Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 15

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 15

            Mexico was a libertarian’s dream.  Although major roads were maintained when the potholes got big enough to cause accidents,  government maintenance of lesser roads were rarely dealt with promptly, if at all.  Here, if a neighborhood wanted a paved road, they got together to buy the cobblestones and hired someone to lay them, or pitched in to build it together.  Rules were few.  Although there were stop signs, few stopped at them.  Not even the police.  Here whole families rode in the backs of pickups, perched on the sides or on the floor with grandma on a folding chair.  Here people lit up in restaurants. (Although smoking laws twenty years later have been changed.)  Fireworks went off every night at all hours––the sign of a fiesta, the death of a child, or any public or private celebration.  Downtown, church bells rang loudly throughout the night.  There was a rule that no one could construct a window that overlooked their neighbor’s property, so all windows were on the fronts of the houses, but there were no rules for noise.  Our neighbors pounded anvils, operated buzz saws and set bricks with a mallet far into the night. 

            Last night, there had seemed to be a fiesta complete with music and firecrackers going on into the early hours right by our front gate.  When we returned from the video premiere,  the number of people who were sitting on the curb in front of our house had surprised us, but we had no clue that  the purpose for their being there went beyond a Friday night stroll and gossip session.  Perhaps they were conducting ceremonies to expel the new foreigners.  We had no way of knowing.  When we told Steve about it, he said, “Oh yes, two fiestas a week.”  His meaning was cryptic.  We would, no doubt, find out what he meant. 

            In the mid-afternoon, Bob motioned for me to look out of the second story window.  From our neighbor’s rooftop, strings of flags and fringed streamers descended across the street to light poles opposite.  Perhaps there would be yet another fiesta tonight.  This time, I would go to see what was happening.  

            It began in the afternoon, when I could hear a band some distance away.  It sounded like a group of first year band students who had assembled to practice both their marching and their music with many false starts and stops.  As it got nearer I went out to the street, but saw nothing.  Then I saw them––a strung out bunch in white shirts wending their way through the field that crossed to the Gigante.  A few men sat on the curb to my left as I left our compound, a few women to my right.  A woman passed and I said, “Buenos tardes.”  She answered me, but I could see her glance at my bare legs.  My Sausalito Art Festival T-shirt was extra-large and extra-long, and covered my shorts.  Just as well, as they were covered with smiling skulls, more appropriate for Day of the Dead, no doubt, than whatever festival was going on.  To her, it probably appeared that I had on nothing under the T-shirt.  More streamers with banners had    gone up in the street.  They were strung from the houses on either side of us out to a wire that someone had strung from light pole to light pole.  It was a few feet lower than the electrical wires and seemed to have been strung for just this purpose.  Now several houses up and down the street sported streamers.  As the day progressed, I could hear the band practicing from some direction far to our right––along the main road that led from town, perhaps. 

            In the very late afternoon, the true activities began.  At first, we heard the music––this time louder and more in unison.  We drew chairs out to the sidewalk in front of our compound.  Along the street, a number of our neighbors were assembled.  In the distance, to our right, we heard wild drums, cries and shouts.  The beat was primitive––more Native American or African than Mexican.  Then around the bend in the road they came––young men and old men in pre-Columbian Aztec dress.  Bare chests, leather loin flaps.  The drummer had so much white face paint on that I thought he was Anglo.  Their heels held high, they executed three leaps to the left, then three leaps to the right, then twirled and twisted and yelped.  In the front were the best dancers.  We tapped our feet and moved our shoulders to their rhythms.  Impossible not to.  At the back of the troupe came the young dancers––one so young that his mother marched along at the side to keep watch over him.  She called out to him as one man veered too close to him.  Behind these modern day reminders of the old religions came the new:  six pre-adolescent girls in white dresses carrying a flower-heaped platform.  Rising up from its middle was a cross.  As they passed us, one girl handed over her rear position on the carrying pole to another girl and rubbed her shoulder.  An older woman supervised the hand-over and kept the girls carrying the cross and their relief squadron, who marched behind them, in line and in sync.  When one girl lowered the pole, the woman reached out to raise the platform to even it out. 

            Behind the girls came the band I had been hearing all day.  They were still not perfect in harmony or rhythm, but they were much louder, which did a lot to improve their sound.  The procession moved by our house and down the street.  As we carried our chairs into our compound, Bearcat dashed out into the cobblestoned street––a daring move for a cat who a week ago wouldn’t come out from under the bed. I called him back in and he minded. 

             I spent the day making retablos.  I had purchased the tin and glass boxes in the artisans’ market a few days before, intending to give them as gifts when I returned home.  But after they lay on the living room cot for a few days, I couldn’t resist opening them to see what I’d bought.  The afternoon was hot and I set up my “studio” on the small table of the patio which held the clothes washer.  My tool boxes and cases full of art supplies sat on the patio around me.  By late afternoon, I was surrounded by strips from cut up photographs, cloth, beads, snips of waxed linen.  Each glass fronted box was some degree of its way toward being a retablo.  One was dedicated to Bearcat, another to the Virgin of Guadalupe,  the third a tribute to life in general––seeds, greenery, birth.  With my limited supplies, it became necessary to search the household for things we’d brought that could contribute to the shrines.  A container of popcorn contributed fertility and life bursting forth to the Madonna shrine.  An old peso brought to me by neighbors who visited Mexico in the 50’s, now worthless, was beautiful when the raised parts were buffed with fine sandpaper.  Feathers, beads, charms, seeds, bits of cloth, cut up bits of the photos I’d taken so far in Mexico.  Bob awoke from his siesta in the late afternoon and set up his easel––a tall ladder––in the courtyard.  He assembled his paints, prepared his palette––and the rain started.  Moving his materials quickly to the patio where I sat surrounded by my midden of art supplies, he propped his canvas against the table.  Restful large blobs of color covered the canvas.  They reminded me of the bougainvillea.  His usual bright primary colors had been abandoned for the more subtle colors of the garden and house that surrounded us. 

            By 9:30, we sat on the deck eating our dinner when the band started in again––coming from a direction about half a block away to the rear of our house.  Kids’ voices called out excitedly.  I imagined a pinata being broken.  Then the fireworks started.  They were the spectacular chrysanthemums and huge falling fountain fireworks of  a fourth of July celebration.  At first we went out to the compound to see them.  Then Bob said we should go up on the roof, but by the time we had climbed up the circular staircase with our plates, the fireworks had stopped.  We stood at the edge of our roof, our plates balanced on the adobe pillars on the sides of the patio.  Up here it was cool, and the food lost its heat quickly.  Although it was too dark to see our food, in the moonlight, we could see puffs of smoke ––the ghosts of the earlier fireworks.  We could hear a loud “thwack, thwack, thwack” and children screamed and laughed.  The band started up, died down, started up––like long spaced hiccups. 

            An hour or so later, when we were about to go to bed, the activity again moved to the street in front of our house.  The band, much improved, came marching firmly down the street from our left.  They seemed to have been replaced by another band, for now their music was sure and robust.  They seem to have swelled in numbers, as well.  They came more quickly than before down the street and stopped two doors away from us.  Some of them carried bottles, which they took fast swigs out of before raising their instruments.  They played a rousing song before one of the men pulled a man from the house and brought him out to dance with him.  He encircled his body with his arms and they danced like lovers to the music.  Then the music stopped and the entire band––maybe 15 or 20 strong––streamed into the house.  Earlier, as I stood on the roof, I had seen women in that compound making tortillas in the back yard.  I had wondered why they would choose early evening to do so, then figured it was to escape the heat of the day.  Now I wondered if they were for the musicians, who did, indeed, stay in the compound for the rest of the night, playing music which echoed up the brick walls of their compound directly in through our windows.  It was then that the really loud fireworks started and continued for an hour or so.  We drifted off to sleep.  Was it midnight or 1 a.m.?  It made no difference.  The fiesta was over and we slept.

            Boom!  An explosion like a land mine ripped through our open window.  Then another and another.  Some streamed up into the air, some exploded on the ground.  These explosions were cherry bomb sized, then hand grenade sized, then, to our very early morning ears, \ground-to-air missile-sized.  Amazing that the cat only stirred slightly in the bed.  Just a week ago he would start and run at the rustle of the cat food bag.  Explosion after explosion went off. 

            “What time is it?” I asked Bob, but he couldn’t see his watch.  By this time, at least a couple dozen explosions had gone off.  Since it was still dark, perhaps the purpose was to bring out the sun.  By now the roosters were crowing, so the  fireworks had done their job.  But they didn’t stop.  After one ear-splitting retort, our car alarm went off, adding to the festivites.  Bob rolled out of bed and fumbled in his shorts pocket for the keys.  I moved to the bathroom and by the time I got back, the car alarm had gone off again. 

            “Just turn it off.  I think this is going to go on all day.”  I flipped on the light.  6:15 a.m.  Church bells began to toll. 

            By eight o’clock, all was quiet.  The sounds I could hear seemed muffled––either in comparison with the fireworks or due to them.  Roosters crowing, the acetylene torch sound of the water heater coming on, trucks and buses on the road, the beautiful cries of grackles.  Ceiling fans whirred.  Bob slept on in the huge bed on the balcony across from where I sat in the office.  This bed was the largest either of us had every seen.  It had to be bigger than king-sized.  I could stretch out my arm fully from where I slept and still not find him.  The cat could sleep sideways between us and not touch either of us. 

            “We need another person for this bed,” Bob had said as we slipped into bed the night before. I suggested that we could both just roll over to the middle, so we did.

Chapters 1-14 are availble in daily blogs for the past two weeks. 

ASA Show: Water


Here are some photos I took at the Ajijic Society of the Arts show. It will be hanging at the Casa del Sol Inn until June 4, Javier Mina 7 off Constitution.

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 14

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 14


            It was early morning, two days later.  That morning when I awoke and saw the sunset, I got up and climbed the circular staircase to the roof to photograph it.  Around us, roosters competed, yodeling their hoarse cries to the still cool air.  Even after the sun had been up for an hour, their calls clashed against each other in the blue morning.  A fine haze obscured my view of the hills behind Gigante to the south, the city to the northwest.  Behind us was another metal shop, where workers worked late.  Last night the sounds of grinders and metal striking metal did not stop until about 9:30. This morning for the first time I noticed that the very tall antennae that we had seen from our hotel and had at first thought to be a palm tree was practically in our back yard!  I didn’t know whether it was a TV antenna or some other sort of tower, but we already knew that TV had definitely hit San Miguel. 

            Twenty years ago, I had vacationed in Mexico with a man who claimed to be the first to bring TV’s into Mexican hotels.  Now they were everywhere.

            The day before, after buying vegetables and fruit in the covered mercado, we had walked through the open-air artisans’ market.  Accustomed to the feverish attention of stall minders as we passed their stalls in other parts of Mexico, it was surprising that here we were barely noticed.  Upon entering a few of the stalls, I saw why.  Most of the stalls contained small TV’s.  We heard the staccato of Spanish as they watched soap operas or cartoons.  In other booths the TV’s were on but silent, and we peeked in to see the Spanish subtitles of American movies which they were watching with the sound turned down low.  Spellbound, they barely noticed us as we passed by. 

            I knew too well the allure of television.  After going twelve years without TV, we had finally subscribed to cable two years before.  We had told ourselves it was so we could get better radio reception, then decided to expand the subscription to include the independent film channel.  From the first day, we were hooked.  Part of the reason we’d left the U.S. was to get away from it

            We hadn’t turned on the small TV in Jim’s office.  I think Bob didn’t even know it was there.  Its dark screen stood behind my back as I sat at my laptop, staring blankly over my shoulder as I put TV on my “no” list next to pastry. 

            It was 8:15 a.m., our third morning in the new house, when the grinders started again in the shop next door.  We had wondered if Bob’s tools would bother anyone if he decided to do large pieces, but here, they would barely notice.  With our back wall also their back wall, it sounded as though the noise was in the house with us.

            Both Bear and Bob seemed to be falling into the habit of multiple siestas during the day.  Bob awoke for breakfast, then slept again well into the afternoon, when he awoke again and stretched and attached his canvas to a frame.  It was a pattern with him to take some time to get inspired, while I had that Dutch urge to be busy.  The office balcony where I wrote was the most pleasant area in the house to work, while we had not yet figured out where to set up our art studios.  The roof and top balconies were too sunny, the bottom balconies filled with tables and chairs and washing machines, but we would figure it out.  The day before I had purchased some small retablo boxes which I hoped to fill as gifts for friends back home, and I had laid them out on the living room cots , hoping they would collect inspiration from the house’s atmosphere. 

            The night before, we had gone to the viewing of the video.  The crowd in Pablo’s cafe, where the premiere was held, was very small.  As we approached the cafe, we met three women making their way down the street.  They and we were the sum total of the crowd, along with Susan’s children, who were first told to clear out, then furnished with sandwiches.  The woman who had told us about the video came in a few minutes after they started the film.  The waiter asked what we wanted, and I ordered white wine.  They had red wine, he told me, so I had red wine.  We ordered from the menu, but both of our choices were unavailable.  In spite of the rather long posted menu, what they had was leg of lamb, beef sandwich or pasta with chicken, which we ordered. 

            The video, for the first half, was mainly about the churches––a subject which I found less interesting than more human subjects, but the information, what of it I could hear over the cooks in the kitchen, the waiters and the kids, was interesting.  Several times, someone at the Jessica Tandy lady’s table was heard to remark, “It’s really good.  I’m surprised.” 

            It must have been one of the other ladies at her table saying it, I thought.  How rude.  Do they know that she was involved in making it? 

            When the video was over, before the credits had run, Gilberto, the waiter, had put on another video.  “Also about San Miguel,” he said.

            This video was composed of still shots only, but was more interesting than the first.  After it was over, we talked to Jessica Tandy.

            “It’s really good,” she said for the fourth time.  “I’m really surprised.”

In turned out that she had had nothing to do with the making of the video.

             “I must admit,” she said, “I set up this viewing so I could see the video to see if it was any good before I bought it.”

            We walked to the Jardin, where we viewed the parroquia with renewed interest.  Sitting on one of the benches which faced out from the jardin, we watched two pretty young Mexican teenagers flirt outrageously with whichever one of the four boys they were standing with who paid them the most immediate attention.  They seemed to be competing.  When one caught the attention of the young man both seemed to find the most attractive, the other one would fawn outrageously over whatever boy was nearby.  Now and then one girl would walk off with one of the boys, but she always returned.  Then the two young men who seemed to be the ones they were most interested in walked away.  One girl sat down on a bench with a sketch pad.  The other walked away with a heavy young man who seemed to be a fill-in object for her flirtation.  I had forgotten how much fun it was to flirt.  Surely, I had never been as self-confident in my flirtations as these girls, but I begrudged them none of their fun.  They formed part of the entertainment for us all.

            Here, people went out at night.  They stood in groups on the street or around a food wagon, their elbows on the counter as they ate a hamburger or burrito.  They sat gossiping on park benches, played with children or, as we did, sat watching the parade.  One person in fifty was a foreigner, and the foreigners were as intriguing to watch as the natives.  Amazing that most of us came from the same continent.  The variety from foreigner to foreigner was so great.  The great preponderance of people we had met, be they residents or tourists, had been Canadian or Texan.  Then there were the art or language students––young, old, Mexican, North American, European.  We heard of Swiss and Germans, but had met none.  We had heard of the American woman who, answering the door expecting a package, had been stabbed multiple times. 

            “And the man is still free in her neighborhood,” our informant told us.  “They put him in jail for a while but they let him out and she has to live there because everyone knows and now no one will buy her house.”

            We went for ice cream, then moved to a bench facing south on the opposite side of the jardin. We had noticed the birds, which were plentiful, on its other side, but here their cries were almost deafening.  A thousand or more birds nested, perched, flew up, fluttered, glided down to, glided up from the  50 or so trees in the jardin.  They were all black with widely fanned, very long tails.  When we had asked Maria Antoinette what they were, she had said crows,  but we later discovered them to be grackles––much more fragile and slim and exotic than any North American crows.  Their songs were varied, atonal and loud.  They would have furnished great sound effects for  Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.  We couldn’t imagine what was attracting them.  There were always lots of birds in the jardin, but not this many.  We couldn’t believe that no one else seemed to notice them.  Nor could we believe that neither sidewalk nor people were being splattered.  Now and then a dry leaf fluttered down as a bird alit or took off, but there was no evidence of any bird splatterings anywhere.  The trees were dense, it was true, and seemed to be serving as our umbrellas. 

            Well-behaved Mexican children played with their grandmothers.  Older children entertained their younger siblings.  Elderly women greeted neighbors, young women sat talking to each other, eating ice cream delicately, small spoonful by small spoonful.  The toy vendor stood in one place for an hour, talking to a young woman on the bench near to where he stood.  One arm was pulled upwards by the combined lifting effect of 50 or more inflated mylar balloons held on short strings.  With the other, now and then he would move a horse with spinning sculpted Coke can wheels around him in an arc, but he seemed to be more interested in conversation than in sales.

            A small boy whizzed by on a skateboard/scooter––the first we’d seen in San Miguel.  Then another boy rode by, cautiously, on the same scooter.  He next offered it to a small girl in a pale, loose dress.  I was impressed by his generosity, but the girl seemed reluctant to try it out.  Then she glided a short distance, pumping the courtyard with her free foot.  Eventually, she wheeled by, cautiously, three or four times.  The boys having left, I realized it was her skateboard.  Another small girl craned her neck to follow her progress as she passed her.  A skateboard/scooter was indeed a novelty in San Miguel.

            We had yet to see a misbehaving, pouting or crying child in Mexico.  Everywhere, they seem to be flooded with attention and love.  They were well-dressed, cheerful, playful, outgoing.  Older children played with younger children.  Strangers in the street or on park benches squeezed their cheeks or patted their hair.  Young fathers slung blankets under the arms and across the chests of their toddlers and followed them patiently, around and around the jardin.

             We had met Susan’s three children, aged two, six and eight.  They were tow-headed clones of the black-haired Susan.  “This isn’t really my color,” she had told us, but we were unable to tell if she was kidding or not.  The three kids rattled around, seat beltless, in the back of Susan’s van as she took us to see an apartment, another woman to see a storage space.  They had acquired a magnifying glass which fascinated them all.  They were catching the sunlight and directing it onto paper, their arms.  “You can start a fire with that,” I told them. 

            “We’re going to use it to burn ants,” the eldest told me.

            Then their interest in lenses spread to me.  Theresa, the smallest, wanted to try on my glasses.  The other two wanted to try them on, too.  As we reached our destination, they spilled out of the van.  The boys hit the dirt, in search of ants.  When the lady at the storage space moved up the stairs to show the storage unit, Theresa went with her.  We went into the two-story apartment we were here to see.  Susan came with us.  The kids were free to do what they would in this free place, whether I agreed with their antics or not.

For Chapter 15, gp  HERE.

  All photos unless otherwise noted are my me.

Shared Identity


Click on photos to enlarge

I have recently discovered that for some reason my Photos app has been issuing the same number for different photos.  When I looked up the number of this first photo to see if I’d previously published it on my blog,  I was surprised to see that although I hadn’t, I had published two other photos by the same number. They were so varied that I decided when I find such oddities, I’m going to publish the various photos.  So here, folks, are  photos # 6212!!! Could they be more different? Well, actually, the photo of Zoe curled up in a box the day after she popped up in my life does looks a bit like the orange curled up in its exploded skin, but don’t know what that snowy egret is doing in the bunch.

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 13

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 13

            That night, I sliced chicken breasts and sauteed them with green, yellow and red peppers, garlic, onion and carrots.  I sliced potatoes and boiled them, then added them to the pan.  While they browned, I made a salsa of the mangoes and sweet onions I’d bought in the market. 

            No bread tonight.  We remained firm in our resolve. We had been very bad about bread and pastries, which were so cheap and good in the town shops and markets and even cheaper and better in the large bakery at Gigante.  Here bread, rolls, pastries, donuts and cakes were piled in bins or displayed on large trays.  Customers walked around with tongs and pizza trays, choosing what they wished, then stood in line to have them bagged and tagged at the cash register. The first time we had visited, we had filled up two bags and the total came to about $2.  The store was so close that we couldn’t even walk off the calories by walking to get them. 

            We tried to eat by candlelight on the unwalled patio off the kitchen.  I kept lighting candles, but the wind kept blowing them out.  We had begun to notice a pattern in the weather.  Hot days gave way to cool windy evenings.  At 9, all the doors in the house blew shut, the trees were swaying, and I pulled on a long-sleeved t-shirt against the chill. Then by 9:30 it had warmed up again and the wind had died down.  By 10, it was dead still and I had discarded the long-sleeved shirt.                       

            Today, Bob went to town to replace the large stretched and framed canvas we had lost off the top of our car in the desert.  Then we went back to town in the afternoon to look at a possible long-term rental and to shop in the market. As we waited for Susan at La Conexion, a continual stream of people ducked in and quickly out again, having grabbed their mail from their boxes. There were several of these mail delivery places in town.  Your address was a mailbox in Texas.  Then they bulk shipped the mail UPS to San Miguel so the mail never went through the unreliable Mexican postal system.  They would also accept faxes and would print out three pages of e-mails a day for customers. 

            Bob pointed out a stack of videos of San Miguel piled on the counter.  We hadn’t noticed them before.  A few minutes later, a small neatly dressed woman came in.  She left and came in again, smiling at us both times and talking to a woman in the computer section of the room.  She had a genteel air, and when she smiled and talked, she resembled Jessica Tandy.  When she came back in our direction, she spoke.  “Have you noticed the video?” she asked. 

            When we told her we were just commenting on it, she said, “We’re having a viewing here tomorrow night at 6.  It’s the first viewing.  You should come.”  She then told us of an earlier video about San Miguel. 

            ‘”Were you in film production before you came to San Miguel?”  I asked her.  Something she had said had given me the idea that this was her video.

            “Oh, no, I’m just a woman who knows how to talk and has a lot of money, so I get things done!”  she told us, giving  me the impression that she had bankrolled or produced the video.

            In the Jardin, we ran into Lisa, the girl we met in the bank our first day.  We told her we’d rented a temporary house, thanks to her, and showed her the pictures we’d taken of it that we’d just picked up from the photo store.  Lisa lived in a motorhome parked at a friend’s house and was preparing for a showing of her works which would occur while we were back in the States.  She breezed away from us through the Jardin, on her way to her daily errands.


***Note: If you are still reading these daily chapters, would you please leave a brief note in comments to tell me so? I am wondering if I should keep posting them or retire them for the time being. If enough people are interested, I’ll keep posting them. 



Gordon Lightfoot, 1938-2023

One of the great recording artists and songwriters of our generation, Gordon Lightfoot, died on May 1, 2023. This is a wonderful tribute to him by Rick Beato as well as a touching rendition of “Sit Down Young Stranger” by Forgottenman.

serial monography: forgottenman's ruminations

I just love so many Gordon Lightfoot songs. I discovered him with his first album, but only in 1973, 3 years after its release. One of the first songs I learned to play & sing on guitar was “Sit Down Young Stranger“, and it will always be my favorite of his. It resonates deeply.

How do you thank someone for the impact they’ve had on your life after they’ve passed? Well, maybe you write a blog tribute to them. Or if you’re Rick Beato, you do a moving video tribute to them.

I asked Judy/Remi/LifeLessons if I should post my rendition of “Sit Down Young Stranger”. She says yes, so I unveil myself in honor of Gordon. (And she recorded this.)

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Delayed Warning

Delayed Warning

A bout of indigestion can make a guy a grouch
and leave him prone to lying grumbling on the couch
while his wife stands listening, chuckling in the hall,
remembering how she had warned him not to eat it all.
Yet he had ingested it, as usual, in a hurry
before she could warn him that he was eating curry!


For the Three Things Challenge the words are: CHUCKLE GROUCH INDIGESTION
Image by towfiqu-barbhuiya- on Unsplash

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 12

Although I can’t find any of the photos I took in San Miguel, the background of this retablo I made while living there shows a shot of the courtyard of the hacienda where Ernesto wanted us to live.

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 12


  The next day, I awakened early.  We were unsure whether Theresa, the housekeeper, came at 8 or 11.  Susan had told us one time, Steve the other.  I sat in the office in the balcony across from the master bedroom, watching Bob sleep as I started my laptop.  The sounds of the neighborhood flew in over the tall wall that I could just see over there on the second story of the house.

            When Theresa did not come by 11, we decided she was not coming, but we left one door ajar for her, just in case.  She had the key to the compound, but not the house.  We walked to the main road and caught a taxi to the Biblioteca, where we were to meet Ernesto and Dirk to go on a tour of the hacienda and Ernesto’s new school.  Everyone was on time and in fact, everyone had arrived early and gone somewhere to wait, mistakably expecting everyone else to be on Mexican time.  When I told Ernesto we had rented a house, he seemed crestfallen. 

            “Why would you want to rent a house for a month?”  he asked.  “You could be staying at the hacienda for $16 a night.” 

            We explained that we loved the house and that we needed space and privacy to work. 

            “At the hacienda, you could ride horses and use the kitchen,” he answered, still looking disappointed. 

            The tour took much longer than either we or Dirk had anticipated.  Dirk had brought his wife, Maria Antoinette, who was with us as we started out viewing the hacienda.  Everything seemed to be in a state of flux there.  In one large library , a computer stood on a table  and paintings were stacked ten deep against the walls.  They had been taken from the walls, said Ernesto, and replaced by other paintings.  The pool table had been taken from one room and sat, covered, in another.  Piles of mattresses lay in corridors or the corners of rooms.  In the kitchen, something bubbled on the stove:  a pot of beans and a succulent smelling joint that Ernesto insisted was being cooked as dogfood for the dogs.  A large room adjoining the kitchen was available for fiestas, explained  Ernesto.  We saw no one.  Eventually, a distinguished looking older man walked into one of the bedrooms we were inspecting.  He was introduced to us as the Don and he shook our hands politely, but did not seem too pleased to have us there.  In a rapid exchange, Ernesto seemed to be asking him how much it was to stay there.  It turned out that it was $16 per person, so at $960 a month,  it would have been more expensive for us to stay there than in the house we were in.  The Don left and we moved  through arched courtyards and gardens, and ruins partially intact left for atmosphere.  We saw a huge pool, apparently long drained, which Ernesto insisted was still functional, but too expensive to maintain.  They would convert it to solar and then refill it, he said.  But come.  This was the small pool.  Come see the large one.  I started  to feel like we were wandering on a private unauthorized tour through San Simeon prior to its restoration.  Below the “large” pool was a two-story house presently going through restoration.  The views from the patio––of rolling hills and green fields–– were breathtaking.  At one time the hacienda spread as far as the eye could see.  This was before the revolution.  Ernesto’s school was situated in the Armory, where troops used to guard gold and silver shipments, but first we must see this house.  We might want to rent it, he told us. 

            The house seemed to be partially occupied.  There were clothes and toiletries in the bathroom, food and pans in the kitchen.  Half-packed boxes lined the stairway.  Ernesto told us that the people had moved out, but it looked more like they were in the process of moving out.  As usual, there were many mysteries in the world as presented by Ernesto.

            Dirk, worried now that he would not get Maria Antoinette to work on time, asked when we would see the school.  He had expected this to take two hours, he said, and it had been that long already without seeing the school.  We must drive to the school, said Ernesto.  Slowly, since the road is bad.  We would drive most of the way and then walk, but first we must have some refreshment. 

            We pulled over in front of a tiny adobe casa by the side of the main road.  A bus drew up, disgorging schoolchildren home from school.  They scattered like wild kittens.  One small girl entered the courtyard we were entering.  We tried to crowd into a tiny shop, but there was not room for more than three.  Bob and Dirk went in to order Coronas for Dirk, Ernesto and me, juice for Maria Antoinette, Coke Light for Bob.  The Senora who lived in the small house behind the shop and who was the shopkeeper found chairs for all of us and we pulled them into a circle in the bare dirt courtyard.  A huge mesquite tree cast shade over half the yard.  The small girl picked a flower from it and handed it to Maria Antoinette.  If unfurled, it would resemble an hibiscus flower, but its petals were pulled down into a bell.  It was variegated tangerine, gold and orange––the exact colors of Maria Antoinette’s blouse and hair and skin.  We sat in the courtyard and told stories.  Bob, who was given to introspection before speaking, did not fare well against the talkative Dirk and Ernesto.  Maria Antoinette, who was originally from Mexico City but who could, she told us, now pass for a native of San Miguel, entered the house and fell into conversation with the Senora, who eventually pulled up a chair and joined us.  Dirk speculated on what Bob might be thinking, and Bob admitted he was anxious to see the schoo––what we all came here for.  Dirk again expressed worry that Maria would be late to work, teaching English at a private school, but Ernesto insisted we all have a second Corona.  In the end, he and Dirk had another Corona.  I  was already feeling the need for a siesta after one beer.  The hot sun and the lulling effect of far off echoes from the broad landscape had  made me content but sleepy. 

            We were very lucky, said Dirk, to be seeing the real life of Mexico.  Not many tourists saw  what we had seen today, he told us.  Not feeling like a tourist, and feeling like this is how I always traveled or lived in the countries where I have visited, nonetheless, I agreed.  Eventually, we drove on a bit, then parked under a tree after removing several large rocks from the road.  Ernesto unlocked the gate in the tall compound wall.  Towers rose above us––where armed soldiers once guarded the shipments of precious metal.  To our left was a huge bank of blue, glittering in the sunlight.  Next to it was a mound of goldish red, another of white.  They were like a rubbish dump where all of the refuse had been sorted by color.  As we got closer, I saw  that they were mountains of glass.  One was deep cobalt blue––like the color of Mexican blown glass tumblers.  The next drift was broken Pepsi bottles––clear for the most part, but here and there we could see the blue and red of the logo.  Mounds on the other side of the compound were of raw semiprecious stones still in their matrix.  One was of opals, the other chalcedony––what Bob and I knew as poppy and picture jasper.

             We went  first into the room where Ernesto had set up lapidary equipment.  The good equipment was in Texas, he said.  Most of this equipment was used or gerrymandered, but 20 or more stations had been set up. 

            Maria Antoinette sat down on a couch at the entrance and promptly fell asleep.  Ernesto  turned on a fan and directed it toward her and we left her to dream.  He showed us the faceting  tool and the opal grinder.  He showed us the ghastly clay fountain which he sought to mass produce.  It was a wet bar, a fountain and a lamp.  He could sell it very cheap, he said.  He showed us several wax sculptures that they would cast in bronze.  One was by a Swiss lady who wanted to study there, he told us.  His plan was to set up a mobile home park in the center of the compound, where people could come from the States for lapidary and casting workshops much cheaper than those in the States.  They would have school for poor and crippled children, as well.  They would feed them lunch, Ernesto explained.  We moved into another building.  In it were mounds of pot metal molded trinkets––cats, dogs, women, crosses, flowers, every conceivable shape.  Piles of circular molds covered a table.  He pressed the “on” switch on the machine used to melt pot metal. He wanted show us how quickly  this could be done.  He pounded talc onto the molds, fit the two pieces together, and put them up against the snout of the pot where the metal was being heated.  Poof, that quickly the mold was filled and placed to cool.  Then another and another.  You could do twenty in one minute if they were all prepared, he told us.  When he peeled the mold apart, we saw a circular chain of trinkets––perhaps thirty or more––ready to be separated, tumbled and gilt or silver plated. 

            Hanging from the ceiling was a large toy plane––perhaps five or six feet long.  It looked like it had been constructed from old soda cans or recycled tin siding, but Ernesto said it was very expensive.  Strapped to its bottom was an infrared camera.  It was a remote-controlled plane  (the predecessor to the now-ubiquitous drone) which he could send up to locate water and minerals, he told us. 

            Next, we moved to a side compound filled with slab cutters and diamond saws.  Most were rusty, but all functioned, he told us.  Earlier, there was a flood and all were underwater, but they may all be made to work. 

            Bob suggested that more than a resident artist, Ernesto perhaps needed a production manager.  Whereas Ernesto insisted the school would be open in two weeks, it looked more like two years to us, and it looked more like a sweatshop than a school, although Ernesto insisted the money would go to the kids with only enough going to the “school” to keep it functional.  When I questioned Ernesto about the artistic side of things––most of these designs were just being mass produced and were less than esthetically pleasing––at their best pure kitsch––Ernesto insisted they would also do their own designs.  That would be where Bob came into the picture, he insisted, but I could feel Bob’s interest fading.  Years ago, before he himself had built diamond saws and slabbers and drills and worked with stone, perhaps it would have been challenging, but at this stage it felt like going backwards, not forward.

            I asked Ernesto what his goal was.  He said that the metal and gem crafts of Mexico for generations had been centered elsewhere, in towns where they had been passed down in families, from father to son.  He wanted to open up the crafts to everyone and to establish San Miguel as a center where people could set up their own studios and establish their own crafts.  This was the beginning part only.  The school had first to support itself to enable the students to go on and become independent.

            When Ernesto talked like this, I believed him.  He told us he had sold his Mother’s house in New Orleans to enable him to buy two factories and  two mines.  This was where the tools and the raw minerals had come from.  The glass was from a glass factory which he rented out space to here in the armory, but they hadn’t paid rent for a year, so he had locked them out .  That is where the glass came from.  They would use it to make enamel. 

            “How many people have been working on this school?”  I asked him. 

            “One,” he told me, and pointed to himself.  “Sometimes two.” 

            Although the don had offered him lodgings in the hacienda, Ernesto said, he had a very nice apartment and girlfriend in San Miguel, where he preferred to stay, but when I went in search of a bathroom, I saw in a back secluded corner of the workshop a cot covered by a tarpaulin.  On the tarp were several piles of neatly folded clothes.  By the side of the bed was a refrigerator wrapped in chain with a padlock. 

            Later, I confided to Bob that I wondered if Ernesto was indeed living in the armory.  Bob admitted  that he wondered the same thing.

            Dirk, who was a retired dentist and lapidarist, confided to me that he was tempted to stay in Mexico and get involved in Ernesto’s project.  It was the first thing that had peaked his interest and made him want to get active again in years, he said.

            Sweat shop or school?  Mass production or art studio?  Visionary or Con Artist?  Who could know?  But Ernesto continued to intrigue us with his tall dreams and his big stories.  How did people discover the truth about each other?  One part of me wanted to believe in his dream, but intuition told me we were being gently conned.  Well, manana.  We would wait and see.


Chapters 1-11 can be found in earlier blogs published in the past two weeks.