I was the token poet reading at this Open Mike in Chapala on Friday. Lots of good music by talented musicians. (Click on first photo to enlarge all.)
All good things must end. Heading home from the open mike!!
Amazing how empty the road from Jocotepec to Ajijic was in 1986. If you jump ahead to 20-24 minutes into the video, they drive up into the Raquet Club to within two blocks of where I now live. Just two lots undeveloped along Pancho Gonzalez now but back then only a couple with houses on them. The club and courts were there, though. This video was posted on YouTube by Rick Howe. Shown here with thanks to him and to okcforgottenman who brought it to my attention.
I finally whittled my thousand photos taken in Guanajuato down to 135. Both my grand nephew Ryan and I had a fabulous time. We really didn’t know each other as he was born when I was 49, and by that time, I’d been married for 10 years and had inherited 8 stepchildren. We were doing arts and crafts shows which kept us on the road 278 days of the year one year, before we found our niche and settled down into it. In our 13th year of doing shows, we were doing 4 to 7 shows a year and doing better than that year when we were almost constantly on the road. I’ve strayed away from the point, that being that Ryan was in Iowa, we were in California, so when we did see his folks, the visit was fleeting and he was a little boy playing with his brother in the basement. Then later, when I went to visit my sister (his grandmother) he was in college or away doing apprenticeships. So, when he graduated from college, I gave him this trip to Mexico as a present. It was really a present for myself as he turned out to be a charming, enthusiastic, smart young man with a penchant for travel. This was his first trip out of the States and he was thrilled with everything. The fact that he is vegan turned out, in his words, to be less of a problem than in the states. More about that later. Here are the photos of our 4 days in Guanajuato. We were on a fabulous tour with nine others and luckily Ryan found a couple of “playmates” in the group…one the 28-year-old son of the tour director and the other a seventy-something trickster named John. You’ll see him in a hard hat next to Ryan. You can click on the first photo to enlarge all photos and see them as a slide series. Click on the arrow to go on to the next photo. Some will have captions. Go get a coffee or a martini, settle down, and share our trip:
Please note you have to click on the first photo and then the arrows to see captions: (If your wifi speed is slow as mine is, give them a few minutes to download and then all the images will be clear. I didn’t and had to wait for individual photos to clear up as they appeared fuzzy at first. I’ll be interested in hearing if any of you had this problem. I published them at a high resolution so they could be increased in size but made for a big file, I’m sure.)
Click on the first photo to enlarge and see all of the captions.
My friend Margaret Ann Porter wrote this tribute to her friend and gardener, Valentin Paredes, and has generously allowed me to share it with you. Other than just being a heartfelt and beautiful piece, I think it is important that people in the U.S. get a true view of what one Mexican man is like rather than depending on the stereotype portrayed by some of our “leaders.” People are people, no matter where they live. One reason I so strongly support travel at a young age is to make young people see that we are part of a world community made up of all sorts of people–good and bad–sprinkled pretty evenly over the globe. Here are two of the lovely ones… both the portrayed and the portrayer. Margaret and I both live on Lake Chapala in Mexico. It is the largest lake in Mexico surrounded by a number of little towns and villages. (Because she doesn’t have a blog, I am including the entire text and photos of her tribute here.)
My gardener Valentin Paredes died today from cancer. He was only 50. There are people who come along in your life who change you for having known them. Valentin was one of those for me. He was a simple man from a tiny lake village called Mezcala, born in a mud house and sent to work in Chapala when he was only 14. He learned gardening on a hotel crew and found joy in the work, and was so proud to be included in the gardener culture here at Lakeside. He taught me that those guys walking down the street with machetes and rakes and water hoses in their hands all know each other, and they know what’s going on in this town.
Valentin became our gardener 12 years ago when we bought our house. He’d already been working here for four years for a Mexican lady before we Americanos showed up and at first, he was timid with us. Later I learned it was because, in the hotel business in Mexico, Americanos don’t always send their best people, often they send their mean and rude people. After a few weeks, though, we understood each other and he became a terrific employee. He just couldn’t do enough for us, and even acted as handyman whenever we needed it. Sometimes after his shift, he’d leave me a flower arrangement for my table.
Vale had a tender heart about living things. He rescued baby birds and possums, and even took pity on the leaf-cutter ants, showing me how if we let them strip the rose bushes, they’d come back beautifully and without rust. (It works!) He was pals with our dogs and cats, and he’d even prune plants and I’d find the clippings taking root in a series of pots that he’d planted on the back patio. “But … they have life in them, Señora,” he’d explain when I complained about the crowds.
Most of all, he enjoyed new ideas, and whenever I’d give him one, he’d embrace it fully and, if it was actually bad idea, which it often was, he’d come around with a different plan, always approaching me in full deference. “Señora, I understand your plan, but what if we did this instead?” I’d heartily agree — relieved, really, because I am not a natural gardener — and then he’d create something wild and beautiful. I often felt uncomfortable with the whole “Señora” thing, but early on I learned that in his culture, a friendly distance from the ‘patrones’ was good policy.
How I will miss hearing the gate slam at 8 a.m., knowing that Valentin is arriving to do his work. It was one of the most comforting sounds I know because, for 12 years, that man was a dependable, committed and generous part of our life. His very presence taught me what those words really meant.
I will miss you, Valentin, and I’ll never forget you. I’m so sorry you lost your life too soon. You were a better man than most.
The Willow Cutters.
They gather in circles as the day ends.
Men sit in one circle, closer to the lake.
Women, still standing, cluster laughing around a ribald tale.
They’ve been cutting old willow, then burning it for weeks to clear the mud flats.
Now new willow, red-veined with opalescent skin, springs up from the graves of the old.
The teeth of slender leaves cup up to catch the far-off whirr of rain bugs in the hills.
Every night louder, their repetitious whirr is as annoying
as the temperature, which grows hotter every day.
The birds all seek their evening perches—
night heron on the fence post in the water,
blackbirds in orderly evening strings,
swallows in frenzied swooping snarls.
A young girl lies on her back in the short cool grass
that in the past few weeks has sprung from the cracked mud.
With her baby in arms, she rolls over to face the red sun and in her journey,
sees the ones from her pueblo who burn off last year’s growth.
Sees also the gringa who cuts the tender willow.
She is an interloper who watches birds, and as she watches,
is watched—the bright colors of her clothes drawing eyes.
She is the one for whom being a foreigner isn’t enough—
an ibis among herons, a cuckoo among blackbirds,
Now and then, all flock here.
As mother with child stands to go,
the willow cutter, too, straightens her back
and trudges heavy, arms filled with willow,
toward her car far up the beach.
As sun like a cauldron steams into the hill,
horses stream smoothly back to claim their turf,
and the other willow cutters circle longer, telling stories, moving slow.
Children run races with the night as sure as new willows
grow stubbornly from the ground of parents
uprooted, but victorious.
This is a poem written the year I moved to Lake Chapala, sixteen years ago. Every day for two years, I walked on land that had formerly been lake. There were acres of willow that I later learned townspeople were hired to clear before Semana Santa, when hordes of tourists from Guadalajara always descended. I was there to cut willow to make lamps. When the lake came up to its former banks a few years later, all of those willows, that grew back yearly, were destroyed. Only their bones now stick up when the lake recedes a bit again every year. They make perfect roosting places for birds. I rarely walk on the lakeside anymore. The lake has remained high enough so all of my former walking places are under water. Instead, I stay home and write poems and post blogs. As usual, click on any photo to enlarge all.
The Tile Layers
The tile cutter on his knees whistles “Fur Elise—”
five measures over and over—all day with no surcease.
A younger man behind him, in another room,
whistles tunelessly in rhythm as he wields a broom.
Hod carriers laugh and loudly call. Comida will be soon.
One of the youngest sings out a jolly ribald tune.
Their labors hard, their hours long as they hauled and carried,
and yet they have not seemed distressed, back sore, stressed or harried.
As they go to take comida, they move with one assent
as if to be relieved of where their labor time is spent.
Outside my wall they line the curb, their legs stretched in the street
to eat their warm tortillas––their chiles, beans and meat.
The only time they’re quiet is now their mouths are chewing,
for they are never silent when they are up and doing.
Five minutes and then ten pass as the silence swells around me,
until I feel the magnitude of silence might astound me.
Then one quiet voice is heard, and then another slowly after.
But still no music, calling out, whistling or laughter.
I can imagine well the scene. They’re spread out in the shade,
on their backs just resting in the shadows trees have made.
An hour’s camaraderie, like school kids taking naps,
their ankles crossed, their dusted clothes, their work hats in their laps.
Against their quietness, a motor hums out from afar.
Persistent birdcalls interrupt the tire crunch of a car.
A lawnmower chops at grass below. My clock ticks out the time.
This hour’s quiet interlude is almost sublime.
They must wonder what I do clattering on these keys––
my room cut off from all the dust , but also from the breeze.
The large dog’s bed is in a cage with an open door.
The little dog forsakes his bed to curl up on the floor
nearer the larger, older dog, although he’s sound asleep.
They too prefer to sleep as one, their brotherhood to keep.
An hour passed, the jefe wakes and jostles all his neighbors
who find their voices as they waken to resume their labors.
The gentle scrape of trowels sets the rhythm for
young men shouldering hods of what old men spread on the floor.
The jefe scolds for tiles mismeasured, rails against the waste
of both time and materials lost because of haste.
After the day’s siesta, they work three hours more.
They measure, chip and cut and smooth, then fit and trim each door.
By day’s end, hands are coated, and collars ringed with sweat.
The dust of their day’s labors in their work clothes firmly set.
But folded in each backpack they once rested heads upon
is a fresh change of clothing that later they will don.
Cleaned and pressed, they’ll walk on home unmarked by dust or dirt,
ready for the ladies to admire and to flirt.
For a man’s not made of merely the work that he might do,
and when he leaves his labors, his day begins anew.
Actually, I was imagining the scene described in the poem as the house hushed for an hour after a morning and early afternoon of extreme noise. Diego and Morrie were imprisoned in the small run outside my door but in sight of the front entrance gate all the men had vanished through, tortured by observing all the activity they couldn’t get their paws on, not to mention all those lunches in the back packs. Then, after I wrote the poem and started to hear a few voices from what seemed to be a direction not anticipated in my poem, I went out to the living room to see the younger members of the crew hunched over their smart phones on my patio, first watching some drama, then talking to what sounded like female voices. One lay stretched out as expected, but by the pool rather than out on the sidewalk. (I had earlier invited them to eat at the patio table and the table in the gazebo, but they had preferred to warm their tortillas in my microwave and then go eat in the street.) My former stereotypes dashed, I then ventured beyond my walls into the street, and there found the older generation living up to former experience and present expectations—asleep in the shade.
This is a reblog of an earlier poem.
If you want to play along and write a poem with the word “shade” in it, post it here: https://dversepoets.com/2017/08/08/seeking-some-shade-today/