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.