Monday, October 8, 2012

Walking to School in San Miguel

After a oddly rainy September October has burst upon us with San Miguel's normal radiance.  The morning light in unbelievable.  Some times you can catch it on camera, and some times you just have to enjoy it live.  With all three kids in a new school that's walking distance from the house (La Academia Internacional) and with Sam starting his teaching job later in the day, our mornings are now easy and peaceful and start off with a stroll through San Antonio down Orizaba to La Palma, cross over the San Antonio Church plaza and downhill to Stirling Dickinson.  When we're really organized there's time for tamales and atole with Señora Margarita in her little cement courtyard.

La Palma, the little lane we head up to school.
Our dog, Nacho, running with a street dog in San Antonio Plaza.

Mason, Redd and Bo in front of San Antonio Church

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Road Trip

So we're traveling through California for nine weeks this summer (suppose I should fill in some gaps between May and August later).  A lot of time in the car, without a DVD player, reminiscent of my youth where we all piled into the back of the family wagon and picked on each other for eight hours until we reached Maine and frayed every last nerve in my dad's arsenal.  Surprisingly the kids have been alright, goofing around with their Auto Bingo cards and playing Yahtzee on the Kindle.  But the inevitable wrestling started one long afternoon between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe with Bo in between Redd and Mason in the back seat.  As his brothers are beating lightly on him, Bo says, "I feel like Odysseus going between Scylla and Charybdis."  To which Mason replies, "You should feel like Caesar, getting stabbed 25 times."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why We Live in Mexico, Reason #16

Because you can go out to a junky antique shop in the countryside to pick up old irons for bookends, a huge slab of mesquite for a table, a red metal birdcage to fill with tall candles, and afterwards you sit under a blue Pepsi tent to shade yourself from the sun and order a crazy hamburger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise ($1.10) and two super-cold Modelos ($0.95 each) and eat them while dust is blowing across the highway and your view is of the same kind of roadside stand across the street, with its cinder block walls and its signs for carnitas and tacos and cold beer, and a truck might roar by and it will get even dustier for a minute, or two kids on a donkey may trot in front of your table, the boy at the back just five years old and barefoot, and an old man might stop for two small bags of Cheetos, leaving his wheelbarrow with its broken front wheel and filled with chunks of freshly cut wood and a machete right next to your table, and while he tries to open his bag with very bent fingers and long, dirt-filled nails you go back up to the counter and buy him a Coke and when you give it to him, before he downs it in one long, delicious swallow, he says to you in heavily accented English, "thank you."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why We Live in Mexico: Reason #159

Bo: "We found an old tennis ball at school today and there was just no end to the entertainment."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do You Have The Time?

Yesterday Sam and I took our pooch, Nacho, out for a walk in Parque Landeta, a vast, arid and now incredible baked piece of land about 10 minutes from our house. It's bordered on one side by the Botanical Gardens called Charco Ingenio and on the others by campo--shepherds and country folk tilling their land and living in small pueblos.  There once was a large presa (dam) in the middle, but it's so dry here that it's completely cracked and brown and you can walk across it with its tiny yellow wildflowers blooming in the crevices.  

So we're strolling together, Nacho trying to round up a a flock of dirty sheep, though his timid barks didn't stir them at all.  We come across an old Mexican woman, brown and wrinkled, sitting under a tree in the middle of nowhere.  Though it's about 90 degrees in the sun it's shady under her mezquite tree and she has on her requisite shawl on and a plastic basket of vegetables at her feet.  As we pass she asks me what time it is.  When I tell her 4:30pm she gives me an enormous smile with the whitest teeth I have ever seen on a Mexican country person.  Sam notices too and says, "That woman had the most perfect teeth."  We keep walking.

Exactly nine minutes later we cross paths with a man riding bareback on a beautiful white horse.  He too asks me what time it is, calling out and pointing to his wrist.  I tell him, "4:39."  He thanks me, kicks his horse in the sides, and gallops off across the dry presa.  The horse is going so fast that before I know it the man is out of sight, beyond the cattails and the tall bamboo that used to grow around a small island that is no more.  Sam says, "Wouldn't you like to know where he's going, what exactly he's doing?  You know there's some story behind all of this." 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bonfires and Biscuits at Parque Landeta

The campsite.

Tuesday Janan sent out an invite: Friday would be the first birthday of a number of sibling dogs (created when the dog she was babysitting was impregnated at the beach by a Guanajuato street dog.  Though the mama was a pure-blood champion chocolate lab, it was her one and only batch: illegitimate pups borne out of a spring fling in Troncones).  By Friday the whole gang was there--dogs, owners, dogs without owners and the requisite homeless guy wandering through the campo looking for free beer.  One of the great beauties of life in San Miguel is the fact that not one of us ever has plans.  So when there's an invite to do something fun, we're all there, often with just a few hours' notice.  When there are no organized sports, no relatives, no school functions, really, no nothing, it leaves one wide open for just about anything.

Will, Redding, Marky, Draytie, Will and Mason

Will Macdonald, getting ready to take down some cans.

Tom Macdonald manning the makeshift grill.

Gifford Cochran and Sam.

How adorable.  If only this were their baby and they were husband and wife.  (Janan Asfour and Pablo Hensley)

Like most Friday afternoons it was absolutely beautiful.  We met in an area next to the Botanical Gardens that is completely empty except for some picnic areas where a few anonymous, yet thoughtful, others put together fire pits, tables crafted from planed logs and stone circles for seating.  Sam brought sling shots (as well as his desire to grill) and someone else happily brought a 12-pack of mini Dr. Peppers. which the kids drank as fast as they could dig them out of the cooler.  Perfect ammo to hang from an acacia tree and shoot with rocks.    There were a few bikes, which the kids shared riding through the dirt trails lining the nearly-dry presa.  The grass was about knee high across the river, yellow and crispy from a winter without rain.  There were sausages and chicken on the grill, pasta salads, guacamole, mango margaritas, many bottles of red wine.  And cupcakes for the kids with little dogs on them, biscuits and rubber toys for the birthday canines.

The kids make their own bonfire, close to a source of water just in case.
Sam was very opposed to my letting the kids make a bonfire.  Which I completely understood.  But a concern that I completely ignored.  I knew they'd have a ball, and hey, it was very educational, a great team-building exercise, a lesson in safety and responsibility, and kept them occupied for the better part of three hours.  As nothing that wasn't supposed to catch on fire didn't, and no one got burned, it seemed like a stroke of genius in the end.

Bo tends the fire while Mason gathers wood and Sabina heads across the river.

Bo, the pyromaniac.

Tag across the river.
Maríu and Jorge bring out Baby Santiago.  Jenny gets a baby fix.

Cupcakes for the kids.

Redding Hillers.

Grace and Mary Walker.

Janan, the master organizer and cupcake queen.

Sam and his best friend, Nacho, wearing his party clothes.

Nightfall in the park.

First Day of New School

Sam, Bo and Redding started a new year at the Victoria Robbins School.  Sam is teaching Government and World Politics, and English Reading and Composition.  The boys are not in official grades: Redding is in the Littles, Bo is in the Big Littles.  Higher up are the Middles, the Bigs and the Texas Techs.  Mason is back at the Waldorf School in second grade.  Here is Sam's classroom.
Out front of Vic's School

Carpool in San Miguel.  At least they're wearing helmets.

The Funeral

Mason and I were driving home down Ancha San Antonio and the traffic was particularly slow. Coming up the hill we saw why: a typical Mexican funeral procession was making its way south through the historic district to the Panteón, San Miguel's main cemetery. Like most funerals there was a black car in front (except for when the pallbearers carry the casket down the street and there's no hearse at all). Behind it was a wide crowd of people dressed in black jeans and t-shirts, carrying umbrellas, sheaths of long white flowers wrapped in newspaper, and two-liter bottles of coke. Every procession has a group of walkers heading to the grave site. There are no strings of cars, their headlights shining on out of respect, policemen directing traffic. Lower-income Mexicans don't have cars so they do what they do every day: they walk to the cemetery, as they walk to work, as they walk their kids to school (sometimes two miles each way), as they walk to shops and bus stops. Mason and I pulled over and waited. It was a young crowd but there were not a lot of tears. Mason waited until they passed and then said to me, "I hope he lived his full life."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

There's a Dead Body in the Shower

The narcos haven't arrived in San Miguel, but you wouldn't know this by the appearance of a dead, skinned creature curled into the fetal position in my shower.  He's inside a plastic wash tub, a small bit of blood leaking out of a crack in the side.  His legs are folded one over the other, his head tucked down into his chin so that he can fit snugly into the tub.  Without skin he's just a hive of muscle, blue veins and rosy, raw flesh.

Sam got it in his head on a Wednesday that he wanted to cook out over the weekend.  So what do you do in Mexico when you want a specialty item quickly?  You ask around.  In this case, Israel, our gardener, came through.  I asked if he might know where we could find a lamb for a cookout.  Without batting an eye he said, "I can get you one.  My friend has a ranch. I'll get it tomorrow."  "When can we have it?" I asked him.  "I'll kill it on Friday.  I need to drain the blood.  And you can have it for Saturday."  All in Spanish of course.  I asked a bit incredulously, "You will kill it?  Tu vas a matarlo?"  "Si, señora," and he drew his hand across this throat.  "No problema, señora."  

After drinks on the Macdonalds' terrace on Friday afternoon (where Israel also works), Sam and Tom walked with Israel down to his house in Tecolote, just below Balcones.  He showed them with pride his handiwork--a perfectly skinned, 30-inch tall lamb (probably more of a sheep, un borrego), telling them he kept the skin to use as a rug.  After Sam gave him a little extra for the effort, Israel invited them in to see the rest of his home, and the pots of plants, trees and flowers he grows in his backyard to bring to our gardens.  It was your basic, unfinished, cinder block home, rebar poles sticking out from a tin roof, open rooms facing a cement courtyard.  With pride Israel showed Sam and Tom his little dog, Chiquitita, whom he rescued from an abusive master three years ago.  The dog, a chocolate-colored Chihuahua on Dachshund legs, was tied up inside of a plastic oil drum, about three feet high.  There was no place he could go, as the walls towered above him, but still, like most Mexican animals, he had to be chained and confined.  

So the lamb came home in the back of our Honda but where could we store it overnight to keep it from the feral cats who prowl our yard, crawling down the high walls on the boughs of the jacaranda tree, or the evil possum who lives in the bodega under our porch, whom even Israel, master assassin, hasn't been able to kill?  There was a dead sheep in my shower overnight.

Sam had the coals going by 7 o'clock Saturday morning, the head removed by his own hand and machete.

Two hours later Luzma, our housekeeper, arrived.  With obvious gratitude she accepted our offer of the head for her own family, but first she got busy with her cleaver, chopping the skull into parts (removing the eyes and tongue for specialty tacos) and making consomme.

While little Lamby slowly roasted, Sam and I went out for party fixings to a local market in San Luis Rey, Luzma's colonia on the northern edge of town. She had told us this was the place to shop for vegetables and fruits, trucked in each Saturday morning from Comonfort, 30 minutes west of here.  Here is what we brought back for $15:

The Saturday afternoon fiesta was a roaring success.  Janan's dad from Palestine made the perfect hummus and babaganoush to go with lamb, and two women got so drunk they couldn't walk home.  The adults were all having such a good time that we forgot to feed the kids.  It was bedtime and they were asking what was for dinner.   Normally I answer that with, "What you ate an hour ago?  That was dinner."  This time I just said, "Oh, sorry.  I'll make you a really good breakfast.  Good night."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Returning to San Miguel

Returning to Mexico, after three weeks in the States--$227 for an afternoon at the aquarium, days spent in a minivan visiting friends and relatives, 19-degree weather the morning we left--was a tonic for the American soul.  There was a deliciously familiar sense of arrival as soon as we left the Mexico City airport and we're steaming along Highway 57 northwest to San Miguel.  Had there been Oxford-blue skies it almost would have been too much to bear.  Instead, this January day, there were fat clouds nearly on the ground, the color of dirty water, but ringed by a silver band with the mountains rising behind them.  The countryside was flat and dry, but the campesinos were in the fields, their horse-drawn drays parked along the road, boys on bikes carrying loads of bundled sticks, women with pyramids of mangoes and avocados sitting on little wooden chairs along the shoulder.  We pulled into San Miguel at dusk, the gold and red tinsel banners for Feliz Año Nuevo stretched across Ancha San Antonio, shiny and shivering slightly.  A man on a Clydesdale sauntered uphill, his best gaucho shirt pressed, his black pants creased, and his hat and boots new and stiff.  The air outside was absolutely ambient, neither cold, nor hot, nor humid, nor wet.  I thought, "This is what a heartbeat might feel like if you could take it out from your wrist."

Sam and I sat out on the lounge chairs by the pool. Overhead the black grackles circled and flew in and out of the three palm trees in our yard.  Trucks clattered beyond our wall, out of sight, and even a few roosters made their presence known.  I closed my eyes to better translate a conversation among a mother and father over the wall, out on Calle 20 de enero, and laid there under a full moon, with the bougainvillea blooming on our aqueduct and plants of bright orange flowers growing in my neighbor's rooftop pots. Two glasses of wine sat on the little stone table between us, Mason was building his Lego before he even went to the bathroom, and the other boys were running around in the yard with our new little dog, Nacho.  A sense of such utter completeness hung in that still air that I knew I was home.