Saturday, January 31, 2009

the beginning of #46

I have been remiss in keeping my faithful reader(s) up to date on the Tlaquepaque celebration. Here, in one place, are two days' worth of observations, comments, photos, and travel ramblings. It's going to be a long read so get a glass of wine, get comfortable and come along for the ride.

Thursday morning, the actual Day of Celebration of #45 we decided to stay in town and not brave the mobs up in Tonalá. Been there, done that, bought that, seen that. We thought Friday might be much more civilized and less crowded. On the schedule was a trip to the El Refugio ceramic and art museum, the Museum of Ceramics, more lamp searching, and a celebratory luncheon somewhere. I was opting for a taxi ride into Guadalajara to the Café Coyote, but as you will learn as you read on, that option was not on the table. And I'm not sorry.

First stop was the El Refugio, some 6 or 8 blocks from the Casa de las Flores. It is a huge, block-square cluster of buildings that have been a hospital, a convent, an abandoned wreck, and is now a museum-convention center-gallery-civic building. The original building, constructed like a typical hacienda was founded by a local priest as a hospital for the local people, most of whom were Indians. This effort took longer that anticipated. Ten years later the building was completed and served as a hospital for over 100 years. Then it was turned into a convent which lasted over 50 years, until that Prince of Darkness, Plutarco Elias Calles, was elected president in the 1920's and declared war on the Catholic church. He lost but managed to do a great deal of damage. He shut down all the convents and monasteries he could find. He was hugely unpopular and hated.

As is true in every country, boys born during the administration of presidents, prime ministers, and other functionaries are named after such worthies. It has been reported that there was a spate of boys named Barak right after our election. In Mexico, you'll find various Carloses, Benitoes, and of course, Vicentes. Even a few Venustianos and Lazaroses. But I have never met a Plutarco!
Fin de deviación.

The main auditorium houses the "history of ceramics" throughout the country. No photos allowed. But then we wandered through the rest of the building, and my, what a gorgeous place.

There are four "squares" making a larger square, each with its own garden in the middle.

Along each corridor are tiny rooms ~ there are a total of 700 of them ~ just large enough for either a hospital bed or a nun's cot. Each opens onto the corridor and the little garden; it would cure you or inspire you, depending on why you were there.

After a couple of hours we wandered through some of the neighborhoods of Tlaquepaque. The houses and their paint-jobs were reminiscent of San Miguel.

We walked down to the ceramics museum. Most of what they are showing is from ceramic artists from the Tlaquepaque/Guadalajara area. It's varied, colorful, detailed, and a marvel of artistic invention. I think this pot and lid piece was my favorite.

Now it was time for the anniversary lunch. We ended up at El Adobe, a place we have seen for years but never tried. It was spectacular! It is in the back of a very pricey furniture/home accessories store although you can get to it by a side door. The Patient had checked out the menu on Wednesday while I was browsing the (extravagantly priced) lamps. But, as he so sweetly said, "Nothing it too good for you" so we went in and, oh my! What a treat.

With Tanya Liberdad crooning "Sombras, Nada Mas", followed by "Gracias a la Vida" in the background, it was a perfect place to celebrate the occasion. I ordered crab quesadillas and a green salad. What I got bore no resemblance to traditional quesadillas in the least. Instead, there were four little puff pastry pillows filled with sweet, succulent crab. I would have taken a picture first but I fell on these little beauties before I could even think about getting out my camera. But I did manage to get a picture of this gorgeous salad.

The ceiling of this restaurant is hung with pierced metal 3-D stars that I would give anything to be able to hang around my palapa down here. But in about 15 minutes they would turn into rusted wrecks. The waiter saw me eying them and, bless him, turned on the lights so I could get the full effect.

It's absolutely beautiful. We need to go back at night for dinner and look at the restaurant lit only by these lights. But I was mighty grateful to see them like this.

After lunch we strolled back along Independencia, the main pedestrian walkway in the shopping district. We went back to the store where we had seen the pots that we thought might be made into lamps and decided that we were probably not going to find anything better (we didn't) and bought two of them. I will get in touch with Gustavo, the Cuyutlán resident electrical genius, and turn them over to him to make lamps.

Thursday night we did not go out to dine. Instead, Stan had baked a wonderful chocolate cake that we christened "Dinner" and called it a night.

The next morning we feasted on Stan's chiles rellenos for breakfast. In a former life Stan worked at Alice Waters' restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley. It has served him, and his guests, well. Then we headed off to Tonalá by bus. I had a short shopping list and was determined to stick to it. First stop, the zocolo, the central square in front of the cathedral.

Then we walked around the indoor market. First I saw the bread lady with her big canastas of pan, five or six different varieties.

Not the bollios or talera limitations we have here. Cheese bread, little batards that might have been sourdough, and something very crispy and fragrant with herbs. Then around the corner was the vegetable stand with a big pile of chopped nopales, chiles, cebollos, and some other green vegetable I didn't recognize. You buy this mixture by the kilo in a plastic bag. What you do with it after that I don't know. The basket of tiny green droplets are baby tomatilloes. The other green is nopales leaves.

Down the way was the carneceria with all his wares hung out for inspection. He was delighted to get his picture taken, too.

At least, at first he was. Then he thought better of it. But by then it was too late. Chorizo sausages, hunks of pork, tongue, and a few mystery meats hung on hooks. I didn't buy anything but it all looked good.

Desviación #2:
I try to be very careful about who or what I take a picture of, especially "who." These folks are just going about their daily routines. What do I find so exotic and snap-worthy about selling beautiful bread or chopping vegetables? Children are usually easy; they are happy to smile and mug for the camera. Adults, on the other hand, can get miffed in a hurry. But sometimes they, too, will smile and be proud of their pile of tomatoes or display of fabric or pottery. You never know.
Fin de desviación #2.

We decided, after getting all our purchases ~ four wine glasses for Chuy's birthday gift, four hurricane lamp covers for outdoor candles, some artificial greenery for outdoor vases, a dozen tiny salt dishes for tea lights ~ we would go to our favorite restaurant, El Rincon del Sol for a beer. Stan had fed us such a wonderful breakfast that lunch was out of the question.

We happened on this place many years ago, thanks to a taxi driver. We were staying in Guadalajara on that trip. We had heard about the glories of Tonalá and made the trip out. The driver pointed out the restaurant as we sped by, gave us a flyer (his cousin is probably the owner!), and the deal was sealed. We've been back there every time for lunch. But this time it was drinks only. It's still the same; same menu, same layout, same music. But nice.

We caught a taxi home, spent the afternoon reading,then went across the street to Victoria's, a local cenaduria, open for dinner (or supper) only. During the day you would never know this place existed. It is in Victoria's house. In the evening she and her family haul out onto the sidewalk all the cooking equipment; deep fat fryer, tanks of gas, pots, pans, plus tables and chairs for sidewalk diners. They cook up some really delicious food; posole, enchiladas, pollo, tacos, all fresh, well made, nicely seasoned. For $40 pesos (about $3) we had a delicious and filling meal. Then back to Stan's, a cup of tea in the garden, and it's lights out. Home in the morning.

Desviación #3:
Entrepreneurship in Mexico is alive and well. A common sight in residential areas are tienditas (little stores) set out in front of a house, doing a brisk business in food, drinks, sometimes vegetables and fruits, or candy and other snacks, magazines, comic books, frequently clothing like sox and underwear, baby clothes. The fresh food stands are the hardest to by-pass. You can find every sort of taco imaginable ~ beef, pork, chicken, cheese, potato ~ plus wonderful tortas, sandwiches made with talera buns filled with shredded beef or pork, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, all topped with salsa and hot sauce. Then at night, everything gets packed up and moved back indoors and the tiendita and all evidence thereof disappears until the next day.
Fin de desviación #3

I am too tired after all of this (and you probably are, too) to give you a tour of Stan's B&B. I promise I will do it tomorrow. Needles to say, we had a lovely three days. It has become a tradition to spend our anniversary there. I trust we'll go back next year.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

the medical report on Ike

On Tuesday, Ike the Dog went into the vet hospital for a little "procedure" that will, in effect, change his life. According the reports, he came through the surgery well, is home and resting comfortably.

His neighborhood friends Gemma, Molly, Oscar, Snickers and Sheriff have all been told to keep away for the week. He has been told that he may not go out and play. He's not happy about this but will tolerate the confinement. Now whether his caretakers Mike and Cait will is another question.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

dispatch from Tlaquepaque

The drive from Cuyutlán to Guadalajara takes 2 1/2 hours, even though it is only about 100 miles. Most of it is on a toll road, 4 lanes, moderately heavy traffic, and it goes quickly. Thirty-five miles of this road are, however, 2 lanes and some or all of it is always under construction. Including today. And every idler and fool was on the road so it took us an extra hour to get here. When we drove this road in the opposite direction in December the hills were green and lush; now they are a dull brown and dried out. Even so, there is an interesting variety of landscape to gaze at in passing. I couldn't see the volcanoes when we were in Colima; by the time we got to Cuidad Guzman, the half-way point, the air was clear and the two mountains were visible. The agave is its usual dusty blue-grey. There are huge fields of some sort of reed used in making furniture and window blinds, with its feathery white stalks, like Cleopatra's fans. Much of the flat parts look like Nevada or Idaho with neatly marked irrigated fields growing unidentifiable crops. The jacaranda are not yet out but we did spy four or five brilliant yellow primavera trees. In December the plastic greenhouse covers were over the bean crops. Today the bushy plants were open to the warm sun and we could see their little white blossoms. There is a many- mile-square area that resembles the Bonneville Salt Flats. In fact, I think it was a lake, ringed by mountains. Small towns are sprinkles around what was most likely the lake's shoreline. There are still some parts that are marshy and reedy. But most is flat, dusty and unarable, staked out with signs reading "¡Tolveneros! Precaution!" Then you hit the suburbs of Guadalajara and the big outlet mall, the Sol beer bottling plant, the new Mega market complex (right next to the WalMart and Sam's Club), light industry, the University of Guadalajara, and all the other usual blights on an urban landscape. By this time the traffic was fierce and we were again slowed down. But we finally turned off to Tlaquepaque and gave a collective sigh of relief that we had made it.

The Casa de las Flores is as funky, colorful, and eye-popping as usual. We haven't been here for three years and although the physical plant hasn't changed, the decor is always a movable feast. I will take a picture-stroll through the place tomorrow. We settled into our usual room (ask for #6; best view of the garden), chatted up our hosts Stan and José, and decided it was time for comida. We walked down into the town, a couple of blocks away, and decided on this place, a new one for us.

Those of you who are Carlos Castaneda fans will recognize the name. "Tonal" is everything that ever was, is or ever will be. "Nahual" is everything else. I ordered tampequeña, a kind of grilled steak. Absolutely the best piece of beef I've EVER had in Mexico. If you let your eye fall across the grazing cattle as you drive through Mexico you can understand why beef is so bad. These poor critters graze on stubble; no hay or grass or kibble or whatever it is that cattle eat to make them fat and tasty!

There are wonderful things to look at on the walls; masks, paintings, retalbos, tapestries, and little niches and icons stuck here and there. The ceilings are high, and the feeling is of light and air and color everywhere.

After lunch we wandered down to the square and poked around in the shops. Note the blue sky!

The last time we were here the Christmas creche was still set up in this bandstand, with life-sized statues of people and animals. The only jarring addition was a baby who looked about 4 years old. This year it has already been dismantled. But I love this gazebo. You find them in the central jardins in cities, towns and villages throughout Mexico.

I am not sure what's on the program for tomorrow, the actual anniversary date. We'll either go out to Tonalá for a day of shopping or we'll go into Guadalajara for comida and some swanky restaurant. The great lamp hunt is officially on; we found a couple of big urns today that could be turned into lamps if we can't find anything else. But we're holding out for a Tonalá visit before deciding. That little town, about 15 minutes from here, is like one gigantic flea market, 24/7. Thursday and Sunday are the actual "market" days, when the streets are clogged with vendors selling every imaginable art, craft, jimcrack, doo-dad, piece of essential junk imaginable. If we go on Friday it will be much quieter and easier to get around. We'll decide in the morning.

Whatever we do, it's just nice to be here. Weather is beautiful; warm, clear blue skies, no humidity, no mosquitoes. A welcome change.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

the purple wall

Fernando painted my new purple wall first thing this morning. Every time I look at it I am reminded of our gorgeous wisteria vines that will be blooming at home just about now.

The original color of the house was pale Mediterranean peach. Or at least most of the house was that color. We had some patching to do, went to the old paint store for more and came home with something that was baby-girl-nursery pink. But now it's all one color.

These photos just don' t do the color justice. I've snapped it from every angle in every light and I still can't get it right. You'll just have to trust me that's it's a heavenly pale violet. Well, think wisteria! I do.

As for the lighter tan walls, they are not as much lighter than the café color. There isn't as much difference that I can see. I didn't want a dark color on the interior walls. I figured that would make the corridors and terrazzo too dark. We'll see when it is finished and dry. Right now the only walls painted in the new color are up on the 3rd floor and it's so bright it's hard to see the difference. Hey! If it's too dark I can always get the lightest shade in this series and repaint next year!


The literary world has lost another light with the death of John Updike. I think the first thing of his I ever read was "Couples." I still remember, rightly or not, the scene where the hero is commenting about the mud oozing up between the toes of his intended seducee. I thought at the time, and still think, that is a graphic and sexually charged image!

Meanwhile, it's off to the Casa de las Flores for a few days. I hope Stan has WiFi so I can send you some photos of this charming hide-away.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

the old and the new

I think I have put up this photo of the front of the house in its old color. But just as a refresher, here it is.

Here it is in its new color.

Likewise, here's a picture of the back before painting . . .

Half done . .

Finished (except for putting the Tejas back on the overhangs that have to be rebuilt, putting the big plants back on the landing where they belong, and folding up and storing the ladders!)

What's left? The "interior" exterior walls, those walls between the two wings of the house that are not technically "indoors." Fernando will get to those on Tuesday and hopes to be all done on Wednesday. We are heading up to Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque Wednesday morning for three days. It will be all put back together by the time we get back on Saturday.

Friday, January 23, 2009

los nuevos colores de mi casa

Marie has given the new colors her approval. Pictures tomorrow.

Tomorrow's post-massage opera from the Met: Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice." All girl cast, boy's parts and all.

Still in a state of disbelief over Tuesday's occasion. This will probably last for months. Feels good so that's OK. Better than 8 years of depression.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

san fransico knows how to do it

All the Bush Street signs were changed, at least for today. I left my heart. . . etc.

Hail to the Chief

Marie and I joined Charlotte for this morning's historic festivities. We three represented the Democratic Party in Cuyutlán. Most everyone else is either Canadian or members of that other party.

The pomp, the majesty, the ritual of it all. I laughed, I cried, I squealed with joy and delight. Yo Yo Ma, smiling broadly and having a high time of it, that right-wing religious pimp, Rick Warren (who managed to do OK and not offend me out of the room), the flub of Roberts' administration of the oath (and the President's attempt to salvage the moment), the long shots down the Reflection Pool of 2,000,000 joyous people who came to witness history, and particularly the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who gave a rousing benediction that made the President smile. And the new President's speech. I was deeply moved and exhilarated. Just think! We have a President who can string two sentences together, doesn't drop his "ing"s, and doesn't even know how to smirk. For me, that would be enough. Instead, we get all of that and much, much more. I was also impressed by the Obama's and Biden's gracious farewell to the Cheneys and Bushes as they saw them off to their new lives. That was a first. Just one of many.

Now the work begins. My prayers will be with him every day. Be strong, be wise, be safe.

Monday, January 19, 2009

farewell to Andrew Wyeth, and others

Three "names" died this past week: Ricardo Montalban, John Mortimer (and thus Rumpole) and Andrew Wyeth. This is a beautiful gallery of his work.

Tomorrow's the big day! Marie and I are taking brunch down to Charlotte's where we will watch three hours of American history in the making.

1 day until 1/20/2009: End of an Error

Saturday, January 17, 2009

it wasn't Puccini . . .

Today was one of the warmest, prettiest days since we've been here. Perfect laundry day: on by nine, hung in the drying yard by 10, folded and stored by noon! Even the pool at Jack's had warmed up to 84º plus.

After my (weekly!) massage I tuned in to the Met's production of "Dr. Atomic." As I said above, it wasn't Puccini. I gave up after only half an hour. Instead, I dove into my iTunes library and came up with "Turandot" with Joan Sutherland and Luciano. Now that's Puccini!

Fernando and his mozo finished up the week's work at 1 PM this afternoon. Next week begins the painting. The materials will be ready for pick up on Monday morning ~ after the market. He's starting on the dark color ~ Cocoon ~ in the back. Then the overhang structure gets rebuilt. Then the rest of the painting.

Off to a dinner party tonight; it's Luly's birthday. There will be lots of folks, good food, live music, dancing. The Patient and I will probably be tucked up here by 10 PM while the rest keep at it far into the night. Ah, the joys (and wisdom) of old age.

New book: "Blue Hearts" by Jim Lehrer. Something light for the weekend.

3 days until 1/20/2009: End of an Error

Friday, January 16, 2009

adios to the Tejas

These tile roofed structures are called Tejas (Texas) for some reason. I really don't know why. Probably based on someone's idea that all roofs in Texas are tiled? When we moved in the two structures did not exist. Instead, the back cement patios were uncovered and very hot. Fernando built the overhangs; they seemed like a good idea at the time. Little did we know that they would become comfy condos for iguanas. When Fernando painted the house 5 years ago he ripped off all the tiles so he could use the platform as a base for his ladders. The iguanas split for awhile. But they were soon back and brought their friends with them. You probably think that they are part of the tropical ambiance. They are pests. They eat everything that even thinks about growing in the garden. They especially love blossoms on anything and a real treat are hibiscus blooms. They are NOT cute. And they poop all over the patios. So this time we are having the Tejas rebuilt to prevent any squatters.

First he pulled off all the tiles (they're laid one on the other. One up, one down. The only anchor is at the top). His mozo stands down on the patio and catches the tiles as Fernando tosses them off the roof. Then they're neatly stacked for reuse. We've only lost half a dozen so far and they were already cracked or broken. Next he will remove the platform they have rested on that provides a nice floor for the critters. Then he will build a sort of lattice on which to lay the overlapping tiles. My concern is that those pesky iguanas will scuttle into the tunnels made by the tiles. I suspect, however, that only the juveniles can do that; there will be no room to turn around and get out.

All of this ~ destruction, reconstruction, painting, hauling up and down three flights of stairs, tossing and stacking ~ is done with such speed, good humor and skill that it is a real pleasure to watch them. And to listen to their low volume chatter and laughter. Fernando is a very good maestro, except with his son. He gets too impatient. I miss having Fernandillo here; he's an excellent painter. But he has a full-time job as an abenillo at the turtle farm down in the colonia.

Ah fathers and sons. Nothing like mothers and daughters. No. Never!

4 days until 1/20/2009: End of an Error

Thursday, January 15, 2009

days of destruction

Fernando and Regís got right to work yesterday demolishing walls and columns that had cracked due simply to life at the beach. Salt, moisture . . . not construction's best friends. First they shatter the concrete that has gotten "soft" due to the moisture. You can see the rebar beneath.

Next Fernando paints the exposed rebar and surrounding concrete and brick with some magic potion called fin salitre or "end of salt." Ha! In your dreams. It is supposed to act as a barrier to further salt/moisture. After that dries he slaps one layer of cement on the post, lets it dry, slaps up a second layer, etc., until he has it the same size as the original pillar. Then he puts a wooden frame around the pillar, held in place by big pieces of rebar cut and bent to exactly the size of the pillar. That dries, he removes the frame, and there you have it.

The area around the door to the upstairs half-bath was badly cracked and at first we thought the entire door frame was going to have to be replaced. But after it was all chipped away we could see that the damage was only on one side.

That little blue door to the right is the closet for the water heater - all 40 liters worth. This morning Fernando had it all patched up. The paint swatch to the left of the wooden door is the new and final color for that wall. Click on the photo to enlarge. It's really not as "neon" as it looks!

The next step will be to smooth a layer of fine white cement over all the gray stuff. After that dries, it will be time to begin the actual painting, probably next week some time. We hope to have the whole project done by the end of the month. This house is about to celebrate its 20th birthday and given its history ~ survivor of three earthquakes, including the big one in 2003, and the day-in-day-out assault of salt air ~ it's in pretty good shape. But diligent maintenance is the watchword. You can walk through town and see houses that have been allowed to fall into unsalvageable disrepair and have ultimately been abandoned. They are just too far gone.

Last night was the weekly gathering of the Cuyutlán Ladies Chisme and Domino Society. I won at my table. My take will buy me a couple of beers at Dago's.

5 days until 1/20/2009: End of an Error

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

history in the (re)making

If you've got 45 minutes to review the history of the last eight years, watch this. It's a real mind blower. Where was this worthy while it was all going on?

Fernando and his mozo, Regís, his cousin, showed up bright and early this morning to get back to work. They tore up more walls on the 3rd floor and then slapped on a new layer of cement. They'll be back tomorrow for more.

6 days until 1/20/2009: End of an Error

Monday, January 12, 2009

o tropical moon . . .

I am experimenting with my camera to get better photos of night scenes. This wasn't all that good, but it's the best I could do. Last night was a mild, warm evening with this big, lemon-y full moon hanging in the sky. Makes one glad to be alive, and be here.

Treat at today's market; beautiful chard (acelgas). I bought a big bunch for about 50¢, split it with Marie, and sauteed it for dinner with lots of garlic. I swooned.

7 days until 1/20/2009: End of an Error

Sunday, January 11, 2009

it was fascination . . .

Around 8:30 last night all hell broke loose at the El Faro, a falling-down fire-trap dive on the beach, just across the street from our house. (You can see a corner of our house in the upper left corner of this photo.) I was reading quietly in the living room when suddenly loud music split the quiet of the night. And I mean L-O-U-D. I looked out across the street; no crowds, no cars, no hint as to what this was all about. It was a cinch that the evening's reading was over so I doodled around on the computer for awhile and then decided I'd try to sleep. Big mistake. Starting at 9 PM the song was "Fascination." This song played on a continual loop for more than an hour. Who is waltzing on the beach? Nobody. On and on and on. Around 10:30 the really bad mariachi music started and someone started singing. This particular crooner was tone deaf. I think he's the same gent who insists on singing at the disco during the Easter madness. Had the El Faro turned into a Mexican karaoke bar? With no patrons? I checked with neighbors this morning and nobody could figure out what was going on last night. Whatever it was it was finally shut down at 3 AM. Siesta's looking mighty good for this afternoon.

Tonight is the luna llena. Don't miss it.

9 days until 1/20/2009: End of an Error

Saturday, January 10, 2009

here's what i missed

This is Magda's Act 1 aria, probably the most famous piece of "La Rondine", sung by Teresa Stratas. (You can also hear it sung by Renee Fleming, Anna Moffo and others on the YouTube site.) The internet was down when the opera came on so I missed it. I finally got back on line an hour into the performance, but the rest was superb.

Next week is Dr. Atomic, the new opera about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the atomic bomb at the Manhattan Project. Great cast of characters: Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, Leslie Groves, among others. Sure to be a hit. No pun intended.

So, you ask, what did you do with the coleslaw that wasn't edible? I made a black bean salad with diced onion, tomato and cilantro. I mixed in the slaw. Delicious. The crunch of cabbage with the heat of bean salad. As for the fish, I'll either make a fish stew, adding some shrimp, or toss it. I hate to waste food but this stuff was really bad.

10 days until 1/20/2009: End of an Error