Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Then there's SOUND!

There is always music in Mexico. Last night we sat on the verandah and listened to the band playing in the plaza down in Guayabitos. Bass line set down by a tuba, trumpets playing notes that don't quite match, and violins that must be tuned to dissonance. It was still going on when we went to bed, and when we woke again at 4:30 to a fisherman's song. As I write this the cantina across the estuary has cranked up the volume, good old plaintive mi amor has left me stuff. Very similar to the song that broke out of the man yesterday at the vegetable store. "How beautiful you sing!" I said. What else do you say to someone pouring out his soul to a bunch of radishes? He lowered his eyes at me, made a fist, pulled it toward him and hit his gut. "Not beauty. Deep emotion." I'm sure there was a story there.
One of my favorite memories of Disneyland is a grown man with a Goofy hat on dancing with complete abandon with his daughter at the Tomorrowland Bandstand. There's something wonderful about people who sing freely and dance wildly, at any age. Bravo for parents who dance with their children. Bravo for schools that keep music programs alive. The photo above was taken by my friend Jeannie at the Chula Vista middle school near here. Gringos were delivering a lot of school supplies there, and the students gave a performance as a thank you. Paper, pencils, notebooks -- always in short supply. But music -- never!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What the nose knows

No picture today. It's all about the nose. We talked to Larry's brother the other day, who made the comment that he knew what California smelled like, but he couldn't "picture" us now, since he didn't know what Mexico smelled like. This is a VAST subject, perhaps epitomized by the fact that in Walmart you can buy vanilla extract in gallon jugs, but the largest bottle of white vinegar is less than a pint. I'll make a few stabs here at what stands out to my nose, at least.

Vegetation. Humid, jungly greenstuff. When we came here in October, the air was so heavy it was more biteable than breathable. It's dry and cooler now, but there's still a lot of green smell. If you don't know what I'm talking about, visit a greenhouse.

Smoke. Someone is always burning something somewhere. Usually excessive jungly vegetation.

Wood smoke. Like so many others, Chano and Hilda, our handyman and housekeeper, cook over a woodfire behind their house. Yes there's a kitchen, but who wants to be stuck in a small hot kitchen when you live in the tropics? Last February, Hilda and Chano invited us for pozole -- a feast for the senses in itself -- and served it to us in styrofoam bowls from the big smoky pot that sat directly in the coals in their backyard.

More wood smoke. Carne a la lena read the handwritten signs by the side of the road. (And there's supposed to be a tilde over the n in lena, but I haven't figured out how to do that in this blog. It doesn't act like Microsoft Word). It means meat, usually ribs or chicken, roasted over an open fire. Or there is zarandeado, which is every kind of fish roasted over open fire. There is something about fire and flesh that is so visceral and delicious. Even when I'm not hungry, I start salivating!

Fabuloso. I've mentioned it before. It's the all purpose cleaner that comes in myriad neon koolaid colors with accompanying sweet smells. We walk around barefoot on tile floors kept pristinely immaculate through the efforts of Hilda, her mop, and Fabuloso.

Corner grocery stores. Tiendas de abarrotes. They're not air-conditioned, and the produce sections smell -- for better or worse. Fruits and vegetables are eaten in vast quantities down here, and produce is meant to turn over daily. No waxy coatings to keep oranges fresh for weeks, cucumbers stiff and green forever. Use 'em or lose 'em.

Diesel. Lots of public transportation. Lots of smelly buses. Lots of trucks stuck on narrow cobblestone streets.

Kerosene -- or something that smells like it. Used as a deterrent to termites.

Birds. They're pretty. But they're messy. Do you have any idea how big pelican poop can be?

Gardenias. White blooms are just starting to break out on the bushes lining the stairway to our front door.

Food. Tortillas and chilies. Limes. Beer. Churros frying in oil. Tacos and tortas cooked on street corners. Ceviche tostados. Stands whirring out fresh fruit licuados and aguas frescas. Coconut stands that sell the big cocos with a straw, and myriads of multi-colored, achingly sweet coconut products. Stands that sell rounds of peanut brittle -- eat it fast, before it gets soft!

Coffee. Larry just brought be a cup. I think he'd like breakfast. Hmmmmm. BACON!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

You want fish, Lady?

Were you wondering where that path leads on the previous post? This is where it comes out on the beach. And there you've got the island beyond. Always something further out there, right?

Those who know me have always accused me of wanderlust. But it should be obvious by now that this blog is far from a travelogue -- unless it's one of the spirit. I've come to rest on a delightful shore where the scenery is beautiful and the people are terrific. I plan on staying put for a while. If there is any pull going on, it comes from the past -- and that is fast losing its power. It's not that I want to "chuck it all" and move on with empty hands. Some things are worth saving. It's like those fishermen we see so often on this beach. You bring in the net and there's a lot you need to get rid of. But the dorado and huachinango -- those are the keepers.

So I'm sitting here in the sand sorting through what I've got in my net -- the culture, the concepts, the career -- and like someone new to the whole concept of fishing, I'm asking questions:

  • What's that nice fat one called? Is it good to eat?
  • Yuck! Where did that slimy thing come from?
  • Is there really any use for all this seaweed? It sure gets tangled in everything.
  • Do I need a new net? Or shall I just keep mending this old one?
...the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. Matt 13:47,48
While I'm at this this morning, one more question: I want to know why my camera doesn't take great pictures like it used to. I must have changed the resolution or something. Lately everthing looks grainy. Take a look at the most recent photos on Luke and Emily's blog. They're in San Cristobal de las Casas. That photo of the three women on the church steps is breathtaking.

I feel like I've been on a learning curve this past year that resembles a skateboard half pipe: the world of international wire transfers, Mexican taxes, the intricacies (or lack thereof) of foreign plumbing. (Don't ask. You really don't want to know.) And that doesn't even take into account anything remotely digital. I may be busy sorting through my net, but the waves keep crashing away. I'm going back to bed and pulling the covers way over my head.

Friday, January 26, 2007

This is for mi mama

She's always loved bouganvillea -- or bugambillas as they write it down here. Growing it in Lubbock, Texas, was a challenge. Only in giant pots which required two or three men to carry them inside from the patio every autumn. There they'd gather strength through sunny winter months until the last frost was past -- usually the end of April.
It was mid-February when Larry and I moved from West Texas to Southern California. The bouganvillea were in full glory, tumbling down hillsides, filling ravines, competing with freeway daisies and iceplant for the attention of commuters stuck in traffic. I thought -- in a southern twang -- "I've done died and gone to heaven."
So this is the public path from our neighborhood to the Guayabitos beach. It's glorious. And it's waiting for you, Mom. Glad you're moving out of the skilled nursing unit tomorrow. I'm looking forward to bringing you back to Mexico with me this coming February so you can spend some time before your "independent living" unit is ready. Glad you've lived. Welcome to heaven.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is heaven a siesta? No, it's a coffee chat

"If Heaven were a siesta, religion might be conceived of as a reverie. If the future life were to be mainly spent in a Temple, the present life might be mainly spent in Church."

The photo is not a church. It's a coffee shop in San Juan Capistrano. The quote is from Henry Drummond, known mainly for his exposition of First Corinthians 13. His little book The Greatest Thing in the World has sold over 12 million copies in English alone. But he wrote another work I keep going back to. It's called The City without a Church, and is based on St. John's vision of new Jerusalem found in Revelation 21. "No temple therein." Drummond's take is that we live our religion not within the walls of a church, but in the nitty-gritty center of things, where citizens get together and connect. We live our religion by our service to one another. You can read the whole thing by clicking here.

Jonathan Voltze is the editor/publisher of The Capistrano Dispatch an independent local paper published every other week in English and every other week in Spanish. He instituted Friday morning "coffee chats" at an independent coffee house (hard to find in a town of 35,000 which has FOUR Starbucks in a half mile square). Dependable independence, I guess. It was good to be back with the "regulars," even if they were talking about the same old stuff. They were talking, and that counts for a lot these days.

Seems I spent most of last week talking or listening in meetings of all sorts:
The Guayabitos Homeowners Association
The coffee chat at Metro Java
The Christian Science Society in San Juan Capistrano
The Capistrano Valley Community Foundation

So I'm staying connected -- have even learned to do hyperlinks. Did you notice? Now it's market day in La Penita, and I'm up for some serious shopping. That is what I call heaven!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On the road

I'm busy packing this morning. My flight for Orange County leaves from Puerto Vallarta at 2:43, but Larry and I want to make a Sam's Club run before he drops me off at the airport. Before I go, I'd like to introduce you to Luke and Emily from Fairbanks, Alaska. Emily's parents are friends of ours who live in R de Guayabitos, and she and Luke arrived shortly after we moved down here. They both quit their jobs to travel in Mexico for a year. Their blog is FULL of great pictures and the writing is terrific. They both have an eye for detail and cultural exclamation points.

I've added a link to their blog, so you can see for yourself. If you scroll down to the very beginning of their adventure, you'll get their perspective on the area around here. They have actually done a lot more exploring than we have, and can show you around town much better. For instance, Luke took some great shots of the tianguis market in La Penita.

Don't know if I'll blog from OC or not. If I don't, see you later. And I promise more pictures!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Once more into the breach...."

In a few minutes we're going to be leaving for a property owners' meeting. If you click on the Guayabitos News link, you'll see that Larry and I have landed in another HOA "challenge." It happened to us before back in San Juan Capistrano. Almost the day after we bought our condo on the hill up above the golf course, suits were filed. Turns out our foundations were rotten concrete and the slope above us was headed downhill. We spent the next four years involved in two different lawsuits with two different homeowners associations. Larry became president of the slope association -- with a good outcome. We got a $9.5 million settlement from GlenFed, and were able to reconstruct the unstable slope on the hill above us and leave money in the bank for the association. Our condo was also completely renovated with no cost to us. So I'm not too discouraged about the current state of affairs in the Zona Residencial here in Guayabitos.

I went back through my notes this morning to find the affirmation that I wrote out regarding that past situation. I referred to it constantly as a "reality" check. I'll be revising it over the next few days for this current occasion:

"My household is what I hold in my house -- my consciousness. It is the consciousness that God gives me. It is illumined, orderly, peaceful, joyous, uncontaminated, never stale or putrid, serene, unirritated, unperturbed. My house, my consciousness, is buttressed with truth; it is immoveable, solid, strong, unfragmented, seamless. It is built of the solid masonry of love, precept on precept, action on action. It exists to glorify God, the great architect, the eternal builder. Its foundation is sure.

My consciousness at this time has a particular vista westward, but we are not "strangers on a barren shore." This homeowners association is a spiritual community where we see the love and care of God expressed in our loving and caring for one another. The mental atmosphere on this hillside is imbued with tender words and loving encouragement in our mutual and individual endeavors. We honor and adore one infinite God, good, and we honor and adore God's creation, which is here, and now, and always."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Paper or plastic?

See that little bitty mailbox on the gate in my last post? It never gets junk mail. Getting a letter is a really big deal. And thank you for those Christmas cards which are still arriving! Mail service is a little slow down here. In fact it was suspended for a week in December because the postman’s brother died. Banks and utilities usually hire their own delivery services to send out bills and statements– every other month. Paper is expensive.

In rural, tropical Mexico, plastic reigns. In a humid climate that devours cardboard and covers metal with rust, where textiles become limp and faded, masonry left unattended becomes dark with moho, and any soft wood must be defended against termites, plastic is your best bet. It lasts. And it doesn’t require a deposit like glass bottles do.

I don’t know how people down here functioned before there was plastic. Yes, I do! One of my early childhood memories of Mexico was watching a paper straw unravel in a bottle of Squirt. Now, You want that drink to go – para llevar, amigo? It’s dumped in a plastic baggie – with a hard plastic straw. Buy a taco or a torta or a tostada from a stand on the street (see previous post: The nearness of food) and it’s served to you on a hard plastic plate, covered with a disposable plastic bag. And the idea of buying a BOX of plastic garbage bags in the local super is unheard of. They are sold in bulk, by weight. Pick out how many you want of whatever size. Outdoor furniture that lasts is plastic. Sandals that last are plastic. Funeral flowers on gravesites, on crosses by the side of the road, on shrines in little houses: plastic says “forever.”

But you pay for everything with paper -- peso notes of various colors and sizes -- rarely crisp, usually limp, damp, and wadded. Have you ever felt you wanted to wash and iron your money? Even when we had to buy a washing machine from a local appliance store, they did not accept “plastic” of any kind -- not credit, not debit. We stood in line – several times – at the ATM. Taxes: you pay in person, in cash. Same with the water bill. Construction crews need cash -- great stacks of it.

So what about records? Records? We don’t need no stinkin’ records! Well, that’s not exactly true. We save our electric bills. They’re proof that we actually live down here. But we don’t need four filing cabinets. Anybody want to buy a paper shredder, cheap?

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Our house is on a street called Las Golondrinas, "swallows" in English. You get to it via Los Flamingos. Streets you pass are Gaviotas (seagulls) and Pavo Real (bird of paradise). You get the idea. We live in birdland.

Last evening Larry and I went up to the first floor roof patio with a plate of nachos and watched the sunset. There we are on the same level as the top of the guayaba tree that grows directly behind our house -- a tree that at least twenty huge white egrets call home each night. We watch as singly and in pairs they wheel in from the sky, compact, air streamed packages that expand like umbrellas as they light in the upper branches, squawking and quarreling, settling in for the evening. Silhouetted in profile against a deep rose sky, they perch like giant question marks. Turning to face us, their necks disappear, the questions dissolve.

They are not the only birds in the sky. There are pelicans, frigates, gulls, and at least five others I don't know the names of. And spiralling in great whirls above us hundreds and hundreds of....SWALLOWS! Our friends are on their way back to Capistrano!

I'll beat them there. This Wednesday I head back to Orange County for six days. There are things I need to take care of, ends to tie up, things to sign, friends to give hugs to. When I return we'll start having guests. We'll welcome them here, to Casa San Juan. Can you believe it? That's the actual name that came with the house! And Father Serra, founder of Mission San Juan Capistrano, was sent on his journey from the monastery he called home -- just up the road from us in the state capital, Tepic.

Have I come home, or did I ever leave?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Alone at last...

Chano and Hilda. We see a lot of them. Hilda comes twice a week to expend vast amounts of Fabuloso, the Koolaid looking cleaner that Mexican housekeepers swear by. (So many colors! So many aromas!) Chano has been at our door six mornings a week for the past three weeks at 7:00 sharp. He has painted plenty of purple and potted a plethora of plants. (Say that three times really fast.) And in addition we've had the tile man who put up the mural and fixed the kitchen counter, the people who deliver water twice a week, the teenager who services the pool twice a week, the garbage men who come twice a week, the woman who sells pickles, the guys who sell silver chains and watches door to door, Maria bringing me pineapples, some lawyers serving papers on the people who lived here before, the guy in the truck selling relics, people asking about the lot for sale next door, the termite man (did you know that concrete gets termites??!!), the guys who will rebury our fresh water pipe and put it MORE than two inches below the driveway....all of this besides (much welcomed!) visits from neighbors and friends. I am SO glad tomorrow is Sunday. I'm going to bed now and I'm going to wear my jammies until 10:00 tomorrow morning!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Blue arches and white lines

Ok, this will be the last thing about the house for a while. But painting these arches blue was a big step forward for me. Yeah, I found the blue paint in the basement. I'm still playing around with what color to paint those little inverted eyebrow pieces on the columns. The former owner painted just about everything white, white, white. I found some brilliant rose colored paint (again in the basement) and started using that for the little scoopy places....but we decided that was really over the top. So we're going to fall back to either white or terracotta.

Trying on these new colors is sort of like trying on new names for what I do and who I am. I'm not really sure any more. I've stayed in the lines for a long time and felt safe there. Lines are awfully handy to have around. When we first got here at the end of October, the rainy season was just winding down. All the white stripes on the two lane highway between here and Puerto Vallarta had been washed away. Driving that road through the jungle, especially at night -- you realize how much you rely on stripes down the middle and stripes along the side to make you feel safe and secure. Everyone knows exactly what part of the road is theirs. I feel like I'm taking my half out of the middle these days and any minute the transito police are going to pull me over and ask me just what I think I'm doing.

Well, this is what I'm doing: I'm painting my arches blue, my front gates and iron work deep purple, and my patio furniture orange. I'm pulling up mature hibiscus plants (the iguanas ate the blossoms anyway) and planting bouganvillea instead: purple and red and yellow. And I'm going to keep digging in that basement to see what else turns up.

The other side of the room

Here's what the other side of the cupola room looks like. We found those wooden screens down in the basement and cleaned them up. The tile mural was in pieces in a rotting cardboard box. We pieced it together like a jigsaw puzzle -- and then found out that each tile was numbered on the back! Duh. Would have made it a lot easier! We've got two big Mexican leather chairs ordered to go in this blank space under the mural.
The wool rug on the floor was made by our new friend Raul from Oaxaca. He and his family are up here for a while, because the troubles down in their area have really cut into the tourist trade. He and his family still use the natural dyes made from indigo, pomegranate, and cochinea to get these deep colors. They don't fade either. My neighbor, Jeanette, across the street swears by them. And to clean them, you spread them out on the driveway and hose them down!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Those of you who participated in the Safe Harbor library will be happy to know it's found a new home. I'd show you more photos on this posting, but it seems this New Blogger will only let me download one photo per post. Still working my way through it. Anyway, We built bookshelves in the cupola room, and bordered them on the bottom with tile we found in the basement. That's Chloe's grandfather clock and since this room goes up into a dome about thirty feet high, the chimes echo nicely. Those shelves are solid concrete topped with white ceramic tile. It took about three weeks to pour and finish them, with workers showing up every morning at 6:00. They're built like a fortress. Yet cheaper and more practical than wood! Will show more around the room in later posts.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Where is home?

It's taking a little while, but Larry and I are putting our mark on our Mexican casa. It's a little different for us than for many of our neighbors who spend only part of the year down here. We don't own a house any place else, so we've got the family albums, keepsakes and other generational accumulations that make a house into....home. I have to admit I'm looking at a lot of this stuff wondering why we brought it along. And then this past week I was kicking myself for having jettisoned my highschool annuals. (I know I know that woman whose mother was my mother's next door neighbor there at the nursing home in Lubbock. Two years ahead of me at Lubbock High. Wasn't she a cheerleader?)

When IS the proper time to move on and leave stuff behind? Right now my three siblings and I are gearing up for a grand cleanout of Mom and Dad's place. Who's going to do it for Larry and me?

Sea turtles have it made....well, apart from the fact that only one in 100 survives. The beach across the street from us should be welcoming "home" in years to come, some of the little guys, er girls, which were released last month. Our neighbors Dave and Ally provide a protected area on their beachfront for the turtles to hatch, and then invite all and sundry to participate in educational turtle releases. Sometimes there are as many as 350 turtles who waddle across the sand, absorbing the smell and feel of "home." Then they hit the waves and are gone for a year. Some of them will travel as far as Japan and back! But the beach at Guayabitos will be home forever -- the place where the turtles return to lay their eggs. And they don't even have any stuff to mark their place in the sand. It's just there.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Mary, Mary, quite contrary....

My mother-in-law's mother was named Mary. Mary's sisters were named Marie and Marian. The three of them were flappers, and when Chloe was four years old, her mother and two aunts were arrested for making gin in the bathtub. It's one of her most vivid childhood memories. There's a photo in a family album of the three sisters showing a lot of leg and smoking cigarettes. They were rowdy girls.

There are a lot of Marys in the Bible, and they were rowdy girls, too. Beginning in Exodus, there's Miriam, Moses' sister, who watched over her little brother until he was safe in Pharoah's palace. Later, on the trip out of Egypt, she wasn't afraid to tell him exactly what she thought about his new wife. That cost her: leprosy and three days exile from the camp.

There was Mary, Martha and Simon's sister, who had the temerity to stay out of the kitchen and sit with the men -- listening to what Jesus had to say. She antagonized his disciples by her "wasteful" use of spikenard to anoint his head before that last entrance into Jerusalem.

She was different from the "woman in the city, a sinner," who dared to come in behind him, wash his feet with tears, wipe them with her hair, and annoint his feet with oil. All this while he was eating at a hotsy totsy Pharisee's house. This woman has been identified ever since as Mary Magdalene. But, of course, the whole question of just who Mary Magdalene really was is up for question these days.

And then there was THE Mary, the mother of Jesus, the virgin who appears in so many forms down through time and throughout the whole world -- who as the Virgin of Guadalupe was so thoroughly celebrated around here last December. (See prior post -- and see the photos above).

I used to wonder why, if the Virgin Mary was so acquiescent, so passive, come her image keeps appearing on flags raised by rebels? There's the Mexican revolution with the Virgin of Guadalupe. There's the Black Madonna of Czestowa which mobilized the Solidarity movement in Poland. I know there are more. Was the Virgin Mary really a rowdy girl? Have I been missing something?

According to Esther Harding in Woman's Mysteries: Ancient and Modern, the word virgin had a different meaning in ancient times. It didn't mean being chaste or physically untouched. Rather, being a virgin meant "belonging to oneself." A virgin was not defined by any human relationship. She was "one in herself."

Look up the Hebrew root of the name "Mary," and you'll find marah. It means to rebel, resist, cause to provoke, be disobedient. Marah was a place of bitter waters in the Egyptian desert.

So, "how do you solve a problem like [so many] Maria[s]?" Does naming a girl Mary, or a derivative thereof, make her a rebel? Or maybe -- and this is just a thought -- do you think that those guys who translated the Bible just might have re-named any rebellious, one in herself, contrary woman -- Mary?

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Home again -- amen

....and Mexico IS home now. Ten days away in my parents' house. As someone once said about somewhere, "There's no "there" there! Couldn't trust, still can't trust, myself to write about the holidays. So many changes in our family, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I don't do either. I just pray. And I keep that pretty simple -- the bicycle wheel prayer: "God, I know you love me. You love us all. Keep my spoke attached at the center and circumference of Your being. Keep us from driving each other crazy."