaller pieces at her table just off the plaza, in the walkway where the fountain used to be (and when is the municipality going to replace it, as promised?). She is often set up next to our sweet, young and beautiful friend Aily, who is there to sell Alex's fine jewelry.

Almost all of the bigger rugs that Tonieta and her family have made are too heavy for her to move—twice a day—from the little house where she is staying to and from the plaza. As a consequence, she has sold none of these large and magnificent pieces all summer. Potential customers do not even know they exist since they are not on display.  

Antonieta's sales book
At the suggestion of my thoughtful wife, and with the enthusiastic approval of Tonieta, Doug and I took color photos of many of the large tapetes, some as big as 8'X15'. We printed pictures of a representative fifteen and fitted them into the transparent sleeves of a notebook, along with the size and price of each. She now keeps this book on her table in the plaza, along with her smaller rugs.

Tonieta was very appreciative, and we all hope this visual aid will boost her business. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

LXXXII. Virgen del Rosario, 2016

Virgin of the Rosary

I don't know much at all about the Catholic faith, and here in our small central Mexican town, that faith is especially strong. There is a chapel, or capilla, in our town that seems to be sort of under the protection of Nuestra Señora del Rosario who is represented and revered as a doll-like figure. Once a year this seemingly sacred figure is carried on pilgrimages from church to church to church in our pueblo, finally coming back on the ninth day to permanent display in her home church. This is a big deal and I've pictured and written about it before, because I joined the celebration of her return home, along with my daughters last year. Here are a few pictures of the festivities in the plaza several nights ago:

Add 4 trumpets, 2 slide trombones, 2 saxophones, a tuba, 3 clarinets, congas, 2 drum sets, keyboards, a guitar, and two hyperactive singers, all male, nearly all barely out of their teens, and you have BANDA musica--always a Wall of Sound staple at fiestas in our town plaza.
The fellow with his back to the camera is selling those child-seductive, light-filled toys, advertising his wares with a spinning, flashing "gun". 
As I stood before the capilla to watch this intricate spinning castillo, this fellow in a cowboy hat scurried across the scene, in front of the crowd.
The tail-end of the castillo from the previous shot, its supportive stack of metal boxes--which appearance gives the castillo its name--appears here to be the innards of some infernal machine, chasing the silhouetted hombre who glances over his shoulder to see if it's gaining on him. 
The churning, burning representation of Virgen del Rosario herself, flanked by spinning doves of
paz, and the words, "Bendice tu Pueblo", "Blessings to your People".

Monday, October 31, 2016

LXXXI. Un Puño, Lleno de Pesos

A Fistful of Pesos

One of our goals when we moved to this small town in central Mexico was to donate time and money to local people in need. We feel that the accident of birth is largely responsible for our greater affluence and some redistribution is called for. Somewhat ironically, however, not having a car has made this more difficult than we had foreseen. Several of the service opportunities we looked into—an orphanage and food bank—are located so far away, and out of the way, that just getting there and back by bus and foot would take 2-3 hours. 

We don't usually go out in the village without making sure our
pockets are full of pesos to give away. Here is the equivalent of
about 50 cents.
Instead of more organized philanthropy we’ve become regular patrons of several local beggars. Our favorite sits in front of the bank—once the sun has warmed a spot—his artificial right leg displayed next to him, left foot bared to expose its leprosy. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) these disabilities he has an edgy sense of humor. Two of his favorite chistes are to feign outrage at any coin offered that’s less than ten pesos—he doesn’t like being overloaded with change—and to stick his slightly deformed hand out with feigned innocence on our exit from the bank, a few minutes after we’ve already given him money.

To see him sitting at his morning post—before he’s taken his leg off—on a bench in the plaza, you might mistake him for a poet or academic. He often has a scarf wrapped rakishly around his neck—against the early chill—and is wearing a tweed flat cap. 

And then there’s Alfredo who, before I began wearing only non-leather walkers, used to shine my shoes. It’s been months since I’ve needed that kind of attention, and Alfredo has stopped making that assumption whenever he sees me in the plaza. But he does tell me of the health trials of his wife, recounting how she is being treated in a Guadalajara hospital for some illness. I rarely understand more than the general gist of his story and sometimes not even that; several months ago I mistakenly thought he had told me that she died. Anyway, I usually give him fifty to a hundred pesos for medication or medical bills once or twice a month now.

I may be getting gamed by Alfredo. Or not. But I like the guy, and prefer to feel as if I trust him. Harkening back to that "accident of birth" belief, I sometimes imagine Alfredo and I are just playing our respective parts—roles that could be reversed next time around. My stomach does sink a little bit, though, when I pass through the plaza on the way to the bank and see him shambling in my direction…I don’t know…

And then there’s Nataly—I just made that name up. I don’t know what she’s called; I’m not even sure if she’s a she. Our SF neighbors used to think she was transgender, and that would kind of fit. I once saw her with a stubble of hairs on her chin. Nataly’s slightly built and always dressed in a tight, short skirt. Her “breast” size seems to vary. Her features and coloring are strongly Mayan, especially a very aquiline nose. Two eccentric braids curl down over her forehead.

About once a week or so she accosts me on the street; I usually hear her calling, “Sir, sir—“ before I see her, in a voice that’s distinctly unmusical. Nataly is satisfied with ten or twenty pesos, por algo para comer, por favor—tengo hambre. She once propositioned me, but my polite and unequivocal rejection must have been well understood. I don’t think Nataly has a happy life, especially if—as seems—she has this gender issue. Plus, my wife (who somehow knows these things) tells me she has long lived in that same house where drug dealer Pepe was shot dead last year.

And then, at the other end of whatever spectrum Nataly inhabits, are the small Indian ladies, with faces like polished bronze, dressed in their típica garb and sitting cross-legged just to the side of the path through the weekly tianguis, or market. I can picture them working on some craft project which I never recall seeing for sale. They have a styrofoam cup to collect change for which they give a heartfelt blessing. 

Nursing mothers are sometimes found sitting on the sidewalk, accepting donations while leaning against Farmacia Guadalajara's stripmall-esque building. I think they have bags of chayotes for sale, but I just give ten to twenty pesos, "Para el bebé." I'm a sucker for those moms. The farmacia is also the preferred haunt, though, of the Green Bean Kids who insistently offer a small bag of unappealing vegetables in exchange for 10-15 pesos. I almost always dissuade them with a brisk, "No, gracias".

There are others who come and go. Just a few days ago, on my way back from El Torito market, a father importuned me to raise money for a daughter’s operation. He had pictures and receipts to prove it. I’ve looked at these proofs occasionally—Afredo has shown me receipts for his wife’s prescriptions—but can never make definitive sense of them. They at least show that the supplicant has gone to some trouble to convince prospective donors of their need. 

I don’t know…I’ve of course heard and on a few occasions espoused the “Teach a Man to Fish, etc” mantra. It holds a kind of “tough love” negative charm, but I feel more comfortable (in this naturally uncomfortable situation) with my usual tack of making individual decisions to give—or not give—based on habit, put-upon-ness or put-off-ness, guilt, looks, embarrassment, fear, pity, or even charity, as the mood strikes me.

We recently have found another way to donate our time and money that involves working with an organization that provides food at a very low price to needy families. More about that soon, in another post.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

LXXX. Vicente


He sits nearly every day—all day long except for siesta time—on a bamboo stool outside a small store just up the street. It’s one of many little tiendas around here that are in the front room of someone’s house. You can occasionally see—through a door at the back of the small salesroom—a family member or two relaxing, eating or talking in the sala. If no one’s behind the counter or even visible, and after waiting a good minute you cough or clear your throat, a middle-aged lady will emerge from that door, perhaps wiping her hands on an apron.

The sign out front advertises the place as a zapatería—shoe store—and when the roll-up door is open, as it is most days except domingo y lunes, you can see several dozen pairs of shoes on display in a floor-to-ceiling showcase as you walk by. The store also trades in school and office supplies. I bought a notebook for my Spanish class there, as well as signboard and markers for our housewarming party.

Getting back to that guy: He’s an older fellow—about my age—and small, also like me. Always wearing a tidy sombrero, almost always awake. He’s mostly sedentary, moving gingerly and with a cane—several times a day—to and from his place in the sun just outside the store opening. The few passersby who don’t know any different might refer to him—although I have no proof to back this up—as “the guy who’s always sitting outside the shoe store with a flyswatter in his hand.” Those are the things you notice most. Regardless how you describe him, I imagine he knows more than anyone else about what goes on up and down our block of Calle Encarnación Rosas. 

But if you’re not in too much of a hurry as you walk by, and you wave and holler out a friendly, “Buenos días” to this fellow, you’ll see him smile and return your salute in a voice that’s a little creaky but full of good cheer. He’ll raise a hand in your direction and keep it there for a moment, as if he’s the Pope and offering benediction. If you exchange this greeting once or twice, or even more, every day for some period of time, you might get around to introducing yourself, and thereafter the exchange takes on a more personal meaning.

That’s what I did. His name is Vicente, and now he always lets me know he remembers my name, too. Today we also shook hands, as we sometimes do when I go on his side of the street. As I walked away he called out, “Qué le vaya bien”—“May it go well for you”. To which I gave the standard reply, “Igualamente, Vicente”. A good way to start my day in the village.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

LXXIX. Dengue Fiebre

Dengue Fever

This evening, in the patio during our regular margarita time, we heard the unaccustomed sound of a two-stroke engine. We speculated what it might be. Not a lawnmower nor even a weed-eater, because there are no lawns to be either mowed or edged around here. We were befuddled. Soon though, in addition to the noise, we saw smoke rising over the palm in the yard of a casa on the privada off Calle Guadalupe Victoria, right behind our casita. We recognised the smell of the smoke that was wafting our way.  Our neighbors—vecinos—were being sprayed by the local health department to kill mosquitos carrying Dengue Fever.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito--a nasty guy
that not only can carry dengue, but yellow
fever, zika virus, and chikungunya.
According to WebMD nearly 100 million tropical-dwelling people a year are infected with this debilitating disease—fever, headaches, joint and muscle pain, nausea, fatigue—which generally lasts at least a week. In other words, similar to a very bad case of the flu. Dengue is spread only by the bite of a certain type of mosquito which has already bitten a person whose blood contains the virus. 

Everyone around the lake here is familiar with the disease and knows someone who has contracted it, or they’ve had it themselves. A couple of months ago, the couple who own the bakery/deli where we shop several times a week came down with Dengue. Fernando described the experience to mi esposa; it was bad. I just got an email from the moderator of my Spanish/English conversation hour telling me he probably wouldn't be able to come to the next class—Dengue.

Wondering about the etymology of “dengue”, I googled it. It’s a Spanish word, fittingly, and means, “careful, in an exaggerated manner”. The supposition is that dengue describes the way an infected person might walk, favoring their painful joints. Not something one would want to experience.

If it’s in the neighborhood, I decided, we better take precautions. What with the rain we’ve been having recently—nearly every night—and the small accumulation of water under the outside work table that’s reluctant to dry up, not to mention the fountain’s pool, I figure our patio offers attractive breeding waters for mosquitos. 

I had an idea. Early in the summer I bought some insecticide to handle whatever it was that had been shredding our canna lilies’ leaves. I shopped around, wanting nothing that might harm the birds that came to our nearby fountain, nor hurt the tortugas with which we still plan to inhabit the pool. I came up with a chemical called cypermethrin that could be sprayed. Another Google search showed me it’s also effective against mosquito larvae. And, done! 

Plus, we still have our last line of defense—the electric tennis racket that we can swing, sportily, at those little suckers and kill them with a satisfying zap.

Update: A week after this post I met the fellow mentioned above—the Spanish/English moderator—walking past our front door. He's much better now, but said that for the first few days of the fever he had a 104 degree temperature and a headache like never before. It turns out he lives in that block behind us. It must have been his case that brought the health department's truck out to spray.

Further update: Just now—about ten days after the original post—a fellow dressed in blue coveralls and wearing a simple respirator over his mouth came down our street preceded by the buzzing of a two-stroke sprayer he had strapped to his back. In his wake the stinky mosquito spray. He briskly walked into our next-door neighbors' house and the whole family of four children and several adults immediately tumbled outside onto la banqueta, the toddler holding his nose. Out back of our place, the stinky spray wafted over our high adjoining wall. Our municipal health department in action to prevent more mosquito-borne dengue fever.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

LXXVIII. El Sendero Sagrado a Las Crucitas

The Sacred Path to the Little Crosses

Anyone with an ounce of curiosity who spends more than a day or two in the Mexican village where we live has looked up to the high mountain ridge just north of town and seen a small structure halfway up the nearest foothill. If you look closely, you can see a cross on the top of that garage-sized building. Asking around, you will probably hear that what you are looking at is a small “chapel” to which there is a switchback trail, and along this trail, in this heavily Catholic country, are the Stations of the Cross.

Even if you are not Catholic, you may know that the Stations of the Cross represent the important waypoints from the time Jesus was sentenced to death, to his crucifixion, and ultimately His resurrection. There are 14 stations in all, and on this trail they are represented by small, white, wrought-iron crosses each atop a concrete pedestal with a sign saying which station it represents. Our knowledgeable Mexican housekeeper, Rosie, refers to this location, collectively, as “las crucitas”—“the little crosses”.

If you are in decent shape you can hike up las crucitas in less than an hour; it’s not difficult. The switchback trail is popular among both the town's faithful and those looking for exercise with a sense of accomplishment or even virtue. Only a little further on, along the same trail near the top of this little cerrito, is a clearing and occasionally tended cornfield. This is the first stage in what becomes a much more difficult sendero sagrado—“sacred path”—up to three large crosses high on the ridge overlooking the lake and below the peak of Chupinaya.

On a recent day I made the shorter hike and took some pictures. It was good to feel I had no work to do on the casa, now that the Housewarming party was several days in the past. It was great to have seen so many of our friends and received their compliments both on the house, and on the food and drink we had prepared, but now I could take the time to stroll into the mountains and simply enjoy the day. 

You can barely see the "capilla" as a whitish A-frame structure on the hillside in the very center of this photo, about an inch below and just to the right of the string hanging from the powerline.
The seldom-used trailhead at the end of Calle Colón. I returned to this point on my way back down from the "capilla"
after beginning my hike at the end of Calle Galeana. This is the first station of the cross and reads, "Jesus is comdemned to death."
A number of wildflowers adorn the pathway. This one, possibly a wild hibiscus, was especially photogenic.
There were a lot of caterpillars like this one crawling on the path. I'm not sure what it will turn into, but even in this form its pattern is striking.
The last station, "Jesus is taken down from the cross." The thirteen wrought-iron crosses on concrete and rock pedestals are all the same in style and located about every 50-100 meters along the path. In the background is the "capilla". Rosie, our housekeeper, calls this place "Las Crucitas", or "Little Crosses".
I'm not sure who is memorialized here as the "Last of the Red Hot Papas" (a new take on Jesus?), but it looks like someone has taken exception to its location in front of the little "chapel". 
I couldn't read the sign lower left. The other one asks us to please take care of this place, it is the work of everyone.
The words on the mural inside the structure recount how Jesus was brought down from the cross and rose from the tomb.
This view looking out to Ajijic in the foreground, and Lake Chapala, is opposite the mural pictured previously. The recently planted tree rising above the fence in the middle of the vista looks to be a Kapok, or Ceiba. Others were planted along the path. Perhaps it was chosen because the prominent thorns that cover its trunk recall Jesus' crown of thorns.

Monday, August 22, 2016

LXXVII. Una Fiesta Para Presentar Nuestra Casa Nueva

Housewarming Party

Invitations were emailed to one and all.
The idea for a housewarming party came about before we even took up residence here on Calle Encarnación Rosas. The idea gained steam once we did move in, and when friends asked about our place we said we’d love them to see it when we had our party, to which, of course, they would be invited. For me, the idea of a party to present our casa nueva was especially compelling because not only am I proud of what a great place this is for us to live, but it's also the first house I’ve ever owned. 

I also came to see the party as marking the end of a nearly three-month period during which we have been planting and re-planting the garden, painting here and there, repairing the patio lights, buying cushions, sofas, rugs, and one last pair of chairs, having dirt and broken pots hauled away, the oven fixed, getting a table cut down in size that we had made for the printer but turned out to be too big—stuff like that. I came up with a line to describe our situation that I once thought was clever, but have repeated so many times it’s become stale. The past couple of weeks I’ve been saying it with an I’m-weary-but-there’s-light-at-the-end-of-this-tunnel intonation: “We’re almost to the point where the house has become less of a project and more of a home.” 

The housewarming party is meant to mark that turning point. It’s on a lot of friendly people’s calendars for this coming Saturday, now only five—and there's so much yet to do!!—days away. I’m in charge of completing aforementioned projects, making and sending out invitations, putting together the party music playlist, hustling around town on errands like picking up a case or two each of beer and soft drinks and another of wine; my culinary wife has come up with a list of nearly a dozen tasty hors d’oeuvres (that’s botanas in español) and begun making six dozen meatballs, a half gallon of peanut sauce, a quart of blue cheese/walnut dip, etc., etc. We’ve enlisted several friends to help each of us.

The invitation list ran to nearly fifty; right now we have thirty-two confirmations, about half and half gringos and mexicanos. The invitations were emailed two weeks ago and I just sent out reminders. 

As the fiesta day draws near my obsessive-compulsive tendencies have kicked into high gear. Correspondingly, my stomach has become chronically acidic, and neck muscles have begun to contract from the tension. The smallest details have assumed monumental importance in my middle-of-the-night wakefulness. Painted-over nails in the wall from which pictures had once hung have become unshakeable irritants. This pre-dawn I was trying to remember where I had put the architectural plans for the house that we had found in a cupboard when we moved in, convinced that the “success” of our party depended on its recovery.

I found the plans after this morning’s coffee. While my spouse was just out in the village I pulled one of the smaller nails, patched and painted over the hole. What mostly remains to be done is simply remember what my wise wife says is the reason we are doing this: “The party is not only to present and welcome friends to our new house, but to thank them for helping us, over the past year, feel at home here in this sweet little village”. 

I’ll try to keep that in mind next time my neck tenses up bad or I start thinking crazy shit in the middle of the night...

Monday, July 25, 2016

LXXVI. Vecinos


Last night my lovely wife and I had our customary margaritas on the patio and a smoke. It was time to clean up for dinner—still a little light outside, around 8 pm is my guess—and we’d been hearing good-natured and loud laughter from out front. I investigated, opened the gate and was greeted by a half dozen guys, including my neighbor Francisco, gathered in the cobblestone street around a dark green pickup truck I had never seen before. Francisco’s wife sitting on the narrow sidewalk, against the wall, their kids floating around with smiles. A few other wives. More smiles. “ Hola Señor. Buenos tardes. ¿Es demasiado ruidoso [is it too noisy] ?” Laughter. “¡No, nos gusta [we love it]! Buenas tardes, amigos. ¿Como están ustedes?”—my response. Francisco and I end up shaking hands, sharing a beer, and vowing to always invite each other to our respective fiestas. ¡Vecinos! Neighbors!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

LXXV. Nuestro Jardín

Our Garden

The original patio was paved wall-to-wall and featured mostly
thorny or spiny plants in pots. You can see part of what will
become the edge-line for the larger planting bed slanting
across the bottom center of the picture.
On the very first visit to what would become our nueva casa, we decided—as we trailed the realtor around the place—that if we ended up buying it, we would for sure do something about the all-stone patio edged with planters of spiny looking succulents and cacti. The bare flagstone floor and surrounding brick walls made a heat sink, and all the potted desert plants amplified that fact to create an environment we did not find comfortable. We like warm weather but we also value shade and green fecundity. To this end we daylighted much of the patio’s rock paving, and brought in a lot of plants that do well in this sunny micro-environment AND that will create shade. Eventually we can put in an understory of shade-tolerant plants to give us more of a jungly—not desert-y—feel. At least that’s the plan.

The patio as it exists today. The two bamboo poles now support a palm tree
that fell over in a rare and recent heavy wind. In the very center of the picture
a thin stick is visible rising into the flagstone. This failing-to-thrive Flame
Tree is being replaced by a more vigorous one.
Back in March, when we were still having new kitchen tiles installed and leaking areas of the roof sealed, we also contracted to have flagstones removed from parts of the patio to define two large areas that would be filled with a good mix of soil. One defining line was already visible in the existing paving; few changes were necessary to follow it. I drew up a complementary line beyond which would be another planting bed, with a large, curving stone path between the two.

After we moved into our house the beginning of June, after unpacking, organizing and having a few small electricity and plumbing repairs done, I began work on the garden by calling Señor Delgado at Lakeside Gardening. He sent Luis for a consultation. Considering sun and water factors, Luis gave me ideas for what to plant and where. 

The herb, bee and butterfly garden features rosemary, oregano, basil, anise,
cilantro, garlic chives, lavender, grasses and flowers, plus a fragrant, climbing
jasmine and lime tree
Four times I made the long walk to the vivero, or nursery, across from where the libremiento, or by-pass, meets Walmart. The folks there were incredibly helpful; they escorted me up and down and all around the rows of plants as I described what I wanted in caveman-syntax español, mostly using the three esses: Seco…sombra…sol. Dry. Shade. Sun. When they’d find a plant that met my specifications, I’d either accept or reject it, and we would continue on until I felt like I had all I needed.

After Rosario toted up the bill and I paid, I’d walk home to meet the delivery hombre who’d load the plants into our cochera (think “place for your coach, a garage”). Next came the weird experience of moving the african iris, bird of paradise, hibiscus, palm, etc., through the dining and living rooms by wheelbarrow to the patio’s waiting beds. 

It’s been almost three weeks since planting (plus a few removals) began, and—after a number of careful esthetic considerations, and subsequent moderations—we just realized we are now finished with the garden installation. We’re happy with the result, especially since we know many of the plants will be much larger when mature, and some have yet to flower. 

A 20' and 10' palm, 12' lime tree, and 15' Flame Tree will be providing most of the shade, climbing fragrant jasmine, orange and blue trumpet vines will green and color the brick walls and tile roof. The latter two plants, plus hibiscus will attract hummingbirds, or colibris. A variety of cooking herbs are also planted.

At night with the fountain gurgling and accent lights at just the right level, the garden is especially inviting. Looking from
the left is an Areca palm (blurred in the time exposure) that will reach the light fixture above it at maturity. African
irises are behind the palm, on either side. Both vines--either side of the fountain--will cover the wall, having quadrupled
in size in three weeks. They have deep blue, trumpet-like flowers. The plant with paddle-shaped leaves just to the left of
the fountain is a Bird of Paradise which will rise to the shelf of the fountain's first level; Canna lilies and papyrus next to
the pool will double in size. The Flame Tree, whose stick-like trunk is barely visible near the right front edge of the planting
bed, will eventually provide a 15' tall shade-giving umbrella filled with intricate bright yellow flowers. At the base of the
bamboo-supported Kerpis palm to the right is a hibiscus that will fill out with peach-colored, colibri-attracting flowers.
The potted plant, far right at the rear, is a heavily scented jasmine bush.
The fountain is a bonus. We mostly turn it on while we take our evening libations under the tile roof that overhangs the patio from the main house. The sound of the water is relaxing, and—much more than that—life-giving to the canna lilies and papyrus that border the pool. The water also draws birds—so far many sparrows, a canyon wren and several colibris. The flowers that are out now bring in bees and butterflies. We enjoy watching all this, including the plants, of course, and anticipate many more happy years in our garden. As my appreciative spouse says, "Watching it grow, is what a garden is for; that's one of the joys of life!"

Thursday, June 23, 2016

LXXIV. En la Oficina de la Dentista

At the Dentist's Office

Ever since we moved to México we have been meaning to see a dentist...I guess “meaning to see a dentist” is probably a common state in which many of us dwell.

Waiting room. The seven year-old son of the receptionist, not
My informed wife ascertained that THE dentist to see around these parts is Dr. Haro—the “h” is not pronounced—Cockney-like—so make that, ‘Aro. The man’s main office is in the nearby metropolis of Guadalajara, but he carefully vets those who work under his name, so the nearby Ajijic clinic is equally well-recommended.

After mucho procrastinación, yesterday we finally had our teeth attended to. “Attending to” mostly meant having a good cleaning, as well as a loosely phrased “check up”, with x-rays as needed—less of an issue for me, with my ugly but strong Neanderthal-gened chompers, than for my wife, who has sensitive teeth.

Dr. Bianca's domain. Many professionals in México seem to
go by their title and first name.
We were impressed by the modernity of the office suites (lots of frosted glass, white-on-white color scheme with black leather and chrome accents, minimalist fountains and abstract art), and the care and courteous professionalism of the staff. There were quite possibly all of the past several years' copies of a "luxury lifestyle" magazine, Departures, in the waiting room, but barely enough time there to find the table of contents of even one. 

All the work was done by a DDS, Dr. Bianca, whose up-to-date equipment included a clever little camera capable of taking quick and vivid close-ups of my receding gums and then having them shown back to me in all their gnarliness.

The total cost of this work was less than $50 US, for both of us together. Even compared to our "Best of Seattle" dentist we agreed this was good deal. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

LXXIII. Chicatanas

Tasty, Crunchy Ants

These hormigas, or ants, are large--up to 2 cm long--and emerge from the
ground as the rainy season here begins to hit its stride. They come up from
the ground to stagger around, into houses, fountains and pools, creating a
mess before they die. Then they begin their afterlife as a tasty treat.
Yesterday was one of those rare days in the rainy season when the lluvia came down buckets during the DAY!—unusual because the rain almost always falls during the evening and night time hours. So, we took the only sane course, fortunately available to a retired couple, and slept in. When we awoke about 10AM and stumbled outside we noticed our patio was filled with dozens of large winged ants, lumbering sodden and zombie-like (much like us) among the puddles. Today we were enlightened by our maid: these are a type of ant that when prepared are called chicatanas—a seasonal delicacy. Now is the time to harvest them, “field dress” by removing wings, legs and antennae. The simplest way to cook them is to lightly oil and quickly fry. Supposedly a crunchy, peppery source of protein…We will report back.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

LXXII. Despues de Dos Semanas en Nuestra Nueva Casa

After Two Weeks in Our New House

Just inside the front door is our dining room with the kitchen out of picture to the left and the living room and patio beyond.
The chair to the left seemingly without part of its back post is an artifact of the panorama shot.
Two weeks ago last night we began living in our new house. It’s been a busy time unpacking every single thing we own and putting each carefully away in the exact place we have decided it belongs. In addition to all we had moved here from our apartment up the street, our shipment from Seattle arrived weeks ahead of time. And then there's been the joy of puttering—making bumpers to shield the sharp bed corners, painting the too shiny washers that help hold our wall sconces in place, pausing to consider exactly what books will go where in the bookcase and what tchotchkes should be intermingled among them.

Ahh, fruits of happy home puttering: bed bumpers installed to
prevent disastrous encounters of my bedmate with sharp and
hard edges.
In the process we’ve fallen in love with this house all over again—seeing several friends passing by on the street, I've grabbed them by the arm and hustled them inside to show off our nueva casa. But this past weekend, after days of seemingly limitless energy, I suffered a full-body hit against the wall of house-holding ambition.

We blame part of our discomfort and malaise—and we’ve both felt a letdown—to eating something not quite right at a local café on Friday, something in the frijoles, perhaps, or maybe the limes for the limonada weren’t washed well enough. Stomach distress and headaches—yeck. My wife is much better at recognizing these unpleasant feelings and adapting; I often try to just push through. Doesn’t work.

This is a new week, though, and most all of that illness has gone away. We had a rain and thunder storm again last night, and it’s cooler now with a milder sun. After a couple months of not doing it, I started back into a morning exercise regimen and—somewhere during cat/cow and downward-facing dog—began turning over in my mind the last thing we all had chatted about during Sunday’s late afternoon drinks with friends.

The proscenium frame once attached to the side of Il Teatro
Pescatore's traveling van is now in our garage in Ajijic...
soon to be resurrected?
My appreciative spouse was showing off a mask I'd made and talking up a traveling puppet theater I used to have. Our guests became enthusiastic and encouraged me to put on some shows here. I demurred—that seems like an activity best left in the past, I tried to convey. But this morning I was looking at the big old Il Teatro Pescatore proscenium frame (that I had insisted shipping here) and saw that it might easily be suspended behind the folding garage doors, facing out to the cobblestone street. 

I remembered a shadow puppet show we’d seen that had inspired thoughts of a piece my creative wife and I could put together. I thought about providing a space for others’ performances. I began thinking about how to make a work place to facilitate these possibilities, and also somewhere for morning exercise and a taller where I could sculpt some of these big, dense rocks that came with our nueva casa. All fun things to think about.

The breezeway runs east to west and gets hot during May. Next year I'll put up
a shade-giving trellis spanning the narrow side.
I feel a little guilty though, not working on the few big projects around here that still need doing: I’ve got our breezeway lined with plants and have begun—but barely started—filling in the two planting beds in our patio. My main goal here is to create shade and have a variety of healthy tropical-looking plants…but what plants would work best, I’m not at all sure. The most off-putting garden project, though, is getting rid of a small thorny tree. In addition to having spikes all over its trunk and branches, the milky sap is kind of freaky, may even be poisonous. Plus I don’t have the tools to get out the root ball. After talking with several of our friends I decided to hire a couple of guys they recommend to help me out. They’re coming in a few days for a consultation and estimate.

And then, there’s the shower. No chance I could fix this. I think we need a pump installed to increase our water pressure. Right now the water just dribbles out. Plus, you pretty much either get caliente o frio, but not a combination. This situation simply cannot stand. I just gave a call to Jimenez padre y hijo. They’ve done good work before at a reasonable price…

A final project I’ve been putting off is fixing our gas stove. We can’t get our oven burner to stay lit. I think the solution may lie in adjusting the fuel/air mixture. I found the Mexican user manual and even figured out that it’s somewhat easier to understand if you turn it upside down and over from back to front. That way you’re reading the English language version, but my understanding is still a little iffy. I haven’t given up on this project yet, but am considering giving Rubén a call; he’s the guy who not only delivers the natural gas to our rooftop tank, but also has diagnosed and fixed a gas leak at our hot water heater, charging about $2.50 for the cost of replacing a hose.

The light fixture above the stove does not work. I think the wiring is loose, just need to turn off the circuit, unwrap some electrical tape and make the connection…I think that’s something I can do…maybe try it before the stove, and hopefully ride the wave of success with the light to fixing the oven burner. [UPDATE: Actually the problem with the light was embarrassingly easy to fix. Jimenez hijo showed me that I had been trying to turn it on at the wrong switch.] 

There are a few purchases we need to make, mostly small, like light bulbs and a lamp shade. We need a wooden filing cabinet and printer stand—maybe Cristóbal can make that. He did such a good job on the kitchen cabinets. Plus a rustico counter for the Weber to go under the tile awning at the edge of the patio. Not to forget the equipale-style table and chairs for BBQ dinners, plus the Oaxacan rug. We can get them all at our tianguis—the large Wednesday street market—but that can come by and by.

Monday, May 30, 2016

LXXI. Nos Estamos Mudando Hoy

We Are Moving Today

That's most all of our stuff waiting to be moved later today. The
balcony is visible through the double doors, the jumbled mess
of Dionicio's mirador beyond. 
I can’t get my head around the reality that—after a happy year here—this is our last morning in the little apartment above Calle Constitución. We just said our final coffee-time “Buenas días” to passersby on the street below our balcony. No more looking into the jumbled mess of Dionicio's mirador, nor seeing him come out of his studio—paintbrush in hand—to apprise us of the progress on his latest pintura. No more rising to scat away a roving dog or two looking to break into a tasty-smelling garbage bag left for morning pickup, or be buffeted by the noise and rattle of the early Chapala-Jocotepec bus, or watch the birds and hear their various calls.

Soon I’ll ring Enrique to arrange for his help this afternoon moving the piles of cajas y maletas—boxes and suitcases—now scattered against the walls and chairs of our living/dining room. The nueva casa is almost ready for us. We love its beauty and spaciousness, the garden we can fill with our choice of tropical plants, the much quieter neighborhood still close to the plaza and lake, but the water pressure leaves something to be desired. I’m sure we’ll get used to that, or buy a pump. There’s no balcony, but there is the viejo hombre who sits on a stool outside the zapateria just up and across the street, always with a flyswatter in his hand and always with a friendly response to my “Buenas tardes”, plus other neighbors, activities and views to be discovered. And after all these years living in rentals that don't allow it, we can finally have a dog!