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.