Monthly Archives: May 2023

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 21

San Miguel Desert Botanical Gardens (Click on Photos to Enlarge)

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 21

            For the next three days, we packed as many explorations of San Miguel into our days as possible.  We took another tour of the botanical gardens, this time taking a longer path which wound down to the bottom and to the furthest edges of the ravine.  We explored ancient ruins, watched goats grazing near the water far below, watched boys diving into the water from the muddy banks.  Men stuccoing bovedas on rooftops  across the ravine caught sight of us and waved.  We ended up on the path that wound right up to the huge mansion which clung to the cliffside at the furthest edge of the botanical gardens.  Its inhabitants were the owners of the most popular restaurant in San Miguel.  When other restaurants were empty, theirs was always full.  When the city had prevailed upon him to give the land for the botanical gardens, the owner had complied, but when they had asked for the house, he had refused.  “You don’t give away your dreams,” he said.  Politicians had put on pressure, denied him access to city water for years, but he had held out.  Now the pathways of the desert gardens came within feet of his house, but he was still there.  His view was the best in San Miguel:  The city in the distance, the ravine and aqueduct and ruins below him, around him the beautiful virgin desert, much of it still blooming as we walked its various paths. 

A huge bird circled overhead.  Lizards and a brightly striped snake crossed our path.  Hummingbirds, bees, millions of giant red ants.  The ubiquitous black grackles, moving their widely fanned tails like rudders, swifts gliding and darting,  and those voluminous white clouds in the vivid blue sky.  The neighborhood we had narrowed our wishes down to adjoined the botanical gardens land,  but when we inquired about the price of lots, they were as much as we’d planned on spending for an entire house with lot. What Bob had decided he’d like to spend, that is.  He had settled on $80,000—the price that the stabbed woman had put on her house, lowering it because, after all, who wants to live in the same neighborhood with a man with a knife and a proclivity to use it? I was humoring him, sure that we’d never find anything for that price that we would want to buy. He loved looking at houses, and so did I. I just didn’t want to buy another one before we sold ours!

          A few days later, when Jim offered to rent or sell us his house for a figure within our budget, we switched our focus back again to reality.  We could finish the compound wall, build a studio, finish tiling the house, but when we asked a builder for estimates of what this would  cost, we figured  that it would end up costing about what any of the  places closer to the jardin would cost.  In Jim’s house, we’d have privacy, a larger lot, a bigger studio,  but in a neighborhood where it would be harder to sell in the future.  If we didn’t want to buy, he offered us the option to rent for a year or two so he could go to South America with his girlfriend, and if we couldn’t find another house to rent for a year and a half, this was the option I preferred

            On the plus side, it would get Bob’s mind off wanting to buy a house. On the minus side, our next door neighbors on one side were rowdy, the street in front of their house a gathering place every weekend for men with beer bottles and loud voices.  The neighbors to our rear and other side were both metalsmiths, who often worked into the evening.  One of their sons was a drummer who practiced daily on a large oil drum.  The other was a whistler.  True, so far, we had not been bothered by these sounds of activity, but, who knew how we would feel months or a year from now? 

            We loved the sounds of children playing on the huge empty field across from us.  We loved watching people crisscross the field to and from Gigante.  However, trucks and jeeps also  used it for four-wheeling, and it was strewn with garbage:  Coke bottles, water bottles, plastic bags, old tires, mounds of broken bricks, stone and cement dumped after building projects, tangles of barbed wire, tin cans, burned logs.

             Every unoccupied lot in San Miguel became a repository for the rubbish of the neighborhood.  Everyone drank Cokes and bottled water, and when the plastic bottles were emptied, they were tossed:  out of car windows, into window grids, onto spare lots, onto city streets, into ravines and lakes and rivers.  There was garbage collection and women faithfully walked to the curbs to hand over their household garbage, but when walking or driving or riding, the custom was to toss it.  Highways nationwide––or for as far as we had seen––were rimmed with garbage.  Coca Cola had done more to ruin the scenic beauty of Mexico than any single force.  If it wasn’t their huge billboards or graffiti-like paintings on brick buildings city wide and country wide, it was the solid  expanse of empty plastic bottles which paved the desert, the grass or the shoreline which bordered every road. 

            San Miguel was a beautifully preserved colonial town with strictly regulated ancient buildings, churches,  monasteries and cobblestones.  Its central zocalo––known as the jardin––was the place where lovers met and musicians played and children frolicked.  Here benches lined the square and people sat to watch children, lovers, tourists, toy venders, beggars, neighbors, students, ice-cream eaters, scooter riders, ball bouncers, survey takers, shoe polishers, Spanish practicers and fruit sellers.  Overhead was the dense foliage of trees.  Around the outside of the square were the buildings hundreds of years old. 

            Within the jardin, sidewalks formed a square within a square with intersecting crisscrosses.  Every twenty feet or so there arose a bronze stake.  Antique, curlicued, topped with a rubbish container shaped vaguely like a mailbox, but patinaed, ornamented, lovely until you saw it from the front.  There, emblazoned over the slot where the rubbish went in, in six inch high letters, was that ubiquitous script. “Coca Cola “it said, on each rubbish bin.  Dozens of them marched the jardin like town criers, reminding us, “Never forget.”

             The most constant presence in Mexico was Coca Cola.  On one expanse of road,  I spotted eight building-sized signs for Coca Cola and  two for Pepsi Cola within a one block area.  And in the ditches country-wide lay discarded bottles, like stepping stones between the few blades of grass that poked between them.

            True, there seemed to be some awareness of litter as a problem.  Here and there, you see a sign “No tire basura” (Don’t throw trash) on a spare lot or along the roadway, but  few heeded them.  They had become invisible.  City dumps, more often than not, were located right next to major roadways.  Handier that way, I guess. 

            As we were discussing the possibility of visiting Mexico and then moving there for a year or more, Bob had started reading what material was available in that pre-internet age. In addition to San Migel de Allende, he had been attracted to two areas, mainly because they were situated by very large lakes.  He had often told me that he had always wanted to live by a lake, and now he suggested that in the couple of weeks we had left before we had to be back for my mother’s memorial, that perhaps we should take a weekend off and investigate both of them: Lake Patzcuaro and then the largest lake in Mexico, Lake Chapala, Then, coincidentally, at a restaurant with tables placed too close to each other to avoid becoming conversational with one’s neighbors, we entered into a discussion with a couple from Ajijic who I had heard discussing the fact that public outcry had caused local politicians to decide to move the dump from a much-used cut-off road between two of the most popular towns on the lake to a more hidden location.  They said, in fact, that along the whole expanse of the lake, rubbish seemed to be less of a problem than usual.  As the lake shrank away from its banks, hundreds of yards of lake bottom were exposed.  Here cattle grazed, four-wheel-drive vehicles turned wheelies in the dried dirt, boats lay earthbound, blocks from the nearest water.  On weekends, locals thronged to makeshift palapas constructed on the former lake bottom to drink beer or Cokes or Fanta.  Yet there was very little rubbish.

           In one subdivision, double oil barrels were placed on each block along the road to serve as trash receptacles, but elsewhere, even where there were no rubbish bins, there seemed to be vastly less littering.  Construction crews still piled their leftover stones, dirt, concrete, bricks and rebar  on spare lots, to be dealt with by the next building crew, but piles of stone and brick and wood seemed less intrusive than thousands of plastic corpses of drink containers and shopping bags.  Also in this area, as in the area around Lake Patzcuaro, there seemed to be more people out along the road searching for recyclable bottles.  Why, in this era when so many items––from clothing to deck materials––are made out of recycled plastic, can some program not be started in Mexico, which could make it profitable for people to collect this unsightly litter and turn it from a liability into an asset?
          It seemed a sign. Bob used this conversation as a springboard and once again suggested that we at least quickly investigate the other two towns that had intrigued him in his reading about Mexico.  So it was that we decided to head off for a short sortie into the wilds of Mexico.  First Patzcuaro, then Chapala, before signing the year-and-a-half lease for the San Miguel house. We still had a few weeks before we needed to be back in the states for my mom’s memorial in South Dakota. Why not spend them making sure that San Miguel was really the place for us?


Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 20

Night-Blooming Cereus

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 20

For three weeks, we spent most of our time looking for houses.  It was confusing.  We saw perfect houses down in town, within walking distance of the parroquia.  We saw houses that were larger, with more space for our money, which were located farther out––near the rapidly diminishing and slightly smelly lake.  We saw houses we’d never consider buying ––the outside of the house Mexican, the inside looking like it had been transported here from a suburb in California or Michigan or Iowa.

We saw houses so to our taste in design, from tile to furnishings, that we could have moved in and been comfortable immediately––but at twice the price we wanted to pay.  We saw perfect houses in foreign enclaves, perfect houses in Mexican neighborhoods, houses we couldn’t wait to get out of and neighborhoods we couldn’t wait to get out of but unfortunately, could not find our ways out of.  Bumpy cobblestoned streets ran into dirt roads that finally fizzled out in a rubbish heap or a ravine.  Streets got smaller and smaller until they became walking paths only or wound around and around in an unsolveable maze––even for Bob, who had an inbuilt radar and sense of direction which rarely failed him.

Finally, we found three houses we would consider renting for a year and a half, but now that Bob was more enthusiastic about the possibility of living in Mexico, he had decided he wanted to buy!  I, however, feared the rashness of buying this soon.  We already had a house in the states that we’d need to sell. We barely knew San Miguel.  What if we made no friends?  What if we ran out of things to do?

Bob, on the other hand, needed a project to get him into the swing of life again.  He needed a studio to build or furnish.  He said that he knew me. I needed a garden to plant  and change, to shove pots around in.  We were nesters and not much nesting could be accomplished in a rented house. 

            We decided to take a few days off to explore San Miguel and to try to establish a life here.  We hung out at the Biblioteca.  I even joined and checked out some books.  On the day I joined, we had lunch in the terrace restaurant at the back of the library.  At the table next to us, a woman was writing on 3X5 cards and sticking them onto cassette cases.  Having listened to both of the books on tapes I’d brought with me, I had a sudden burst of inspiration. 

            “Do you have books on tape here?”  I asked her.

            Thus began an hour-long conversation that started with her life story:  (short marriage, daughter, a career in microbiology, lots of travelling, and her present volunteer job at the library) and ended in an invitation for drinks at her house on Sunday.  There we met her 95-year-old flat mate, Trayla, who still taught piano to local children and who was singlehandedly handling the music section of the library:  cataloguing, indexing and filing all of the donated sheet music, listening to all donated records to decide which were of a quality to be transferred to cassette.  When I met her and looked through page after page of the contents of the music library, I asked if she used a computer.

            “Heavens, I predate the computer age,” she said.  “I use a typewriter.” 

            Nancy, her flat mate, who was a youngster of 80,  functioned as her legs, carrying material back and forth to the library, for Trayla never left the house anymore.

            The stories  these women told were varied and numerous.  Their voices interrupted each other like shuffled cards as they filled in details or merely cut in, impatient that the story was being told wrong or less completely than it deserved to be. 

            Nancy told a story about a friend who was a metalsmith.  He had been approached by a company that wanted to lure him away from both his hometown and his employer.  When he insisted that he had no desire to leave California and the foundry where he had worked for 20 years, they first offered to double, then triple his salary.  Then, when he had agreed to take the new job, they admitted that the metal they wanted him to work with was a metal he had not worked with before.  When he suggested that they should find somebody else, they said no, they wanted him only and offered to both send him to school to learn the process of working in  the different metal and to quadruple his salary.  So the man quit his job, went to school, moved his residence and settled down to work.  The Second World War began, and he worked on until its end, when he was finally told that the project he had been working on was the nosecone of the missile that delivered the atomic missile that had been dropped on Hiroshima.

            Trayla  told stories of her parents’ immigration to California––crossing the Isthmus of Panama on foot with six children.  Stories of their own travels down the Amazon, in Thailand and throughout  Mexico. 

            What had brought them to Mexico, I asked.

            “A burglary,” said Nancy.  “I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It was on Halloween night.  Someone broke in through our kitchen window and took the TV, the stereo, and   everything they could lay hands on.  My purse was on the kitchen table, so they took it.  Inside the purse were my car keys, so they took the car, too.  When I went to buy another car, they were offering a pair of tickets to anywhere the airlines flew, so I found the furthest spot they flew, which was Mexico City.  I asked Trayla to come with me.  In a magazine on the plane, there was an article about San Miguel, so when we got to Mexico City and hired a driver and guide, I asked him if he knew where it was and if he could take us there.  He did, and we fell in love with the place.  A few years later, I called Trayla up in Oakland and said, “Do you want to move to San Miguel?”  “Okay,” she said, and we both quit our jobs, packed up and went.”

            When we moved to the roof to view the garden, Trayla  followed us.  The night-blooming Cereus was in half bloom––with not only one but two blooms readying themselves for that night’s performance.  Succulents and cactus grew in profusion from large clay pots, along with bougainvillea, hibiscus, and other semitropical plants.  I climbed the ladder to the tallest rooftop.  A beautiful view of rooftops, churches, skyline, trees presented itself.  An afternoon mist furnished atmosphere around the lowering sun.  Beautiful.  San Miguel–– a different city from every rooftop.

            More stories, wine, talks of buying and selling houses.  When would they be forced to sell theirs?  For what price?  What had I seen?  What were the prices of houses here, there?  How did this house compare?  Offers of trips to museums, churches, spots they knew.  Nancy would drive us.  When I offered dinner at our house:  “No,” Trayla energetically declined.  “I never go anywhere.  If I went anywhere, I’d just wear myself out.  I don’t leave the house anymore.  Ever.  For any reason.” 

            She was not frail or immobile.  When she perched on the arm of a chair to tell a story or to discipline their  poodle, her face lit up, animated, and she looked sixty.  Her mind was as sharp as ours––-sharper, since all of us kept forgetting dates, names, locations.  Nancy had had what she feared were a few mild strokes lately.  She would be caught searching for common words, forget what she’d been talking about.  For a microbiologist, who lived by organization and mind, it was threatening.  I admitted to frequent bouts of absent-mindedness since turning 50, but not  Trayla.  She was still sharp as a tack, taking care of herself.  Five years before, her doctor had given her three months to live.  Here she was, still so busy there wasn’t enough time in the day:  piano lessons to teach, a whole room full of music and records to organize and catalogue.  So many stories to tell and now, two new people to tell them to. 

            She drained a full wine glass and filled it up again.  They were heavy stemmed water goblets.  Wine glasses were too small and boring, they said.  They preferred these.  She ate another smoked oyster, more dip, more chips.  Taking care of herself.  Still rounding out the fullest of lives.



Another Go: Echeveria, May 29, 2023

Click on photos to enlarge.

Sam wondered about the photo I posted today.  I think he feared that it was drying out as it appeared to be tan rather than green.  Here are three more photos of it in sunlight. It is a pale green.  And the container is the broken-off-at-the-waist sculpture that the kitties broke so I am using the bottom part of it as a planter.  There were two–female and male–and they knocked them both off their perches at the front of my house.

Here are the planters.


For Cee’s FOTD

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 19

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 19

            Fireworks. In Mexico, they are the rule, not the exception. If you have two nights in a row without  continuous explosions, you are lucky.  Often given to exaggeration, here I need not bother.  On the Sunday night which marked the beginning of our third week in San Miguel, the fireworks were especially long and loud.  It might have been in honor of the movie crew who had begun filming on that day and who probably appreciated the all-night diversion as much as we did, or it may have been the conclusion of the horse show that had occurred that weekend.  Or it may have just been a showy overzealous family display. 

            1:30 a.m.  Fifteen retorts in rapid progression.  Not the crisp splat of childhood firecrackers, but the solid ear-shattering report of gunfire––a giant’s shooting gallery.  It was too hot to close the heavy bedroom door to the patio, too hot for covers.  Bob lay awake itching  mosquito bites, and when I went to the bathroom for ointment, there were four already buzzing against the mirror, in spite of the fact that all of the doors and windows were screened.  I sprayed on bug spray, then rolled the tube of ointment for insect bites over my madly itching and swollen upper arms and feet.  When I went back to bed, I covered us both with the sheet, protection against bloodsuckers.  It was hard to imagine where mosquitos could breed in this dry windy expanse, but it had been raining a bit each afternoon and water was no doubt collecting somewhere.

            I slept.  I dreamed that I was back in the States, setting up an art show entitled “This Bud’s for You.”  It was my friend Linda’s idea, and I had never thought it would work,  so why was I the one setting up this show so dumb that there were only seven entries?

            As I moved to the woods to meditate over this conundrum, I discovered a whole bank of pelicans drifting along the curving bank at the side of the road––row after row of pelicans.  Then I remembered that pelicans could talk and were, indeed, good counselors. I should avail myself of their counsel while I was here in the States where I had health insurance, I thought, so I went from pelican to pelican asking which one wanted to talk to me until, still in the middle of my questioning of pelicans, two wise guy humans made fun of my efforts.

            “Oh them,” said Bob.  “Jerks. The one can’t stop talking about himself long enough to get lucky.  Picked up a girl in a singles bar, stood on her doorstep so long talking,  she gave up and went to bed.  He didn’t even notice until she’d locked the door, turned out the porch light and was almost off to sleep.”

            At 5 a.m.,  I was torn from my dream.  Explosions ripped the air like someone beating on a tin roof with a sledge hammer—fifteen loud bangs in the first progression.  I closed the window and stumbled to the bathroom to search for my earplugs, brought as protection against snores, not fireworks. 

            Born on the third of July, I had always considered fireworks to take the place of my personal totem, and I was so addicted to them that I would never have believed that there could be anything which could sour me on them;  but there I was, cursing them after just two weeks in town.  Sure, they were pretty spread against the night sky, but what fool set off cherry bombs  (I later discovered them to be cohetes or bottle rockets) by the hundreds at 5 in the morning?  With earplugs on, I could still hear them.

            They sounded like someone buckling thin gauge metal siding or like giants farting down an echo chamber.  Last night, there were marching bands,  someone on a loudspeaker, strings of cars back and forth across the empty lot and fireworks drawing streaks of color over the  black sky.  We watched from our roof.  They reminded me of what a friend with a brain tumor had once said—that it was like this every time she moved her hand—sparks in the air, flowing after it.  Beautiful.  But at 5 a.m., even through earplugs they sounded like fifteen metal doors slamming shut down the corridor in sequence.  The cat slept on.  Bob slept on.  I moved down the balcony corridor.  One way lead to the office, the other to the spiral staircase to the roof.
        The sky turned cherry red over my left shoulder.  Through the earplugs, I heard the sounds:  someone banging cooking pans or caving in  car doors with a baseball bat.  My San Miguel alarm clock:  firecrackers, then roosters, then church bells.

         They were the beginnings of a normal day for the man who stood in the spare lot across the street watching the real spectacle: a fleshy woman from el Norte in a t-shirt and skull shorts climbing a spiral staircase to watch the sunrise from her roof.

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 18

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 18: Rooftops

            First of all, in Mexico, almost everyone has them:  flat rooftops.  They are reached by stairs or by wrought iron ladders attached to the side of the buildings or by  tightly spiraled metal staircases.  Many serve the purpose of a security system by serving as home for the family “roof dog.”  These dogs, not as plentiful nor as vocal as in Oaxaca, nonetheless exist in San Miguel as well, where they  live their entire lifetimes on the roof.  When people pass by on the street, they bark.  When fireworks go off and other roof dogs bark, they bark back.  Should anyone attempt to climb onto the roof to gain access to the house, they bark louder. 

            Since we had rented by far the tallest house in the neighborhood, we got to look down on all of the other rooftops.  We tended to go up on the roof at least once a day––usually to observe the sunset, or fireworks, or to just look at the incredible panorama of 360 degrees of blue sky dotted with white clotted clouds.  These San Miguel skies astounded us.  We had lived in the California redwoods for too long.  We’d forgotten what it was like to see the horizon. 

            Other people seemed to use their roofs for other things.  On each and every one, there was a stack of old lumber, twisted wire and bricks.  On many were piles of curved clay roof tiles.  From the tops of the brick columns at each side of the house and at intervals along the walls extended the bumpy heavy wires of rebar.  Like particularly tough bristles, they sprouted  from the tops of the houses in clusters, ready and waiting for the next story, to be added as the money appeared to build it.  This was an ever-present activity in San Miguel.  In no place where we’d stayed in the past weeks had we been freed from the sounds of construction.  After men came home from work, they would go to the roof and add a few bricks.  The pounding of their mallets to set the bricks extended far into the evening. 

            The other purpose of roofs seemed to be to store pop bottles.  On most of the roofs spread below us were case after case of Coke bottles.  Why they hadn’t cashed these in, we had no idea, since a considerable amount of the price of each bottle of coke or beer covered the price of the bottle.  For a liter bottle of Corona, a third of the price was the bottle deposit.  Perhaps this was their bank––hoarded Coke bottles on the roof.  Perhaps they were waiting for the price of Coke bottles to go up––like the peso.  Or perhaps they were waiting to cash them in to buy drinks for their next fiesta.

            Other rooftops displayed geraniums in clay pots.  We never saw them being enjoyed or tended to.  They were just there.  For our pleasure, perhaps, since no one else ever went to the rooftops except to shovel roof dog poop.  One night, as we stood watching the sunset, we saw two women climb the stairs up to their own rooftop.  So people did watch the sunset here, too, I thought, but for the half hour they were on the roof, they sat on chairs talking, their backs to the setting sun.

            Aside from Coke bottles, geraniums and construction materials, rooftops were proper storage places for:  old bicycles, extra flowerpots, broken and sound, shovels,  pickup bed covers, folding chairs, half-used buckets of paint, old bed springs, rain barrels, extra tires and purloined shopping carts from Gigante which were upended and appeared to be used as some sort of kennel, although we never saw any animal inside.  It was well into our second week in the house when I thought to go up on the roof during the day.  It was then that I saw activity, for women had stung clotheslines in the bright late morning sun and were hanging clothes.  From rooftop after rooftop, the bright flags of socks, undershorts, pants and shirts hung like fiesta decorations across half the rooftops within vision.


Photo of rooftop washing day by Gwendolyn Anderson on Unsplash

LISTEN FOR THE BELLS (“A Chicken Plucking Story!”)

This is a story about Sarah who was in the fertilized egg business. She had several hundred young pullets and ten roosters to fertilize the eggs. She kept records and any rooster not performing went into the gumbo pot and was replaced. . . .

go HERE to read the rest of Sam’s very timely story!

Los Perdidos

This is a story about Sarah who was in the fertilized egg business. She had several hundred young pullets and ten roosters to fertilize the eggs.

She kept records and any rooster not performing went into the gumbo pot and was replaced.

This took a lot of time, so she bought some tiny bells and attached them to her roosters. Each bell had a different tone, so she could tell from a distance which rooster was performing. Now, she could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report by just listening to the bells.

Sarah’s favorite rooster, old Butch, was a very fine specimen but, this morning she noticed old Butch’s bell hadn’t rung at all! When she went to investigate, she saw the other roosters were busy chasing pullets, bells-a-ringing, but the pullets hearing the roosters coming, would run for cover.

To Sarah’s amazement, old Butch had…

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Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 17

Tequila with Lime and Potato?

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 17


For the next two days, there were almost gale force winds followed by torrential rains.  Pots in the compound blew over, their tall plants having been blown like sails by the wind.  The streamers which hung across the road came detached at one end and tangled around the telephone wires.  We had invited our first guests over for dinner on the first day of strong winds.  As the hour approached for their coming, I kept hoping that the winds would stop.  Our dining room table and chairs were on the roofed but unwalled patio off the kitchen.  I put out candles, but they blew out.  Any time I moved out to clean or rearrange chairs, the heavy glass and metal door was caught by the wind and slammed shut.  By five o’clock, Bob had agreed that the weather was not going to cooperate and we moved the furniture to the sides of the living room and moved the table and chairs into its center.  I collected bougainvillea from the lush plants in the patio, a few branches of each color.  I arranged them around the hors de ouvres and made bundles of forks, spoons and knives which I wrapped in napkins and tied with waxed linen, slipping a sprig of bougainvillea in each one.  The day before, I had disinfected the fruit and vegetables, made the spaghetti sauce.  That day, we had shopped for bread, driven out to the hacienda to check on the progress of the remodel of the house Ernesto wanted us to rent.  We had checked out other areas as well.  I still didn’t feel like it was my place.  It was too cut off.

            Ernesto was slated to arrive at our house at 7 p.m.  Dirk, who had to pick up Maria at work, thought they’d be there by 7 p.m.  At 6:55, Bob said, “You know, in one of our books about Mexico, it says that Mexicans are too polite to turn down your invitations to dinner, but that sometimes they just don’t show up.”

            “It’s not even seven,” I told him.  “Besides, Ernesto wouldn’t do that.  And Dirk’s American––he wouldn’t either.”

            Ernesto was almost on the dot, walking in the door with a bottle of tequila.  “I want you to taste this, “ he said.  I poured a shot glass full.  “No, no.  You have to drink it with a little grapefruit juice or orange juice. “

            I poured mango juice on top of the tequila and drank it like a shot. 

            “See what it says on the label?”  said Ernesto, “By appointment to the king.  It just doesn’t say which king.  Do you know how much it costs? 

            At the present rate, it was about $2 per bottle. 

            “If you want it to taste smooth, put a slice of potato in it and let it set.  Then remove the potato and the tequila will be smooth.”

            Dirk and Maria arrived a half hour or so later, Dirk hurried and flustered and apologizing.  He had driven down our street before going to get Maria so he’d know where to go, but he couldn’t find the house.  Either I’d not given him the address or he’d forgotten to write it down.  He brought a bottle of red wine, but I gave him a rum and coke to tame him down. 

            “Is this it––are we the only guests?”  he asked, surprised.

            “You’re it.  And we expected you to be late.  We know about Mexican time.”

            Dirk was aghast.  They didn’t operate that way.  Maria Antoinette was calm as usual.  She had simply insisted they stop each person they saw on the road and ask where the foreigners were.  They kept pointing them onward and saying, “Jim, Senor Jim,” which was the name of our landlord.  Eventually, they’d found it.  We’d taped a small note to the door and left the gate ajar. 

            The party was loose and fun.  Dirk admitted that it was the first time they’d been invited out to dinner in someone’s home the entire time they’d lived there.  They’d been invited to one fiesta with many people, but not to a private home.  He seemed thrilled.  Ernesto was warm and charming.  He told us some of his stories over again.  Everyone ate heartily, commenting on the food and taking seconds.  “Do you have any more of those long vegetables?”  asked Ernesto, and I went to the side table to get the asparagus. 

            Wine, tequila, rum and Corona were paid proper attention to by Ernesto, Dirk and me.  Bob drank Coke light and Maria drank fruit juice.  After dessert, Ernesto brought out his guitar and played trickily fingered Mexican and Spanish love ballads. “I took the crystal glass and broke it.  With the shard, I opened my vein.  I thought of my loved, now vanished.  I will never love again.”  He mouthed the words in English as he strummed and picked, first slow, then fast in the Latin manner.  Then he sang them in Spanish.

            All of the songs were love songs––lush and full and romantic.  Earlier, he’d mentioned his girlfriend and, horrified, I said that he should have brought her.  I didn’t think to ask if he had someone he wanted to bring.  “No, on Tuesday night it is her night to go out with friends,”  he answered.  “So I just didn’t tell her.  She’s not beautiful or anything,” he explained. 

            We didn’t know what to make of this comment from Ernesto, who was always courteous and polite.  He said it as though it was just another fact, but it revealed the other side of the coin from the romantic music––the practicality of having a girlfriend, even though she wasn’t beautiful as opposed to the second song he sang, “Into each life, there comes one love.  Now that she’s left, I’ll never love again.” 

            Dirk told lots of jokes about breasts.  I told them about Bob greeting strangers on the street with “Buenos nachos.”  Ernesto laughed especially long, then told us that if he ever had said “Buenos nachas,” he was telling them that they had nice butts.  I told them about the time in Minneapolis in the July heat when we had been leaving a restaurant.  Bob had on shorts and as he walked out, a woman in her sixties was coming in.  “Nice legs,” she commented to Bob as he held the door for her.  Her husband, horrified, said, “Why would you say such a thing?”

            “Because he has nice legs.  He does,” she said, standing her ground.

            She was right, he did have the nicely muscled legs of a bicycle racer which lived on long after his bicycle racing days were over.

            When they left at 11:30, Dirk again mentioned that this was a highlight in their life in Mexico.  “I’m going to e-mail Richard and tell him all about it,” he said.  He told Richard, an old friend and fellow dentist, everything.  Richard had been the link between Ernesto and Dirk, having corresponded via e-mail with Ernesto for a year.  Although they’d never met, they felt like old friends.  Then Richard had sent a picture of Dirk and said he and Ernesto should meet.  The second day when I’d met Ernesto in the library, he’d been slated to meet Dirk a half hour later.  I’d stayed on and so witnessed their meeting.  Richard, they told me, had a half million dollars he wanted to invest in Mexico.  When he came, they would throw a huge fiesta and we would come. 

            “Do you know enough people to throw a huge fiesta?”  I asked Ernesto.

            He laughed, “If you throw a fiesta, the people will come.”