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!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

LXX. Domingo en la Noche en el Malecón

Sunday Night on the Waterfront

After another scorcher it's a pleasantly warm evening for strollers along the malecón where our little town meets Lago de Chapala.  Three months ago the lake lapped the wall not far below the promenade. Now, we're keeping our fingers crossed the rainy season will begin soon bringing cooler weather and a replenished lake.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

LXIX. Ahh, México

Ahh, Mexico

We’ve just passed through our second bout of culture shock in two weeks with our return home from Seattle to the little village where we live in México. A few notable experiences that highlight the differences:

Yesterday evening, a few hours off the plane on the way up to the cafe where we buy our coffee, I see a woman sitting on one of those ubiquitous white plastic chairs in a row of a half dozen others that are set out on the verge of cobblestoned Calle Castellanos. I nod and smile to her as I pass by on the narrow sidewalk, then glance through the wide opening (usually into a garage) that she is facing, past another, fully occupied row of chairs to a bank of funeral sprays—white lilies mostly and lots of greenery is my impression—fronted by a shiny casket. I feel a little—but not too—embarrassed (mostly because I was checking out her cleavage during what was revealed to be a solemn time) and mumble something I now forget, but I’m sure included the word “Dios”. 

A "rainbird", more properly known as a cicada, seems to
presage the local rainy season with its very high-pitched call
that increases in frequency until lluvia begins to fall mid-June.
Photo found in Wikipedia.
As I gratefully stumble to bed (we were awakened at 2:30AM this same day so we could wait in TSA's line to have our privates inspected for explosive residue) I hear out the bedroom window, in the direction of the nearby montañas, the seasonal high-pitched trill of what we gringos call “rainbirds”. They get their name because around here that "song" begins, seemingly without fail, about a month before the rainy season starts in June. When we first heard the sound, almost exactly a year ago, I was sure it was some electrical anomaly. Neither a buzzing hot wire nor a bird, it is actually an insect, a cicada, and the noise is made by the male flexing a drum-like organ on its abdomen. As the weeks pass, more chicharras will join the chorus and the noise increase until the rains begin to fall in mid-June, and the sound slowly fades from memory.

This morning as we have our coffee on the balcony and the sun begins to rise, briefly coloring the rooftops, guayaba and palm trees shades of pink and orange, we hear a cacophony of bird calls: the irritatingly ever-present and onomatopoeically named kiskadees, an exponentially increasing throng of chattering swallows, harshly monikered grackles who use a wide range of chirrups, clicks and whistles to construct delightful and always changing songs, countless roosters crowing far and wide throughout the village, and the goofball chuckle of a turkey in the next block, plus a few travelers whose names we don’t know.

A little later, on my way to the early opening abarrotes to buy a bottle of water for our maid, I follow the guy who always wears a tattered sombrero and likes to sing loudly in the middle of the street. Today he’s also got on what looks like a bearskin vest, and is not singing but shouting a hearty hello to the few of us up and about at this hour. At the corner with Calle Colón another fellow is engaged in the traditional morning activity of throwing a basin of soapy water on the sidewalk in front of his store and brushing the suds onto the street. That's where I notice a few tiny, walnut-skinned Huichol women with their distinctive brightly embroidered blouses sitting on a stoop waiting p-a-t-i-e-n-t-l-y for a bus, and across the street an hombre who has evidently awakened to a flat tire is good-naturedly trying to raise it with a bicycle pump. On my way back with the agua pura the ladies are still there, the tire is at least no longer flat on the cobbles plus a friend has parked in the middle of the calle to give encouragement, and the sidewalk cleaner has moved into the street with his broom and dustpan.

On the way to breakfast we see our beggar in his early morning place on a bench in the plaza. He is a nice looking guy probably in his 50s, almost nattily dressed, often with a scarf around his neck for the morning chill. He only has one leg and the other he displays with the skin eaten away from the foot. We almost always give him ten pesos or so. Usually we see him after the bank has opened when he moves to a spot on the sidewalk right outside its door. Sometimes he puts his hand out twice in the same day. We open our mouths, bug out our eyes, shrug and raise our palms and eyebrows in mock outrage, and then we all laugh as we pass him by.

Friday, May 13, 2016

LXVIII. Regresar a Los Estados Unidos, Parte 2

Back in the United States, Part 2

Eddie has exchanged life in The Emerald City for the laid-back
vibes of Portland. He'll be living with Bridie and John in the
NE part of town only a few blocks from our favorite
McMenamin's hotel--Kennedy School. 
A month before our trip back to Seattle we sent out emails to friends announcing our intention to give away many of the items we had been storing. We wanted these good people to have first choice among our belongings. The rest of our things—except, of course, for those that we would ship to our new home—would go to charity. There was one item, though, that we would neither donate nor take with us, and that was our car, Eddie. On that same emailing we advertised a cut-rate deal on Steady Eddie and quickly received a response—from a person who shall remain unnamed—that Eddie really seemed to have her name on him, and that events had conspired to make him available just when she needed to replace her old car. I answered that I was glad to see our reliable stead going to a good home, and that I’d let her know when we’d be available to seal the deal. We were only going to be in Seattle for two weeks, our time felt jammed as it was, and who knew how long it would have otherwise taken to sell our car? So, it felt really good to get this part of our long to-do list checked off. 

Fast forward to last week; our second day on the job began with this ibuprofen-fueled but emotionally deflated duo confronting a brain-freezing mess—items boxed and unboxed, on and off the U-Haul, jammed into the garage and threatening to fall over or cause injury or both, and with an order that we had either forgotten or about which we disagreed. But slowly, with gritted teeth and a willingness to make and abide by snap decisions, we made sense of it all. Several trips to the donation lane at ValueVillage opened up space in the rental truck. By five o’clock we had almost everything sorted, packed and Magic Marked, and were ready to call it a day. Have a couple of drinks. We were just waiting for The Edster’s erstwhile buyer to appear, the same one who had seemed so positive and committed a month ago, but had just the day before dropped a hint that perhaps the time was not as propitious as she had previously seemed to promise.

I guess by now we knew what was coming, and that it was probably not going to be what we wanted to hear. Still, it was a disappointment to be told that Unnamed was not really as committed to buying a new automobile as she had been a month before. “It’s a wonderful car, though, and a great price and I’m sure you’ll have no trouble selling it blah blah”. We pasted on grins and muttered imprecations under our breath…but what can you do? 

Eddie is one clean ride! I wonder what new name he'll be
given?...Thanks, Sarina, for the Craigslist photos!
We came home and posted Eddie for sale on Craigslist. The next morning a guy called from Portland, asked a few questions about the ad, told us he and his wife were renting a car, driving the three hours north with cash in hand, and to please, please hold on to Ed Man until two o’clock. Even though we had been burned, we fell for John's line, and we were rewarded for our faith. John and Bridie had been looking for this very model for weeks, found him to be as righteous as we had always known, laid a thick wad of Ben Franklins on us and drove back home (I presume, and hope) happy as can be. 

We celebrated by going shopping for clothes at Fred Meyers, a regional mega-store, and ValueVillage, the used everything emporium to which we had been donating all week. Score! And score again! We found everything we wanted and in our size, plus a Founders’ Day sale at FM saved us nearly fifty dollars and VV was discounting 30% to seniors.

We were back on track and have continued to be in a groove, visiting with friends, co-workers and spending more quality time with daughters, helping and being helped by them. We’ve also confirmed to ourselves that this move is the right thing to be doing. Seattle seems cold to us now, both physically and psychologically, even though we love our friends and family and will always come back for visits. We have become accustomed to a much slower and generally friendlier pace, a more vibrant life and culture. That doesn't mean it’s bad here or not right for anyone else but us, but it’s no longer our home. That place will soon be on a cobblestone street named Encarnación Rosas in a small town on the edge of a big lake in the high country in the middle of México. ¡Olé!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

LXVII. Regresar a Los Estados Unidos, Parte 1

Back in the United States, Part 1

Our penultimate night in Mexico—a week and a half ago—I partied too heartily and launched myself onto a 50-year drunk that led to a fall and me looking, and feeling, like I’d just spent a dozen unlucky rounds in the boxing ring. Although it provoked knowing and good-natured laughter among my Mexican friends, that didn’t augur well for our first visit in a year back to the Land of the Free.  A few days later we woke up on our first morning in the city, and even neighborhood, I had called home for more than forty years. We had a massive to-do list with a complete-by date of less than a week from arrival. We got it all done three days ahead of time. We’re patting ourselves on the back.

The storage locker is five feet wide and ten feet long, and
packed to nearly three-fourths of its eight foot height.
Item #1—after Younger Daughter picked us up at the airport, and a short and fitful night’s sleep—was picking up our beloved car Eddie from his year in a suburban storage facility, hoping, of course, that Ed Man would start and his tires not be flat. Dealing with any kind of motor-driven device is problematic for me, raising red flags of worry that I know are unreasonable but deeply felt nonetheless. Ed's tires were fine, but the battery was dead. Fortunately I was being helped by YD who is Positivity and Good Humor Personified. I’d asked her to bring jumper cables and those worked as per instructions. She followed me the half-hour back into the city where, upon stopping, it was revealed that Red Ed had lost his charge and that a new battery would be needed. That would have to wait.

The U-Haul is six feet long and ten feet wide
with a six foot ceiling--not much wiggle room!
Next up on that first day back was moving all our belongings from the storage locker we had rented and stuffed full almost exactly one year ago. I knew I couldn’t do the job by myself—some things were just too big, awkward or heavy to move alone. I had thought of hiring some temp labor but was balking at the idea when YD suggested that she and Older Daughter would be happy to help. They are strong, smart, hard-working young women and we had the mercilessly small U-Haul packed to the roof in only a couple of hours—after several dozen round-trips up and down a long, narrow and dimly lit hallway, past locked and anonymous flimsy steel doors, down the freight elevator into which we’d jammed our two piled-high and hard-to-turn dollies, finally to punch the button that slowly lifts the roller door to reveal an increasingly laden truck. 

Back at OD’s house, where she had graciously donated driveway space and cleared room in her garage to serve as a staging area, we resuscitated Dead Ed and, after many hugs and thank you’s, I drove crosstown in the glooming to our Air BnB and a late deli dinner. The plan was for us to spend the next three days pulling every single item out of the U-Haul, deciding if it should 1) be inventoried and re-boxed for shipment to our new home in México, 2) set aside in the garage for gifting to friends and family, or 3) put back in the truck, driven and donated to
Two sweet daughters in the now empty $72/month
storage locker.
Big Brothers/Sisters at a nearby ValueVillage. After everything had been sorted, all the packed pieces would go back in the U-Haul for inspection and final off-loading by the international movers, which will happen tomorrow, and only then will we return the rental truck. This was the plan thought up by my Sensible Solutions Spouse. 

Fueled by ibuprofen, the plan worked to a T! Worry about rainy days during our largely outdoor endeavor had caused us to lose sleep in the weeks leading up to this grueling test, but even the weather cooperated. We even managed to cut almost in half the amount we had estimated for shipping, saving us several thousand dollars. And the unusual idea of using the U-Haul truck for temporary storage worked fine. We vowed to remember how well this all turned out in the future, whenever we stress about some complicated event we are planning.

There was only one glitch in our well-made plans that first be continued.