Friday, March 25, 2016

LXIII. Viernes Santo

Good Friday

A brass band has been pumping out good time Latin music the past half hour, must be down at the corner where the street’s closed off. Crazy gringas were just honking at some guy stopped his pickup in the intersection to tie down a load of loose pipe. This stuff happens all the time.

Act One of the Passion Play. That's Pontius Pilate on the balcony. Audience
members were admonished several times to lower the parasols so those behind
could see. We opted to be in the shade of a palm tree rather than front row.
Hot today and—Boy!—is Calle Colón ever crowded. Vacationeers were barely able to sidle past each other with all the restaurant and bar tables now in the street. After doing some touch-up painting at Casa Nueva I stopped into La Tia for a cold Pacifico and people-watching. Right outside the bar a guy was singing Hank William tunes. That’s most of the secular report for today. 

Late morning my spirited spouse and I attended the Passion Play in front of our parish church, along with about a thousand or two others trying to find or keep in the shade. It was all about Jesus’s trial and sentencing, in case you—like meweren't sure. Some of the stuff I sort of remembered from Sunday School. Like how they kept trying to convict him for something or other, and neither Herod nor Pontius Pilate were too keen, but he got sentenced to crucifixion anyway. I kept rooting that he'd be let off, but my bigger-picture wife reminded me that wasn't the point. We both felt, though, that whoever the director was should have instructed the Jesus actor to stand up straighter and not look so hangdog. 

Sister and brother sitting in front of us in the shade. The kids
here were remarkably well-behaved, and took good care of
each other.
We didn’t stay for the end of the play which was followed by a procession up one of the hills above town led by Jesus dragging that cross. And that’s the end of today’s religious report.

After leaving the play—quietly and trying to be invisible, as you do, and grateful for others, thankfully Mexicanos, who were also making for the exit—we sauntered through the plaza that was packed with people and now decorated with purple and white “streamers” (for want of the proper word en español which I once knew but have now forgotten—those cut-out tissue paper things), stopped in at Antonia’s to see if our yoghurt was coming in this week (not), filled up on frutas y verduras at Lopez’s (formerly “Surly’s”), and got some sweet bread (the local version of hot cross buns) at the deli.

It's evening now, and as we have dinner with the balcony's open doors a few feet away, we hear what sounds like techo music coming up a few blocks from the malecón, our boardwalk by the beach. I imagine young kids queueing up for a few more kinesthetic hits from the tilt-a-whirl and bumper cars. Neon lights glinting off the lake. Cotton candy. A horse clip-clopping.

We'll stay in tonight. That’s the end of Good Friday’s secular report. Signing off.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

LXII. Semana Santa

Holy Week

Semana Santa means Holy Week; it started last Sunday—Palm Sunday—and ends with Easter, which is a big deal for all Christians and especially so in Catholic countries like Mexico. Today is Maundy Thursday and participants in the local passion play are supposed to end up in our version of the Garden of Gethsemane at the little hillside chapel a couple hundred feet above town. That might be why all the church bells were just caroling, but they were almost drowned out by soon-to-depart snowbirds and weekending Tapatios whooping and hollering at the open bars and dozens of tables set up on our main street that runs down to the malecón. In another intersection of public displays with emotion, a couple of hours ago was the funeral parade of a beloved restaurateur. It was led by those irreverent female-impersonating clowns, and a happy brass band preceded the SUV carrying his open coffin, hundreds of mourners, many holding parasols against the sun.

Sidebar: para sol literally means "for the sun" en español. An umbrella to shield one from rain is paraguas—"for waters". Or you could just say, "sombrilla".

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

LXI. Mi Pintor, José

My Painter, José

Pintar—to paint
Pintura—paint (as in gallons of), painting (work of art or piece of work)
$1900MX or about $115US—Cost of a 5 gallon (19 liter) bucket of high quality Poliprisa brand pintura from a store four blocks away.

Multiple receipts are evidence of at least half
a dozen trips to the paint store where I now
feel pretty much at home.
The bucket weighs a little over 25 kilograms, which is pretty heavy, or pesado, when you have to lug that awkward item back to the work site. Fortunately, that’s one of the jobs I was paying mi pintor, José, to do Tuesday, last week. Meanwhile I was wrestling with the bolsa containing brushes, sealer, roller, pan, sheets of plastic, masking tape and extension pole that I'd just purchased; José didn’t have any of these supplies or tools, nor transportation other than a bus. 

So we walked back to la nueva casa on the cobbled verge along the carretera, or main throughway in our small town, past all the various and mostly bustling tiendas, looking for a break in the traffic since the stoplight was no longer in its usual place at the crossing; it must have been knocked off the beam by an errant truck or some such.

José has been putting in long hours, starting about nine and lasting until I walk over from our apartment in the late afternoon to pay him for the day’s work. It’s slow going; he’s painting over brick and there’s a lot of taping and cutting as well. After working Tuesday through Saturday, he was supposed to finish the bed and bathrooms (including their ceilings) today, but it’s noon now and he hasn’t yet returned from an emergency trip back home. He lives with his wife and two young children in Chapala, about 10 km. away. They had run out of propane last night and this morning I gave him an advance on today’s pay so the family could cook and have hot water.

I was to meet him an hour ago when I brought over his lunch, but with buses, you never know. My culinary spouse has been making José a nice baguette sandwich every day he’s been working; along with paying for his transport it’s part of the deal. We also throw in a couple of Nature Valley Sweet and Salty trail bars, and I pick up a small bag of potato chips (with salsa packet included, of course) plus an orange Fanta at the little corner grocery. José tells me he loves the trail bars, but has been taking the chips home for Ramón and Adelita, his children…

I had planned to leave the post at this endearing point but my working relationship with José has become more complicated. He made it back too late Monday to complete the job. Yesterday, though, he—finally, nearly—got it all done, and it looks good. But all told, the work took almost twice as much time as he originally estimated and I’m paying him by the hour. We had a talk. He pleaded that the painting presented special challenges he hadn’t recognized, he offered to come in under any bid I could get for other work he has tried to interest me in, and vowed to give me an hour of his free labor to clean and touch up.

A problem is that José does not have the tools of any trade to speak of, nor really much experience in any salable line of work; drywalling was what he did in the States, but there’s not much call for that here where nearly all construction is concrete. I had considered having him break up some of the patio to form planting beds, but to make that happen I would have to buy a wheelbarrow, sledge hammer and chisel, shovel for him to mix the concrete, and hire a truck to do the hauling. There are some guys just down the street who are doing a similar job and I don’t doubt would be available for me to hire. 

When he finishes the only painting that remains to be done—a door and cabinet currently being made by a carpenter—I had thought to give José the few things I had bought for the just almost-finished job. Well, I still will, but he broke the relatively expensive extension pole he encouraged me to buy; that act and what I saw as his failure to take responsibility for it, tipped the scales against hiring him for the patio. 

Still…Perhaps I’ll stake him to a newspaper ad, flyers or business cards, stressing his English language skills. When I was starting out gardening on my own I walked miles passing out and posting flyers. That worked for me when I wasn’t much younger than he is now…I’m concerned about José, his kids and wife, feel sort of responsible, especially since they only recently moved here after being kicked out of the States where—say what you will—I feel fortunate to have been born.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

LX. El Primer Mes, Parte 2

The First Month, Part 2

The third week after our house purchase began with me developing a painful stye on my left eyelid and an ugly cold sore also began erupting on my upper lip. I looked and felt a mess. I guess the release of several months of tension had left my body susceptible to such outbreaks. At least I managed to continue staving off the respiratory ailments—a hacking flu, bronchitis and even pneumonia—that have brought down a good portion of the village, Mexicanos and gringos alike.

I didn’t feel up to contracting the next crew to do carpentry and painting, but by week’s end we had finished most all of the initial cleaning and moved the lighter furnishings that we want to keep into the garage. Meanwhile we continued to search that Facebook page—unsuccessfully, so far—to find a suitable living room suite, outdoor table and chairs. I had previously made a scale drawing of the main sala and patio and begun positioning little to-scale cut-out drawings of furniture to get an idea how the space would look and what would fit. Mi esposa teases me about this obsessive activity but—I like to think—she acknowledges its value.

The white flakes on the bricks are evidence of
salitre, a residue of salt that has been dissolved
by seepage of water, moved by osmosis, and
 then dried on the surface. If the brick had been
painted, you would see raised bumps on its
surface. The cure is to scrape off the flakes and
crumbling brick and prevent, if possible, future
moisture from coming into the brick. 
Neither of us much care for the pots of thorny cacti and many succulents now spaced around what has begun to look like a pretty bare and unshaded patio; we realize it will not offer much relief from the late spring heat. So we've begun thinking about tearing up some of the flagstones and putting in beds with more lush plantings. With that thought in mind we started keeping an eye out for types of plants we want, as well as continuing our search for just the right combination of color to paint the front of our new casa.

By the beginning of the fourth week—in other words, three weeks after our purchase—I was mostly recovered from my twin ailments; I made an appointment with a highly recommended contractor whom I will call Dominique. 

Monday I showed him what we wanted done—our bed and bath rooms painted a very light shade of sea green over the muddy yellow, a door put in between those two rooms, the saltire (see picture) repaired there and in several other rooms, kitchen counter tiled and a stainless steel double sink installed, plus some kitchen cabinets built and smaller acts of carpentry.

Dominique had arrived more or less on time, had looked over the work, and told me his carpenter would come by the next day to assess that portion of the job. He’d get back to me with an estimate. On Tuesday—martes—I waited an hour for the carpenter; he never came. That evening D. called to see if everything was copacetic and seemed shocked his guy hadn’t shown up. We arranged to all meet the next day. That worked OK—they were just a little late. D. gave me his part of the estimate and said he’d call me mañana with the carpenter’s figures, and that they were ready to begin work. Jueves turned to viernes and by Saturday I still had no word. That evening Dominique called with profuse apologies and said he’d meet me at the house at 11AM on Monday to start painting. No show. When he called that evening I told him I had gotten someone else to do the job.
The color is called "ghostly green" but that didn't dissuade me
from having five gallons mixed to paint the bed and bath rooms.

I had called the next guy on our list—we'll name him José. He was happy to work and I was happy to have him; he hadn’t had a job in over a week. He says he and his family were booted out of Florida last year—illegal immigrants. He doesn’t have any tools so he’s just doing the painting, and receiving the US equivalent of four dollars an hour, plus bus fare and his lunch. It’s going to end up costing a little more than the other guy’s estimate, but so far—after two days—I have no complaints and I don’t think he does either. 

This afternoon I told José about another job we would probably have for him later on. Along with his day’s pay I gave him an extra 100 pesos for his son’s birthday tomorrow, and he thanked me profusely, praising all my family to God. I don’t want to become his patrón—at least not yet—but will be glad to bequeath to him the paint roller and pan and adjustable extension I recently bought, and will definitely call him when we are ready for some more work.

Tomorrow I call a new carpenter, plus someone to install a new kitchen sink, and someone else to work on the salitre problem. José should be finished by the end of the week. Next come some deep cleaners and after that all the tile will be sanded and re-waxed. Then, we'll almost be ready to move in the first of June.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

LIX. El Primer Mes, Parte 1

The First Month, Part 1

It's been a month since we took possession of our new house. We’re still happy with the purchase.

Our new electric meter with the corrugated
sleeve below which prevents a neighbor from
tapping into our juice. "Buscar" in the window
means "to look for".
That first week seems like an awfully long time ago. After paying a lot of money and signing a bunch of papers, we didn’t do much at all—for a couple of days— except mentally adjust to our new status as home owners. We made sure the electricity, water and phone accounts had been transferred and brought up to date, talked about our strategy for repair, remodeling and cleaning, and my organized wife began a list of recommended electricians, plumbers, floor tile installers, carpenters and handymen, etc. That was about it—Oh, as a first step toward decorating our new house, we treated ourselves to a framed photo by a local artist, a fine picture of a young boy helping to launch a globo, or hot air balloon. 

The next week I called a father and son who had received excellent reviews in the local gringo web board, and asked them to give us an estimate for the electrical and plumbing work. Their numbers looked good, they worked hard and—to my pretty ignorant eyes—effectively, and before the week was over had finished some needed upgrading that our inspector had recommended. 

Our monthly electrical bill will probably range between ten and twenty dollars. Some people can’t—or don’t want to—pay for the electricity they use; they try to cadge onto their neighbor’s supply by connecting a wire to the meter next door. I had an idea there was something hinky about our setup but was willing to let it go. The Jimenez guys, though, took the initiative to put a stop to this minor theft by slipping a sleeve on the main wire that runs into our house from the new meter they installed. They also did some rewiring, and replaced the main junction box with one that will handle a heavier load.

You see tinacos like this all over Mexico. The PVC pipe bottom
left was installed by the Jimenez's to replace a narrower pipe.
The water we get around here (for which we pay about four dollars a month) comes from the springs flowing out of the mountains at the edge of town. Most older homes have an underground cistern called an aljibe that holds the water piped in by the local utility. We don’t think our aljibe is functional; its access cover in the garage is cemented shut. Instead, our water goes into two holding tanks—tinacos—located fore and aft on the roof. The Jiminez hijo cleaned out both of the 1100 liter tanks, blew out the silt in some of the existing pipes and replaced others with bigger PVC pipes and valves to give us better water pressure. 

I really liked both Jimenez padre y hijo—friendly and no nonsense. My Spanish is still poor but has improved to the point where I was able both to make myself understood as well as ask enough questions to mostly follow what they were saying back to me. I think. And I appreciated that they liked our house.

One of two large--about 4 feet by 2 1/2  feet--oil paintings that came with our
house. We like the colors, form and style. The artist, David Leonardo, has 
become well-known in chi-chi San Miguel de Allende.
Meanwhile, my organized spouse and I had begun sorting through the stuff the previous owner had left behind. There are some things we really treasure, but many that we don’t want. We began posting the latter for sale in a local Facebook page. The first guys who came were Mexicanos who have a thrift shop a couple of blocks from where we live. They bought some nice chairs that weren't our style, a few paintings—one, a poor man’s Rousseau that had been hanging over the too big bed—and a lot of ceramic Catrina dolls. As they asked for prices, I reeled off cincuenta and cien pesos like an auctioneer. Over the next couple of days, a Canadian couple took the bed and a yoga enthusiast from California was happy to buy a slightly-too-garish for our taste mirror.

In the next part of this post I'll briefly describe my physical collapse and a less than felicitous encounter with another be continued.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

LVIII. Cuándo las Golondrinas Regresan a Ajijic

When the Swallows Return to Ajijic

Late yesterday afternoon while sipping margaritas on the balcony we noticed the swallows have returned. It's been at least November since we saw them last; they were ubiquitous in the summer and early fall. Their nests--stuck to the crease where walls meet eaves, up and down every sidewalk in el centro--were things to avoid. Now they've come back and we remind each other of their romantic image in that Capistrano song, admire the sleek and acrobatic flight, and try not to dwell too much on how the territorial adults, later joined by their numerous fledglings, will soon be swooping about our heads and dropping little turds all over the place.