Thursday, April 28, 2016

LXVI. Miércoles en Guadalajara

Wednesday in Guadalajara

Yesterday I took the 50 peso—$3US—morning bus to our nearby Big City. You leave from in front of the liquor store up on the carretera, or throughway, that bisects the little town of Ajijic a few blocks north of where we live. An hour later you pull into the Antigua Central Camionera—“Old Central Bus Station”—at the edge of downtown in the sprawling metropolis of Guadalajara. I was there to pick up my camera which had been under repair for more than three months. On my 3 km. walk back to the bus station I took these pictures along Calle Niños Heroes and its side streets.

It was about lunch time and food stands were beginning to get a few customers. Here's a taco cart with shaded seating area.

This lady is preparing for the soon-to-come noon rush.

There are nearly a hundred stands for these ride-away bikes in the downtown core. For about $22US you can buy an annual card for unlimited use. Or, one Yankee dollar gives you a temporary pass good for a half-hour ride. The name "mibici" derives from "mi bicicleta", español for "my bicycle".
Jugo = Juice, Pan Dulce = Sweet Bread or Pastry, Frutas Picadas = Cut-up Fruits

You see yellow taxis like this all over Jalisco, and you can still spot working (!) phone booths like this at most corners. The busy food stand across the street will probably sell you a couple of shredded pork tacos with frijoles, plus all the trimmings, for about $1.

The colorful paint and tiles at this gift shop were in contrast to the workaday tiendas along most of these blocks.

"Mabe" brand appliances--pronounced "mah-bay" en español; mispronounced "may-bee" by gringos, as in "Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't", especially when referring to washer/dryers, as we can attest.

Lo Mio = Mine, Películas = Movies

This main street called "Niños Heroes" shares it name with hundreds--more likely, thousands--of calles in practically every town and city in the country. The Niños Heroes were the "Child Heroes"--six young military cadets who died defending their Chapultepec academy against U.S. forces in the 1846-7 Mexican-American War. In addition to young martyrs to memorialize, the war ended with the Republic of Mexico reduced to one-half its former size and the U.S. gaining California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, and half of Colorado.

The dozen blocks on Niños Heroes before you get to the Antigua Central Camionera are chockablock with small bathroom and tile fixture stores, one after another after another. Last time we visited Guadalajara, we were struck by a similar concentration of numerous wedding dress stores near the main mercado.

A good view of a spectacularly well-shaped ass.

Commerce picking up in the Bathroom Commode and Tile District. Notice the two hombres--far right--fronting commodes at their adjoining stores, under the shade of an ubiquitous ficus.

Speaking of "ubiquitous", here's that store we love to hate, cunningly placed next to a billboard advertising the latest rom-com.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

LXV. Muchos Presupuestos y Una Carretilla

Many Estimates and One Wheelbarrow

Presupuesto: a cost estimate given by a contractor before being offered a job

The Jimenez's added the double stainless steel fregador to replace a single,
too-deep one sunk in a spotty concrete counter, which Antonio Guzman
later covered with blue tiles.
Between hiring and overseeing a revolving cast of trabajadores, workers, at our new house, sweating over my own self-assigned jobs there, and either trying to escape the thought of who next to contract or pay, or simply collapsing from exhaustion, I have had neither the time nor inclination to reflect in writing on this evolving state of affairs. A nagging worrier has seized a good portion of my brain whenever I’m either not aggressively trying to address that worry, or engaging in some form of absorbing escapism, like a Tuesday NYT crossword puzzle—and even that’s sometimes stretching it—or reading a not-too-bloody police procedural on my Ipad; I’ve gone through almost a dozen the past month. Plus the heat—weeks of temps in the high eighties with an ever higher noon sun, finally broken by a rumbling thunder storm yesterday evening and fitful downpours.

Yikes! Juan José and his workers are using some serious
chemicals to strip the varnish off the saltillo tile floors that
cover the entire house --a big and unpleasant job. 
I’m pretty happy with all the work that’s been done: upgrading electricity and plumbing, painting bedroom and bathroom, revamping kitchen countertops—a double steel sink and ceramic tile surfaces, making/installing custom doors, shelves, and kitchen cabinet, and creating two large planting beds in what had previously been an all-flagstone patio. The final job is going on now—stripping varnish that’s peeling off the terra-cotta floors throughout the whole house, sanding down the tiles, re-tinting, waxing and polishing them. This involves large drums of a viscous liquid labelled “corrosivo’’—probably something that hasn’t been legally sold in the States since the late sixties.

With the exception of José (whom I continue to counsel on how to find a job…and loan a few pesos for his family), I have been satisfied at a level of about 8 to 9.5 with all the sub-contractors I have hired. Antonio, with his two brawny sons, has been a find! They only live a block away (we share the same barrio, which he tells me is known as St. Gaspar) and seem to be able to do almost anything, from sealing the roof to cutting and removing the patio concrete and stones, to hauling metros cubicos of topsoil, or laying the tile on the kitchen counters. And his main trade is as a plumber! I’m sure we’ll be calling on him in the future.

Looking from the mirador level down to the two new planting beds Sr. Gúzman
and his two sons created by removing a whole lot of concrete and flagstones
from the patio, forming a concrete curb along the edges and bringing in about
four metros cubicos of good topsoil. Actually I ordered too much soil and had
to remove almost a cubic yard of it myself, bagging it and hauling to the garage.
Fortunately, there were a lot of interested parties looking for free topsoil. We
plan to stuff the beds with a riot of tropical and sun-loving plants
Throughout this time, my otherwise-involved wife has not stepped foot in la casa nueva (we continue to live in the apartment until our year-long lease runs out the end of May). Partly that’s because I want her to be surprised by the changes being wrought—and she likes that idea—and also because there just isn’t much for her to do there until this initial, mostly hired, work is complete. In addition to cooking, washing and shopping, she continues to entertain me with her happy songs and has been making plans and reservations for our upcoming visit back to Seattle. We leave in just over a week to visit daughters and friends, and to remove everything from our 5X10 storage locker, plus Eddie the Car, giving away most, and packing a few items to have shipped to our new home in Ajijic.

The new house is partly furnished but missing a few essential pieces, like a bed and living room furniture. We’ve been scouring local classifieds for these and other items, online and off. No joy yet; looks like this might have to wait until the two weeks between our return from the States and we move out of the apartment.

My trusty Truper. The "u" in Spanish is almost always
pronounced like an English "oo", as in "too" or "food".
I had begun to realize, though, that since we don’t have a car here in Ajijic we need a conveyance, whether it’s to move a chair, small table or plants, pots, or bags of compost. What sprang to mind, my mind at least, was a wheelbarrow—una carretilla.  When I was buying paint for José I priced a “Truper” carretilla—pronounced like our “Trooper”, a popular brand of herramientos, or tools—at 989 pesos, or about $55. A couple of weeks later I found a used one for less than half that price. Only catch: it was about 5 km away in San Antonio Tlayacapan, the next village over. No problem, I walked there and proudly pushed my bright and shiny green purchase along many cobblestone blocks all the way back—something I would have felt totally out of place doing back in suburban Seattle, but not here; es normal. I’ve already used my carretilla to help me hump a half dozen large bags of yard waste—basura verde—down to the corner of Constitución and Encarnación Rosas for Thursday morning pick up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

LXIV. Cazadores de las Haciendas: La Calera

Hacienda Hunters: La Calera
Rubén lets us into the grounds of Hacienda La Calera. Behind
him, past the bronze statue of Archangel Michael triumphing
over Satan, and then the fountain, is the main entrance to the
casa grande.

[See the update at the end of this post for pictures and comments taken at a second visit to the hacienda] 

Last Thursday the Cazadores de las Haciendas—Hacienda Hunters—explored La Calera, near the vast public housing projects south of Guadalajara, only about 40 km from where we live. The main building itself is not too old as haciendas go—a little over 200 years—but the property has been occupied as a hacienda for at least another hundred. For several decades around the end of the 19th century it was the home of Álvaro Obregón, a two-term president of the Republic. It currently belongs to the estate of Joan (pronounced “ho-ahn”—a man’s name) Sebastian, a popular Mexican singer who died last year. No one has lived at La Calera, though, since the 1950’s.
The card room, I understood Rubén to say, was Sr. Sebastian's
favorite place at La Calera. Although he visited the hacienda a
number of times, he never spent the night here.

The friendly caretaker, Rubén, let us in and accompanied us for the beginning of our visit, which had been arranged by Jim Cook, our knowledgeable leader. Rubén's father and grandfather had also worked here, he told us, back to before the time of the Cristero troubles in the early part of the last century. Rubén explained the history of the place, and uses of the different rooms—until, in ones and twos, we dropped off to explore on our own. 

Except for Rubén, his wife and daughter, the twelve of us were the only ones on the entire—perhaps twenty-five acre—property. It was a treat to mosey around, upstairs and down, even to the roof, inside and out, from chapel to dining room, card room to carriage stable, even poke into an interestingly opulent bathroom, and see the trap doors leading to a network of tunnels.

Wandering through this large, mostly furnished, and remarkably comfortable old house was somewhat like visiting one of those restored colonial homes on the east coast, the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, or the Hearst Castle, although La Calera is not nearly as big as the last two. The exceptional difference here is that there are no signs saying, "Please Do Not Touch", nor velvet ropes signifying no entry.

Off the central courtyard, from here you look into the barroom
in the distance, past the wood carved panel depicting John the
Baptist doing his thing with Jesus
We could go when and where we wanted, and entering some of the rooms with their chairs slightly pushed away from a table or seeing a vase of flowers arranged and left by Rubén's family, gave us the feeling that someone from half a century back had just left the premises, the echo of their departing footsteps almost audible, their absence bringing the dust that had only recently settled on a glass or marble counter. 

The variety and quality of the artwork—stone and wood carvings, sculptures in many media, ceramic urns and tiles, paintings, ironwork fixtures and elaborate moulding—was all the more incredible for their general state of benign neglect or even disrepair. This was no museum, although many of the pieces were of that quality, but a place where generations of people had lived, and then left.

A few of the Cazadores relaxing after several hours exploring El Calera. We're seated in front of an empty pond and turned-off fountain. One end of the main arcade to the casa grande is just visible, top left. Chuck, far right, was kind enough to lend me his spare camera for these pictures. My Sony is still stuck in a repair shop in Guadalajara where it's been for going on four months.
Marble tops the barroom counter and frames the now-damaged painting of a horse race. Sr. Sebastian loved his horses, sometimes singing at a concert while on horseback.
This ceramic sculpture is in the main sala.
The guest dining room. Through the doors is the hall to the connecting kitchen and out the door is a smaller courtyard and
entry to the main bedroom
A corner of the kitchen food prep area. The warm colors, comfortable proportions, worn stone and wood gave the entire place a liveable feel.
Kitchen courtyard and entry to main bedroom where, beyond the glass doors is a good-sized swimming pool surrounded by
a high wall to make it completely private.
Part of the main bedroom suite is this marble bathroom of which you can see less than half. That looks like a crumpled hundred peso note near the sink. Perhaps one of us left a tip for its use.
An astonishing wood carving, about nine feet high, perhaps depicting Joseph with baby Jesus.  
A small portion of the front arcade of the casa grande with the main portal giving entry to the central courtyard The stone
carving above the entrance depicts the coat of arms of the 1811 owners and builders.

Update: Last week, half a year after I made the above trip, I was fortunate to join the local photography club as they were about to head to photogenic Hacienda La Calera for picture taking. This time I was able to see what I saw last spring with new eyes and my own this-time-functioning camera. In general, the latest pictures are much more impressionistic than the previous ones.

Antonieta comes from Oaxaca, a state far to the south. Her native village was settled by the Zapotec people--a group that
once rivaled the Aztec in size and strength. The village is famous for its rug weavers, a skill 'Tonieta's family shares. She
came alone to Ajijic three years ago to sell her family's wares in our little plaza. My Spanish classmate Doug invited her to accompany the photography club on a field trip to Hacienda La Calera, and to pose for pictures. She is a real sweetheart. 
A ten-foot tall bronze statue of Archangel Michael besting the demon stands not far from the entrance gates to the 300-year old hacienda, visited numerous times by the infamous strongman Mexican president Porfirio Diaz, and longtime home of a latter reform president, Álvaro Obregón. Most recently the hacienda was owned by popular Mexican songwriter-singer Joan Sebastian who died a little over a year ago. His heirs have put the place up for sale for 200 million pesos, over 10 million Yankee dollars.
Outside the front of the hacienda I found this photogenic view with the sun just peeking over the battlement capturing a tangle of vines in its rays. Notice the bas-relief figure to the left standing on the heads of his enemies. 
The side portico leads to a large covered outdoor eating area complete with several large grills. The hacienda is in just the right state of picturesque disrepair--as evidenced by the broken and sagging beams upper left--to make it a playground for
the photographer.
I'm unsure what the medium is for this work of art, perhaps some sort of plaster over wood, at least in the background. The entire piece is about 9 feet high and is over a banquette in the dining room. This is typical of the quality of dozens of other pieces throughout the casa.
In every hacienda there was a chapel attached to the casa grande for the dueño, his family and favored retainers. This scene is captured in a small room adjacent to the chapel. Notice the outrageous appearance of the sculpted figure, and the heads he is stepping on!
Inside the chapel now, looking up at the altar.
It's amazing what you can do with a picture using editing software. I wanted a look here like an old postcard, with faded saturation. The original shot was very dark as there was no light in the chapel except that coming in from the door behind me. I used my trusty old Sony RX100 with a 20 second exposure on the back of one of those chairs in the foreground. f/10 and ISO 200. Using Lightroom, I heightened contrast, clarity and vibrance, and suppressed highlights and saturation.
The Imperial Eagle of the Hapsburgs was the insignia of the ruling dynasty of Spain in the 16th century, and was painted or carved on many buildings in Colonial Mexico. A large stone version hangs over the entry gate to Hacienda La Calera and another is painted here in the salon--a moody room all in this blood red.
I have to credit Rubén, the friendly and knowledgeable caretaker of the hacienda, or a member of his family, for many of the arrangements of furniture and art here in the casa grande. I'd also credit nature for bringing in shafts of sunlight, birds, leaves and mounds of termite munchings in some of the rooms.
Looking out the window of the chapel's anteroom. I just noticed how the window frame supports fittingly form a cross.
This intricate silk tablecloth, with handblown glass vase, is also located in the chapel's small anteroom. 
Barnyard animals add interest to the racks from which kitchen implements hang over a work table. 
'Tonieta looking up at the light coming through the dining room doors.