Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Ponies of Lienzo Charro

Many mornings Sam and I walk the trails in the campo behind the Deportiva, a gorgeous sports complex set against the mountains and the clear skies of San Miguel, about a mile from town.  In the early morning the smoke from squatters' campfires, curling up through acacia trees, tall maguey cacti, and now in mid-October, fields of foot-tall marigolds, pale pink anemones, and acres of yellow daisies, makes you feel like some settler, crossing the desert in search of civilization, centuries ago.  On the plateau, above the campo, and above the soccer fields, basketball court, and running track, closer to the main highway, there has always been a handful of shabby horses, tethered on rope, without shade, nosing through rubble and sand for a blade of grass.  These are the ponies of Lienzo Charro, a small-town rodeo with real-life cowboys.

The cowboy is a charro, lienzo translates as lovely, though I think there's a local idiom I'm missing here.  The rodeo events are somewhat stomach-churning, but the mariachi band and its 10-year-old boy singer were absolutely amazing, and the sights in the stands were worth the look.  Those horses who spend most of their time tied up at the Deportiva are the animals being roped, along with a couple of cows who have to be prodded to move, and the occasional bull.  The horses are chased by a pack of four fitter steeds, with some of the most experienced riders and ropers you'll ever see.  The entertainment comes when the horse, finally encouraged to gallop full speed around the ring, is roped by the legs and thrown up into the air, mid-charge.  Once he's untangled he has to get up and start running again, chased and whipped by the riders.  There are about five ponies that rotate out of the back pens into the ring.  Once the event is over and they're back on their tether, looking longingly out onto the fields and the mountains, I wonder where they'd rather be.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Salvatore and His Rootop Dream

One evening at a benefit for Patronata Pro Ninos, I was seated next to an older Mexican gentleman named Salvatore.  He is a notario, a very official role, a government position of great trust and responsibility.  Notarios legalize documents, certify property values, assess taxes, and have other complex other financial duties.  His wife, Shelley, came to Mexico forty years ago as a graduate student, from Brooklyn, New York.  Like most 20-year-olds studying abroad, she boarded with a local family, arriving one Friday in the late '60s.  By Saturday night, at a dance she attended with the daughter of her host family, she had met her future husband. 

Salvatore, this earnest actuarial, this serious notario, told me a story about his youth: "As a boy of fifteen or sixteen I would go up onto the rooftop of my house and lay there under the stars.  The sky was so clear in San Miguel I could see everything.  And I would dream about my wife, where would I find her, who would she be?  I would ask myself about my future wife when I was 15 years old.  And never, ever, did I think that I, a Catholic (cat-o-leek) from Mexico would ever marry a Jewish girl from New York City.  Who could ever dream that? At the dance, if I had known she didn't speak Spanish, I would never have asked her to dance.  I didn't know she was the woman I was dreaming about on the rooftop.  But here we are, married 40 years.  And I still love her."

A Tree Grows in La Huerta?

The first night we arrived in San Miguel a man named Alfredo took a napkin from the bar at Woolis Kaban and drew us a map.  It would lead us to one of the largest trees in the world, one that would take 35 people to circle its trunk.  The sketch was crude, a few lines here and there with a ballpoint pen, but we recognized the name of the town, La Huerta, from a green highway sign we see whenever we arrive on the highway from the airport.  La Huerta is just across from the dam at the presa, about 20 minutes outside of San Miguel. If we could find the town, follow the road over a bridge, make a right at the school, and go uphill, everyone, he said, would know the tree.

The kids arrived a week later.  We went out on a little sightseeing tour in our car, thinking we'd see the countryside and have some fun in the process.  The road into La Huerta was amazingly beautiful: silver-grey agaves, a range of mountains running along the west side, a sky the color of construction-paper blue.  We found the town after crossing the bridge, a remote little speck of a place down a dirt lane past the only school, with half-built cement and brick homes and one or two tiendas with their normal supply of chips, sodas, packs of gum, and basic comestibles.  The obligatory Pepsi truck passed us on its rounds.    Alas we found no tree.  But not for lack of trying.  We kept following what seemed to be the only road in town, even as it began to head straight uphill, past the last of the houses.  The hill became so steep and narrow I refused to drive on  it. Sam took over, careened up this path that turned out to probably be a walking path studded with broken pottery and then nearly got us stuck at the dead end top.   I wouldn't even let the kids get in the car to drive back down. I was afraid it would slip and go over the edge into the valley.  As he was making multiple turns to get the car facing the other direction, Sam nearly took out the town's water supply by driving over their water pipe.  There was a sickening crunch but no gush.

So we kept going on, asking every local where this magical tree was.  We ended up on another remote dirt road, only as wide as our car, and heard music playing somewhere among scrubby trees and cacti.  While Sam figured out how to turn the car around on this narrow valley pass, I decided to head down into the bush to ask for directions to the "grand arbol."  I could see an old woman downhill washing clothes.  Just another really bad idea to wander into someone's property in the campo unannounced: I nearly got attacked by two feral dogs who were guarding the old woman's house.  Later I laughed, but at that moment, as I was whispering, "good doggie", "hi there" and other inanities and backing slowly away, uphill, I wondered if I was a goner.  So we bought some Pepsis and some cheetos once we found our way out and headed home!  We have talked about going back but something else always comes up.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The PTA Meeting

Sam and I decide to get involve, help out the PTA, let Mason know we care, maybe feel a little kinship with the other parents at Mason's preschool.  The parents at the older kids' school already seem out of my league.  I went to a get-together for moms and kids in Redding's second-grade class.  While he had a ball jumping on a moonbounce in the yard, I sat for 10 minutes at a table of women speaking Spanish over and around me.  One asked me, "De quien es usted la madre?  Or something like that, which I figured was, "Which kid is yours?"  I spotted Reddy's blond head, pointed him out, said, "Reddy" and that pretty much ended the conversation.  I wasn't able to go any further and she either wasn't or wasn't willing.  I hardly blamed her.  So I picked at a plate of food, made myself an awful-tasting Paloma (sprite and tequila), which I had to dump in a cactus at the front door, and went home.  Redding got a ride with someone else.

Well, back to the PTA meeting, which is quite similar in tone to other meetings we've been to at both schools.  An administrator gets up in the front, starts going over rules and regulations, or a recycling campaign, or upcoming events, and I can understand about 20% of the words, mostly those that end in -cion, which sound a lot like their English counterparts that end in -tion: organizacion, administracion, funcion.  Often they remember about 30 minutes into it that there are a couple of non-native speakers in the audience (Sam and I, generally) and make some hapless parent sit next to us to translate.  By that time it's usually too late for me.

Sam gets a whole lot more than I do, but we've both realized once you've gone to one of these back-to-school nights, you've pretty much got the drill.  This PTA meeting was held in the courtyard of Colegio Carrusel, Mason's preschool, folding chairs set up inexplicably in the hottest part of the patio. The sun was beating down, we're shading our eyes, straining to hear, not understanding much, and Sam whispers to me, "Now I know how the kids feel all day."  And so did I.  I was gone, zoning out, not really hearing anything but the sound of the janitor's weed-whacker and marveling that that was the first power tool I'd seen any gardener wield.

From the "Only in Mexico" File

So, here's a little typed sheet that came home from school yesterday, preceding Friday's first of five exam periods. (I've already told the kids not to sweat it; we'll tell their future school in the States that they were home schooled and that there are no transcripts to send.)

Science: Study Chapter 1, Lessons, 1, 2, 3 4, 5 and 6.  Students will be asked questions about the topics from these Lessons.  We will also do a review in our notebooks this week for all students, especially those who don't have the Science workbook. [That would be mine.  We have gone to the school three afternoons, only to be told all the workbooks, for all the subjects, are sold out, or week.]

Grammar: Study the sections on Articles, Demonstratives, Possessives, Possessive Adjectives, Possessive Pronouns and ___________ in the Grammar Lab.  [Bo filled in the blank with "what?"].  We will also do a grammar review in our notebooks this week for all students, especially those who don't have the book.

*Students who do not have the books but would like to use them to study can ask to borrow books and take them home to study or make copies.  They can also arrange to study with a friend from the class who does have the books.  We have done quite a few pages since August, and they have been following along in class and learning the same topics as the students who do have books.  I will do whatever I can to help them go over this work again.  However, I want all the students, especially those who don't have the books, to understand that it is still their responsbiilty to prepare for the exams and to ask for any extra help they need.

What they need is for Mom and Dad to get on Amazon and just order the damn books.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

La Alborada: Dawn with the Sanmiguelenses

Even more than the Dia de Independencia, San Miguel celebrates the birthday of their patron saint, Miguel. For reasons I'm not sure of (the hour of his birth?) the town begins the ritual parade at 3am (with street parties and roaming hordes of people moving though centro well before then). Thousands line the jardin, cheering on the other thousands who march down side streets and around and around the jardin, carrying twenty-foot tall, tissue-paper stars on long poles. As the bearers dance the stars spin in the sky, some of them illuminated from within by candles or electric lights. Sam headed up around midnight, to meet Bill Dettering (San Francisco Bill) and Christopher Holtby (Dallas Chris) at the Jardin Burger (their nickname for it), a stand that comes out every night selling the most perfect, wafer-thin, well-cooked, fried hamburger with ham, queso, tocino, onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, ketchup, mayo and mustard. Bill and Chris had gone in on a gallon of homemade tequila, which they had decanted into Tupperware squirt bottles. (At 3:30am when I found Sam, he had one raised to his mouth, draining it, while dancing in the parade without about two thousand Mexicans and his two gringo buddies. But more on that later....)

Though they missed each other at Jardin Burger, and Sam wandered through the fiesta on his own for about two hours, the boys had found each other and had spent a good long while at a cantina, the kind with the swinging saloon doors and no women. There were bands everywhere--mariachis, school bands, guys with guitars, boys with French horns, kids with kazoos.

Because fireworks (more like cannons without the pyrotechnics) were going off all night down by Parque Juarez, I was up and awake at 2am. I kept debating whether to get dressed and go out; I decided it was my first alborada, the kids were sound asleep, and I was going to head up to find the guys. The streets were pretty empty around the park; the first people I saw were five guys, heading towards me on Sollano, identically dressed in black from head to combat boot, all swigging from bottles. There was a moment of panic, but I kept walking towards them under the sole streetlight on that block, until I realized they were cops, and the bottles swinging in their hands were diet Coke. I wasn't going to be mugged after all.

The jardin was a scene. Thousands of people were out up there, even at 3am, with their babies, their little kids, their college friends and girlfriends, grandpops with grandmoms, street vendors and musicians. The only thing you didn't see were Americans. With the exception of the three I knew, I spotted about eight. Because this is their saint and their day, and this is a celebration specific to San Miguel, it's a very local event. I scanned the crowd for the guys for about a half an hour, making a lap around the crowds filling the plaza, and was about to head home, waiting at the southeast corner of the jardin to find an opening to get through and go back down the empty streets. And lo and behold, because Sam and I have always been lucky, there he is, right in front of me, marching with the parade, spinning and dancing and sipping tequila, with Bill and Christopher.

Like the Dia de Independencia, the fireworks started right on time--4am--and it's a show like nothing you've ever seen. There was one installation coming from behind the jardin, probably from Mesones or farther back behind the library. These were the high-in-the-sky, streamers of red, green and white that race up into the night and explode like huge flowers. No real danger there, even though they were exploding over our heads. The other, more staggering, sight, were the orange snakes coming from the plaza inside the gates of the Parroquoia. For close to an hour, huge sparklers arced from the church, through the black wrought-iron gates or over and above them, landing on a crowd of mostly young men dancing in the street in front of the Parroquoia. Sparks, flames, embers, ashes, and blown up bits of newspaper came cascading down. The men had shirts they waved around their heads to shoo away the debris. The smoke started to get thick around the church and some started landing our way. Castillos, the spinning fireworks that turn into images, started lighting up the front gates. When my face was dusted with grit and my eyes were beyond stinging I decided it was time to go home. I left Sam, Christopher and Bill in the jardin and worked my way through the crowds to head down Cuna de Allende. On the sidewalks were the women and their kids who sell the corn-husk dolls, the sponge maps of Mexico, the beaded necklaces, and trays of Chiclets. In long black skirts and shawls, they were huddled together on the curb in sleepy bundles, some with a couple of kids in their arms. In two doorways were little boys, flat out on their backs, sound asleep on the sidewalk, in spite of the noise and the smoke.

I start to walk downhill to the park. It is almost five in the morning. The thunder of fireworks rolls down the canyon of narrow streets, like a force behind me, a hand at my back, pushing me home. All my boys are sound asleep, the Alborada just a story they will hear about, and the real dawn waiting to wake them in an hour.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

School Days

School is so funny here. Today is October 1 (first day was August 24) and we still don't have most of the textbooks for Bo and Redd's classes. We went up yesterday to buy them--told that the Houghton Mifflin rep would be on hand between 12 and 3. So we naturally tried to be efficient and went at 2:30pm when they get picked up for the day. Too late! We were told that the books were sold out, and that you really need to get here closer to noon if you want them. So, no more books. But we've been told they are ordering more. Next time we'll show up early. But for now, homework is really not an option for the boys if you've got no books!

Mason's uniform just showed up last week, though the funny polyester sweater which goes with the god-awful polyester blue pants is too small and needs to be exchanged. That will probably arrive around Christmas, which is, happily, probably the first time he will need it. None of our kids has adopted the Mexican cold mentality (yet). First day under 70 degrees, it seems, and all local children are heading to school in fleece coats, heavy school jackets, and scarves wrapped across their faces. Babies are swaddled year-round in thick wool blankets, with no features showing at all. It's a wonder they are still alive under there. It can be 85 degrees and the moms and dads are walking around town with these bundles of flesh completely covered and held close to their chests. But I digress. It's the completely relaxed nature of the school system here that I was actually writing about.

I had to write a paragraph to Bo's teacher yesterday (typed on the computer and translated by a handy online translation service) telling him it was impossible for Bo to do his homework because he had no idea what the instructions were. He came home with some questions which had been dictated in Spanish by Prof. Jose Luis Mario. Bo gave it a good shot, but as it was his phonetic interpretation of the teacher's oral presentation, things were a little lacking. Both Sam and I tried to interpret it ourselves but we were kind of at a loss. And this was no ordinary, "What did you eat for breakfast?" kind of question. As best I could tell, Bo was being asked to write some paragraphs about the difference between the Aztecs and the Toltecs in Mesoamerican civilization. Huh? I gave Bo the note to give to Prof. Mario (telling him Bo would need to see these questions written down, rather than dictated). And until then, I told Bo, let's not worry about your old homework. It's all so relaxed around here after school....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Hillers' Family Best of List

Street food: The taco stand next to Espino's, at the corner of Ancha San Antonio and Calle Nueva

Breakfast: Rinconito del Sabor (Paquete #1 with huevos divorciados)

Cappuchino: Billy's Hot Dogs

Smoothie: Billy's Hot Dogs

Guacamole: Ten Ten Pie Al Carbon

Torta: Tortitlan on Ancha (pierna y queso fondido)

Hamburger: Woolis Kaban

Carnitas: Vicente's on Aurora

Hot Chocolate: El Pagaso

Tacos: La Palapa (fish and shrimp)

Fancy taco: Pueblo Viejo (shrimp, jicama and fried leek)

Margarita: Don Thomas

Pancakes: Rinconcito del Sabor

Huevos rancheros: La Granache on Ancha

Frosty mug of beer: La Mesa del Matador

Roast chicken: La Granja on Ancha San Antonio

Fried seafood: The shrimp and fish man at the Tianguis on Tuesday

Vegetarian wrap: El Burrito Bistro (hummus, falafel, mint yoghurt dressing)

BLT: Cafe Santa Ana at the biblioteca

Gordita: La Loma carnitas shop by the mercado

Mojito: La Azotea above Pueblo Viejo (hottest night spot in town)

Michelada: Sam is still out on this one

Pizza: La Capricho Italiano
Chocolate cake: Don Tomas

Pozole: La Posadita

Tapas: Cafe Iberico

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The L.A. Ladies Shopping List

Marian, Chap, Janet and Clarissa arrive late October. A few new spots have been discovered since our last trip here. You all might find some things for your suitcases at in the following shops:

Etnico Joya, Relox 3, 10am-8pm. Mon-Sun.  Cool jewelry and home accessories.

Shanti San Miguel gift shop for textiles (a couple of great antique Indian spreads for table or bed). Wed-Sun, 10-6.

Mixta, Pila Seca 16A, for a couple of super throw pillows.

Arturo Buenrostro, Zacateros 45, for lampshades, purses and sconces made from soda can tabs. The hanging cylinder shades would be great in a covered patio.

The glass shop on Calzada de la Estancion, across from the Immigration Office. Vases a specialty.

Barbarita Boutique, Zacateros 47-A, for linen shirts and military-style coats. There's one in particular that will look great on Chap.

The craft shop on Hidalgo with the quilted pillowcase covers. (peacock, rooster, mermaid). Most of the stuff is made by women from the campo and sold to help handicapped children.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What a Library! What a Cafe...

One of the greatest stops in San Miguel is the Santa Ana Cafe at the public library, or biblioteca. To the sounds of a three-tiered fountain (fuente) tinkling in the center courtyard, we dine in the shade of the portale and a huge tree growing up from the cobblestone patio into the sky. BLTs on crisp sesame baguettes (the boys absolute favorite sandwich in town), two-for-one margaritas all day, and wonderful artwork by local kids are all draws, as well as the largest English-language library in Mexico outside of the capital. Fresh-squeezed lime juice with sugar and seltzer water is quite possibly the best lemonade, or limonada, I've ever had.

The kids all have their own library card--4 books is the limit, for 15 days only. There is a great selection of English books for them, though Bo is going through the collection rapidly. We're trying to slowly introduce some of the Spanish-language books, those designed for really young kids. The library itself is so beautiful. It too has an open-air courtyard, hacienda style, and was clearly once a private home, now with some newer wings added. Books line the walls under the covered porches and there are sofas around the edges to sit and read. A lot of Americans volunteer their time here with Mexican kids after school, tutoring them in English at tables and chairs in the sunny courtyard. There are gorgeous murals painted along the side walls, and inside some of the lecture halls. On weekends there is children's chess, theater, and choral groups, all free to whomever wants to show up. Reddy tried his hand at acting our very first week but was a little intimated by the number of Spanish-speaking kids. He hasn't been back!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Roof Dog

I was walking down a back alley from Aldama this morning and heard the distinctive cry of the roof dog.  You don't see them often, but when you do they're always the same: a menacing cur roaming the roofs of certain buildings in San Miguel, lunging down and snarling as you walk along the sidewalk.  Often guarding no more than a bunch of old hubcabs, some dirty laundry, or piles of trash in a center courtyard, he's the original junk yard dog.  He could be harmful if you got on his roof, but where from you stand on the sidewalk he's really just a cultural phenomenon.  He's a visible reminder of how our life here is different from our life at home.  That's why I love the roof dog.  There's so much beauty here, so many misconceptions about Mexico.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Sabbatical Reading List

What I've Read:

The Hummingbird's Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea
Mexican Days: Journeys Into the Heart of Mexico, Tony Cohan
The Clothes on Their Backs, Linda Grant
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
They Came Like Swallows, William Maxwell
Picturing Will, Ann Beattie
The Attack, Jasmina Kadhra (author of The Swallows of Kabul)

What I'm Working On:

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, Miles Harvey (whom we met in San Miguel in June and with whom we spent a couple of great weeks, along with Rengin, Azize and Julian)

Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes and the Fall of Old Mexico, Hugh Thomas
A Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Friday, September 18, 2009

Our Favorite SMA Restaurants

I have to keep a list of restaurants here because I can never remember who is open when.  Here are our current favorites.

Woolis Kaban, San Francisco, great bar staff.  2 for 1 every night.  Wed shrimp night: shrimp, salad, rice for 99P.

La Palapa, Calle Nueve 8, Mon-Sat, 1-5pm.  Shrimp tacos, 20P; fish tacos, 15P; beers, 20P.  Just great local spot.

El Capricho, cnr. Orizaba and 20 de Enero, closed Thur.  Best pizza and fettucine bolognese in town.  Large pepperoni, 95P.  Bo loves the Hawaiian.  Good spot for kids.

El Burrito Bistro, cnr. Correo & Chiquitos, M-Sat, 10:30am-8pm.  Kids love their hamburger burritos; I love their Arab Wrap with mint yoghurt dressing.

Cafe Iberico, 20 de Enero #30, a new Spanish tapas bar with fantastic cured meats, calamari.  Super NC owners: Tim and Suzanne and lovely bartender, Olma.  Closed Sun, Mon.  Open T-Th 11am-9pm, Fri & Sat 11am-10pm.

Ten Ten Pie Al Carbon, Sterling Dickinson, best guacamole and hamburgers in town.

Tortilan, Ancha de San Antonio 43, Mon-Sat, 9am-7pm, Sun 10am-5pm.

Dila's, Ancha de San Antonio 21, Tues-Sun, 12pm-12am.  Fantastic curries.  Sri Lankan chef.
La Posadita, Cuna de Allende 13, closed Wed, 12-10pm

La Fragua, Cuna de Allende, great shrimp tacos, great margaritas (2 for 1, 3-7pm).

Sappo's, Calle Neuva (Paseo del Parque) 10.  Beautiful garden setting. Wonderful cobb salad.  Closed Monday. Other days 8:30am-5pm.

El Sazon, Refugio Norte in San Miguel, t-bone steaks and filet mignon, cheap.  Beer mugs smelled like fish though.

The Refreshing Lack of Hierarchy

One of the greatest things we've witnessed down here, and so noticeably different from the States, or from Baltimore at least, is the ability for all ages of kids to play together. During school recess the other day, the boys told me that they were playing with Gunner and Maddie, who are the 5th-grade brother and 6th-grade sister of Redding's 2nd-grade friend, Cookie. I asked how recess worked. And they told me that all the kids, from 1st grade through 8th grade, have recess and lunch together. They are all allowed to eat outside and run around when they are done. And many of the kids just mingle, regardless of age or gender. (Maybe there's too much mixing: Bo seems to be prey to a small gang of 11-year-old girls who ask him for the good parts of his lunch, like his chewy granola bar, or ask him for a few pesos. He's so kind-hearted he can't say no. He told me, "You have to share. It's only nice.")

When we were up at the jardin for the Independence Day fireworks, I was struck again by the way kids interact here. By chance, many of the American families we know were gathered at the bandstand in the center of the garden. As we stood around eating vats of watermelon with chili and lime juice or cups of pomegranate seeds, the kids took off, chasing each other around the square and playing hide and seek. Of course our three were there; then Gus and Jeb, our 12- and 10-year-old Warhammer-playing friends arrived. Then Bryce and Laurel, 8-year-old twins from San Francisco, then Brianna and Tara, the 3- and 6-year-old sisters who just moved from Texas and now, after a couple of other starts, go to school with our kids at Carrusel and Naciones Unidas. And naturally the Holtby boys, Griffin and William, in Bo and Reddy's classes, and the indefatigable 3-year-old Gavin, who keeps up with the big kids better than any child I have ever seen. (He's so independent his mom had Redd babysitting him down in the park one day for an hour. Redd made 25 pesos!) All the kids played together, horsing around, heading to the ice cream truck with their dirty coins in hand, pushing up near the front to see the fireworks. It was something to marvel at--the ability to forget about gender lines and age differences, and who can play with whose friends, and who is invited to whose house, and all those other sad little truths about play time at home. There are no real play dates here. If you're in the park and other kids are there, you join them. If you don't see anyone to play with you head to the sand box and see if there's a little girl or guy digging and you sit down near them and start digging too. Or you go to Jonas' house at the corner of Aldama and Diezmo Viejo and see if he can come out on his bike, even if you're Mason and you're five and he's nine. It has been a real eye opener, so refreshing and so normal.

Dia de Independencia, San Miguel, Sept. 15 and 16, 2009

On September 15, 1810 Father Hidalgo, a Mexico war hero and patriot,
called upon his countrymen to rise up against the Spanish
conquistadors who had enslaved Mexico for 300 years. El Grito, the
cry of Viva Mexico! (and the response from the crowd) was famously
heard at 11pm on the 15th. On the 16th the war began as the peasants
took up arms against the Spanish (and finally declared victory 11
years later). These two days, and the week leading up to them, mark
Mexico's biggest period of celebration. Fortunately we were here in
San Miguel to witness it.  The first shot is the first reenactment of
El Grito, with hundreds of horseman who rode to San Miguel from
Queretaro, about an hour away.

It's 9:30am (September 16) and the fireworks have been going off since at least six, when I woke up. It has been this way off and on for the last 10 days. Major fiesta on October 3 at 4am (in honor of the town's most revered saint, The Archangel San Miguel). Don't know that we will make it to the jardin for that one. Sam saw El Grito (the cry for freedom) on September 15 and the show at 11pm. I had to pass. But we took the boys up for the September 16 show (the actual Dia de Independencia). Hard to believe how laissez faire everything is. We're standing, oh, about 15 feet, from these iron structures about 80 feet tall that are covered with spinning iron pinwheels that shoot off flames and fireworks as the dynamite moves up the pyramid. When the juice finally gets to the top, the last piece of the structure spins around so hard it flies off in a flaming spaceship, into the sky, and onto the ground, somewhere. The first night in landed in the crowd near the bandstand in the center of the jardin. Sam didn't see if there were casualties. Our night it went whirling off down Umaran, probably landing in the center garden of Mama Mia's. Molten hot metal in your margarita. Or branding your face.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Mason has continued his trend of saying some unusual things, often out of nowhere.  I haven't been as good about writing them down, but a few stick out.  Yesterday, a blind woman was walking in the street, tapping her cane against the curb to feel her way down the road.  Mason asks, "Is that woman going golfing?"

"How can human beings balance when they only have two feet?" 9-25-09

Out of the total blue (we were not having a conversation about history, about the U.S., about anything), Mason asks, "Do you think George Washington had a happy life?"

There a favorite roasted chicken place in San Miguel called Pollo Feliz. Some of the Americans call it the Happy Chicken (a literal translation).  Driving past it Mason asked, "Why is the chicken happy if he know he's going to get cooked?"

Classic Expressions and Questions from Mason, Aged 4

“But who made the sun?  Who had the idea to have the sun? [God.] And how does he make the sun not work when it’s dark?”  So I explain the sun and the basic principles of the solar system, using a globe and pointing out how America and China are on opposites sides of the world (even though he still believes that we are “up” and China is “down.”)  “So, there’s light in China because they don’t have light when we have light.  If it just stayed in the middle then all of us would have light.  But if it went down, then China would have all the light.”  8/23/08

“Once Reddy’s weenie was all straight and I shot it with a water gun a couple of times and then it wasn’t straight anymore.”  8/20/08

“Why don’t shadows have eyes and teeth?”  8/16/08

"I don’t think the moon has a bunny on it.  It looks like a shrimp.”

“It looks like there’s a drawing inside of my skin.” (Looking at the veins on his wrist.)

Sam returned from a week in Mexico, with a violent case of the turista.  I told the boys that Sam would be so excited to see them as we were driving to the airport to pick him up. Mason’s response: “I hope he’s so excited that the Mexican bug comes
flying out of him."

“Were rocks alive when the dinosaurs were?   Were birds? And who made us?  Who made bones?”

"We prayed to God for rain but he didn’t give us anything.”

“You know why I don’t like going to friends’ houses?  Cause I’m alone.  And I don’t like being alone.  Alone is a bad word.  It’s the A-word.”  9/3/08

Grammy took the boys to their first church service and gave them some money for the collection basket.  When she told them the money was for Jesus, Mason asked, “Where is he?”  8/31/08

“How does the weatherman know it’s going to rain?”  8/30/08

"Will Grammy still be alive when I'm big?  9/7/08

"The brain looks like a person inside of a bag.”  9/7/08

"Why don’t people make funerals for ants?  9/10/08

After hearing a child crying in another aisle of the grocery store: “The problem with babies crying is they interrupt your daydreams.”  October 2008


“Why does this song say you’ll live forever when you won’t?  Maybe they just tell you that so you’ll be happy.” 12/22/08, hearing a Christmas song on the radio"

“If Chase had a baby girl (pronounced “grail”) and she grew, she could be another mother for him.”  On a classmate of Bo’s that lost his mother to cancer.

A conversation about heaven with Redding and Mason, 1/14/09, who believe that heaven is a place above us that floats, where your spirit or soul goes after you die, and where you get everything that you want.  “So we could have a floating bed and meet Del [Sam's dad]?”  Mason asked.  “Is there such a things a Second Heaven, or Third Heaven?” Reddy asked.  "What does that mean?" I asked them.  “People that are older, and have been there longer, go up higher, to another heaven.  Since they’re already old and we’re young and we’ll be old when we die, they’ll be old for longer so they’ll go up to another place.”  Mason then asked, "Do you ever have a birthday and then turn older in heaven?" (I told them no you stay the same age forever.)  "How do you get up to heaven?  (Your spirit just floats up.)  Bo, chiming in, " I think really good people get a private jet."

“Mom, sometimes when I have bad dreams and I open my eyes, they come out on my walls.  And when I walk out of my room they come with (wis) me.” 2-16-09

"I’m glad presidents were invented so they can stop bad things."  (After talking about Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln.)"

"What happens to the world when everybody dies on it?”  3/9/09

"How does everybody know what your brain looks like?” 3/9/09

MY FAVORITE: “Do you hear that tiny sound?  That’s time going by.”  3/12/09  Mason while making a clicking noise with two magnets.

“Nothing’s alive in here except us,” Mason opines, while driving alone in a car with me.

“Why did the sandman put sand in my butt instead of my eyes?” Mason asks, coming downstairs one early morning.