Tag Archives: Innocents in Mexico

Questions for Readers of Innocents in Mexico

If you read all or part of Innocents in Mexico, It would be a tremendous help for me if you would answer the below questions and also make any suggestions of your own re/ how to make the book better.

  1.  Was the introductory chapter sufficient or do you feel you need a better introduction of the characters?

2. What specific information do you wish had been included in the first chapter?

3. Were the chapters dealing with driving down to Mexico interesting? Any details you wish had been left out?

4. What character do you wish you knew more about in the story?

5. Was anything unclear to you? What details were unclear or insufficient?

6. Would you read another book that took the story from this point?

7. If you hadn’t already read my writing or known me, would you still have kept on reading this book?

8. If you lost interest, at what point was this?

9. Is the book long enough?

10. If I were to write an entire book about one character in Innocents in Mexico, what character would you want that to be?

11. What further comments do you have about the book?

12. Did you read the entire book? If not, which chapters did you read and why did you stop?

13. Would you recommend this book to friends?

14. Who do you think the audience would be for this book?

Thanks for completing this questionnaire. I’m going to choose one person who has written the most helpful comments and I’ll send them a book when it is in print… Or if you prefer, send them to my email at jubob2@hotmail.com



Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 23. The End!!!


The House Then

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 23

After a quick trip to San Miguel and Back, we loaded our extra stuff into a cubicle at a storage place conveniently located on the Carretera in Ajijic and settled into a lcasita on a street conveniently located near the Nueva Posada as well as another restaurant and the Lake Chapala Society.  The rooms were homey and traditional with lovely gardens and pathways in between.  Here Bearcat was welcome and roamed the pathways, firmly leashed, with little trepidation. Like Bob, after a few initial fears and traumas, he had acclimatized himself admirably.

There was another couple staying in a room near ours who were also looking for a house, although they seemed to be more sure than we were that they actually wanted to buy.  Strangely enough, their names were also Judy and Bob, and we shared information about our daily viewings nightly over drinks and dinner at The Bodega, a cozy restaurant just a block away.

Lucy seemed almost psychic in her ability to show us homes we loved, be they small homes in town neighborhoods or fancier homes on the cliffs up above.  We saw condos and mansions—one of which looked like the Taj Mahal. Years later I discovered it was purchased by  and American religious cult that was using it as a retreat center.  We saw homes from Chapala to Ajijic to Jocotepec, on the far western edge of the lake. We even saw homes in the tiny pueblos on the south side of the lake where very few expats lived, but for us they were too divided from cultural activities we knew we’d enjoy on the north side, which was an expat haven.

Lucy encouraged us to attend Open Circle at the Chapala Society so we could acquaint ourselves with some of the other people who had chosen to make Lake Chapala their home. It was a weekly non-denominational Sunday gathering that celebrated mind, body and spirit via speakers who shared their experiences and information about the lake and environs as well as views into alternate religions, beliefs and meditation practices.  No one way was espoused, but all were invited to be presented. People were very friendly, and at the two sessions we attended, we met people we knew would become our friends, and in fact, some of them remain my friends 22 years later. Others have passed away or moved away, as is likely in this area that contains the most expats of any place on Earth. But I am getting ahead of myself, putting the cart before the horse.

Of course, we had immediately shown Lucy the house in the Raquet Club. She was amazed that she had not yet seen it, probably due to the fact that it was unlisted because the owners did not wish to pay a realtor’s fee, but the more likely reason is because the gardener had never put out the flags and “For Sale” sign other than when he knew the owners were coming to view it.  It was our good luck because I’m sure if he had that it would have been sold.

Lucy could tell, I am sure, that every house she showed us came up wanting compared to this house, and she, too, expounded on its merits.  She had a good friend, a Canadian who was a builder who lived in her compound, who, she was sure, could find the fault with the pool.  The Raquet Club was noted for its good maintenance, for it’s hot water Olympic-sized pool that offered pool aerobic classes, for its tennis courts and raquet ball courts, its dog park and various social activities.  Many Guadalajarans had week-end homes there but other American and Canadians lived there fulltime along with a number of Mexicans who had made their fortunes in the U.S. before retiring back in Mexico.

We did not need Lucy’s encouragement when it came to our admiration of the house, and we visited it again each time we went to see other houses in the Raquet Club or San Juan Cosala, the village located on the lake directly below.

We found another condo we liked in a neighborhood about half-way between the center of Ajijic and the Raquet Club. It was a good deal less, yet our hearts kept turning back to the pale yellow house with the lovely rose-colored domes.

But. $180,000 dollars?

There was something that we had not told Lucy, in fact we had really not considered it ourselves. This was that in the past five months we had lost both of our mothers, and the truth was that both had left us money—some of which would come to us later, but each had left a lump initial sum which just happened to amount to exactly $180,000!!  It seemed pre-ordained––too much of a coincidence to overlook.

For the past few years, Bob had not displayed his usual enthusiasm for thingss and this was the most excited I’d seen him about anything for years. So, if not now, when? And one morning ,we woke up of a mind.  Let’s make an offer!  We used the phone in the lobby to call Lucy and she kept us connected on one phone as she used another of their office phones to call the number on the spec sheet we’d been given which turned out to be an invalid number! No wonder this house had sat empty for three years. The gardener had done everything he could to insure it. Lucy made calls to the Raquet Club and eventually uncovered the real number, called it and . . . . discovered that they had  just that morning received and accepted an offer for full price!

We had waited too long. Crushed, we told her to go ahead and make an offer on our second choice, the condo.

But no, she said.  She knew we really wanted the house. She was going to see what she could do.  She called them again, asking if the other people had made a down payment. No, she was told. They were in Canada and hadn’t had a chance to. In fact, they had not yet seen the house except in pictures sent to them by a friend.

How much of a down payment were they asking for and when did they want it, she asked. Within three days, they said. The people had promised to make a bank transfer.

On her other phone, Lucy transmitted the news to us.  Could we make the down payment in three days, she asked? Yes, as a matter of fact we could make it today.

When did they want a full payment made, she asked the sellers. Within another two weeks, they said.  Could we meet that deadline? asked Lucy. We looked at each other.  Yes, in fact, we could pay the entire amount today, for it was exactly the amount we had inherited from our two mothers and we had not had time to invest it before we left for Mexico. It was sitting  right now in our bank savings account just waiting to be put to some useful purpose! What were the chances?

Lucy conveyed to the owners that we were ready to make arrangements for a bank transfer today and the deal was struck. They rejected the other offer and accepted ours.

Three days later, we were property owners in Mexico!! We took Bearcat to see his new home for the first time and he promptly climbed a tree and rested on a low branch—something he had never been able to do on the redwood trees that surrounded his former home.  Bob and I sat on the floor in our empty house and looked at each other in wonderment.  “How did you know this is what we were supposed to do?” he said, and pulled me into an embrace that rivaled that first kiss that I will someday tell you about, perhaps during our long drive back to the states to complete the sale of most of our worldly goods or the return trip with the van stuffed to the roof with what we have chosen to bring with us down to our new home. We were off on a new adventure, and this time we were absolutely sure that it was exactly what both of us wanted.



(Click on photos to enlarge)
The House Now

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 22

Santa Clara del Cobra Hand-Raised Pots

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 22

As much fun as we’d had in San Miguel, it felt good to be off on another adventure and to have the means of our own locomotion again.  Bearcat, surprisingly, did not scoot back to his former position under the air mattress, but perched atop it and even occasionally hopped gracefully into my lap in the passenger seat, gazing out in wonder at the scenery whizzing by more quickly when viewed through the side window and more comprehendingly out of the front.

In true Bob fashion, we dallied little in our 3-hour trip from San Miguel to Patzcuaro. We Whizzed by Morelia. Whichever town we decided to settle in, it would be close enough so we could always easily return to see it at a later time.  We were hoping to accomplish this trip in  four days at most, and if we found an area we were more interested in than San Miguel, we could return to pick up the books and tools and remaining clothes we’d left in San Miguel and return to look for a possible rental. 

We found a lovely old hotel in the heart of Patzcuaro to serve as our base during our  initial exploration.  The town was authentic with few modern buildings or businesses to dispel the illusion that we had gone back in time. The art and the people were wonderful and the lake was a definite plus point in Bob’s mind, but it quickly occurred to us that in terms of terrain, this was not so different from the mountainous redwood forest that we’d lived in in Boulder Creek. We spent the day investigating the wonders of the town, had our first taste of atole—a delicious drink made from finely ground cooked masa (corn flour) and agreed that although it wasn’t ideal as our next place to live, that this was a place we definitely would came back to for a visit.  We had been told that the area that the monarch butterflies migrated to each year was very close by and it, too, was on our list of future explorations. 

We had heard of some of the artisan villages clustered around Patzcuaro.  Santa Clara del Cobre was a definite hit with Bob, as it was with me. It was a town consisting almost entirely of coppersmiths and the sound of hand-hammering filled the town.  A small-scale silversmith and coppersmith myself, I was amazed at the lack of modern tools—a bellows and coal fire being used in place of acetylene torches to anneal the metal, and three men with heavy metal mallets pounding the huge pot into shape in sequence after another man had moved it with huge tongs from the fire to the anvil. 

With my birthday coming up in a few weeks, Bob succumbed to his usual tactic of finding something he himself loved and when I, too, admired it, diverted me to another room while he bought it for me and secreted it in the nearby van.  In this case it was an amazing very large copper jar which lay horizontally with its opening  on the side.  Then, to be totally fair about the matter, when I found a pot I liked equally well, he encouraged me to buy it. In spite of the fact that he hadn’t been as sneaky as he thought he’d been and I knew perfectly well that he’d bought the other big pot, I played dumb and thus we became the owners of two of Santa Clara’s totally hand-forged pots created before modern intervention arrived with acetylene and propane torches. One can never have enough Santa del Cobre copper, as I have further demonstrated over the past 22 years.

We visited Capula, the town famous for its Catrinas, and managed to depart Catrinaless and also resisted the huge stone sculptures  that line the road leading into  Tzintzuntzan, although I did buy a few straw decorations for my Christmas tree, which I decorated each year with ornaments from every place I’d traveled throughout my life, as well as beloved saved ornaments from the Christmas trees of my youth.

We returned to enjoy music in the plaza across from our hotel which flowed in through the open windows of the restaurant we had chosen, then made an early night of it, packed up the next day and headed for Ajijic. We did not even stop in Uruapan, renowned for Its remarkable large park filled with water features, vowing to visit it during future adventures.

Ajijc is located next to Lake Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico, which is ringed by formerly volcanic mountains.  As we drove toward the city of Chapala, a small sign pointed to a cutoff to Ajijc and we swerved onto it, driving by a veritable mountain of garbage that was the town dump (happily now vanished, after the lease to use the land was withdrawn by the local ejido—the governing body of land held communally by the indigenous population.)

As we came around a bend and down the slope of the mountains that surround Lake Chapala, we suddenly saw the whole of it spread out before us.  Just one volcano, 80 miles away, is still active, and we could see the tip of it peeking over the shoulder of Mount Garcia, the largest and closest mountain in view across the lake. One of the most active volcanoes in North America, it gave off a slight puff of smoke just as we caught our first sight of the lake. “Oh Yeah, Jude!” Bob exclaimed. “I don’t want to move to San Miguel. I want to live here.” Thus it was was that we settled down to supposedly look for a rental in one of the little towns that stretched along the north shore of the lake.

But what Bob actually said as we sat in chairs in the first rental agency we came across was, “We may be looking for a rental, but do you have any houses for sale?”  The rental agent’s eyes lit up as she agreed that yes, she’d be happy to show us both rentals and houses for sale. Although I was still sure I didn’t actually want to buy a house in Mexico, Bob was expressing such joy at the prospect that I went along with him.  It would be fun to view some of the beautiful houses that we had already viewed from the outside in our drives around town.  What was our price limit? Bob gave the price of the first house he’d  found in San Miguel—$80,000.  But somehow, nothing in that price range quite caught our fancy, although we had seen a few rentals that we had liked.  We thanked the rental agent and said we’d be thinking about it, and consoled ourselves with a lovely meal and margaritas in the Ajiic Plaza Jardin Restaurant.  

Then fate intervened as we sat discussing the houses we’d seen and debated the issue of where we’d settle. We had already found a house we liked enough to rent for eighteen months in San Miguel. The fact that we hadn’t found one in our price range in Ajijic, coupled with the fact that I was still adamant that we weren’t buying a second house anywhere, let alone in Mexico, seemed to be directing us toward choosing San Miguel, but Bob convinced me we should spend one more day in Ajjic and environs just driving around looking at houses.  So it was that the next day, early afternoon, we wound up in a fraccionamiento (housing district) in the mountains above the village of San Juan Cosala, a few kilometers west of Ajijic.  The sign said, “Raquet Club,” which sounded to me like the least likely place I’d ever want to live, but as our van climbed the incline toward the top of the lowest mountain, we wove sideways from east to west along streets filled will lovely houses, all different with lush bougainvillea, palm trees, hibiscus and flowering trees of numerous varieties.  It was high above the lake with gorgeous views of the entire lake and Mount Garcia rising above it. 

We drove back and forth for a good 45 minutes before the van came to a screeching halt before the most beautiful house I had ever seen.  It was a pale mottled yellow and white in an L shape with two colossal rust-colored domes covering most of the two wings of the L.  The corners were all rounded without a sharp angle in the entire house.  It stood at the top of a steeply angled lot and the walls around it undulated down the mountainside like a series of falls smoothed out by flowing water.  The entire house looked like it had been sculpted by an artist’s hands.  If Bob were to ever design a house, I thought, it would look like this.

“Let’s see if it’s for sale!” he said.

“There’s no For Sale sign, Bob,” I said.

“I think it’s for sale, he insisted, climbing out of the van. He was now peering through the bars of the doors of an open-sided garage that stood a level above the house spread out below.”Doesn’t that look like a paper with specs on it by the door down there? Call out. See if anyone comes out!”

Embarrassed, I held my tongue, but just then, a man came out of the door. I don’t think he had yet seen us, but Bob seized the initiative and called down to him, asking if the house was for sale. 

“Si,” said the man, coming up to the garage and pressing a button which opened the garage gates.  With the same motion, he reached into a cabinet to withdraw a string of triangular flags similar to those at a used car lot and fastened them to nails at either side of the garage.  “Come in.”

We entered the garage, walked down four steps and into a courtyard of paving stones, then in through sliding glass doors into a large terra-cotta room, the other side of which was all glass sliding doors. Spread out below was a view of the entire lake.

“Oh yeah, Jude! Let’s buy it!!!” were the first words out of Bob’s mouth, and his enthusiasm remained uncurbed as we walked through a kitchen which featured  Yucatan-marble counters and a ceiling covered in tiles. There were two downstairs bedrooms and two bathrooms completely tiled in white marble with the same rose-colored marble tile on the countertops  as that in the kitchen. The brick domes were fabulous—one over the master bedroom and the other over the entire living room/dining room. In the middle of the living room dome was a three-foot wide domed skylight that filled the entire room with light.

Outside the living room was a bamboo-covered terrace with a pool and hot tub filled with naturally heated hot mineral water from the volcano!!!  Small palm trees dotted the yard, along with canna lilies and bougainvillea. Virginia Creepers covered the bamboo roof of the terrace and the large pillars that supported it.

The second floor casita consisted of a large bedroom with its own bathroom, two terraces and the best views of the entire house.

On the sheet of paper Bob had noticed with his keen eye was the price of the house–$180,000 U.S.  It had just been reduced from a price of $220,000. Bob’s face fell. Well over his $80,000 budget.  The gardener, who had been paid to live in this lovely house (albeit without furniture or appliances ) for three years, looked relieved when he saw the likelihood that we were not potential purchasers. Clearly, he had exhausted little effort in trying to sell it, as was evidenced by the absence of signs or flags when we first arrived.

We later discovered that the people who had built our dream house had lived in Guadalajara but she had parents in the Raquet Club and although the younger couple had built the house thinking they’d live there, it was so much more comfortable just visiting her parents on weekends, that they had never moved in. The pool line had a leak they’d been unable to discover, even though they’d dug up half the patio trying to find it and as a result, the pool emptied within hours of being filled. Designed by a very famous architect, Miguel Valverde, who was a personal friend, nonetheless the work of furnishing it and solving its pool problem plus the fact that it was rumored that the lake was fast drying up and would be empty within 5 years had caused them to put the house up for sale and when it did not sell, to reduce the price.

We both loved this house, but we had a house in the states and no immediate prospects for selling it. And so we turned our backs on it, drove back down the mountain and back to our little motel room. Once again, we consoled ourselves with a delicious meal—this time in the garden of the Nueva Posada—the only real hotel in town, although there seemed to be numerous b&b’s and cottage-type accommodations. I settled into my margarita and Bob into his Coke as we surveyed the menu. Once we’d made our choices, we began reviewing our past few days­­—the houses and apartments we’d seen, how much we loved the  lake and, ultimately, “the” house in the Raquet Club. Bob’s dream house, and I had to admit I was very taken with it as well.

We were back-and-forthing it over San Miguel vs. Lake Chapala when an attractive red-haired lady at the next table pulled her chair around a bit to better face us and said, “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear you. Are you looking for a house here?”

We explained our situation, sharing a bit of personal information about what we were doing here.  What had we done in the states? We were artists and writers. What were we looking for? What was our present house in the States like? Were we presently working with a real estate agent? No, we had been looking but had told her we were suspending our efforts for the time being. We didn’t know what we were going to do.  We needed to be back in the States in two weeks for my mother’s memorial and needed to go back to San Miguel to either pick up our stuff or to sign the lease for an 18-month rental.

Could we spare a few extra days, she asked? We exchanged glances. What did she have in mind? If we could take the time, she would be glad to show us a number of houses she knew we’d love—in every price range from $80,000 up, but first she wanted to do two things.  First, she wanted us to move from our little motel-type accommodation to the Nueva Posada, and secondly, she wanted to introduce us to some people who lived here—artists and writers and musicians that she thought we would have lots in common with. Her name was Lucy and yes, she was a real estate agent. We liked her. We shook hands on it and went with her to the desk to book a room.

For the next three days, Lucy showed us house after house, priced from $80,000 to $500,000 and we loved every one.  She introduced us to her friends—all of whom we felt an affinity with. They told us about the local little theater—founded 36 years ago by the man who played Jimmy Stewart’s younger brother in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  And about the local writer’s group with a similar long history. She introduced us to the fascinating history of Neil James  and the cultural center that had grown up around a home that she eventually left to become the Lake Chapala Society—a wonderful addition to the community. And it happened.  We felt at home.

And that is why, after a three-night stay in Ajijic, we headed back to San Miguel to pick up the art supplies and books and other belongings we had left there, broke Steve’s heart by telling him that we had decided not to rent his house,  and came back to Ajijic to stow  what worldly goods we had brought to Mexico in the local storage facility as we once again joined Lucy in our quest for our next home.

Author’s note: Phew, I made it!!! I had to entirely write this chapter today and wouldn’t you know it–wifi was out for most of the day. So frustrating. It finally came back on about an hour before midnight so I rushed to finish and post and edit.  If you found lots of mistakes, you probably read before I finished editing as I was determined to get it up before midnight.  Now I need to get tomorrow’s chapter up before midnight tomorrow. What is this penance for, do you suppose??? Keep reading, please. Some big surprises in store. For me, too, as I haven’t written them yet.  

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.



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

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.”

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 16

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 16

We decided to go into the city both to shop for more retablo material for me and to see if the fiesta extended into the downtown areas of San Miguel.  Determined not to drive the van through the tiny streets—especially on a weekend—we locked our compound gate and set off down our street to the main road, where we could catch a taxi or bus.  One of the ever-present loiterers in the field across from our house called out to us in English—a first for anyone from our neighborhood, although we had taken care to greet each child, man or woman we passed in the street.  “Hola,” we’d say, or “Buenos  tardes.” 

            “Buenos nachos,” Bob had said several times, and no one had laughed except me.  I could imagine the food imagery floating into their consciousness, wondering why this stranger would be commenting on his upcoming dinner to them, utter strangers.  The thought tickled me so much, but I wasn’t about to share it with Bob, who needed every encouragement to speak Spanish.  Later, when he had said it a third time, he asked me, “Is that right?”  And I finally told him the truth. 

            But no one in this neighborhood had ever spoken to us first––let alone in English. 

            “The fiesta will be today,”  said the tall thin man who leaned against the mesquite tree.

            “Again?”  I asked.

            “We will go to the church.  You should come.”


            “Very soon.”

            “Gracias,“ I said.  That happened often.  Someone speaking to me in English while I spoke to them in Spanish.  It was easier to speak Spanish to someone who spoke English.  Your confidence was bolstered by the fact that you knew you could switch to your mother tongue if you needed to. 

            But we moved off instead down the road to catch a taxi.

            In town, the streets were full.  For the first time, we went into a restaurant and could not find a table.  We walked around doing our errands.  The air was very hot––almost humid.  Then we heard music very nearby.  A police car approached us.  Behind it, a hoard of twisting, writhing creatures.  They were dressed in costumes with masks or large papier-mâché heads.  Men were dressed as women, women as wolves or kittens or pigs.  Masks took the shape of grotesques or beautiful women or animals.  Some of the dancing paraders were tiny—merely babies held in the arms of their mothers or fathers.  Others were massive men dressed up as sexy women.  There were hundreds of them gyrating, calling out, dancing.  Into the crowd they flung hands full of candies.  Some threw oranges.  Children and adults scrambled for the prizes.  I caught sight of a female gorilla with made-up face, blond wig, curled eyelashes, huge breasts.  In front, where her stomach should have been, was an exposed womb with an unborn child curled up inside—as though skin and fur had been removed to show the inner reality.  When I ran after the parade to get a picture, the gorilla whirled and posed.  Then, after I’d snapped a picture, it pulled its skirts up over its head, stuck its butt up in the air, and instead of a female gorilla, it was a male gorilla, snarling and crouched to spring.  I was so surprised that I may have snapped the picture too late, for the crowd quickly filled in around it.  I was later to learn that it was the “Dia de los Locos,” the day of the crazies.

            By the time we returned home, most of the activity on our street was over.  The next day there were no firecrackers, no bells.  The day seemed plain and lackluster without them.  That night we went to sleep early with no disturbances.  Although the banners and streamers still hung in the street, the revelers had gone home. 

            That morning, as went out to open the compound gate to move the van out, the same English-speaking loiterer accosted us. 

            “It was a good fiesta,” he said. 

            “Yes, we went in to San Miguel.  It was good there, too.”

            “Tomorrow, in the house three houses down, there will be another fiesta,” he said. 

            “And they will go to the church again?”  I asked, sorry that we hadn’t followed the last time.

            “No, that is finished.  This time it is a fiesta in the house only.”

            When we returned from our shopping and hours of driving around San Miguel, becoming acquainted with the various neighborhoods, the fireworks had begun.





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.