Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Pre-Christmas Escape to the Back of Beyond

What does a hostess do the day before she’s expecting houseguests from New York and thirty plus people for a dinner buffet? Run away! Run away! That’s what I did, and I’m not sorry one little bit. Tuesday was a day to remember.

What had started as Oh Lucy, why don’t you and your family come over, meet Carol and Bernard, and we’ll do a turkey or something, was growing exponentially. Larry was getting a wild gleam in his eyes and I was looking nervously at the number of potatoes I had on hand. We had both collapsed on the couch in the house where Lucy’s folks were hosting a little “drinks party” – that’s what the British call it. They were planning an outing for the next day with
Vicente Peña’s new comfy little tourist bus, a visit to an Indian village up in the mountains north of Tepic.

“Why don’t you come with us?” Auntie Karen asked me, she of the perpetual stand-out-in-a-crowd white hat. No way, I thought, but as the plans progressed I realized this was an excursion I didn’t want to put off any more. "Count me in!" I said.

Our route followed Highway 200 northward. I’d been to Tepic when we signed the papers to buy the house. The lawyer’s office was just off what I thought was the main square. I hadn’t been impressed. For good reason.

That wasn’t the main square. THIS is the main square. We stopped and looked all around.

It has a beautiful cathedral

with an impressive mural on the ceiling above the main entrance.

The inside is lovely.

and there are banners hanging beside the front entrance.
Across the street there are fountains, trees,

and a huge Christmas tree courtesy of the Coca-Cola company.
Further along in the main plaza there is also an artisans’ market, classy shops, and the food market

where you can buy menudo and pigs trotters,

quail eggs, rattlesnake skins,

and chewing gum shaped like little shoes.

There were also mandarinas – fat and juicy tangerines that smell like Christmas trees if you close your eyes while you peel them.

Tepic is a city of some 450,000 people, and is the capital of the State of Nayarit.

It’s most famous citizen is the poet Amado Nervo (1870 – 1919).

His massive portrait presides over people waiting in line at the Capital building. It would be fitting if they’re getting marriage certificates because Nervo’s poems are romantic, moody, and full of sensual images about first kisses, first loves, first touches, first glances. He was a diplomat, representing Mexico in Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo.

We worked up a good appetite visiting the square, and headed happily for Maria’s brother’s restaurant – Quetzalcoatl, one of the first if not the first vegetarian restaurant in the city. It has been going strong for over twenty five years. Maria and Juan have the closer-to-us restaurant
Rincón del Cielo up at Punta Raza. Good cooking runs in the family genes. Even strapping Sam, Lucy’s brother, chowed down eagerly on the buffet. We spent much more time than Vicente had allotted for lunch, as everyone kept going back and trying something else wonderfully tasty.

We went through several pitchers of green juice – a mixture of pineapple and parsley.

We had another hour and a half drive before we reached the large dam that holds back Lago de Agua Milpa. The lake isn’t huge, but it holds three times the amount of water as Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake in area. Agua Milpa is deep, with an average depth of 200 meters. That’s well over 600 feet! It’s even deeper these days, as there was so much rain this past year.

Those wooden frames out in the water show where last year's embarcadero was, now under water. For the first time in the twenty year life of the dam, last summer authorities had to release water into the valley below to keep the lake from overflowing. The resulting wall of water was ten meters high and cut right through a small mountain in its way.

Our intrepid group set out in a minuscule boat for a twenty minute ride across the deep, intent on seeing Indians where they lived, rather than in the square on market day in La Peñita.

The village of Potrero de La Palmita lies on the shore of the lake where the Rio Grande Santiago (Mexico’s longest river) meets the Rio Huaynamota. There have evidently been a lot of changes in the last few years.

Potrero de La Palmita is not a Huichol village, but primarily Kora, and they are much more social. Evidence of this is that they have opened a guest house for those seeking “alternative tourism.” That’s when you really want to get away. They do NOT have a website, but I picked up a brochure.

You reach the guest house by following a newly constructed rock ramp up from the shore.

The accomodations are stark, but the view is amazing. And the Kleenex box they provide is a work of art!

On past the guest house, it is another short hike to the village.
There is a new health center.
An ancient generator that was only used in emergencies has been replaced by strategically placed solar panels. Here is a small one just outside one of the typical houses.
Most of the houses are built up on stilts to protect the occupants from snakes and scorpions.

The word went out that we were there, and the women of the village gathered at the market center to display their handiwork, mostly weaving and beadwork. We had come intent on buying, and were careful that every woman sold something to our group.
I made the major purchase of the day – a beaded image created by Teresa, shown here with one of her children. It took her three months to complete this image, made with the tiniest of little glass beads. I paid her asking price of 800 pesos, and watched the excitement of her children and other villagers. Vicente told me this was a major cash infusion to an economy that really needs it. Tour operators from Puerto Vallarta have quit sending trips up this far, as it is such a long trip. The guest house business has not kicked in as yet either. He assured me that spending money with the women is what makes a real difference for good in the village, as every centavo will go for the benefit of feeding and clothing the children. And Penelope, this is where the three boxes of clothing you sent to me in Lubbock and we carried down with us last September ended up. Best to get them out of our basement and onto bodies that need them, and it was fitting to get it down just before Christmas.

It was almost dark as we made the return trip back across the lake, the lights of the dam finally coming into view as we rounded a corner. This is where you can see stars and stars and stars. An hour and a half later, closer to Tepic, I reached Larry on a cell phone, warning him not to look for us soon.

There was one more stop in Compostela where we had coffee in a second floor shop facing the lit cathedral. It is a very old town, founded in the late 1500’s as the capital of Nueva Galicia, a territory which encompassed basically all of Western Mexico. But the resistance from the native tribes towards the Spanish and their modern ways was so intense that Compostela was essentially abandoned and the government was moved east to Guadalajara. The Huichol and the Kora never were conquered by the Spanish. They never gave up their traditions, their way of doing things. So today, we tourists go to visit them and buy their beadwork. Sort of makes me think twice about holding on to “the way we’ve always done it.”

So here’s a new tradition fit for the time and place where we live now: Merry Christmas! – two days late. A
nd PS -- the Christmas Eve party was a great success anyway.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Virgin Territory

Friday a week ago, December 12, was the Festival Day of our Lady of Guadalupe. As part of the celebration, I was asked to read aloud a part of the book I'm writing, Virgin Territory. It's about moving to Mexico and discovering the heart and power of virginity.

The event took place at the Xaltemba Restaurant and Gallery. Juan Gonzales filmed the event for You can find some of the clips at the following link.

The ancient meaning of the Greek word translated virgin in the New Testament, didn't have anything to do with physiology. It didn't mean being chaste or physically untouched. Rather, being a virgin meant belonging to oneself. A virgin was someone who had authority, who was the author of her own experience because she was not defined by any human relationship. She was un-captured, intact, self-complete, whole, self-governed. Virginity was power.

While the book is the story of my own spiritual journey, I hope it conveys that everyone, man or woman, revolutionary or rebel, has an “inner virgin.” The spontaneity, liberty, autonomy and free expression The Virgin represents has stirred individuals and movements throughout history. Father Hidalgo raised Guadalupe's banner when Mexico declared its independence from Spain, and the Virgin of Czestochowa inspired Lech Walesa's Solidarity Movement. The image and ethos of The Virgin may be just what we need in our own revolutionary times of change and challenge.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Perigee -- Up Close and Personal

It's been a full moon weekend. Friday night it was official. The moon was big, full, and closer than it's been for fifteen years. My friend Agneta conducts new moon and full moon ceremonies, and promptly at 5:15 there were six of us gathered on the beach near our house. It was still daylight, but Agneta had lit a fire and was explaining to us that the the previous two weeks (kicked off with a proper new moon ceremony) had been a time for defining our intentions and nourishing them with prayer, and that the full moon was a time for rejoicing and grateful acknowledgement of the good already received and that which was expected to mature during the waning moon.

It was a fairly simple ceremony. Everyone had brought something to make noise with -- a drum, rattle, or a piece of wood and a stick -- and there was something cathartic about just making noise when that big orange disk edged up from the horizon. The firmament is so very close here, its depth reflected in the vast ocean as well as stretched across the sky. There's something inside me that yearns to acknowledge its presence, glory in its magnificence, and it's really a treat to do it with unbridled enthusiasm in the company of good friends. Our little crowd grew with the arrival of Lucy and her family, so there were twelve of us that circled the fire and took turns saying what we were grateful for.

Then someone said, "Let's sing something!" And the only song that we Americans, Canadians and Brits could agree on that we all knew was the Coca-Cola advertisement from the 1970's! "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony...." Agggh! What hath globalization wrought??!!

So next time maybe we should try this alternative: "When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see..."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Checking in and catching up

Oh my. Where to begin? Had to reread the last entry to remember what I’ve said. What was that I said about being happy to once again be “communicado?” Puras papas, as they say down here. Lies, lies, lies. So, catching up:

We are still very happy to be down here. The weather has broken and we actually need a comforter in the night. We know when the temperature drops below 80, because Mexicans start wearing hoodies and fleece running suits and go around stomping their feet and rubbing their hands. But even gringo women are starting to carry rebozos or sweaters when they go out in the evening.

There are Christmas trees lit up in the windows of houses in La Peñita. December 12 is the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. From that point on through January 6 very little gets done in Mexico. It’s a magic time as far as color, lights, music and action. I’m really looking forward to it. Lucy’s family has rented a house in La Zona for three weeks over Christmas and New Years, and there are twin girls who are having their thirteenth birthday on December 18. I’ve volunteered our house, so they can make a deal of decorating the Christmas tree. We should have another party before they leave so they can also take it down!

Lucy, if you remember, is our young British friend. She has returned to Guayabitos and is installed in our guest room. She’s enrolled in a writing program at Oxford, where she has deadlines for poems and essays, but she can write them from any place in the world. She picked here! We keep each other good company, because I’ve been concentrating on the book everyone says I should be writing. Well, I’m writing it…enough said on that for now. Except to tell you the title: Virgin Territory. I’m to read from my “work in progress” at the Xaltemba Restaurant and Gallery sometime around December 12, celebrating Guess Who. I doubt I’ll be sitting on the bar in shorts, like this shot of Lucy, who was reading one of her short stories. Works for some…not for me. (scroll down in the most recent edition of Jaltemba Sol.)

Larry has been working hard on a construction project in La Peñita which we trust will help recoup some of our finances. (Did I mention that the bulk of our nest egg from the sale of the house in San Clemente was lost in a fraudulent investment deal? Probably not. State of Florida is prosecuting. It will take years. Never mind….onward ) Larry and a partner found an excellent piece of land right in the middle of town -- walking distance to everything – formed a Mexican corporation, and when we got back in September, began construction on a 14-space RV park – one where people can buy the slots rather than rent them. There will be a full time live-on-property caretaker, so residents can leave their motor homes there and not have to haul them back and forth between here and Canada or the States. It’s first class all the way, complete with pretty pool, club house, storage facilities and lots of landscaping. (This was Larry’s background work before he started shaping surfboards). So that is coming to completion and should be ready to sell in the next three to four weeks. There has been a lot of interest, with a number of people coming in and saying "THIS is the slot I want!" Hooray.

He’s also been supervising maintenance for the homeowners association here in the Residential Zone. They didn’t paint the curbs white this year, because both the electric company and the sewer company have been tearing up the cobblestone streets and sidewalks laying new lines and pipes. Driving around here has been like navigating a war zone.

We have a new “staff” working at the house. Oscar keeps the pool sparkly clean, the patios swept and the plant materials in shape. Rosa has just started. She’s a widow who has never really worked outside her home before, so my friend Agneta and I are training her, as she trades off days between us. She had never seen a dishwasher and was unfamiliar with a lot of the cleaning products I use, but she’s eager to learn and very diligent. There’s a lot of catching up to do, both with her and with the house.

There are a few more English invaders in the area. A schoolmate of Lucy’s from her undergraduate days at Oxford married a lovely Mexican guy this past July, and they have opened a restaurant in Chacala, Café Chac Mool. Check out their blog and video. Millie and Arturo bring movie-star good looks and a touch of culture to that local scene. While Larry watches NASCAR or goes surfing with his friend Colin Sunday mornings, I’ve been going to Chacala with friends, scarfing up phenomenal baked goods, then swimming at the wonderful beaches there. Millie’s parents are a bit non-plussed about what their daughter – who got a First in French and Italian (“or was it French and Philosophy,” wonders Lucy. “I know it’s something terribly highbrow) is doing off in a remote Mexican beach town making sweet rolls and croissants and perfecting her capuccinos. Good question. You just have to be here to understand.

Watching Xaltemba.TV might bring you a little more enlightenment. Our friend Juan Gonzales has created this site to document goings on around here. Check out the categories for Nature, and for Art and Culture in particular.

What more??? Ah, yes. YOGA! Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday out by our pool. 7:30 in the morning. Great group of ladies, usually about 3-6 of us. Wonderful way to start the day. Throw in a walk up and down the beach in the morning, and maybe a walk across the footbridge into La Peñita to a little abarrotes store for the spare tomato, stack of tortillas or liter of milk, and I’m getting plenty of exercise. So grateful to be able to do it! So happy to be healthy!

Gringos are back and the social calendar is filling up. Also volunteer opportunities and good works…like the plastic recycling program, the spay and neuter clinic, beach clean up campaigns. There’s no lack of things to get involved with The art group is meeting once again, but I’m trying to stay focused on the writing for a while. When Melanie the water color teacher, comes down in the spring, I’ll join back in. She always has a specific project for us to work on, which saves me from having to think about what I want to paint. Give me an assignment! I did a couple of catrina watercolors for the Día de Los Muertos opening at Xaltemba, just because Roberto asked. The Guayabitos Artists Collective is having an art show and sale on December 14, at Bobbi Attwood’s house. That’s where we the art group meets. (Xaltemba has been so successful that they expanded the restaurant space into the gallery space) I may have something. Yikes! Two weeks??!! (I know this would be a great opportunity to insert photos, but I don’t have any!)

We hope your holiday season is joyous and blessed wherever you are. We started it off with Thanksgiving dinner with young friends from San Antonio who were here for a couple of nights. They’re thinking it would be great to move here. We are telling them we wish we’d done it years ago when we took that first long trip together down here in 1973. It’s interesting times, these. I look at people in their twenties who are just starting off and just love them and bless them. What a very different world they’re going to have. Let’s start filling it with prayers. Much love to all!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

We've been having a blast!

Or better said -- we were blasted. By lightening. That's why it's been so quiet from this quarter. We just got phone -- and by extension internet and Vonage -- restored this past week. It was out for a solid ten days, and then on again, off again for another three. We trust it's here to stay, at least until the next rainy season. We HOPE the last of the big storms is over!

Two weeks ago from last Thursday we had another of our evening thunderstorms that consistently brought at least three inches of rain each night, and sometimes as many as six. These would roll in from the ocean about eight o'clock, making the TV picture go all pixelly, and filling the neighborhood with ominous rumbly noises. So we would unplug the television and computers, and head for bed, where depending on the severity of the pyrotechnics outside, the dogs would either quiver on the floor or jump up between us and look very concerned. They were in the very concerned mode that particular night with good reason. I've never seen such simultaneous light and noise. We were right in the middle of it. And then KABOOM!!!! The whole house was filled with blinding light and the thunder clap came right at the same time. But the lights on the bedside clocks were still lit, so we hadn't lost electricity. Hooray! It was the next day we found the phones were out. Our first clue was all those dangly frizzled wires lying in the street that we had to step over when we took the dogs out for a walk. There were even a few remnants remaining on the charred telephone pole just outside our living room door. Our neighbor reported that there was now a big black smudge on his wall where his answering machine used to be.

So we've been quiet, waiting for repairs, sticking close to home, always in the hope that someone with a Telmex shirt would show up at the door. They eventually did, and returned, and then returned once more. We've now got new wiring and a lot of other stuff that I won't bore you with all the details. But that's what we've been doing the past couple of weeks. And somehow the world went on without us. Nothing compared to Galveston or New Orleans, so we really have no room to complain. But, all the same, it's nice to be communicado once more.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Water World....with fur

"So, whatcha been doing?" friends ask. And I hesitate to say, 'cause it sounds like whining. Truth is, we've been cleaning up. It seems like it's something we do every fifteen minutes or less. Between constant rain and an enthusiastic, ravenous puppy, there's always a task at hand. If I could locate my camera, I'd give you evidence. Zack is brilliant. . .or determined. He knows where the food is stored, and he's figured out a way to bounce the pantry door open if it's not shut completely. Barring that, if there's a scrap of food left within paw-range, it's scarfed up. Made the mistake of leaving four formerly-frozen graham cracker pie crusts on the kitchen table the other night when we went out. Zack didn't exactly eat the aluminum and plastic, but he shredded them nicely. Every buttery crumb though was cleaned away!

Cleaning up after puppies is compounded by the weather. I know that with the devastation reeked by Ike, and before that Hanna and Gustav, what I have to complain about is pretty puny papas. But over here on the Pacific side of the continent, it's been wet, wet, wet, as well. Our sun sightings are few and far between. Keeps things relatively cool, but sodden. Everything grows. The weeds on the lot next door have become trees. The tennis courts have become a swamp. The streets are green carpets studded with shiny black cobblestones. Our neighbor down the street reports the rainfall to us each morning -- one inch, three inches. The other night we had five. It came down for hours and hours. Does anyone know how to toilet train doggies? They look so pathetic out there in the courtyard, legs dutifully hitched up, fur getting all wet and droopy. We have a pile of old beach towels by the front door -- along with piles of sandy, wet shoes. Would almost rather have the rain come in one big deluge, like it did a week ago -- along with sustained winds of about 65 mph. We really need to get a back door.

The limbs on the guayaba tree next to our house are laden with ripe fruit that's knocked off by the rains each night. Leave them lying on the courtyard bricks even for a day and the fermentation smell is overwhelming. So far I've been successful in sharing the bounty with neighbors and passersby. They are a real delicacy, rarely sold in markets -- BECAUSE THE SHELF LIFE IS TOO GUAVA-PICKIN' SHORT!!!

So Larry is poking his head in the door, wondering if I'm going to join him and the furry guys for a morning walk. This is the coolest and dryest part of the day, and I'm outta here to take advantage. Yours from the sodden south.....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sharing a short film

My friend Evan shared this short film on his blog. It not only gives the flavor of Mexico, but a potent lesson in how we present ourselves, no matter what our situation. It's about five minutes long. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! (I keep watching it).... click HERE!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Home again, home again

Not exactly dancing a jig! That last 1515 miles from Lubbock to Guayabitos seemed to stretch on and on and on. Especially driving about 50 miles an hour. Hooray for a two night layover in a good bed in San Antonio. Thanks, Mark and Susie! And it was great getting a last visit with Larry's family there. Adios, Jim and Rhoda! We're home and happy.

Little to complain about on the trip south. Larry drove the open unairconditioned black Jeep that we picked up out in California (the one he traded his OLD Harley for about a year and a half ago). I followed behind in Hummercita carrying two dogs and dragging an overloaded trailer behind. Inside the trailer was Larry's NEW Harley -- or the one he bought last summer. Object of this trip was to get all his toys in one place, Mexico. Mission accomplished!

No inspections, no military stops, and only two flats on the trailer. One was coming through Guadalajara, and I was able to pull into a Pemex station with a llantera attached. Not too many of those around! Twenty pesos to fix the flat and we were back on the road. The next flat happened somewhere just outside of Guayabitos. We didn't discover it until we turned into our town. I was passing Larry, thinking he was letting me go ahead of him. But actually the Jeep had quit running. Wet distributor cap. Larry was towed the last mile to our house. And as I write, the trailer sits empty, tilted and with a crumpled fender at the curb in front of our house. I don't know WHAT I hit! But we're home.....sigh.

It was a summer full of adventure -- making new friends and seeing old ones. I can't begin to thank everyone through this blog. And there were so many people we didn't see this trip. I guess we'll just have to go back! Sometime.... and I think we'll fly.

For a while we were separated. From June 30 to July 8, Larry took a 3,000 mile motorcycle trip through the Midwest with his old high school buddy, Ken Pierce. From July 10 - July 22, I was in California by myself, mainly travelling around in the mid-section. The rental car I picked up in San Jose and dropped off there a week later said I covered 876 miles. That was catching up with friends and family in Pacific Grove, Danville, Roseville/Sacramento, Truckee, Reno, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and San Francisco. A lot of them seemed to live WAY off the beaten path.

"Turn right at the pigs," was the final step in Dave's instructions on how to find him and his wife Laura outside of Petaluma. It was worth the trip. They fixed lunch -- Chicken Caesar salad, raspberry lemonade, a phenomenal chocolate cake -- and we ate it outside in their garden. The air was heavy with roses and sunshine.

"I'll come meet you," said Pam. Which she did, in St. Helena. After we raided a local grocery store, I followed her up Spring Mountain Road toward Santa Rosa and then somewhere she turned off onto a little asphalt lane. Ten (I counted on the way back down the next day) switchbacks later we came to where she and Gene hang out. Heavy smooth sheets, good smelling soap and absolute silence high in a live oak forest. I slept like a baby. But "remote" doesn't begin to describe it.

Well, it wasn't as remote as the commitment ceremony Larry attended for Theora and Colin. They live in a tent -- a geodesic dome -- which they've erected on land outside of Alpine, Texas. Theora is our niece, and she made all the arrangements for their celebration down at Chinati Hot Springs -- a 1930's style resort two or more hours drive south of Alpine, down near the Rio Grande River. Actually it was built in 1934, so the style is authentic. Larry attended along with our dog Cody and about 35 other guests before he headed out to California to meet me. The four inch layer of mud all over the Hummer spoke volumes as to what "remote" really means. I think he left it on until he got to Orange County as some sort of statement: Ours is not an urban assault vehicle. It really gets used off road!

Larry and I had a week together in Orange County, spent mainly with his surfing buddies, and our good friends. This is the "old time" beach crowd. Four couples one night celebrated our annual wedding anniversary dinner. It was at Cannon's above Dana Point Harbor. All of us together had 153 years of experience -- with the original partners! Thanks to the cachet of Infinity Surf Boards, we got special treatment. In turn, we sent our regards down to the bride and groom who were having their reception on the patio below us. In the dark the bride's teeth were as white as her gown.

Larry and I headed back to Texas the last day of July. On the way we managed to burn up the transmission in the Jeep we were dragging. Somehow it slipped into gear somewhere in Utah. That was between visiting Penelope and Tim in St. George and Danny and Nancy in Lake City, Colorado. Pioneers all of them. Penelope and Tim (who met on an Indian reservation) live about twenty miles outside St. George in the adobe house they built themselves on land purchased 23 years ago. Danny and Nancy remember the "old" days (post-mining, pre-tourist) when Lake City was a hippy hangout and everyone gathered in one big house to share food and warmth. I have never seen such starry, starry nights as in those two places. The moon was absent, or only a sliver, and the Milky Way was a broad white swath across the sky. Both these couples appreciate remote.

"Remote" seems to be a keynote of this blog. Our friend Todd had us meet him in Salida, rather than our driving sixteen or more miles out to the lodge he bought a few years ago. He moved there from hectic, fast-paced Orange County, and hasn't looked back. But he tells us he's looking to move into town. "Town" is big by Lake City standards. Lake City has 375 people. Salida has 5,000. But everyone keeps each other good company in the wintertime.

Our friends Chris and Ken had just sold their house in Santa Fe. It's up a dirt road and felt remote when we had dinner out on the deck in the evening. But the glow of the city lit up sky beyond the pines. There were stars, but the Milky Way was much paler. So they're moving....HERE! Well to San Pancho, just south of us. We had to agree with them. The Santa Fe of Larry's and my college days is long gone. Gentrification has taken over the central square. But our friend and neighbor down here, Roque Garcia, is still selling carnitas on the corner. We stopped for lunch, and he told us all about his new Guayabitos restaurant project. Yummm!

From Santa Fe to Lubbock was a day's drive. And it was in Lubbock we spent the last three weeks of our time north of the border. Larry had lots to occupy him getting all his toys in order and ready to travel. Ahem, a new transmission in the Jeep.

And I spent the time hangin' with Mom and going to see Dad. Speaking of remote, that seems to be Dad these days. He still has a sense of humor though. Or a sense of something. I showed him the photo Nancy took of Larry and me near Lake City -- the one you see at the top of this blog. I asked him if he knew who it was. "This," he said pointing to Larry, "is Harley Davidson. It says so right on his shirt. And, this one," he said pointing to me in the picture, "this one, I think, is writing her own script." He smiled at me.

Well, Daddy, I guess that pretty well describes it. If you wonder who I am these days, I guess I'm wondering, too. But I'll keep writing, and try to figure it out.

Love to you, Dad, and love to all. We're home!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Fresh Furry Face

When Larry and I head out of town toward Mexico Friday morning, in the back seat of Hummercita, there will be a new attraction. Joining Cody the Keeshond is his new buddy (ta dah!) Zack -- a keeshond puppy Larry fell in love with (OK, me, too) at a rescue center here in Lubbock. (We are since informed that there is a TV show named Zack and Cody, but we honestly had not heard of it. We haven't watched a lot of the Disney Channel.) Anyway, our stellar top dog Cody doesn't have a jealous bone in his body. Zack was his instant buddy, and the two even sleep curled up together. It's about the only time Zack is still. Here are some shots taken on Mom's patio this evening.

Cody is still Mr. Mellow. Wait. He doesn't have his paws completely crossed in that Steve Martin/Jack Benny way. Could he be just a little tense? Hmmmm, I think it's just the camera.

So adelante we go. Elder statesdog and fresh young face.....
Come on, friends. All together now.....say "ahhhhhh."

Monday, July 28, 2008

On the road...

Larry and I are in South Orange County, mid-way on our summer odyssey. I'm installed at my favorite coffee place in San Juan Capistrano, taking advantage of their free wifi and excellent paninis. Paying bills, catching up on correspondence -- and I thought I'd do a long blog, but Larry has just shown up and is ready to boogie out of here. That's the way it goes up here in El Norte -- everyone is "ready to boogie." Fast fast fast..... Looking forward to slowing the pace down again, but for now enjoying seeing lots of friends and family.

I will tell you that my friend got out of jail before we left Mexico, and is now in a whole legal process that requires keeping tight lips and lids on further conversation. But people keep asking me, so this is to let you know she's home safe and healthy.

So for now, don't forget me....I won't forget you. But will have to wait for another coffee shop and another hotspot -- and another moment alone. :-)))

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wherever I am....

The jail in Compostela is very old, but it doesn’t smell like urine. That’s a huge plus. It’s clean and the people, both jailers and inmates, are very nice. Two more big plusses. Our friend, though, burst into tears when she saw the five of us, bearing books, groceries, bedding, and blessings. Mexican jails provide nada zero zilch to the people they keep inside. It is up to friends and family, or the good graces of local charities, to provide for every daily necessity. That is every necessity. The first thing this woman wanted was a toilet seat.

She’s received a lot more, as she’s well-loved in the community. Local lips curl in derision when speaking her ex-husband’s name, “the guy who put her there.” Through his issuing a demanda, making very serious charges, the police are obligated to get the dangerous supposed criminal off the streets and put her in jail until she can either post bail or prove there’s no reason for her to be there. Proof can take a long, long time. The potential for quick protection, but also unfair abuse is obvious. We’ve all been getting civics lessons: Magna Carta-derived English Common Law which Brits, Americans and Canadians hold dear (innocent until proven guilty), and the Napoleonic Code which basically says “prove it ain’t so.”

But I’m not writing to take one side or the other, just to record the facts. There are a lot of people who might be interested in just what one can expect in a Mexican jail. Those who know me from my former life know I’ve seen the insides of plenty of detention facilities. The last time I counted it was running about 65-70. Among those were an ever-growing number of state-of-the-art sensory-deprivation centers along the lines of Pelican Bay – where inmates are confined to “pods,” and are totally separated from the rest of humanity, rarely having the chance to interact with anyone inside or outside. Very sterile, but very, very scary. There were also turn of the last century institutions such as Marysville, Ohio, or Elmira, NY, where crenellated towers rise high above formidable red brick walls. There were dirt-floored, low-ceilinged centers for substance abusers in San Felipe, Mexico; a park-like federal women’s prison in southern Ontario, and a women’s federal prison filled with rose beds and children’s playgrounds outside of Guadalajara. I’ve been in juvenile detention centers from Oakland to Jacksonville, Iowa City to Austin, and one on the banks of the Mississippi River. I’ve learned to not wear an underwire bra or carry car keys in order to enter sprawling and sterile desert compounds up and down California’s central valley, gray-faced downtown highrises, lower-security honor farms, as well as the famous Los Angeles Twin Towers temporary home to celebrities who trangress. Let me tell you, there’s where I smelled urine.

The central yard at the jail in Compostela is paved with gray concrete and smells like Clorox. It is vigorously cleaned early each morning by the inmates themselves. It measures about 40’ x 40’. The walls are painted mint green for about the first ten feet, then change to apricot and fade upward another ten feet or so into that mossy, drippy melange you can always find near roof lines in the tropics. On one side is a row of four cells where the seven men inmates sleep. All have barred doors. There is a “W.C. Baños” which has a swinging panel with space above and below. There is one toilet there which works.

The two women, my friend and a much younger woman, are assigned to a storage room directly behind the jailer’s office. There are two concrete pads which serve as beds, and a tankless toilet bowl. A bucket of water sits beside it for flushing. It is the public restroom for the jail during the day. There are bicycles and bullet proof vests which take up a lot of the space, but it’s safe there, and my friend and her cellmate can pull their chairs up to the bars of the door and watch CSI Miami reruns every night over the jailer’s shoulder. There is a desk, a chair, a table and a filing cabinet in the little front office, and the television sits on the desk. It is angled so that it is also visible to any inmates standing at the barred window which looks out on the central yard.

Standing, that’s the key word. Lengthy TV watching can be very tiring. Better to sit under the corrugated metal roof which defines the all-purpose area used for eating, church services and general visiting. Here the house rules are hand-painted on the wall, black on white, for all to see. There is no excuse for either inmate or visitor to say, "Sorry, I didn't know." A space toward the rear of the covered patio serves as a kitchen: a small free-standing gas range, a shelf for cooking equipment, and a rust-encrusted refrigerator. The refrigerator functions a lot more efficiently after my friend defrosted it last week. There is a big concrete sink/trough with fresh water located between the entry door and the covered area. Pelón, a young man from Chiapas, stands in the rain washing pots, pans and serving dishes. It is he who has woven the volleyball net which stretches and shimmers across the central yard. It is made out of raspberry colored nylon raffia. He has also made a hamaca from the same material, though it is draped over a rod in the ceiling, up and out of the way of today’s visitors.

Hospitality is hard. There are four molded plastic chairs and a variety of Comex paint cubetas. One of the chairs has a broken seat which has been sewn together with nylon raffia cord, again the work of Pelón, the Chiapas craftsman. If a church service is offered by a local priest or clergyman, as there was yesterday when we were there, they must bring their own chairs. But they also take the chairs away when they leave.

Thursdays and Sundays are visiting days. Families come, bringing children and comida. Everyone shares. We were invited to join a buffet which featured pots of stewed macaroni, rice heavy with garlic and onions, shrimp cooked with chilis and onion, hearty beef birria, pulled chicken and lots of corn tortillas. There were stacks of styrofoam plates, paper napkins and plastic cutlery. Antonia, housekeeper for Hacienda La Peñita, travelled with us and brought nopalitos, strips of prickly-pear cactus leaves mixed with tomatoes, onions and chilis. It was the only green dish on the table.

Our friend needs her veggies. She’s sixty-five years old and diabetic. Her cellmate, an amply-proportioned young woman named Sylvia, has taken it on herself to watch over my friend’s diet and medication, as the nature of her illness is to droop sluggishly down and look drunk when she doesn’t eat right. On hearing detailed instructions as to what could be eaten and what couldn’t be eaten, the jail authorities threw up their hands. Not their responsibility. The jails don’t provide food, anyway. Sylvia asks us to go shopping before we leave town for broccoli, cauliflower and chayote. We didn’t find any of it. But we took in plenty of bananas, pears and papaya. Also a batch of chocolate chip cookies to reward our friend’s companions for the care they take with her.

And they do care for her very tenderly. Because she doesn’t have access to her cell during the day, one of the cells opening onto the central yard has been set aside for her, a futon placed on one of the three concrete benches inside where she can lie down and put her feet up. Her legs and ankles are swollen, and she’s not able to tie her shoes. But she makes the effort to walk around the yard for twenty minutes each day, and to join in a volleyball game later in the afternoon across the raspberry-colored raffia net. But for the most part this little cell, a blanket draped over the bars for a bit of privacy, is her little world. Here she does her morning situps, reads one or two books a day, and contemplates the artwork and writing on the walls. Yes, there’s a naked woman. Is there a jail cell wall anywhere without one? There’s a drawing of a man playing a guitar, a drawing of the Virgin of Guadalupe above the broken toilet. And a prayer scrawled across the less-than-white wall above my friend's head, a remembrance from someone who's been there before….

La luz de Dios me rodea,
El amor de Dios me envuelve,
El poder de Dios me protege….
doquiera estoy, Dios está conmigo.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I'm still here, and it's raining.

The rains have started and the streets are starting to green up -- cobblestones black with moisture and fresh green mossy little plants poking up in between. There are scarlet-colored scatter rugs of fallen ponciana blossoms here and there, and the ecological park is alive with the screes and scrawks of various winged creatures. Some not so winged, maybe. Nancy and Danny swear that the deep electronic digiridoo racket coming from the guayaba tree beside their gate is a tree frog, not a bird. I thought it was a very loud radio on an alternative rock station.

In June there’s hardly a gringo left in La Zona. Most have fled north to escape the heat. Ha. Ha. Fooled them. It’s been fresh and cool here. I even wore long pants and long sleeves when we went out last night to celebrate Agneta’s birthday. OK, it’s DAMP, but when we turn on the AC to dry things out, we freeze!

My walk has been getting longer and longer, since there’s no one to talk to. I do it early. Highway 200 pulses with the sound of traffic long before dawn. Fishermen from La Peñita gun their engines through the estero and hit the sandbar with a resounding thwack. It’s a team effort shoving each ponga up on a loose axle and pushing it over the last few meters of sand into the ocean beyond. The Thursday market continues, minus the colorful crafts that tourists like. “Tupperware Alley” is still full of vendors offering every conceivable everyday need. Life goes on even when no white people are watching.

In fact, life gets a little more colorful and bawdy. Construction workers making an early morning start on projects to be completed before the return migration are more likely to crank up the volume on la música, and more likely still to break into song themselves. Even Harry Beckner’s parrot – a gawdy multi-hued, multi-lingual macaw – entertains himself and anyone within earshot by imitating the sounds of construction noise. One bird alone sounds like an entire work crew, from the the chink, chink repetition of hammer and chisel to the high-pitched whirrrr of an electric drill.

And speaking of work – that’s what is keeping us here in Mexico for longer than we planned. Larry and Danny are knee deep in paperwork and meetings, forming a Mexican corporation. They’re putting in an RV condominium project -- a place for people with big RVs who aren’t inclined to shuttle them north and south anymore and would like someplace permanent to put them. Larry and Dan have a nice walled lot where they’ll build a pool and clubhouse, a casita for a year-round caretaker, and individual concrete pads with tiled roof patios and some other amenities. It’s walking distance to everything. Fourteen slots. Highly restricted. Very nice. And a LOT of interest.

But we’ll head north, maybe this coming week. Hopefully the triple digits in Texas will have subsided by the time we get there. Larry wants to pick up his motorcycle, I’ve got a talk in Los Angeles. We’ve got Mom and Dad to see in Lubbock, a niece’s wedding down in the Texas desert near Big Bend, friends and family all over the southwest to meet and greet and give hugs to.

Sorry not to have been blogging. I HAVE been writing otherwise. Rain tends to bring out that urge. It’s the best excuse to cozy down with the keyboard on the verandah, listen to the water flow through the palm leaves and out through the downspouts and pound away at the keys. Shades of Somerset Maugham. Well maybe.

I hope there's someone who gets that reference to Somerset Maugham. My little friend Lucy, English lit major that she was, is sure to. I miss her! She's off for a month in Mexico City with a temporary office job, wearing high heels and translating reams and reams of instruction manuals for a personal care/pharmaceutical company. Their major products are hair removal creams and condoms. Well, that sets the imagination running, doesn't it? Ah, dear Lucy. Come back to Guayabitos!

So I'm off to jail today in Compostela to visit a friend of a friend. Sixty-five year old woman. Gringo. Well, actually, African-American. It's a story.....I'll share it another day.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Is the party over yet? Please??!!

It is party time in La Penita! Fireworks! Every night about midnight, every morning at 4:30 a.m. on the dot (yes, that is A.M., as in 0 dark thirty), and all times in between. Tonight we were once again at Xaltemba just off the plaza, and the thundering booms and gunshot cracks made it hard to have a dinner conversation. Do our neighbors across the estero know how to party or what?

There's a reason for these fireworks and concerts. Oh yes. There are concerts. At the bull ring, the bull ring which has never seen a bullfight, but has seen lots of enthusiastic banda groups. Banda is a particularly dissonant type of music which relies mostly on drums and trumpets and great big electric amplifiers. The groups usually start around ten o'clock or so and really get rocking about midnight. As I write this in our bedroom about a half hour past midnight, ceiling fans spinning madly and air conditioner humming along, I can hear the music loud and clear. But as I was saying....

The reason for these celebrations is that little straw virgin back in the mountains. Nuestra Virgen del Rosario de Talpa. Turns out SHE is the official virgin of La Penita, and they celebrate her festival NOW, following the big holiday week that kicked off the month of May: Children's Day, Labor Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother's Day. That was the first ten days of the month. Now we've had eight full days of Virgin festivities.
During this week there has been a huge banner across the front of the church off the central plaza welcoming her and her bishop to town. She's installed over the altar, and dear Guadalupe has been relegated to the sidelines. She's over there off to the left in the photo above, halfway hiding behind the large pink banner. The church in La Penita has to be one of the ugliest unfinished buildings in all of Mexico, but it is exuberantly adorned for these feast days, which are exuberantly celebrated. Twice this weekend we've found ourselves in the middle of all the exuberance. It was fun, but a little overwhelming.

Friday we went to dinner at Xaltemba with friends from the States. We got there just in time for a parade, up close and personal. Kids from the neighborhood dressed in these strange costumes that I'd like to know more about. They are much like the ones I saw in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, last March.

Later that night -- after obligatory fireworks -- there was a big dance on the plaza and a cockfight. (No, I didn't watch, so don't look for photos.) This amongst the vendors, tilt-a-whirl, ferris wheel and merry-go-round that have been installed there all week. And there's more of the same tonight -- which I THINK is the last hurrah. Hey it's Sunday. Someone's got to go to work sometime, right?

And someone -- namely me -- has got to go to bed. The music's stopped!!! I'm headed to the island tomorrow morning. First time to explore that big half a hairy coconut chunk of land about a mile or so off shore. Tell you all about it .....later.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Little Tiny Footprints

Hilda, our housekeeper, and her family should be back from Talpa today. As I wrote in my earlier post about our trip to Mascota, this past Tuesday, Hilda, her teenage son, her elderly mother, and husband Chano left early in the morning to drive to San Juan de Abajo, a small town north of Puerto Vallarta. From there, they were to join several thousand other pilgrims and follow the highway to a small town with big shrine dedicated to a tiny little virgin. All on foot. Three days of hiking. Footprints.

So what inspires such devotion? Hilda shared the history of the Virgin of Talpa one morning in our kitchen. She was scrubbing the stove and I was loading the dishwasher. Here's my interpretation of her account in Spanish. Obviously something might have been lost -- but more probably added -- in translation. Here goes:

Like many appearances of the Virgin, it started in a farmer's field. This particular farmer thought he'd found a child's toy, a diminutive straw figure, no more than a foot tall. He carried it home, and a few days later presented it to the daughter of a neighbor some distance away. But his first night without the small doll under his roof, he had a very vivid dream. The doll announced that she was the Virgin, Queen of Heaven, and that she belonged there, in his house. She was not to be removed. She further admonished him, that if he didn't wish her presence under his roof, he was to destroy the doll.

Waking, he of course thought “Whoa, weird dream.” But AHA! There she was, the very doll he had carried away to his neighbor's place. She had returned, leaving a trail of tiny footprints behind her right up to his front door. He stared into her face and wondered if what he had experienced the night before was indeed a dream -- or was it a bonafide vision? Hmmm, Let's see, he thought. Taking his cigarette, he placed the lit end on her cheek. And the doll began to cry. The trace of the tear is still evident on the right cheek of the image lodged above the altar in the shrine. Because, of course, a shrine was inevitable. What else is a peasant to do when the Virgin puts her foot down? Build a shrine! Build a shrine!

Forgive the tongue in my cheek. Perhaps it is the phalanx of "formidable protector" portraits -- all male of serious and heavy-browed countenance -- hanging on the walls of the church-sponsored museum just behind the shrine at Talpa that makes me raise my eyebrows with just a smidge of doubt. Here are the bishops, one after the other down the centuries, all charged with the care and keeping of the tiny little virgin. These guys have sold a lot of souvenirs and hosted a whole slew of pilgrims over the years. In fact, according to the Bruce Whipperman guidebook to Puerto Vallarta and environs, the bishop of the church at Mascota, jealous of the success of the church at Talpa, twice kidnapped the little straw virgin and installed her in his church. And twice she came running back to Talpa, leaving little tiny footprints behind her.

Have a look at the photo album I posted on Shutterfly. (To do this, move your cursor to the left column of this blog. Look under "Links to More Info about Life in Mexico -- and Me," and click on "Susan's Photo Albums." The collection of photos I took in Talpa is there, and you can bring them up as a slide show.)

What I found most fascinating in that museum were the pictures, hundreds of them, drawn with all degrees of competence. Each depicts an instance where people felt the Virgin was protecting them. They date back to the 1940's, and taken in themselves, present a rich cultural history of Mexico and the dangerous situations that the rural poor can get into. Lots of bus crashes, knife accidents, and slips of the machete, as well as a fair share of bad guys lying in wait to ambush unsuspecting farmers staggering home from cantinas. There are "Thanks to the Virgin" (TTTV's, I've called them) for saving people from disease, death, and temptations of all sorts. Signs indicated that the examples posted represent hundreds more in storage.

Now it's not that I disbelieve in divine aid. Not at all. I've had too much in my own life to doubt that when a longing heart asks for help, there’s an answer. And I believe that that help comes in the particular form each individual is ready to recognize and accept. Expect the Virgin. You get the Virgin.

My quibble – and therefore doubting eyebrows -- is about the original story where the Virgin appears to a peasant. And there are several versions and several virgins across Mexico. Who actually documented those stories? Why have they endured? How is it that it these stories continue to inspire and transform people? What is it that seems to make them grow in influence rather than wane?

After asking these questions, I realize that whether or not the stories are true or not, isn’t the real issue. A story, true or false, continues to be told because it is needed. The most factual, well-balanced story of something that actuallyreallytrulyhappened will eventually fade from collective memory -- if there’s no need to retell it.

But who is it that needs these virgin appearance stories?

First of all, it just seems very convenient that virgin appearances to native people in Mexico seem designed to establish organized and orthodox Christianity (read, Roman Church and Spanish Government) smack dab on top of indigenous religious practices. It was on the hill of Tepeyac near present day Mexico City that the Virgin now named Guadalupe appeared to the Indian peasant farmer Juan Diego. This is the Virgin of Guadalupe often referred to now as "Goddess of the Americas." Tepeyac was the hill where the pre-Columbian goddess of Mesoamerica was worshipped in a number of forms. Some of them.....

Tonantzín -- mother goddess and lunar deity
Tlaltecuhtli -- goddess torn in two by rival gods, half her body thrown skywards to create the stars, the other half left behind to create the earth.
Cihuacoatl -- fierce skull-faced old woman, keeper of snakes, who carries the shield and arrows of a warrior.

Pagan goddesses, displaced, but not forgotten.

How convenient that so soon after the conquest, Juan Diego's dark-skinned Guadalupe should arrive on the scene, advising (in the nahuatl language, no less) that Indians should convert to the religion of their pale-faced conquerors, and, Oh yes. Build a shrine. Make it a big one.

Likewise, the Virgin of Zapopán appeared at a critical juncture in the struggle between Spanish soldiers and the native population around Guadalajara. She convinced the soon-to-be-conquered to lay down their arms and accept Christianity. The shrine built to her -- one of the three "miracle shrines" of Mexico -- is the one where my dentist's assistant slacked off -- walking on her knees only from the church entry to the altar, rather than doing it clear across the city.

Why are these virgin appearance stories needed and retold? Who told them in the first place? Who is telling them now?

Seeking aid or answers from a power beyond ourselves is a practice as old as human life on the planet. We've been doing it since learning to walk upright. The ancient of ancients attributed that help to a feminine source, drawing parallels from the human pattern they saw every day. It was Mom who fed and clothed, comforted and caressed, righted wrongs and sent bad little children to the “time out” corner of the teepee. Dad was out slaying beasts, bringing home bacon, backslapping and bonding, giving high fives to the rest of the guys. Dad was tired when he got back.

And so it was, across the globe, that Great Cosmic Mother morphed into a pantheon of female images and icons, each with particular offices that mirrored the duties of earth mothers everywhere. And it was these images and icons that were eventually deemed "pagan" by societies evolving -- or perhaps devolving -- into the ethos of ownership and hierarchies. Hunter-gatherers started farming and fencing, taking possession of the earth instead of belonging to it. And down the centuries --

Ta dah! Enter tribalistic Jehovah worship. Enter the Church of Rome. Enter Taliban thinking in all its gory glory. God got macho. Exit Great Cosmic Mother, stage right.

Well maybe. Sort of. I’ve noticed something about the gentle people I meet around here, and perhaps it's true of people close to the earth as a rule. Except when they’re driving, they will do almost anything to avoid confrontation. I see what people put up with around here and think it’s a wonder Mexico ever had a revolution. Accommodation, compromise, say what makes the gueros happy. Smile. But under it all...... footprints.

It was several years ago I spent a week in Morelia and visited the historical museum there. Lots and lots of little clay fertility goddess images were on display. The guide said the Indians used to plant them along with their seed corn. This blatantly pagan practice was forbidden by the conquering Spanish, who proceeded to put the best Indian craftsmen to work fashioning images of the Virgin instead. These were installed in the churches going up all over Mexico. It was hard work, but Indians have strong backs. Soon the Queen of Heaven reigned over rural congregations across the country.

Images of the Virgin were sacrosanct, treated with great care, venerated at the altar, hauled out on feast days and paraded through the streets. But one feast day in Morelia the bearers failed. They stumbled, and the huge platform on their shoulders went tumbling. The image of the Virgin shattered in the street. And, like a giant piñata, things fell out of her. Clay things. Little goddess images doing ….. ahem …. fertility things. Now where did those come from? Who could have put them there?

Little tiny footprints. We know the story. And here I've retold it yet once more. But whose little footprints are those, really?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dealing with traffic -- and wheeled stuff

I spoke too soon. Guayabitos looked lazy and deserted. I totally forgot that we were entering one of the biggest clump of holidays that Mexico celebrates -- a combination of Children's Day (April 30), Labor Day (May 3), Cinco de Mayo (which really isn't that big a deal down here, but a good excuse to party), and Mother's Day (May 10). Whew! A whole week worth of celebrations. The place is packed! Buses and buses and buses on that snakey little road, while insane people with flashy SUVs stitch in and out between them. And HONKING big trucks that crawl up the hills and gather unimaginable speed over the crest. The safest thing to do is get behind something huge, stay there, and let it run interference for you. I really don't mind going slow. It gives me a chance to read the inscriptions on all the little crosses and shrines beside the road. There seem to be a lot of them.

That's just the highway. In town there is a popular sport we've named competitive left hand turning. Games break out spontaneously, and they're just SO much fun. It goes like this. You are first in line in a left turn lane, (going onto the highway, coming off it, it really doesn't matter). Do not believe for a second that you have a corner on making that turn without company. There's the guy to your right in the straight ahead lane who really doesn't have time to get in line behind all you suckers in the left turn lane, but doesn't think a thing about holding up all the straight ahead traffic waiting behind him. After all, he has about fifteen people in the bed of his pickup truck, and numbers should count for something, right? Then there are the kids on the bicycles and motorcycles straddling the faint white line between you and the guy in the pickup. Usually there's a girl on the back of one with an interesting tatoo across where her jeans should be but aren't. That can be a tad distracting. AND then there's the guy to your left -- YES! to your left -- headed the same direction as you, only into oncoming traffic. He smiles and shrugs as if to say Well, why not? Those people across the intersection aren't actually using these lanes until the light turns green. And if it does turn green before he gets turned, they can always go around.

Let's be clear on this. CLHT is definitely not a team sport. It's every driver for himself.

As I write this, my main driver and all time Guaybitos Left Hand Turning Champ is in Washington State. We are reregistering all our various wheeled things, also known as Larry's toys. Some of you are interested in this, so I will elaborate. (I myself would skip straight to the Virgin of Talpa stuff in the next post, but each to his own). To recap -- Larry traded his much loved Fat Boy Harley, which we left in California with a "For Sale" sign on it, for a jeep. He did that sight unseen over the internet with the help of a lot of friends. Then he had Harley withdrawal symptoms and started to hyperventilate. At last, a "deal" was found in Texas. Some kind of classic Harley wonder bike that we picked up last year. (I just remember we went with the guy to pay off the loan he had on it. We went to the Happy State Bank, which still gives me a kick thinking about the name. I had a boss one time who refused to be on the board of a new bank until they changed its name. A group of West Texas movers and shakers were planning on building it near the airport, and with a blind eye to irony tried to charter it as Terminal State.)

But I digress. The new/old/totally classic and wonderful Harley is in a storage unit in San Antonio waiting for Larry to whirl through the Midwest this summer with an old high school friend and eventually bring it home to Mexico in September. It is a 1998, and there's some kind of red tape provision that this year in Mexico foreign vehicles built in 1998 can be "regularized," that is, get Mexican plates, with minimal outlay of paperwork and pesos. This would be a HUGE plus, as Harleys are like gold down here. Maybe it has something to do with competitive left hand turning. we also have a trailer to put said Harley in....another deal....more help from friends. The trailer is parked at their house outside of San Antonio. So that makes three scattered wheeley things to keep track of. Plus Hummercita down here, still wearing its LOVDSEA California vanity plates. Pricey plates. Someone has to pay for all that pretty iceplant on the freeway medians out there, but since we're no longer residents, we went looking for the state which would give us the best deal -- taking into account not only price of registration, but also price of insurance, and how often you have to show up and have something inspected. We also needed a place in Washington to call "home." Since I had a photo of my sister Amy's back yard vista out over the Hood Canal and up to the Cascades as my screen saver for about four years, I feel like that could be home. And she "gets" this absentee stuff. She and John were in Thailand for seven years, but "officially" they lived in Texas. And the lady at the DMV in WA said OK with her. At any rate, we are now official Washingtonians. It's cheap. All told the fees on four vehicles -- including title transfers and sales tax on the trailer -- came to less than half what it costs to register Hummercita for one year in CA. But it definitely wasn't easy.

Well, maybe easier than competitive left hand turning, but not half as entertaining.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Introducing Rumer Godden -- She would be at home in Mexico

I've finally got "Blogger" up, just as I hear the six in the morning clang clang clang of the bell at the fishing village across the estero. It's taken almost thirty minutes to get through all the "updates" and assorted obstacles (in Spanish and in English, mind you) that impede the booting up process. Rumer Godden never had problems like this. She's my favorite British author and I've been reading her memoirs -- again. The volume I'm reading now, A House With Four Rooms, covers 1945 - 1977. She talks of getting handwritten manuscripts to competent secretaries who type them up on sturdy manual machines, not even electric. Maybe that's what my creative process needs -- less technology.

My mother-in-law Chloe and I shared a passion for Rumer Godden's books. (I can't just use her last name, as her sister Jon also wrote. Jon's books are terrifying, psychologically scary fiction that makes Stephen King look like a bumbling over-obvious oaf. I can't say I love Jon's novels, but they have stayed with me for years after reading them.) Like Chloe, Rumer left the earthly scene before email really caught on. It's hard to imagine either of them using it. Both were more sit-at-a-desk-in-a-morning-room-loved-fountain-pen-in-hand type ladies. I could never miss by giving Chloe pretty stationary for whatever occasion. She used it constantly, and some of my best mementos of her are notes she wrote, to me and to others. My favorite: "I just love Susan, Son. You're right. This is the one." It's been a bookmark of mine for years.

I've been re-making Rumer's acquaintance during these hot in the light, cool at night days as we slow down and come into summer. Do you know her? She died in 1998 at the age of 90, after having written around 60 books, the last published in 1996. Many of them were made into films -- Black Narcissus, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, In This House of Brede, Greengage Summer, and the classic Jean Renoir-directed The River. Her novels all have a strong sense of place, no matter where the setting. There are many: a Greek Island, a small country French hotel, a monastery in the Himalayas, a villa on Lake Garda, a mews house in the middle of London.

But the ones I've been most entranced with are the ones set in India where she spent so much of her youth and young married life. She writes of hot sun, tiled floors, brilliant flora, dangerous fauna, polluted rivers and sparkling sea, market smells, dust, tropical health hazards, indigenous religious practices. Long quiet afternoons when no one stirs. It could be Mexico. Here. Now.

Because the vacancy signs are out now in gaudy little Guayabitos. There's a suspension of activity that coincides with the retreat of shadows. The beaches are deserted. Doorways are open but empty. Even the pelicans are quiet in midday, standing impervious to the sun on the tiny little sand-islet in the estero behind our house.

The sand bar beyond is still intact and blocks the river's exit to the bay. It will take a raging summer storm -- or man's machine -- to make the breach. PROFEPA, the Mexican equivalent of the EPA, is not eager for this to happen. While the water of the estero looks beautiful, no one in their right mind would venture to swim there. The sewage treatment plant upstream is for all practical purposes, non-functioning. That water -- green, silent, inviting -- is deadly.

But for now the beach and the bay are safe, pollutants held captive by a strip of sand a few meters wide. Early morning, depending on the tide, the fishermen launch from the village, gun their boats and make it almost across. Scraping hull. Scrunchy stop. Shouts, shouts, shouts as all jump out and push, push, push into the salt water waves beyond. Once more the engine revs, the craft escapes. The pelicans, wheeling and squealing encouragement from above, settle once more on the round patch of sand they abandoned in an upward rush moments before. They stand now, circled like awkward feathered sentries caught off guard, shifting webbed foot to foot in the heavy hot air, barely a ripple breaking around them.

The evenings are more animated. White egrets bank around the river curve, skim the surface in flights of three, six, then ten, twenty, thirty, more, settling with great flapping of wings and noisy negotiations in the tree on the large island in the river behind us. We listen to them from the verandah. "You're on my branch! No mine, mine!" Their immense number is doubled by reflection in the water. They'll stay through the night if something doesn't disturb them. Last week at almost midnight, I lay floating on my back in the swimming pool, eyes closed, breathing and listening in the dark. A sudden noise and I looked upwards. Great white stars swirled madly overhead. Had the earth sped its orbit??!! The stars were so stable, stuck like jewels on black velvet when I'd first closed my eyes. No. It was egrets, startled from their perches revolving round and around, upward and outward in great circles, their great white wings reflecting light from the street lamps below. If they were squawking the wind carried their protests above and beyond my hearing. All was eerily silent. Except for .... laughter. Snickers floated across the dark water. Young men. Rocks. I pulled a towel around me and headed back upstairs.

This week we've been lighting candles on the verandah after the sun goes down, turning on the fans, and feasting on the results of a cooking binge I went through last weekend. We've been grazing in good company. Monday it was old friends Victor and Linda (there's a link to her blog on this site) meeting new friends Agnetha and Ezra -- the mother and son who will be renting our house for three months this summer while Larry and I wander around the States. My instincts were right. Victor and Agnetha share the same metaphysical wave length. The rest of us bobbed and drifted in their wake. Tuesday it was new friend Ann and her ex-husband but still good friend Elias, a giant cherub of a man who makes films about his native Mexico. There was also Juan, another film maker who is making a television series about the coast of Nayarit. And Roberto and Eddie, new friends I've known forever, ready to take the summer off and plan for next year's events at Xaltemba. Shades of the last ten years! I'm going to be curating a month of women's history events for them in March! Last night there was talk of movies and art and books. Elias, to his surprise, was a Rumer Godden fan, though he didn't know it. He knew the films. So did Juan. And Roberto had just been introduced through the short book, The River.

But Lucy is gone -- off for a week in Mexico City with her departing-back-to-England friend Selena. Selena looks like a twenty-something Iman, and for the past two and half months she brought a welcome bit of exotic glamour to our neck of the jungle. Half Sri-Lankan, she could easily have stepped out of a Godden novel. Besides that, she was sweet and genuine -- exactly what you'd expect Lucy's best friend to be. Lucy, when she returns, may be moving into the bedroom/study upstairs on the roof. We are, after all, her "official" address in Mexico. It will be nice to have her close -- watching the birds, swinging in the hammock, gazing at the stars. I'll bet she knows who Rumer Godden is. If not, I'll introduce her.