Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ladies Who Lunch

There was a time in my late thirties, maybe early forties, when I used to "do lunch." It was a regular "thing" with a group of seven women. We'd take turns treating each of us as a birthday girl. So at least once every two months we'd get together, catch up, go some place absolutely MAHvelous and flirt with the waiters. That was long ago and far away.

But it was deja vu all over again yesterday in Puerto Vallarta. I had lunch with my friend Char, a PV transplant from Dana Point, with some of her friends at The River Cafe. White linens. Lots of open air atmosphere. Innovative entrees stacked up like pep rally bonfires with little sauce squiggles. Nice. Two tables over and up behind us the waiters were singing "Las Mañanitas." Someone's birthday. Sigh. Those waiters were cute -- and they sounded good.

I'd forgotten what a luxury it is to get dressed up and spend.....hmmm....would you believe three and a half hours? over lunch. Just talking, grazing, laughing and discovering common interests and very diverse origins. The women there are PV residents now, but they come from all over the world -- Goa, Australia, Ireland, Vancouver, to name a few. Char is the consumate networker, always pulling another party or connection out of the deep bag of her friendships.

Maedb (can you tell she was one of the Irish ones) has just bought a lot right on the River Cuale with a big mango tree in the middle of it, and she's building an adobe house around it. By herself. Here she's telling Patricia all about it....Patricia who teaches week long classes in oils -- one of which I may take this March in Antigua, Guatemala -- running away from Semana Santa in Guayabitos....

And when you're out to lunch, you never can tell who might drop in. This guy fell out of the tree and made quite a stir when he landed next to the table behind Char. He preened for everyone's camera and then wandered off to climb back up a tree. Now that was something that would never happen in Newport Beach.

Thanks Char! Thanks everyone! Loved meeting each one of you! It was great coming into the big city from out here in the sticks and going some place besides Walmart, Sam's Club, or Home Depot. You all were MAHvelous, darlings. Absolutely MAHvelous.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas wants and wishes -- Lo que Dios quiere

"See you tomorrow! Nos vemos mañana!" I say to the painter.

His response is standard for La Peñita, the Mexican reminder that it is man who proposes and God who disposes: "Si Dios quiere." He tips his Comex-emblazoned cap. Comex makes the best paint, and we've bought a lot of it. It is, however, Javier's wardrobe that has been supplemented: hats, t-shirts. Shoot. The rate we're going, Comex will be buying his daughter's wedding dress.

"Dios better quiere," I think. The two week paint job we contracted for stretched for seven weeks. Not really Javier's fault. "Señor Jim...." Javier starts to explain, and shrugs his shoulders.

"I know, I know." And I shrug my shoulders, too. Señor Jim is who we bought the house from, a man not known for going top of the line, unless we're talking "top of the water line," which he buried ONE INCH below the entrance to the drive way. Driving over it with a one-ton van and breaking it was our first clue that all was not as it appeared to be with our dream house.

And so when Javier's workers started scraping off black fuzzy lama from the rainy season and old paint from who knows when, interesting things came to light. Like a natural rock wall facing the sidewalk. It was sheet rock, for heaven's sake, covering this feature! But uncovering it required reforming and painting a defining border around it, and buying a special treatment for the rock -- which sort of evened out the various tones -- like liquid foundation makeup works on some faces.

Larry also had some inspirations -- like outlining the windows in red and painting the brick mortar white, painting the cupola blue and the little thingy on top of it deep purple to match the gate across the driveway. It's been time-consuming, but the effect is a lot more detailed and elegant.

And all along each side of the house, scraping would uncover not just flaws but holes. Those italics are for emphasis. "Holes" is not a Spanish word. It is pure English and means gaping big vacant places, which required major repair work. We can only imagine that through the years further explorations were made to find more hidden cash caches like the $40,000 one former owner uncovered. (For those of you new to the blog, one of the former inhabitants of our house was a drug lord, who -- Javier tells me -- did not actually own the house, but rented it from TV producer Sandy Frank's administrator. And yes he was shot in the street outside, and evidently did have a habit of keeping large amounts of cash hidden around the house. You can go back and read more at House with a History.)

Back to the saga of the paint. I think Dios DOES quiere. Quiere may mean "wants," but it also means "loves." I think God loves this house as much as we do, even if what God wants can seem a little hazy to us at times. Call it God's will, good karma, hard work, or better spiritual cooties, my friend Patricia believes we're redeeming Casa San Juan from its sordid past. Whatever. Loving something,tending to it -- paying attention -- always makes a difference.

So we put up the tree, set out a nativity scene, lots and lots of candles, and we're having ten guests to share Christmas dinner. I'm hauling out crystal, china, silver and tablecloths that have been in storage for years. Heck, we're gonna USE this stuff!!!! Let's have a Christmas that matters, and wish everyone the same!

Our Christmas wish for you is that you feel tenderly loved and cared for like the child of the Creator you are. Let that tender love fill your vacant places and make smooth your past ravages. May you be embellished and adorned, perfumed and puttered over, and may the twinkly lights of inspiration crown your balustrade and warm the center of your being. The gift of Christmas is perpetual: Dios nos quiere, cada uno. Dios loves us -- each and every one!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Anniversary Waltz

This is my fella dancing with Ventura. Ventura and Antonio are padrinos of our housekeeper, Hilda, and they were celebrating 50 years of marriage yesterday. We were invited, so we got all gussied up and Jeanette took our picture before we left.

The mass where they renewed their vows began at noon in the church in Guayabitos. The family had it all decked out for the occasion with big bouquets of yellow, gold and white mums.

Larry and I slipped in early, and I caught this view of the "bride" getting some last minute support from her family and friends.

Groom Antonio was waiting at the altar, while the priest came down the aisle from the altar to welcome the wedding party into la casa de Dios. No ushers. The family trooped up the aisle right behind Ventura. (Up the aisle? Down the aisle? Which is which?) But in front of Ventura were her godparents, or padrinos, the elegant looking couple in white. This term carries a lot of weight in Mexico. Not only is the godparent charged with the religious education of a child, but is also the designated "protector" or "patron" throughout life.

There were cute little girls passing out recuerdos -- souvenirs -- of the event. . .

and one young lady who was much more interested in us than in what was going on down front.

After the service, it was picture taking time. Everyone had their photo taken with Ventura and Antonio. Including us. But Hilda couldn't work my camera. The blonde in the yellow dress (you'll see her in the reception pictures, she's a granddaughter of Ventura's and quite a knockout) promised to email a copy of one she took. We'll see! Anyway, here's the one I took of Hilda and Chano, Ventura and Antonio.

After the mass, everyone piled into cars and we did the honking, shouting, whooping thing as we headed to the reception in La Colonia. First we made a detour into La Peñita going all the way up the main avenue and back down the other side. (There's that up and down thing again.) Larry had to keep honking his deedly-deedly horn, so people would know the gringos bringing up the rear in a Hummer were definitely part of the party.

Ventura and Antonio's house had a nine-piece mariachi band from Las Varas waiting on the front porch. There were four violins, two trumpets, a bass guitar, an alto guitar, and a regular guitar. They were great! They sang for two hours straight.

A new load of gravel had been put down in the street in front of the house where the tables and chairs were set up. Wedding guests made a roadblock with their cars to protect the party space. Too bad, if you wanted to leave early. We didn't. Unlike most of the other ladies present, I was wearing comfortable shoes. I've found that killer cute heels are death on cobblestones, but that doesn't seem to phase women in Mexico.

This little girl has a long gravelly road ahead of her. Get used to it, Honey. Those Mary Janes are like cuddly slippers next to what you've got waiting in a few years.

The menu consisted of birria (beef stew). That's it. Lots and lots of birria, cooked for a long time over a wood fire in the lot beside their house. People ate it wrapped in tortillas spread with salsa, garnished with raw onion and topped with a squeeze of lime. If not elegant, at least simple.

Larry talked at length with Antonio and Ventura's one son, Jesus. They call him Chuy -- pronounced "chewy." He was down from L.A. where he is a naturalized citizen. He left his mother and father and seven sisters to head to el otro lado -- the other side -- when he was seventeen. It is thanks to him that they have this house. He talked about the birria, and the difference between here and the States, where he worked for Ralph's. "We killed this cow yesterday," he said. "In the States, by law you've got to wait ninety days after it's killed before you can sell or eat beef. No wonder people get sick from it. Here, we wouldn't think of eating any beef over two days old." Ahem. Have to say. I've sort of turned into a fish or fin person myself. Conversations like this don't make me really long for a burger -- on either side.

Well, there was also beer. Lots and lots of beer. And refrescos, soda pop "for the old women and children." And, of course, a commemorative bottle of tequila on each table.

Larry stood in line and pinned a bill to the back of Ventura's dress and claimed his dance. The women were doing the same with Antonio, but I was deep in conversation. Besides, someone had to take pictures, right?

Long shadows in the streets when it was finally time for us to head home. There's nothing like a wedding celebration, especially for a long-lived marriage, to make people appreciate family and fidelity.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Just to let you know.....

....I'm still trying to make friends with my new Macbook, but I keep skulking back to keep company with PC Nellie. She's kind of clunky, messy and slow, but she understands me, laughs at my jokes, you know -- she gets me. Mac just stares blankly when I try to start a conversation. I've been told I'll love him when I get to know him. It hasn't happened yet. But some of my best friendships have been slow off the starting blocks.

Larry and I just returned from a night out on the town. First we took a baby gift over to La Colonia. This is a dirt road village, hidden jewel kind of a place, where our friends Jeanie and Dennis live. (See the link to
Jeanie's blog over there on the left sidebar.) Right now almost every house is decked out in multi-colored blinking lights, even the hovel perched on the edge of the estuary as you come into town. There are homemade altars everywhere, dedicated to the Virgin -- and to Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, if you listen to the recorded music coming from some of them. But picturesque. Very pictureresque. Then we went into La Peñita and had tortas at our favorite torta stand. We topped off the evening with ice cream. More about that later.

In other news:

Yesterday we said goodbye to Javier and his painting/roofing crew. I could look back in this blog to find the date when they began working, but it's WAY back in the archives. I think we've paid him about a jillion pesos. It was always something. Not his doing, but former owners. A painter would start to scrape a wall, and a huge hole would open up behind a thin veneer of patchwork. Or a whole sheet of plaster would fall off and reveal -- WOW -- a natural rock wall. And of course, Leo finally showed up tonight (two weeks late) with the new wrought iron door to the bathroom beside the pool. Hack, hack. Drill, drill. Weld, weld. Aggggh! Javier!!! Touch up!

This morning Larry came in almost-contact with the drug lord who has a beach house nearby. He-who-shall-not-be-named (at least in this blog) was in town to throw his annual Virgin of Guadalupe party. He books a major recording artist each year, and they start playing about three in the morning, December 12, but nobody around here has filed any complaints. (Well, hey, the church over in La Peñita has a pyrotechnic exhibition about the same time, so Who ya gonna call?) Well, the fun is over for another year, and this morning four Blues Brothers look-a-like body guards were stopping traffic on Avenida Sol Nuevo. Larry was first in the line and watched as a black-clad couple (he with a paunch, she with a slit skirt) emerged from the neon yellow house near the new bungalows and slipped into a long black limo. Off they went in a convoy of three vehicles: the limo in the middle, black BMW SUVs fore and aft. Hasta la bye bye! See you next year!

Did I mention I have become a karaoke diva? Of course not. I just started last night. Don't ask . Please. This "new lease on life" thing has led me into areas of expression I've only dreamed about. I can only say that my rendition last night of She had every Charles Aznavour fan in the place -- all two of them -- starry-eyed and dreamy.

Only two more things to mention:

First: Tonight we found really GOOD ice cream in La Peñita. I mean over the top delicious, like that famous gelato from Florence. This is a landmark event, worthy of being recorded. It has come to our attention through repeated trial and error, that not all ice cream vendors called "La Michoacana" (and which run about one per block in most Mexican towns) are created equal. In fact, most are pretty inferior, selling a product that is bland, sweet, coats your mouth, and leaves a funny aftertaste. This particular vendor, is "La Michoacana" one block from the ocean end of the main avenue, on the corner just across from Rocio's hair salon.

Try the plain vanilla, just TRY it! And the rum raisin. And the calabaza con piloncillo (that's pumpkin and brown sugar, special for the holidays). And the fresh peach frozen yogurt. You'll also want to compare the fresh strawberry frozen yogurt with the fresh strawberry ice cream. You might have to go back and forth several times to get a real appreciation for the difference. I did. Actually I did all this....and more. Oh dear. A whole lot more.

And last: Mañana we've got a marathon 50th wedding anniversary celebration to go to. Hilda's compadres (that's God-parents, and it's a really Big Deal down here) will renew their vows in a noon time mass at the Guayabitos church, which will be followed by a meal, which will then evolve into dancing. Maybe fireworks? There always seem to be fireworks this time of year. I hope there are fireworks. Larry promises to get spiffed up for the occasion. Here's one more thing I hope: that this promise means more than a new T-shirt. Are you reading this, Honey? Are you remembering this? I love you!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Up on the roof -- all day and into the night

I'm not blogging as much as before because I'm healthy again and getting a full night's worth of sleep. One reason I'm sleeping well is because I climb stairs all day long. Here's the way today went, for example....

Up at 5:30. Kody needs out. First walk is around the cul-de-sac. Larry usually does this while I get my head on straight and get right with the world. It's great to do this from the top of the roof as light breaks over the mountains.

6:30. We take a walk through the neighborhood and around the park. This is often the only time Larry and I have to talk uninterrupted -- except for talking to neighbors, saying "buenos dias" to every passing native (it's impolite not to), and coaxing Kody to keep up with our less than frenetic pace. It usually takes us 30 minutes to go one mile.

7:00. Breakfast. Three kinds of fruit in the blender for me, along with yogurt and peanut butter. A bowl of Fruit Loops for Larry. ("See," he says. "Three colors. That's as good as three kinds of fruit.") On Sundays I do bacon.

7:30. Yoga on Mona's roof. Four flights of stairs. Usually about eight of us. I stand where I can grab something so I won't fall over when we do those stand on one leg and bend over sorts of things. I'm getting better, though.

9:00. The art group met today to avoid the Homeowner's meeting tomorrow at 10:00. Long circular staircase up to Bobbi's third floor roof. First time we've all been back together in a long time.

10:00. I leave the art group, run over a few blocks to meet with....I never thought I'd say this again....a group of local residents who are forming a community foundation. I'm polite. I listen. I leave. We will eventually write a check, but I'm not ready to get involved right now. Happily they are SO much farther along than the one I started three years ago in South Orange County.

11:00. I return to the art group. Up those stairs again.

12:00. Home and hungry. Larry's been out supervising the neighborhood curb-painting project as well as the four painters who have been at our house for about a month. Larry and I eat lunch watching a rerun of Without a Trace. Both of us fall asleep toward the end.

1:30. I start putting away the groceries I brought back from Puerto Vallarta yesterday afternoon and was too tired to deal with last night. The Christmas turkey I bought (literally, the LAST one at Sam's Club) is safe in the freezer. All the other perishables -- spiral cut ham, cheeses -- all that special holiday stuff -- I managed to get stowed last night. What's left on the counter is an array of ridiculously high-priced traditional comfort food that I found at Gutierrez Centro Comercial down in old town PV. Ahem. Fifty five pesos for a small jar of Delmonte pickle relish. Worth every penny. Then there's Mrs. Cubbison's stuffing, Lindsay black olives -- pitted, LeSeur peas, canned sweet potatoes, turkey gravy, canned black-eyed peas for New Year's Day. Over six hundred pesos for two small bags. I was saved from "over spending" by the fact that we had to carry the stuff four long blocks back to the car.

3:30. After some time on the telephone and making watermelon agua fresca for our painters, I head up to our roof. We moved all my art supplies into that spare room up top. It makes a dandy studio -- views to the mountains and up the coast. A good place to escape and be alone. Not today. The shade arbor is finally finished, and Larry is tacking up the light strings I bought in PV around the edge of the roof. I start painting the project I sketched out this morning.

4:30. Mona calls. Can I deny that woman anything? She needs a witness and a translator. We're going to take the Mexican woman who rear-ended Mona's husband this afternoon in to a doctor to x-ray the wrist she claims was broken in the accident. (Yes it was her fault. Does that make a difference??!!) She's in a wheelchair (she was that way before the accident), so we need to clear out the back of a pickup and get two strong men to help us. All of this takes some time. When we arrive at her house she sends someone out to tell us she's gone to bed. Come back tomorrow. Her neighbor tells us she's had three "accidents" in the last year; that that's the way she makes her money. Mona and I talk about the concept of Radical Forgiveness, and remind ourselves that the sooner we learn the lesson of love presented by this situation, the sooner this woman can stop being a jerk. :-)

6:00. It's dark now. Really dark. And I don't feel like cooking. We did eat something. I can't remember what. Larry and I miss Dancing With the Stars. He settles for reruns of Two and Half Men

8:00. I finally decide to blog. Both of us are thinking about bed.

9:00 Larry's in bed. I'm headed there. 5:30 comes early...up on the roof.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Life among the animals

I've been gone. I went north to California for a wedding.

My friend Cynthia, fifty-something, inveterate hugger and pet-sitter extraordinaire tied the knot last Sunday afternoon in a green belt park where a significant portion of the invited guests had room to frolic and play.

Jerry, the groom, gentle, patient man -- has family. Lots of family. Cynthia has friends, furry and otherwise. A lot of us met each other for the first time, being introduced as "Shadow's parents," or "Bentley's people." I must say that everyone played nicely together and performed their appointed tasks just as they were instructed.

Bentley, a Wheaton terrier recovering from an unfortunate encounter with a German Shepherd, was particularly delighted with the opportunity to stretch his legs. His stitches had just come out, but the satin pillow covered the damage quite nicely.

"The Bob" (I didn't catch his breed) replete in tux and tails, mugged for the camera.

Everywhere I looked there were reminders of the fur-face I left behind. Well, actually TWO fur-faces, but it was Kody the Keeshond who kept me up the night before I left, whimpering and butting his head against the bed. Suitcases by the front door raise his anxiety level.
I'm happy my friends love animals. Life without them can seem pretty tame. BUT.... was on my last morning in Orange County that I was reminded in spades why dogs are invited to weddings and cats are NOT.

At 4:30 a.m. I was making an unobstrusive exit from Laurie and Andy's house. Suitcases were already in the car, but my arms, armpits, back and fingers were all filled with stuff, as I struggled to ease myself out the front door.

He'd been lurking at the top of the stairs, waiting for this chance. Max, that feckless, butterscotch, tabby-striped, gold-eyed mischief STREAKED past me into the night.

I spent the next fifteen minutes coaxing, pleading, swearing and cajoling. All in vain. Sitting just out of reach under a shrub beyond the birdbath, he looked at me with disdain. "Foolish woman," he seemed to say. "You think I can't tell the difference between a bag of cat treats and a bag of croutons?!"

At last I rousted my hosts from their bedroom. Maybe Max would respond more favorably to less murderous thoughts than the ones I was by then entertaining. On the contrary. With an audience of three, Max decided to go wake the neighbors -- the ones who were still asleep after I'd set off the rental car alarm instead of opening the trunk.

It was not a graceful exit. I had to give it up and head for the airport. My last memory of our time together was Andy poking through his neighbors' bushes. I got word today that Max was eventually cornered and brought inside.

So here's a public apology, posted for eternity in cyberspace: Andy and Laurie, I am SO sorry.

And Max, if you're reading this....hey Max! I'm talking to you. Kitty, kitty, kitty. Sit! Stay! Oh never mind.....