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,, repairing phones, iPods and other small gadgets.  He's self-taught and really good.