Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday night and Saturday morning

Wonderful dinner at Dago's tonight. One of our group ordered this seafood melange; shrimp, octopus, scallops, fillet. I had my usual camerones mojo de ajo, the patient his fish tacos. Our Friday night dinner confab swelled to 14 tonight; the more the merrier. Great food, lots of laughing, several bottles of wine, good conversation all around. This is a congenial group of folks from very different parts of the world who share a love of Mexico, the beach, and the laid-back life. I sometimes wonder if I would know any of them in my "real" life. Some yes, some no. Some of them I would come across because of interests I have at home; for others, our paths would never cross. I would be the poorer for that.

We finally called it a night at about 9:30, just as the fireworks were beginning. Tonight is the first night of Carnival. The bands were on the malecon, and the Queen of Carnival was crowned at a ceremony in the jardin. Tomorrow night is the parade and the Queen's float. The parade will be on the next street over since the malecon is now blocked off for vehicular traffic. We may be able to catch it from the 3rd floor.

Tomorrow the opera is Il Trovatore, another one of those over-the-top stories where the heroine dies at the end. But beautiful

Thursday, February 26, 2009

i forgot . . .

to add the bells of Cuyutlán to the frequently heard sounds of this village. There are two churches in this tiny village, one in town and one out in the colonia. The sounds from the colonia church, more a mission than a full-fledged parish, are faint and sporatic. The bells in the templo in town ring daily, now that we're into Lent, chiming odd numbers~ sometimes 20 peals, sometimes 22 peals, sometimes 5 followed by 10 followed by three or four. I have no idea what the different numbers mean or why the bells ring at certain times. They are a call to prayer or service but I don't know what they mean; sort of an ecclesiastical Morse code. It must be a Catholic thing. But they ring every Saturday as a reminder to come to Confession, and on Sunday several times, beginning at 6 AM, as a call to early Mass. If there is a death in the village there are mournful pealings that go on for many minutes. This can happen at any time of the day or night. When the padre hears of the death, the bells ring, slow, sad, mournful tolls. On the other hand, the bells also announce joyous occasions such as the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe (5 AM, 11 AM, 5 PM, 10 PM daily for 10 days), weddings, quincineros celebrations, Christmas morning heralds, Easter morning rejoicings. I would not go so far as to say the village lives by the church bells, but one could argue that it's close! In the old days the salt workers were awakened by the bells at 4 AM. Now they have alarm clocks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

listening to Mexico

I have been taking a listen to the various sounds and noises that are different than those we are plagued with (or pleased by) at home. Some sounds fade into the background after awhile; the ocean, the trains, cars and dune buggies, the scrape of shovels on sand and cement as houses around us get repairs or are built. I have tried pulling all those various sounds apart, identifying them one by one. The day sounds are different from the night sounds. Some sounds are so rare here ~ traffic, sirens, whistles ~ that when you hear them you pay attention. How much traffic can you have in a town of 2,000 with two paved streets? Sirens usually mean a drowning or other accident. These are some of the sounds of Cuyutlán.

Day noises
• the background murmur and suss of the ocean
• the rustle of palm trees that, in the night, sound like rain.
• the occasional car horn or the clang of a pickup truck loaded with loose tools
• the snik, snik, snik of the sprinkler in the back garden
• the voices that float upstairs from passers by, especially mothers and children to an d from their way to kinder down the road
• On Monday mornings, the sound of the children's marching band; kids with drums and horns who parade around the square beating and blowing and making great noise but no music. Sometimes they march up and down the malecon as well. In all the years I've listened it I have never heard even the faintest hint of a tune.
Mariachi bands on the weekend. We are in the perfect "sound tunnel" to catch the music. It carries from down on the beach, across the street and into the house. Sometimes there are two or three competing for attention.
• the bleating of a goat. This is a new sound. Our neighbors have installed a goat in their back yard. It replaces the screaming peacock and peahen, the gobbling turkey, the clucking hens are crowing rooster, and the honking of the goose. The peacock lived on their roof. I imagine the goat is a short-term tenant; there must be a birria party coming up.
• dogs, day and night
• birds, but not as many as I would like
• car stereos with the bass turn up as high as possible. It's especially pleasant when they park on the street near the house and get together with their friends, leaving the "music" at full tilt.

Night noises:
* the sea, no longer a background, becomes the loudest part of the night. It crashes, it pounds, and when the tide it high the force of its pounding feels like an earth tremor. I know it's something to do with the pressure in the ears, but still . . .
* trains that blow warning whistles and rumble through the village three or four times a night. I have gotten used to it after two months, and only rately hear them now. But when I do, it is LOUD. And we don't live near the tracks. For some reason I don't hear them during the day.
•the aforementioned dogs frequently cluster at the end of the block and carry on their dog business deep in the night
• The reliable rooster a few blocks away; 4:30 AM every morning.

When we go back to the US, the sound of the surf will be replace by the background hum of I-80, half a mile away. There will also be sirens, car horns, traffic, to say nothing of radio and TV noise. None of that here.

I listened to the President's speech this morning via streaming. I still marvel at our luck in having him in the White House.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

dinner and the opera

Dinner last night at Dago's was a new take for him. Mixed grill. Well, that's what was said, but the "mix" was steak strips (good) and sausages (not so good), grilled onions (excellent), baked potatoes (didn't have one), along with the usual tasty things like quesidillas, bean tacos, guacamole, chips, beer, wine, tequilla, and Neighbor Nelson's own sangrita mix. gthe Patient stuck with his usual fish tacos; meat is too hard for him to eat. Good crowd, good food, good fellowship.

Today's opera, "Adriana Lecouvreur" is one I am unfamiliar with.

All I know is that she dies in the end, poisoned by a rival. Such goings-on!

I will leave you with a picture of the Virgin in her new digs, complete with candlelight. Very pretty, I think.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

building a home for the virgin

The tile maestro who did such a beautiful job on the kitchen last year arrived yesterday morning promptly at 8 AM to begin constructing the niche for the Virgin of Guadalupe. This fellow, Gustavo by name, is a true pleasure to watch. He's got the gift, big time.

First thing was to construct the little shelf at the bottom onto which I can put a candle or two when I have some special pleadings for her (like now, for my sister who was in the ICU at Scripps Hospital. She's better today.)

I may have written about construction methods before, but in case you missed it, here's how much of it is done. Almost everything is poured cement. In our house, all our shelving in the kitchen is cement. Our sala sofa and book case are cement. Houses are brick frame with cement; roofs are poured cement. Thus this interesting looking contraption to build the shelf. First he chipped out a toe hold in the wall for the cement, then set up the frame, fashioned the shelf, and let it dry, propped by a 2x4 wedged underneath.

He drew in pencil on the wall the shape of the arch into which the tile fits, then made, by hand, the frame, molding the cement into a graceful arc. Next he cut the yellow tiles to make a sunburst effect around the edges. And finally he set the big tile into its place.

When I got home from dominoes last night (I won!), there she was, keeping watch.

This morning Gustavo returned to fashion the bottom decoration like the one on the little model, but without the bottom flower. First he drew it out on the wall, then again, molded it by hand and incised the design at the bottom.

At 1 PM this afternoon she was all done. I was presented a bill for 600 pesos ($40 US) and paid it with a smile. Gustavo went off with a smile. Everyone is happy.

The next project will be to repaint the wall around her, then paint the frame and the little area at the top of the tile. I'll get to that in a day or two. Meanwhile, I can just admire her the way she is. Thanks to daughter Alex we have this beautiful addition to our Mexican life!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

kohlrabi? in cuyutlán?

At yesterday's tiangues I spotted a bunch of pale green kolhrabi (colinabo) in my usual vendor's selection of verduras. I have never been a fan of this strange-looking vegetable so passed them up. But Jack, always looking for something different, bought them and then called me to ask me what to do with them. I didn't have a clue but did some on-line recipe sleuthing and found something that sounded pretty good. He decided to just peel away the woody exterior, dice them and boil them. He gave me three of them ~ they're about the size of a golf ball ~ to try. So I peeled them, diced them into julienne strips, sauteed them in garlic and oil, then threw in some chopped fresh spinach and let that wilt. Add salt and pepper (the Patient believes you can't eat spinach without vinegar so add that too, if you like). It was delicious; crunchy, fairly mild with a hint of the flavor of broccoli stems. Now I'll know what to do with them if I ever see them again. Which is doubtful. Nine years and this is the first time I've encountered them? And Jack has live here for 35 years and has never seen them.

Today has been one of those days when both the Patient and I have had great spirts of energy. First we, along with Fernando, hung the two new ceiling fans that have been sitting in boxes since we brought them down last year. (Don't even ask about the whys of the delay.) The problem with fans here is that the blades rust out after one season and even with heavy enameling and protection during the off season, i.e., removal and storage, the rust takes over. After researching this problem I found some fans with resin blades and housing. For indoor-outdoor use. Made in Florida. I decided they probably knew what they were doing with this product and ordered two of them. They are now up and moving the air around nicely. But it took two men, three ladders, and a female supervisor to get the job done.

Then we moved downstairs into the garden and managed to accomplish quite a bit. One of the first chores was to plant a palm tree that Fernando and Chuy had given the Patient for Christmas.It is a native of Mexicdo and is called pata de elefante, "elephant's foot." In the US it's called a Pony-Tale Palm, although it's not really a true palm. It has been thriving in a little plastic pot against the back wall, unseen and unadmired. We moved it into a roomier clay pot and put it in the front patio where it will get both sun and shade and we will be able to enjoy it.

If you look at the base of the fronds you can see the "elephant foot" bulb.

Next it was a huge pot of aloe with at least 10 "aloe-ettes" that had sprung from the mother plant. We rolled it out onto the grass, pulled it out of the pot and gently separated the little plants. The mother went back into her original home, freed from those pesky suckers.

The offspring were scattered around the garden, some in pots, some in the ground. But three wound up in this big pot on our living room balcony.

I've wanted something green and growing out there for a long time. However, although the balcony is nice and bright and sunny, and it would look pretty from the living room, when the wind whips through it shreds leaves and fronds, and knocks things off the ledges. I don't think it can do damage to the aloe spikes. And besides, the pot sits below the wind line.

Now if those little plants will just be happy without Mom. . .

Sunday, February 15, 2009

how many tea lights . . .

. . . does it take to keep the casa romantically lit after dark? Twenty holders with tea lights that last two nights each. That's 60 candles per week. We are here for 22 weeks, or 134 nights. That's 1320 tea lights. At 100 tea lights per package, I need to bring down 14 packages, or maybe 15 to allow for duds. We do have electricity, yes, but candles are so, ummm, flattering. And where is the nearest IKEA? Probably Phoenix or Tucson or even San Diego. I have never seen good tea lights in any of the stores. Perhaps in San Miguel. We're going up next month for a week; I'll check it out. We're going to run out in about 3 weeks at this rate. Perhaps I'll cut back a bit. Everyone else is doing without things. Tea lights every night could be my personal sacrifice.

winter in the tropics

Here it is, mid-February, mid-winter. The breezes have come up in the afternoon, as they always do at this time of year. Enough said about the hardships of winter.

Last evening was the traditional (2nd year) Dia de Amistad party. The centerpiece of this Valentine's Day commemoration is a huge standing rib cooked, packed in salt, in Marie's outdoor oven. This fabulous cooker was built by Fernando a few years ago. To use it, he stuffs it with coconut husks, burns them to a very high heat, then lets them cool a bit before shoving in the roast. Fernando's father was once the town baker; this oven is a replica of what was in the bakery. A few hours later we sat down to a feast of roast meat, roasted veggies, foccacia, salad and garlic mashed potatoes. For dessert we ate Chuy's capirotada, a rich bread pudding with raisins and nuts, and a platter of rum-soaked melon balls. I made a white sangria, Neighbor Nelson made Sangrita for the tequilla drinkers. It was an all-around great evening. One of the guests, a delightful French Canadian gentleman brought roses for all the attendant women; trés charmant, bien sur!

I stuck mine in a bottle of beer to give it a little drink; it was none the worse for wear when I got it home, and it seems to have survived the night in good shape.

You are by now familiar with the iguana problem we have had in the Iguana Arms tile roofs of the back patio. Although they have moved on to other quarters, at least one stayed behind and was living in an East German-style apartment block made up of stacked celosia. Before the Patient closed the tops with bricks, they were open and provided a fine entryway into a cozy room. The Patient finally evicted the fellow today. I think our property is now iguana-free, except for the chap living in the drain pipe, but we never see him so it's almost as if he's not there. Actually, since Fernando tried to pull him out and pulled off a big piece of his tail (PETA ALERT: it will grow back), we haven't seen him either.

These decorative blocks come in a big variety of patterns. They are often used in lieu of windows, with a screen over them to keep out the bugs. We bought these, at Fernando's insistence, to put on top of the wall around the house. He then cemented vidria, broken bottles, around the tops to act as a deterrent for uninvited guests.

(This is looking down through a short stack; you can see what messy tenants they are!)

Jaime came on Saturday morning to look at my projects, especially the new Virgin of Guadalupe altar. Here's the wall she will grace.

This is in the downstairs entry terrazzo. Marie has a little Virgin altar that was a gift that I have admired and I think it will do just perfectly, but enlarged many times.

He will be here on Wednesday to start and, knowing him, probably finish.

Friday, February 13, 2009

dinner on the beach

Another stellar meal at Dago's tonight; camerones al mojo de ajo for me, fish tacos for the Patient. We joined other folks who were also enjoying being out of their respective kitchens and onto the beach.

Tomorrow being Saturday brings a massage at 11 AM and the opera, (Eugene Onegin with Thomas Hapson, among others) at noon. Then an afternoon of shopping, baking, chopping, steaming, and preparing for the evening's Valentine's Day bash starring a standing rib roast to be cooked in the outdoor oven on Marie's terrazzo. I am whipping up foccacia plus veggies for grilling (onions, carrots, beets and red peppers) and maybe even some lemon bars (made with limes instead) for postre.

But before all of that Jaime, he of the wonderful tile work last year, will be over to give me a presupuesto on some work we want to have done: pave the pathways on both sides of the house, pave the front small patio, turn the second floor balcony into an indoor dining room, and, most importantly, install an altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe using a beautiful large tile daughter Alex gave to us as a house gift some years ago. Actually, that's the first thing I want done, so there will undoubtedly be pictures of it before too long.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

abe and charlie

Today is the 200th birthday anniversary of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, two men who, each in his own way, changed the world.

Happy Birthday, gentlemen!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

makes sense to me

This gem gleaned from today's Daily Kos re: the bailout plan.

"An Open Letter to America from the Republican Leadership:

Dear America,

There has been much confusion about what our position is on the economic stimulus plan now making its way through Congress. Since President Obama made his case yesterday, we would like to make ours now in the interest of equal time. In a nutshell, our plan is streamlined and simple:

First and foremost: lizard marshmallow hat in the wicker basket goes nefarious.

Second: All couch fur in pothole will be goat cheese on a sliding scale. Pearls are carrots drill bit woodpecker equally.

Third: Monkey farts on the naval base gets pitched to solar backgammon limitations. If there are no arias being sung in Poughkeepsie the maple tree gets ranch dressing. Note: Stinky mop excites the trousers.

In the event of a cordless manhole cover, the Easter Bunny gets towel rack plus nuclear pudding.

Above all, lawn chairs will graze on the mixing bowls in toll baskets.

We hope this helps cut through the clutter to give you a better idea of what we as a party stand for---and have to offer the nation---in this most difficult time.


Your Republican Party Leadership"

Friday, February 06, 2009

fish every friday

A lovely meal at Dago's tonight. Fernando and Dago whipped up a salpicon soup and some lovely shrimp quesidillas for the hungry gringoes. Nine of us, plus Fernando, Chuy and a local translator named Pedro showed up around 6 PM for a delicious feast. Dago is going to put together some sort of meal every Friday night for all who are interested. We are trying to talk him into doing a carne asada once a month, perhaps on a Saturday. We must be mindful of the Catholics! He makes fabulous fajitas, too.

Tomorrow Patti will be here at 11 AM for my massage. Then it's the Met's presentation of the unhinged queen of slice and dice, "Lucia di Lammermoor." Beautiful opera, if a bit bloody!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

a clarification on
Los Condominios Iguanas

A reader of this blog wrote the following:

"But...I thought the iguanas got under the tejas so you were taking out the tejas to spite the iguanas."

Let me clarify what we did. Before we removed the tiles, they sat on a platform that served as the iguana condo floor. You can see what messy tenants they made.

We ripped off the floor and rebuilt the support using only lath. Then Fernando laid the tejas back on, anchoring them to the house with cement at the top. This is now what the underside looks like. No floor. No iguanas. No mess all over the patio.

There is no place for them to get into the tejas as they overlap and the space is much too small to accommodate them, even for a studio apartment. Good riddance!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

the tejas plus "Kavalier and Clay"

Fernando was hard at work this morning preparing the lath for the new tejas roof. Much hammering and sawing going on in the lot next door where he had set up his workshop.

Then he began laying the tiles, one inside the other.He assures me that there will be no room for iguana condos.

The measuring of distances and patterns is all done by eye, except he does us the length of the hammer handle as a reference.

By tomorrow it should all be done.

Meanwhile, while Fernando and Regís saw and haul and measure, I am lounging around enjoying this delicious novel. It's been out for almost ten years, and I have had it on my shelf for probably eight of those ten, but never got around to opening it. My loss.

What a fine adventure. Perfect hammock book, I thought. But hammock books are those you begin to read and, hammocks being what they are, you fall asleep almost immediately and don't in the least feel guilty about it. Not this one. Awake and alert at all times lest the reader miss one twist or turn.

Monday, February 02, 2009

#46, Part II

A visit to the Casa de las Flores is always a treat. Over the years, Stan and Jose have turned a little house in a modest neighborhood into a wild, wacky, colorful B&B chock full of arts and crafts they have gathered from all over Mexico. Stan is the main cook, Jose is the main gardener. They, along with a delightful staff, run a real "destination" hotel. This was our sixth visit and every time I walk through the front door, I feel like Dorothy entering Oz.

I would venture that Stan is the real craft collector of the group. When he finds something he likes, he never buys just one. He'll buy all the vendor has. As a result, the walls and shelves are covered and crammed with things he has found; masks, plates, planters, prints. Every surface is crowded with things to look at.

This is the back wall of the outdoor patio/bar completely covered with carved masks of every description. The ceiling of the patio is hung with lights and five or six strings of papeles picatas, the traditional Mexican cut paper decorations. These are made of plastic, a real find, especially for us here at the beach. The paper ones get filthy and soggy overnight.

There was once an inner courtyard where guests could gather. But Stan decided it should be enclosed because it would provide (a) more wall space for more art, (2) a party space for the gallery presentations they host for local artists, and (3) a gathering spot for guests during rainy or cold weather. It is now a sunny, high-ceiling'd room with a 2-story fireplace, shelves and ledges to display more art, comfortable sofas and chairs and a nice place for the breakfast overflow from the little dining room.
Spread out along a tall ledge under the windows are a whole barnyard of red clay roosters, a signature piece of a local artisan. And when you take your leave from this wonderful place you take a miniature as a parting gift. I am gathering quite a collection.

Stan has also set up a little in-house store when guests can browse through and buy some of the crafts that are part of the region; clay pots, clay dishes, all sorts of little artifacts.

The mind boggles. I am always on sensory overload while I'm there.

The rooms are large, comfortable, airy, beautiful furnished. There are only 7; six in the back building, one in the main house. The six in the back all look out on José's exquisite garden, tended by him and two or three others. This area of the property was basically a junk dump for the neighborhood when they bought the house. Now it's a veritable jungle of trees, flowers, shrubs, herbs, little walkways, raised beds, hundreds of pots of every size and description, and this fountain in the middle.

There is a very nice seating area outside with a big fireplace for evening sitting and chatting in fine weather.

It was there, and here

that I spent my reading hours.

Saturday morning we left early so I could get home to listed to "Rigoletto" from the Met. However, we had no internet connection until about 3 o'clock and by that time they had folded up the sets, put away the violins, and it was over. Patti called to cancel my massage, too, so all our hurry was for naught. But it was good to be back to the soothing atmosphere of my mostly-bare walls.

While we were gone, however, Fernando was busy at work preparing the back overhangs for their new configuration. The "floor" of the iguana condos has been removed. Next he will lay lath to act as supports for the tiles.

He will be back tomorrow to finish some painting and to start building the frames.

So that's how it was in celebration of #45 and to get well-launched into #46!