Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Redding: My Little Dreamer, My Football Star

Redding wants nothing more than to play football, something that is denied him here in Mexico. When he grows up he wants to be a professional football player, a running back.  But he's never played in his life; there aren't teams in San Miguel, there aren't boys who've ever touched a football, there isn't the interest.  If you play soccer, it would be a different story. But this is a boy who roots for the Ravens, follows the Steelers, covers the Vikings, knows every player in every league, (and just bought a book of stickers and an NFL guidebook in Spanish at the local grocery store, only to find out that the stickers were actually extra and not available in Mexico) but is woefully out of touch with the day-to-day realities of U.S sports.  And all that they encompass.

We were talking about our summer 2014 plans, that I want us to all go to Southeast Asia and bike around Ankor Wat, drink Lao Beer on the Mekong, sweat our asses off hiking through the hill country of Thailand, and finally end up on a beach in Phuket eating ginger crab.  Reddy shyly told me he would love to go to football camp next summer in the States. I didn't know how to sugar coat it, this coming from a boy who has never played football in his life, save the few afternoons when Sam goes with him to the corner park in our neighborhood and they throw the pigskin among the agave cactus and the thorn-studded lime trees.  

I told him, in my typically blunt and unkind fashion, "Redd, you're going to be out of your league." I didn't know how else to say it.  He didn't even know what that meant.  (How do you enroll a 12-year-old boy in an American football camp when he hasn't done anything more than throw a ball up and down the  cobblestoned sidewalks on his mile-long walk to school, yet his fellow campers have been putting on pads and going to Pop Warner since they were five?)  But to his huge, incredible, wonderful credit, he was full of bluster and enthusiasm and didn't see anything wrong whatsoever with this picture.  I told him he'd have to wait until summer 2015 as we are going to SE Asia next summer so there's no football camp in summer 2014.  He did some quick math and realized he'd be an old 13 in the summer of '15.

I also told him how big these kids would be. He's 70 pounds, four inches wide, and way less than five feet tall.  And he's almost 12.

Redding at the State Fair, happy to ride solo with a couple of local girls

He started jumping around the bed (we were talking at bedtime): "I'll be up against the younglings, the sweet 13s, the young 13s, the fresh kills, the fresh little ones.  I'll be the street smart, the savvy, I'll teach them how to play.  I'll be the old guy, the old 13.  I can toughen up and know the routes and I'll teach them.  I know they have things like 'the shimanny nani' and the 'go left and jump over that dude.'  I'll know the routes." (He's talking about plays; he doesn't even know the term for a "play."  He calls it a route, and gives it nonsense terms, and isn't the least bit self conscience about his utter lack of knowledge of rules or strategy.)  His belief in himself and his ability to join a team, a camp of American boys who have been playing for years and know all the routes, is so absolute, so without fear or doubt, that I know he could do it.  But first we have to get to Cambodia.

Bulking up on tacos at the State Fair

An old photo that I loaded by accident (same jpeg number as the one above).  But it's actually so fitting. Here is Redding doing some weird karate on the terrace of our house in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, April 2012.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

So Maybe You Don't Want the Sushi

We couldn't decide which one to have: the shrimp with cream cheese, cucumber, and avocado or the shrimp with cream cheese, cucumber, and avocado, or maybe the shrimp with cream cheese, cucumber, and avocado.  So we just went with the cheapest.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Perfect Little Day

While out running errands (dropping off Reddy's history notebook at school--he thanked me profusely; stopping by with a drawing and a deposit at Ramiro the Ironworker's shop; he's making a base for a huge mesquite slab I bought as a dining room table; leaving a sympathy card from Jenny Hensley for Antonieta at Warren Hardy School) I decided I was hungry. Happily I found myself at the San Juan de Dios Market.  So I sat down at a stool and ordered a couple of tacos.  Too many people would be turned off by this site.  But you mustn't. You're missing out on the best food in Mexico at these places.  14 pesos later ($1.15) I was on my way home.

But the afternoon just got better.  See below.

Janan and I had just been talking about joining Malanquin, the San Miguel country club.  It was mostly in jest, but the thought of having a regular place to take the kids so that they could run around on green grass, swim in a warm pool, and maybe even take up tennis or golf (who am I kidding?) seemed very appealing.  But then Janan had the great idea to head up the Salida a Querétaro to the El Molino Hotel.  We'd heard you could swim there if you bought some food.  We heard there was putt putt golf and some free bikes to ride around the grounds. 

So Sam, Redd, Mason and I, plus the Macdonalds went up after school.  Suffice to say we don't need to join a country club.  Everything we needed was right there. OK, maybe not the snob factor--and the bikes were shot (the handle bars kind of fell off and turned the opposite direction of the wheel) but the warm was pool, and our helpful waiter brought us a great margarita, some dynamite guacamole and spaghetti bolognese that the kids raved about.  And it's a whole lot cheaper.  We now call it Molinquin.  Get it, Malanquin y El Molino?  Nice little play on words for the cheapskates.

Tom Macdonald, Janan Asfour and Will Mac

The grounds of Molinquin

Redding Hillers

The sun's going down, the air's getting cool, and Mason's still in the water.  My super fish.


The namesake Molino (windmill)

The ride home down Chorro towards Parque Juarez.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Masonism

"Look at this.  It's a real talent I have.  Sometimes I can comb my hair using my breath."

Monday, September 2, 2013


I'm coming home from circus class with Redding, Mason, and their buddy, Will Mac.  Will is coming over for dinner but is concerned that he has a lot of homework.  Redding tells him, "I'll do it for you.  Just show me how you write."  And Will says, "No, I have to bring something in.  Some kind of paper with shots on it.  Something like that."  (Which I guess constitutes a lot of homework down here.)  

"It's your immunization record," I tell him.  "Good luck with that. Your mom's going to have a tough time coming up with that one tonight."  Which reminds Mason of his own homework last spring.  "I had to do something like that too.  My mom and I both couldn't do it."  He's talking about an assignment where he was asked to fill in some kind of Mexican national record with questions that were completely foreign to us, things that are on a Mexican birth certificate that you'd never find on your own.  Mason says, "We only answered about two questions: Where were you born?  And how old were you when you were neutered?"  

Reddy chimes in, "Dad's neutered, isn't he?"  Redding will be twelve in November.  I think it's time for the talk.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

An August Evening

It's late August and the boys run back into the house to get a sweatshirt and shoes.  They've been playing down the street with Milo, an only child who has an uncanny gift for fixing broken iPhones, iPads, and small appliances.  His mother, Violet Feldt, a name I must steal if ever I write a Southern novel, is taking them to the jardin to get gelato from a new stand that opened up while we were gone for the summer.  

The sky is black but still full of grackles screeching in the trees.  The street lamp from the back alley is shining through the palm trees.  A few mosquitoes fight in the air over my head. I can hear their miserable electric hums.  I am sitting in my bed listening to all the night noises of San Miguel: the trucks clattering over the street bump at our back door.  The roof dog crying to the free dogs down below.  The creepy jeweler, Hernan, playing his guitar across the alley.  (If I ever go missing, I've told Sam, check his store.)

School has not started yet.  Victoria, the director, works around some obsolete American schedule when kids used to go back after Labor Day.  But it's no longer vogue, not here, and not in the States.  Mexican schools started two weeks ago; with the exception of Milo, nearly everyone else we know is already back in school, their happy parents reclaiming their days, their sanity.

So I am thrilled when they leave and head out for ice cream.  In a parade of four boys and Violet they will march up Zacateros single file, turn right on steep Pila Seca where the sidewalks are a foot wide, a foot off the ground.  They will watch for cars that have no stop signs or stop lights, but that do follow a pattern and take turns crossing intersections.  It is civilized Mexico where people have figured out how to live without lots of rules.  Where you take responsibility for yourself and what happens to you.  The boys know to be careful though it doesn't stop them from jostling each other, fighting to ahead of each other on these narrow, dimly lit streets.  They'll then turn left onto pedestrian-only Cuna de Allende, where the outdoor tables of Ten Ten Pie will be filled with diners having shrimp tacos, cheese fondue, and margaritas. 

They'll get their gelatos and head to the jardin where the church's bright cross will be lit at this hour, something I can see from my shower until 2am when they turn it off for the night.  They'll sit on the stone steps in front of the church, or the benches under the carefully clipped laurel trees, and spoon little bits of sweetness into their mouths.  Bo will get strawberry and mint, if he's allowed two flavors; Redding chocolate; Mason will have what one of his brothers are having, mostly so that he can avoid ordering himself.  Then they might run across the car-free plaza, chasing the pigeons across the cobblestones, forcing them to fly up and land a few paces away.  They might even angle for a cup of corn from the truck, or a bag of fresh potato chips doused with Valentina salsa and lime juice.

Then they'll make their way back down Pila Seca to home, and though it will only be an hour or so since they left, I will be happy to see them again, to tuck them into their soft, lucky beds and know that they are safe and mine.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Noordhoek Beach: The Start of Our Africa Adventure

Sam and I and the boys left for Cape Town, South Africa on July 1 from Washington, DC.  After an eight-hour flight to Dakar, Senegal, followed by a one-hour stop on the ground (though we couldn't leave the plane), another eight-hour flight to Johannesburg and a two-hour flight to Cape Town, we arrived, 28 hours later.  Unbelievably, everyone was in good shape, good spirits, somewhat rested, and completely mesmerized by the in-flight movie selection on the seat back in front of them.  Mason watched Yogi Bear twice, separated by some other nameless movie, and I caught up on recent blockbusters: Argo, which interested me after my own time in Shiraz, Iran, and some pointless movie with Will Farrell called The Champion.

In the darkness of a South African winter we drove to the beachfront village of Noordhoek, this pristine suburb 30 minutes from Cape Town where the village green was enclosed by a white picket fence and the fields of well-fed horses in pastures thick with green grass--it looked like Ireland in the summer--were ridden along the beach in front of our house.  We had arranged a home swap here about a year ago with a Belgian/British family named the Williams; they will be coming our house in San Miguel some time next year.  Their place was perfect: all clapboard and white with grey accents and black leather chairs, a wood-burning stove (it's cold here in July), and a bunch of bedrooms with shutters looking out on the windswept nature preserve and horse corrals separating the house from wide Noordhoek Beach.

We spent a week here, driving carefully on the left side around the Cape peninsula, visiting the vineyards, seeing penguins, climbing the peak of Cape Point, swimming in the freezing waters of Boulder Beach, and eating the most incredible foods along the way, namely hake and chips.  Twice we had lunch at The Food Barn, a rather staid name for one of the most fantastic restaurants we've ever been to. Because it was winter the chef offered everything on the menu half priced. It was almost embarrassing how inexpensive it was for one of the best meals I've ever eaten.  Highlight? The mussel fritters in galangal cream and tomato sauce, five of them for exactly $3.10. The boys dined on rib eye with pea and chorizo risotto, lamb chops in a garlic cream sauce, trios of sorbet.  Mason was delighted by the palate cleanser of guava ice, something he'd never been offered before (they don't usually do that at Pollo Feliz in San Miguel).  The wine was served not by the glass, but by the individual carafe, and the list was a great introduction to some of the Cape's best vineyards.  The most expensive one on the menu? About $5.  Most were between $2 and $3. 

The week was sensational.  And it was perfect to have a week to ourselves before heading into the big city of Cape Town to meet up with friends who would be coming on safari with us.

Night One in Simbavati: Life in the Bush

The conditioner is waiting to set in my hair as I wash under a marula tree in the middle of a South African winter when the first waterbuck walks by. Buck naked I stand with instant hot water and bottles of luxury hair products supplied by my Simbavati safari lodge in a silver dish mounted to the wall of my outdoor shower.  I now know it's a waterbuck after this morning's game drive: he (with the big horns) is also known as a toilet-seat antelope for the tell-tale white ring circling his rump.  Soon a baby appears, his bushy tail swinging happily as he trots after mom.  Then there are three, then five more, crossing the dried yellow grass upon which my tent sits.  Inside this canvas "hotel" room my sheets are ironed and there's an enormous bathtub with stacks of fresh white towels and a bottle of Olive and Honey linen spray.  Are you kidding me?  This was supposed to be the budget safari but there's nothing low-rent about it at all, especially not the wildlife grazing in the dry river bed beyond my wooden deck with its two leather camp chairs and mini bar of delicious, cheap white wines.

Mason bathed in said soaking tub last night, the foam bubbles rising nearly to his neck.  Though he pronounced the body wash flavor of olive and honey "nasty," he came out smelling like something I'd want to eat on sourdough, and he told me that he, in fact, felt "really good."  We're one day into our nearly two-week safari with 20 friends from San Miguel and beyond.  The reaction when we arrived last night, 11 hours along a panoramic but rather tiring ride from Johannesburg, was utter amazement.  A fire was waiting in the pit in the center of the deck overlooking the river bed; the table was set with linens and candles, silverware and fancy glasses. Hot towels and mango drinks in flutes were handed to us when we walked in.  The kids got bamboo sticks with marshmallows to roast.  When the two hippos started walking along the tall grass off the dining deck it was like everything we ever wanted was coming true.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tequila and the Leather Couch

It was Sunday in San Miguel and Janan and I went shopping.  Well, actually, I was only the driver.  Janan was the buyer.  (Having impulsively decided to sell her house, which sold in one day, she impulsively bought a lot to build a new home, necessitating a place to rent for year that has no furniture).  Thus, we went out shopping.

First we went to the junkyard antique stores on the road to Dolores, but all but one, run by the laughing, slightly impaired woodworker, Antonio, was open. With the exception of enormous slabs of mesquite ready to be buffed into super padre dining room tables, there was nothing that caught our fancy this afternoon.  So we trekked back through town, overrun by Chilangos on a San Miguel Sunday, and headed for Namuh (Human spelled backward: bad idea).  Really it should stand for Seriously Overpriced but Beautifully Displayed Homegoods That Look Like They're Made in Mexico But Really Come From China.

However, what we discovered, upon searching front and back for the perfect couch, was the newly designed cervecita bar at the far end of the warehouse.  What we thought were just artful displays of cafe tables and cool industrial chairs was really doubling as a chic little bar for high-end rollers.  Which we clearly looked like, inspite of my navy blue Adidas sketchy shorts and Target T.  Maybe Janan's linen pants and funky white shirt were the ticket, because we were quickly waited upon by a beautiful young Mexican woman eager to provide us with anything we needed.

We were lulled into a false sense of security by the offer of darling little ice cold bottles of Victoria, served out of a pewter trough.  Alongside it was an even lovelier pewter wine bucket with bottles of red and white protruding out of its innards.  Naturally we accepted a cold beer, then wandered through the industrial warehouse with its rooms of mercury glass, linen, leather, and steel cosas para la casa bewitchingly displayed.

Then Janan spied what we had come for: a distressed white leather couch, about two bodies' long, handsomely arranged with distressed wood coffee tables and matching club chairs (as well an iron kitchen chair hanging from the ceiling above it and a bookshelf of incongruous Chairman Mao porcelain busts).

We took a seat.  It was not long before the bartender arrived with two more cold beers.  Nice.  Then a saleswoman joined us, asking if we needed anything.  A platter of cheese and crackers is what we really wanted, but instead asked for a price for everything in the room.  And why not?  The beers were going down smoothly.  The warehouse was hot.  So she brought us jicama and cucumber slices with tajin and lime.  While she was working on her calculator, our beers emptied.  (They were the pony size).  Then the saleslady, smelling blood, brought us two small mugs full of tequila.  As if signaled by some magic button, the bartender returned and offered us paella.  

Are you kidding me? we thought.  All we have to do is pretend we're buying some expensive furniture and we get offered paella?  We drew the line there, not because we were embarrassed by the riches, but because I really can't stand paella.   So we asked for another dram of tequila, which they happily brought us while the salesgirl was getting a price on a set of organic cotton shams and twin duvet covers.  They were lovely--a gauzy white coverlet overtop a white sheet of blue paisleys.  The effect was enchanting and we added two sets to the cart.       

When we nearly threw a $1000 leather desk chair into the mix we knew it was time to leave.  But what a lovely afternoon, unexpected, full of beautiful things in beautiful settings and two shots of Tradicional.  And because this is Mexico, the furniture is arriving tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 7, 2013

When You're Surrounded by Ex-Pats

. . . one day you wake up and realize how utterly dull you are.  Cases in point:

I'm out at a lovely Indian retreat center, Shanti San Miguel, with 10 women celebrating Kathryn Matchett's three years in San Miguel before she returns to Little Rock (former Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, with years of follow up work in Mali, West Africa). When you're with a group of ex-pat San Miguelenses, invariably people talk about their travels, where they've been, how they arrived here, not in a bragging manner, but just in the way people reveal their histories, talk about their pasts.

Take Caz Stuart, a British TV producer and documentary film maker.  When Monica Wadsworth, a Swedish journalist and writer for the dairy council, mentioned wanting to buy a van and travel down to South America with David, her English sculptor husband; Theo, their trilingual, tri-cultural son; and Basil, their enormous and enormously lethargic Bassett hound, Caz piped up, "Oh, it's a brilliant idea.  I did that when Tom (now 10) was 18 months.  I bought a van, got a welder to fit it with a bed, and Tom and I drove around Mexico for four months."  

Rather incredulous, we all said, "Just you and Tom?  For four months?"  Yep.  I know women who won't take their kids on an hour's road trip, alone, at that age.  Who are nervous about going to the grocery store with a baby.  But Caz and toddler Tom hit the road, driving through the Yucatan, the mountains, Oaxaca.  (I recently met Tom's dad, Johnny, a charismatic. Peter Pan-type from London who came to visit Tom and stayed with Caz and her partner, Natt, a Congo-playing soccer star from Paris and Togo. Johnny told me, "I really pissed Caz off the other day.  She found me one afternoon wearing her dress and shoes.  She was not pleased.")

Johnny aside, Caz had only one scary night on the road.  She had parked on a bluff above a beach on the Pacific and had all the doors and windows open to catch the ocean breeze.  Soon headlights in the dark, and a car with five men pulled up.  She thought, Now I've got trouble.   With flashlights sweeping over the dunes and music blaring out of their truck, they asked her what she was doing there.  "Just spending the night," she told them.  "And could you please keep it down because my baby's asleep."

So then they asked her, "Who else is here with you?" and and she countered, "Who are you?" When they told her, "Police," she said, "Well, OK, it's just me and my baby." They shined their flashlights through the van's windows to see if she was joking.  She wasn't. Then they lectured her on how crazy she was to be sola, sleeping outside and driving around Mexico alone. But they left.  And she carried on.

Then Monica said, "If I didn't travel by van I'd love to go by horse and wagon.  I once rode in Ecuador.  Started in Quito and went down the coast.  It was brilliant."  Someone asked how many days the trip was.  "Three months," Monica answered.  The woman rode a horse through South America for three months!  "Were you alone?"  someone asked, and Monica said, "No, I was with two French guys."   And that seemed totally normal though there was no follow up on who they were.

We have another friend named Violet Feldt.  If ever I write a novel I'm stealing her name. She has a son named Milo and a cool husband named Corvus (crow in Latin), who's a native American with a pierced tongue, permanent, nickel-size holes in his ears, a six-inch braided goatee with a silver bead at the bottom, and hair that when he takes it out of his ponytail goes down to the middle of his back.  (He wants to cut it by Violet finds it too sexy.)  He also wears those alarming webbed slippers that have a slot for each toe.  I get scared when I see people in them; I hope the fad passes quickly.

So Corvus and Violet spent a year traveling Canada and the United States with Milo, looking for a place to land.  They eventually found San Miguel.  But they traveled only by bus, staying in youth hostels or with friends, for an entire year. This is after they left Lopez Village, an island off the coast of Seattle where they had no bathroom in their home.  When they showered, they went to a friend's house. Eventually they did buy a claw-foot bathtub and installed in it their backyard.  When they needed warm water they started a wood fire underneath the cast iron.  Though it took ages to get ready, the water stayed warm for hours.  This is what Milo told me.  He is now nearly 13 and has his own business, milofixesphones.com, repairing phones, iPods and other small gadgets.  He's self-taught and really good.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Scenes from the Overprotective Mom

Herewith a few snapshot of the kids, oblivious to the amount of freedom they have, completely unaware that perhaps their mom isn't so bad after all.

It's called the Tower of Terror and they leave you up
there for a good 5-8 minutes, even when a tornado is
on the horizon.   I'm actually up there with Mason andRedding.
It's the worst ride I've ever been on.  And the drop is just as awful
as you might expect.

A cenote (underground swimming hole) in the Yucatan.
This is actually accessible only a long flight of stone stairs that come down
to the water through a hole in the ground at the top, where a little bit of light shines in.

It's so dark the dust inside looks like snowflakes to my camera.

Roasting sausages at a family picnic.  No adult supervision.

Climbing down into a swimming hole that spills out into
a raging river.

The bear on our path in Glacier National Park.  
Redding and Mason buried under mounds of bubble bath.  Ok
if I had know they were doing this beforehand I would have
put my foot down. It wasn't our bath, or our bubbles.
Maosn at the county fair.  Step inside plastic ball, inflate with
leaf blower, seal opening with duct tape and roll around
in a baby pool until you have to cry uncle and are released.
Same fair.  Acrobatics on the bungy cords.
Really and truly: At Mason's Waldorf School you are required
to participate in a Day of Challenges, including
jumping over a burning rope which has been soaked in kerosene
and light. I only saw one boy get burned and it wasn't Mason. 

Bare-chested and barefoot on Troncones Beach.

You Are So Overprotective, Mom

Those are some words I never thought I'd hear.  And how odd to have them spoken by my 12-year-old son, Bo, in a circumstance so totally unmerited.  This social experiment I'm undertaking--distancing  my boys from the frenetic merry-go-round of Stateside childhood, and bestowing upon them the chance to be free range and independent--seems to have been lost on my kids.  Where did I go wrong?

Bo writhing in pain the street
My children have found themselves in uncountable situations that would be newsworthy if they were still in our green, lush neighborhood in Lutherville, Maryland (where I was known to have the basement from which the most boys emerged bleeding).  Here in San Miguel accidents seem somewhat commonplace: I have taken Redding to the emergency room because he fell off the rooftop of a neighbor's house, trying to rappel down its interior wall using an iron sconce as his ladder.  It broke, predictably, he fell, predictably, started bleeding, looked ashen, and was curled up in a ball on the cement patio.  Then the real fun started.  The house is not occupied; the patio was several feet below.  He was too hurt to climb back up the wall; normally he would be halfway up an orange tree with its sharp thorns and sturdy branches, his way of accessing other gardens.  

So our friend, Tom, whose house shares a common wall with these neighbors, gets his extension ladder and lowers it into the garden.  He climbs down, puts Redding over his back (fortunately he's underweight and slightly malnourished--a by-product of loving salads), and lugs him up the ladder fireman-style.

Lantern on wall at left, Redd falls down
into the garden (lantern has now been fixed
and by some weird twist of fate we lived in this
house later for 5 weeks
We take off for the ER; Redd's looking faint and close to passing out in the back seat of the car.  We carry him straight in through the swinging surgery doors, bypassing the throngs waiting in the main lobby with gripa and tooth pain; I learned that trick from my own foray to this same hospital with a head wound two summers ago.

Someone stitches him up, somewhat amateurishly; he still has a decent scar on the back of his thigh where the point of the black metal lantern punctured his leg.  Or maybe the scar is there because he took out his own stitches at home.  I did take him back to the hospital once, I swear.  But when it's not an actual emergency it's quite tricky trying to find someone to help you.  And maybe it was a Sunday.  Things were quiet.  There wasn't an identifiable nurse for love or money.  I figured I could just do it myself.  But when we got home Reddy got out some tweezers and some scissors and got busy.

But I digress.  So what happened last night?  We were waiting in the doctor's office to get yellow fever vaccinations for our upcoming trip to South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia. If Zambia didn't require proof of immunization to get into the country I would never bother.  Are we really going to get yellow fever in three days?  I'll drink bottled water, try not to come into contact with bleeding sores of infected locals.  (In truth, I have no idea how you get yellow fever or what it is.)  We're skipping malaria pills: too many possible side effects, like hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, weird things going on in your head and body.  Everyone can wear long sleeves and DEET.  

Santiago, Ricardo's son, holding the heart of a freshly
slaughtered pig.  His aunt raises hogs on their family farm.
So we're waiting for the one and only person in this town who can track down a yellow fever vaccination, Dr. Ricardo Gordillo,  a handsome dude with a Mexican dad, a German mom, and a super-stylish British wife.  (He said it was very difficult fo find; there is no zoster vaccine for shingles or ZARS for avian flu in all of Mexico).  Perhaps all this sleuthing is why he forgot our appointment; his receptionist called him at home after seeing nothing in her books.  Twenty minutes later, while out buying a tub of mango and watermelon with lime and chile for the starving Mason, I see Ricardo roaring down Insurgentes on his huge red motorcycle with his huge black helmet.  It's the same hog he rides to school every morning with his trilingual, fourth-grade son, Santiago.  We wave, he parks, we head back to his clinic for our shots.  
A close up of that heart.  Santiago has no qualms about
watching the butchering.  Sam bought a whole
pig for them and apparently he didn't either.

Sam's got his motorcycle at the clinic too.  He brought Redding and Mason from circus class, while Bo and I walked from home.  There's another story, worth a full entry: the Mexican trapeze-tela-hoops-and-other-dangerous-aerial-props class held twice a week in a sweltering, tin warehouse one accesses by walking up several flights of stairs and across the roof top of a derelict hotel off the libremiento.  Over-protective my ass. You should see the tricks these kids perform way high up in the air with no nets, no harnesses, just a pile of musty gym mats below them.  They'll be in The Nutcracker in December. I'll take photos.

So the mean mom tells Bo that he can't go to dinner on the bike with his two brothers and his father.  Sam's bike is no Ricardo-mobile.  It's a compact Honda 150CC that fits two people nicely.  Three is a stretch, even though that's how Sam, Redd and Bo get to school every day.  But Bo doesn't want to walk with me to the Longhorn Steakhouse where we're meeting friends for rueben night (what a treat on Mondays).  He's insisting that all four of them can fit on the bike; he'll cover his head with a backpack so the transitos don't notice he's not wearing a helmet.   He doesn't understand how I can be so irrational.  When I tell him he's not getting on the motorcycle he lobs at me, "Mom, you are SO overprotective."  I just laugh.  What else can you do?  And throw him a carrot: we'll take a taxi.  He gets in and snuggles up next to me and we ride off to reuben night.

The guys, Sam, Redd and Bo, riding off to the Victoria Robbins School on an unusually cloudy day.  This is the street
in front of our house.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Only in (Starbucks of San Miguel) Mexico

This just in, hot off the press by email from my friend, Janan, who is sitting in Starbucks trying to get some work done because her Internet connection in Balcones is so pathetic.

Janan writes: The man across from me at Starbucks (maybe 12ft away, I think he is talking to his psychic), "so, am I ever going to have sex again?"
"do you mean two more times or two more women?"
"Is that two at the same time?  Or different times?….Are they Brazilian?"

"So you said I have two problems, one was trying to overcome the addiction and the other was money?  So, can I buy the '87 porsch 911?…"

"Can you tell me how much longer am I going to live?…..Bad question?….ok, will my future be fulfilling?  is that a bad question?…"
 (long pause)
"I do like water."

Oh, I just realized that I have my headphones on  - maybe he thinks I can't hear him.  They are not playing anything, I just wear them as a sign to say "don't talk to me."  I do it in airports a lot too.

So I write back:
On May 6, 2013, at 3:28 PM, Ann Hillers
Oh my lord I have to steal this.  I will point you to a blog entry I made about 4 years ago. I think it's the same guy.  Is he old and skanky and too skinny with tight jeans?

To which Janan replies:

old and skanky, yes.
not skinny. 
medium build, kind of sloppy.  he's a doctor, which is ewy.

So I forward her my blog entry describing a conversation overheard in the jardin by a guy who looked like an aging musician and she replies:

"wow - no, don't think this is the guy.  this guy is well-fed and has no trace of former rock star.

the best part of the whole conversation is that it is on Skype, and he has to repeat everything louder and slower.  It's painful.  for all of us here at starbucks."

Friday, April 26, 2013

There Are Hippies in Town

Because our all-natural, whole-wheat, no-preservative bread was stale this morning (an experiment that won't be repeated), we left home earlier than usual to buy tamales for Mason and Redding's lunch.  So instead of taking Orizaba to La Palma and seeing Marta, a 20-something woman walking her tiny, chocolate chihuahua before work; avoiding Alex, the tattooed iron worker who never takes off his sunglasses and always greets me with a low, moan-like, "Buenosss diaaas, señora;" and hearing the principal of the local public school making morning announcements over a loudspeaker at exactly at eight o'clock, we walk uphill on 20 de enero and come down over the crest towards Stirling Dickinson.  There, parked on the left side of the road, is a real-live Scooby Doo VW Peace Van, painted entirely neon and pink and light blue and yellow, flowers, peace signs, and message of love in a beautiful script.  Mason, ever the p.c. guy, shouts, "Hey, there are hippies in town!"  

What's in town is a group of Mexican construction workers sitting on the curb in front of a work site swigging huge bottles of Coke and spooning the contents of a white plastic bucket into tortillas for breakfast.  I instruct Mason that it's racist to judge people by things like their cars or their clothes or their color.  That it's just plain rude to holler out things like, "There are hippies in town."  He looks appropriately chagrined and apologizes (he hates to be called out on anything but can admit when he's wrong.)

Then the door across the street from the van opens and in the doorway are a small Japanese boy and girl, whose dad comes out from behind them and stretches on the street. I can see into their house, where their mom is back at a desk working on a computer.  Floor to ceiling are enormous, gorgeous oil paintings: Japanese anime, graphic oils of animals and cartoon characters, a wild, dark-haired boy riding a lion, a skeleton with a lizard on its head.  I don't have to make note of the door so that I can go back after school and ask to come inside and see this wonderful art up close.  The Peace Van is parked there, marking the entry.

On another day I go back with my camera; it's the Groovy Gnome Gallery and Cafe.  I think about buying one of his paintings.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Macho Men in San Miguel

I've been thinking about this subject for a while, not continuously, and not losing any sleep over it.  But I have wondered, why do all Mexican laborers carry girls' backpacks?  Or things that look like girls' backpacks?  Things with flowers, things in pink, things with polka dots and fleur de lys.  In pink. 

I first noticed this trend when helping my friends Boobie and Michelle Dutch renovate their house on Calle Hidalgo.  We hired a contractor foreman type named Chuy.  Good guy.  Darling to look at though he was about five feet tall.  Lovely bronzed skin, shiny black hair, good teeth (though he's now wearing braces and driving a Jeep Cherokee.  Maybe I paid him too much).  But every day he arrived at work on his red Italika moto, with a pink and olive-green polka dot backpack.  I noticed it, thought not much about it, but thought it a tad strange.  Looked like he pinched it off of his daughter one day before she left for primaria.  

But then I started noticing, with the help of Sam, that every guy in San Miguel in the construction business carries a girl's backpack.  Dora the Explorer.  My Little Pony.  Things in this vein.  So this morning I go into the garage to put out some trash.  What do I see?  

We have a whole crew of guys here painting the exterior of our house.  I'm a sucker.  I once hired a guy named Jose Luis Ramirez to paint some of the bedrooms.  He did a great job.  Reasonable, tidy, honest, cleaned up the site when he was through.  So he came back, a few times. Once he had his arm in a sling--had broken the whole left elbow down to the bone.  He was desperate for work, as you might imagine a painter with a broken arm might be.  So I hired him to repaint one of the rooms I had already hired him for a year earlier.  I had picked the color, never liked it.  Asking Jose Luis to redo it was just something I did to help him out.  I could have lived with it.

Then he shows up again. He's still out of work and needs money to send his kids to school. That's a very common plea.  It's not a ploy.  It's the truth.  Mexican schools, all of them, public or private, require that kids wear uniforms.  If you're living on the margins, even a pair of navy pants, white shirt, and the ever-present thick, wool track suit can break the bank.  So Jose Luis asks if I need anything painted.  He really needs the work.  And I'm happy to help. I've been thinking about recasting the exterior shade anyway, turning our rapidly fading yellow-beige-bland front into something a little more dramatic.  

So I hire him.  Tell him I'm happy to help him and his kids.  And he's happy too.  But he wants to know right then, he's going to get started now, what color I want on the walls.  I beg for a small window: could Sam come home from work and help me with this decision. He says, sure, por supuesto, but for the rest of the morning he's pretty much at my doorstep waiting on my choice.  I pick five from a paint deck that he has in his truck.  He goes to the store, puts up swatches on the front of the house and on the second floor terrace that I'm also going to paint.  They look nice in the sun, but some are nicer than others.  One is the exact shade of the agave cactus that are growing in front of the cantera windows in front of the house.  Which is nice in principle, but agave are in fact a lovely blue-green that in a paint shade look like AquaFresh. The other is a gold that I thought would be colonial and sort of cool, but in the 12-inch square that Jose Luis has put on the front wall it suddenly looks like rawhide, like a baseball glove that's not broken in, like a Southwest casita from Santa Fe.  I can't do it.

So I find a shade called Garden Bench in the book and buy it sight unseen because the painter boss is making me nervous waiting around for my selection and Sam can't get home until 2pm.  In total it's been about three hours since Jose Luis arrived on my doorstep and when the first brush starts slapping this lovely but untested grey/green shade on my front wall.  I'm painting my house something that I've never seen before. But really, in the end, I don't care.  What this is truly about are the backpacks of his crew in my garage.  One says "Pink Style" in script and is trimmed in hot pink along the edges.  The other is a black messenger bag that could be androgynous but for the stenciled flowers on the flap.

I take a few pictures, which I'll upload later.  But I'm going to start stalking the wild Mexican laborer and get a whole collection, proof, of their penchant for weird purses.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An Article from The Baltimore Sun

Even though I stew a lot in the night, I have been doing a little in the day.  Here's a link to a recently published story in the Baltimore Sun on our life here in San Miguel.  I think I sent it to 500 people already so there's probably no one who hasn't had this thrust upon them.


Also, flip through a copy of the Conde Nast Traveler May 2103 issue. Though they were whittled down to nubs, there are two Mexico hotel reviews on the Hot List which I penned. One day, I'll strike it big.

Blogger, Start Your Engine

It's 2am and I'm wide awake until four, mulling over a thousand things that make no difference by daylight, but one of which is the fact that I've written in this journal exactly twice in nearly a year. So to the sound of cars rumbling over the back wall and eventually the hum of song birds who wake up here much earlier than in the rest of the kwown world, I vow to get started. Again.  And the first thing I come up with is this:

Sam was at a parent-teacher conference discussing one of his students, skillfully laying out the positives, trying to say something nice.  "X has got a real talent for writing.  He's creative and a funny kid." Before Sam launches into areas of weakness the dad asks, "Does he seem stoned a lot to you?"

So that's it for today.  Maybe it's easier being brief.

That and that we're heading into mango season.  A bag of 8 for $1.60.  It's smoothie time.