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, seƱora;" 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.,0,1812097.story

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.