Friday, October 21, 2011

Mason's Day in the Campo

Mason's school, Los Charcos, is holistic and spiritual and natural (and if you're a vegan, you'll be in good company).  So when the class takes a field trip to a parent's country land you know it will be wholesome and beautiful.  The day was stunning--one of those 9/11 blue skies that anyone who was in New York recalls from that morning.  For the first time in two and a half years we actually saw leaves, and heard the crunch of them underfoot.  The kids went crazy, jumping into what they called "the swimming pool of leaves."  They built a three-story home for a dying beetle with a jacuzzi, dining room, and an umbrella to shade him from the sun.  They climbed all along the horizontal branches of deciduous trees and found a tiny green frog in the pond where Jenny's dogs, Indie and Luna, were romping.  They rolled stones down cliffs and broke out into spontaneous song while sitting in a circle having their lunch.  And father David played his flute.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Night Underground in The Thermal Baths

It's a little blurry but notice the carved statue of Saint Michael in the grotto on the right.

We'd been hearing rumors for a while of some super padre spot out in the countryside where parties raged underground in this subterranean hot spring.  So, naturally, we had to check it out.  While we didn't actually rage like the hipsters who do frequent the Archangel Baths, we did have an amazing evening with a number of other couples.   The place is all Ali Baba-ish, lit by hundreds of votives and lanterns, with a series of stone passageways you walk through to arrive at the pools.  There's a bartender in one cave, serving up tequilas, vodka tonics, beer, whatever you like, and a buffet in another tunnel with antipastos, breads, sauteed mushrooms, cheeses, desserts, and little roast beef sandwiches.   Everyone's in a bathing suit and a spa robe, either hanging out in these stone dens, or slipping into the naturally heated waters.  The tunnels are laid out like a big cross, with one end taking you into a yurt where the hottest water is blasted out of pipe in the stone ceiling.  Another branch leads to a private massage room (even Sam got one), and a third long tunnel leads to an outdoor infinity pool. Here there is nothing but black sky and stars over your head.  Incredibly magical and beautiful.

The hottest grotto.
The outdoor pool with the moon on the horizon.

Is that Scott Guerkink lurking at the end of the tunnel?

Sam in the grotto bar, hanging out in his robe.

The massage room, accessed only by water.

Opposite the massage room, the common area with oriental rugs, couches and the dinner spread.

Why We Love the State Fair

The boy in the plastic bubble (inflated by a leaf blower, sealed with duct tape, and set out to sea in a kiddie pool).
In the pop-the-balloon-with-a-dart game you can win a painted clay statue of the Virgin of Guadelupe, or a bottle of tequila.  Toss a ring over a cell phone and it's yours.  There's a ride called the SchlitenFahrt (certainly some German castoff), and if you get to the park early, as we always do (we're still Americans) you'll see the handyman walking around all the juegos mechanicos tuning them up with a wrench.  Be careful of the electric wires that run to the generators.  They're easy to trip over.  If there's no one in line the carnies will let the kids stay airborne on the trampoline harness or play in the moon bounce until someone else comes along  The snack stand vends pork rinds with chile, beer-flavored Halls cough drops--and toilet paper and laundry soap.  Beer costs the same as the super market, about a dollar a bottle, and the henna tattoos well last over a week.  The local niños wear tiny cowboy hats and 5-inch long boots and pour rivers of Valentina chile sauce on their popcorn.  And best of all, after the operator inflates a 6-foot plastic bubble with a leaf blower while your child is inside, hands over his ears, he seals the entry zipper with waterproof duct tape before pushing the ball out to the center of an inflatable pool.  Everybody's safe.

It's a microcosm of the Mexico we adore: the surreal juxtaposed with the everyday, the absolute lack of responsibility and rules, and the weirdness that defines so many of our activities.

Family tattoos.

The snack stand--also vending Chlorox, laundry soap, toilet paper and other sundries.

Everyone's a winner.  Get yourself a cell phone if you can only ring one with a plastic loop.


The Pichacho Mountains in the background.
Even Sam's scared by the fair michelada (beer with lime, chile, salt, Worcestershire sauce and other spices).

Yes, it's really called the SchlitenFahrt.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dog Day Afternoon

Mayú, six months pregnant, in a random tableau with VW
One random Sunday in September the dog lovers among our friends (I do not include myself in this group, though I like their owners very much) decided to gather at the Presa, just south of town, for a romp with their pets.  Because no one here has any relatives, or generally any obligations whatsoever (no sports teams, no work events, no family dinners) we're all pretty much game to get together at a moment's notice.  And that's when things turn out so well.

Mi guapo esposo, Sam
Jenny Hensley, Jamie Guerkink

We spent the day at the water's edge, with the mesquite trees behind us, the huizaches all around, and the local shepherds tending their flocks on the edges of our make-shift Capture-the-Flag field.  Kids versus parents, and the parents didn't give an inch.

Marky & Will Hensley, Matthew & Russell Matchett and Bo
Jenny leading Bo to jail

None of the kids fought, the tequila never gave out, and the strange campesino in a shirt that was bloodier and more stained each time he arrived looking for beer, snapped his leather belt at the dogs but never connected.
Ok, so we enabled him a little with two cold Tecates.  But we drew the line when he came back for thirds.

The free-range cattle add a little spice to the game.
Jenny, taking two for the team
The castle that everyone loves to speculate about

The shepherd boys with their flock

Free Range at Playa Troncones

Cookie Dutch, Redding, and Mason, flying down the beach

Still reeling from the vertigo brought on my still-unexplained crash to the sidewalk in late July, our family headed to the closest beach to San Miguel, Troncones, with the Dutch family caravaning behind us.  We rented two houses in a beach front hacienda called Casa de la Sirena, each with a pool and only about 10 yards from the ocean.  Lots of folks from San Miguel go to Troncones but we had never been.  What a fantastic spot.  Only one red-dirt road that runs parallel to the sea and a jungle of moutainous, completely undeveloped terrain behind you.

The view from our balcony at Casa de la Sirena
The kids ran completely free range and untethered for a week: riding horseback on the beach, playing escondidas until the sun went down, body surfing their way around the rather rock-strewn coastline, drinking chocolate milkshakes at a beach hut, finding turtle eggs, and eating for the first time shark ceviche made by Boobie from fish taken straight out of the sea.

Breakfast at Present Moment Resort, next door to our house

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It Would Be Quite Funny If My Head Weren't Matted with Blood

For years I've had unexplained dizzy spells, normally brought on when standing from a seated position.  Multiple tests at Johns Hopkins Hospital left me with no answers (though, thousands of dollars later, I was told to drink more water.  OK).  Nothing bad has ever come of it, except for some weird scenes when I have had to sit down in the middle of a public place and one round of public humiliation for Sam when I fell off a chair in the middle of dinner in El Salvador.  Until...the night of a little comedy--and a lot of blood.

Sam and I were having midnight tacos at our favorite stand at the corner of Insurgentes and Hidalgo.  Great pastor--spit-roasted, chopped pork on two, small corn tortillas, covered with cilantro, diced onions and salsa.  Like all late-night taco carts, there's a silver stand with the guys grilling behind it, standing up on the sidewalk, and a row of about 6 metal bar stools lined up in front, down in the street, in front of the sizzling black griddle.  A Mexican guy sits next to us, looking a little stoned, and strikes up a conversation in pretty good English.  He'd worked in Chicago for a while, and was now back in San Miguel.  We talked for a while, then he insisted on buying our tacos because "I've never seen Mexicans eat street food.  With all the hot salsas.  You all eat carnitas too?  Get out.  I've never seen Mexicans do that."  I kept asking him if he meant Americans, but he seemed too buzzed to know what I meant.  

So we thank him profusely for his kindness and stand up to leave.  Next thing you know, I'm flat out in the street, passed out alongside the bar stools. (Sam later told me this had to be bad for business since no one could get to the counter to order).  There's crowd of people above me, including bystanders; the stoned Mexican (who probably wishes now he hadn't bought me a meal); a police officer; Sam; and two friends of ours--Claudia, a Mexican, and Francois, a French Canadian, both of whom were just walking by when I keeled over.  Before the officer showed up, when I was still in another world, the buzzed Mexican kept telling Sam that he had to get me out there, that if the police came they were going to arrest me.  He told Sam to drag my body off before anyone found me.

Francois reached behind my head to try to help me up and his hands came out covered in blood.  Another death knell for the taco stand--the wads of bloody napkins left at the scene.  Rather than wait for the ambulance that had been called, the four of us got in a taxi for Hospital General.  With a native speaker in the car, things went rather smoothly: we arrive at the emergency room, filled with the random assortment of characters one might find at 1am in any ER in any country.  Claudia tells Sam, don't wait here for a doctor, just go right in there and get a wheelchair, showing him to the double swinging doors that go into the OR itself.  So he does, and wheels me right past everyone, right up to a little collection of medical personnel.  

We're told that only one person can be in the room with me, sola una persona, very emphatically, so Sam has to leave so that my translator, Claudia, can speak for me.  I'm still in the wheelchair and they start cutting the hair off the back of my head. Claudia was behind me, but soon she's in front, upright for a second with someone else's hand under her nose, holding an alcohol-soaked Kleenex to revive her.  No dice--she crumples down, passes out cold, and is laid on her back on the examining table.  

Claudia is a beautiful woman with a great figure.  Tonight she's wearing a short skirt, cowboy boots and a low-cut blouse.  As they slide her back along the table, I am eye-level with her legs.  They are incredibly smooth and tan, not a single hair on either of them.  Her skirt has hiked up a bit higher.  Now, rather than just the woman cutting my hair off and the man holding the smelling salts, this little area is filled with, well, guys.  They've all come in for a look.

I ask the nurse, or whoever is working the back of my scalp, to get Sam.  She still insists, sola una persona.  So in my very muddled Spanish I point to Claudia and say, "Ella no es una persona."  She is not a person.  Por favor.  Traiga mi esposo.  Bring my husband.  I keep repeating, she is not a person.  And really, at this moment she is absolutely of no use to me.  But they refuse, and continue ministering to her.  So then I ask, as my head's starting to throb and it feels like the nurse has left the scissors in my mat of bloody hair, "Can you finish with mePuede terminar conmigoPor favor." I was trying to put the emphasis on me, but everyone seemed to have lost their focus.  I guess a little skin will do that do you.

After they haul Claudia out, I beg to be let out of my chair. I just need to be supine.  I insist they let me get on the table Claudia just left.  I'll lay face down.  It's old, black, plastic, and cracked, and smells of a year's worth of other patients.  There's no nice paper sleeve, white hospital sheet, saving my cheek from sticking to the sweat, breath, excretions of others.

My 4-inch gash sewn up, we all get back in our cab and go home.  Later Sam tells me of his conversation with Francois in the waiting room.  It began as an illustration of Mexican medical care, how a doctor at this very hospital had missed seven broken ribs on his x-ray.  Just adding to the insanity of the night is the rest of his tale: a couple of years ago Francois was dragged out of  La Cucaracha, a bar about two blocks from our house.  He was put in the trunk of a car, driven to the countryside, and thrown down a well. On his way down, and on his ascent back up and out, he broke several teeth and his jaw.  Sam asked him what he did to deserve all this. He said, in his funny little French accent, "I guess I was drunk and acting up."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Masonism, #68

"I always want to know what it would feel like not to be on the earth.  I always want to know what I'd feel like to be off the world.  What would Grammy be like?  What would she be like without us?"--Mason, age 7

"Isn't it pretty rare to walk on the edge of the rain?"--7/23/11

Monday, April 4, 2011

Little Funnies from Bo and Mason

Last night Bo came into the kitchen where I was making scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, at 6:00pm.  He looked into the frying pan and asked, "Breakfast for dinner?  Will this merry-go-round existence never end?"

Over the weekend Redding had a tae kwan do tournament in Dolores Hidalgo.  In his first round, first half, he was getting pummeled and when they took a break, the score was 4 to Reddy's 1.  His female coach whispered a few words in his ear and then sent him back out for Round 2.  When it was over, Reddy, who came out like a little tiger, won, 9-8.  On which Mason commented in awe, "She must have given him some good information."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Carnaval en La Venta (and we were only coming for the cockfight)

Today was one of those days you hope will happen in a foreign country, but which you don't really expect to.  On a tip from a butcher, Sam organized a group of us to go out to some unknown place called Rancho La Venta to try to find a cockfight.  Though we may be morally opposed, it seemed culturally interesting, if not even acceptable, at least once.  We had game friends (the Hensleys, with their two younger boys, Marky and Will), and the Macdonald/Asfours, with Janan's parents, Albert and Carol, in tow.  We drove from San Miguel about 30 minutes north towards Dolores Hidalgo, looking for a sign that said La Venta.

That's all the butcher told us: on the right, halfway to Dolores.  Easy enough, and it was.  Three miles off the highway, down what turned out to be the only paved road in the village, was a small pueblo with a bullring, a gorgeous church and an arcaded concrete building that was indeed the ring for peleos de gallos.  But because we're now in Lent, I guess, or something to do with Catholic calendar or Mardi Gras, the entire village was out celebrating with a carnival of games, rides, dances, bands, horses, and a beer tent filled with all twenty of the men who live in this town full time.

The kids hit the bouncy thing (what fair is complete without one), where their ten pesos got them about 30 minutes of jumping in this rickety, two-story contraption cobbled together with rope and wire.  When too many kids were on board, it swayed slightly to the right before listing back to the left.
The shoe pile at the moon bounce.

Janan's dad and I went for the first round of Modelo's under the tent.  We ordered three, and the guy manning the cooler insisted we take five.  He kept saying they were on the house, then pointed to a guy in a nice olive button-down and a big cowboy hat.

"He wants to buy you these two," the beer man said.  So we graciously accepted.  And that, as it turned out (why was a complete stranger in a total dust bowl of a town in the middle of nowhere buying an American woman and a Palestinian man two beers?) led to a completely unforgettable day.

Perhaps because we bought a round for every guy under the tent later (a gesture that set Albert and me back about eight dollars each), we had guys wanting to talk with us, guys wanting to buy us beers, guys wanting to get their pictures taken, and eventually, guys wanting the 16 of us to come back to their house for dinner.
The condiments bar.

Nearly everyone in this town is related, and at least 40 of them (in just four families) live in this dry, dusty compound right behind the beer tent.  When we needed to use the bathroom, they took us into their homes.  When we said we couldn't possibly all come to eat with them they insisted.  So we did.

Giving a little gift as thanks for using their bathroom
The mamacitas were in the kitchen, already preparing food I guess for the whole family clan.  Because within five minutes of sitting down at two long shaded picnic tables, they were serving us (first Albert and Sam, the two senior males in our group) plates of rice and pork in the most delicious red sauce and a pitcher of agua de limon.  The women would not sit down, and would not allow us to clear the table or wash the dishes.  They seemed shocked that we offered.
Walking from the carnival to dinner.
Our host, Jesus, getting us seated.
The kitchen
One of the mamas in the family, Jesus's aunt (who actually has no children of her own).
The goats gazing behind their house, behind the church steeple.
It was just incredible, one of those rare moments when you feel someone is offering all they have to someone they have never met, for no other reason than that they are good and proud and generous.  We stayed for about an hour, conversing with all the Spanish we could muster,  then left so that the kids could get home, wash off, and go to school tomorrow.

We promised to return to this little pueblo, La Venta, and bring the food with us next time.  The guys, Jesus and Jorge Conejo (George Rabbit as he liked to call himself), told us there's another big day on May 15.  So we know where we'll be that Sunday, a bag of steaks in hand to throw on the grill and a case or two of cold Modelo.

One last jump before we left and before darkness fell on La Venta