Thursday, December 31, 2009

good-bye 2009 . . .

As the sun sets on the first decade of the 21st century, I have lots to think about. I am not a big New Year's Eve fan; I'm usually tucked up in bed by 10 PM. There were many years when we attended a wonderful party with a traditional feast of cold cracked crab, green salad and crispy baguettes. The highlight of the evening was a rousing game of charades. Since 2001 we have been down here at this time of year and have missed all those festivities. There is a big party up at Morelos, the best hotel in town. Lots of drinking and dancing and noise which we can hear faintly down at our house. It's not our scene. So we'll pop the cork on a bottle of Spanish cava we brought down, eat dinner at home while looking out to sea, and remember the past decade.

Some of the OOs were good ~ retiring from the Big U, buying our house here, great travel, seeing friends and family, watching children and grandkids grow up and prosper, welcoming Ruby DeGoursey into the family, the election of our 44th president, and discovering Rachael Maddow ~ and some was not so good ~ 9/11, losing my mother, my auntie and my sister, Mr. C's cancer battle (over which, fortunately, he prevailed), the onset of the Iraq war, the ramping-up of the war in Afghanistan, the tanking of the economy. What have I left out? It was a decade of very mixed blessings.

So tonight, under a Blue Moon (and cloudy sky), we bid farewell to those ten years and look forward to the next ten. Who knows what they will bring to us and to you, dear readers. We can only hope that it will be everything you have dreamed of, planned for, hoped for. As for me, I had the perfect New Year's Eve day. I spent the entire day in bed, reading. Got up for lunch only. I finally arose about 5 PM and strolled over to my pal Marie's for a celebratory glass of wine to toast our very good fortune to be in this wonderful place and time.

Now, as I sit here listening to a Mozart composition for the clarinet, I am filled with the sense of amazement that (a) he could do such a thing, and (b) that I am blest to be able to listen to it. Happy New Year to one and all.

Monday, December 28, 2009

one size fits all

These little "cup" cakes were on display at this morning's tiangues. They are all exactly the same size. Bright colors, with panties to match!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

reading fudge

Reading this novel is like eating fudge. It is so rich and delicious I can only get through a chapter or two at a time. Then I have to rest, reflect, digest, take a big shot of insulin and start in again. It is a devastating disquisition on French classism, among other things.

I am writing this while listening to Richard Strauss's Elektra from the Met. Coming through loud and clear this week. Next week's treat, Hansel and Gretel.

Friday, December 25, 2009

fish tacos for Christmas dinner

A group celebrated together tonight by gathering at Dago's for a Christmas dinner of fish tacos and grilled shrimp. We ate delicious food, drank good Mexican beer, swapped stories of past days in this little Mexican backwater, and had a very fine time indeed. I hope all of you had as lovely an evening as we did.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

police nighty-night

You may be wondering about today's headline. It's locked in family lore forever. When she was perhaps 2, daughter Caitlin heard the song, "Feliz Navidad" and decided it was "Police Nighty-Night." It has been that ever since.

We are back from our traditional Christmas Eve party held in the home of Luly and Ed Shaver. There were about 35 guests this year, each toting some delicious morsel to share. We took a roasted tomato hors d'oeuvre, a HUGE green salad with Mandarine oranges, jicama and red onions and a curry-infused dressing, and Mr. C. baked two pies, pumpkin and apple. There was an assortment of pre-feast nibbles, all the usual dishes like turkey, stuffing, white and sweet potatoes, vegetables, pickled beets, and a wonderful casserole of corn and chili peppers whipped up by Mac. Much of what shows up on the groaning board are the favorite dishes the guests grew up with, as in "You have to have maple syrup-laced sweet potatoes at Christmas!" "What?? No rutabegas?" My family had it's big dinner on Christmas night complete with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, peas and carrots, Brussel sprouts (Daddy's favorite), Waldorf salad and pumpkin pie. Usually champagne for the grown-ups. My mother Martha Stewart-ized the house and it was wonderfully fragrant and festive. Christmas is my favorite holiday. I went all out with decorations, candles, food and gifts. (Thanksgiving was my sister's and she went all out for that one.) Now, if I can get lights up somewhere and the creche set up, I feel I've done enough! But at this couple's lovely and generous celebration a good time was had by all, and if anyone didn't have a good time it was their own fault.

The Baby Jesus arrived at midnight just as predicted. He settled right into the manger as though he had been there many times before.

From our casa to yours, we send our best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May 2010 bring the blessings of health and happiness to you and your loved ones and a longed-for peace to our world.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ruby does Christmas - early

When I was in San Diego in October for Vicky's memorial I found in her possessions a little hand-embroidered piece done by the Filippino woman who was her dialysis clinic nurse. She made this charming 3-dimensional village scene as a gift for Vic. I took it home, sent it to a wonderful quilter who made a tiny pillow for Ruby. It appears that she jumped the gun, opened it today, and is delighted with it. I am so happy that she has it as a memento of her darling Meme.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

bitter-Suite Française

I finished this fine novel some days ago but it has taken until now for me to sort out what I think about it. It is a remarkable accomplishment, given the circumstances the author was in as she struggled to finsh the manuscript before being arrested and sent to a concentration camp. It was also a true labor of love for her two surviving daughters to have protected the work for more than 60 years before it was published in France in 2004 and translated and published in the US in 2006. My sister gave me this book for Christmas two years ago and it was the book she was reading at the time of her death.

It’s part history, part fiction, part biography, and more than part autobiography. The writing is by turns poignant, funny, sly, fevered, angry and informative. The author, Irène Némirovsky was living the life she was writing about; the onset of WW II, the invasion and occupation of France by the Germans, the flight from Paris, sanctuary in the French countryside for her and her family. Hers was the same experience shared by millions of Parisians and others from various parts of France. The novel was conceived as a “suite” in five parts. She lived long enough to complete only two of the five. This is where there is some disappointment for this reader. In the first two parts she sets up a cast of marvelous characters from all quarters of French society; the rich, the regal, the bourgeois, the working class, the brave and the cowardly, all depicted with care, nuance, clarity and both severity and sympathy. But finally we have no idea what befell these people who have aroused our emotions. We don’t know the fate of those we like and those we decide behaved badly. We want more. But there is no more.

Némirovsky was arrested on July 13, 1942, sent to Auschwitz where she died on August 17, 1942. She was 39 years old.

back on line at last

We have reestablished connection with the outside world as of this morning after a week's worth of exile. These little jottings will catch you up on life as it's lived in these tropical climes.


¡Saludo! to the almost-mayor

We lost our internet connection this morning. Neighbor Nelson’s phone went on the fritz; no phone, no internet since we pick up our signal from him. Now for the long wait for Telmex to get here to fix it. Meanwhile, I will keep on writing these posts which, presumable, will appear eventually.

This afternoon at 3 PM we went down to Dago’s for a “thank you” comeda, thrown by Fernando, for all the people who worked in or contributed to his campaign for the el alcalde of Cuyutlán.

He ran a good campaign, had all the right issues (i.e, clean up the streets, repair electric lines to bring some badly-needed light into town, repair the sewage plant that frequently stinks up the place), had the backing of the PAN party in Armeria (he ran as a PAN candidate), but came in second to the PRI candidate who, I imagine, thinks he’s going to get a load of gold from the PRI party in the capitol, Colima. That won’t happen; that’s not how it works.

Local supporters, big gun pols from Armeria, friends both Mexican and gringo sat down to a comida of his fabulous sopa de pescado, full of shrimp, crayfish, pulpo, and a delicious, delicate white fish caught by one of Neighbor Nelson’s J boys.

Fernando worked the crowd like a true professional. It was great fun to watch the whole thing. He was upbeat, cheerful, and pragmatic about the whole experience. He learned a lot, made many friends, and is undoubtedly destined for something bigger.


Dressing up for Christmas

Today I set up the old family crèche on the bookcase in the living room.

This particular set belonged to my parents; I think they bought it when they were living in Newport Beach, after my father retired. At Christmas time they would clear off one shelf of books in the little library foyer and set up the age-old scene. In our childhood, it was on the mantle of the living room fireplace. We came home from midnight services and, with great solemnity, put the Baby Jesus in his appointed spot.

My sister had custody of the crèche after our mother closed up her house and moved into an apartment. Vicky would set it up in the living room on top of a beautiful chest made by our grandfather. I brought the set home with me and now it is adorning our living room here. I like it because the figures are just the right size to be nicely arranged on the large space we have for it. On Thursday night we’ll add the Baby Jesus to make the scene complete.

I believe today is the birthday of my one and only niece (not counting nieces-in-law), Kaley, delightful mother of Ruby, my one and only grandniece. She will be celebrating this momentous occasion in the cold of Guilford, CT. Happy Birthday, precious one.


What’s in your drawers?

This morning I decided to clean out the “everything” drawer in the kitchen, the place we shove everything to just get it out of sight.

Here’s what I found: bag of rubber bands, 2 boxes cup holders, bag curtain pins, box of various screws and molly bolts, totally useless on cement walls, box thumb tacks, box matches, 2 screw drivers, pair pliers, inflatable sponge – add water and it swells up, 2 plug adapters, lamp finial, 2 clothes pins, paint can opener, Lucite ruler, 2 large clear plastic bags, 2 pair scissors, 2 large clips for bags of crisps or cookies, fistful of twist ties, Exacto-type knife, digital timer, 2 sets house keys, 2 night lights, 1 very short telephone jack, 3 bags extra twinkle light bulbss and fuses, 1 box tacks, 10 birthday candles, retractable metal measuring tape, 1 night light bulb, bottle Terro ant poison, can holding various lengths of string, jar holding various lengths of string, 12 cork coasters, 7 tiny Christmas trees, made by my father out of fiber board, used as place cards at Christmas dinner, 2 of the above, but with the bases broken off, I tiny angel package decoration with rusted wings, 1 miniature cocoa leche cup, 1 strainer fitting for kitchen faucet, 5 pieces decorative trip broken from various Mexican gimcracks, jar with various sizes of screws and nails, tile brought back from Portugal in 2005 which I overlooked when remodeling the bathroom.

And that’s just the top drawer. Who knows what lurks beneath. But I got it all tidied up, threw away accumulated trash, and now it's ready to be used as a dumping ground again.


Ah, to be 21 and in Paris . . .

I received this photo from Alex of Andrew as he strolled the Champs Elysee. Wouldn’t you love to be 21 again, in Paris for the first time in your life, young, foolish and carefree? Well, not with the Euro costing $1.43 . But otherwise, yes indeed. Here’s what he comments about that magical place: " Life here is incredibly magical. We just had our first snow. Its like frosting on everything. Its so gorgeous. I can't even begin to believe how beautiful this place is."

A child after my own heart. His mother raised him well.

On a more mundane level, we finally gave up on the wheezing, grinding refrigerator and went into Tecoman to buy a new one. We had found one a week ago but hoped we could make this old one last one more season. This big beauty was on sale for $5,899 pesos or, at today’s exchange rate, $445 US. Fernando will pick it up for us Tuesday or Wednesday. The great price includes all taxes, etc., but no delivery. Photo when it arrives.

Last week the tacito folks who serve up my favorite tacos de lengua were not in town. Tonight they were dishing up these little delights, but this time from an actual storefront, not from a wagon. Delicious, as usual.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

dinner with Mac and Juan

Last night we had dinner with a delightful pair of gentlemen who live down the road. Mac is an ebullient chap from Oklahoma (with an accent to prove it) and Juan is as opposite as you can imagine; quiet and rather shy. These two bought a termite- and rat-infested unfinished house and turned it into a dazzling home, filled with color, light and art. They have a lovely view of the sea from the front terrace and, if that weren't enough, had the good fortune to buy the vacant lot right in front of them so their view is secured.

The house sat on a barren sand lot, forlorn and neglected. Now there is a lovely patio, beautiful pool, great entertaining space. And they surely do know how to throw a party, big or small.

Delicious dinner, beautiful setting (we moved into the screened-in dining room early, thanks to those pesky sunset mosquitoes), great conversation, good vibes all around. Thank you, Mac and Juan!

(This is delayed because we have had no internet since last Wednesday morning. Now at cybercafe in Armeria.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

this one's for you, kid

By special request for MAS, sunset in Cuyutlán.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

J Boys to the rescue

Two of the four J boys have fixed the internet problem for us and for Marie. Their dad, Neighbor Nelson, threatened them with financial ruin if they didn't get right on it. The threat worked. So we now are able to get on-line inside the house, no longer sharing the 3rd floor space with the mosquitoes.

Thank you, Jordan and Jeff! You rock!

Now if I can just get the printer to work . . .

Saturday, December 12, 2009

fewer virgins this year

Today is the festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Of course we've been "celebrating" for the past 12 days; fireworks and church bells. But not the same as in years past. The commotion usually starts at 5 AM with rockets and church bells announcing the early mass. Then the whole thing all over again at noon, 5 PM, and 10 PM. All through the village are little shrines to the Virgin decorated with statues, pictures, candles, flowers. This year there is less of everything. Why? This town, like others all over Mexico, has fallen on hard times. First and foremost, the priest died last year, quite suddenly, and no new priest has been called to fill the post. Masses are few and far between. If there is no mass, no bells announcing same. There is a substitute who makes the rounds of priest-less villages who comes here on Sunday, but otherwise, services are rosaries only. Fireworks are usually only in the morning; they are too expensive and families and individuals who pay for them simply cannot do it this year. As for "Where have all the virgins gone?", there are far fewer altars than usual. But tonight will be the usual end-of-festival fireworks and craziness up on the main street in front of the Cathedral. I've been a couple of times but find it too loud, confusing, and, partly, dangerous. A couple of years ago Jack got hit with a firecracker and his shirt caught on fire. So Mr. C will undoubtedly go to represent the family. I will stay tucked up here with a good book.

This morning began the new season of the Met's Saturday opera broadcasts; Il Trittico, three one-act operas by Puccini. I have done everything I can think of to beam it into the computer and out the auxillary speakers, but to no avail. I hope to have better luck with next week's offering, Les Comtes d'Hoffmann.

Jaime came by this morning to give the patio situation the once-over. We are having all the scummy bricks taken up in the front and the two pathways along either side of the house, some dead plants ripped out. This will be replaced by poured cement with pebble seams and borders along the plant beds. Photos, of course. The front area desperately needs a face lift. Then I'll go tree shopping; I have already seen what I want. Now I just have to locate one in a nursery.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

a week's worth of (non) news


There is something sweetly poignant about driving through a town early in the morning, before the day has gotten underway. You drive past the shuttered shops and the empty malls without their compliment of cars and shoppers. And the dark houses, where sleepers are still tucked up, their joys and sorrows still in the shadow of dreams, before it all comes back to them, whatever it might be. I like thinking about the temporary peace the night brings, unless, of course, you are a night watchman or a nurse on night duty. Or else this is just where my fantasty leads me as we slowly drive down Grant Street to the dread I-10, headed east to Highway 19 and the Nogales border crossing.

Yesterday, just on a whim, I checked out the AAA Mexico Travel Guide to see if there was any information about negotiating our way through town. Good hint: take the “International trucks” lane and you bypass the town. Yep, worked like a charm. We were at the secondary frontera in no time. Got our FM3 (Mexican travel document for long-term Mexico dwellers) stamped, car permit issued, and we were on our way. It took 2 hours, starting at the hotel, until we were tooling down Mex 15, the main costal N-S route. A bit of rain, some cloudy skies, some sunshine, hardly any traffic, and here we are at 2:30 PM at our favorite hotel in San Carlos, a semi-trendy beach town near Guymas. Three-hundred and twenty-eight miles today, for a three day total of 1,225 miles, just about half way from one front door to the other.

How do you know you’ve arrived in Mexico? Easy, of course, since now distances are marked in kilometers, all the signs are in another language, all gas is sold by Pemex, and long-distance busses are everywhere. Plus when you stop at a light, boys and young men swarm over your car, washing the windows and selling things like tortillas, furniture, candy, fruit (Mandarine oranges are now in season; big bag for 10 pesos (70¢). At all the topes, too, homemade tamales or tortas. Oh yes, and there’s the ubiquitous pick-up truck with Grandma and the kids and the dogs in the bed, none of them tethered, of course. Unless it’s Grandma, sitting in a chair that’s been tied down. Great sight.

Along the road toward Hermasillo there is a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe that someone lovingly painted on the mountain.

I took this from the car; it’s not the greatest but you can get the idea of its massive size. I don’t know how it was done, but there she is, smiling down at the thousands of passers-by speeding up and down this section of the toll road. There is another one, too, but I haven’t seen her yet. Even bigger, if I remember correctly. And we are entering the 12 day celebration of the Virgin tomorrow. Another interesting sight along the way, and I didn’t get a picture, are official signs that read, “Hassle Free Zone – USA”. We were utterly stumped by this sign, but I intend to research its meaning. Does it mean that drug murderers will leave you alone? Wouldn’t that be nice?

We got through Hermasillo in about 20 minutes, start to finish. Record time. It’s a strange route, partly through residential neighborhoods, partly on business streets, partly on recently widened and improved highway. The first time we did this it was probably over an hour to negotiate our way past the prison, past the coffee roasting company, along neighborhood streets where kids were on their way to school. Now, just zip, zip.

Right now I have the doors in the room open to hear the gulls shrieking and the surf rolling in on the sandy beach below. The place is pretty deserted at this time of year; much too cold to sit outside or swim. It’s quiet and peaceful. There was quite a bit of traffic noise at last night’s hotel; there will be only the soothing sound of the sea tonight.


I woke up early this morning to the sound of the pelicans squawking as they searched out breakfast. (Consider the greedy pelican./His beak holds more than his belly can ~ Ogden Nash, I think). The sea was calm, the sky a bit overcast, but lovely to behold.

Last night we decided we’d take off for Alamos this morning to have breakfast at a delightful hotel where we stayed last year. From San Carlos to Alamos is about 120 miles, a long way to go for breakfast, but worth it in the end. Then it was back on the road to Topolobampo, near Los Moches. Although this burg is well known for two reasons ~ it’s the ferry departure spot for Cabo and the Baja and it’s a good deep sea fishing spot ~ there is only one hotel and one restaurant (two, counting the one in the hotel) in town. We’ve been staying here for years and it’s just as seedy now as it was then. Only this time they warned us that the “boiler” was broken se we would have no hot water. No problem! We were on our way to Mazatlán and would have a nice hot shower there! (See this for more about that!) We had a mediocre dinner and went to bed, having now traveled 1600 miles.


With light hearts and high anticipation we headed out of Topo toward Mazatlán, planning to get there in plenty of time to find our little seaside hotel, have a leisurely lunch, stroll the beach and look for a nice dinner spot. A couple of hours down the road we pulled into a Pemex for gas, foraged in the ice chest for some breakfast, and headed on down the road. The pilot does tend to have a heavy foot on these long trips, and this was no exception. We are barreling down the road and, from the opposite direction, comes the flashing of headlights. “He’s talking to you,” I said. “Who?” “That cop.” “Why?” “Because you’re speeding.” The cop makes a big U-turn, turns on his lights and pulls us over. He couldn’t have been more polite, pointing out that the speed limit is 110 km (70 MPH) and please slow down and have a good trip. The pilot said thanks and we were on our way. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like the prospect of having your car impounded, your stuff inspected, and your money spent for bail to bring speed religion into your life, and fast! From then on the pilot used the minute-minder (aka Cruise Control) to keep us legal.

So it was on to Mazatlán. We took the cut-off for the beaches and that’s when the nightmare began. From the moment we got on the waterfront road all we could think of what how to get out of the place. Construction is everywhere, the taller the better. Trucks, cars, busses, bicycles, scooters, people, blaring loudspeakers, honking horns; a nightmare. I’ve lived too long in a small town to be able to deal with that much confusion and congestion. And where might we have found a nice little seaside hotel? Definitely not in this town. After negotiating along the seafront, we turned left, found the freeway and heaon down to Tepic, another 4 hours down the road, but a place we know. We pulled into our usual hotel, got a room, had an early dinner and went to bed. Tomorrow we would be in Cuyutlán by 3 PM, all things going according to plan. And a day early, at that.


We headed out of Tepic at 7 AM, already 8 AM at the beach. Easy drive on good roads without much traffic. We hit Colima at 1 PM, stopped at Cronos for crepes and beer, and were rolling through the Bienvenidos a Cuyutlán arch by 3 PM. Place looks just the same; dilapidated and drab on the main road into town, dilapidated and colorful everywhere else. A couple of years ago, in an effort to “spruce up” the town, someone came up with the idea of painting everything white (all the house and store fronts), and pulling out or chopping down all the trees and shrubs that lined the streets and masked some of the architectural flaws. Then they paved the road right up to the sidewalk so no future plantings could be undertaken. Even weeks won’t grow. Very, very bad idea. This is a town desperately in need of some TLC and beautification. In the past it always looked seedy, but it had a rather shabby charm to it, with trees overhanging the streets, giving some visual texture to the sight, shadow and color. Now it is stark, unrelievedly bleak, and looks hot, dry and uninviting. 2,235 miles later, we're here.

But the house looks wonderful; Chuy and Fernando had put it all back together for the wedding guests who stayed here, and then prepared it all over again for us. A pineapple was on the upstairs terrazzo table, a papaya and some beautiful bananas on the countertop, beer in the fridge. A perfect welcome. We saw Jack, we saw Marie, we unpacked a little, then went up to Baby’s for a few necessities ~chips, salsa, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, cucumbers ~ for a big dinner salad, using the left-over tampequeño beef from my dinner last night. Then it was time to call it a day, get into bed and listened to the surf roll in and out. A sweet lullaby.


Something must have happened on this day but it seems so long ago that I can’t remember. Decided to put off a big marketing for yet another day. Can’t quite face it. We did go to Dago’s for dinner; eight of us enjoying good fish, beautiful sunset, fine fellowship.


Off to the Bodega supermarket this morning to lay in stores. An hour , 10 bags, one box of wine bottles, and 1300 pesos later we came home laden with enough victuals to last about a week. I even went our on a limb and bought a big hunk of beef, keep in mind that it is usually very tough and tasteless, for a stew since the weather has been quite cool. Came home, settled down for an afternoon of reading (no internet yet) when suddenly the refrigerator started making awful grinding noises. We unplugged it and groaned at the thought of having to buy a new one. We bought this Mexican-made beauty in 2001 during our first year in the house. It has worked just fine, even though it is getting a bit rust spotted. Plugged it in a couple of hours later and all was well. It’s clear something is amiss but I’m not sure what, or if it’s fixable or has to be replaced. We will consult with Jack about a repair person.

Another way you know you’re in Mexico: street burning. Late this afternoon someone started burning something that was sending up plumes of dark, stinky smoke. The fire had been set inside the walls of the lot across the street, and it continued to burn for 3 hours. Fortunately the wind never shifted so that the smoke came directly into our house. But it was close enough. Street burning is almost an everyday thing; it you have stuff the garbage people won’t take, and I can’t imagine what that might be, just pile it up and burn it. Nobody ~ except some fussy gringo ~ will bat an eye.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANDREW. Grandson Andrew, currently languishing in Thailand in preparation for a trip to Paris, then Toulouse, then Barcelona, then home, celebrates his 21st birthday today. I find it incredible that he has reached that milestone already. It seems only yesterday . . .

At about 2 AM this morning it started to rain. Sometimes I think it’s raining when the wind is restling the palm frond outside our bedroom window. But this time it was real. It rained steadily until about 10 AM, then settled into a grey, overcast sky. However, we had things to do. We got the name of a refrigerator repair chap in Tecoman so went over to locate his shop. Then we stopped into a couple of the local appliance stores to see what they might be offering in the way of new machines. We did fine one that was OK but the door opening sides can’t be changed. Ours has to open on the right side. Next spot to look will be the Home Depot up in Colima or, if all else fails, the Sears. On the other hand, ours is now humming along sweetly so we may be off the hook.

It started raining again on our way home from Tecoman, and this time it didn’t stop until sometime early Monday morning. We pulled the outdoor furniture into the center of the >terrazzo, pulled any unpacked boxes still downstairs up under the overhang, and sat back to enjoy the show. No lightening or thunder; just a steady, even rain that washed any dust off the palm trees and other plants (good) but that left big areas of standing water, perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes (bad). But it did cool everything off very nicely.


The day dawned bright and clear and warm, perfect for tiagues shopping. It was almost as though I had never been away. My usual green grocer saw me and quickly pointed out the redondos in his display, the little round squash I like so much. Strawberries looked good, avocados were not ripe but I bought some anyway and set them on the counter to soften, saw no chard or mushrooms, but did score on beautiful carrots and onions. The chicken man was there; this chap has really nice chickens that are fresh and tasty so I got some legs and thighs to bake The thing I did notice in the market, though, is that prices are quite a bit higher this year. What I brought home today cost quite a bit less last year. I also noticed this in the supermarket. It’s folly to compare here with the US, but these cost increases heavily impact the local residents.

Bought two poinsettias to begin the tarting up of the house for Christmas. Now that the rain has passed (I think) it’s time to get the lights up under the palapa. I checked out the other plants but nothing looked tempting. I am pulling out some shrubs in the front that are only good for a breeding ground for some strange insect that we are never able to get rid of. I’ll treat the soil, augment it, and try something else.

Still no internet connection. We can sometimes get a short signal up on the 3rd floor but it doesn’t last long. One of Neighbor Nelson’s other “J” sons (he has 4, all of whose names start with “J”) is arriving today with a newer, more powerful router which we hope will solve the problem. By the way, the youngest "J" Nelson told me that the "Hassle Free Zones" mean that nobody will stop you, even for speeding, if you have a US license plate. Too bad the pilot was in the wrong zone!

All that said, the refrigerator seems to be behaving itself. For now.


I am up at the town’s internet café since ours is not working at all. Chuy came this morning to put the shine back into the house, leaving it spic and span. The sun is out, the waves pounding the shore, the sea a sparkling blue. Because of no internet I have had more time to get caught up on the periodical reading I brought down, mainly old New Yorker’s. They will go into the town library as I finish them. Also am rereading Evan Connell’s Deus lo Volt!, which I read several years ago when it first came out. Its subject is the crusades, the Christians vs. the Infidels. Current events, only eight hundred years ago. Good stuff.

I am hoping we'll get in-house internet within the next couple of days. At that time I'll put up the missing photos. Meanwhile, it's good to be here, to see old friends, and to look forward to some months in the hammock.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Somos aqui

But I can't write much. I'm up on the third floor, it's pitch dark, the mosquitoes have found me so I can't linger. Having trouble with the internet but I think help is on the way tomorrow. Big rain storm yesterday ~ 24 hours of steady rain. Think our fridge is on its last legs. But happy to be here nonetheless. More later, as I have already said.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

mazatlán alert!


You have been warned.

More later.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

from Alamos

Quick post to say that all went easy and quickly at the border. Roads good. Weather a mix. Now finishing breakfast in Alamos. Pushing on to Topolobampo for tonight; Mazatlán tomorrow for a restful day. More ~ much more ~ later. Some pictures, too.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

and now from Tucson

We pulled away from our very comfy hotel at 7 AM and drove down the quiet streets of Palm Springs through a light drizzle. The hotel provided us with a rather strange breakfast; an omelet made with, I think, one egg mixed with about a cup of water to stretch it out. Totally tasteless but hot. Back onto I-10 ~ a freeway to be avoided at any cost ~ through the barren, drab California desert, heading for Blythe and the Arizona border. The CHP was out in force; we saw many drivers who had been pulled over for speeding. For heaven's sake; the speed limit out there is 70 MPH! How fast do you have to go, anyway?

We crossed the border into Arizona (sorry about the quality of this photo but it's hard to get a really good shot at 70 MPH)about 10 AM, which was actually 11 AM because of the 1-hour time difference. Then we picked up 1-8, a much better road, then the 85 connector back to the congested I-10. This takes us through Gila Bend, not a garden spot by any means, but there's a funky motel there that we always stay in as we are heading back to California. Anyway, we are now tucked up in our hotel in Tucson, have made a provisions run to the local Trader Joe's and are well stocked with snacks and wine for the long trip down the Mexican coast. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will not get stopped and inspected and have all our treasures (liquid) confiscated. So tomorrow morning we head a bit east, then hang a right on Highway 19 to Nogales and try our luck.

This is the photo I should have put up yesterday of the snow on the Grapevine. It covered the eastern end and the summit, but at about Gorman it disappeared. Too warm as we headed down into the LA basin.

Next stop will be San Carlos or Alamos, both in the state of Sonora, MX. Maybe a message from there.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

greetings from Palm Springs

There's much to report about this totally uneventful drive from the Valley to Palm Springs. What we saw, where we went wrong, and mainly the weather. It's a good thing I took that photo of the Chinese pistache tree yesterday. In the night, a fierce wind came up and this morning that lovely orange fire had been stripped from its limbs and it was completely starkers! And the wind was blowing hard all the way down I-5, stirring up tolveneras through the parched orchard lands of the San Juaquin Valley.

Over the Grapevine, SNOW! Yes, the temperature dropped to about 34º and the hillsides were dusted with snow. It was gorgeous. We pulled in to our usual Rest Stop (Thank you, Arnold, for not closing all of them) to have "breakfast" and what do I see? A red Smart Car, the drivers asleep in their seats, perhaps waiting for the wind to die down. It was a red one with a black cabriolet top (convertible). It was a boy car, I'm sure. It had black trim, sort of like sideburns. Dorothy, on the other hand, has silver trim, like silver earrings. Now I realize that in these interesting times sideburns and earrings are no longer gender-specific. But I still think it was a boy car. Attitude, perhaps. Then on the next leg of the trip, YIKES! Another Smart Car! So they are beginning to take over. These sighting represent a 200% increase from the early August trip we took (we saw none) and a 100% increase from the late August trip. Before you know it, everyone will want one of these little beauties.

We only got "lost" twice ~ missed the cut off to the Pasadena freeway from I-5 and the !-10 connector later. But we finally made it into the heart of this desert oasis mid-afternoon. It's been many years since I was here, and it's now a bustling chic town, the streets lined with trendy shops and restaurants. But since we started getting things together this morning at 3 AM we are not going out on the town tonight but instead are having turkey sandwiches, cold grilled shrimp, left-over pie and a good bottle of Murphey-Goode before calling it a day at, probably 7:30 tonight. Tomorrow we are off to Tucson after a promised breakfast at this hotel. Hope to write from there tomorrow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

the street where I live

Remember the garden re-do across the street? Here's how it looks today, almost complete.

I think there will be some sort of vine over the front door trellis. Don't know what the ground cover will be. I'll have to wait until spring to see it.

Then there is this gorgeous Chinese pistache tree outside our fence. There are two of them; one is absolutely bare, having deposited a gazillion little yellow leaves everywhere. But this one is hanging on, glowing like an ember.

Over in the next door garden, the paperwhites are in full bloom and their sweet scent is detectable as you walk by. I used to grow these indoors at this time of year and thought their timing ~ coming into delicate bloom in the cold of winter ~ was a stroke of genius on someone's part.

These are the things we will be leaving in the morning. I think we've gotten everything in that we hoped to take. I can't think of a single thing I've forgotten, although it will occur to me as we take the cut-off from I-5 and head for Palm Springs! Like all my underwear that I left behind last year, neatly packaged for travel, in the top drawer of my closet! Right now, however, I can't worry about it. Time to get a good night's sleep in anticipation of the start of another grand adventure. ¡Hasta luego!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Turkey Has Risen!

This may be a new expression to some of you. But in my house, both growing up and grown up, it was the Thanksgiving morning greeting. It is based, of course, on the Easter greeting," The Lord is Risen!" "He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!" We devised the birthday greeting, as well. "Your age has risen! etc. . . " Well, last night the gorgeous turkey prepared by Gina certainly rose to the occasion.

Along with this beautiful bird we had all the usual trimmings; dressing, mashed potatoes and mashed yams, a rich and tasty gravy, green beans, kohl vegetables, a nice refreshing salad, all followed by Mr. C's yummy pies. Several delicious wines were served, much good talk, and to top it off, "To Catch a Thief" rolled by on the TV.

Here is the lovely table where we all shared in this bounty. There was quite a bit of turkey left over; the hostess promised to bring some over to us today so we can make turkey sandwiches to take on the road tomorrow.

Ah yes, tomorrow. I asked the pilot what time we were going to get this circus on the road. "Six AM, I hope." We'll be lucky to get out of here by 7 AM, I bet. I'll take a picture of the loaded car and put it up later. We'll probably have internet in Palm Springs, but after that, the blog will be silent until we make it to the beach. Oh, perhaps in Mazatlan? We'll see. Meanwhile, last minute packing, the search for one square inch in the car to tuck in something forgotten (good luck), and then it's on our way to our other life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks giving

I have much for which to give thanks, not the least of which is that my toe seems to be healed. No longer discolored or swollen. One more week in the little bootie and "I'm back in the sandal again". And we have a lovely beach house to go to, 2400 miles south of the cold valley, for which I am very grateful. And the weather here is holding clear and crisp, the leaves have turned orange, gold and red, and we found Seven Deadly Zins on sale. Talk about blessings!

On the down side, of course, is the fact that this will be the first Thanksgiving in 10 years that I have not spent with my sister. We would pack up and drive to San Diego on Wednesday for 4 days, then head off to Mexico on Sunday. There was great cooking by her husband Tom and by Mr. C, lots of music and laughter, and the sense that we had all made it through another year and Thank God for that! She set a beautiful table with lovely linens, our parents' exquisite silver (now in my custody), place cards for the various guests, hand calligraphied in her perfect script. She was one to shop for holiday-specific accessories and her Thanksgiving finds were displayed on the table.

But this year we will mosey across the street to share bounty and blessings with our neighbors. I am taking a dynamite hors d'oeuvre, a stir-fry of kohl veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), and Mr. C will grace the meal with his outstanding pumpkin pie and a less famous but just as tasty apple pie. We will finish up readying the house on Friday and head to Palm Springs on Saturday morning. Tucson on Sunday, then cross the border Monday morning in Nogales. We decided to avoid any drug war mayhem we might have run into in Cuidad Juarez. We anticipate having dinner ~ shrimp sautéed in garlic ~ at Dago's on Friday night!

For tomorrow, I wish you all a delicious, lovely, laughter-filled reunion with family and friends.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

this is just the hallway

There's also what's in the living room and what's already in the car. Three days and counting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

remembering Venice

While tidying up my desk in preparation for my departure, I came across an envelope in which I found two programs from concerts we attended while in Vicenza in 2007 at this time of year. They were held in a huge, drafty Palladian pile in the middle of town. We walked from our apartment through the dark, narrow streets for these free, 7 PM musicales to join a predominantly blue-haired crowd. It was absolutely wonderful.

Found also, in my efforts to tidy up a couple of year's worth of detritus, the following poem that I had copied from somewhere after one of our trips to Venice during our 2007 stay.

A Dying Glory

In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore
And music meets not always now the ear;
Those days are gone ~ but Beauty still is here.
Statues fall, arts fade ~ but Nature doth not die.
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

George Gordon, Lord Byron
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto IV

It was just cold and foggy enough here to remind one of Venice. But as soon as the fog lifted and the sun came out, I looked around and knew I was no where near the place.

Friday, November 20, 2009

old friends

I went into San Francisco yesterday and met a wonderful group of old friends. They included, among others, Truman Capote, Salman Rushdie, Brigit Bardot, Kate Hepburn, Twiggy, Verushka, Janice Joplin, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and the astonishing Marian Anderson.

It was quite a gathering. Oh, and also that genius with a Brownie, Richard Avedon. In fact, he's the one who got us all together. At the SFMOMA until November 29.

Monday, November 16, 2009

opening night of flannel season

Last night was the official opening of Flannel Season at our house here in the valley. Nighttime temperatures are dropping a bit more every evening and we've been piling on the blankets to stay cozy. I decided it was time to break out the warm and fuzzies for the remaining 2 weeks we're here. The above picture is not actually my bed, but the grey flannels are quite handsome, I think. I have two weights of sheets; one is for the early season, like now. The other is much heavier and, frankly, I haven't slept under them in several years. By the time the valley is deep into Flannel Season we are sleeping under only a sheet with the doors and windows wide open to the warm Mexican night.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

the surprise of grief

Paris, 1985

When Vicky was living here with me one of the most enjoyable and hilarious things we would do was take a trip to IKEA to check out the room settings and all the really great cheap goodies. The pots and pans, the bedding and towels, the funky rugs, and of course the "Last Chance for Tea Lights" signs throughout the store. We would go early, have a $3 breakfast, including the wonderful coffee, then wander through the store for a couple of hours, commenting along the way at the brilliance of the Scandinavian gift for using space, color and plastic. We'd pick up an item or two, including Lingonberry jam, and head home completely satisfied by our outing.

On Friday, on my way back from seeing the foot doc, I stopped in at our store to pick up some items for the beach house; tea lights and a new glass lamp just like the one I broke before we left in May. I walked through the housewares, checked out the dishes, pots and pans, then through the soft goods ~ sheets, towels, rugs ~ and into the storage items ~ boxes and files. Suddenly I utterly lost it. I burst into tears and had to sit down for a bit to recover. Why this place? Why amid the various filing and storage boxes? It took me about 20 minutes to recover my composure. A very kind IKEA employee leaned over and said, "Are you OK?" No, I sobbed, but I will be. "I just miss my sister." She was somewhat confused by my response, as was I. Vic loved this particular section of the store. She was one to buy all sorts of boxes and files, thinking it would help her get organized. There was no system for sale in any store in the universe to accomplish that. She was hopelessly disorganized, but her attempts to get a grip on the ephemera of her life were heroic.

One of the treasures I brought home after the memorial was a box filled with various cards. I remember when she bought the box and fashioned the dividers from manila folders. There are birthday, congratulation, sympathy, holiday and blank cards, all neatly filed away. The only problem is that she was a terrible correspondent. Weeks would go by and I wouldn't hear from her. I have no idea how long all these cards have been filed so neatly, awaiting only a personal message to be sent on their way. I think she just liked collecting them, knowing that if she ever wanted to send one she would have it close at hand. But they are now in my custody and I will use them as the occasions arise, thinking of her every time I lift the box's lid.

Oh Vicky, what times we had.

Friday, November 13, 2009

winter in the kitchen

I love winter food, the soups, stews, casseroles and roasts that keep us warm and satisfied. Meat loaf, pot pie, pot roast ~ all those rich, comforting tastes. Not that I don't also love the grilling season. But winter menus are my favorite and as it has gotten appreciably colder here in the Valley, I was spurred on on to consult my winter menu files for good things to eat. We don't cook this way at the beach; too hot. So I have about 6 weeks to get a winter's worth of rich, filling dishes.

Last weekend a local market was having a sale of seafoods, so I bought one crab and a 50-count bag of mussels.

The first menu was mussels in cream, one of my all-time favorite dishes. They turned out perfectly, even though they weren't Penn Cove mussels, the best in the world. The cream sauce was very flavorful and not too terribly rich since it is diluted with wine and some vegetable broth. Meat was plump and sweet. Lots of crusty baguette to sop up the juice.

Next I had to decide what to do with the crab. I had been browsing Pinch My Salt, my favorite food blog, when I came across a recipe for Spaghetti Squash Gratin. I'm a big fan of that squash, love gratin dishes, so decided to put them together and see what I came up with. It ended up being a Spaghetti Squash Gratin with Wilted Chard, Mushrooms and Crab.

The squash was slightly crunchy, the crab flavorful, the chard gave it a great look. Very delicious.

And finally, the local grocer had lamb shanks on sale, also a favorite. I cooked the meat half done on Tuesday, then added the veggies ~ mushrooms, carrots, brussel sprouts, potatoes ~ the next night to finish the cooking. Heavenly.

Meanwhile, Mr. C made a big pot of bean soup with a somewhat tired ham hock he found in the freezer. It turned out to be a bit sweet, for some reason. So to counteract that he put the left-over shank broth into the soup to liven things up. Perfect solution.

The rest of the news of the past week centers, still, on preparations for departure. More boxes packed, more drawers cleaned out and tidied up ~ if we didn't take this trip every year I would hate to think of the state of my cabinets ~ for our tenants. I was supposed to go to the hospital on Monday for another x-ray of my toe. But the doc called yesterday to see if I could make it today instead. Yes indeed I could. Good news. Healing nicely, thank you, and no more big boot. I have graduated into a tasteful "surgical shoe" which is not quite Jimmy Choo but much closer.

I have to wear that for 3 more weeks and then I can wear "real" shoes. Can't wait.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

happy anniversary

Do you think he's still having fun?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

today's reward

I didn't really earn this but I thought it looked pretty good anyway. When I got to the DMV this morning they informed me that I didn't have to take the written test after all. But I still have to take the driving test, even though I took it in June. How bad could it get in 4 months, I asked, to no avail. Next opening is two weeks after we arrive at the beach. I'm negotiating but probably will not have any luck. I don't like the idea of driving in Mexico without a license because of the insurance issues.

As a reward for nothing, I watched Raise the Red Lantern this afternoon. I saw this exquisitely beautiful movie years ago and wanted to see if it holds up. It does. I usually watch daytime movies on my big-screen computer monitor. Since this film has subtitles I had to sit nose-to-nose with it to read. But one nice thing is that I can pause the film to really read what's frequently just flashed at the bottom in which case I miss it. Sad story; no good can come of such misery. But a visual feast.

Monday, November 2, 2009

afternoon encounter

After I did my chores, fetched the mail, paid some bills and generally made myself useful ~ or as useful as possible while clomping around in this wretched boot ~ I settled down to watch David Lean's 1945 version of Brief Encounter. Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson as the doomed lovers Alec and Laura. Only one Kleenex®. I've seen this before although not with this cast. The sad, secretive and painful affair between the rather stuffy middle class couple is contrasted brilliantly with the open, lively, sexually charged banter between Myrtle and Albert, the canteen owner and the railroad man. Terrific performances all around.

Tomorrow I tackle the DMV to get my new driver's license. This year I have to take the written test, probably the first time in 25 years. I've read the Driver Handbook, taken all of the practice tests and think I can probably pass on the first try. Then I have to start negotiating to take the driving test before we leave. My license expires on my birthday in April and I will be in Mexico. Yes, I know, I just did this in June, but my license is only good for one year because of the vision thing, even though the DMV handbook itself says you only need to be able to pass the eye test with ONE EYE. I need to "see" about that requirement.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

all in the family

This is the line-up of Brown women, three generations gathered for my sister's memorial. Left to right: Kaley DeGoursey, Vic's daughter; YT; Caitlin Davis; Alex Jordan; Ruby DeGoursey (on Alex's lap); Emily Jordan. Good job, Don and Virginia.

Don't forget to "Fall Behind" tonight.

Friday, October 30, 2009

we just missed it

Our original plan was to take off for Bozeman for a quick visit this weekend with Cait and Mike. Keeping in mind that the guest quarters at their house are downstairs, that bracing long walks with Ike are the order of the day, that I'm still in the big boot, and, most importantly, that it's 30º and snowing, we backed off. No mile high skies and brightly colored leaves this year. We have plenty to keep us busy here. Four weeks and counting.

NOTE: Don't forget to turn your clock back tomorrow night. Daylight Savings Time will be over for another year. I don't like the dark when I wake up now. Getting back on Standard time means it will be light by 6:30. But I am even less thrilled by the dark at 5 PM. Sometimes as early as 4:30 in deep winter here in the valley. In Mexico, since we are 2000 miles south, the light holds until 6:30 or 7. Very nice. As I said, four weeks and counting.