Sunday, January 31, 2010

the weekend in Tlaquepaque

Our getaway weekend has been quiet and subdued after we got the news about Cait and Mike's dog, Ike. Everything we do is layered over with the sadness of their (and our) loss. That dog had more personality than many of our friends. Truly.

Our drive up was completely uneventful, fortunately. After we unloaded and got settled into our beautiful room we went for a late comida at a restaurant new to us, El Fuerte. It's only drawback was the combo playing VERY LOUD music. Otherwise, good food (wonderful fajitas de res) and a lovely garden setting. I didn't have my camera so you'll just have to trust me.

Friday was our 46th wedding anniversary. Who would believe it? As Mr. C said, "If somebody had told me 46 years ago that I would be having lunch in Tlaquepaque, Mexico I would not have imagined such a thing." Oh well. . . We went back to Nahual (see here for a description of the restaurant) and this time sat in the garden area of the restaurant. Out the window I could see the brightly colored glass lamps they have scattered alongside the windows. They are Dale Chihuley wannabes! These flower-like lamps are made in a glass blowing factory up in Tonala (where we will go on Sunday for the market).

It isn't quite a "real" Chihuly (see below)

but what do you want for about $200?

Delicious lunch; Tampequeña de res which is sort of like a grilled strip steak. We don't get really edible beef at the beach so I am using this trip to make up for lost protein!

Saturday was another very lazy day. I had not slept well on Friday night; we went downstairs in the evening and had a very sweet dessert and I was totally wired until about 2:30 AM. I should definitely know better but, hey! I'm having a vacation and Stan (proprietor) is a fantastic cook. After a long late-morning-early-afternoon nap, we strolled down to El Tacote, a very nice casual place we went to some years ago.

It is know for, among other things, its block-buster guacamole. Its fame is well deserved. Again, beef, this time quesedillas with adobado beef, cheese, onions, radishes, lime juice and more avocado as condiments. Three of these little beauties and I was down for the count. Home by 5 PM, asleep not long after.

We had very cloudy skies and sprinkles last evening but it dawned bright and sunny this morning. We were up and out early for a trip to Tonala. We took the bus, were there by 10 AM, got our purchases taken care of and caught a cab back at 11:00. That's Mr. C's idea of shopping - in and out. I could still be there . . . I was mostly looking for two things: barra, the clay cookware that is such a pleasure to use, and more hurricane lamp chimneys that I use outside.

Barra comes in all shapes and sizes, and includes plates and bowls for table use. Also coffee cups and big hot chocolate mugs. They are all tied together on a string and when you buy one the vendor just snips one off the line and away you go.

I use the big ones as vases; just put the bottom half of a tall plastic water bottle inside, fill with water, stick in flowers. No leaks, either.

I was hungering for either a salad or a big pile of veggies for lunch so we walked down to the San Juan del Rio, a nice place that offers vegetarian fare.

There is a lovely garden in the middle with this delightful fountain niche with St. Francis.

Indeed, I had a plate of roasted vegetables ~ broccoli, peas, carrots, peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, squash ~ all in slivers. Absolutely delicious. Mr. C has a big green salad with mushrooms, goat cheese, various vegetables. Just what we both needed after all this meat business. Tonight we will probably go across the street for soup at Victoria's, the local ceneduria.

Tomorrow it's back to the beach and the warm weather. I did stick a sweater in my bag at the last minute, but Mr. C came away with short sleeves only! Right now, as I look out the window, the sky is darkening and the wind has picked up. The forecast is for more rain. But that's what keeps everything so green and lovely. We'll be back next year, all things being equal, to do it all over again.

Friday, January 29, 2010

the price of exuberance

This from our daughter Caitlin this morning:

"Our beloved Ike was struck by a car and killed late last night. I was at work and Mike had just let him out to go on a walk. Ike bolted after some deer, and was struck by a car. Our hearts are completely broken. He was such a great dog with so much joy and enthusiasm for everything and everyone. He is greatly missed."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

the speech

I went down to my pal Charlotte's house this evening to watch the State of the Union speech. I was apprehensive about it; I didn't want another "Joe Wilson" moment. And I was feeling somewhat disheartened about the whole political thing anyway. But I finally tore myself away at 10:45, after watching Keith Oberman's take on the whole thing. I feel much better. Good speech.

Tomorrow we are taking off for a few days up in Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara. New things to see, new restaurants, new night noises, although I always miss the sound of the surf when we're not here. We'll go to Tonala, the town that IS a flea market. Staying at the usual place, Casa de las Flores. I'm taking the LapMac. Photos, of course.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the invention of Bubble Wrap and the official Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. Obviously, it's slow around here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

persistence pays off

I have been searching the Web for over two weeks looking for a house for us to rent up in Patzcuaro in March. We will be returning to San Miguel, to our usual apartment first, then heading on to Patzcuaro for an additional week. Last year we didn't make it over there but we were determined to get there this year. I couldn't find a thing. I thought I had a pretty good possibility but the owner decided he didn't want to rent his house after all so I was back to square one. This lovely town, located in the mountains, is the most Mexican town I've ever been to. Lots of street life, fantastic market, beautiful fabrics, good food. Not many gringos up until now. Word is that more and more are arriving, buying up inexpensive properties, fixing them up and joining the community.

After many dead ends I found a Web site for a real estate agency that handles rentals. We have agreed to rent this charming little casita for one week. One bedroom, nice kitchen, beautiful garden, internet service. What more does one need? It's a bit away from the center of town, near the Basilica (read "bells at all hours") but that's OK. I'm hoping it works out well so that we have a place we can return to next year. Or someplace we can recommend to other travelers. That's one more thing I can cross off my very short "To Do" list.

As for today's "Vanessa" I guess it's an acquired taste. Some gorgeous music but it was in English and if the opera isn't in Italian, German or French, is it really an opera? Next week: Stiffelio by Guiseppi Verdi. We'll be in Tlaquepaque so will probably not be in attendance.

Friday, January 22, 2010

tomorrow at the Met . . .

Samuel Barber's Vanessa. I had never heard of this opera, although I have heard his other two pieces, A Hand of Bridge and Anthony and Cleopatra. This last work was staged by Franco Zefferilli in a disastrous production that completely overwhelmed the music.

Tomorrow's presentation is a rebroadcast of a Met production of February 1, 1958 with Eleanor Steben as Vanessa. This came to be known as her signature role, even though she stepped in at the work's premier in January 1958 for Sena Jurinac for whom the part was written. Barber won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1958 for this opera.

With this brief Music History lesson, listen up!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

the weather

This post is especially for all of you in Montana, Connecticut, and Northern and Southern California.

Thanks to Neighbor Nelson's tireless research, I am able to inform you that Cuyutlán is among the hottest spots in Mexico. And beautiful, too. We are a little south of the middle of that bright orange area.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

R.I.P. Spenser

Robert B. Parker, creator of the private detective Spenser, has died. Read all about it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

El Peluquero de Cuyutlán

Today was hair-cut day for the palms in our adjacent lot. We did this severe trimming for several reasons. (1) There were dead fronds that looked terrible. (2) There were probably 200 coconuts just waiting to drop on someone or crash onto the new patio and make a huge mess. (3) Squirrels love these palm trees. They use the long fronds as highways onto our upper deck where they then climb up the support beams and nest in the palapa. They also nest in the palm trees and spend hours gnawing on the coconut shells making a big racket. (4) It was time to clean them out anyway. We haven't done this for at least a year and they were looking pretty ratty.

At 1:30 the palm barber arrived with his faithful dog who stands at full alert as the fronds come falling down, waiting for some unsuspecting squirrel to come down, too. Didn't happen this time, although he found two big nests (empty). This worthy chap shakes off his sandals, ties his machete to one end of a rope, ties the other around his waist and, grasping the trunk between his feet, up he shimmies. Once above the frond line, he squats in the center of the tree, pulls his machete up behind him and starts hacking away.

There are three large, old (20 years) palms against the wall. I do like the fact that they screen the north side of the house from the street and from the neighbors. And I liked lying in bed and looking through the fronds that shaded our window. Made it very "tropical".

Alas, those lovely rustling fronds are gone. Those two windows are in our bedroom, now completely exposed and without the ever-changing shadows and colors of the fronds. But at least they won't brush up against the screens and make us think it's pouring rain outside.

Here's the next one over. The fronds of this tree were beginning to brush up against the bathroom windows.

No more rustling palm fronds, no more ardillos, but no more shimmering shadows, either. Or varying shades of green. Or wildly waving fronds in a big wind.

And here's another negative thing about pruning a palm tree. No new fronds emerge from where the old ones were cut off, so the tree just gets taller and taller. Pretty soon it will be time to cut these down and plant a new crop along the wall so we can have that tropical feel again when we look out the window.

Monday, January 18, 2010

welcome Taylor Grace Reed

Mr. C's niece ~ and I guess my niece-in-law ~ Erin and her husband, Wes welcomed their first child this afternoon. Taylor Grace arrived just about on time, checking in at 7 lbs. 14 oz., 20.5 inches. Mama and Baby Grace are doing fine. Daddy Wes is adjusting.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

happy birthday, luly

Fourteen of us went out to lunch today to celebrate the birthday of our favorite firecracker, Luly. We went to a new hotel in the next burg over, El Paraiso. The Hotel San Angel Inn has lovely terrace dining room, wide open to the sea, very attractive and comfortable furnishings, a second floor sunning terrace, about a dozen nicely furnished rooms including a third floor bridal suite (very luxe, with its own little terrace) and a very good chef. I ordered a filete de pescado al mojo de ajo and it was perfectly done. Tender, flavorful rice, some raw green, red and yellow bell peppers as garnish. Delicious. Everyone was very pleased with their menu choices and the bartender's and chef's skill. We arrived about 1:15 and finally pulled ourselves away at 5 PM. A real Mexican comida. I know we'll be back.

Feliz cumpleaños, Amiga!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

the new patio

After five days of furious work by Jaime and his industrious crew, the new patio is finished. The following will document the amazing transformation from a dark, haphazard sitting spot into a lovely, inviting patio. The two walkways down either side of the house are no longer danger zones for tripping but wide, even paths from front to back, including the drying yard.

Here's how it looked before any work was done. (I should mention, too, that before any bricks were laid about 5 years ago the front area had a very scraggy grass covering, was uneven to the point where you couldn't put chairs out for comfortable seating. And the grass drew biting insects.) The bricks did not weather well; they got black and grimy, and despite all out best efforts of scrubbing them with bleach at the beginning of every season, last year we decided enough of getting down on hands and knees and trying to restore them. A new patio this year!

This is looking from the entryway to the north wall.

This is the view from the downstairs guest room porch to the west wall.

The base of the big palms in the corner always looked ratty; ground cover wouldn't grow there; not enough sun. Something had to be done!

Looking towards the north side walkway. That's the corner of the guest room porch on the right.

Walkway along the north side of the house, front to back.

Walkway along the south side (aka the drying yard) back to front. This path was always a threat to ankles; very uneven. A real sprain trap!

You can see what I mean about the discoloration of the bricks. So up they came and they are now stacked neatly in our lot next door, awaiting some other use over there. You may be able to tell that they are not the conventional brick size but instead are thinner (and thus a cheaper grade). I don't think we realized that when we bought them. I think had we gotten a better quality brick we might have gotten away with the patio as it was for a few more years. But frankly, I'm glad we didn't. I like the new look much better.

Let me preface the following progress report by saying that everything these workers do is done by hand. There was the whine of an electric saw a couple of times but otherwise, no machinery was used in this construction. For instance, here's the cement mixer.

First they took up all the old bricks and laid out a grid with string. Note the bucket of cement in the lower right corner.

They built forms for the cement, leaving wide seams between each pad for the decorative rocks.

Each form took three or four buckets of cement that was hand mixed and toted into the garden on the shoulder of one of the mozos, dumped into the form and carefully smoothed out and leveled. After the pour dried a bit they textured each pad using a soft broom soaked in water. Each pad is textured in an alternating direction. It's an amazing process to watch. Click on this photo to enlarge and see what Jaime is doing.

The remarkable Eduardo (on the right) ~ a true artisano with tile and trowel ~ follows and makes a smooth frame around each pad.

After all the pads were poured, textured and framed, it was time to fill in the seams with tumbled river rocks.

I also had some small tiles that were handmade by an artist in Davis, Donna Lemongello, that I wanted incorporated into the design. There is one in the center where the four pads meet. Eighteen in all.

As of 3 PM yesterday, the crew had cleaned up everything, packed up all their herramientas, piled any left overs into Jaime's truck or on to their bicycles or toted on their heads or shoulders, and moved on to the next job. They are an amazing bunch; it is a real pleasure to watch them at work. Every one knows his job, what he is to do and when. And each one is good at his particular assignment. Some have been with Jaime for many years. Others are new hires who will probably stay as long as there is work. He treats his workers with great respect and pays them well; they in turn respect him and show real loyalty. Here's what they left behind.

From the entryway across the patio.

From the guest quarters porch.

North walkway.

Drying yard, smooth and even!

And finally, the palm tree has a beautiful necklace of inset stones and loosely scattered stones around the base to hold in the moisture. No more futile attempts at ground cover.

So there you have it. A lovely addition to our wonderful house in this seedy backwater Mexican beach town.

And now it's time to turn full attention to Carmen. She deserves it, for all she's going to suffer in the next couple of hours. And that poor sap, Don José!

Friday, January 15, 2010

friday treat

Grandson Andrew, back from 8 months in Asia and Europe, sent me this photo (along with about 500 others). This is my favorite. He has the artist's eye for composition.

Don't neglect to tune in to the opera tomorrow: Carmen!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

local transportation

Every evening around 5 o'clock these two gents come clopping down the cobblestone road to the east of our house. I can hear them coming a block away. They amble down the hill, then head left out toward the colonia. They have a dog who trots along with them. I don't know where they go, but I am thinking perhaps out to the end of the road to the deserted beach where they give the horses a good run. Then about 7 PM, when it's just about dark, back they come, walking slowly up Calle Veracruz, turn right, and up the hill they disappear. Like clockwork. A lovely sight.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

a trip to the tax collector

Taxes are due anytime after the first of the year up until the first of March, and then a penalty is assessed. Not ones for such punishments, we went off to Armeria to take care of our yearly fees for taxes and water. You pay the same for water whether you use one liter or annual water bill as well. In the old days ~ perhaps 8 years ago ~ this was an all-day event. This was BICSS (Before I Could Speak Spanish). First had to gather up the previous owner's last tax bill and our current electric bill (this receipt from the electric company is used almost universally as a form of ID; if you pay the electric company, you're legal!). I would search around for the one gentleman in the tax office who spoke English. Then he would go through the huge ledger in which tax records were hand recorded, looking us up to see which property we owned. Some confusion could occur here; the Mexicans have a different listing for names beginning with "CH"; they are not found in the "C" category! Out would come the paper and pencil, various charts and plat maps, and eventually a figure would be jotted down on a scrap of paper. This we would take to the cashier who would fill out a more official-looking receipt. Then on to the next window where an official with an adding machine would tote it all up and a little piece of paper, tear it off and hand it through the window. We'd pay, several official stamps woudl be applied to the receipt, then signed and we were through with the taxes. Then it was on to the water company, a few block away, for a repeat of all of this. Finally, perhaps 3 hours later, we were done for another year.

This year, perhaps 10 minutes max for the whole deal. Thanks to Bill Gates and the remarkable evolutionary phenom known as the humanus nerdius, everything is computerized and, ¡milagro! was all working. The water collection is now right next door to the City Hall. In and out. Taxes = 1740 pesos for both lots ($120 US) and water 1260 pesos ($80 US) for the year. Sounds about right.

Meanwhile, it continues to be overcast and rainy. Jaime and his crew are working in the front patio despite the weather. It's going to look gorgeous. Those maestros are a pleasure to watch at work. I expect they will be done by Saturday. Photos then.

Now it's on to baking a foccacia. Marie and I are preparing dinner for friends in town. The husband has been very ill for quite some time and I decided it was time to give the wife a break! Lasagne, foccacia, green salad, fresh pineapple and a bottle of wine. I hope it cheers them up and speeds his recovery. Buen provecho.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

bright sunny day

What does one do on a bright, dry, sunny morning after almost a week of overcast and wet weather? Why, the laundry, of course. Early this morning the sun was out, there was not a cloud in the sky, so I gathered up three loads of wash and got right to it. It was the sort of day where laundry hung out at 10 AM is dry at noon. The clear, hot weather held all day so everything got nice and dry and yes, stiff. But that's just fine with me. No ironing needed.

Then this afternoon, live from the Met, "Der Rosenkavalier" with the sublime Renee Flemming. It's a long one - over 4 hours. Boy, that Strauss really knew how to crank out the tunes. We get to hear abother of his operas, "Ariadne auf Nauxos" on February 20. Next week, "Carmen" will be served up.

Friday, January 8, 2010

more rain

It started raining lightly yesterday afternoon about 4 PM and kept it up all night. I got up twice in the night to move furniture and to unplug some lights that I though might get water soaked. By 7 AM this morning it had stopped, but then sprinkled on and off all day. At dinner time which, since this is Friday, meant Dago time, it had stopped raining and the sun was out. We strolled down to the puesto at 6 PM and there was a spectacular sunset, not a full sky blaze but a brilliant red down at horizon level under the lowering clouds. And where was the camera to record this gorgeous sight? At home, of course. Maybe it will happen again tomorrow. Neighbor Nelson assured all of us that we could get more rain tomorrow. El Niño, he said. We'll see. Meanwhile, Fernando couldn't come and clean the palm trees today; too dangerous with heavy, rain-soaked and rain-slicked fronds. Maybe tomorrow if we don't get more rain in the night. These are the trees on our lot next door which have become condos for squirrels. Not cute, despite what Walt Disney or others have said. Furry vermin.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

the song of the shirt

It has dawned cool and overcast today. When I got up I added a long-sleeved shirt to my usual shorts-and-T-shirt fashion statement. And the shirt I pulled off the rack? One that belonged to my sister. I remember when she bought it from a catalog from J. Jill. I have a blue one that she admired so she got this beautiful white one. It has little knotted buttons and loops instead of buttonholes, a mandarin collar and a nice, full cut. Perfect beach cover-up. I like wearing it; it keeps her with me.

First Stanza

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread--
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."
Thomas Hood - 1843

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

a daily dowse

Big storm today. Started quite early with lots of wind.

Looking east, the sky was very dark. Rain on its way.

And then it started and came down hard and steady. Pretty soon the upstairs terazza was flooded and the water was coming in under the living room door. Out came the mop and the broom. While Mr. C mopped, I swept rain through the openings under the balcony walls. Water was pouring off the overhangs.

Then the lightening and thunder rolled in, more rain, but soon the wind stopped so water wasn't blowing into the house anymore. We could sit and marvel at the whole event. We've had more rain during this trip than in all the time we've been here (20 years) combined.

Now there's a bit of clearing, it's lightened up out over the ocean, and everything is so fresh and bright, all the salt and dust had washed away and, if we're lucky, we'll have a gorgeous sunset.